The Sixties 1861 - 1864

• Historical fact

• Bonanza history as drawn from episodes (more or less)

• From the 'Dreaming Eagle' (or of utmost importance to it...;)

Virginia City 1861

Virginia City 1861 (drawing) - View from the Gould & Curry claim

January 1, 1861 -
The Reform War in Mexico ended and Benito Juarez became president.

January 1861 -
South Carolina legislature felt a threat when Abraham Lincoln was elected president. Calling a state convention, the delegates voted to remove the state of South Carolina from the union known as the United States of America. The Secession of South Carolina was followed by the secession of six more states - Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas - and the threat of Secession by four more - Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. These eleven states eventually formed the Confederate States of America.

January 27, 1861 -
Beginning of the so-called Bascom Affair which marked the beginning of the 25-year-long Apache Wars in the territories of Arizona and New Mexico.

Spring 1861 -
Fort Churchill was completed. Built to provide protection for early settlers and the mail route along the Pony Express, the fort became an important supply depot for the Union Army during the American Civil War. Average strength during this time was 200 soldiers.

Spring 1861 -
Begin of the Owen's Valley Indian War between the Southern Paiutes and whites. This war would last until 1863.

February 26 to March 2, 1861 -
On February 26 the US senate passed legislation entitled 'An act to organize the Territory of Nevada', the House of Representatives followed suit on March 2 and president Buchanan signed it into law. Thus, after ten years of pleading, the settlers of Western Utah finally achieved their goal: the establishment of Nevada territory.

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln 1861

March 4, 1861 -
Two days after Buchanan had signed the act of establishing Nevada Territory, Abraham Lincoln took office as president of the United States. In his inauguration speech, he said he had no plans to end slavery in those states where it already existed, but that he would not accept secession. He hoped to resolve the national crisis without a war.

March 22, 1861 -
Lincoln announced the appointment of James W. Nye of New York as territorial Governor and Orion Clemens as territorial secretary. Orion Clemens was the older brother of Samuel Clemens, later known as Mark Twain.

Fort Sumter

Attack on Ft. Sumter (Harper's Weekly 1861)

April 12-13, 1861
Confederate batteries attacked Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. This was the beginning of the American Civil War.

June 6, 1861 -
Captain Tredwell Moore, along with twenty men, was dispatched from Fort Churchill to check out rumors of Confederate agents being active in some of the mining camps. Captain Moore, along with U. S. Marshall John Blackburn, confiscated arms from the citizens in Carson City, then marched on to Silver City where he confiscated twenty-one more arms, and then on to Virginia City, where he was to investigate the flying of the Confederate flag.

June 6, 1861 -
There was only one Confederate flag - waving over a store on the corner of Sutton Avenue and A Street with a small group of sympathizers to protect it. After some excitement among the citizens, the flag had to be put down. Captain Moore believed there was a secret organization in Virginia City; he rode in with twenty dragoons and formed two companies of fifty Volunteers each upon his arrival. He gave them the confiscated arms, had them swear an oath to protect the Union and to suppress any rebellious actions. This was the first step towards placing Nevada under martial law.

Southern sympathizers that were found in the Comstock district were taken into 'custody'. They were brought to Fort Churchill where they were kept busy with what could be considered corporal punishment. It was reported by a traveler that the sympathizers were given special treatment, a special form of exhaustive work. A twenty foot chain was locked around the prisoner's ankles, the other end fastened to a short post. Then for two hours he was forced to walk at chain's length around the post carrying a fifty pound sack of dirt on his back.

James Nye

Gov. James Nye

July 4th, 1861 -
A staunch supporter of the North, Governor Nye held a speech while in San Francisco in which he declared that 'no utterance against the Union would be tolerated, and that being neutral in the issue was not possible'.
Since many of the prospectors which had migrated to Nevada in search of fortunes came from the south, the secession of the South aroused many feelings that often erupted into violent confrontations - and were harshly suppressed by the government.

July 7, 1861 -
Governor Nye arrived in Nevada and chose Carson City as his site of operation. He later instructed the first territorial legislature to meet there, indicating the town's ascendance in the territory over the previously dominant Genoa.

During the month of July, Nye issued three proclamations: the first named his appointees to various territorial offices (July 12), the second announced the creation of a judiciary (July 17), and the third called for elections to be held on August 31 for the purpose of selecting a delegate to Congress and members ot the territorial legislature (July 24).

Later this summer, Nye established a supreme court, three district courts, probate courts and justices of the peace. Three Lincoln-appointed territorial judges each heard cases on original jurisdictions in one of the three district courts, and all three sat en banc as the supreme court to hear appeals.

Summer 1861-
With the Civil War, the Overland Mail route was moved to a northern route to lessen the possibility of Confederate attacks.

