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Nye County


Inquiry Questions

  • Did Beatty’s early 1900s infrastructure prove to be fruitful financially?

The city of Beatty was founded by Earnest Alexander "Bob" Montgomery and is the only surviving town of the Bullfrog Mining District.  In the fall of 1904, the city grew in response to the mining boom in Tonopah and Goldfield as prospectors were drawn southward in search of new deposits. In early 1905 the city was comprised of hundreds of tents, but within the year, it had become a key freighting center in the district. Montgomery built the first hotel and an array of businesses, most importantly the telephone company.  The Bullfrog district’s newspaper, The Pioneer, began publication in April 1905, but was destroyed by fire in 1908.  The first railroad, the Las Vegas & Tonopah, reached Beatty in 1906, and by 1907 there were three railroads serving Beatty.  When the mines played out, the town began to dwindle. The Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad ceased operations in 1918, although Beatty served as the southern terminus for the Bullfrog Goldfield Railroad until 1928 and as the northern terminus for the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad until 1940.  The community still supports several hundred people.


Inquiry Questions

  • Construct a graphic to display boom and bust eras by city. Why was Belmont one of the earliest boomtowns?

Silver was discovered in Belmont, 43 miles northeast of Tonopah in Nye County, in 1865.  In 1866 a rush of prospectors entered Belmont and named the mining district Silver Bend. The town developed into a thriving city with a population of 2,000, a ten-stamp mill, several banks, a school, telegraph service, stores, a post office, saloons, and two newspapers. In 1867 Belmont was designated as the Nye County seat, but a courthouse was not built until 1876.  A twenty-stamp mill was constructed by the Belmont Silver Mining Company to keep pace with the increase in production, and by 1868 there were five sawmills operating to provide lumber for the mines and buildings.  There was a lull in production by 1873 until several new mines opened.  In 1874 the Belmont Courier began publication and the first Catholic and Episcopal Churches were built.  Belmont remained the county seat until 1905, when mining production ceased and the population dwindled. 


Inquiry Questions

  • What benefits and complications occurred in 1904 with the infrastructural development of the town?

The city of Bullfrog is located one mile southwest of Rhyolite.  In August of 1904, gold was discovered, and within seven months Bullfrog was transformed from a tent city into a booming mining district.  Bullfrog was located within miles of its competitor cities of Rhyolite and Beatty, which were also booming. In 1905 the three cities shared two telephone systems, although Bullfrog had its own water line, post office, chamber of commerce, newspaper, and auto stages.  Rhyolite annexed Bullfrog’s commercial district in 1909, which ultimately led to the collapse of the city. 



Inquiry Questions

  • How did rapid massive growth affect Manhattan in 1906 and are there parallels to the Las Vegas boom between 1980 and 2005?

The mining community of Manhattan is located in the Toiyabe Mountains, 42 miles north of Tonopah.  Silver ledges were discovered in 1866, but the district was soon abandoned until John Humphrey rediscovered the claim in 1905.  By the end of that year, there were several hundred inhabitants.  It was not until January of 1906 that word of the claim spread.  Once the mining district was advertised, the population surged to over 4,000 in only two weeks.  The town quickly sprang to life and included saloons, hotels, three banks, an assay office, a school, telephone service, electric lights, and water.  There were several automobiles in town, and two local newspapers, the Mail and the News.  Loss of mining investments in 1906 brought production to a standstill and caused the population to dwindle as quickly as it had come.  Manhattan reemerged in the fall of 1906 and spring of 1907 with major ore strikes, but, like all mining towns, was hard hit by the financial panic of 1907.  By 1909 the city had again rebounded and gold, silver, and copper mines were producing enough ore to supply a 75-ton mill.  Manhattan production remained high through World War I, but declined in the post war recession. 


Inquiry Questions

  • What contributed to Pioneer’s reputation of being the “liveliest place in the state”?

