Silver in the Sagebrush
miners arrived, and scattered deposits of gold were found throughout the
region. In the mountains northeast of
Word of the
silver bonanza in Washoe’s sagebrush hills spread
like a flu epidemic throughout the moribund
1873, deep in the Consolidated Virginia Mine, a large ore-body of super-rich
silver ore was discovered. Known as the
“Big Bonanza”, this was the discovery that rocked the mining world. The price of Con-Virginia stock
skyrocketed. Other mines’ stock followed
Beginning in 1860 almost every mining town in the West was called “The New Washoe”, “Bigger than Virginia” and “More Glorious than the Comstock”. When 1873 and the Big Bonanza made news, the hype began again in earnest.
But, it was just that. Hype. Pure Hype.
and her fantastically rich
One hundred and
forty years after it was founded, this lively little town of 900 plus people
plays on its rich, wild and boisterous past.
The flush days of rumbling stamp mills, a hundred plus saloons and a
population 25 times as great as it is now have long since fallen into the
recesses of history. Alongside garish
signs indicating “It happened here”, and “See the ---”, tourist shops fill
space and sell trinkets where history happened.
The cemeteries on Silver Terrace contain more headstones than the living
population. Yet history flows so thick
along the creaking boardwalks and covered canopies of brick building-lined
Who were the people who lived here 140 years ago? There were the Chinese laborers. There were the nameless, forgotten miners, young men from all over the world busting their buns in the dark bowels of the earth, making others rich. There were young forgotten girls selling their very souls for a little cash. There were newlyweds. There were weathered old-timers. There were shopkeepers, saloon owners, mill workers, teamsters, butchers, bakers, blacksmiths, school teachers, pastors, young brides, old men, and thousands of others in search of an elusive dream.
In 1861, walking these same boardwalks and rubbing elbows with these thousands of forgotten people, an unknown young miner named Samuel made his mark on the world. He wasn’t particularly successful at the sweaty job of mining, and even admits it.
“We never found any ore that would yield more than
fifty dollars a ton; and as the mills charged fifty dollars
a ton for working ore and extracting the silver, our
pocket-money melted steadily away and none returned to
take its place.” *
Unsuccessful at mining, he tried working in a mill.
“There is nothing so aggravating as silver milling.
There never was any idle time in that mill. ... Of all
recreations in the world, screening tailings on a hot
day, with a long-handled shovel, is the most undesirable.” *
work out either, so he landed a job as a cub reporter at the Territorial
Enterprise for $25 per week.
For two years he labored at his wordsmithing,
developing a writing style that turned him into one of
Be it blatant
tourist-grabbing glitz or the in-your-face rumblings of a raucous past,
Virginia City is not a place to sit on a bench quietly contemplating subtle
auras of the past. Here the gaudy excesses of miners turned multi-millionaires,
John W. Mackay, James G. Fair, James C. Flood and William S. O’Brien smacks you
upside the head with all the subtlety of a drill sergeant at basic
training. Huge mansions on “Millionaire’s
Row”, the massive
Then there are
the people. Where else can you see
“heeled” Marlboro Country gents decked out in black Levis and gun belts pushing
carts full of jams and condiments into a store, all the while dodging little
old blue-haired ladies wearing Reebock tennies and Hardrock Cafe
Coming in from
At the northeast
end of town, stop and visit the cemeteries spread across several low hills
known as the Silver Terrace, are the resting places of probably over a thousand
folks. From unmarked and long forgotten
graves, to unique marble angel obelisks, hundreds of monuments to death stand
At one time the cemeteries were green and park like, but time and the elements have taken their toll. The names and dates hint at the life and death that once pulsed through this once vibrant community. There is the marker for Helen M and John Clay Hampton who both died on the same bleak August day in 1888. There were children who died in measles and influenza epidemics. There were miners killed by cave-ins and mine fires. There were folks murdered, run over, burned or fatally injured in other ways.
the streets of town. Look at the unique
architectural beauty of locally manufactured steel columns supporting two story
brick stores, saloons and hotels. Walk
the back streets and look at the Odd Fellows Hall, Piper’s Opera House, and the
listen to the sounds of the past.
Here in the
quiet, sunburned hills of western
As you follow the
highways and byways in search of Ghost Town
quoted from Roughing It, by Mark Twain. This is a story of his adventures in
This was our GHOST TOWN OF THE MONTH for May 2000.
Visit Ghost Town USA’s NEVADA Ghost Town Pages
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FIRST POSTED: May 01, 2000
LAST UPDATED: April 02, 2007
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