It is funny how some places get lost in the shuffle of history in modern times. Virginia City is a place that many people never heard of, yet this Nevada town was once the most famous place on earth.
The first generation of television viewers remember Virginia City as the setting for the Gunsmoke western series, but little was ever mentioned in that show about how Virginia City came to be. Anybody that has studied world economics history or the influences of gold and silver on the power structure of governing bodies certainly knows why Virginia City was once called "The Richest City In The World." Fans of Mark Twain also know all about this city. Ask any gold or silver prospector and one will see a smile and an all knowing gleam in their eye when Virginia City is mentioned.
Virginia City is where the Comstock Lode was discovered in the late 1850's. A skilled prospector worked placers on Gold Hill till he was certain about where the source of the mother lode of gold was located in a bed of quartz. Initially gold is what the Virginia City prospectors sought and the gray color composite ore vein was just kind of a mystery. After an assayer report came in, the gray color material turned out to be a very high 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 ore vein discovery was the mother lode of mother lodes! The Comstock 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.
The Comstock Lode funded the Union during the Civil War. It turned the economic structure of the world upside down. The high tonnage of ore devalued the price of silver and it weakened foreign powers. This famous mother lode turned America into a superpower overnight. Virginia City had the highest percentage of millionaires per capita. Virginia City literally was the richest city in the world.
Virginia City was boom town during the Comstock mining days and this city attracted many famous people and folks that saw an opportunity to use this city as a springboard to gain fame. Samuel Clemens was just another newspaper journalist when he moved to Virginia City. This city is where Samuel Clemens wrote his first novel under the pen name Mark Twain and of course the novel was about Virginia City during the Comstock mining era. Many western novelists followed in Samuel Clemens footsteps in later years.
There is a difference between easy money and big money. There is nothing easy about mining gold and silver. Many miners died while working in the vast maze of mine tunnels that run underneath the entire Virginia City region. Mining was backbreaking work and the high paid miners made 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 was a haven for sin filled vice. This heritage is part of the reason why brothels and gambling are legal in Nevada in this modern age.
Many opportunists, con men and card sharks saw Virginia City as an advantageous opportunity to separate plenty of miners from their earnings. The easiest way to part a fool from their money was the card game Faro back in the days of the wild west. In reality, nobody played poker in the old west. Poker was a Hollywood western movie invention.
Doc Holiday is famous for his part in the shootout at the OK Corral, but Doc Holiday was also notorious for being a 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. Doc Holiday was an expert at stacking the Faro Deck and accusations of bunco crimes usually ended with bloodletting by a bullet or a knife.
Faro eventually became the number one gambling game at Virginia City Saloons. The most famous Faro card table of them all is located at the old Delta Saloon. A few owners of this business lost their entire fortune playing Faro at one particular in the Delta Saloon and soon after they committed suicide. Ever since then, the famous Faro table that cause catastrophic demise gained the reputation of being the Suicide Table. The original Suicide Table is on display in this old Virginia City Saloon.
The Virginia City saloon crawl has to be the best bar hopping venture that there is. 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 just like stepping back into the days of the old wild west.
The Delta Saloon has been in business since 1863. This saloon has a classic western style long bar and plenty of antique furnishings. The atmosphere and feel of this place simply has to be experienced to be believed. The local patrons are real characters and striking up as conversation always leads to stories of Virginia City that are not mentions in magazine articles. One local fella that look like he was straight out of the wild Virginia City days sat at the bar. After the bartender asked how its going, the response was "Awe ... Shit the bed!" I have not heard that old expression spoken at a Nevada saloon for many years and I could not help but to laugh. We then had a funny little conversation over that old saying of woe and misery.
Yes, there is never a dull moment when doing the Virginia City saloon crawl. 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 of the business 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 is apropos. The Bucket Of Blood Saloon is another Virginia City establishment that is like traveling back in time to the gold rush days. The captioned photos of the Bucket Of Blood Saloon in the slide show above are will captivate any wild west enthusiast.
The Red Dog Saloon was another leg of the historic saloon crawl. Originally the building was the Comstock House Hotel. About 90 years later, the Red Dog Saloon came into fruition as a famous Virginia City 1960's psychedelic era saloon. The Charlatons, Janis Joplin (Big Brother And The Holding Company) and the Grateful Dead performed on stage at the Red Dog saloon long before these band 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. Their still is a band stage and plenty of room for dancing. Great country, western and bluegrass folk musical acts are booked each week.
While at the Red Dog Saloon, the munchies entered the picture and ordering some good old fashioned tourist trap style junk food really sounded tempting. The Irish Nachos got my vote of munchie approval. The Irish Nachos definitely satisfied the junk food craving. Irish Nachos are made with fancy garlic fries, cheese sauce and bacon. One simply cannot go wrong with Irish Nachos and an ice cold Great Basin Brewery Outlaw Milk Stout!
The rule of thumb for staying sober enough to drive is to have one beer per hour and then do another hour on the dry side. Since I had to hit the road after doing the tourist thing in Virginia City, a 3 saloon crawl was all I could muster up during the 4 hour visit. Striking the mother lode of Virginia City saloon crawls and chugging it up at every saloon in town is definitely a worthwhile venture. If something like this is in the vacation plans, then I highly suggest booking a room in one of the historic Virginia City hotels to get the full effect of the wild west experience.
There is plenty to do in Virginia City other than to hop from one saloon and gambling hall to the next. Shopping for cool memorabilia and antiques tops the list. I purchased an old cast iron Aunt Jemima Coin Bank and a souvenir T-Shirt at Zepha's for a fair price at Zepha's Cove antique shop. This little shop is loaded with old west antiques and heirloom jewelry. I also was coaxed into the Virginia City Mercantile curios shop. Everything odd, weird and unmentionable can be found at this shop. I purchased some Maple Bacon Taffy and Sassafras Tea. I also picked up a hat or T-Shirt at every saloon I visited. These nifty items are good conversation starters.
There is a place to pan gold in Virginia City. There is even a place to see a wild west shootout happen live in person. Old west outlaw gunfights are great entertainment for kids of all ages. The Chollar Mine is a prime attraction. I did the tour of the Chollar Mine and the photos will be published in an upcoming article soon. This 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 restaurants and BBQ joints in the main street area. From what I understand, there is a local specialty hotdog company that makes customized hotdogs for every saloon and restaurant in Virginia City. Gourmet hotdog fans will be pleased to hear this!
Railroad buffs can take a steam engine train ride back and forth from Virginia City to Gild Hill or as far away as Carson City. This is the way to commute from Carson City in style! The mountain scenery on this rail route is breathtaking to say the least. Information about the Virginia & Truckee Railroad can be found at the main street area or a couple blocks downhill at the railroad depot. For those booking passage from Carson City, visit the Virginia & Truckee Railroad website.
After reading the bits of this article and looking at the slide show it is easy to see what Virginia City is all about. This old living ghost town is well preserved and it is a must to put on the vacation destination list. Virginia City is located near Lake Tahoe and Carson City. There is plenty of old west history to experience in this entire region. Virginia City takes the cake as the number one wild west destination in the State Of Nevada!