Editorial: Coming Legislature likely to favor tax hikes

Ramirez cartoon

“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session,” is often attributed to Mark Twain. Though the quote is most likely apocryphal, its veracity is likely to be affirmed when Nevada’s newly elected lawmakers gather in early 2019 in Carson City.

The voters, primarily in the urban counties of Clark and Washoe, have loaded up the Legislature with Democrats — a two-thirds supermajority in the Assembly and one shy of a supermajority in the state Senate. And that seat could swing to the Democrats if a planned recount in a district in Clark County changes the outcome. The Republican candidate won the seat by a razor-thin 28 votes.

That supermajority is significant because it takes two-thirds of each wing of the legislative building to pass any tax increase. This is due to a constitutional amendment known as the Tax Restraint Initiative pushed by former Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons and approved by voters in 1994 and 1996.

Recent legislative sessions have proven that the Democrats are salivating for higher taxes to satiate their public union enablers in state and local governments and the public education system.

To add to the level of jeopardy, Nevada has elected a Democratic governor, former Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who is unlikely to wield a veto pen on any tax hikes that reach his desk. 

In an interview shortly after the election, Sisolak said, “I’ve committed, we’re not going to be raising taxes. That’s not my intent,” saying existing funds could be reallocated. But earlier in the campaign he told an interviewer, “One of the ways we’re going to have to pay for it, and people don’t want to hear it, is property taxes.” He also has a track record of backing tax increases. He was a key backer of spending tax money to build a professional football stadium in Las Vegas for a billionaire team owner.

On top of that, the lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate and can vote in the case of a tie is Democrat Kate Marshall. Additionally, the state treasurer, controller and attorney general are all Democrats. 

One of the more likely targets will be our property taxes. Currently the state imposes a cap on annual property tax increases — 3 percent for homes and 8 percent for businesses. There has been talk of changing that, as well as eliminating or altering the depreciation on property assessments currently allowed by law. Such changes could cause property taxes to double or even triple in some cases.

Sales taxes hikes, adjustments to the Commerce Tax on businesses, as well as various fees are likely to be on the table.

Democrats are also likely to be open to proposals to allow state public employees to unionize just like local government public workers, who currently are paid 46 percent more than those in the private sector in Nevada — 57 percent more when generous retirement benefits and paid leave are accounted for. Guess who would pay for that.

There is also discussion about ending Nevada’s status as a right-to-work state, which would devastate small businesses.

Additionally, Sisolak and many of the incumbent and newly elected Democrats have expressed a desire to increase the minimum wage incrementally toward $15 and hour, which also would cripple many small businesses and drive some from the state. 

Keep your phones and your pens handy in the coming months. You’ll want to use them to let our representatives in Carson City know what we think of these potential legislative efforts.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

How Nevada became the 36th star on the U.S. flag

36-star U.S. flag

36-star U.S. flag

Today Nevadans celebrate Nevada Day. On this day in 1864 Nevada became a state.

Not only was Nevada “Battle Born,” as the flag proclaims, it was battle bred and born after a remarkably short gestation during the Civil War.

With Southern states seceding from the Union, in March 1861 President James Buchanan signed the bill declaring Nevada a territory. Lopped off from the western stretches of the Utah territory, the territory grew in population with the gold and silver booms of the Comstock Lode and other finds.

But its population in 1864 was still only about 30,000, just half of the required 60,000 for statehood and well short of the 100,000 that each member of Congress at the time represented.

Nevada was destined to become a state for the most compelling of reasons imaginable. No, not because the Union needed Nevada’s gold and silver to wage the ebbing Civil War. The Union got just as much revenue from the territory.

President Lincoln needed the votes in the election that occurred eight days after he declared: “Now, therefore, be it known, that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in accordance with the duty imposed upon me by the act of congress aforesaid, do hereby declare and proclaim that the said State of Nevada is admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original states.”

That is why Nevada became the 36th state and Utah did not become a state until 1896, while New Mexico and Arizona remained territories until 1912.

When Congress passed the Enabling Act for Nevada statehood on March 21, 1864, Lincoln was in a three-way contest with Gen. John C. Fremont, a radical Republican, and Gen. George B. McClellan, a Democrat, both of whom Lincoln had relieved of their commands during the war.

It was feared the vote could be so divided and close that the election would have to be decided by the House of Representatives, where one more Republican representative could make all the difference.

According to retired Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha, Nevada’s votes were needed to re-elect Lincoln and build support for his reconstruction policies, including the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.

Fremont dropped out of the race in September after brokering a deal with Lincoln. The president then carried 60 percent of the Nevada vote and easily won re-election with 212 electoral votes to 21 for McClellan.

Nevada not only ratified the 13th Amendment, as well as the 14th Amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection under law, but Nevada Sen. William M. Stewart played a key role in the drafting of the 15th Amendment stating the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

One of the first appeals for a separate territory came from a meeting in Gilbert’s saloon in Genoa in August 1857 instigated by Maj. William Ormsby, according to Thompson and West’s “History of Nevada,” published in 1881.

From this meeting came the appeal:

“The citizens inhabiting the valleys within the Great Basin of the American Continent, to be hereinafter described, beg leave respectfully to present for the earnest consideration of the President of the United States, and the members of both Houses of Congress this their petition; praying for the organization of a new Territory of the United States. We do not propose to come with any flourish of trumpets or multiply words in this memorial, but we propose simply to submit a few plain statements as the inducements and reasons which actuate us in making this appeal to those who have the power to remedy the existing difficulties and embarrassments under which we now labor and suffer.”

Among those difficulties and embarrassments was:

“In the winter-time the snows that fall upon the summits and spurs of the Sierra Nevada, frequently interrupt all intercourse and communications between the Great Basin and the State of California, and the Territories of Oregon and Washington, for nearly four months every year. During the same time all intercourse and communication between us and the civil authorities of Utah are likewise closed.

“Within this space of time, and indeed from our anomalous condition during all seasons of the year, no debts can be collected by law; no offenders can be arrested, and no crime can be punished except by the code of Judge Lynch, and no obedience to government can be enforced, and for these reasons there is and can be no protection to either life or property except that which may be derived from the peaceably disposed, the good sense and patriotism of the people, or from the fearful, unsatisfactory, and terrible defense and protection which the revolver, the bowie-knife, and other deadly weapons may afford us.”

Nevada’s path to statehood gained firm footing that same year when Brigham Young, the territorial governor of Utah and president of the Mormon Church, called on church members to leave what is now Nevada and other regions to assemble in Salt Lake City to prepare for an anticipated military confrontation with the federal government.

In 1858, a war measure was directed at the Mormons, Rocha recounts,

Congress’ Committee on Territories submitted a bill to create a territorial government called Sierra Nevada.

The name was shortened when the committee submitted its written reasons for creating the new territory: “to protect the public mails traveling within and through it; make safe and secure the great overland route to the Pacific as far as within its limits; restore friendly relations with the present hostile Indian tribes; contribute to the suppression of the Mormon power by the protection it might afford to its dissatisfied members; and (be) of material aid to our military operations. Thus satisfied and impressed, your committee respectfully report a bill for the formation of a new Territory … to be called the Territory of Nevada.”

