The village of Last Chance is situated high up in
the mountains, on a ridge south of the main branch of the North Fork of the
Middle Fork of the American river, at an altitude of nearly five thousand feet.
Diggings were discovered in the canons and gulches in the section of country in
which Last Chance is situated, in the spring of 1850, but there was no permanent
settlement made there until 1852. The general topography of the country is of
the roughest description; the hills being precipitous, with here and there a
large space of nothing in sight but bluff rocks, with scrub timber or chaparral
growing out of the crevices. On the tops of the ridges, and on the benches of
the hillsides, there is a heavy growth of excellent timber, of the various
species most prized for lumber or fuel. On the ridge commencing immediately
above the village, an open glade commences, and extends for several miles to the
eastward; but on both sides of this bald spot is growing forests of the finest
kind of timber, reaching far down upon the mountainsides towards the canons.
The village is composed of about twenty-five houses upon the main street, and contains about seventy-five inhabitants, all of whom are industrious and steady miners, or careful and money-making traders. The mines are rich, and within the last two years have been paying well. In the summer of 1859, Messrs. Parkinson & McCoy succeeded in bringing water into the diggings from the main prong of the American river, in that part of the mountains, since which time the miners have been enabled to work their claims on the hillsides and in the heads of the canons, by the hydraulic process; and as they- have been supplied with water throughout the whole of the warm season, have never failed to make good wages.
Gold was discovered in the Last Chance diggings by a mere accident, the singularity of which is worth recording. A party of prospectors had en-camped upon a small stream near where the town now stands, and having fire-arms with them, one or more of the party were generally sent out each day to hunt, and thus keep the party in meat, the balance of the company being engaged during the day in examining the gulches, ravines and canons, and prospecting for gold. After being upon the ridge for several days, and the want of success having discouraged them, they were about to break up their camp and return to Bird's Valley, from whence they had set out on the tour, one of them remarking that that "was the last chance they would have to find gold on the west slope of the mountains," for they were so near the summit, he thought if they went further up they would have to pass over to the eastern side of the mountains before they could find any more auriferous soil. While this counsel was being held, one of the hunters, on his return to camp, and but a few hundred yards distant from it, finding a flock of grouse, fired at and killed one, which had taken refuge in a tall pine. The bird fell to the ground at the crack of the hunter's rifle, who after re-loading his piece, proceeded to bag his game. On reaching the place where the bird lay be discovered that in its dying struggles it had scratched away the leaves, leaving the ground bare. In stooping down to pick up the bird he noticed a rock which drew his attention, and picking it up, on examination, discovered that it contained gold. He proceeded to the camp to report to his companions the success with which he had met, when, remembering the remark of one of the party who was in a most desponding mood during the consultation, they agreed to call the place Last Chance.
The diggings thus discovered was one of those outcroppings on the hillside, where, by some convulsions of nature, the rim rock has been broken off, leaving the rich gravel which contains the gold exposed to view. This discovery led to further prospecting and the discovery in the neighborhood of Little Duncan, Big Duncan and Miller's Defeat Canons, and also other mines, which have been worked more or less during the last ten years.
For many years Last Chance was a kind of dernier resort for the "busted miner," and every season parties would repair thither to fish in the canons, hunt and prospect for gold until the winter snows would drive them from the mountains and cause them to return to their homes in the old placers, lower down upon the divide. Among the first permanent settlers were Jack Hyland and his brother P. G. Hyland, the latter familiarly known as "Fip Hyland." These gentlemen for several years carried on the business of mining, milling and merchandizing; but the sparse settlement did not afford trade sufficient to keep up the business, and they quit trading and turned their attention solely to mining. They both yet reside in the village, and, like the balance of the working men of that vicinity, are making a good living.
Since the summer of 1852 the resources of the place have been gradually developing themselves, as the industrious and persevering population pushed forward their explorations, and at the present time there are few localities in the mining regions which have brighter prospects for the future, or in which miners are getting better paid for their labor than at Last Chance.
A little less than two years ago, a Division of the Sons of Temperance was organized at Last Chance, with upwards of twenty charter members, and in a very short time the Division made such rapid accessions to its numbers that at the end of the first year of its existence a splendid hall had been built by the society, and out of a voting population of about seventy forty-two had renounced the use of intoxicating drinks and become members of the order; and to their credit be it said, very few have fallen from the high position which they assumed upon connecting themselves with that institu-tion, by returning to the degrading habits of intemperance.
A saw mill has been built just above the village, capable of cutting a million feet of lumber per annum, the machinery of which is propelled by water power, which supplies an abundance of lumber, at reasonable prices, to answer all the purposes of the settlers.
The greatest backset to the rapid settlement of the place and development of its mining resources, is the great depth which the snow falls in the winter. During the winter season it is sometimes impossible for miners to obtain sup plies, except by packing them themselves over the snow from Deadwood, a distance of seven miles. After the snows fall at the beginning of the winter season, it is sometimes months that the inhabitants have no intercourse with the lower world, except occasionally when an expressman travels over the snow to Michigan Bluff to procure letters and papers, which he takes to the people at the moderate charge of twenty-five cents for each letter and paper.
On the first day of December, 1857, was tried the first civil case which ever came before a Justice's Court in that Township, a graphic account of which is given by a correspondent of the Placer Courier, under the signature of "Dot," which we extract from that paper to show the way they did things there at that time. Dot" speaks of the important event in the history of the village as follows: " To-day, (Dec. 1st, 185 7,) although 'tis clear and fair without, 'tis blustery within. The Justice's Court is in session to try the first case by civil law in this township; which is an action brought for the recovery of a town lot claimed by plaintiff to have been jumped by defendant. Mr. W. J. Harrison, of mining notoriety, appeared as counsel for the plaintiff, and Billy D. Smith, the celebrated butcher, as counsel for the defense. After hearing the evidence of witnesses until no more could he found of import to the case, His Honor quietly and calmly listened to the arguments of counsel, and immediately after gave judgment in favor of plaintiff. Notice of appeal was given. Hoorrah for Last Chancel"
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