Dennis Cassinelli: More about Potosi, Virginia City’s older sister
Since I wrote a previous article about the similarities and differences between the old silver town of Potosi in Bolivia and our own Virginia City here in Nevada, I have had some questions from a few of my readers about this interesting topic including inquiries about the existence of a few other “Potosis.” The name Potosi appears to be an idiom for “extraordinary richness.” For several hundred years, it has been used to identify a mine, mountain or locality as a place of actual or anticipated extraordinary richness. More often than not, the dreams of riches never materialized but the name Potosi is all that remains.
The Potosi in Bolivia was the greatest silver discovery ever made by the Spanish in the 1570s. It was described as “mountain of silver.” Potosi was likely the largest producer of silver the world has ever known. Many of the “Pieces of eight” recovered from the wreck of the Atocha near Key West, Fla., were minted in Potosi. At its peak of production, Potosi was one of the world’s largest cities with a population of 160,000 persons.
Working conditions at the Potosi Mine were incredibly brutal. Native American Indians were used as slaves in the mine and in the mills that processed the ore and stamped the coins. Life expectancy for the workers was shortened due to mercury poisoning, choking dust and dehydration. It was common for the laborers to chew coca leaves for altitude sickness, hunger, pain and fatigue. The altitude of Potosi is 13,420 feet.
No, I’m not talking about the Pelosis, although they’re certainly extraordinarily rich. I’ve heard their wealth came from sources other than silver mining. There’s actually a building at 180 N. C St. in Virginia City called the Pelosi Building. It’s an old blacksmithing, horseshoeing and wagon making shop. When I first saw it, I thought it might be a certain politician’s campaign headquarters. Unfortunately, when I attempted to drop off a campaign contribution, I found the door was locked and I had to express my generosity elsewhere.
Virginia City had a Potosi Mine that developed on the original Comstock Lode in the south-central part of town. The owners followed the ore body until it dipped into the adjacent Chollar Mine. The Chollar Mine found rich ore that reached into the Potosi Mine and a bitter lawsuit ensued. The lawsuit cost the litigants $1.3 million in court costs defending their cases. This was one of the costliest court cases in Comstock history. In April 1865, the two companies merged to form the Chollar-Potosi Mining Company.
The Chollar-Potosi Mine became the first mine on the Comstock to generate electric power. The total production from the combined mines was $17 million from 1861 to the 1920s. This was the fifth largest producing mine in Comstock history. In 1963, the Chollar-Potosi Mine was opened to the public and began conducting mine tours during the spring and summer months. This is certainly a safer way to actually see some of the underground mines than attempting to enter any of the tunnels or shafts on your own.
There’s a mountain peak in Clark County named Potosi Peak in the Spring Mountain Range north of a place called Goodsprings. It has an elevation of 8,500 feet and the mining district on this peak was called the Potosi Mining District.
In Humboldt County, there’s a mining district east of the Osgood Range known as the Potosi Mining District and includes the Getchell Mine, Inc.
In fact, there are many places in California, Colorado, Montana, Baja California, Wisconsin and basically all around the world where prospectors and miners have found places where they thought there would be a chance for extraordinary riches. Affixing the name of Bolivia’s fabulously rich Potosi Mine to a place was believed by many persons to bring good luck to a discovery. Unfortunately none of the places named after the Potosi Mine has met or exceeded the wealth of the original place.
This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted at email@example.com or on his blog at denniscassinelli.com. All Dennis’ books sold through this publication will be at a 50 percent discount to reduce inventory and Dennis will pay the postage. These will no longer be available from Amazon.