Pioneer is located in Nye County north of Beatty and was an extension of the Bullfrog Mining District.  Gold was discovered in Pioneer in 1907, and the Pioneer Gold Mine was immediately constructed.   Pioneer boomed quickly and became a popular mining center.  In 1909 the Las Vegas Age called Pioneer the liveliest place in the state and remarked on the multitude of automobiles driving through it.  By March 1909, Pioneer had competing newspapers, a post office, and numerous shops and homes.  The Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad and the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad each planned lines into Pioneer, but before construction began, the city was devastated by a fire in May 1909 that nearly destroyed all of the wooden structures.  The city partially rebuilt in 1910, but without the railroads. The Mayflower Mine reopened in 1910, and the Pioneer Mine installed a ten-stamp mill that operated until 1916.  Pioneer survived until 1940, but it never fully recovered from the fire of 1909.


Inquiry Questions

  • How and why did the financial panic of 1907 bring Rhyolite into collapse?

Rhyolite is located 75 miles south of Goldfield.  In 1904 two prospectors, Eddie Cross and Frank “Shorty” Harris, found quartz in the Bullfrog Hills, which was later known as the Bullfrog Mining District.  By the fall of 1904, Rhyolite experienced a rush of people who were responding to newspaper advertisements that were estimating assays at $3,000 per ton of ore. In February 1905, town sites were plotted near the mines, and the initial plots were offered free to merchants.  In response, the town sprang up virtually overnight.  That May, the Rhyolite Herald began publication, and Nevada’s retired senator, William Stewart, opened a law office.  In the following three years, the population soared from 1,500 people in 1905 to 6,000 in 1908. The city boasted  three water companies, three ice plants, electric street lights, a board of trade, hotels with private baths, three railroads, four banks, dozens of saloons, an opera house, a symphony orchestra, four competing newspapers, and a locally printed magazine. The richest mine in the area, the Montgomery-Shoshone, estimated over $1,400,000 in output from a 200-ton cyanide plant.  But despite the initial success of Rhyolite’s mines, the financial panic of 1907 brought collapse.  By the end of the decade, mining had ceased and the population dropped to 700 people in 1910.  In 1916 the electricity for the community was shut off, and it was soon a ghost town with only a few abandoned buildings. 

Round Mountain

Inquiry Questions

  • How has the physical geography (including the skyline) of Round Mountain changed since 1905?

Round Mountain is located 54 miles north of Tonopah.  The name Round Mountain derived from the humpbacked oval hill located a thousand feet from the city.  Gold had been found there in 1905, but in 1906, two prospectors, Morgan and Scott, found a rich deposit of high-grade ore on its south slope. The town grew modestly, and by June 1906, the population had reached 400.  At the end of the year, Thomas “Dry Wash” Wilson discovered gold in the mountains, and established the Round Mountain Hydraulic Mining Company in early 1907.  Wilson used water from the Toiyabe Mountains to create a hydraulic mining operation.  By 1909 word of the gold strike had spread and the community grew, with several mining companies, mercantile establishments, brokerage offices, restaurants, saloons, a post office, school, library, and a newspaper, the Nugget.  The principal mines included: the Antelope, Sphinx, Round Mountain Mining Company, Fairview, and Sunnyside. Collectively they produced over one million dollars in gold ore in 1909 alone. In the 1920s, the local mines consolidated into the Nevada Porphyry Gold Mine, and production continued until 1935. 


Inquiry Questions

  • What were the benefits of the opening of the narrow-gauge railroad in July of 1902?
  • Describe the January1902 epidemic and tell what conditions enabled it to effect so many citizens of Tonopah.

Tonopah was one of Southern Nevada’s most prosperous mining communities, drawing hundreds of prospectors from its founding in 1900.  Silver was first discovered on May 19, 1900, by prospector Jim Butler who was travelling through the area.  On an overnight stop, Butler discovered silver outcroppings near the Tonopah Springs.  When Butler’s friend Tasker Oddie  (later Nevada Senator and Governor) had Butler’s sample assayed, it was found to be worth $50-$600 per ton.  That August, Butler and his wife staked eight claims in Tonopah.  Mrs. Butler christened the first three claims Desert Queen, Burro, and Mizpah.  The Mizpah became Tonopah’s largest producer over the next forty years.  Later that year, Butler leased his claims for one year, collecting 25% of the royalties from the gold and silver ore that was mined. 