August 31, 1861 -
Judge Cradlebaugh was chosen to serve as the territory's first delegate to Congress.

October 1, 1861 -
The first Nevada Territorial Legislature met in Abraham Curry's Warm Springs Hotel two miles outside of Carson City. Some of the 107 pieces of legislation passed were those of adopting the common law of England and establishing a system of common schools. In one of its first acts, the Territorial Legislature provided that no 'black person, or mulatto, or Indian, or Chinese' would be allowed to give evidence in court either in favor of or against any white person. The legislature further prohibited 'cohabitation with Indians, Chinese and negroes (sic)' and made a breach of that law punishable by either a fine or a jail term.

Also, the territory's capital was chosen, which led to a barroom brawl between a Virginia City councilman and a Carson City representative. By a vote of 15 to 9, it was decided that Carson City would be the territory's new capital. Further, the territory was divided into nine counties: Churchill, Douglas, Esmeralda, Humboldt, Lyon, Ormsby (later to become Carson City County), Storey, Washoe and Lake Counties, each to be governed by a three-member-board of commissioners.

Given the location of the Ponderosa, would be in both Ormsby and Washoe County - while Virginia City was in Storey County. Means that the authority of the Virginia City sheriff did not extend to Ponderosa land.

I've crudely marked the Ponderosa in a map of 1863, in green. As you can see, Reno is missing, as it didn't come into existance before 1868. Until then, it was nothing but a family-owned settlement known as Lake's Crossing.

The Ponderosa

If Ben was too happy with folks building roads in his land?

October 24, 1861 -
The Overland Telegraph Company of California that had begun building its line east from Carson City, Nevada while its eastern counterpart, the Pacific Telegraph Company had begun building west from Omaha, Nebraska finally were connected in Salt Lake City, Utah. This was the final link between the east and west coast of the United States of America. The First Transcontinental Telegraph led to the immediate demise of the Pony Express.
The Pacific Telegraph Company of Nebraska and the Overland Telegraph Company of California were eventually absorbed into the Western Union Telegraph Company.

1861 -
Charles William Fuller sold his crossing to Myron Charles Lake in 1861, the name becoming Lake's Crossing. While Lake improved the crossing, its population was essentially Lake's family until 1868. It was not considered a village prior to 1868, only after that it was renamed Reno.

December 11, 1861-
Storey County received its first sheriff. In the next seventeen years, seven different men would hold that office, none longer than four years.

Of course, we all know that, apart from a few hapless temporaries, the one and only sheriff of Storey County and thus Virginia City was Roy Coffee...

June 21, 1861 -
The 'Central Pacific Rail Road of California' was incorporated; the name would later be changed to 'Central Pacific Railroad of California'. President Lincoln would sign the the Pacific Railway Act on July 1, 1862, which authorized the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific to build a railroad to the Pacific Ocean.

August 1861 -
A frenzy of construction resulted in a corresponding level of activity at the Carson County Recorder’s office as deeds, mortgages, agreements, and partnership records were filed by the hundreds.

September 14, 1861 -
The Territorial Enterprise changed from weekly to daily publication in Virginia City - sure sign of the town's growth.

Here is a long row of buildings in Virginia City 1861 - taken from the frameworks of the drawing above. Move over the arrows to scroll through the images.

scroll to right side scroll to left side

1861 -
A daily overland mail stage was established.

Nevada's population was recorded at 14,404 persons, with about 4,581 persons, residing in and around Virginia City.

1862 Public Survey map of Nevada territory

1862 Public Survey map of Nevada territory (cut - click for a bigger version)

Winter 1861-62
The winter of 1861-62 was particularly wet, marked by torrential rains and melting snow in January 1862.

January 1, 1862 -
Abraham Curry's Warm Springs Hotel outside of Carson City was leased to the government and became the Nevada Territorial Prison. Curry himself was the first Prison warden.

February - July 1862 -
The 'Josh letters' appeared in a column of the Territorial Enterprise, written by an unknown author under the pseudonym of 'Josh'. This was one Samuel Clemens who was unsuccessfully working as a miner in western Nevada. His satirical letters about 'Professor Personal Pronoun', the very arrogant Territorial Chief Justice George Turner, evoked the interest of the paper's editor Dan DeQuille who offered him a job at the enterprise. Under DeQuille's editorial supervision, Clemes established his reputation as a humorous writer and would later sign his articles as 'Mark Twain'.

Spring 1862 -
A recruiting office was opened in Virginia City by one Lt. Soaper. To boost enthusiasm and moral the Lieutenant had two drummer boys and a flag barer march down the street. Seventy-five men enlisted and were used for frontier service. Their job was to protect the Overland route against hostile Indians and the bandits. The seventy-five men that were recruited were assigned to the 3rd Regiment of California Volunteers, and were sent to Utah in May 1862.

