The Lost Ledge - Breyfogle - J. Ross Browne's 1869 Account - Part II

Old Bookaroo

Silver Member
Dec 4, 2008

Part II.

All attempts to find the ledge having thus failed through a strange fatality attending the discoverers, the company was compelled to abandon the enterprise. Other parties, however, undertook to find it from the general descriptions given of the locality. Three years after the death of Cadwallader a new company was formed under the leadership of a Lieutenant Bailey, who professed to be well acquainted with the country. This gentleman had explored Death Valley and the Panamint, and even claimed to have discovered the “Lost Ledge.” He brought with him to San Francisco some extraordinarily rich ore, and had no difficulty in procuring from capitalists a large amount of money for the purpose of developing the ledge. Some say he collected as much as $70,000. He refused to sell any portion of the original ledge, but got up subscriptions on a continuation or extension, which was rich enough to satisfy the sagacious men of San Francisco. A party was fitted out, with wagons, provisions, implements, etc., and started from Los Angeles. Bailey was to overtake them in a few days at some point near Owen’s Lake, and conduct them to that wonderful deposit of virgin silver which was to make them all rich. The expedition reached the point designated, and halted according to agreement. Days passed, and weeks passed, and months passed. No Bailey came. I tell the story as I heard it. If that gentleman be among the living, he will greatly oblige his San Francisco friends by accounting for his absence. The party left at Owen’s Lake are under the impression that there would be no difficulty whatever in finding the “Lost Ledge” if they could only find the lost Bailey.

But if any body supposes such a mining population as we have on the Pacific coast can be disheartened by disaster and failure, he greatly mistakes the character of our people. No sooner was the Reese River country opened up to settlement and enterprise than prospecting parties started out in every direction to find new ledges. My old friend, Dave Buel, of whom I have so frequently made honorable mention, having located all the claims he wanted in the neighborhood of Austin, became inspired with the grand idea of discovering a new route to the Colorado River. Such at least was the ostensible object of the famous expedition made by him in the winter of 1855. But I strongly suspect the “Lost Ledge” formed a prominent feature in the enterprise Buel had obtained some valuable information respecting its supposed locality from one of the men who had accompanied the train of wagons in 1852. He had carefully studied the whole subject, and thought he could “spot the treasure.” Certainly if any man living could do it, Buel could. Of gigantic frame, great powers of endurance, unerring sagacity, and indomitable perseverance, he was well fitted by nature for such an enterprise. The history of that memorable expedition remains yet to be written. The party consisted of six— all chosen spirits—hardy and sanguine. They left Austin on mule-back—they came back on foot. Of their sufferings from thirst in the burning wastes of Death Valley; the loss of all their animals save one little pack-mule; the dreary days they spent in “prospecting” for the ledge while death stared them in the face; their escapes from roving bands of hostile Indians, and miraculous preservation from starvation, I can not now give a detailed account. Gaunt and haggard, blackened by the sun, ragged and foot-sore, they returned to Austin after an absence of two months. Buel lost thirty-five pounds of flesh, but he gained a large amount of experience concerning lost ledges generally. He thinks he was on the right track and could have found the identical ledge discovered by Farley, Cadwallader, and Towne had the provisions held out. The indications were wonderfully encouraging—mineral everywhere— nothing but mineral—not even a blade of grass or a drop of water. At one time the party lived for three days on a little streak of snow which they found under a shelving rock. Buel considers it a fine country for horned frogs. From the skeletons of men and broken wagons that he encountered near some of the water-holes, he is disposed to think that there may be better routes to the Colorado.

Inspired by the disasters of the Buel expedition, which were deemed rather encouraging in a mineral point of view, another company was formed during the past summer, of which a Mr. Breyfogle was a prominent member. I knew Breyfogle in former years. He was tax-collector of Alameda County, California; and seemed to be a man of good sense, much respected by the community. During the Washoe excitement he departed for that region, and was engaged for several years in mining speculations. Like many others, he had ups and downs of fortune. It was during a down turn that he became infatuated with the idea of discovering the “Lost Ledge.” The failure of all attempts hitherto made he attributed to want of perseverance, and he announced it as his determination “to find the ledge or die.” That was the only spirit that would lead to its discovery. He would “come back a rich man, or leave his bones in Death Valley.” Every body said that was the way to talk, but nobody knew how much in earnest was Breyfogle.