Dan De Quille the 30-year staffer of the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City stated the case a bit more colloquially in his book “The Big Bonanza.”

Dan De Quille

Occupying the western portion of the vast Utah Territory, the miners of the Comstock range were a long way from the longest arm of any law, so they resorted to making their own. At a meeting in Gold Hill on June 11, 1859, various “rules and regulations” were unanimously adopted.

Among the more ignoble, De Quille noted, was: “No Chinaman shall hold a claim in this district.”

The rest were of the customary Western laws — simple, swift and strict.

— “Any person who shall wilfully and with malice aforethought take the life of any person, shall, upon being duly convicted thereof, suffer the penalty of death by hanging.”

—   “Any person found guilty of assault and battery, or exhibiting deadly weapons, shall, upon conviction, be fined or banished, as the jury may determine.”

De Quille — who like many of his ilk, time and locale was known to stretch the truth a bit — recounts one tale of terrible swift justice.

In August of 1859 two thieves by the names of George Ruspas and David Reise stole a yoke of cattle and attempted to sell them at a suspiciously low price. They were arrested, tried and sentenced by the jury of their peers to have their left ears cut off and be banished.

“Jim Sturtevant, an old resident of Washoe Valley, was appointed executioner,” De Quille writes. “He drew out a big knife, ran his thumb along the blade, and not finding its edge just to his mind, gave it a few rakes across a rock. He then walked up to Reise and taking a firm hold on the upper part of the organ designated by the jury, shaved it off, close up, at a single slash. As he approached Ruspas, the face of that gentleman was observed to wear a cunning smile. He seemed very much amused about something. The executioner, however, meant business, and tossing Reise’s ear over to the jury, who sat at the root of the pine, he went after that of Ruspas, whose eyes were following every motion made and whose face wore the expression of that of a man about to say or do a good thing.

“Sturtevant pulled aside the fellow’s hair, which he wore hanging down about his shoulders, and lo! there was no left ear, it having been parted with on some previous and similar occasion. Here was a fix for the executioner! His instructions were to cut off the fellow’s left ear, but there was no left ear on which to operate. The prisoner now looked him in the face and laughed aloud.

“The joke was so good that he could no longer restrain himself. Sturtevant appealed to the jury for instructions. The jury were enjoying the scene not a little, and being, in a good humor, said that they would reconsider their sentence; that rather than anyone should be disappointed the executioner might take off the prisoner’s right ear, if he had one. The smile faded out of the countenance of Ruspas as he felt Sturtevant’s fingers securing a firm hold on the top of his right ear. An instant after, Sturtevant gave a vigorous slash, and then tossed Ruspas’ ear over to the jury, saying as he did so, that they now had a pair of ears that were ‘rights and lefts’ and therefore properly mated.

“This little ceremony over, the pair of thieves were directed to take the road leading over the Sierras to the beautiful ‘Golden State.’”

After the territory was created, Lincoln promptly appointed party loyalists to fill offices in the newly carved out territory. James Nye of New York was appointed governor and Orion Clemens became secretary, bringing along his younger brother Samuel to be an assistant.

Nye had campaigned for Lincoln in the previous election. Orion Clemens had studied in the St. Louis law office of Edward Bates, who became Lincoln’s attorney general.

The younger Clemens brother described with some probable embellishment their arrival in Carson City:

“We arrived, disembarked, and the stage went on. It was a ‘wooden’ town; its population two thousand souls. The main street consisted of four or five blocks of little white frame stores which were too high to sit down on, but not too high for various other purposes; in fact, hardly high enough. They were packed close together, side by side, as if room were scarce in that mighty plain. …

“We were introduced to several citizens, at the stage-office and on the way up to the Governor’s from the hotel — among others, to a Mr. Harris, who was on horseback; he began to say something, but interrupted himself with the remark:

“’I’ll have to get you to excuse me a minute; yonder is the witness that swore I helped to rob the California coach — a piece of impertinent intermeddling, sir, for I am not even acquainted with the man.’

“Then he rode over and began to rebuke the stranger with a six-shooter, and the stranger began to explain with another. … I never saw Harris shoot a man after that but it recalled to mind that first day in Carson.

“This was all we saw that day, for it was two o’clock, now, and according to custom the daily ‘Washoe Zephyr’ set in; a soaring dust-drift about the size of the United States set up edgewise came with it, and the capital of Nevada Territory disappeared from view.”

By the time Sam Clemens penned that introduction to Carson City, he had adopted the pen name Mark Twain.

Sam Clemens first used that nom de plume on Feb. 3, 1863, in dispatches from Carson City for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City. Ten years later he would offer the quaint explanation about how it was derived from his days as a riverboat pilot on the ever-shifting Mississippi River, where the leadsman would take soundings to determine the depth. Twelve feet of clearance was needed for the draft of the paddleboats, thus the leadsman would call out for the log book, “Mark twain,” or two fathoms.

But newspapering has always been parching work for penurious pay, the more Nevada centric and less clean-cut explanation might be closer to the truth, which Twain was seldom averse to stretching.

Twain biographer Andrew Hoffman writes, “People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger.”

Gov. Nye arrived on July 7, 1861, without mentioning gunfire or zephyrs. He declared the Nevada officially a territory on July 11. A census found 16,374 souls residing in said territory.

In an ironic turn of events, one of the first acts of the newly elected territorial legislature was to declare gambling illegal. According to Russell Elliott’s “History of Nevada,” Gov. Nye delivered an impassioned appeal to lawmakers:

“I particularly recommend that you pass stringent laws to prevent gambling. It holds all the seductive vices extent, I regard that of gambling as the worst. It holds out allurement hard to be resisted. It captivates and ensnares the young, blunts all the moral sensibilities and ends in utter ruin.”

The law carried a fine of $500 and two years in jail.

While the lawmakers for the territory were outlawing what would one day generate more wealth than all the gold and silver mines, they also were still dithering over what name the future state would bear. At one point the legislature approved an act “to frame a Constitution and State Government for the State of Washoe.” The names of Humboldt and Esmeralda also were bandied about until Nevada won out.

But the path from territory to statehood was nearly derailed by an old familiar issue that resonates 150 years later — mining taxes.

At first the residents of the territory voted by a margin of 4-to-1 for statehood in September 1863. But in January 1864 a Constitution that would have taxed mining at the same rate as other enterprises was voted down by a similar 4-to-1 margin.

Then in July 1864 a revised document that changed mining taxes to “net proceeds” — allowing deduction of expenses — passed on a vote of 10,375 to 1,284.

With time running out before the November election, the new Constitution was telegraphed to Washington, D.C., at a cost of $3,416.77.

Nevada’s motto — “All for Our Country” — and its Constitution reflect the Battle Born nature of the times and divided country.

The Constitution contains a seemingly incongruous amalgam of the Declaration of Independence and a loyalty oath:

“All political power is inherent in the people[.] Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it. But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers … The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existance [existence], and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.”