August 6, 1862 -
Col. Patrick Edward Conner, Commander of the 3rd Regiment of California Volunteers, took the command of Fort Churchill and thus the military in the territory. He issued an order that made it a crime to express any sentiments against the government. Anyone found guilty would be confined until they swore an oath of allegiance to the Union. If they returned as a repeat offender, the accused would be confined until Col. Conner was notified so he could render the punishment.

Little Joe's leaning to the South suddenly becomes a completely new shine. I mean, who would not reject such a police state?

January 1, 1863 -
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was put in action which declared the freedom of all slaves in any state of the Confederate States of America

January 8, 1863 -
Ground-breaking ceremonies take place at Sacramento, California, at the foot of K-Street at the waterfront of the Sacramento River. Central Pacific Railroad construction began just east of Sacramento.

January 29, 1863 -
The same Col. Patrick Edward Conner that so vehemently fought against free speech in 1862 was ordered to southeastern Washington Territory where he conducted the Bear River Massacre against the Shoshone under Chief Bear Hunter.

International Hotel 1864

The International Hotel - quite a difference to what it looked like less than 2 years before...

Fenruary 1863 -
The International Hotel in Virginia City completed its expansion to a stately brick building with 100 rooms and an elevator.

February 24, 1863 -
The Territory of Arizona was declared after its predecessor, the Confederate Territory of Arizona that existed officially from 1861 to 1863, was re-captured by the Union, at least in parts. The Confederate Arizona government continued to rule the rest of the area until the end of the war in 1865.

July 3, 1863 -
Thomas Maguire opened his first opera house in Virginia City, with John Burns as the local manager and part owner. Known as Maguire's Opera House, it was much more elegant than previous theatres built in the city, boasting carpeted aisles, crystal chandeliers, velvet railings, and gas lighting. Off the foyer stood a billiard parlor, cigar stand, smoking rooms, and a mahogany bar inlaid with ivory. It also had a livery stable in the basement, resulting in some horse smell being noticable in all that luxury.
Performances began with popular entertainment such as minstrelsy. Minstrel shows and burlesques were extremely popular in Virginia City. Maguire's own minstrel troupe from San Francisco often performed there, and George Christy's Minstrels and the San Francisco Minstrels were featured at both Maguire's and Virginia Melodeon. Walter Bray, a Virginia City minstrel performer, and Charley Rhodes, a banjoist, also performed regularly at Maguire's. Rhodes had originally performed regularly at one of Maguire's competitors in Virginia City, the Niagara Concert Hall, and many of the songs he composed and performed at Maguire's were printed in local newspapers.

Lotta Crabtree

Lotta Crabtree

July 1863 -
Singer and actress Lotta Crabtree came to Virginia City for a singing and dancing engagement of twelfe weeks. She was sixteen years old that time, but used to stage since she was seven.

Lotta Crabtree was prominently featured in season one's episode one 'A Rose for Lotta' - and thus put an early end to any attempts to place the episodes in a historical context based on their themes. It simply wouldn't work - just figure that according to Bonanza lore, Little Joe rode in the Pony Express (1860-61) several years after meeting Miss Crabtree (1863)...

Instead, I've only used 'episode facts' as far as they concerned the family, for example who was born when and where, or if it depicted where the Cartwrights might have been at a given time. It's not perfect, of course, but your best bet to have any conclusive timeframe at all.

Talking of ladies, 1863 marks the year in which Julia Bulette arrived in Virginia City to work as a prostitute. Her tale became grossly romanticized by later writers, yet it was true that she was respected by Virginia City's fire-fighters and her tragic murder in 1867 received much public attention (as did the hanging of her murderer in1868).
Info on Julia Bulette on

September 1863 -
An election was held in the territory to determine support for statehood and, assuming support, the selection of 39 delegates to a convention to draft a constitution for the future state of Washoe. Support for statehood was overwhelming, with a vote of 6,600 in favor and 1,502 opposed.

November and December 1863 -
Even though Congress had not authorized statehood for the Nevada territory, the convention of 39 elected delegates met in Carson City to draft a constitution for the state they planned to name Nevada rather than Washoe. The delegates were optimistic that not only Congress would grant statehood, but also that the citizens would support them as overwhelmingly as in the September election. In that, they were mistaken - their constitution was soundly defeated (see January 1864).

1863 -
Virginia City housed nearly 10,000 miners, prospectors, shop-keepers and ne'er-do-wells in an odd hodgepodge of mansions, clapboard shelters, and canvas tents. On the other hand, many of its crude buildings were replaced with more stately brick buildings, and the town even received gas streetlights. Around 400 children visit school in Virginia City.

