NevadaGram #115 – Mining Threatens Virginia City National Historic Landmark, Fitzsimmons Defeats Corbett in Carson City

What They’re saying About Us

The New York Times goes winter kayaking on Lake Tahoe.
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The Affectionate and Intimately Detailed Guide to the Most Interesting State in America is available at our new online Nevada Bookstore.

The Nevada State Parks Activity Schedule.
Photo by Max Winthrop
Would this be okay in Williamsburg?

One of Nevada’s most valuable historical treasures is on the verge of destruction.

Plans are being made to pit mine the Virginia City National Historic Landmark on mining claims that range in a wide swath from US 50 north through Silver City up Gold Canyon to Virginia City itself.

If the company is allowed to go ahead, it will devastate the historic area which was the birthplace of Nevada and which sustains the local economy. The peace and quiet of our three Comstock communities will be a thing of the past.

Officials of Comstock Mining Inc. announced late in 2010 that the corporation had accumulated some 6,500 acres of mining claims on the fabled Comstock Lode, and was beginning exploration drilling within the Silver City town limits in preparation for excavating an enormous pit mine 800 feet deep — for purposes of comparison, Hoover Dam is 726 feet high — on the south side of Silver City.

Photo courtesy Silver City
Would you give this up without a fight? An enormous pit mine is planned down the hill beyond those trees

This relentlessly noisy, noxious presence will dominate Silver City for years until it’s mined out, and then it will remain a great void forever after. This wouldn’t be tolerated in Williamsburg or at any other national landmark, and local residents have formed a nonprofit Nevada corporation Comstock Residents Association to prevent it happening here.

Already CMI had been active in what’s called the Lucerne Pit just upcanyon past Devil’s Gate in Storey County. Now the company is preparing to expand the pit dramatically eastward, and the state has agreed to move the highway to the other side of the canyon to accommodate it.

Both the proposed Silver City pit and the one in Storey County are within the Virginia City National Historic Landmark and the state’s Comstock Historic District. The CMI claims run in a broad swath from beneath Virginia City south to US 50, about eight miles.

The corporation has a 25-year plan for excavating a series of huge pit mines, turning Gold Canyon into a mars-scape of deep craters, destroying the National Historic Landmark, the Comstock Historic District, and the tranquility of our historic communities in the process.

And after 25, or 30, or 50 years, whenever this company or its successors is finished, the noise finally stilled and the dust settled at last — in the time of my grandchildren and great grandchildren, in other words — what’s left will be the residue from decades of negative publicity, Gold Hill’s fragile remnants clinging here and there to the canyonside, and Virginia City poised on the lip of the uppermost crater.

In return for giving up the authenticity of this great attraction to visitors from around the world — about a million and a half of them a year right now — we will get a few low-level jobs over the life of the project, parsimonious tax payments to Storey County. And then it will be gone. No more lowlevel mining jobs, no more dribs and drabs of mining tax revenue, no more national landmark. Nothing but a chain of craters up Gold Canyon.

We can save our Historic Landmark
There are many ways to help!
Even small donations make a big difference.

Historic Landmark Comstock Residents Association
PO Box 387, Virginia City NV 89440 Thank you!

To prevent this or anything like it, an ad hoc group, the Comstock Residents Association (now a nonprofit Nevada corporation registered with the Secretary of State), was organized by the local population to resist the destruction of their historic surroundings. The group is actively opposing the corporation’s plans, and is gathering support from around the USA to protect this unique national treasure.

I joined the first day, because I live in Gold Hill; whatever happens to the Landmark happens directly to me and my neighbors. My great-grandfather was the superintendent of some of the great underground mines here on the Comstock. He helped make the history that people come here to see, so for me it’s doubly personal.

Some of the mining company’s advocates are asking why we expect peace and quiet if we move into a small town with a mining history. I’d like to know how it is they expect to dig huge holes in a National Historic Landmark.

Will You Help Us Resist This Intrusion? Hit that PayPal Button Above!


by McAvoy Layne

St. Patrick’s Day 1897 changed the course of Nevada’s history

Right behind Nevada Day, St. Patrick’s Day is the most important day in Nevada’s history, and we can thank an Irishman for what we are today, that is if you feel a need to say thanks.

