In the rip-roaring, true saga of the Comstock Lode, Dennis Drabelle skillfully brings to life silver-mining in the late-nineteenth-century American West. The immense wealth extracted from the Lode spurred the growth of San Francisco, and Virginia City, the hell-raising town that sprang up above the mines, was the inspiration for the TV series “Bonanza.” Innovations in Comstock mining—the use of underground “cubes” to avoid cave-ins and of elevators to bring ore to the surface—was adapted to make possible the modern skyscraper. The boom also accentuated less positive themes in American history. The growth of Virginia City brought ruthless treatment of Native Americans. The risks and expenses of deep mining lent themselves to stock-market manipulations and fraud on a grand scale. To opportunists such as William M. Stewart, a mining lawyer and future U.S. Senator with a tenuous grasp of ethics, the Comstock experience meant that the West belonged to the crafty and the strong. Perhaps the boom’s most lasting legacy, however, was the education it gave to a great American writer: Mark Twain. In Virginia City, the young journalist learned the value of plain but salty Western speech and saw how he might use the vivid reality of the frontier in the great books of his future. Full of colorful characters and get-rich-quick schemes, Mile-High Fever brings to light one of the least-known but most pivotal episodes in American history.
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The Perfect Monster
The Comstock rush began as an outlet for the California gold fields, where too many prospectors were trying to strike it rich at the same time. In 1850, restless 49ers heard that gold had been discovered east of the Sierra Nevada, forty miles from Lake Tahoe, in a part of Utah Territory called Washoe after a local Native American tribe. On reconnoitering, they found deposits in Gold Canyon, a gulch in Sun Mountain (soon to be renamed Mt. Davidson), about five miles from the Carson River.
The setting was hardly the kind that halts pioneers in their tracks,
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“We know of the Gold Rush, the hunt for El Dorado, even Hernando de Soto's wild search for a passage to China. But in Mile-High Fever, Dennis Drabelle brings us the little-known Silver Rush, told in full technicolor, seasoned with wisdom, and rendered with all history's shadows in tow."--Marie Arana, author of American Chica, Cellophane, and Lima Nights
“It's rare that you find so much shameless misbehavior between two covers! Fraud, larceny, downright theft, untrammeled greed, not to mention fancy women, gambling dens, demented journalists -- all adding up to incredible fun. The Comstock Lode is no longer with us, but you can still visit it in this wonderful, wacked-out book.”--Carolyn See, author of Making a Literary Life
DENNIS DRABELLE has written for The Atlantic Monthly, GQ, Film Comment, Civilization, and Smithsonian. He is a contributing editor for The Washington Post Book World and won the National Book Critics Circle's Award (1996) for excellence in reviewing. He lives in Washington, DC.