Virginia City's C-Street

Virginia City's C-Street (around 1864)

By this time, the differences between actual Virginia City and the Virginia City depicted in the series began to grow to vast dimensions. Not only that Sheriff Coffee wouldn't have anything to say in 'Cartwright land' for being in another county, his nice little sheriff's office plus jail would have been a wee bit out of place.


Personally, I would have been happier if the series had centered around Carson City, which would have looked more like the town we grew used to.

Carson City 1863

Wells Fargo stagecoach in front of the Ormsby Hotel in Carson City, 1863,
with half the town standing around to get in the shot.

Another photo of Carson City, taken from south down Carson Street in 1864:

Carson City 1864

Hey, who is that man standing at the fence?

1864 -
The first 'borrasca' at the Comstock Lode began. Many of the mines had exhausted the bonanzas which had marked their first years. Ophir, Mexican, Savage, Overman and other mines had looted their ore chambers of the last visible pound of ore; Gould & Curry and some others were still producing. Gould & Curry took out nine million dollars in bullion in 1863-64.
The territory went into its first mining depression, and Virginia City first experienced increased unemployment. Yet, while some mines still made good profits, prices stayed high and many people could not afford a living, seeking bunk and lodge elsewhere in the territory. For many miners this was a rude awakening, as they were used to salaries of around 4 dollars a day, while ranch workers made 30 to 40 dollars a month.

January 1864 -
The constitution for eventual statehood drafted by the 39-head-convention in November-December 1863 was defeated by the territory's voters with 8,851 to 2,157. Part of the reason for the defeat was the proposed taxation on mines, but also the fact that the convention - or rather one William Stewart - had presented the constitution with a handpicked slate of potential office holders to serve in the future government.

February 8, 1864 -
Just after the defeat of the constitution a bill was introduced into Congress allowing the territories of Nevada, Nebraska and Colorado to hold constitutional conventions and establish state governments.

Adah Isaacs Menken

Adah Isaacs Menken

February 27, 1864 -
Adah Isaacs Menken performed her leading role in 'Mazeppa' in Maguire's Opera House. Before performing in Virginia City, Menken had already become infamous for her semi-nude appearance in the drama as staged in San Francisco. Apparently what Menken lacked in talent, she made up in her charm and well built physique. To the critics of the Territorial Enterprise she became synonymous with her role in 'Mazeppa' and was referred to as simply 'The Menken'. The writers were so enchanted with her that they held contests to produce lyrical prose praising her attributes and printed the results in the newspaper. This soured the previously good relationship between The Maguire's Opera House and the Enterprise, when other cast members, ignored in the reviews, countered by questioning the abilities of the reporters.

Spring to summer 1864 -
With businessmen interested to gloss over the current borrasca and keep investors happy, Virginia City experienced a massive renovation boom. Construction businesses and lumber mills florished.

C-street seen from International Hotel 1864

Virginia City's C-street seen from the International Hotel 1864

End of May, 1864 -
Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain moved to San Francisco, California, where he continued working as a journalist.

May to June 1864 -
The so-called 'Overland Campaign' was a series of battles fought by Union forces against Confederates in Virginia under Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, then general-in-chief of all Union armies. Although a strategic Union victory in the long turn, the Union forces suffered some major defeats and severe losses. This led to a rise in anti-war sentiment in the Northern states, and Lincoln got under pressure to make peace with the South.

July 1864 -
A second statehood convention was held in Carson City from July 4th to July 27th, presided over by J. Neely Johnson, former governor of California, and minus the antagonists William M. Stewart and John W. North. As in the previous convention, most delegates did not come from Nevada, but California (due to the fact that wealthy mining companies from California controlled most of the territories mineral wealth), and lawyers and mining interests dominated. Delegates from the so-called 'cow counties', that were non-mining counties, continued to support taxations for mines at the same rate as for any other property; delegates from mining counties or those with mining interests (make that all the Californian delegates) pressed for mines being solely taxed on their net proceeds.
In the end, a rather foul compromise was settled, stating that 'the legislature shall provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation ... excepting mines and mining claims, the proceeds of which alone shall be taxed'. It was left open whether these proceeds should be net or gross. In any case, the 'odious and unjust discrimination between different kinds of property' led George A. Nourse and Israel Crawford, an editor from Ormsby County, to vote against the constitution.
This constitution would win its vote in September 7, 1964, by a large majority of 10,375 to 1,284 votes; and eventually lead to statehood an Octover 31, 1864.

It was never stated when exactly Adam left the Ponderosa, but it must have been before the Civil War ended. Therefore, my timeline ends here.