Friday, September 03, 2010

Territorial Enterprise

The Territorial Enterprise Newspaper

The Territorial Enterprise was a famous newspaper in the Nevada town of Virginia City.

It was established in 1858 in the town of Mormon Station (AKA Genoa) in the Carson Valley, but moved up to Virginia City in 1860 shortly after silver was discovered on the Comstock Lode. Virginia City suffered from frequent fires and for this and various other reasons the Enterprise moved offices a few times in its first two decades there.

The first office of the Territorial Enterprise was a rickety wooden building up on A Street at the top of the town. We know this from the 1862 Directory of Nevada Territory. We even have a rough idea of what it looked like, thanks to a lithographic drawing by a talented young artist named Grafton T. Brown in 1861. (above) A full page ad in the 1862 Directory tells us that the magazine was published every morning except Sundays, which meant the reporters and printers had Saturday off.

Dennis McCarthy and Joe Goodman were the owners and editors of the paper. Under their guidance the Territorial Enterprise became one of the best-known newspapers in the West. It carried national and local news, mining statistics, advertisements, etc. Frequently - when local news was thin - the reporters filled empty column space with witty stories and tall tales like the ones about the "Demon Frog" or the "Travelling Stones". Some of these stories were pure fiction but because they were printed in a newspaper many people believed them. Later, when readers discovered they had been "taken in" many of them became angry and accused the reporters of being "hoaxers".

In late September of 1862 a dusty 26-year-old failed prospector arrived at the Enterprise to take up a position as a local reporter. His name was Samuel Clemens and he had been promised $25 a week. In those days reporters often used funny or witty pen-names instead of their real names. At first, Clemens signed his articles "Josh". But early in 1863 he tried out the byline "Mark Twain" and it stuck. That is the name by which people know him today. (left: Mark Twain in 1862, before he grew his famous moustache)

Some less-famous writers who worked on the Territorial Enterprise were William Wright (whose pen-name was "Dan De Quille") and Alfred Doten. From the 1862 Directory, we even know the names of some of the printers who worked on the paper, like D.P. Iams and James Richards. Another famous employee of the Territorial Enterprise newspaper was the Chinese cook, Old Joe. Dan De Quille writes that Old Joe did the cooking, and three times each day the whole crowd of "newspaper men" were called out to the long table in the shed to get their "square meal."

Shortly after Mark Twain's arrival in Virginia City, the Enterprise moved offices to a building on North C Street. (Any street above Union in Virginia city is North.) By the summer of 1863, the Enterprise had moved yet again, to a big brick building called the "Enterprise Building" on South C Street between Sutton and Union. This was probably to accomodate a new steam-powered printing press.

By now, the boom times had arrived and the Enterprise's day off had moved, too. Now everybody worked hard on Saturday to get out a special Sunday edition devoted to mining news and other related matters. Everyone was happy and busy. Then, in the spring of 1864, Mark Twain wrote a tall tale that got him into "hot water". He had to "skedaddle" out of Virginia City. Twain went to San Francisco to work for another newspaper, and sometimes he sent articles back to the Territorial Enterprise. But within a few years, he had become a famous writer and a popular lecturer. (above: detail of the newspaper on 8 July 1874, the year before the great fire, shows offices on 24 South C Street)

Twain came back to Virginia City a couple of times over the next few years, but he was long gone by 1875, when a terrible fire burnt down his former workplace. The Territorial Enterprise you see today was built in 1876, several years after Twain's last visit, so he never set foot in this building. However, down in the basement you will find the Mark Twain Museum, full of fascinating items such as printing presses, a desk and even a toilet like the one Mark Twain might have used.

For more info about the Territorial Enterprise, go to the Official Site
And read Myth #101 at the Nevada Observer.

[The Case of the Deadly Desperados features the 26-year-old reporter Sam Clemens who will soon take the nom de plume Mark Twain. This Western Mystery for kids aged 9 - 90 is available in hardbackKindle and audio download. It will be published by Putnam & Sons in the USA in February.]

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