Both of Nevada’s new senators arrived in Washington in time to vote for the 13thAmendment abolishing slavery and the new state’s lawmakers approved it on Feb. 16, 1865.

Sen. Stewart later wrote:

“It was understood that the Government at Washington was anxious that Nevada should become a State in order that her Senators and Representative might assist in the adoption of amendments to the Constitution in aid of the restoration of the Southern States after the Union should be vindicated by war. Another and very important factor in inducing the people to vote for statehood was the unsatisfactory judiciary condition under a territorial form of government. … The morning after I took my seat in the Senate I called upon President Lincoln at the White House. He received me in the most friendly manner, taking me by both hands, and saying: ‘I am glad to see you here. We need as many loyal States as we can get, and, in addition to that, the gold and silver in the region you represent has made it possible for the Government to maintain sufficient credit to continue this terrible war for the Union. I have observed such manifestations of the patriotism of your people as assure me that the Government can rely on your State for such support as is in you power.’”

Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865.

The original territory created in 1861 was added to in 1862 and 1866 by slicing off vertical chunks of western Utah. In 1867 the southern-most part of the state, now mostly Clark County, was added by taking the westernmost reaches of the Arizona Territory. Until 1909, Clark County was a part of Lincoln County.

On Nov. 2, 1864, The New York Herald published a glowing account of the state’s admission and what it meant for the nation.

The article began:

“The proclamation of President Lincoln, published in the Herald of Monday, absorbs the Territory of Nevada, with its untold wealth of riches in gold, silver and other minerals, into the ever swelling bosom of the United States. Nevada, but yesterday an isolated place on which but little public interest concentrated, has suddenly become a place of paramount importance, as a new and valuable state of the Union.

“Today we give a map of the new State in connection with this sketch of the history of its progress and wealth. The State is called ‘Nevada,’ from the old Spanish nomenclature, that word signifying ‘snowy,’ from the word ‘nieve,’ which means snow in the Castilian language.”

The article concludes breathlessly: “There can be no doubt that the future of the new State will be as propitious as its beginning. With so much available wealth in its bosom, it is natural that it must attract intelligent and enterprising people to go and settle there.”

Nevada did not have an official flag until 1905. That version had the word Nevada in the middle with the words Silver at the top and Gold at the bottom with rows of stars between the words. The Battle Born flag was not adopted until 1929. It was revised slightly in 1991 to make the word Nevada easier to read.

When Nevada became a state, its new Constitution contained a so-called Disclaimer Clause, just like every other new state being admitted, in which the residents of the territory were required to “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States.”

Nevada’s enabling act also states that the land “shall be sold,” with 5 percent of proceeds going to the state.

The land was never sold and to this day various federal agencies control approximately 85 percent of the land in the state. The Disclaimer Clause was repealed by the voters in 1996, but nothing has been done about it since by any governor, congressman or attorney general.

A version of this blog first appeared on Oct. 31, 2014.

Nevada and I share this birthday, though the state is slightly older.

 

Newspaper column: Give the gift of knowledge about Nevada and the West

Christmas is coming and you’re still scratching your head over just what to get for that special Nevada friend or family member. How about a gift that will keep giving for years to come — a book, specifically a book about Nevada and/or the West?

A couple of the newest additions to this narrow genre are David Philipps’ “Wild Horse Country” and Range magazine’s “The Good, the Bad and the Bovine.”

Philipps explores the history of the wild horse in the West with a number of stops along the way in Nevada. He also addresses the issue of feral horse overpopulation and delves into the various options for solving the problem. It is thought provoking and informative.

In November, Range published a collection of articles and photos from its archive of thorough coverage of the people, places and issues touching on ranching and farming on the rangeland of the West. Titles include: “Don’t Fence ’Em In,” “The Ultimate Recycler,” “It’s in the Breeding,” “Cow Pie” and “A Ranger’s Reflection” — dispatches from the empty quarter.

Range boasts of the book, “The hardcover coffee-table edition is a not only a photographic tribute featuring works by some of the best ranch and wildlife photographers in the country, but there are some meaty stories penned by prize-winning writers.”

The magazine also has available on its website other books from recent years. Two of my favorites are “Brushstrokes & Balladeers” and “Reflections of the West.” Both are coffee-table quality books packed with insightful poetry about life on the range and eye-popping paintings that stand up to favorable comparison to Remington and Russell. The wink-and-a-smirk doggerel of Elko’s Waddie Mitchell is worth the cover price alone.

Then there are the books from the dawn of the state’s history that should be on every Nevadan’s bookshelf. These include’s Mark Twain’s “Roughing It,” of course, about his sojourn in Nevada during the Civil War and his misadventures in newspapering as a reporter and briefly as an editor. He claimed his editorials prompted no less than six invitations to duel.

From the same era comes Twain’s editor’s reminiscences about “The Big Bonanza” — Dan de Quille’s foray into the goings-on during the days of the Comstock Lode.

To learn more about the truth stretching Twain, one could pick up a copy of Andrew Hoffman’s biography, “Inventing Mark Twain.” My personal favorite insight is Hoffman’s busting the myth that Sam Clemens took his pseudonym from his steamboat days.

“People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger,” writes Hoffman.”

For insight into the people who invented modern day Nevada, there are books such as Dallas Morning News reporter Doug Swanson’s “Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker.” The book takes the reader from Benion’s humble beginnings in Pilot Grove, Texas, to dangerous Deep Ellum in Dallas, until he drifted and grifted — and reportedly killed — into downtown Las Vegas.

Former Las Vegas newspaper columnist John L. Smith writes about a number of Nevada notables in “Sharks in the Desert,” covers the rise of casino owner Steve Wynn in “Running Scared” and tells of the mob lawyer-turned-Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman in “Of Rats and Men.”

Sally Denton reveals the company and the men who built Hoover Dam in her thoroughly researched book “The Profiteers” about the Bechtel Corporation.

Denton and Roger Morris also penned a book titled “The Money and the Power” about the making of Las Vegas since World War II, offering insightful peeks into the likes of gangsters Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, politician Pat McCarran and newspaper publisher Hank Greenspun.

For those who would like to climb out of the armchair and go visit on foot some of the gorgeous landscapes in Nevada and neighboring states, there is travel writer Deborah Wall’s “Base Camp Las Vegas,” which details how to get to and how to explore 101 hiking trails — from Arches to Zion National Parks, from Death Valley to the Ruby Mountains.

Many of these are available in local bookstores. All can be found online with the aid of a search engine.

And finally a blatant plug. If you’d like to keep your Nevada friends and family informed in the future, you can always give a subscription to this newspaper.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

What will it profit a man if the whole sun disappears?

All of the hubbub over the impending and, apparently potentially cataclysmic, solar eclipse is, frankly, beginning to wear a tad bit thin.

So, it is the moon and not a cloud that will briefly obscure a portion of the sun at midmorning. What possible use can that knowledge be? But it seems we mere mortals are such dolts that the newspapers, broadcasters and assorted social media must repeatedly warn us in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS with exclamation points that glancing up to see what is going on could result in permanent blindness and addlepated apoplexy. We are assured the eclipse will not cripple the power grid which incorporates a modest percent of solar power. The only difference between an eclipse and a cloud is that the cloud is less predictable.