E-Mail from readers

Friend Larry replied to our previous NevadaGram and the discovery of Sam Clemens Cove at Lake Tahoe: “I always thought that a lumber tycoon who burns down his trees is somewhat peculiar. No haiku, but here is a limerick” —

Nevada is so grandly intensive
I find myself getting pensive
while perusing the ranges
and noting the changes
from landscapes to housing intensive
Larry Tanner, Carson City

Trees are lovely things
Meant for birds and wind and rain
Old shoes belong in trash
Lorraine Richmond, Silver City

walked petition today, some signed
got back fish, spuds, carrots
eat local
Cashion Callaway, Silver City

“Chi-ca-go,” the quails
call, remembering past lives
in urban canyons.

New Year, new life? A
lie. In January, spring is
a fairy-tale.
Cheryl Anderson, Terra Incognita

my goal to please toll
i try nevada haiku
alas, lack talent
Jan Morrison, Austin

Don’t be so sure Jan:
talent refined by effort.
Toll is pleased so far.
David Toll, Gold Hill

Eagle speeds by windows;
morning Washoe zephyr –
coffee is ready.
John Packer, Friday’s Station

A mighty traveler, that David
on roads that never were pav-ed.
through mountains so high
and deserts quite dry;
Cause Nevada is what he crav-ed.
Sandy Harmon

This note wasn’t sent as a poem, but with a little work. . . .
I loved Nevada David. I couldn’t fault the area I stayed in even if I tried for a thousand years…..the beauty of the hills, the lake, the lakeshore, the people living there. It all added up to the most magical trip I have ever taken in my life. Lake Tahoe’s beautiful, silky waters will remain a firm favourite of mine throughout my life. I love your site, keep on with it, please. Best regards from a wet and windy England. Pat Larkin, Mrs.

Nevada is not just another state,
beauty is but one of its wonderful traits.
Its landscape can be green or brown,
pines to desert, beauty all around.

Some would say its void and empty,
to them I would say they’re missing plenty.
Redrock, Blackrock and Pahroc too,
Charleston and Jarbidge to name a few.

These places are brilliant we can’t disagree,
so don’t sell it short it’s for all to see.
There’s quiet and noisy you just have to look,
busy and slow, fast rivers and brooks.

Freeways and streets ready to explode,
quiet highways, biways and the loneliest road.
Fish and camp or party on down,
investigate all the old ghost towns.

It’s history is richer than the Appian Way,
silver and gold leading many astray.
It’s heritage and character both run deep,
embedded in the earth for all to reap.

Cowboys and indians, there’s still some around.
Deer, elk and antelope all abound.
Western romance is fading away,
Nevada has more than enough to display.

Las Vegas and Reno are world famous towns,
glitter, glitz and fun all around.
Color and amusement with plenty to do,
but its heart and soul you must pursue.

So take a trip across its expanse,
experience all the small town romance.
You won’t be sorry, it’s a guarantee,
when you are done we know you will agree.
Lee Williamson, Boulder City

Born in County Armagh, the last of

twelve children, Bobby Fitzsimmons was destined to become a blacksmith until he got into a fight one day and dispatched his opponent with a singular blow that sent him sprawling across the yard like a headless chicken. Those who witnessed the scene felt their jaws slacken and drop. Bobby Fitzsimmons was no longer Bobby Fitzsimmons, he was, “Fightin’ Bobby Fitzsimmons.”

Fitzsimmons became a professional boxer, and by way of titles in England and Australia earned a chance to fight America’s “Gentleman Jim” Corbett for the World Heavyweight Crown. The year was 1897, the place San Francisco, and the date St. Patrick’s Day. Nevada’s luck was about to change. . . .

Nevada had fallen on hard times toward the end of the 19th century. Her mines had all played out, she was broke. The population dropped to 40,000 people and there was talk in congress of revoking Nevada’s statehood, until California came to the rescue, unwittingly, and in one short weekend, Nevada would go from a broken state of mining to an exciting new state of attractions. Here’s how it happened. . . .

Only a few short days before the much touted Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight, California decided prize fighting was not a gentleman’s sport, and canceled the draw. Overnight, Nevada legislators seized the opportunity and legalized prize fighting. They welcomed the bout to Carson City, and kept the date, St. Patrick’s Day, 1897.

Well, four thousand people crossed the High Sierra to see that fight. Batt Masterson and Wyatt Earp were hired as bouncers. As the bell rang for the fourteenth round, Fitzsimmon’s wife could be heard shouting from the front row: “Hit ‘im in the slats, Bob! Hit ‘im in the slats!”

