Perhaps it was those millennia of experience that, in 1873, led four Irishmen – Mackay, Fair, Flood and O’Brien – to the Comstock Lode, the greatest pot of gold and silver the world has ever known. They located an enormous silver heart within Mount Davidson in Nevada.
The first to putter around above the great trove were a couple of surface gold miners named Peter O’Riley and Patrick McLaughlin. These men did not know about nor have the resources to mine down thousands of feet to the silver; they panned for gold and moved on, not realizing that a blue sand that clogged their simple wooden machinery, was in fact silver mixed with gold. Assayed later in 1859 by other men, this sand proved to be “almost a solid mass of silver,” and the silver rush was on.
Eventually it took stockholders, powerful machinery, new mining techniques, and millions of dollars to penetrate the pile and extract billions in silver and gold. Chief among those who pioneered and benefited from the lode were the four Irishmen.
First and foremost, comes John W. Mackay (pronounced MACK-ee). Born in Dublin in 1831, he came to New York with his family nine years later. His father died shortly thereafter, and John left school and went to work to support his mother and younger sister. At age sixteen he was apprenticed to a shipwright, a maker of side-wheel steamers, and became skilled in the use of tools.
In 1851, Mackay came to California and worked in placer gold-mines in Sierra County.
With the discovery of silver on the Comstock Lode he went to Nevada, hiring out there to work as a $4/day miner. From this he graduated to providing mine timbers, running tunnels, sometimes being paid in mining stock, becoming a trustworthy mine superintendent and then mine-owner himself.
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