News from the Comstock
|In The Spirit of Mark Twain|
Virginia City, Nevada
Stirs Modern Controversy
Carson City, NV Dec. 20, 1998--The recent discovery of Civil War vintage documents relating to the formation of the state of Nevada has bureaucrats and politicians from Carson City to Washington scrambling for more information. After an exhaustive decade-long search which took a researcher through archives nationwide, Dr. Richard Forschen of Nevada's renowned Comstock Historical Foundation has this week released a real blockbuster on the American history scene. According to numerous documents dating back to the Lincoln administration, Forschen has pieced together a puzzle which has confounded historians for over a century. The puzzle? Nevada.
Any cursory glance at the map will reveal that present-day Nevada is quite ill suited to be incorporated as a state despite as immense size. And if this modern scenario is untenable, how much more unlikely an 1864 statehood claim? The controversy recently caused by Dr. Forschen's discoveries centers around the political implications of the recently released documents.
Hundreds of pages of official U.S. Government documents, some bearing the signature of Abraham Lincoln, have been compiled into a readable, understandable and shocking tale of Civil War politics and skullduggery.
At the center of the revelation is the constant reference to the need to split Western Utah off from its Salt Lake connections and make sure that the Union and not the Confederacy would be able to lay claim to the wealth of the Comstock silver mines in Virginia City. Prior to the North-South conflict, the West was relatively out of touch with events in the rest of the country, but with the development of California and Oregon, the far West began taking on an air of importance. These new states were clearly under Union control, but the unorganized region which stretched from "Bleeding Kansas" all the way to the Sierra was considered nothing more than a howling wilderness.
In this vast wasteland encompassing the entire Great Basin, a significant discovery had been made which brought this desolate quarter to national attention in the early 1860s. That discovery was the greatest silver strike in the history of the world. Prospectors and miners began pouring into the region in the late 1850"s displacing the few Mormon farmers trying to eek out a living in the harsh and unforgiving plateau. Clearly, the population of Western Utah was becoming increasingly Gentile and estranged from Salt Lake. At odds with the Federal Government at the time over the polygamy issue, the Mormons were considered untrustworthy and adversarial. So, debate about the Comstock mines being located in potentially enemy held territory became more strident and shrill as the true wealth of the region became know in the East. Not only did the possibility exist that the wealth of this region might tall into foreign hands, but worse still, the whole area could conceivably fall under the influence of the Confederacy. Reports of pitched battles between Union troops and Southern sympathizers did much to hasten the inevitable decision to create a new, separate state and bring it into the Union immediately to assure control of the Comstock.
This is the history that we know, but the volumes recently released by Dr. Forschen reveal behind the scenes dealings hitherto unknown even to historians of some merit.
"My search began a decade ago in the basement of the Nevada State Library," claims Forschen, 46, a scholarly type, described by friends as a bookworm. "While sifting through piles of documents from the territorial period looking for letters to and from Orion Clemens, elder brother of Samuel Clemens, alias Mark Twain, I came across my first reference to the temporary establishment of the state of Nevada as a necessity for the Union war effort."
Forschen continues, "What I was unprepared for were the letters opposing statehood insisting that with nowhere near the required population to qualify for statehood, establishment of a state in the Great Basin would be illegal, particularly if it were entitled to equal status with the likes of New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. It was vehemently opposed by certain eastern politicians fearful of having their political influence diluted by opportunistic westerners elected by a few hundred votes. Congressmen and senators from well established power centers foresaw the day when unnumbered western states could be formed in low population areas and dominate the Senate."
The documents which Forschen found in Carson City set him on the trail of a story which led to the National Archives, several state capitols and to the private collections of unreleased material of several Civil War historians. What he finally pieced together was the story of a classic compromise.
When it became obvious to Lincoln that Nevada had to be created out of Utah and that the borders of California had already been surveyed and fixed, thus stranding the wealth of the Comstock a full twenty miles outside the bounds of the Golden State, an emergency situation developed. What on the surface appeared to be a relatively simple matter became an impasse as the idea met with increasing opposition.
It was Lincoln's intention all along to create a state out of the Great Basin, but concerted lobbying against the idea, coupled with threats from several eastern states, nearly derailed it all. However, lengthy negotiations in November and December of 1863 led to a historic compromise, and the birth of a bold and daring plan.
The first of the then secret compromises was that the new state would be created temporarily by extending the eastern Oregon border which had been drawn at exactly 117 degrees west longitude southward until it intersected the diagonal California border at 37 degrees north latitude. The temporary new wedgeshaped state would be 156 miles wide and would include all the valuable mining territory which lay on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada. The compromise struck between the administration and the eastern politicians was that the measure would be temporary, and that within a decade the new state would be dissolved or merged with California. By this point, Sacramento was looking to increase its political clout in Washington, and annexing the world's wealthiest mineral deposits would certainly add to its already growing importance.
Before this understanding could be formalized, a new problem confronted Washington, Las Vegas. This sleepy town was significant because of its location on the Old Spanish Trail, the southern entrance into California and the only passable one in the winter. The half-way foothold between Mormon Salt Lake and San Bernadino, Las Vegas was of extreme strategic value in the Mormon plan to have a corridor to the sea. With events to the north in Virginia City indicating that the whole region could become a battlefield over the mines which could spell victory or defeat for either side, it was clear that Las Vegas should come quickly into Union hands, achieving several objectives simultaneously.
