Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Virginia City 1862


Virginia City, Nevada Territory - September 1862.

P.K. Pinkerton, Private Eye
When desperados kill the preacher and his wife in a small frontier town, their foster child P.K. is forced to go on the run. P.K. must get a valuable letter to the Recorder’s Office before anyone else can get their hands on it. It’s not easy: Virginia City is full of gamblers, hurdy girls, saloon-keepers and gunmen, all of them on the make. But there are possible allies: Sam Clemens, the new reporter for the paper, a gambler called ‘Poker Face Jace’, a derringer-packing Soiled Dove, and a Chinese photographer’s apprentice named Ping.

Map of the Washoe
Virginia City was a famous mining town in Nevada that sprang up on the slopes of Mt Davidson in 1859, ten years after the California Gold Rush. But it was silver, not gold, that was found in quantity in this barren part of Nevada, so some have dubbed it the Silver Rush. When Mark Twain arrived in September 1862 he described Virginia City in this way: ‘It claimed a population of fifteen thousand to eighteen thousand, and all day long half of this little army swarmed the streets like bees and the other half swarmed among the drifts and tunnels of the “Comstock”, hundreds of feet down in the earth directly under those same streets.’

In the 1860's Virginia City must have been one of the most colorful places on earth, with prospectors, miners, saloon-keepers, gamblers, dancing girls, deserters, actresses, desperados, lawyers, schoolmarms and newspapermen. In the last category are some well-known names (Dan De Quille, Alf Doten, Joe Goodman) and one stellar one: Mark Twain. Their dry-as-dust humor, tall tales and hoaxes produced a uniquely Western flavor of literature which some call "Sagebrush Humor."

Sam Clemens is Mark Twain
The Comstock in 1862 was an extreme example of what we might call "politically incorrect". People gambled, cursed, smoked, spat, drank, carried firearms, murdered one another, ate opium, sparked, and exhibited racism at its worst. It was an ethnic melting pot, boasting Irish, Germans, several tribes of Native Americans, African Americans, Chinese and Mexican residents. Many of the inhabitants had come west to avoid the horrors (or duty) of fighting in the War between the States. Almost everyone came to get rich, though there were a few who came to save souls of others or lose their own.

In short, Virginia City was a crucible; it made some great, and destroyed others. What will happen to 12 year old P.K. Pinkerton? Read the Western Mysteries to find out.

Western Mysteries author Caroline Lawrence will be talking about her new series at the Edinburgh Festival from 5.00-6.00pm on Friday 26 August 2011. For more info, and to book, go HERE.

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