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Roar and the Silence

A History of Virginia City and the Comstock Lode

Ronald James

Publication Year: 2012

Nevada’s Comstock Mining District has been the focus of legend since it first burst into international prominence in the late 1850s, and its principal settlement, Virginia City, endures in the popular mind as the West’s quintessential mining camp. But the authentic history of the Comstock is far more complex and interesting than its colorful image. Contrary to legend, Virginia City spent only its first few years as a ramshackle mining camp. The mining boom quickly turned it into a thriving urban center, at its peak one of the largest cities west of the Mississippi, replete with most of the amenities of any large city of its time.

Published by: University of Nevada Press

Front Cover

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pp. 1-5

Title Page

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pp. 6-9


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. xv-xviii

Certain fundamental assumptions warrant underscoring, and many people deserve acknowledgment for this volume. The works of two humanists partly inspired this project. In his eloquent study of method, Christopher Lloyd points out that all the humanities examine the past, since none of them can study the future and the present ...

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pp. xix-xxii

Virginia City clings to the steep side of Mount Davidson. It is an improbable town site. Before the 1859 strike that spawned the city, placer miners worked the sand and gravel of Gold Canyon far below, living in tents and shacks. They settled in enclaves where nature provided water, for drinking and washing sand away from gold, ...

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1: A Glimmer of Opportunity: The Setting

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pp. 1-20

In the early 1850s a small colony of would-be miners began to scour the hills of what is now called the Virginia Range, running parallel to the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada. Flakes of California gold occurred in gravels and sands known as placers along the broad north-south swath of the western side of the Sierra. ...

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2: The First Boom: Building the community

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pp. 21-44

California emigrants, each hoping for a fortune, poured over the Sierra in 1860 at the first sign of winter's cessation, long before prudent travelers would have thought the trails passable. After slogging through mountain mud and snow, the would-be millionaires descended into valleys at the eastern foot of the Sierra that were lush with the first spring runoff. ...

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3: The First Boom: Building the Mines

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pp. 45-69

Unfortunately, the Comstock, with a local government, international recognition, and community infrastructure, quickly encountered mining difficulties that proved even more of a challenge. Nature provided a wealth of gold and silver but little else. The place was generous on the one hand, but parsimonious on the other. ...

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4: Grief, Depression, and Disasters: Successes in the Midst of Failures

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pp. 70-90

When the telegraph returned word that Lincoln had signed legislation on October 31, 1864, admitting Nevada to the Union, the Comstock erupted in celebration. The new state had a deep commitment to the North during the Civil War, and acceptance as an equal served for many as an acknowledgment of that support. ...

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5: A Time of Bonanza

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pp. 91-118

When enumerators for the 9th U.S. Census began working on the Comstock in June 1870, they found a mining district radically different from the one documented ten years earlier. Gone were the Mexican packers, the prospectors, the thrown-together buildings, and the society in which women were a scarce curiosity. ...

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6: The Workers: Labor in an Industrialized Community

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pp. 119-142

Mining the earth for its treasures is an extraordinary occupation. People have perhaps never worked in a more unnatural place than underground. A mine cuts off all sunlight. Fresh air cannot penetrate its depths without mechanical pumps. All sense of the outside is lost: it is impossible to perceive the transition from day to night ...

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7: The International Community: Ethnicity Celebrated

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pp. 143-166

Comstock wealth attracted an international array of immigrants who enriched the district with their diversity. The oft-cited litany of representatives includes large numbers of Irish, Cornish, Chinese, Germans, English, Scots, Welsh, Canadians, Mexicans, Chileans and other South and Central Americans, Italians, ...

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8: The Moral Options: Sinners

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pp. 167-190

On the morning of January 20, 1867, the Chinese servant who occasionally tended to the needs of Julia Bulette, a prostitute of Virginia City, entered her crib and found her dead. An assailant had beaten her, slashed her throat, and taken some of her clothing and jewelry. ...

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9: The Moral Options: Saints

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pp. 191-214

Perhaps at this point the reader will allow me a personal recollection. In 1986, while involved with the restoration of Virginia City's Fourth Ward School, I asked for the assistance of Don Dakins, my father-in-law and a woodworker of immense skill. Streaks of black scarred the solid wood railings of the school's staircases, ...

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10: Princes and Paupers: Contrasts in Class

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pp. 215-234

Ethnicity and morality made the Comstock diverse and complex, providing the district with the means to stratify itself. Economics represented yet another way in which to evaluate and amplify the differences among people. Most treatments of the economics of the Comstock focus on the rich, analyzing the phenomenon of the common man made into a millionaire.1 ...

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11: Over Time: Bonanza and Borrasca (1877-1942)

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pp. 235-257

On September 1, 1878, Adolph Sutro's workers completed the last of the three-and-a-half-mile tunnel, breaking into the Savage Works at the 1,640-foot level. The sudden source of ventilation and the difference in air pressure in the two chambers released a rush of hot, putrid air into the Savage, and the fierce wind persisted until the pressure equalized. ...

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12: The Sequel to the Big Bonanza: Tourism and Television

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pp. 258-274

Beginning as early as the 1930s a strange transformation occurred on the Comstock. What had been a dormant, even dying mining district slowly blossomed into a magnet for artists, literati, and others who wished to experience something of the fast-disappearing Wild West. ...

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pp. 275-276

On May Day 1995, a sequence of events echoing two of the themes presented here left me convinced that the Comstock will survive for a long time to come. I traveled to Virginia City to videotape the house of Carol and Joe Page, who wish to leave their property to the Comstock Historic District Commission to serve as a museum. ...


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pp. 277-322

Bibliography and Bibliographical Essay

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pp. 323-342


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pp. 343-356

E-ISBN-13: 9780874174175
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874173208

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 53 b/w photos, 7 line drawings, 4 maps
Publication Year: 2012