Dennis Cassinelli: The remarkable diaries of Alf Doten
Whenever there’s an event of great historical significance, such as the California Gold Rush or the discovery of a mountain of silver on the Comstock, it seems there’s an influx of journalists, newsmen and authors to document the events as they occur. Writers are attracted to such places for the abundance of material they offer for literary expression. This is the reason so many notable authors emerged to cover the events as Comstock history unfolded.
Many of you may be familiar with the writings of Mark Twain, Dan De Quille, Joseph Goodman and D.E. McCarthy. An even more prolific writer than those aforementioned was Alfred Doten. This pioneer newspaperman is perhaps most known for the remarkable set of daily diaries he kept from the time he arrived in the California goldfields in 1849 until he died in 1903. During this 54-year time span, Alf Doten made detailed diary entries on an almost daily basis. These entries, notes photographs and illustrations filled 79 leather-bound volumes with his personal observations of not only the California Gold Rush, but the peak and decline of the fabulous Comstock Silver boom.
Doten’s writing experience included his six month voyage “around the horn” to try his luck in the California gold fields. There he roamed from one mining camp to another seeking the elusive fortune everyone else seemed to have already found. During this time he sent articles about his out-west adventures back to his hometown newspaper in Plymouth, Mass. In 1855, Alf was caught in a mine cave-in and severely injured. Eventually, he recovered and attempted to make a living of farming and ranching on a relative’s property near San Francisco.
Meanwhile, Alf Doten began to hear of the fortunes being made in the Comstock region of western Nevada. He had a hankering to cash in on the wealth of the silver boom by using his talent for writing. His Nevada adventures began in Como near Dayton in 1863 where he became the Editor of the Como Sentinel. Later, in Virginia City, he went to work at the Virginia Daily Union and the Territorial Enterprise. He became friends with Mark Twain and a close drinking buddy with Dan De Quille. In 1867, he became the editor of the Gold Hill Daily News. He eventually became owner of that paper and was the publisher until 1881.
Since the Comstock was in a state of decline and the Gold Hill Daily News was failing to be a viable newspaper under his ownership, Alf Doten and his family moved to Austin, Nev.,where he became the editor of the Reece River Reveille newspaper. This venture was also doomed to failure.
During the last 20 years of his life, Doten entered a period of decline similar to the demise of the Comstock mines. His decline was brought about not by the depletion of silver, but rather the excesses of a man addicted to alcohol. His relationship to his wife and children became strained to the point he was kicked out of his own home. His drinking problem made it impossible for Alf to obtain employment despite his extensive and splendid career in journalism. Former friends and associates avoided and snubbed him but he continued to document all these events in his personal daily journals. In 1903, Alf Doten died alone in a Carson City boarding house.
Alf’s wife, Mary, had taken their children to Reno where she became a respected educator, writer and vice principal of Reno High School. She was active in civic affairs and the Nevada Suffrage Movement. She was honored for her contributions to education by having the Mary S. Doten School in Reno named for her.
In 1961, the University of Nevada acquired the 79 leather-bound diaries of Alfred Doten. They had been stored away in various attics and storage sheds by members of Doten’s family for more than 50 years. An old friend of mine, Robert Laxalt, contacted the renowned author, Walter Van Tilburg Clark to edit and condense the diaries estimated to contain about 1.5 million words. The daily diaries contained so much detail and such a massive amount of material, Clark knew he would likely die before the work was completed. Clark tackled the enormous task and spent the last 10 years of his life struggling to complete “The Journals of Alfred Doten.” This three-volume work was published by the University of Nevada Press in 1973.
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% discount to reduce inventory and Dennis will pay the postage.