NOTES TO IMAGES OF THE COMSTOCK MINERS' UNION

1 Richard E. Lingenfelter, The Hardrock Miners: A History of the Mining Labor Movement in the American West, 1863-1893 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University Of California Press, 1974), 37, 40, 42, 48-49, 54-56,173; James G. Scrugham, Nevada: A Narrative of the Conquest of a Frontier Land (Chicago and New York: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1935),11,8-9; Political History of Nevada (Carson City: State of Nevada, 1990),126,196, 254, 256-57; Territorial Enterprise, 7 May 1873, p. 2; 9 May 1873, p. 2; Walter van Tilburg Clark, ed., The Journals of Alfred Doten, 1849-1903 (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1973), 111, 2103; see also Herbert B. Gutman, "The Workers' Search for Power," in The Gilded Age (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1970), 31-53; Melvyn Dubofsky, Industrialism and the American Worker, 1865-1920 (Arlington Heights, Illinois: AHM Publishing Corporation, 1975), 29-70.

2 Eliot Lord, Comstock Mining and Miners (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1883), 377; Lingenfelter, Hardrock Miners, 48- 56,63-64; Clark, Journals of Alfred Doten, 11, 9&54~6,991, 1224-25; 111,1914-15.

3 Lingenfelter, Hardrock Miners, 58-59, 66,130-34. With the assistance of the Gold Hill and Virginia City miners' unions, a Mechanics' Union of Storey County was organized on March 7, 1878, which included all surface workers in and around the mines and mills: mechanics, engineers, and carpenters. This industrial union was last listed by the state labor commissioner in 1924, operating with twenty members. "Second Biennial Report of the Commissioner of Labor; 1917-1918," Appendix to Journals of Senate and Assembly (Carson City: State Printing Office, 1919), 28; "Fifth Biennial Report of the Commissioner of Labor, 1923-1924," Appendix to Journals of Senate and Assembly (Carson City: State Printing Office, 1925), 17.

4 Lingenfelter, Hardrock Miners, 130-34, 157, 180-81, 220-24; Clark, Journals of Alfred Doten, 111, 1846, 1848-49; Eliot Lord, Comstock Mining and Miners (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1883), 387-88; Lord, Comstock Mining and Miners, 387--88; Mark Wyman, Hard Rock Epic: Western Miners and the Industrial Revolution, 1860-1910 (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1979), 168.

5 Lingenfelter, Hardrock Miners, 63; Wyman, Hard Rock Epic, p. 63; Virginia Chronicle, 5 July 1917, p. 1; Political History of Nevada, 143- 44; John P. O'Brien, ed., History of the Bench and Bar of Nevada (San Francisco: Bench and Bar Publishing Co., 1913), 110; Thomas Wren, ed., A History of the State of Nevada: Its Resources and People (New York and Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1904), 663-64.

On November 6, 1901, Storey County Local No. 114 of the Western Labor Union (WLU) was established. The WLU, an appendage of the WFM, was created in 1898 to organize all workers, a direct challenge to the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The WFM terminated its brief one-year affiliation with the AFL in 1897, and by 1902 had embraced a socialist agenda. In the same year, the WLU changed its name to the American Labor Union (ALU) in order to organize throughout the country. After the creation of the IWW in July 1905, and the affiliation of the WFM with that organization, the ALU locals became IWW locals. Thus, the IWW had a presence on the Comstock in the form of Storey County Local No. 114. The relationship between the Mechanics' Union of Storey County and IWW Local No. 114 is not known; however, after the WFM broke with the IWW in 1907, the IWW local in Storey County folded shortly after 1908. Vernon H. Jensen, Heritage of Conflict: Labor Relations in the Nonferrous Metals Industry up to 1930 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1950), 59-71; John Ervin Brinley, Jr., "The Western Federation of Miners" (Ph.D. diss., University of Utah, 1972), 68-173; Daily Territorial Enterprise, 17 February 1907, p. 3.

The Comstock miners' unions, allied with the Reno and Carson City craft unions and the railroad brotherhoods, prevailed upon the 1903 state legislature to create an official Labor Day in Nevada. While Reno had the honor of sponsoring the first official Labor Day celebration on September 7, 1903, Virginia City hosted the event on September 5, 1904, September 7, 1908, September 4, 1911, and September 5, 1916. The tradition of rotating the event among Reno, Sparks, Carson City, and Virginia City appears to have passed from the scene after World War 1.

The last listing for the Silver City Miners' Union No. 92 (organized March 14, 1874) by the state labor commissioner was in 1922, with five members; Virginia City Miners' Union No. 46 was last listed in 1923 (organized July 4, 1867), and Gold Hill Miners' Union No. 54 was last listed in 1926. When the Comstock Merger Mines Company terminated operations because of the low price of silver, and closed its cyanide mill at American Flat in December 1926, the era of the Comstock miners' unions came to a close, sixty years after the founding of the Gold Hill Miners' Union on December 8, 1866. "Fifth Biennial Report of the Commissioner of Labor, 1923-24," Appendix to Journals of Senate and Assembly (Carson City: State Printing Office, 1925), 15, 17; "Biennial Report of the Commissioner of Labor, 1925-26," Appendix to Journals of Senate and Assembly (Carson City: State Printing Office, 1927), 21; Stanley W. Paher, Nevada Ghost Towns Mining Camps (Berkeley: Howell-North Books, 197000-31; Brinley, "Western Federation of Miners," 220-21.

6 The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Volume L, Part 11, Correspondence (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1897), 982, 986-87; Gold Hill Daily News, 8 August (p. 3), 20 September (p. 3), 27 September (p. 3), 28 September 1864 (p. 2); Virginia Daily Union, 27 September 1864, p. 3; Jud Samon, "Sagebrush Falstaff-A Biographical Sketch of James Warren Nye" (Ph.D. diss., University of Maryland, 1979); William D. Rowley, "Colonialism in Nevada Territory," Journal of the West (January 1981).

