Originally, Nevada was a part of Utah and was called Carson county; and a
pretty large county it was, too. Certain of its valleys produced no end
of hay, and this attracted small colonies of Mormon stock-raisers and
farmers to them. A few orthodox Americans straggled in from California,
but no love was lost between the two classes of colonists. There was
little or no friendly intercourse; each party staid to itself. The
Mormons were largely in the majority, and had the additional advantage of
being peculiarly under the protection of the Mormon government of the
Territory. Therefore they could afford to be distant, and even
peremptory toward their neighbors. One of the traditions of Carson
Valley illustrates the condition of things that prevailed at the time I
speak of. The hired girl of one of the American families was Irish, and
a Catholic; yet it was noted with surprise that she was the only person
outside of the Mormon ring who could get favors from the Mormons. She
asked kindnesses of them often, and always got them. It was a mystery to
everybody. But one day as she was passing out at the door, a large bowie
knife dropped from under her apron, and when her mistress asked for an
explanation she observed that she was going out to "borry a wash-tub from
In 1858 silver lodes were discovered in "Carson County," and then the
aspect of things changed. Californians began to flock in, and the
American element was soon in the majority. Allegiance to Brigham Young
and Utah was renounced, and a temporary territorial government for
"Washoe" was instituted by the citizens. Governor Roop was the first and
only chief magistrate of it. In due course of time Congress passed a
bill to organize "Nevada Territory," and President Lincoln sent out
Governor Nye to supplant Roop.
At this time the population of the Territory was about twelve or fifteen
thousand, and rapidly increasing. Silver mines were being vigorously
developed and silver mills erected. Business of all kinds was active and
prosperous and growing more so day by day.
The people were glad to have a legitimately constituted government, but
did not particularly enjoy having strangers from distant States put in
authority over them--a sentiment that was natural enough. They thought
the officials should have been chosen from among themselves from among
prominent citizens who had earned a right to such promotion, and who
would be in sympathy with the populace and likewise thoroughly acquainted
with the needs of the Territory. They were right in viewing the matter
thus, without doubt. The new officers were "emigrants," and that was no
title to anybody's affection or admiration either.
The new government was received with considerable coolness. It was not
only a foreign intruder, but a poor one. It was not even worth plucking
--except by the smallest of small fry office-seekers and such. Everybody
knew that Congress had appropriated only twenty thousand dollars a year
in greenbacks for its support--about money enough to run a quartz mill a
month. And everybody knew, also, that the first year's money was still
in Washington, and that the getting hold of it would be a tedious and
difficult process. Carson City was too wary and too wise to open up a
credit account with the imported bantling with anything like indecent
There is something solemnly funny about the struggles of a new-born
Territorial government to get a start in this world. Ours had a trying
time of it. The Organic Act and the "instructions" from the State
Department commanded that a legislature should be elected at such-and-
such a time, and its sittings inaugurated at such-and-such a date. It
was easy to get legislators, even at three dollars a day, although board
was four dollars and fifty cents, for distinction has its charm in Nevada
as well as elsewhere, and there were plenty of patriotic souls out of
employment; but to get a legislative hall for them to meet in was another
matter altogether. Carson blandly declined to give a room rent-free, or
let one to the government on credit.
But when Curry heard of the difficulty, he came forward, solitary and
alone, and shouldered the Ship of State over the bar and got her afloat
again. I refer to "Curry--Old Curry--Old Abe Curry." But for him the
legislature would have been obliged to sit in the desert. He offered his
large stone building just outside the capital limits, rent-free, and it
was gladly accepted. Then he built a horse-railroad from town to the
capitol, and carried the legislators gratis.
He also furnished pine benches and chairs for the legislature, and
covered the floors with clean saw-dust by way of carpet and spittoon
combined. But for Curry the government would have died in its tender
infancy. A canvas partition to separate the Senate from the House of
Representatives was put up by the Secretary, at a cost of three dollars
and forty cents, but the United States declined to pay for it. Upon
being reminded that the "instructions" permitted the payment of a liberal
rent for a legislative hall, and that that money was saved to the country
by Mr. Curry's generosity, the United States said that did not alter the
matter, and the three dollars and forty cents would be subtracted from
the Secretary's eighteen hundred dollar salary--and it was!