The solar eclipse viewing glasses are sold out. The passage to and hotels along the path of totality are booked. There is no way in which to put the knowledge to profitable use.

Knowledge can be a valuable thing. Mark Twain liked to put his knowledge to good use, even if it meant stretching his grasp of that knowledge and the fortuity of the proximity of certain events to convenient circumstances beyond credulity. Stretching serves to underscore the reality and make it memorable.

How else to explain how a gentleman, if we may stretch the definition of the term to cover the rascally Hank Morgan, from 1879 who inexplicably finds himself stranded in the year 528 A.D. in the middle of June could possibly possess the astronomical charts and prodigious power of recall to precisely conclude that a total eclipse of the sun would occur minutes after noon two days hence?

As in some of the most improbable cliffhangers ever concocted, Twain’s protagonist in “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” pulls it off. Somehow Morgan managed to get himself in trouble with local authorities and was about to dearly pay the consequences.

Here are the pertinent passages:

As the soldiers assisted me across the court the stillness was so profound that if I had been blindfold I should have supposed I was in a solitude instead of walled in by four thousand people. There was not a movement perceptible in those masses of humanity; they were as rigid as stone images, and as pale; and dread sat upon every countenance.  This hush continued while I was being chained to the stake; it still continued while the fagots were carefully and tediously piled about my ankles, my knees, my thighs, my body.  Then there was a pause, and a deeper hush, if possible, and a man knelt down at my feet with a blazing torch; the multitude strained forward, gazing, and parting slightly from their seats without knowing it; the monk raised his hands above my head, and his eyes toward the blue sky, and began some words in Latin; in this attitude he droned on and on, a little while, and then stopped. I waited two or three moments; then looked up; he was standing there petrified.  With a common impulse the multitude rose slowly up and stared into the sky.  I followed their eyes, as sure as guns, there was my eclipse beginning!  The life went boiling through my veins; I was a new man!  The rim of black spread slowly into the sun’s disk, my heart beat higher and higher, and still the assemblage and the priest stared into the sky, motionless.  I knew that this gaze would be turned upon me, next.  When it was, I was ready.  I was in one of the most grand attitudes I ever struck, with my arm stretched up pointing to the sun.  It was a noble effect.  You could see the shudder sweep the mass like a wave. Two shouts rang out, one close upon the heels of the other:

“Apply the torch!”

“I forbid it!”

The one was from Merlin, the other from the king.  Merlin started from his place — to apply the torch himself, I judged.  I said:

“Stay where you are.  If any man moves — even the king — before I give him leave, I will blast him with thunder, I will consume him with lightnings!”

The multitude sank meekly into their seats, and I was just expecting they would.  Merlin hesitated a moment or two, and I was on pins and needles during that little while.  Then he sat down, and I took a good breath; for I knew I was master of the situation now. The king said:

“Be merciful, fair sir, and essay no further in this perilous matter, lest disaster follow.  It was reported to us that your powers could not attain unto their full strength until the morrow; but —”

“Your Majesty thinks the report may have been a lie?  It was a lie.”

That made an immense effect; up went appealing hands everywhere, and the king was assailed with a storm of supplications that I might be bought off at any price, and the calamity stayed. The king was eager to comply. He said:

“Name any terms, reverend sir, even to the halving of my kingdom; but banish this calamity, spare the sun!”

My fortune was made.  I would have taken him up in a minute, but I couldn’t stop an eclipse; the thing was out of the question.  So I asked time to consider.  The king said:

“How long — ah, how long, good sir?  Be merciful; look, it groweth darker, moment by moment.  Prithee how long?”

“Not long.  Half an hour — maybe an hour.”

There were a thousand pathetic protests, but I couldn’t shorten up any, for I couldn’t remember how long a total eclipse lasts. [Someone who remembered the time and date of a sixth century solar eclipse does not know how long one lasts?]  I was in a puzzled condition, anyway, and wanted to think.  Something was wrong about that eclipse, and the fact was very unsettling. If this wasn’t the one I was after, how was I to tell whether this was the sixth century, or nothing but a dream?  Dear me, if I could only prove it was the latter!  Here was a glad new hope.  If the boy was right about the date, and this was surely the 20th, it wasn’t the sixth century.  I reached for the monk’s sleeve, in considerable excitement, and asked him what day of the month it was.

Hang him, he said it was the twenty-first !  It made me turn cold to hear him.  I begged him not to make any mistake about it; but he was sure; he knew it was the 21st.  So, that feather-headed boy had botched things again!  The time of the day was right for the eclipse; I had seen that for myself, in the beginning, by the dial that was near by.  Yes, I was in King Arthur’s court, and I might as well make the most out of it I could.

The darkness was steadily growing, the people becoming more and more distressed.  I now said:

“I have reflected, Sir King.  For a lesson, I will let this darkness proceed, and spread night in the world; but whether I blot out the sun for good, or restore it, shall rest with you.  These are the terms, to wit:  You shall remain king over all your dominions, and receive all the glories and honors that belong to the kingship; but you shall appoint me your perpetual minister and executive, and give me for my services one per cent of such actual increase of revenue over and above its present amount as I may succeed in creating for the state.  If I can’t live on that, I sha’n’t ask anybody to give me a lift.  Is it satisfactory?”

There was a prodigious roar of applause, and out of the midst of it the king’s voice rose, saying:

“Away with his bonds, and set him free! and do him homage, high and low, rich and poor, for he is become the king’s right hand, is clothed with power and authority, and his seat is upon the highest step of the throne!  Now sweep away this creeping night, and bring the light and cheer again, that all the world may bless thee.”

But I said:

“That a common man should be shamed before the world, is nothing; but it were dishonor to the king if any that saw his minister naked should not also see him delivered from his shame.  If I might ask that my clothes be brought again —”

“They are not meet,” the king broke in.  “Fetch raiment of another sort; clothe him like a prince!”

My idea worked.

Twain already used that plot twist. What is left? How to make a buck off this thing? By selling newspapers? Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one. Flinging blogs into the ether doesn’t quite have the same return on investment. Though perhaps these days the margins are considerably narrower.

How Nevada became the 36th star on the United States flag

36-star U.S. flag

36-star U.S. flag

Today Nevadans celebrate Nevada Day. On this day in 1864 Nevada became a state.

Not only was Nevada “Battle Born,” as the flag proclaims, it was battle bred and born after a remarkably short gestation during the Civil War.

With Southern states seceding from the Union, in March 1861 President James Buchanan signed the bill declaring Nevada a territory. Lopped off from the western stretches of the Utah territory, the territory grew in population with the gold and silver booms of the Comstock Lode and other finds.

But its population in 1864 was still only about 30,000, just half of the required 60,000 for statehood and well short of the 100,000 that each member of Congress at the time represented.

Nevada was destined to become a state for the most compelling of reasons imaginable. No, not because the Union needed Nevada’s gold and silver to wage the ebbing Civil War. The Union got just as much revenue from the territory.

