Comstock Lode

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The richest silver mine in the United States, the Comstock Lode also contained a large amount of gold. The ore deposit was found in 1857 at Mount Davidson in western Nevada, about 16 miles (26 kilometers) southeast of Reno. The discoverers Ethan Allen Grosh and Hosea Ballou Grosh, however, died before they could record the claim. Prospector Henry T.P. Comstock (18201870) laid claim to the lode in 1859, but later he sold it for an insignificant amount compared to what it was worth. The mine flourished until 1865 and again between 1873 and 1882when the "Big Bonanza," a super-rich ore vein, yielded more than $100 million. By 1882, near the end of the Comstock Lode's greatest activity, it had yielded $397 million in ore and had produced half of the United States' silver output during the period.

Western Nevada became a hotbed of mining activity, attracting numerous prospectors. Among those who made their fortune from the Comstock Lode was mining magnate and future senator George Hearst (18201891). He used his fortune to buy the San Francisco Examiner in 1880, which was taken over by his son, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (18631951), seven years later. Virginia City, established in 1859 at the site of the discovery, became one of the West's boomtowns during the late 1800s. By 1898 the mines at Comstock Lode were all but abandoned; wasteful mining methods and the demonetizations of silver brought about the mine's demise.

See also: Gold Rush of 1848, Westward Expansion

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COMSTOCK LODE, one of the richest deposits of precious ores ever discovered, located in Virginia City, Nevada. Between 1859 and 1979, these mines produced more than $500 million in silver and gold, creating great fortunes for San Francisco–based investors. This lode, especially the Big Bonanza mine, made Virginia City one of the most influential political, financial, and social hubs in the West.

Enormous amounts of technology helped build the city around the lode. Water was imported to the city through pipes, tunnels, and flumes made in San Francisco to fit around mountains and cross valleys. To extract the silver from the rock, the old Mexican patio method was first used; later, the amalgamating process was employed for the reduction of the ore.


Goldman, Marion S. Gold Diggers and Silver Miners: Prostitution and Social Life on the Comstock Lode. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981.

James, Ronald M. The Roar and the Silence: A History of Virginia City and the Comstock Lode. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1998.

James, Ronald M., and C. Elizabeth Raymond, eds. Comstock Women: The Making of a Mining Community. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1998.

Smith, Grant H. The History of the Comstock Lode, 1850–1997. Reno: Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, 1998.

Effie MonaMack/h. s.

See alsoBoomtowns ; Gold Mines and Mining ; Mining Towns ; Nevada ; Silver Prospecting and Mining .

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Comstock Lode, richest known U.S. silver deposit, W Nevada, on Mt. Davidson in the Virginia Range. It is said to have been discovered in 1857 by Ethan Allen Grosh and Hosea Ballou Grosh, sons of a Pennsylvania minister and veterans of the California gold fields who died under tragic circumstances before their claims were recorded. Henry T. P. Comstock, known as Old Pancake, was a sheepherder and prospector who took possession of the brothers' cabin and tried to find their old sites. He and others searching for gold laid claim to sections of the Comstock (1859) but soon sold them for insignificant sums. The lode did not become really profitable until its bluish sand was assayed as silver. News of the discovery then spread rapidly, attracting promoters and traders as well as miners, and the lode was the scene of feverish activity. Among early arrivals was William Morris Stewart, who later became one of Nevada's first senators. Camps and trading posts in the area became important supply centers, and Virginia City, a mining camp on the mountain, was for several decades the "capital" of the lode and a center of fabulous luxury. Great fortunes were made by the "silver kings," John W. Mackay, James Graham Fair, James C. Flood, and William S. O'Brien, and by Adolph Sutro, George Hearst, and Eilley Orrum Bowers. Silver determined the economy and development of Nevada until exhaustion of the mines by wasteful methods of mining and the demonetization of silver started a decline in the 1870s. By 1898 the Comstock was virtually abandoned.

See G. Smith, History of the Comstock Lode (1943); G. Lyman, The Saga of the Comstock Lode (1934, repr. 1971); L. Beebe and C. Clegg, Legends of the Comstock Lode (4th ed. 1956).