Ronald James

Chinese in Nineteenth-Century Nevada

A mere twenty-one Chinese men lived in the western Great Basin in 1860. It was a humble beginning for immigrants who would compete for the title of largest immigrant group in nineteenth-century Nevada. One of the earliest descriptions of Chinese in the region places them in 1856 digging a ditch along the Carson River. Some of the immigrants remained in the area, working gold-bearing placer deposits. They became such a fixture there that people called the nearby community Chinatown before it officially took the name Dayton in 1861.

Charcoal Burner's War of 1879

In 1879, the so-called Charcoal Burners War pitted Italian charcoal burners against companies that bought and used the product. During the 1870s, hundreds of Italians and Swiss immigrants (many Italian speaking) settled in the newly emerging Eureka Mining District. Many of these arrivals brought an Alpine tradition of slowly burning logs in an oxygen-starved environment to produce charcoal.

Captain James Hervey Simpson and Highway 50

Captain James Hervey Simpson of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers laid out the Great Basin portion of modern U.S. 50 as part of a wagon road. Simpson, a West Point graduate (1832), became the Army's chief topographical engineer in Utah in 1858. He came to the assignment with experience in surveying and constructing roads in the West. Simpson was certain that a shorter route through the Great Basin to California was possible.


In 1856, the U.S. Army experimented with the importation of Middle-Eastern Dromedary (one hump) camels. Lt. Edward F. Beale maintained the animals could haul materials for the military in the arid West. They could carry more than horse or mules, and they had a legendary ability to survive without much water. Beale and roughly thirty camels crossed the Colorado River into present-day southern Nevada in 1857, but his experiment eventually failed, and the army sold what stock survived.

California Gold Rush

The 1848 discovery of gold in California transformed the West. Over one hundred thousand '49ers immigrated to the Pacific Coast with the Gold Rush. The adventurers became miners and entrepreneurs. Although many successfully pursued diverse opportunities in the unfolding society and economy, few acquired immense wealth.

Bonanza Group

The term Bonanza Group, together with the names "Big Four" and the "Irish Four," refers to a group of immigrants who outmaneuvered William Sharon and broke the monopoly of his Bank of California until they controlled much of the Comstock Lode.

Big Bonanza

The Spanish term "bonanza" means prosperity and also a rich vein of ore. Mines or communities were said to be in bonanza when profits ran high. The contrasting Spanish word "borrasca" refers to times of depression. Together, bonanza and borrasca hint at the importance of Spanish speakers to western mining history.


In 1865, a Native American discovered a quartz vein of silver in Nye County's Toquima range at 8,000 feet. Miners, many from Austin, then settled the area and christened their new town Belmont, the center of the Philadelphia Mining District. The legislature moved the seat of county government from declining Ione to Belmont in 1867.

Bagpipes in Nevada

In 1869, Journalist Alf Doten noted that Virginia City's annual celebration of Robert Burns, Scotland's Poet Laureate, included "a highland piper in costume." Scottish dance competitions at Nevada's nineteenth-century Highland games would have also required the presence of a piper.

White Pine County Courthouse

Created in 1869, White Pine County's government seat was originally located in Hamilton. A 40-by-60-foot brick courthouse was built in 1870 for $55,000. The building served the county until it burned down in 1885. Previous quarrels over relocation of the county seat raised suspicions of arson.


Subscribe to Ronald James