Flying over Nevada on a clear day is one of the great joys of being an economic geologist. The Basin and Range country has abundant structural features, intrusions, deformed bedding and pits and plenty to keep one occupied.
Every so often the occasional grid drilling pattern, hinting of what will or what just didn’t quite comes into view. The driver is of course gold, with Nevada dominating US gold production claiming 78% of the total. The perceptive might wonder why then is it called the “Silver State” – the answer is the Comstock Lode.
Like all great deposits, the Comstock Lode did many things; it broke Nevada away from Utah, it pushed mining technology ahead by leaps and bounds, it was critical in kick-starting the study of hydrothermal alteration, it brought the first elevator to Nevada, and it made a few people very, very rich.
Not the original discoverers, they died of gangrene and starvation1, not the second discoverers, they sold out for fractions of the true value. As the archetype for all that came after it, (the term “Bonanza” entered the English language as a result of the Comstock Lode), the people who made the money were the promoters, whiskey sellers, lawyers, and assorted hangers-on that colonize every new discovery.
Shares in what we would consider to be “moose pasture” were selling for $40 a share in 1860 – about $1100 each in today’s dollars. The first whiskey salesman on scene, did a cool $200 ($5,600)2 his first night.
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