Carson City's stature grows quickly in late 1850s

By Guy Rocha

For the Appeal

Editor's note: This is the third part of a series on the history of Carson City written by State Archivist Guy Rocha. Profiles of people, events and places instrumental in Carson City's history will be featured throughout 2008 on this page in celebration of the city's sesquicentennial.

There was apparently more intrigue and less vision involving Abraham Curry and his partners' ambition. Richard N. Allen, writing as a correspondent for the San Francisco Herald under the name of "Tennessee," suggested that Abe Curry was privy to inside information provided by James M. Crane, the unofficial delegate to Congress for the proposed "Nevada" Territory. A former California newspaperman and printer by trade, lecturer and writer on the early discoveries and explorations on the Pacific coast and, according to Allen, a member of the San Francisco Vigilance Committee of 1856, Crane "... was finally drawn over the Sierra Nevada in the prosecution of his (research) enterprise, his friend, Major Ormsby - having casually met him at Marysville, and being himself a resident of the 'Eastern Slope,' and a great believer in its destiny, persuaded him to accompany him to his home on the other side" in 1857. (J. Wells Kelly, First Directory of Nevada Territory (1862), p. 30.)

Allen claimed in a correspondence dated Aug. 25, 1859, that "about a year ago James Crane, being then in Washington, wrote to his 'next friend' in this Territory, informing him that the Territory of Nevada would be established upon a certain day in December last, and requesting him to select a capital for this embryo empire of the West. Accordingly the 'next friend,' being at war with the inhabitants of Genoa, proceeded to Eagle Valley, fifteen miles north, and drawing at right angles across a desert a number of lines, some distance apart, he named the intervening spaces streets and blocks, and to the whole he gave the name Carson City." If Allen's allegation was essentially true, than the founding of Carson City was part of a greater plan formulated by a number of key players, including Ormsby, Crane, Curry, John Musser, Frank Proctor and Benjamin Green, to garner the territorial capital, territorial offices and, hopefully one day, the state capital for themselves.

Official recognition of the town came on Nov. 18, 1858, when a post office was established by the federal government with John F. Long as its postmaster. The winter of 1858-59 was a harsh one; however the handful of residents entertained themselves with dances, horse racing and general revelry. Capt. James H. Simpson, in his famous report on his search for a shorter route across the Great Basin, noted on June 11, 1859, that "Carson City has about a dozen small frame houses; two stores - Major Ormsby proprietor of one ... where I, for the first time since I left Camp Floyd [some forty miles south of Salt Lake City], encountered the society of ladies. Mr. Crane, the former delegate to Washington in behalf of the claims of that section of country to a new Territory (Nevada), to be taken off from the western portion of Utah, was present." Crane was living in Ormsby's hotel at the time.

Times were booming in Carson City by the end of 1859 with the gold and silver discoveries on the nearby Comstock. The Territorial Enterprise, observing that "all is life, bustle and activity at this growing place," moved its office from Genoa to the fledgling burg. Proctor and Musser opened law practices. Together they successfully defended William Sides in a controversial murder case before a people's court in which Ormsby served as chief judge. Green advertised himself as a jeweler and gunsmith and stated he cleaned shotguns, rifles and pistols.

Musser had been selected as president of a constitutional convention held in Genoa in July 1859 to create a provisional Nevada Territory. The insurgents went so far as to secede from Utah Territory, adopt a constitution (a procedure reserved for state-making), and elect territorial officers (the President of the United States appointed all territorial officials except the Delegate to Congress at that time). Proctor, serving as a delegate from the Humboldt District, was chosen as a vice-president and soon declared his candidacy for Chief Justice of the Territorial Supreme Court. Like Musser, Curry served as a delegate from Eagle Valley.

William Ormsby served as a delegate from Long Valley. Ormsby and the three founders of Carson City must have been disappointed when the convention voted 83 to 25 to designate Genoa over Carson City as the territorial capital. However, Article VIII, Section I of the constitution provided that the "General Assembly," the proposed legislative body, could move the capital. The good news from their point of view came with the election victory of "Judge" Crane as delegate to Congress. The race against Major Frederick Dodge, the Indian agent in western Utah Territory, was hotly contested. Charges of fraud were made on both sides, the Walker River miners protesting the final tally, and Dodge ignored the election results and unofficially represented his constituency in Washington, D.C., in promoting a "Nevada" Territory.

NEXT SUNDAY: Carson City takes prominence over Genoa.

LAST SUNDAY: A new city is born (previous installments can be read at


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