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Goldfield - Queen of the Mining Camps

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Goldfield, Nevada, 1907

Goldfield, Nevada in 1907.

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In December, 1902 gold was discovered in the hills south of Tonopah, Nevada by two grub stake prospectors named Harry Stimler and Billy March. In no time, tents began to dot the barren hills in the mining district dubbed "Grandpa,” later named Goldfield.  Just a year later, only 36 people lived in the new town, but that was to quickly change as gold began to be mined in the area in larger and larger quantities.


In the summer of 1903, those miners who had spent the previous winter Goldfield, living in quickly constructed shanties or tents came up with a better solution.

Soon they began to dig new homes along the banks of Coyote Wash. Brownstones from the canyons of Malpai Mesa were hauled in to close the fronts of these hurriedly dug caves, making them more suitable against the harsh winter winds and the heat of the summer desert. Some parts of these old brownstone homes were still evident as late as the 1940s, but today it is almost impossible to determine where these structures once stood.


Dugout houses in Goldfield, Nevada

Dugout houses were built by early prospectors in Goldfield, Nevada

Photo courtesy  Nevada Department of Cultural Affairs


By 1904, the town supported three saloons, a grocery store, and two feedlots, along with its area mining operations. In the spring of that same year, Virgil and Wyatt Earp arrived in Goldfield, once more chasing the prospect of easy riches. Though Virgil's arm was atrophied from the bullet he had taken in Tombstone in 1881, he was soon sworn in as a deputy sheriff in Goldfield. In February, 1905, a man named Tex Rickard opened the Northern Saloon, Goldfield's most celebrated saloon and gambling house. Wyatt, who had met and become friends with Tex in Nome, Alaska, was hired as one of his pit bosses.


On July 8, 1905, Goldfield suffered its first major fire when a stove exploded in the Bon Ton Millinery shop. The flames soon spread to adjoining structures. Without enough water to fight the quickly spreading flames, beer was used as an extinguisher. The July 9, 1905 issue of the Tonopah Daily Sun reported:

"The buildings of the Enterprise mercantile Company were saved by the free and unlimited use of beer. Barrel after barrel was used and had a most desirous effect. Had it not been for the liquid the entire stock of goods of the company would have been ruined.”

Goldfield was finally saved when the wind shifted, but not before two blocks of businesses and homes had burned to the ground.


1905 also saw the arrival of the Tonopah & Goldfield Railroad, much to the relief of its many residents. It was also this year that the Santa Fe Saloon was built. One of Goldfield's oldest continuously-operating businesses, the saloon continues to offer four motel rooms as well as being a popular oasis in the desert. Complete with its false front, western wood sidewalks and rough floor planking, inside sports an original Brunswick Bar, dominating the Santa Fe’s back wall.


In October Virgil Earp contracted pneumonia, so sick that his doctor cut him off his favorite cigars. On October 19, 1905, he seemed to rally, asking his wife Allie for a cigar. Believing he was getting better, she gave him one. He then requested that she sit with him, holding his hand. Before he finished the cigar, he had died. Virgil's remains were taken to Portland, Oregon, where he lies at the Riverview Cemetery. Wyatt left Nevada shortly after Virgil’s death.


In 1906, the town reached its peak with a population of over 30,000, when as much as $10,000 a day in ore was being taken from the mines.




Continued Next Page

Santa Fe Saloon in Goldfield, Nevada

The Santa Fe Saloon still stands in Goldfield, Nevada, continuing

 to serve customers since 1905. April, 2005, Kathy Weiser.


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