Preserving the past


“Like most mining towns, Austin struggles for two or three miles down a deep crooked canyon… Hundreds and hundreds of apertures surrounded by piles of reddish earth attest to the industry of searchers for silver ore… Far down the hillside little dwellings of stone, brick, wood, and adobe are curiously niched and scattered . . . At night the brilliantly lighted drinking and gambling saloons, with open fronts, are filled with a motley crowd, Women conduct the games at several monte tables, shuffling the cards and handing the piles of silver coin with the unruffled serenity of professional gamblers.” Reese River Reveille, September 5, 1865.

Austin, NV (1870s)

Austin, NV (1800s-1900s)

Austin, NV (1920s)

“In colonizing a new and remote district, among the earliest wants that manifest themselves among the American people is a local paper.” The White Pines News, initial issue December 26, 1868.

Ely, NV (1880s)

Ely, NV (1926)

Ely, NV (1926)

“The boom came, the boom went. Fortunes were made and spent; towns were built and torn down again.” The Rhyolite Herald, April 8, 1911.

Rhyolite, NV (1909)

Rhyolite, NV (1900s)

Rhyolite, NV (1900s)

Rhyolite, NV (1914)

Despite the apparent ephemeral nature of Nevada newspapers it should be remembered that many of these mining camps and towns were centers, albeit briefly, of considerable and diverse population representing a wide variety of businesses, political parties, and social events and that the news of local bonanzas in the immediate vicinity had a wider import. The news of mining booms in isolated camps might well affect stock prices in San Francisco, and often did. “Deeming it self-evident that every denizen came here to improve his fortune,” wrote the editor of the Reese River Reveille in its first issue, “we shall act upon the idea that our readers prefer discussion about silver lodes, rather than wrangling about politics, religion or local jealousies.”

Goldfield, NV (1900s)

Round Mountain, NV (1900s)

Tonopah, NV (1900s)

Goldfield, NV (1900s)

In 1906 Earl Rinker, a stenographer and clerk from Indiana  arrived in the gold rush town of Goldfield to make his fortune and began  a regular correspondence with his mother, sending  her copies of the Goldfield newspapers. But, he warns his mother, “the newspapers do not report the bad things going on in Goldfield but only promote and “boom” the town. . . They do not let any of the disagreeable news get out. Only the good news. None of the papers came anyways near telling the truth about it.”


Goldfield, NV (1900s)

Goldfield, NV (1905)

Goldfield, NV (1906)

Not all camps reached a size or prosperity to support a press, perhaps one out of ten, according to Nevada newspaper bibliographer, John Lingenfelter, but hundreds did, and the larger county towns and cities supported numerous papers, often with competing political affiliations and agendas.  Some papers like The White Pine News changed locations moving from camp to camp across the mining district following the gold. The Territorial Enterprise, Nevada’s first newspaper founded in 1858 was published successively in Genoa, Carson City and Virginia City. Carson City, as the seat of territorial and then state government, boasted a large number of often short-lived papers, some, like The Morning Appeal  published blistering editorials excoriating the corruption of local politicians and the monopolistic  railroads.  Virginia City, and later Tonopah and Goldfield, the centers of mining booms, also supported a number of papers not only to report on and service exploding populations, but to provide mining and financial news to a national market.  The county seats had their newspapers of record, and of course the new urban centers of Reno and Las Vegas developed their own brands of city press.

Territorial Enterprise: composing room, Virginia City, NV (1860s)

Territorial Enterprise: composing room, Virginia City, NV (1865)

Virginia City, NV (1900s)

Carson City, NV (1870s)

Tonopah, NV (1900s)

Some of these papers have had long careers.  The Reno Gazette-Journal, today Reno’s main daily newspaper, is a recent (1983) merger of the Reno Evening Gazette, founded in 1877, and The Nevada State Journal, published since 1870. Carson City’s Nevada Appeal, the state’s third largest newspaper   has been published, under variant names, since 1865. Even smaller towns have had long-standing newspapers. The Elko Independent has been in continuous publication, more or less, since 1869. The Ely Record dates from 1905, the Fallon Eagle started in 1905, was in publication until 1958, the Garnerville Record Courier began it long life in 1899. The Lincoln County Record, published in the county seat of Pioche started in 1870 and is still being published, as is the Sparks Tribune started in 1910. Even the boom towns that went bust kept alive newspapers for a much shrunken population. Virginia City supported two newspapers until 1916 and its Evening Chronicle, first published in 1872 survived until 1927. The Goldfield News ran from 1904 until 1956, and the Goldfield Tribune which started publishing in 1906 survived until 1930. Today’s Tonopah Times-Bonanza can trace its history back through name changes and mergers back to 1902. Although Las Vegas was still a relatively new town in 1922, its second newspaper, The Age, published continuously until 1947. There is, despite this patchwork, a continuous history of Nevada that has been chronicled in a variety of newspapers from all corners of the state.

Sparks, NV (1910s)

Elko, NV (1910s)

Fallon, NV (1910s)

Gardnerville, NV (1920s)

While Nevada’s newspapers were inevitably filled with their own local news, be it mining, the railroad, or politics, as well as the colorful social minutiae that characterize 19th century newspapers: advertisements, social events, visitors, scandals, corruption,  crimes lurid and petty, the casual shooting on Main Street or in saloon brawl, bond issues and taxes, Nevada was part of larger national events and issues, financial panic, the stock market (most mining towns had their own local stock market), silver versus the gold standard, unions and labor disputes, which divided local politics and politicians. Newspapers, like their editors, were advocates and partisans, sometimes vicious, in whatever issues fueled the emotions of their readers.

Gold Reef, NV (1908)

Tonopah, NV (1907)

Reno, NV (1921)

Beyond the “big news” newspapers document that rich mix of peoples who came to Nevada to work, live and in some cases settle and put down roots. And for the historian, the local newspapers may be the best, if not only, record of the brief life of a town. Much of the voluminous local histories written of Nevada mining and railroad towns are based on the local newspapers. And much of what we know of its transient and undocumented peoples only appears in local papers if only in the persistently negative ethnocentric perspective of a predominantly white male press.  Many western writers began their careers and developed their writing styles as journalists and many of their stories (and tall tales) of western mining camps have become the clichés of western literature and films. Dan de Quille and Mark Twain, friends and colleagues on Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise brought that newspaper and frontier Nevada to the attention of the nation’s readers. The most prominent members of Nevada’s literary Sagebrush School, de Quille and Twain are only the most famous of the profession of small town reporters and editors who brought these western towns and their colorful characters to life for their readers.

Dan De Quille (1870s)

Local daily newspaper reporters from Virginia City and Gold Hill, NV (1865)

Mark Twain (1907)

But beyond the western clichés, there is much sophisticated social history to be mined from Nevada’s newspapers which were recording a time when the old west was slipping into a mechanized, commercialized and ethnically diverse modern west.

Consolidated Virginia, NV (1870s)

Tonopah Goldfield Train (1900s)

Caledonia Mine, Gold Hill, NV (1860s)

Eureka Mine, Eureka, NV (1900s)

Grad Prize Mill, Tuscarora NV (1891)

mining towns and rails

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Photo courtesy:

– University of Nevada, Reno Digital
– University of Nevada, Las Vegas Digital


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