Fitzsimmons won the bout with his famous “solar plexus” blow, which some said was too low, but then Corbett always wore his trunks hiked up so high, who was to know? When the folks in Carson City added up all the money that was left behind they had to ask themselves, “If 4,000 people will cross the High Sierra to see one fight, how many more will come to spin the French Wheel, or get married, get divorced, visit a brothel?”

So Nevada’s romance with disrespectability began with the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight, and everything we see around us today, from the arch above The Biggest Little City in the World, to an Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas, are a direct result of that fight. Nevada was on the road to becoming America’s foremost state of attractions.

I propose a toast today to Fightin’ Bobby Fitzsimmons, and too, a toast to poet Brendan Behan, who reminds us all that there has never been a shred of evidence presented to support the fact that life is serious. . . .

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Meet Jimmie Corbett
by Mike Makley

The Irishman in the epic Nevada bout, the champion, Gentleman Jim Corbett, is known as the father of modern boxing. He was a “scientific” pugilist using head bobs, footwork, feints, counter punches, one-two punches, upper-cuts, hooks, jabs and clinches to overwhelming effect.

Photo, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

And, he had a claim to Nevada backing. He was friends with John Mackay the richest and most well-regarded of the Comstock’s Bonanza Kings. After graduating from Sacred Heart High School in San Francisco, Jimmie, as Mackay referred to him, worked as an assistant receiving teller for Mackay’s Bank of Nevada.

As a child Corbett first engaged in fisticuffs against a school bully, the much older and bigger, Fatty Carney. Many years later, after becoming a “prize fighter,”

Corbett earned the Heavyweight Championship by licking another older and bigger opponent, John L. Sullivan (knocking John L. out in the 21st round). While training for the Nevada bout in Carson City Corbett tutored one of his sparring partners, the future champion, James Jefferies.

As for the fight itself: Corbett manhandled Fitzsimmons for thirteen rounds before receiving the blow to the “pit of the stomach” that dropped him to his knees for the ten count. Afterwards, Corbett reported that when he insisted on a rematch, Fitzsimmons said, “I’ll never fight you again; you gave me a bloody good lickin’.” When Corbett responded that if that was the case he’d fight Fitsimmons when they met on the street, the new champion demurred, saying, “if you ever hit me I’ll shoot you.”

Thus ends the saga and prompts the raising of the glass to Nevada’s Irish legacy.

Photo by Nick Nicosia
Rainbow over Sun Mountain, Virginia City

Quick notes from beyond the mountains: In Ely the Northern Nevada Railway is offering anyone 18 or older with a valid driver’s license, experienced or not, the rare opportunity to operate a locomotive, and it’s available at a discounted price during March. To drive a steam locomotive on a 14-mile trip is $690 (Regularly $795); add a train of freight cars and the cost is $1,990 (Regularly $2,395). Other options are available, details here. With 60 acres of original track, grounds and buildings to explore, the Nevada Northern Railway Museum is the premier preserved railroad in the USA; “the best . . . bar none,” according to the Smithsonian . . . Waddie Mitchell, Don Edward and Paul Zarzyski among them. In addition to the performances, there are over 80 different workshops, demonstrations and presentations schedules, unique and collectible Cowboy art will be sold, and a Cowboy Gift Shop will offer CDs, books, art and souvenirs. For ticket information, call 775-782-8207 or 775-782-8696 or visit the website . . . Las Vegas has the infrastructure in place to perform 500 weddings a day. Last year alone, 92,000 couples (down from 128,500 couples in 2004) were married in and around Las Vegas. In an average year, weddings in Las Vegas pump $643 Million into the local economy here, but weddings have slowed since 2004 . . . On May 15 Great Lakes Airline begins daily service between Ely and Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, replacing the current Ely to Denver service. Flight 5032 departs Las Vegas at 2:50 pm, arrives Ely at 4:05 pm; Flight 5190 departs Ely at 4:15 pm and arrives Las Vegas at 5:30 pm . . . Bob Ballou of Minden writes: “Thanks for the tip about the Windmill Ridge Resort in Alamo. We stopped there last Sunday night, and I was impressed by the construction of their cabins and the food at the restaurant, as well as the hospitality of their staff. The price of lodging and food was in line with the accommodations and meals. I give them high marks.”

Overheard at Comma Coffee in Carson City: “Look here, Timmy, there’s no need to be afraid to die. Just remember that life has a beginning as well as an end. You’re not frightened of the time before you were born, so don’t worry about that time returning. You’ll simply be as you were before.”

Happy Highways,

David W. Toll



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