The matter of printing was from the beginning an interesting feature of
the new government's difficulties. The Secretary was sworn to obey his
volume of written "instructions," and these commanded him to do two
certain things without fail, viz.:
1. Get the House and Senate journals printed; and,
2. For this work, pay one dollar and fifty cents per "thousand" for
composition, and one dollar and fifty cents per "token" for press-work,
It was easy to swear to do these two things, but it was entirely
impossible to do more than one of them. When greenbacks had gone down to
forty cents on the dollar, the prices regularly charged everybody by
printing establishments were one dollar and fifty cents per "thousand"
and one dollar and fifty cents per "token," in gold. The "instructions"
commanded that the Secretary regard a paper dollar issued by the
government as equal to any other dollar issued by the government. Hence
the printing of the journals was discontinued. Then the United States
sternly rebuked the Secretary for disregarding the "instructions," and
warned him to correct his ways. Wherefore he got some printing done,
forwarded the bill to Washington with full exhibits of the high prices of
things in the Territory, and called attention to a printed market report
wherein it would be observed that even hay was two hundred and fifty
dollars a ton. The United States responded by subtracting the printing-
bill from the Secretary's suffering salary--and moreover remarked with
dense gravity that he would find nothing in his "instructions" requiring
him to purchase hay!
Nothing in this world is palled in such impenetrable obscurity as a U.S.
Treasury Comptroller's understanding. The very fires of the hereafter
could get up nothing more than a fitful glimmer in it. In the days I
speak of he never could be made to comprehend why it was that twenty
thousand dollars would not go as far in Nevada, where all commodities
ranged at an enormous figure, as it would in the other Territories, where
exceeding cheapness was the rule. He was an officer who looked out for
the little expenses all the time. The Secretary of the Territory kept
his office in his bedroom, as I before remarked; and he charged the
United States no rent, although his "instructions" provided for that item
and he could have justly taken advantage of it (a thing which I would
have done with more than lightning promptness if I had been Secretary
myself). But the United States never applauded this devotion. Indeed, I
think my country was ashamed to have so improvident a person in its
Those "instructions" (we used to read a chapter from them every morning,
as intellectual gymnastics, and a couple of chapters in Sunday school
every Sabbath, for they treated of all subjects under the sun and had
much valuable religious matter in them along with the other statistics)
those "instructions" commanded that pen-knives, envelopes, pens and
writing-paper be furnished the members of the legislature. So the
Secretary made the purchase and the distribution. The knives cost three
dollars apiece. There was one too many, and the Secretary gave it to the
Clerk of the House of Representatives. The United States said the Clerk
of the House was not a "member" of the legislature, and took that three
dollars out of the Secretary's salary, as usual.
White men charged three or four dollars a "load" for sawing up stove-
wood. The Secretary was sagacious enough to know that the United States
would never pay any such price as that; so he got an Indian to saw up a
load of office wood at one dollar and a half. He made out the usual
voucher, but signed no name to it--simply appended a note explaining that
an Indian had done the work, and had done it in a very capable and
satisfactory way, but could not sign the voucher owing to lack of ability
in the necessary direction. The Secretary had to pay that dollar and a
half. He thought the United States would admire both his economy and his
honesty in getting the work done at half price and not putting a
pretended Indian's signature to the voucher, but the United States did
not see it in that light.
The United States was too much accustomed to employing dollar-and-a-half
thieves in all manner of official capacities to regard his explanation of
the voucher as having any foundation in fact.
But the next time the Indian sawed wood for us I taught him to make a
cross at the bottom of the voucher--it looked like a cross that had been
drunk a year--and then I "witnessed" it and it went through all right.
The United States never said a word. I was sorry I had not made the
voucher for a thousand loads of wood instead of one.
The government of my country snubs honest simplicity but fondles artistic
villainy, and I think I might have developed into a very capable
pickpocket if I had remained in the public service a year or two.
That was a fine collection of sovereigns, that first Nevada legislature.
They levied taxes to the amount of thirty or forty thousand dollars and
ordered expenditures to the extent of about a million. Yet they had
their little periodical explosions of economy like all other bodies of
the kind. A member proposed to save three dollars a day to the nation by
dispensing with the Chaplain. And yet that short-sighted man needed the
Chaplain more than any other member, perhaps, for he generally sat with
his feet on his desk, eating raw turnips, during the morning prayer.
The legislature sat sixty days, and passed private tollroad franchises
all the time. When they adjourned it was estimated that every citizen
owned about three franchises, and it was believed that unless Congress
gave the Territory another degree of longitude there would not be room
enough to accommodate the toll-roads. The ends of them were hanging over
the boundary line everywhere like a fringe.
The fact is, the freighting business had grown to such important
proportions that there was nearly as much excitement over suddenly
acquired toll-road fortunes as over the wonderful silver mines.