A Nevada landmark turns 80

Emperor Norton II, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, aka The Intrepid David Toll, turned 80 last week, though you would take him for 60 if you saw him and heard him speak.

To those who know him, David is a Nevada icon, Nevada personified. His portrait will someday hang in the Nevada Archives, framed in sagebrush.

Author of “The Nevada Traveler” and a prize-winning journalist, David awakened the Gold Hill News from a 92-year slumber and made it the best little paper in the West, before publishing its final issue in 1975.

On the cover of that memorable issue is a portrait of Mark Twain with the banner, “Hell No! I Never Worked for the Gold Hill News!”

Inside that publication David writes, “Starting up a newspaper without any money in a ghost town isn’t the easiest job anybody ever took on.”

In that classic issue of the Gold Hill News is an account of how Virginia City got “Railroaded” by a sub-committee of the legislature when they refused to allow the state-owned rolling stock of the V&T to be returned home to the Comstock, and instead, put it in a museum in Carson City.

Also in that last issue we find a letter to the editor from Squaw Tom, about whom David would subsequently publish a most amusing book…

“We’re getting too many crooked politicians in the country. You don’t know who’s honest and who ain’t. When a man goes up and swears the oath with his hand on the Bible, he better not cross his fingers but how do we know he doesn’t cross his toes in some over-sized shoes?”

I’m going to mail my copy of this treasured issue of the Gold Hill News to David & Robin’s son, John, a major in the Army, stationed in Paris, and know it will end up in grandson Maddox Magee’s or granddaughter Elyse’s hands when they turn eighty.

I cite this example of an old piece of correspondence from somewhere around 1990 that I have saved for posterity:


Now that the government has seized Mustang Ranch for back taxes, and is required by law to continue to run it, and is losing money, what are we to think of a government that cannot make money-selling whiskey in a Nevada brothel?


What you have just sent along is a myth. The feds never tried to run Mustang Ranch (although they’d have liked to) and so they never failed. Instead, after having asked Joe Conforte to run it for them and being turned down, they hired a manager and persuaded some of the girls to come back to work but could not open the doors because Storey County wouldn’t give them a license. In a way it’s an even better story the way it happened because the punchline is that the federal government couldn’t pass the background check.

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at www.ghostoftwain.com.


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