Virginia City once was one the most famous place on earth, yet during the last few decades, when the name of this town is mentioned an association with old Hollywood western television shows is most likely to occur. The first generation of television viewers remember Virginia City as being the setting for the Bonanza TV series, but little is mentioned in that show about how Virginia City came to be. Anybody that has studied world economic history certainly knows why Virginia City was once called "The Richest City In The World." When asking the local prospectors, one will see a smile and a gleam in their eyes, which provides a vital clue.
Virginia City is where the Comstock Mother Lode was discovered in the late 1850s. A pair of prospectors were certain about where the source of the gold was located and plotted a claim. Unfortunately tragedy struck and the prospector's claim was never registered. A dubious character named Comstock ransacked the prospector's shack and stole the claim. This shady act started the biggest gold and silver rush of them all. By the time it was all over, the wild west town of Virginia City was sitting on a mountain of cold hard cash.
Initially gold is what the Virginia City prospectors sought and the gray color ore vein was just kind of a mystery that was assumed to be lead. After an assayer report came in, the gray color material turned out to be a very heavy concentration of silver that carried a high percentage of gold particulates. At that time in history, silver sold for the same price as gold, so this discovery was the mother lode of all mother lodes!
The Comstock Mother Lode was the richest gold and silver deposit in the world and the actual value of these precious metals made the 1849 gold rush look small in comparison. Back in those days, silver was the same price as gold and many foreign countries used silver to leverage their monetary system. The sheer amount of silver produced from the Comstock Mining District caused the price of silver to hit rock bottom, which made countries like Spain to go bankrupt. The wealth generated in Virginia City literally turned the world economic structure upside down and America quickly climbed to the top of the heap. The Comstock Mother Lode also funded the Union during the Civil War, which was a major turning point in history.
Virginia City certainly was a boom town during the Comstock mining days and this city attracted many people that saw an opportunity to use this community as a springboard to gain fame. For example, Samuel Clemens was just another newspaper journalist when he moved to Virginia City. This is where Samuel Clemens wrote his first novel under the pen name Mark Twain and of course the book was about Virginia City during the Comstock mining era. Many legendary outlaws and organized crime figures also laid claim to fame in this town, which was famous for every lawless vice in the world and the old west card game called Faro was king.
There is a difference between easy money and big money. To be honest, there is nothing easy about mining gold and silver, especially back in the old days. Many miners died while working in the vast maze of tunnels that run deep underneath Virginia City. Mining was backbreaking work and the highest paid miners made just over $4 per day. When the miners ended their shift, they did the town in a big way. It was easy to be a high roller back in the days when a beer cost 5¢ and a big steak dinner cost 25¢. This left plenty of money leftover for the finer things in life, like whiskey, brothels and gambling. Virginia City certainly was a haven for sin filled vice and many died of consumption in this place. This gold rush vice heritage is part of the reason why brothels and gambling are still legal in the State Of Nevada in this modern age.
Many opportunists, con men and card sharks looked upon Virginia City as an advantageous opportunity to separate plenty of miners from their earnings. The easiest way to part a fool from their hard earned cash back in those days was the card game called Faro, not Poker. In reality, nobody played poker in the old west. In fact, Poker was a Hollywood western movie invention as far as history goes. Faro was the number one gambling game, other than Rummy and those who carried their own Faro Board were the sharks in the water.
Doc Holiday is famous for his part in the shootout at the OK Corral, but Doc Holiday was also notorious for being a Faro card shark hustler too. Doc Holiday always carried his own Faro Board wherever he went and he spent plenty of time running Faro gambling rackets in saloons throughout the west in lawless towns like Tombstone, Tonopah, Deadwood and of course, "Ol' Virginny." Doc Holiday was an expert at stacking the Faro Deck. Accusations of bunco crimes by his victims usually ended with bloodletting by means of hot lead. Doc Holiday is looked upon as a hero in whitewashed history books, but he actually was a feared crime boss that sided with whichever side of the law that proved to be the most advantageous.
Faro became the number one gambling game at Virginia City saloons and more folks than just the unfortunate miners were drawn into this flashy game. The most famous Faro card table of them all is located inside the old historic Delta Saloon. A few owners of this business lost their entire fortune playing Faro at one particular table in the Delta Saloon and soon after, each of them committed suicide. Ever since then, this famous Faro table that cause catastrophic demise gained the reputation of being the Suicide Table. The original Suicide Table is still on display in this old Virginia City Saloon, so it simply must be checked out while touring the town!
The Virginia City saloon crawl certainly gets the nod for being the best bar hopping venture that there is on the face of this planet! Every saloon in Virginia City has been around since the Comstock mining days and the looks of the saloons have not changed all that much during the last 150 years. Stepping into a Virginia City saloon is literally just like stepping back in time to the days of the old wild west.
There really is never a dull moment when doing the Virginia City saloon crawl and staying half sober will let more of the experience sink in. I stepped into the old Bucket Of Blood Saloon for a beer and had a good conversation with one of the owners. The Bucket Of Blood Saloon was established in 1876 under a different name than the current one. Apparently this saloon had such a reputation for drunken brawls, knife fights and matters being settled at gunpoint that it earned the reputation of being the Bucket Of Blood Saloon. The name stuck and it certainly is apropos. The Bucket Of Blood Saloon is one of many Virginia City establishments that are perfect for old west nostalgia buffs that live to travel back in time to the classic gold rush days.
The Red Dog Saloon was another leg of my saloon crawl, but a home made Root Beer and some Irish Nachos was well within order. Originally this building was the Comstock House Hotel. About 90 years later, the Red Dog Saloon came into fruition as a famous Virginia City 1960s psychedelic era saloon. The Charlatons, Janis Joplin (Big Brother And The Holding Company) and the Grateful Dead performed on stage in the Red Dog saloon long before these bands became famous nationwide. The psychedelic saloon theme wore off after about a decade and the Red Dog Saloon eventually acquired an identity of its own that fits in with the old west theme of Virginia City. There still is a band stage and plenty of room for dancing in the old Red Dog Saloon.
There is plenty to do in Virginia City other than to hop from one saloon and gambling hall to the next. Shopping for cool western memorabilia, jewelry and antiques definitely tops the list. There is a place to pan gold in Virginia City and wild west reenactment shootouts happen at high noon. Doing a Comstock mine tour is a popular activity and the old historic Chollar Mine certainly gets the nod. Virginia City is a historic area and there are many museums that are well worth visiting. The mansions of the silver tycoons are open for tours and so are many of the Victorian era buildings, like the old 4th Ward School House.
There are some good old fashioned steakhouse restaurants and BBQ joints in the main street area. There is a local specialty hotdog company that makes customized hotdogs for every saloon and restaurant in Virginia City, which will certainly please the gourmet hotdog fans. Railroad buffs can take a Virginia & Truckee steam engine train ride back forth from Gold Hill to Carson City, which is where the big Nevada Railroad Museum is located. The Sierra Nevada Mountain Range scenery along this railway is breathtaking to say the least. Information about the Virginia & Truckee Railroad can be found a couple blocks downhill from Main Street at the railroad depot or the Virginia & Truckee Railroad website.
Virginia City is a thriving old living ghost town during the summer season. A great deal of history can be learned by visiting the Virginia City Cemetery, because each headstone has a story to tell. Historic site placards are located all over this town and these information sources are found inside the buildings too. There is so much to see and do in good old Virginia City that it is best to arrive early in the day. This old living ghost town is very well preserved and the experience is second to none. Virginia City definitely takes the cake for being the number one wild west destination of them all, simply because so much of this old Nevada has remained intact!
Leave no trace!
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