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  • Additional Mark Twain Contributions to the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise 1863–66
  • Gary Scharnhorst

Albert Bigelow Paine claimed with pardonable hyperbole a century ago that the columns Mark Twain sent the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise from San Francisco in the mid-1860s were “the greatest series of daily philippics ever written.”1 It was high praise indeed considering that only about half a hundred excerpts from them are known to survive, most reprinted in other regional newspapers. The last complete file of the Territorial Enterprise, in the San Francisco Public Library, was consumed in the fire that followed the earthquake in April 1906. Fortunately, because so many western papers have been digitized and are fully searchable, many more excerpts from Twain’s “San Francisco correspondence” have begun to surface. I attach below ten passages from his pen new to published scholarship.

Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, ca. 1 July 1863; rpt. “Reese River at San Francisco,” Reese River Reveille, 4 July 1863, p. 1.

At the present moment,2 next to our own section of Washoe, Reese River occupies the most prominent position before the speculative San Francisco eye. Esmeralda and Humboldt have had their day of excitements, and have settled down into the comfortable dog trot of acknowledged worth and secured independence, but Reese River has only recently begun to blaze. Several mills for that District are now under contract here and several more have already been shipped. Mr. Austin started one to Austin last Saturday—an excellent six-stamp establishment. Mr. Austin was, until recently, the efficient Superintendent of Messrs. Donahue & Co.’s foundry, and formerly occupied a like position in [End Page 88] the Union Foundry, which institution, by his energy and mechanical skill, he built up to its present high standing in the manufacturing world. He and his mill will be valuable acquisitions to the Reese River District.

Mr. D. E. Buel3 left here on the 28th of May with a five-stamp mill for Austin, which port he probably reached a week ago. The grading of the ground to be occupied by this mill was completed a month ago.

Two other mills have also been shipped hence to Austin, but I could not learn by whom; a third is on its way there from Pike’s Peak, and two more are in course of construction here.

Judge Gilchrist4 is in the city, and has closed a contract for the erection of an excellent eight-stamp mill, to crush rock from the rich Wasson series of four ledges.

Judge Hall,5 of Carson, is also here, and the object of his visit is to let a contract for a fine twenty-stamp mill, to cost about forty thousand dollars. If I remember rightly (in the absence of my note-book, which is lost for the present, in some highly respectable locality), this mill is to be located somewhere between Clifton and Austin, at a spot where wood and water are convenient and abundant. Thus, according to my list, nine clattering quartz mills will soon break up the solemn silence which has brooded over Reese River since God Almighty created it. When Dan de Quille6 passed along there, less than six months ago, there were probably not a dozen white men in that part of America! We aborigines of Washoe are a wonderful nation. Why, in another six months, they may be playing upon the enlightened piano and running a church in Reese River—who knows?

Judge Hall showed me a silver slug containing eleven dollars, which the certificate showed to be the result of six pounds of rock, and informed me that this was the lowest working test which had been yet returned to him from any of his Reese River quartz. Mr. Toll-Road McDonald (of whom I was a half-breed colleague in the late Legislature, by reason of my reportorial position in that body)7 showed me a silver slab something smaller than an ordinary architectural brick, which was worked out of 125 pounds of rock from one of his Reese River claims. These solid Reese River slugs are as common here as greenbacks in the States; every man you meet...


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