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A California Coal Mine

Some twelve years ago or so, in the early days of Californian

immigration, a curious little business humbug came off about six miles

from Monterey. A United States officer, about the year 1850, was on his

way into the interior on a surveying expedition, with a party of men, a

portable forge, a load of coal, and sundry other articles. At the place

in question, six miles inland, the Lieutenant's coal wagon "stalled" in

a "tule" swamp. With true military decision the greater part of the coal

was thrown out to extricate the team, and not picked up again. The

expedition went on and so did time, and the latter, in his progress, had

some years afterward dried up the tule swamp. Some enterprising

prospectors, with eyes wide open to the nature of things, now espied one

fine morning the lumps of coal, sticking their black noses up out of the

mud. It was a clear case--there was a coal mine there! The happy

discoverers rushed into town. A company was at once organized under the

mining laws of the state of California. The corporators at first kept

the whole matter totally secret except from a few particular friends who

were as a very great favor allowed to buy stock for cash. A "compromise"

was made with the owner of the land, largely to his advantage. When

things had thus been set properly at work, specimens of coal were

publicly exhibited at Monterey. There was a gigantic excitement; shares

went up almost out of sight. Twelve hundred dollars in coin for one

share (par $100) was laughed at. About this time a quiet honest Dutchman

of the vicinity passing along by the "mine" one evening with his cart,

innocently and unconsciously picked up the whole at one single load and

carried it home. Prompt was the discovery of the "sell" by the

stockholders, and voluble and intense, it is said, their profane

expressions of dissatisfaction. But the original discoverers of the mine

vigorously protested that they were "sold" themselves, and that it was

only a case of common misfortune. It is however reported that a number

of persons in Monterey, after the explosion of the speculation,

remembered all about the coal-wagon part of the business, which they

said, the excitement of the "company" had put entirely out of their


An equally unfounded but not quite so barefaced humbug came off a good

many years ago in the good old city of Hartford, in Connecticut,

according to the account given me by an old gentleman now deceased, who

was one of the parties interested. This was a coal mine in the State

House yard. It sounds like talking about getting sunbeams out of

cucumbers--but something of the sort certainly took place.

Coal is found among rocks of certain kinds, and not elsewhere. Among

strata of granite or basalt for instance, nobody expects to find coal.

But along with a certain kind of sandstone it may reasonably be

expected. Now the Hartford wiseacres found that tremendously far down

under their city, there was a sort of sandstone, and they were sure

that it was the sort. So they gathered together some money,--there is

a vast deal of that in Hartford, coal or no coal--organized a company,

employed a Mining Superintendent, set up a boring apparatus, and down

went their hole into the ground--an orifice some four or six inches

across. Through the surface stratum of earth it went, and bang it came

against the sandstone. They pounded away, with good courage, and got

some fifties or hundreds of feet further. Indefinable sensations were

aroused in their minds at one time by the coming up among the products

of boring, of some chips of wood. Now wood, shortly coal, they thought.

They might, I imagine, have brought up some pieces of boiled potato or

even of fresh shad, provided it had fallen down first. They dug on

until they got tired, and then they stopped. If they had gone down ten

thousand feet they would have found no coal. Coal is found in the new

red sandstone; but theirs was the old red sandstone, which is a very

fine old stone itself, but in which no coal was ever found, except what

might have been put there on purpose, or possibly some faint

indications. The hole they made, however, as my informant gravely

observed, was left sticking in the ground, and if he is right is to this

day a sort of appendix or tail to the well north-west corner of the

State House Square. So, I suppose, any one who chooses can go and poke

down there after it and satisfy himself about the accuracy of this

account. Such an inquirer ought to find satisfaction, for "truth lies in

the bottom of a well" says the proverb. Yet some ill natured skeptics

have construed this to mean that all will tell lies sometimes, for--as

they accent it, even "Truth lies, at the bottom of a well!"

Still a different sort of business humbug, again, was a wonderful story

which went the rounds about fifteen years ago, and which was cooked up

to help some one or other of the various enterprises for new routes by

Central America to California. This story started, I believe, in the

"New Orleans Courier." It was, that a French Doctor of Vera Paz in

Guatemala, while making a canal from his estate to the sea, discovered,

away up at the very furthest extremity of the Gulf of Honduras, a vast

ancient canal, two hundred and forty feet wide, seventy feet deep, and

walled in on both sides with gigantic masses of rough cut stone. The

Doctor at once gave up his own trifling modern excavation, and plunged

into an explanation of this vast ancient one, as zealously as if he were

probing after some uncertain bullet in a poor fellow's leg. The

monstrous canal carried him in a straight line up the country, to the

south-westward. Some twenty miles or so inland it plunged under a


But see what a French doctor is made of!

Cutting down the great, old trees that obstructed the entrance, and

procuring a canoe with a crew of Indians, in he went. The canal became a

prodigious tunnel, of the same width and depth of water, and vaulted

three hundred and thirty five feet high in the living rock. Nothing is

said about the bowels of the volcano, so that we must conclude either

that such affairs are not planted so deep as is supposed, or that the

fire-pot of the concern was shoved one side or bridged over by the

canallers, or that the Frenchman had some remarkably good style of Fire

Annihilator, or else that there is some mistake!

Eighteen hours of incessant travel brought our intrepid M.D. safe

through to the Pacific Ocean; during which time, if the maps of that

country are of any authority, he passed under quite a number of

mountains and rivers. The trip was not dark at all, as shafts were sunk

every little way, which lighted up the interior quite well, and then the

volcano gave--or ought to have given--some light inside. Indeed, if the

doctor had only thought of it, I presume he would have noticed double

rows of street gas lamps on each side of the canal! The exclusive right

to use this excellent transit route has not, to my knowledge, been

secured to anybody yet. It will be observed that ships as large as the

Great Eastern could easily pass each other in this canal, which renders

it a sure thing for any other vessel unless that shrewd and grasping

fellow the Emperor Louis Napoleon, has got hold of this canal and is

keeping it dark for some still darker purposes of his own--as for

instance to run his puppet Maximilian into for refuge, when he is run

out of Mexico--it is therefore still in the market. And my publication

of the facts effectually disposes of the Emperor's plan of secrecy, of


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