2 Mormons in the Great Basin Mormons traveled to Nevada in 1850 looking for a safe environment to start a community and practice their religion. They eventually settled on the eastern edge of the Great Basin, but sent followers into the wilderness to establish way stations for travelers on their way to California. Two of these followers, John Orr and Nicholas Kelly, found gold while prospecting in the area now known today as Dayton. This began the rush to the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada.
3 Early Names in Great Basin History Ethan and Hosea GroshProspectorsDiscovered the Comstock LodeDied before they realized their dreamJames “Old Virginny” FennimoreProspectorSettlerNamesake of Virginia CityEilley Orrum BowerRan a boarding HouseTraded room and board for stock in minesBecame very wealthyHenry ComstockProspectorFound notebooks kept by the Grosh brothers after their deathsClaimed Sun Mountain
4 Prospecting on Sun Mountain In 1851, James “Old Virginny” Fennimore arrived at Sun Mountain and began prospecting. He and other prospectors relied on John Reese at Mormon Station for all their food and supplies. His prices were very high and he became wealthy while Old Virginny and the other prospectors suffered many hardships.
5 Discovering the Comstock Lode Hosea and Ethan Grosh came to Sun Mountain in search of gold. They were not successful but refused to give up. In 1856 they were very much surprised to find not gold, but silver. Alas, Hosea died very soon afterwards from tetanus after striking his foot with a pick. Ethan died several months later from severe frostbite after becoming lost in snow-covered mountains. Henry “Old Pancake” Comstock took over their cabin, notebooks, and claims. He soon discovered the brothers’ secret and lost no time in claiming nearly all of Sun Mountain in his name.
6 Gold HillIn 1859 Old Virginny Fennimore and three other men discovered the southern end of the Comstock Lode. They called the place Gold Hill and soon many others came to stake their claims. They did not realize that the water they were using to pan for gold belonged to Fennimore, Comstock, and Manny Penrod. Comstock traded water for a stake in the other mines. He also cheated Fennimore out of his claims on Sun Mountain. Because Comstock ended up owning so much stock in the mines, the silver lode was named for him.
7 Virginia CityOld Virginny Fennimore christened the small, tent town near the Ophir Mine Virginia Town. The slightly modified name stuck.Miners on the Comstock still had no idea that the blue mud that kept clogging their rockers was silver. B.A. Harrison, a rancher, realized what was being mined and shared his thoughts with his friend Judge Walsh. They decided to quietly go to Virginia City and start buying as much of the Comstock Lode as they were able. Manny Penrod sold out for $8,500, Comstock sold his for $11,000, and Pete O’Reilly finally sold his for $445,000. Sandy and Eilley Bowers kept their shares and ended up making $1,000,000 a year during the boom years.
8 Virginia CityBy 1860, 10,000 people had made the journey to Virginia City in search of silver. Laws were scarce and arguments were usually settled by fists or bullets. An attorney, William Stewart arrived and began settling disputes with lawsuits instead of duels.
9 The Civil War and Nevada Territory In 1861 the Civil War broke out and the Confederacy had their eye on the Comstock silver to help finance the southern fight. However, the Southern sympathizers found most in the area were pro-union abolitionists. President Abraham Lincoln sent James Nye to Nevada as the first Territorial Governor. It was President Lincoln’s idea to speed up the process for statehood so Nevada’s pro-union votes would be available, if needed.
10 Life in Virginia CityBy 1863, over 15,000 people lived in Virginia City. There were houses, schools, churches, stores, and banks. Piper’s Opera House brought some of the biggest names in entertainment to the city. Most people still worked for the mines and, unfortunately, fires and cave-ins were not uncommon.
11 StatehoodNevada became a state on October 31, 1864, only 3 years after attaining territorial status. Lincoln hurried the signing in order to ensure that Nevada would be able to vote in the Presidential election and that its two senators would be able to vote for and help pass the 13th Amendment which would abolish slavery.
12 Important Names from Virginia City Adolph SutroOwned a successful millSaw the need for a deep tunnel to air to minesCharged to use the tunnelJohn MackayOwned the Kentuck MineOwned the Hale & Norcross MineWorked with Jim Fair to perfect the milling processPhilip DeidesheimerGerman engineerCreated the square-set timbering system for the minesNever patented the designDied in povertySamuel ClemensCreated the name Mark Twain while working at a newspaper in Virginia CityWrote Roughing It about his time in the west
13 The End of An EraBy 1880 the Comstock Lode had run dry. Unemployment climbed and people began to leave the area in search of a better life. In 1881 the Consolidated Mine caught fire. The tunnels were sealed and allowed to burn. The boom days for Virginia City had ended.Today Virginia City is a tourist destination. Many of the original buildings still exist and efforts are made to ensure their survival for another day.