President Lincoln needed the votes in the election that occurred eight days after he declared: “Now, therefore, be it known, that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in accordance with the duty imposed upon me by the act of congress aforesaid, do hereby declare and proclaim that the said State of Nevada is admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original states.”

That is why Nevada became the 36th state and Utah did not become a state until 1896, while New Mexico and Arizona remained territories until 1912.

When Congress passed the Enabling Act for Nevada statehood on March 21, 1864, Lincoln was in a three-way contest with Gen. John C. Fremont, a radical Republican, and Gen. George B. McClellan, a Democrat, both of whom Lincoln had relieved of their commands during the war.

It was feared the vote could be so divided and close that the election would have to be decided by the House of Representatives, where one more Republican representative could make all the difference.

According to retired Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha, Nevada’s votes were needed to re-elect Lincoln and build support for his reconstruction policies, including the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.

Fremont dropped out of the race in September after brokering a deal with Lincoln. The president then carried 60 percent of the Nevada vote and easily won re-election with 212 electoral votes to 21 for McClellan.

Nevada not only ratified the 13th Amendment, as well as the 14th Amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection under law, but Nevada Sen. William M. Stewart played a key role in the drafting of the 15th Amendment stating the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

One of the first appeals for a separate territory came from a meeting in Gilbert’s saloon in Genoa in August 1857 instigated by Maj. William Ormsby, according to Thompson and West’s “History of Nevada,” published in 1881.

From this meeting came the appeal:

“The citizens inhabiting the valleys within the Great Basin of the American Continent, to be hereinafter described, beg leave respectfully to present for the earnest consideration of the President of the United States, and the members of both Houses of Congress this their petition; praying for the organization of a new Territory of the United States. We do not propose to come with any flourish of trumpets or multiply words in this memorial, but we propose simply to submit a few plain statements as the inducements and reasons which actuate us in making this appeal to those who have the power to remedy the existing difficulties and embarrassments under which we now labor and suffer.”

Among those difficulties and embarrassments was:

“In the winter-time the snows that fall upon the summits and spurs of the Sierra Nevada, frequently interrupt all intercourse and communications between the Great Basin and the State of California, and the Territories of Oregon and Washington, for nearly four months every year. During the same time all intercourse and communication between us and the civil authorities of Utah are likewise closed.

“Within this space of time, and indeed from our anomalous condition during all seasons of the year, no debts can be collected by law; no offenders can be arrested, and no crime can be punished except by the code of Judge Lynch, and no obedience to government can be enforced, and for these reasons there is and can be no protection to either life or property except that which may be derived from the peaceably disposed, the good sense and patriotism of the people, or from the fearful, unsatisfactory, and terrible defense and protection which the revolver, the bowie-knife, and other deadly weapons may afford us.”

Nevada’s path to statehood gained firm footing that same year when Brigham Young, the territorial governor of Utah and president of the Mormon Church, called on church members to leave what is now Nevada and other regions to assemble in Salt Lake City to prepare for an anticipated military confrontation with the federal government.

In 1858, a war measure was directed at the Mormons, Rocha recounts,

Congress’ Committee on Territories submitted a bill to create a territorial government called Sierra Nevada.

The name was shortened when the committee submitted its written reasons for creating the new territory: “to protect the public mails traveling within and through it; make safe and secure the great overland route to the Pacific as far as within its limits; restore friendly relations with the present hostile Indian tribes; contribute to the suppression of the Mormon power by the protection it might afford to its dissatisfied members; and (be) of material aid to our military operations. Thus satisfied and impressed, your committee respectfully report a bill for the formation of a new Territory … to be called the Territory of Nevada.”

Dan De Quille the 30-year staffer of the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City stated the case a bit more colloquially in his book “The Big Bonanza.”

Dan De Quille

Occupying the western portion of the vast Utah Territory, the miners of the Comstock range were a long way from the longest arm of any law, so they resorted to making their own. At a meeting in Gold Hill on June 11, 1859, various “rules and regulations” were unanimously adopted.

Among the more ignoble, De Quille noted, was: “No Chinaman shall hold a claim in this district.”

The rest were of the customary Western laws — simple, swift and strict.

— “Any person who shall wilfully and with malice aforethought take the life of any person, shall, upon being duly convicted thereof, suffer the penalty of death by hanging.”

—   “Any person found guilty of assault and battery, or exhibiting deadly weapons, shall, upon conviction, be fined or banished, as the jury may determine.”

De Quille — who like many of his ilk, time and locale was known to stretch the truth a bit — recounts one tale of terrible swift justice.

In August of 1859 two thieves by the names of George Ruspas and David Reise stole a yoke of cattle and attempted to sell them at a suspiciously low price. They were arrested, tried and sentenced by the jury of their peers to have their left ears cut off and be banished.

“Jim Sturtevant, an old resident of Washoe Valley, was appointed executioner,” De Quille writes. “He drew out a big knife, ran his thumb along the blade, and not finding its edge just to his mind, gave it a few rakes across a rock. He then walked up to Reise and taking a firm hold on the upper part of the organ designated by the jury, shaved it off, close up, at a single slash. As he approached Ruspas, the face of that gentleman was observed to wear a cunning smile. He seemed very much amused about something. The executioner, however, meant business, and tossing Reise’s ear over to the jury, who sat at the root of the pine, he went after that of Ruspas, whose eyes were following every motion made and whose face wore the expression of that of a man about to say or do a good thing.

“Sturtevant pulled aside the fellow’s hair, which he wore hanging down about his shoulders, and lo! there was no left ear, it having been parted with on some previous and similar occasion. Here was a fix for the executioner! His instructions were to cut off the fellow’s left ear, but there was no left ear on which to operate. The prisoner now looked him in the face and laughed aloud.

“The joke was so good that he could no longer restrain himself. Sturtevant appealed to the jury for instructions. The jury were enjoying the scene not a little, and being, in a good humor, said that they would reconsider their sentence; that rather than anyone should be disappointed the executioner might take off the prisoner’s right ear, if he had one. The smile faded out of the countenance of Ruspas as he felt Sturtevant’s fingers securing a firm hold on the top of his right ear. An instant after, Sturtevant gave a vigorous slash, and then tossed Ruspas’ ear over to the jury, saying as he did so, that they now had a pair of ears that were ‘rights and lefts’ and therefore properly mated.

“This little ceremony over, the pair of thieves were directed to take the road leading over the Sierras to the beautiful ‘Golden State.’”

After the territory was created, Lincoln promptly appointed party loyalists to fill offices in the newly carved out territory. James Nye of New York was appointed governor and Orion Clemens became secretary, bringing along his younger brother Samuel to be an assistant.

Nye had campaigned for Lincoln in the previous election. Orion Clemens had studied in the St. Louis law office of Edward Bates, who became Lincoln’s attorney general.

