Saturday, September 26, 2009
Finding Traces of the Mining Camp of Como
The old mining camp of Como, located about 12 miles southeast of Dayton, is probably known more for who lived there than for anything that was actually done there.
Gold was discovered in the Pine Nut Mountains, the range directly south of Dayton, in about 1860. Within a short time, a small camp was established, called Palmyra, reportedly after the town of Palmyra, New York.
By 1864, Palmyra had a post office, several businesses, and an estimated 400 residents.
New discoveries about a half-mile away led to the development of another community, which became known as Como, and shifted attention away from Palmyra.
Palmyra’s post office closed in 1866, which pretty much marked the end of the community. Meanwhile, Como continued to grow and by 1864, it boasted a weekly newspaper, the Como Sentinel, as well as a steam-driven mill, a hotel, bars and a meeting hall. The newspaper, however, was short-lived, folding after 13 weeks.
One of Como’s most noteworthy residents arrived during this boom—Alf Doten. In June 1863, Doten sold his holdings in California and rode to Como to make his fortune in silver mining.
Doten didn’t stay long, only a few months, but he kept detailed journals of his time in Como, which serve as among the few records remaining of the town. Doten, in fact, was such a committed diarist that he ultimately filled more than 27 volumes with his reflections of daily life.
In September, Doten, who has also written for the Como Sentinel, accepted a job with one of Virginia City’s newspapers. It was there that he became friends with many of the Comstock’s leading journalists, including Dan DeQuille and Mark Twain.
Another former resident of Como was Captain Truckee, a Paiute leader who was a friend and associate of explorer John C. Frémont. He also served as a guide for several expeditions, including the 1844 Stevens-Townsend-Murphy emigrant wagon train.
It’s reported that in October 1860, Captain Truckee was bitten by a tarantula and died at Como. He is said to be buried on a mountain ridge outside of the townsite.
It turned out that Como's mines did not contain a great amount of ore and the mines began to close in 1864. The camp was able to briefly revive in 1879-81 and 1902-05.
Como, in fact, had its own post office during those revivals (it operated from December 30, 1879 to January 3, 1881, then was reopened from May 29, 1903 to February 28, 1905).
In the 1930s, optimistic investors constructed a large mill near Como, but it was soon abandoned due to a lack of viable ore. In subsequent years, there have been attempts to mine in the Como region but there are no current operations.
Today, little remains of Como besides a few stone foundations and the remnants of the various mining revivals. The drive to Como from Dayton definitely requires a high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle as the road is extremely rocky in places.
The road to Como is accessed from Dayton Valley Road. Turn south on the dirt road just before Dayton High School. Ahead is the community water tank. Continue driving on the main dirt road (do not take any of the smaller branch roads) for about ten miles and you will reach Como and the former Como mining district.
After passing the Dayton High School you begin heading south into the Pine Nut mountains. Often, you can spot wild horses grazing in the range. About five miles from the start, the road grows steeper. If you stop to look back, you can get an outstanding view of the Dayton Valley.
You finally reach the earliest mining remains at about the eight-mile point. The first thing you notice is a large wheel perched atop the remains of a concrete and wooden structure. Scattered about are other abandoned mining trash such as storage tanks, pylons, beams and rusted pipes.
Here, you can also find two small ponds fed from a spring coming out of the remains of a collapsed mine. High grass and cattails surround these pools, which are shaded by large trees.
Around the site are the foundations of other buildings. Over there, a rusted iron broiler sits on the ground adjacent to the skeletal ruins of a tin and wooden two-story shed. Up on the hill is the rusted cylinder of a giant water tank.
Elusive mountain bluebirds flit from pinion to sagebrush. All about are the denuded mounds of mining tails; piles of dirt-bleached tan and white and devoid of all minerals and nutrients. There is an eerie stillness.
Hiking around the remains yielded a few surprises. Above the camp is the mouth of a mining tunnel. If you peek inside, you can see two tunnel branches, one heading east to a dead end, while the other gradually slopes down to the north and out of sight.
The rock walls of the shaft are soft and crumble with a bit of pressure—and serve as a reminder that it’s never a good idea to enter an abandoned mine shaft.
About a mile or so up the road are the remains of the townsite of Como. All that remains are a couple of rock walls and some stone foundations and cellars.