This is the first part in a six-part series about the history of the Carson Mint. Abe Curry received papers on July 16, 1866, approving the start of construction on the Carson Mint.
In 2014, more Nevadans than ever will probably hear about the Carson City Mint, thanks to the emphasis on history programs aimed at educating the state’s residents during the sesquicentennial year. Maybe the initiation many receive through this educational blitz will ignite an interest that will linger until the year 2020, when Nevada, joined by passionate coin collectors from across the nation, will celebrate the Carson City Mint’s 150th birthday.
In this article, I want to uncover the story, a layer at a time, of how the U.S. government established a mint in a small, frontier outpost near the Sierra Nevada’s eastern slope.
On with the dance!
By 1851, thousands of emigrants flocking to California’s gold country had passed westward through the scenic but otherwise uninspiring valley that settlers would one day choose to stake out the future capital of first Nevada Territory and later the state of Nevada. Frank Hall and his brother Warren, along with several comrades erected a log house in Oct., 1851 on a sloping terrace of cultivable land, which offered a sweeping view of the valley. The location, the present-day site of where West Fifth Street nearly intersects with South Minnesota Street in Carson City, had two creeks streaming water nearby to the north. They called their sublime surroundings Eagle Ranch.
The Halls and company sold out and during a several-year period, new owners such as John Reese, William “Lucky Bill” Thorington, and John Mankins held title to the property. In July, 1858, Abraham Curry, along with several partners arrived at Eagle Ranch from Downieville, Calif., and bought it from Mankins, for what Alfred Doten writing in 1899 said was “$500 in cash and half a dozen California mustangs” (other sources have said the price was $1,000, and Curry paid Mankins $300 in gold as a deposit, with no record if Mankins ever received the balance due).
Dwelling places and businesses soon dotted the landscape and a flurry of interest attracted new settlers. Some scorners, looking askance, derided Curry’s intentions and called the new city “Mugginsville,” which is an old-fashioned way of saying “Foolsville.” Undaunted, Curry continued his town-building venture apace. A newspaper in Placerville published a brief article about Carson City in Sept., 1858, possibly the first time the name appeared in print outside Nevada’s borders.
Four months later, on Jan. 29, 1859, Genoa’s Territorial Enterprise reflected back on how the Carson and Eagle valleys had progressed over such a short period of time:
“Some of us sought those valleys when they belonged to nature’s solitudes, assured that their natural advantages would soon gather society about us. In this we have not been disappointed. The influx of actual settlers has of late been very considerable....”
The Enterprise’s reporter continued his exuberant assessment of life in the new communities, and apparently enraptured by all he observed and all he expected to see unfold in the burgeoning villages, he concluded with the following quote from the poet Lord Byron: “On with the dance, let joy be unconfined!”
Ho! for Washoe — Nevada’s riches revealed
In summer 1859, rich gold and silver deposits were discovered about 15 miles northeast of Carson City in an area that miners around the globe would call the Comstock Lode. In Thompson and West’s monumental History of the State of Nevada published in 1881, the editor wrote, regarding Carson City, less than a year after Curry had plotted the town (in Sept., 1858), to the good fortune of the pioneers in that locale, changes had “been made as vividly romantic and interesting as ever conceived in the brain of a novelist.” He told how the discovery of the nearby mines and their riches had “startled the world,” and had brought to the “quiet eastern slope (of the Sierra Nevada) a rushing excited mass of humanity.” As a result, said the editor, Carson City had become “a city in reality.” In quick succession, “hotels, saloons, stores, a brewery, and other places of business (were) opened.” Later on, he inserted an extract from the Territorial Enterprise of Sept. 17, 1859, which said this about Carson City: “All is life, bustle and activity at this growing place.”
Curry and everyone else in the community had no doubt about the game-changing nature of Washoe’s (name often used for northwestern Nevada during the dawning days of Comstock Lode activity) abundant mineral wealth.
Citizens of new territory demand a mint
A process that might have taken years produced immediate results, proving piles of gold and silver can move mountains when it comes to influencing political decision makers. Less than two years after the Comstock Lode’s gates were opened, deluging the far West with precious metals, the United States welcomed Nevada as a new territory in the republic. Months later, in summer 1861, residents of Nevada Territory began to boisterously tell the federal government what many in the area had proclaimed the district needed even before it gained territorial status. Carson City’s The Silver Age newspaper stated it best in its Aug. 10, 1861 edition: “We need a Mint, and we must have it.”
The article’s writer reported how the mining community paid “a tax to get money here; at least five percent on every dollar we get.” In Dec., 1861, Nevada’s territorial delegate to Congress, John Cradlebaugh, introduced a bill to establish a branch mint in the territory. The bill, H.R. 146, went through two readings before it was referred to the Committee on Commerce and subsequently buried.
Back in the late 1830s, Congress had passed bills to erect coining plants in Charlotte, N.C., and Dahlonega, Ga., both locations situated near rich gold works. Many of the throng of people who had rushed to the mining frenzy in Washoe had come from California, where they had witnessed the erection of the mint in San Francisco in 1854 to process the abundance of valuable ore pouring out of the Golden State’s rivers and mountainsides. And even as Nevada Territory’s sense of entitlement began to percolate, reports of the government’s plan to plant a coin factory in Colorado Territory (in Denver City) circulated widely. It seemed right, at least in the minds of most Nevadans, what was fair in one section of the country, entitled Nevada to the same fair treatment.
By spring 1862, as mining activity increased in many regions in the new territory, the clamor from its inhabitants for a mint gained strength. In a report about mining conditions from Virginia City, Nevada Territory in March 1862 (published in the Daily Alta California on April 3, 1862), the correspondent promised “there will be plenty of work for all here this summer.” He noted one pressing concern, however: A shortage of regular mediums of exchange. It wasn’t for a lack of gold and silver bullion, he said, because, as he put it, “We will then have money flying around,” but only “in the shape of bricks and chunks.” This form of media would suffice, he said, “till we get a Mint here, which I hope will not be long.” In another letter published in the Alta on April 9, 1862, the correspondent wrote, about the needs in the Comstock region and the potential benefits to the nation, “Give us means and then a Mint, and we will send the ‘plata’ (silver) to you by the ton, and keep up a circulating medium amongst ourselves.”
The fledgling mining boom in Nevada Territory attracted political attention in California and as far away as Washington, D.C. Nevada’s own territorial legislature vigorously fought for the establishment of a mint within its borders. Ira M. Luther, a member of the territorial council (upper house), introduced a resolution in Dec., 1862 to memorialize Congress to establish a mint in Nevada Territory. Nevada’s council (later its senate) and its house of representatives (later its assembly) would wage a persistent battle to push through the completion of the local mint ceaselessly in the 1860s.
Rusty Goe, of Southgate Coins, 5032 S. Virginia St. in Reno, can be reached at number is (775) 322-4455. For more information visit www.southgatecoins.com. In 2012, Rusty collaborated with the California-based rare coin auction firm Stack’s Bowers to bring to market a complete (111-piece) set of Carson City coins in history. Rusty served as the chief architect , which he christened the Battle Born Collection, in honor of Nevada. It sold at auction in August 2012 for nearly $10 million.