The younger Clemens brother described with some probable embellishment their arrival in Carson City:

“We arrived, disembarked, and the stage went on. It was a ‘wooden’ town; its population two thousand souls. The main street consisted of four or five blocks of little white frame stores which were too high to sit down on, but not too high for various other purposes; in fact, hardly high enough. They were packed close together, side by side, as if room were scarce in that mighty plain. …

“We were introduced to several citizens, at the stage-office and on the way up to the Governor’s from the hotel — among others, to a Mr. Harris, who was on horseback; he began to say something, but interrupted himself with the remark:

“’I’ll have to get you to excuse me a minute; yonder is the witness that swore I helped to rob the California coach — a piece of impertinent intermeddling, sir, for I am not even acquainted with the man.’

“Then he rode over and began to rebuke the stranger with a six-shooter, and the stranger began to explain with another. … I never saw Harris shoot a man after that but it recalled to mind that first day in Carson.

“This was all we saw that day, for it was two o’clock, now, and according to custom the daily ‘Washoe Zephyr’ set in; a soaring dust-drift about the size of the United States set up edgewise came with it, and the capital of Nevada Territory disappeared from view.”

By the time Sam Clemens penned that introduction to Carson City, he had adopted the pen name Mark Twain.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Sam Clemens first used that nom de plume on Feb. 3, 1863, in dispatches from Carson City for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City. Ten years later he would offer the quaint explanation about how it was derived from his days as a riverboat pilot on the ever-shifting Mississippi River, where the leadsman would take soundings to determine the depth. Twelve feet of clearance was needed for the draft of the paddleboats, thus the leadsman would call out for the log book, “Mark twain,” or two fathoms.

But newspapering has always been parching work for penurious pay, the more Nevada centric and less clean-cut explanation might be closer to the truth, which Twain was seldom averse to stretching.

Twain biographer Andrew Hoffman writes, “People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger.”

Gov. Nye arrived on July 7, 1861, without mentioning gunfire or zephyrs. He declared the Nevada officially a territory on July 11. A census found 16,374 souls residing in said territory.

In an ironic turn of events, one of the first acts of the newly elected territorial legislature was to declare gambling illegal. According to Russell Elliott’s “History of Nevada,” Gov. Nye delivered an impassioned appeal to lawmakers:

“I particularly recommend that you pass stringent laws to prevent gambling. It holds all the seductive vices extent, I regard that of gambling as the worst. It holds out allurement hard to be resisted. It captivates and ensnares the young, blunts all the moral sensibilities and ends in utter ruin.”

The law carried a fine of $500 and two years in jail.

While the lawmakers for the territory were outlawing what would one day generate more wealth than all the gold and silver mines, they also were still dithering over what name the future state would bear. At one point the legislature approved an act “to frame a Constitution and State Government for the State of Washoe.” The names of Humboldt and Esmeralda also were bandied about until Nevada won out.

But the path from territory to statehood was nearly derailed by an old familiar issue that resonates 150 years later — mining taxes.

At first the residents of the territory voted by a margin of 4-to-1 for statehood in September 1863. But in January 1864 a Constitution that would have taxed mining at the same rate as other enterprises was voted down by a similar 4-to-1 margin.

Then in July 1864 a revised document that changed mining taxes to “net proceeds” — allowing deduction of expenses — passed on a vote of 10,375 to 1,284.

With time running out before the November election, the new Constitution was telegraphed to Washington, D.C., at a cost of $3,416.77.

Nevada’s motto — “All for Our Country” — and its Constitution reflect the Battle Born nature of the times and divided country.

The Constitution contains a seemingly incongruous amalgam of the Declaration of Independence and a loyalty oath:

“All political power is inherent in the people[.] Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it. But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers … The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existance [existence], and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.”

Both of Nevada’s new senators arrived in Washington in time to vote for the 13thAmendment abolishing slavery and the new state’s lawmakers approved it on Feb. 16, 1865.

Sen. Stewart later wrote:

“It was understood that the Government at Washington was anxious that Nevada should become a State in order that her Senators and Representative might assist in the adoption of amendments to the Constitution in aid of the restoration of the Southern States after the Union should be vindicated by war. Another and very important factor in inducing the people to vote for statehood was the unsatisfactory judiciary condition under a territorial form of government. … The morning after I took my seat in the Senate I called upon President Lincoln at the White House. He received me in the most friendly manner, taking me by both hands, and saying: ‘I am glad to see you here. We need as many loyal States as we can get, and, in addition to that, the gold and silver in the region you represent has made it possible for the Government to maintain sufficient credit to continue this terrible war for the Union. I have observed such manifestations of the patriotism of your people as assure me that the Government can rely on your State for such support as is in you power.’”

Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865.

The original territory created in 1861 was added to in 1862 and 1866 by slicing off vertical chunks of western Utah. In 1867 the southern-most part of the state, now mostly Clark County, was added by taking the westernmost reaches of the Arizona Territory. Until 1909, Clark County was a part of Lincoln County.

On Nov. 2, 1864, The New York Herald published a glowing account of the state’s admission and what it meant for the nation.

The article began:

“The proclamation of President Lincoln, published in the Herald of Monday, absorbs the Territory of Nevada, with its untold wealth of riches in gold, silver and other minerals, into the ever swelling bosom of the United States. Nevada, but yesterday an isolated place on which but little public interest concentrated, has suddenly become a place of paramount importance, as a new and valuable state of the Union.

“Today we give a map of the new State in connection with this sketch of the history of its progress and wealth. The State is called ‘Nevada,’ from the old Spanish nomenclature, that word signifying ‘snowy,’ from the word ‘nieve,’ which means snow in the Castilian language.”

The article concludes breathlessly: “There can be no doubt that the future of the new State will be as propitious as its beginning. With so much available wealth in its bosom, it is natural that it must attract intelligent and enterprising people to go and settle there.”

Nevada did not have an official flag until 1905. That version had the word Nevada in the middle with the words Silver at the top and Gold at the bottom with rows of stars between the words. The Battle Born flag was not adopted until 1929. It was revised slightly in 1991 to make the word Nevada easier to read.

When Nevada became a state, its new Constitution contained a so-called Disclaimer Clause, just like every other new state being admitted, in which the residents of the territory were required to “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States.”

Nevada’s enabling act also states that the land “shall be sold,” with 5 percent of proceeds going to the state.

The land was never sold and to this day various federal agencies control approximately 85 percent of the land in the state. The Disclaimer Clause was repealed by the voters in 1996, but nothing has been done about it since by any governor, congressman or attorney general.

A version of this blog first appeared on Oct. 31, 2014.

Nevada and I share this birthday, though the state is slightly older.

 

Smith accepts induction into Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame with grace and humor

The best line from John L. Smith’s acceptance speech after being inducted into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame came after he recounted how the most famous member of that august hall left town — either to avoid a duel or being brought up on charges of arranging a duel. Smith noted it is easier to “spin a yarn if no one is threatening to shoot you or sue you into bankruptcy.” This was followed by knowing laughs.

Smith also claimed he could out drink Twain, perhaps forgetting just how Sam Clemens got that nickname. Upon entering the bar in Virginia City after a thirst-inducing deadline he did not shout to the barkeep to put two on his tab, instead he called out: “Mark twain.”

How Nevada became the 36th star on the United States flag

Today Nevadans celebrate Nevada Day. On this day in 1864 Nevada became a state.

