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7: TUE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY Ethnicity Celebrated The Irish . .. with the Knights ofthe Red Branch, the Ancient Order ofHibernians, and such societies galore . .. ; the braw Caledonians, who exulted in the games, where their men ofmight put the stone and tossed the caber; the French and French-Canadians, the Italiam and Slavonians and Mexicans, all celebrating their own holidays in glorious care-freefashion -with many ofthese I was so fortunate as to foregather, wekomed into their midst, to partake oftheir national viands and refreshments. -Wells Drury, An Editor on the Comstock Lode 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, Scandinavians, French, and Swiss. There were also a few Russians, Poles, Greeks, Japanese, Spaniards, Hungarians , Portuguese, Turks, Pacific Islanders, Moroccans, and Caribbeans, as well as others. All these people provided contrast for the hundreds born in the United States, but even the North Americans included many with parents from Europe, as well as dozens ofAfrican Americans. In addition, there was an important Jewish population, itself with diverse nativities, and, of course, American Indians, the original inhabitants of the area, provided an ethnic bedrock for the Comstock.I These groups expressed their heritages to varying degrees. The ways in which people identified themselves and interacted with one another reveal a complex society where few generalizations apply. Some residents ofthe Comstock were immediately recognizable as belonging to an ethnic group, while others had the luxury of deciding whether or not to declare their origin. The Chinese, Hispanics, African Americans, and American Indians could not escape notice as being distinct from the Euro-American majority. In contrast, the Irish and Cornish, as native speakers of English from northern Europe, could have blended in easily, and yet they chose not to.2 The many other groups completed a kaleidoscope of diversity, providing an opportunity to understand an important aspect of the Comstock and the mining West. Irish immigrants were by far the most numerous ethnic group in the mining district. In particular, they dominated Virginia City, where fully a third of the population claimed nativity or at least one parent from the Emerald Isle. The Irish came to North America by the millions, fleeing the oppression and starvation of their homeland. These exiles typically found prejudice and ill treatment by the Protestant-dominated hierarchy of the East Coast. Most remained there and learned that by standing together , and especially by forming political alliances, they could overcome many of the obstacles put in their path on the way to economic success. A few Irish immigrants traveled west, where they rarely came across established societies that were prepared to discriminate against immigrants or Catholics, as occurred in the East. In many cases the Irish arrived in numbers that made them, if not a majority, at least a significant minority. Hundreds also came as skilled miners, having worked in some ofIreland's only underground operations, in County Cork. The experience of the Irish who came to the West consequently contrasted with that of their brethren on the Atlantic Coast. The Comstock, as one of the first western hard-rock mining districts, set the stage for Irish successes throughout the region. Thousands of Irish and Irish Americans eventually made Virginia City their home, clinging to the community more tenaciously than other groups when depression 100med.3 On May 15, 1864, the Comstock Irish formed the Emmet Guard, the first of their military units and an organization that served as a cornerstone for the state's National Guard. The Sarsfield, Montgomery, and Sweeney Guards followed. Each of these, like the Emmet before them, had an intimate association with the Fenian Brotherhood, a nineteenthcentury precursor to the Irish Republican Army. The Comstock boasted four Fenian Circles, as the local units were known, each rivaling the next for the best Saint Patrick's Day celebration and for the most money gath144 The Roar and the Silence ered on behalf of the revolutionary cause.4 After the Fenian movement fell into disfavor in the early 1870s, the Irish joined alternative organizations , first the Ancient Order of the Hibernians and the Knights of the Red Hand, and then the Irish Land League.s These groups helped maintain a sense of unity and common purpose, and they reinforced the Irish identity for the immigrants and their children. A peculiarity ofIrish immigration, noted...


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