Territorial Enterprise

Courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society.

The famed Territorial Enterprise moved several times since its founding in 1858. Its final location was a multi-storied building in the heart of Virginia City's commercial corridor.

Courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society.

Samuel Clemens first used the name Mark Twain on February 2, 1863 in a column he wrote for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City. This photograph captures the young writer as his star was ascending.

Virginia City's Territorial Enterprise carried advertisements for diverse saloons.

Courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society.

William Wright wrote for the Territorial Enterprise under the penname of Dan De Quille. He was a friend and mentor of Mark Twain.

Photograph by Ronald M. James.

Virginia City's Territorial Enterprise building burned during the great fire of 1875. This was its replacement, quickly erected after the fire.

The Territorial Enterprise was one of the American West's most important newspapers during the 1860s and 70s. William Jernegan and Alfred James founded the publication on December 18, 1858, in Genoa. Nine months later, the Enterprise moved to Carson City where Jonathan Williams eventually became its sole owner and editor. In October 1860, he moved his business to Virginia City, then barely a year old. Within a few months, Joseph Goodman and Denis McCarthy joined Williams as partners, with Goodman becoming editor-in-chief and eventually sole owner.

The Territorial Enterprise grew into a profitable daily newspaper with engaging writers reporting on the mining industry to regional, national, and international investors. In addition to its legitimate news, the paper became known for outrageous journalistic antics. Reporters William "Dan De Quille" Wright, James "Lying Jim" Townsend, and Samuel "Mark Twain" Clemens perfected the art of the western tall tale with articles that became legendary for their wit.

The juxtaposition of clever writing and the financial importance of Comstock mining gave prominence to the Territorial Enterprise, which would have otherwise been an obscure publication for a mid-sized western city. Although Comstock journalism produced many rival businesses, the Enterprise rose above them all as the quintessential mining town newspaper of the West.

In 1874, Goodman sold his interest to William Sharon of the Bank of California. Before that, the Territorial Enterprise had produced opinions that effectively opposed Sharon's first bid for the U.S. Senate. Sharon was running again and wanted the newspaper to plead his case. He hired Rollin Daggett as managing editor. The tone shifted, Sharon became a senator, and Daggett became Nevada's congressman in 1878.

A succession of editors shepherded the Enterprise through the following years of failing mines and declining population. In 1880, the job of editor fell to Fred Hart, formally of Austin's Reese River Reveille and a noted proponent of the tall tale. Within a few weeks, reaction to his mischievous style forced him to flee Nevada.

On January 16, 1893, the newspaper ended publication with the final note, "For sufficient reasons we stop." Nevertheless, the Enterprise sputtered to life several times through the turn of the century. Its final issue appeared on May 30, 1916, when it merged with the Chronicle, a rival newspaper.

In 1946, Helen Crawford Dorst revived the Territorial Enterprise, which appeared irregularly for a few months. Five years later, newly-arrived eastern writers Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg acquired the moribund Virginia City News and resuscitated it as the Territorial Enterprise and Virginia City News. It premiered on May 2, 1952. Drawing on the nation's literati, Beebe attracted renowned writers for his weekly. For eight years, the newspaper gained widespread fame and reestablished the name Territorial Enterprise as an important journalistic institution. Beebe sold his interest in 1960, after which the newspaper stumbled throughout the decade on its way to oblivion, ending production on March 28, 1969.

Further Reading

Richard E. Lingenfelter and Karen Rix Gash. The Newspapers of Nevada: A History and Bibliography, 1854-1979. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press, 1984.
Jake Highton. Nevada Newspaper Days: A History of Journalism in the Silver State. Stockton: Heritage West Books, 1990.

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