To mark Nevada’s 150 years of statehood, the Sesquicentennial Commission has created “a year-long series of festivities and educational events which will highlight our state’s rich cultural heritage …”
Yes, Nevada was Battle Born in the waning days of the bloody Civil War — Oct. 31, 1864. It played a significant role in an important period, helping determine that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
But we have little concept today of what daily life was like for those hardy Nevadans 150 years ago, as reported in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press. Luckily we can still get glimpses of the hardscrabble lives of those first Nevadans from their letters and memoirs and newspaper dispatches written in a tone so foreign to our 21st century ear.
Take, for instance, J. Ross Browne’s description of a Washoe Zephyr in 1864:
“It happened thus one night. The wind was blowing in terrific gusts. In the midst of the general clatter on the subject of croppings, bargains, and indications, down came our next neighbor’s house on the top of us with a terrific crash. For a moment it was difficult to tell which house was the ruin. Amid projecting and shivered planks, the flapping of canvas, and the howling of the wind, it really seemed as if chaos had come again.”
And when lives and limbs were not at jeopardy, livelihoods were. The Reese River Reveille in Austin in 1864 complained mightily about how the miners were treated by the trustees in far off San Francisco:
“The great complaint at San Francisco relative to Reese River mines, is that although they are rich, yet our people are too shiftless to prospect them. The truth is they are not more thoroughly prospected for the reason that San Francisco vampires, high paid Secretaries and other officials absorb all the assessments levied to develop them. In claims incorporated in California the Trustees provide handsome salaries for the officers, collect assessments at the rate of fifty cents to $5 per foot, keeping such of the owners as reside here too poor to pay these heavy drains …”
Like today, in 1864 no man’s life, liberty, or property were safe while the legislature was in session, as Samuel Clemens, who by then had adopted the nom de pen of Mark Twain, did frequently attest in his dispatches in February of 1864 for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City. Here is one example:
“While I was absent a moment, yesterday, on important business, taking a drink, the House, with its accustomed engaging unanimity, knocked one of my pet bills higher than a kite, without a dissenting voice. I convened the members in extra session last night, and deluged them with blasphemy, after which I entered into a solemn compact with them, whereby, in consideration of their re-instating my bill, I was to make an ample apology for all the mean things I had said about them for passing that infamous, unchristian, infernal telegraph bill the other day.”
So, celebrate and commemorate Nevada’s sesquicentennial and the hardy and colorful men and women who founded her.
It must have been, in comparison, a glorious time, only a few rich men from California and fewer local, state and federal politicians were screwing Nevadans over. The more things change the more they stay the same, the numbers of those screwing Nevadans over have increased and mining is more from our wallets than from hard rock caves.
I thought that was Jon Ralstons favorite descriptor for Harry Reid?
Did you pay the royalty?
Seriously. Nice one Tom, a good read.
Ralston only owns the copyright for “hardscrabble” when you use it to refer to Harry Reid.
Tell me again how the Feds end up owning 86% of our state land?