There’s a lot I didn’t know when it came to Virginia City. Hence today’s enlightening post, Seven Things You Might Not Know About Virginia City. I love history when it involves a field trip! This particular field trip was all about the largest federally designated Historical District in America! Beats a lecture any day!
The Comstock Lode, as the enormous gold and silver bonanza was called, turned Virginia City into the first truly industrial city in the West in the years following the 1857 discovery; the population soared from 4,000 in 1862 to 25,000 in 1874. $500 million (billions in today’s economy) attracted all kinds, mostly males, Europeans, and Chinese.
The pay dirt turned destitute prospectors into millionaires, although Henry Tompkins Paige Comstock, and partner James Fennimore, managed to muscle their way into a piece of the action (Comstock convinced miners Pat McLaughlin and Peter O’Reilly that the gold they’d found up on Six-Mile Canyon was part of land he’d claimed for “grazing purposes”) and history with the giant lode that eventually bore Comstock’s name.
It seemed prophetic that local folklore eventually deemed Comstock an insane charlatan. Money often gets the upper hand when it comes to evil. All four miners sold their claim before the silver and gold really began rolling in for investors and would-be Silver Kings like Leland Stanford (as in Stanford University), George Hearst (yes, as in Hearst newspaper empire) and John Mackay (telecommunications). Thus began the “Rush to Washoe” for the next two decades.
He churned out news stories, editorials and sketches, discovered a knack for writing and within a year, like many newspapermen of the day, began signing the pseudynom Mark Twain (steamboat slang for 12 feet of water; an obvious nod to his days spent on the Mississippi River) to his columns. He honed his distinctive narrative style – friendly, funny, irreverent, often satirical, and always eager to deflate the pretentious - until a potential duel instigated by a local newspaper editor in May, 1864, resulted in a hasty departure.
Of the stories that circulated about this beloved local character, the most famous involved a drunken episode outside a saloon. As the story goes, Finney broke a bottle of whiskey when he fell and hit the dirt. Not wanting to be wasteful, he dipped his fingers in the pooled whiskey and baptized the ground Virginia City. Eat your heart out, Mark Twain!