Not only was Nevada “Battle Born,” as the flag proclaims, it was battle bred and born after a remarkably short gestation during the Civil War.

With Southern states seceding from the Union, in March 1861 President James Buchanan signed the bill declaring Nevada a territory. Lopped off from the western stretches of the Utah territory, the territory grew in population with the gold and silver booms of the Comstock Lode and other finds.

But its population in 1864 was still only about 30,000, just half of the required 60,000 for statehood and well short of the 100,000 that each member of Congress at the time represented.

Nevada was destined to become a state for the most compelling of reasons imaginable. No, not because the Union needed Nevada’s gold and silver to wage the ebbing Civil War. The Union got just as much revenue from the territory.

President Lincoln needed the votes in the election that occurred eight days after he declared: “Now, therefore, be it known, that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in accordance with the duty imposed upon me by the act of congress aforesaid, do hereby declare and proclaim that the said State of Nevada is admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original states.”

That is why Nevada became the 36th state and Utah did not become a state until 1896, while New Mexico and Arizona remained territories until 1912.

When Congress passed the Enabling Act for Nevada statehood on March 21, 1864, Lincoln was in a three way contest with Gen. John C. Fremont, a radical Republican, and Gen. George B. McClellan, a Democrat, both of whom Lincoln had relieved of their commands during the war.

It was feared the vote could be so divided and close that the election would have to be decided by the House of Representatives, where one more Republican representative could make all the difference.

According to retired Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha, Nevada’s votes were needed to re-elect Lincoln and build support for his reconstruction policies, including the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.

Fremont dropped out of the race in September after brokering a deal with Lincoln. The president then carried 60 percent of the Nevada vote and easily won re-election with 212 electoral votes to 21 for McClellan.

Nevada not only ratified the 13th Amendment, as well as the 14th Amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection under law, but Nevada Sen. William M. Stewart played a key role in the drafting of the 15th Amendment stating the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

One of the first appeals for a separate territory came from a meeting in Gilbert’s saloon in Genoa in August 1857 instigated by Maj. William Ormsby, according to Thompson and West’s “History of Nevada,” published in 1881.

From this meeting came the appeal:

“The citizens inhabiting the valleys within the Great Basin of the American Continent, to be hereinafter described, beg leave respectfully to present for the earnest consideration of the President of the United States, and the members of both Houses of Congress this their petition; praying for the organization of a new Territory of the United States. We do not propose to come with any flourish of trumpets or multiply words in this memorial, but we propose simply to submit a few plain statements as the inducements and reasons which actuate us in making this appeal to those who have the power to remedy the existing difficulties and embarrassments under which we now labor and suffer.”

Among those difficulties and embarrassments was:

“In the winter-time the snows that fall upon the summits and spurs of the Sierra Nevada, frequently interrupt all intercourse and communications between the Great Basin and the State of California, and the Territories of Oregon and Washington, for nearly four months every year. During the same time all intercourse and communication between us and the civil authorities of Utah are likewise closed.

“Within this space of time, and indeed from our anomalous condition during all seasons of the year, no debts can be collected by law; no offenders can be arrested, and no crime can be punished except by the code of Judge Lynch, and no obedience to government can be enforced, and for these reasons there is and can be no protection to either life or property except that which may be derived from the peaceably disposed, the good sense and patriotism of the people, or from the fearful, unsatisfactory, and terrible defense and protection which the revolver, the bowie-knife, and other deadly weapons may afford us.”

Nevada’s path to statehood gained firm footing that same year when Brigham Young, the territorial governor of Utah and president of the Mormon Church, called on church members to leave what is now Nevada and other regions to assemble in Salt Lake City to prepare for an anticipated military confrontation with the federal government.

In 1858, “as a war measure directed at the Mormons,” Rocha recounts,

Congress’ Committee on Territories submitted a bill to create a territorial government called Sierra Nevada.

The name was shortened when the committee submitted its written reasons for creating the new territory: “to protect the public mails traveling within and through it; make safe and secure the great overland route to the Pacific as far as within its limits; restore friendly relations with the present hostile Indian tribes; contribute to the suppression of the Mormon power by the protection it might afford to its dissatisfied members; and (be) of material aid to our military operations. Thus satisfied and impressed, your committee respectfully report a bill for the formation of a new Territory … to be called the Territory of Nevada.”

Dan De Quille the 30-year staffer of the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City stated the case a bit more colloquially in his book “The Big Bonanza.”

Dan De Quille

Occupying the western portion of the vast Utah Territory, the miners of the Comstock range were a long way from the longest arm of any law, so they resorted to making their own. At a meeting in Gold Hill on June 11, 1859, various “rules and regulations” were unanimously adopted.

Among the more ignoble, De Quille noted, was: “No Chinaman shall hold a claim in this district.”

The rest were of the customary Western laws — simple, swift and strict.

— “Any person who shall wilfully and with malice aforethought take the life of any person, shall, upon being duly convicted thereof, suffer the penalty of death by hanging.”

—   “Any person found guilty of assault and battery, or exhibiting deadly weapons, shall, upon conviction, be fined or banished, as the jury may determine.”

De Quille — who like many of his ilk, time and locale was known to stretch the truth a bit — recounts one tale of terrible swift justice.

In August of 1859 two thieves by the names of George Ruspas and David Reise stole a yoke of cattle and attempted to sell them at a suspiciously low price. They were arrested, tried and sentenced by the jury of their peers to have their left ears cut off and be banished.

“Jim Sturtevant, an old resident of Washoe Valley, was appointed executioner,” De Quille writes. “He drew out a big knife, ran his thumb
along the blade, and not finding its edge just to his mind, gave it a few rakes across a rock. He then walked up to Reise and taking a firm hold on the upper part of the organ designated by the jury, shaved it off, close up, at a single slash. As he approached Ruspas, the face of that gentleman was observed to wear a cunning smile. He seemed very much amused about something. The executioner, however, meant business, and tossing Reise’s ear over to the jury, who sat at the root of the pine, he went after that of Ruspas, whose eyes were following every motion made and whose face wore the expression of that of a man about to say or do a good thing.

“Sturtevant pulled aside the fellow’s hair, which he wore hanging down about his shoulders, and lo! there was no left ear, it having been parted with on some previous and similar occasion. Here was a fix for the executioner! His instructions were to cut off the fellow’s left ear, but there was no left ear on which to operate. The prisoner now looked him in the face and laughed aloud.

“The joke was so good that he could no longer restrain himself. Sturtevant appealed to the jury for instructions. The jury were enjoying the scene not a little, and being, in a good humor, said that they would reconsider their sentence; that rather than anyone should be disappointed the executioner might take off the prisoner’s right ear, if he had one. The smile faded out of the countenance of Ruspas as he felt Sturtevant’s fingers securing a firm hold on the top of his right ear. An instant after, Sturtevant gave a vigorous slash, and then tossed Ruspas’ ear over to the jury, saying as he did so, that they now had a pair of ears that were ‘rights and lefts’ and therefore properly mated.

“This little ceremony over, the pair of thieves were directed to take the road leading over the Sierras to the beautiful ‘Golden State.’”