Some five or six enterprising spirits united their resources and started with this irrepressible prospector, full of glorious visions of the Lost Ledge. They travelled to the southward, following the Toyabe range till they struck into the dreary desert of Death Valley. There they wandered for many days, probing the foot-hills of the Panamint range. They crossed and recrossed Buel’s trail; they camped at the Poison Springs, and saw the skeletons of dead men; they went through Folly’s Pass, and ranged through the Panamint Valley. North, south, east, and west they traversed the country, till their mules broke down and their provisions fell short. Breyfogle urged them to continue the search. “Stick to it, boys, and we’ll find it yet,” he would say. “Never give up while there’s a ghost of a chance.” But they were all ghosts by that time, and were rapidly becoming skeletons. Their only hope of saving their lives was to strike for the nearest mining camp—San Antonio—which was distant over a hundred miles. Breyfogle had been getting more and more excited for several days. He begged his companions to try it a little longer—only two days—even a day—as Columbus did in the days of yore. But here was certain death; or so, at least, it appeared; for what could they do with-out food in this fearful desert, remote from any point where they could obtain human aid, and already so weak that they could scarcely drag their limbs over the heavy sand? Breyfogle’s eyes were bloodshot and had a wild and haggard expression. When it was announced to him that it was the determination of the party to abandon the search, he said: “Then I will continue it alone. I have sworn to find the Lost Ledge or leave my bones here, and I intend to do it.” His comrades entreated him not to stay behind—they had scarcely provision enough to last them to San Antonio, and could not spare him more than two days’ supply at the furthest. What if he found the ledge? the discovery would be of no use to him or any body else, for he would be sure to die. These arguments fell without effect upon the excited brain of the visionary. Too weak and weary to take him by force, Breyfogle’s comrades reluctantly bade him good-bye and left him to his fate. With great difficulty they reached San Antonio. There they recruited till they were able to pursue their journey homeward to Austin. In the mean time Breyfogle wandered about searching the deserts and the mountains for the Lost Ledge. When his provisions gave out he lived on frogs and lizards; but became very weak. It is probable his reason had been affected for some time. How long he wandered in this crazy condition would be difficult to say without a more accurate knowledge of dates. While thus helpless, a party of two or three Indians who had been watching him for several days, came upon him suddenly, beat him with their clubs, robbed him of his clothes, and ended by scalping him. One might think this rigorous course of treatment would have put an end to the poor wanderer; but such was not the case. Two days after the attack upon him by the Indians, a wagon-train, on the way from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City, picked him up and carried him to the City of the Saints. The injury to his scalp seemed to restore his faculties. He gave a graphic narrative of his adventures from the time his companions left him. At Austin it was reported that he was dead; but he turned up at Salt Lake City a few weeks after, as much alive as ever, and still determined to find the Lost Ledge. My visit to Salt Lake was shortly after his arrival. Hearing that he was there, I was about to hunt him up, when an attack of mountain fever laid me on my back, so that I lost the chance of seeing him before his departure on a little side-expedition to Idaho and Montana.

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J. Ross Browne (1821 [1817?] Beggars Bush, Ireland – 1875 Oakland, California) was a popular reporter, mining expert, government agent and traveler who wrote popular accounts and scientific government reports. He had a light, wry humorous touch that has stood the test of time, unlike many of his contemporaries He wrote a book about whaling before Moby Dick was published, and his travel books preceded Mark Twain’s. Horace Parker’s Paisano Press (Balboa Island, California) bought back into print several of his works in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, making them readily available again and introducing them to new generations of readers.

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Good luck to all,

The Old Bookaroo
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