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The death of an old pioneer

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

By Kelli Du Fresne

Appeal features editor

The above headline topped the local news columns of The Daily Territorial Enterprise Nov. 13, 1903.

The column of news text marked the passing of Alfred Doten. Best known for his journals, Doten at his passing was also known as “the veteran journalist and dean of the newspapermen.”

Doten died 100 years ago, Nov. 12, 1903, in Carson City. He was 75.

The Enterprise column read:

Alfred Doten, one of the old pioneers of California and Nevada, was found dead in bed in Carson yesterday afternoon about 2 o’clock by Mrs. Downey, proprietress of the Alta House, where he roomed. His body was still warm, showing that he had been dead only a few hours. He was last seen alive by Mr. Downey, who visited his room at 11 o’clock Wednesday night leaving him feeling as well as usual. He passed away peacefully and quietly, as there was no sign of a struggle. He has been under medical treatment for heart trouble, which was the cause of his death.

Alf. Doten was a native of Plymouth, Mass., where he was born July 21, 1829, his parents being full direct descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers.

Mr. Doten arrived in California in 1849, and he possessed all the noble traits of the hardy pioneers of that date. He arrived in Nevada in 1863, and for many years was engaged in the newspaper business, being employed on the Enterprise and was manager of the Gold Hill Daily News. In 1873, he was married in an open boat on the waters of Lake Tahoe. He leaves a wife, daughter and two sons living in Reno.

Alf. Doten was one of nature’s noblemen, and never had a fault to find. He was held in high esteem by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance, and the peaceful ending was in keeping with the kind spirit which marked his pathway through life.

There ends the Enterprises tribute to the journalist, but theirs was not the only one. His death was marked in all of the papers of the time including the Nevada Appeal. The Appeal noted Doten’s first appearance in Nevada in 1863 at Como, a small mining camp about 18 miles south east of Virginia City. From there “he wrote letters to various newspapers, including the Como Sentinel and the Virginia Daily Union, the vigor and compass of which led the proprietors of the latter to secure his services as a local editor. He entered upon his duties in that office in December 1864.” And thus began a career.

Doten’s journals, three volumes totaling 2,284 pages not including the index, record his first sighting of Nevada.

June 22, 1863 “began to descend down a gradual but tolerably steep, winding, zigzag grade down the side of a big gulch towards Carson valley – soon the valley came in full view – looked green & pretty – Carson river winding down the middle of it, bordered with trees – mostly willows I think – away from the river no trees – hurried up, or rather down, as fast as possible – at 8 o’clock I arrived at “VanSickles” at the foot of the Sierra – put up for the night.

By the time Doten reached Dayton, passing Carson City and the mills in Carson River Canyon he’d decided that even though Dayton was a “neat looking little town of some 1,000 or 1,500 inhabitants … there were no trees, flowers or anything of the sort – This place, like all other towns, is created and kept up by the mining, which is all this Territory is good for – not worth living in.”

Doten would live in “this Territory” for the next 40 years.

Doten was buried at the Episcopal church in Reno Nov. 14, 1903, with the Rev. Samuel Unsworth officiating. He was buried at Hillside cemetery and the Reno Evening Gazette reported “that many of the pioneer journalists attended the services and followed the body to its last resting place.

“The remains arrived in Reno from Carson last evening accompanied by Prof. Samuel Doten, a son of the deceased.”

The papers were kind to Doten’s memory as he was well-known to tip more than a few in his day.

Doten married Mary E. C. Stoddard on July 24, 1873. By the time the census enumerators visited the Comstock in 1880, the couple were the proud parents of four.

The 1880 census lists Doten as an editor living in Gold Hill with his 36-year-old wife, Mary, and their children: Millie, 14, Bessie, 6, Samuel, 5, and Alfred, 3. But he is listed as Andrew and not Alfred, a mistake by the 21st century census data crew I’m sure, but correctable.

By late February 1872, Doten had given up farming for mining in California, carpentry for mining in Nevada and mining for newspapering on the Comstock.

On March 5, 1872 he borrowed $1,000 from the California Bank, the first installment in a $10,000 deal with Mrs. Lynch, owner of the Gold Hill Daily News. He stayed on as managing editor until Dec. 10, 1881, when he dissolved his 14-year connection with the paper. A month later he and his family headed east for Austin where he was editor of the Reese River Reveille. The News died three months later.

It would take Doten another dozen years to face the same fate. Entries in his journal by now are mostly notes on the weather and his health, but continue until 11:30 p.m. Nov. 11 – a daily chronicle of his life from March 19, 1949, when he began his journals at sea.

“Nov 11 – cloudy, cold with fearful wind and dust storm all day – Blew down fences and all moveable things – Everybody staid at home and I had nobody to visit me – Had to get along as best I could – not even the Dr calling to see me – Bed 11:30 – still continues as bad as ever – can’t let up -“

Kelli Du Fresne is features editor for the Nevada Appeal.