The Big Bonanza – “the richest mineral discovery in world history”

To the Daily Alta California, it was “the great discovery of the age”.  After emerging from the underground at the California Mine on the Comstock Lode Dan de Quille called it “the richest mineral discovery in the world’s history” and he named it The Big Bonanza.    In a field of exceedingly high-grade mineralization the Big bonanza would generate immense wealth.

Virginia city circa 1870

“Not a pebble in the crosscut was worth less than US$600 per ton and no small sample could be reasonably assayed for fear of grabbing a sulphuret nodule that would run the chunk into the thousands of dollars a ton.”  Bear in mind these are 1870 dollars, likely worth US$20,000 per tonnes in today’s dollars.

“Sometime in the first half of 1875, as cross cuts on the 1,500 foot level reveled that the ore body did indeed span the entire length of the California mine, John Mackay must have realised that The Big bonanza would make him one of the richest men in the world.”

Virginia city circa 1870
Pyrargyrite silver ore from the Comstock Lode, Storey Co., Nevada, U.S.
Chris Ralph/Nevada Outback Gems

The Bonanza King is a well researched history of the Comstock Lode and characters involved.   The book underlines the importance and occasional reward for focused hard work in the industry.   Strongly recommended for mining folks.

Pyrargyrite is a sulfosalt mineral consisting of silver sulfantimonide, Ag3SbS3. Known also as dark red silver ore or ruby silver, it is an important source of the metal.

Additional Reading

Bonanza Ores of the Comstock Lode, Viginia city, Nevada, Economic Geology, 1922

Review in the WSJ by Patrick Cooke

Crouch, Gregory. The Bonanza King: John Mackay and the Battle over the Greatest Riches in the American West.