In the 1860s, Ralston's Ring ruled over the Comstock Lode like feudal barons. William Ralston, William Sharon and D. O. Mills, very powerful and wealthy men, owned the Bank of California, the largest financial institution west of the Mississippi. The bank owned the silver mines, the mills and everything else in sight. The Ring was the essence of a monopoly, its tentacles reaching from San Francisco to the nation's capitol. They crushed their opposition like stamping mills crush ore. Theirs was a no-prisoners-taken philosophy. No one stood in their way until crazy Adolph Sutro arrived with a bizarre plan to build a tunnel. Fresh off the boat in San Francisco in 1851, Sutro was a 21-year-old Prussian immigrant who barely spoke English. Instead of mining, he spent five years as a peddler while he learned the language. In 1856 he married, settled down and opened a tobacconist shop. But prospects in San Francisco were as glum as the weather, so Sutro moved to Virginia City, Nev., and opened a small quartz-reducing mill in nearby East Dayton.