After the territory was created, Lincoln promptly appointed party loyalists to fill offices in the newly carved out territory. James Nye of New York was appointed governor and Orion Clemens became secretary, bringing along his younger brother Samuel to be an assistant.

Nye had campaigned for Lincoln in the previous election. Orion Clemens had studied in the St. Louis law office of Edward Bates, who became Lincoln’s attorney general.

The younger Clemens brother described with some probable embellishment their arrival in Carson City:

“We arrived, disembarked, and the stage went on. It was a ‘wooden’ town; its population two thousand souls. The main street consisted of four or five blocks of little white frame stores which were too high to sit down on, but not too high for various other purposes; in fact, hardly high enough. They were packed close together, side by side, as if room were scarce in that mighty plain. …

“We were introduced to several citizens, at the stage-office and on the way up to the Governor’s from the hotel — among others, to a Mr. Harris, who was on horseback; he began to say something, but interrupted himself with the remark:

“’I’ll have to get you to excuse me a minute; yonder is the witness that swore I helped to rob the California coach — a piece of impertinent intermeddling, sir, for I am not even acquainted with the man.’

“Then he rode over and began to rebuke the stranger with a six-shooter, and the stranger began to explain with another. … I never saw Harris shoot a man after that but it recalled to mind that first day in Carson.

“This was all we saw that day, for it was two o’clock, now, and according to custom the daily ‘Washoe Zephyr’ set in; a soaring dust-drift about the size of the United States set up edgewise came with it, and the capital of Nevada Territory disappeared from view.”

By the time Sam Clemens penned that introduction to Carson City, he had adopted the pen name Mark Twain.

Mark Twain

Sam Clemens first used that nom de plume on Feb. 3, 1863, in dispatches from Carson City for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City. Ten years later he would offer the quaint explanation about how it was derived from his days as a riverboat pilot on the ever-shifting Mississippi River, where the leadsman would take soundings to determine the depth. Twelve feet of clearance was needed for the draft of the paddleboats, thus the leadsman would call out for the log book, “Mark twain,” or two fathoms.

But newspapering has always been parching work for penurious pay, the more Nevada centric and less clean-cut explanation might be closer to the truth, which Twain was seldom averse to stretching.

Twain biographer Andrew Hoffman writes, “People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger.”

Gov. Nye arrived on July 7, 1861, without mentioning gunfire or zephyrs. He declared the Nevada officially a territory on July 11. A census found 16,374 souls residing in said territory.

In an ironic turn of events, one of the first acts of the newly elected territorial legislature was to declare gambling illegal. According to Russell Elliott’s “History of Nevada,” Gov. Nye delivered an impassioned appeal to lawmakers:

“I particularly recommend that you pass stringent laws to prevent gambling. It holds all the seductive vices extent, I regard that of gambling as the worst. It holds out allurement hard to be resisted. It captivates and ensnares the young, blunts all the moral sensibilities and ends in utter ruin.”

The law carried a fine of $500 and two years in jail.

While the lawmakers for the territory were outlawing what would one day generate more wealth than all the gold and silver mines, they also were still dithering over what name the future state would bear. At one point the legislature approved an act “to frame a Constitution and State Government for the State of Washoe.” The names of Humboldt and Esmeralda also were bandied about until Nevada won out.

But the path from territory to statehood was nearly derailed by an old familiar issue that resonates 150 years later — mining taxes.

At first the residents of the territory voted by a margin of 4-to-1 for statehood in September 1863. But in January 1864 a Constitution that would have taxed mining at the same rate as other enterprises was voted down by a similar 4-to-1 margin.

Then in July 1864 a revised document that changed mining taxes to “net proceeds” — allowing deduction of expenses — passed on a vote of 10,375 to 1,284.

With time running out before the November election, the new Constitution was telegraphed to Washington, D.C., at a cost of $3,416.77.

Nevada’s motto — “All for Our Country” — and its Constitution reflect the Battle Born nature of the times and divided country.

The Constitution contains a seemingly incongruous amalgam of the Declaration of Independence and a loyalty oath:

“All political power is inherent in the people[.] Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it. But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers … The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existance [existence], and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.”

Both of Nevada’s new senators arrived in Washington in time to vote for the 13thAmendment abolishing slavery and the new state’s lawmakers approved it on Feb. 16, 1865.

Sen. Stewart later wrote:

“It was understood that the Government at Washington was anxious that Nevada should become a State in order that her Senators and Representative might assist in the adoption of amendments to the Constitution in aid of the restoration of the Southern States after the Union should be vindicated by war. Another and very important factor in inducing the people to vote for statehood was the unsatisfactory judiciary condition under a territorial form of government. … The morning after I took my seat in the Senate I called upon President Lincoln at the White House. He received me in the most friendly manner, taking me by both hands, and saying: ‘I am glad to see you here. We need as many loyal States as we can get, and, in addition to that, the gold and silver in the region you represent has made it possible for the Government to maintain sufficient credit to continue this terrible war for the Union. I have observed such manifestations of the patriotism of your people as assure me that the Government can rely on your State for such support as is in you power.’”

Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865.

The original territory created in 1861 was added to in 1862 and 1866 by slicing off vertical chunks of western Utah. In 1867 the southern-most part of the state, now mostly Clark County, was added by taking the westernmost reaches of the Arizona Territory. Until 1909, Clark County was a part of Lincoln County.

On Nov. 2, 1864, The New York Herald published a glowing account of the state’s admission and what it meant for the nation.

The article began:

“The proclamation of President Lincoln, published in the Herald of Monday, absorbs the Territory of Nevada, with its untold wealth of riches in gold, silver and other minerals, into the ever swelling bosom of the United States. Nevada, but yesterday an isolated place on which but little public interest concentrated, has suddenly become a place of paramount importance, as a new and valuable state of the Union.

“Today we give a map of the new State in connection with this sketch of the history of its progress and wealth. The State is called ‘Nevada,’ from the old Spanish nomenclature, that word signifying ‘snowy,’ from the word ‘nieve,’ which means snow in the Castilian language.”

The article concludes breathlessly: “There can be no doubt that the future of the new State will be as propitious as its beginning. With so much available wealth in its bosom, it is natural that it must attract intelligent and enterprising people to go and settle there.”

Nevada did not have an official flag until 1905. That version had the word Nevada in the middle with the words Silver at the top and Gold at the bottom with rows of stars between the words. The Battle Born flag was not adopted until 1929. It was revised slightly in 1991 to make the word Nevada easier to read.

When Nevada became a state, its new Constitution contained a so-called Disclaimer Clause, just like every other new state being admitted, in which the residents of the territory were required to “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States.”

Nevada’s enabling act also states that the land “shall be sold,” with 5 percent of proceeds going to the state.

The land was never sold and to this day various federal agencies control approximately 85 percent of the land in the state. The Disclaimer Clause was repealed by the voters in 1996, but nothing has been done about it since by any governor, congressman or attorney general.

A version of this blog first appeared on Oct. 31, 2014.

Footnote: Nevada and I share this birthday, but the Nevada is slightly older.