The original proposal adopted in January 1864 would extend the new southern border of Utah eastward from the California diagonal along the well surveyed 37th parallel effectively cutting Las Vegas off and placing it in the ill defined Arizona territory. This solved the problem of Mormon control of the route, but presented a new problem. Arizona's lawlessness was legendary. Any form of government was minimal. Union generals pleaded with the administration to include Las Vegas in the new temporary state. By June the final solution had been reached and maps released by government cartographers showed the new border of Nevada exactly three degrees farther east at 114 degrees west longitude. Las Vegas therefore fell in the new state and was safely in Union hands, its strategic importance as the gateway to southern California preserved.
When Nevada joined the Union on October 31, 1864, right at an imporant juncture in the Civil War, the new fusion of wealth into Union war coffers was assured. The short term problems had been solved and the long term results had not been fully revealed.
No one could have forseen the course of events following the Civil War. The assassination of Lincoln, the rise of San Francisco, the transcontinental railroad and the ever increasing wealth of the Comstock mines negated the original purpose of creating Nevada. As time went on and wealthy men of power and ambition realized that in underpopulated Nevada they had a natural stepping-stone to national political office, the importance of maintaining their desert empire became paramount. Any notion of Nevada reverting to territorial status or merging into California, Arizona and Utah was forgotten in the halcyon days of the 1870s and 1880s when the big Bonanza was peaking. By the time the Virginia City mines were played out, a full two decades had passed since the war's end and 10 years since dissolution was supposed to have taken place. The historic Lincoln Compromise had been lost to history and those dusty records gradually disappeared or were filed away with the volumes of old paper aging quietly in basements of government buildings in Nevada, Washington and elsewhere.
Dr. Forschen's research has finally pieced together for us the whole fascinating story, and it will be released soon under the title: Nevada, Lincoln's Compromise. This remarkable anecdote in Western American history lays to rest many of the questions historians have asked regarding the unorthodox creation of Nevada. It would likely be given only a side bar in the history books, but recent events in California, Utah and Arizona may mean that this last chapter in Nevada's history is yet to be written.
Nevadans To Vote on Dissolution Virginia City, NV Dec. 22, 1998 -- All of the recent fanfare about Lassen County petitioning to secede from California and to join Nevada may soon be a dead issue if some legislators and Nevada politicians have anything to say about it.
The reason is not that Nevada would not welcome Lassen County, but in light of the latest discoveries of Civil War documents, serious questions about Nevada's statehood are being raised. After recent release of volumes of documents dating from the Lincoln White House, a furor of major proportions is shaping up which involves several western states and the nation's capitol.
Revelation of the fact that Nevada was artificially and temporarily created out of Western Utah, California and the Arizona Territory to serve the purposes of the Union war effort have caught many American politicians off guard. Century old files are normally treated with respect and interest, but these are being taken quite seriously by many politicians in Nevada and eleswhere because of their implications.
If the presidential decree were to be taken seriously, Nevada should have been extinct 10 years after the Civil War ended. Most Nevadans laugh off the whole notion as quaint and archaic. However, a certain group of Fundamentalists sees in this an opportunity to abolish gaming and legalized prostitution in one blow.
If the boundaries are redrawn according to the 1864 decree, Reno, Lake Tahoe and Virginia City will be in California; Las Vegas will be in Arizona and Elko will be in Utah. Eastern Nevada voters will likely vote to join Utah in any case due to their close proximity to Salt Lake and its heavy Mormon population, but the southern and western sections of the state are not expected to opt for union with Arizona and California without a fierce legal and electoral struggle.
Voters in western Nevada overwhelmingly reject the idea of being joined to California because most citizens here have fled high prices for the tax-free haven of Nevada in the first place. The ideal of free-spirited Nevada residents suddenly saddled with the bloated California tax burden, rankles many. Local casino and brothel owners have banded together to lobby against the merger, citing the obvious -- that their livelihoods are in danger of becoming illegal.
Fundamentalists pushing the idea have teamed up with small county officials who feel that being representatives in California government will be more prestigious than in Nevada, and that since it is easier to get elected in a place with a small population, that their voice and power will be disproportionately large in the greater California political arena.
The most interesting story of all may be down south in Las Vegas where local religious leaders, politicians-and casino owners all seem to be agreed in their opposition to merging with Arizona. Despite the city's heavy Mormon population, the religious community is noticeably quiet. On one hand the rightist Mormon coalition would appear to favor merger on moral grounds, but inside sources state that church ownership of casinos and stock in gaming institutions would indicate maintaining the status quo. The well-known entrenched church power structure in the Las Vegas gambling industry would suffer should the city become an appendage of Arizona, observers say.
Right wing religious communities nationwide are mobilizing to lobby Nevada voters to abandon their sinful ways and dissolve their state with its lewd and lacivious image. A group in Santa Ana, Calif. called MERGE has recently bought air time on Reno radio stations to encourage voters in the Silver State to join Califomia.
The measure, unofficially called "Dissolution," will have a year-and-a-half run before the 2000 election when it will be on the ballot. Electors will vote "Yes" (in favor of dissolving Nevada) or "No" (opposed). Early polls show the No vote leading by two-to-one, but the anti-gaming, profamily forces of the new right have pledged to fight the issue non-stop until the election and, to quote one MERGE organizer "We will sweep all the sin out of the sin state if we have to eliminate the state in the process!"
To follow the battle shaping up between the pro- and anti-dissolution forces, look for the facts in the Territorial Enterprise.
|News || Guest Writers || Mark Twain || Dan DeQuille || Humor || Travel|
A NATIONAL HISTORIC TREASURE
Publishing Since 1858
© 1999 All Rights Reserved