7 War of the Rebellion, 1002, 1004-5; Lingenfelter, Hardrock Miners, 42-65; Clark, Journals of Alfred Doten, 11, 811, 940, 1061-63.

8 Lingenfelter, Hardrock Miners, 226-28; Jensen, Heritage of Conflict, 1-24; William Wright (Dan DeQuille), History of the Big Bonanza (Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Company, 1876), 340.

9 Wright, History of the Big Bonanza, 340-44.

10 Myron Angel, ed., History of Nevada (Oakland, Calif.: Thompson and West, 1881), 261.

11 John Brinley's doctoral dissertation on the WFM in 1972 referenced Eliot Lord when he claimed, "Whese Comstock miners excluded Chinese and Negroes from membership in their unions." However, Lord does not state that Blacks were specifically excluded from joining the unions (p. 357), and, in fact, the Silver City Miners' Union in May 1879 admitted two African-American miners into their growing ranks. According to an article entitled "Are Negroes entitled to Membership in Trade Unions" in the May 3 edition of Silver City's Lyon County Times:

Two negroes are employed in the Sutro Tunnel. As they cannot work there without becoming members of the Silver City Miners' Union, and no colored men have ever been initiated, that body is wrestling with the complex question whether to admit them to full membership, or to simply allow them to work on a permit. The decision will be of considerable interest to the laboring community.

Two weeks later, on May 17, the Silver City paper reported:

The negroes working in the Sutro Tunnel have been admitted to full membership in the Silver City Miners' Union. When they leave Sutro for Virginia, Bodie or some other
camp, they will take their working card with them and be entitled to all the privileges heretofore enjoyed by the most favored Miners' Union man.

Lyon County Times, 3 May 1879, p. 3, 17 May 1879, p. 3; Lord, Comstock Mining and Miners, 181-90, 355-88; Brinley, The WFM, 14-15.

12 Hubert Howe Bancroft, Popular Tribunals, I (San Francisco: The History Co., 1890), 611-12; James W. Nye to J. P. Usher, 25 September 1864, Report of the Superintendent of the Interior (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1864), 285.

13 Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming, 1540-1888 (San Francisco: The History Co., 1890),130-32; Hubert Howe Bancroft and Frances Victor Fuller, History of Nevada (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1981 repr.), esp. forward, by James W. Hulse; John Walton Caughey, Hubert Howe Bancroft: Historian of the West (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1946),262- 63.

14 Charles Howard Shinn, The Story of the Mine, as Illustrated by the Great Comstock Lode of Nevada (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1896), 239-58.

15 Carl B. Glasscock, The Big Bonanza: The Story of the Comstock Lode (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1931),150.

16 George D. Lyman, The Saga of the Comstock Lode (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1934), 307-12; George Rothwell Brown, ed., Reminiscences of Senator William M. Stewart (New York and Washington: The Neale Publishing Company, 1908),164-65; Russell R. Elliott ' Servant of Power: A Political Biography of Senator William M. Stewart (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1983), 263-64, 168-75.

17 Grant H. Smith, The History of the Comstock Lode, 1850-1920 (Reno: State Bureau of Mines, University of Nevada, 1943), xi-xii, 241-44; Grant H. Smith, Jr., "Early Day Families-Storey County," Nevada Centennial Project, Nevada Historical Society, Reno (1964).

18 Jensen, Heritage of Conflict, 1-37.

19 Ibid, 465-66

20 Rodman W. Paul, Mining Frontiers of the Far West, 1848-1880 (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc., 1963), 68-71; Clark, Journals of Alfred Doten, 11, 940, 1061-63.

21 William S. Greever, The Bonanza West: The Story of the Western Mining Rushes, 1848-1900 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963), 131-33.

22 Russell R. Elliott, History of Nevada (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1973), 141-44.

23 Lingenfelter, Hardrock Miners, 31-65, 107-17, 157-59, 180-81, 219-28.

24 Ibid., 90-103, 226; Angel, History of Nevada, 261.

25 Ronald C. Brown, Hard-Rock Miners: The Intermountain West, 1860-1920 (College Station and London: Texas A&M Press, 1979), 90, 148- 49, 158; Wyman, Hard Rock Epic, 28, 59, 124, 151-56, 160, 168, 173, 179-82, 185, 223-24.

Recent survey works such as Patricia Nelson Limerick's The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past Of the American West (New York and London: W. W. Norton Company, Inc., 1987), 97-124, and Richard White's "It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own," A History of the American West (Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991), 280, 288-97, cite most of the later works analyzed in this article; however, their treatment of the Comstock miners' unions in the larger context of organized mining labor in the West is, unfortunately, minimal and sometimes misleading.

For example, according to Limerick, "In the early years of Western industrial mining, workers like those in Nevada did organize unions and workingmen's associations, but these cooperative groups served most often as mutual aid societies. Rather than seek power through strikes, the early unions tried to compensate for an inappropriate legal code, one that usually held mine injuries and accidents to be the responsibility of the worker" (p. 108).

While certainly concerned with the health and welfare of the underground miner, the Comstock miners' unions were much more than mutual-aid societies. They were powerful industrial unions with a political agenda and were prepared to strike if necessary. Besides securing a minimum wage for underground miners and aiding the injured and the bereaved, the Comstock unions established a closed shop and an eight-hour day, and pursued safety legislation in the late 1860s and 1870s. These unions were clearly the model for virtually all subsequent miners' unions in the gold, silver, and copper mining towns in the western United States and Canada in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

26 Lingenfelter, Hardrock Miners, 227-28.

 

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