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Dennis Cassinelli: 1860 – Turning point in Nevada history

By Dennis Cassinelli

Around the year 1860, there were a series of events that shaped the history of Nevada for decades to follow. It all began in 1859 with the discovery of silver and gold deposits in Virginia City, Gold Hill and Silver City.

Johntown in Gold Canyon had been the place where placer miners had panned for gold since it was first discovered in Dayton in 1849. When silver was discovered on the Comstock, operations at Johntown ceased and most everyone moved by 1860, leaving Johntown to become Nevada’s first ghost town.

On April 3, 1860, the Pony Express started operations at the 34 Pony Express stations that had been built across the Territory of Nevada. I have described many of the stations in western Nevada and in future articles I will describe those in eastern Nevada. The stories of these stations tell of many people including pony riders and Indians who were killed during that time.

On May 6, 1860, the Pyramid Lake Indian War started with the massacre at Williams Station. A militia was quickly assembled and marched to the Truckee River canyon north of Wadsworth. In the first battle, the militia was beaten and Major William Ormsby, among many others, was killed. During the battles, 80 militiamen were killed and 29 were wounded. There is no record of how many Paiute, Shoshone and Washoe Indians were killed. A later and stronger militia returned to the battlefield under the leadership of Col. Hayes with more success except for the death of Capt. Edward Farris Storey. Both Ormsby and Storey would have Nevada counties named after them. On June 4, 1860 Pvt. William Allen became the last casualty of the Pyramid Lake Indian Wars.

In 1860, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and his brother, Orion traveled across Nevada Territory from Missouri by stagecoach. He became famous for this event when, later, he wrote his book, “ Roughing It.” Orion became the first and only secretary of the Nevada Territory.

Also during this time the transcontinental telegraph was under construction across Nevada, which in 1861 would spell the demise of the Pony Express. Telegraph took just a few minutes, whereas, Pony Express took many days and there were days it did not run at all.

In 1860, Pony Bob Haslam made the longest ride in Pony Express history due to Indian attacks at several of the stations along his route.

In July 1860 Fort Churchill was established to protect travelers from being attacked by hostile Indians.

On June 5, 1861, someone raised the flag of the Confederate States of America over Johnny Newman’s saloon in Virginia City. The citizens of Nevada Territory were strongly pro Union and so they promptly tore down the Stars and Bars flag. This event had far reaching consequences. The citizens knew that if the Confederate States should win the Civil War, the vast wealth from the Comstock Lode would likely fall into the hands of the Confederacy. This event likely prevented that from ever happening. Since Nevada became a state in 1864 during the Civil War, it became known as the Battle Born State.

I find it amazing that so many important events in the history of Nevada happened between 1859 and 1861.

This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli. You can order his books at a discount on his blog at denniscassinelli.com.