Friday, May 24, 2013

The Discovery at Alder Gulch

May 26, 2013, marks an important anniversary. On that date in 1863, Barney Hughes, Thomas Cover, Henry Rodgers, William Fairweather, Henry Edgar, and Bill Sweeney discovered gold along a stream fringed with alder trees. Word soon leaked out, and two hundred miners trampled the ground to the discovery site; many others quickly followed. Within two weeks, dwellings lined a crude road connecting numerous settlements, dubbed the “Fourteen-mile City.” Of these settlements scattered along the gulch, Virginia City and Nevada City rivaled each other. Virginia City became the largest and most permanent. At the height of this famous gold rush as many as 30,000 people flooded Alder Gulch. The first two hundred miners came from dwindling placers at Bannack. Some 10,000 disappointed miners came from the Salmon River area in present-day Idaho where the gold strikes there could not support so many people.

Scene in Virginia City, 1866. Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 956-100
Many of these prospectors were veterans of California and Colorado diggings. Other significant groups included Irish Catholic immigrants who were tied to the Union but supported the Democratic party; Southerners escaping the Iron Clad Oath; Republicans who were vehemently against slavery; and others who were tired of the divisions the Civil War created. These made the early community a place of complicated allegiances. A few weeks after the discovery, the Varina Town Company platted the townsite. Some company members, who supported Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy, intended to name the new town after Jefferson Davis’ wife, Varina. But the newly elected miner’s court judge, G. G. Bissell, was an equally stubborn Unionist. When it came time to file the official documents, he submitted the name Virginia instead. Thus Virginia City was born against the backdrop of the Civil War.

Virginia City in 1868 as drawn by A. E. Mathews. Montana Historical Society Research Center

P.S. This weekend, celebrate the anniversary of Montana’s great strike at Alder Gulch by attending the festivities at Virginia and Nevada cities.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your photos and text. My ancestors came here right in the height of this time.