Virginia City NV Part 1

As some of you know, one of my passions is history. Not the dull “names and dates” way most teachers and professors teach it, but living history. Showing how we got where we are by how we were.

My mind started peculating a day/2 ago when I wrote about Sierra Snows – thinking about how the small town of Strawberry – along the summit of our Sierras coming into Lake Tahoe – got its name.

And no, it has nothing to do with the fruit. It was a Pony Express and Stage Coach stop, and I learned its history through a little book I got at a small bookstore….in Virginia City. It was called Stories of the Sierras and darnit, I gave it to someone and never found another copy. It was at the Mark Twain Bookstore, which closed some time ago. And looking on the Net I have never seen another explanation for the origins of the town name of Strawberry. So my future revelation will probably be an Internet first.

But the proprietor of the Mark Twain Bookstore was an interesting fellow. Joe was also the town’s unofficial historian, and (I believe) the head of the Storey County Volunteer Fire Dept. This latter fact was important for reasons to be revealed.

Anyway I have taken my car club up there 2-3 times. The first time, we had a woman from the Nevada Bureau of Mines dressed in period costume (and Parasol!) walk us down the main street telling us what it was like.

Joe led us the last 2 times. And the last time, Virginia City was threatened by a fire. Back in 1875, a fire consumed a large percentage of the city. It’s decline would officially start in 1880, when the “easy” ways of extracting silver were pretty much exhausted.

Interesting thing is that there is still a lot of silver under the city, but getting it would be more difficult, and the town some time ago voted against allowing mining companies in.

The last time I was there in an “official capacity” – host of a  rally, Joe was leading us down the main street with a transceiver in his hands giving him the latest status of the fire.

As we walked he was telling us “how it was” and saying that he might have to be excused to attend to the fire. About 45 minutes later, he had to leave. The rest of us decided what to do while having refreshment at the Delta Saloon.

Virginia City is over 1,000 feet higher than nearby Carson City, and with the sky turning an ominous black, we decided to head back down the hill.

As we left, the sky gave the atmosphere of Armageddon, and the sight of Storey County Sheriff cars preventing people from going up the hill justified our decision.

But why does Virginia City have a hold on me? It has a fascinating history and was a huge influence on the country. But you have to discover it. I was told that back in the 50s or early 60s, the townspeople voted on an initiative that would have made Virginia City like Colonial Williamsburg. I have never seen anything on the Internet with that fact; just repeating what I heard years ago – and can always stand corrected.

Nevadans are an independent lot, and voted this down.

So today so many of the old stores and offices are filled with ice cream and souvenirs.

I have told people that to really appreciate what they are seeing  learn the history on their own.

Two of the best books on the subject are Roughing It and The Big Bonanza.

Both were written by authors who were actually there, Mark Twain and “Dan De Quille”, respectively. While Mark Twain’s account is his 7 years in the west, most of his book is devoted to his time in Virginia City. In the case of Dan De Quille, it was thought that this was a pen name – real name William Wright –  and he was really (if memory serves me correctly) the Editor of the Territorial Enterprise. In any event according to Wikipedia he was on the staff of the paper. Having worked for the paper for over 30 years, and saw the town from boom through decline.

You will notice how similar the writing style is between De Quille and Mark Twain and since Twain worked for the paper, I have wondered if he learned his style from De Quille.

In any event, Samuel Clemens became Mark Twain at Virginia City. In fact, he started writing while at Virginia City, having found mining too back breaking according to his account.

And how did he metamorphisize from Clemens to Twain? While writing for the paper as a reporter, he would from time to time lampoon various local personalities, and these targets really wanted to find the writer behind this. According to Twain in his book, some wanted to kill him although perhaps this was a bit of embellishment.

Hence the cloak.

Oh and why did he pick Mark Twain? Conventional belief is that it is from a Mississippi River term, from his time as a Riverboat Captain. But Joe speculated on an alternative meaning – that at the saloon he used to frequent after work, he would ask the bartender to “Mark me up for Twain” – to be put on his tab.

I tend to lean towards the riverboat term, but who knows? What we think we know about history and what history was can frequently be different. I remember when I was in Egypt years ago the various guides many times had different stories explaining the same things. Only the ancient Egyptians know the whole story, and I am sure Samuel Clemens would correct us on a few assumptions we have about him.

That is some of the allure of history.

Getting late, will have a Part 2 in the next day or so.

And I will get to the town of Strawberry…


Part 2 is here


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3 responses to “Virginia City NV Part 1

  1. Pingback: Virginia City NV Part 3 | The Lexicans

  2. Pingback: Virginia City NV Part 4 | The Lexicans

  3. Pingback: People Acting Stupidly? | The Lexicans

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