In 1901 several companies opened including the West End Consolidated Mining Company and the Tonopah Extension Mining Company.  In January the mining camp had a population of 40, including three women.  By springtime, the population rose to 250 and Tonopah’s first stage, the Concord, arrived from Sodaville.  In May 1901, Tonopah’s first post office and the largest building in the city, The Mizpah Bar & Grill, opened.   That summer, Tonopah’s population reached 650.  W.W. Booth advertised the district through his newspaper the Tonopah Bonanza.  As word spread, more prospectors entered the area and three large mining corporations were formed in early 1902: The Tonopah Belmont Mining Company, the Montana Tonopah Mining Company, and the Tonopah Mining Company. 

The camp was still relatively primitive in 1902.  Prices were high, there were crude sanitary conditions, and Tonopah’s isolation made it difficult to obtain supplies. This changed in early 1903 when construction began on a 60-mile long narrow gauge railroad connecting Tonopah with the Carson and Colorado Branches of the Southern Pacific Railroad at the Sodaville Junction. 

By the end of 1903, Tonopah’s population surged to 3,000.  With several profitable silver and gold strikes, production boomed and mining stocks listed on the San Francisco stock exchange since April soared.  A building boom followed the mining boom. There were thirty-two saloons, six faro games, two dancehalls, two weekly newspapers, several mercantile stores, and two churches built before 1904.  On July 25, 1904, the town celebrated the completion of the narrow gauge railroad with speeches, sporting events, horse-races down Main Street, and several dances. 

The population continued to grow as transportation to the district became easier, and by May 1905, the Nye County seat was moved from Belmont to Tonopah, the post office changed its name to Tonopah, and construction began on a new $55,000 Nye County courthouse.  On July 7, 1905, Tonopah’s first city government was incorporated.  In the fall, the two railroads in Tonopah merged into the Tonopah and Goldfield Railroad Company, its track gauge standardized and extended to Goldfield. 

Tonopah survived the financial panic of 1907.  The city had five banks, modern hotels, cafes, an opera house, a school, electric and water companies, numerous gambling halls, and several four to five story buildings downtown.  In 1908 and 1909, Tonopah was devastated by a series of fires.  In May 1908, fire destroyed an entire block of the commercial district.  A year later the roundhouse and the machine shops at the Tonopah and Goldfield Railroad burned to the ground.  The infamous Belmont fire occurred on February 23, 1911, when the 1,200 foot mine shaft of the Belmont Mine caught fire.  Seventeen men perished from the toxic fumes of the blaze. 

Mining activity expanded in 1912 when the Belmont mine and mill began operating in July.  The daily wage for a machine operator averaged $4.50-$5.50 per shift. The following year was Tonopah’s most profitable: Annual production in gold, silver, copper, and lead was valued at $10 million.  Several mills were constructed to process 1,830 tons of ore daily including the Tonopah Belmont Development Company’s massive 500-ton mill on the east side of Mount Oddie. 

Tonopah reached its peak production between 1910 and 1914.  Between the end of  World War I and the Great Depression four companies remained active: the Tonopah Mining Company, Tonopah Belmont, Tonopah Extension, and West End Consolidated Mines.  In 1921 four out of the twenty-five principal silver mines in the nation were still in Tonopah and Tonopah was the nation’s second largest producer of gold. But on October 31, 1939, fire destroyed the Belmont Mine, and another fire in 1942 closed the Tonopah Extension Mill.  World War II brought an Army Air Force Base to the area, but it was shut down upon the close of the war.  When the Tonopah and Goldfield Railroad ceased operations in 1947, Tonopah’s remaining mines closed and the population dwindled. 

The total production of Tonopah’s mines over its forty years of production is estimated at over $150 million, and during that time Tonopah produced many millionaires and statesmen including Tasker Oddie, Jim Butler, Frank Golden, Zeb Kendall, and Key Pittman.  In the words of Nevada historian Stanley Paher, “Virginia City had put Nevada on the map; Tonopah kept it there.”


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