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Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 9 Apr 2005 22:53:39 -0500
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The following book review as written for the Mark Twain Forum by Eric Moody.



_Aurora; Nevada's Ghost City of the Dawn_. By Robert E. Stewart. Nevada
Publications, 2004. Pp. 124. Softcover. $14.95. ISBN 0-913814-81-4.

This book is available from the publisher Nevada Publications, Box 15444,
Las Vegas, NV 89114. Telephone: 775-747-0800.

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Eric Moody
Nevada Historical Society

Copyright (c) 2005 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

Outside Nevada and California, Aurora is known--if it is recognized at
all--because it was once the home of Mark Twain. This now-abandoned Nevada
mining camp, where Twain lived briefly in the early 1860s and began the
newspaper career that eventually propelled him to literary fame, has been
generally neglected by historians. Not until now has there been a book
length history of the place.

Author Robert Stewart, who has been intrigued by Aurora for decades,
attempts here to remedy the camp's neglect. Over many years, he has
familiarized himself with Aurora's geographical setting, surveyed virtually
all the available literature on the town, scoured government records, and
examined contemporary newspapers in an effort to piece together as much of
Aurora's history as possible. He has published articles and a booklet about
the town before producing the present volume.

The largest element of _Aurora: Nevada's Ghost City of the Dawn_, just over
80 pages, is a narrative history. It begins with a description of the
discovery of precious metals, gold and silver, in the isolated Walker River
region of western Nevada (then western Utah territory) and eastern
California in the summer of 1860, just as Virginia City and the Comstock
Lode, situated some one hundred miles to the northwest, were starting to
boom. The new Esmeralda District, of which Aurora was the principal camp,
quickly developed into an important mining center, experiencing a
substantial influx of miners and other fortune seekers from California and

Prospectors staked out hundreds of claims around Aurora, but a small number
of incorporated mining companies soon dominated mining and milling activity
in the district, whose production of gold and silver peaked in 1863-1864.
An Aurora townsite was laid out, and numerous substantial brick buildings
were erected among hundreds of smaller wooden ones. The community's
population quickly exceeded 1,000, even though life was difficult in the
mountainous region, with bitterly cold winters and hot, dusty summers
testing the endurance of any hardy soul drawn there by the lure of mineral

The 1860s witnessed the heyday of the camp; by the 1870s, Aurora's mines
had played out and the camp was in decline. It managed to hang on to the
county seat of Esmeralda County until 1883, and experienced one last
revival on the eve of World War I, but by the 1920s it was virtually
abandoned and had become a true ghost town, visited by tourists in

In some of the most interesting sections of his book, Stewart writes about
Aurora's varied populace, describing living conditions among the miners,
merchant classes, and other groups, the types and prices of food available
to Aurorans, leisure activities, the impact of fires on the community, and
the district's minority groups, notably Chinese and Paiutes. The
lawlessness for which Aurora was famous is duly noted, with substantial
sections being devoted to the notorious Daly Gang, some of whom were local
police officers, and the organization in 1864 of a vigilance committee to
combat the desperadoes. The committee ran off most of the gang, which had
been terrorizing Aurora for more than a year, and hung four of its members
suspected of killing a stage station keeper. The hangings brought the
territorial governor, James Nye, and Nevada's U.S. marshal to Aurora, but
no charges were ever filed against any of the vigilantes.

A handful of the camp's most colorful residents are given special
attention. There is Bob Howland, the ex-New Yorker and protege of Governor
James Nye, who was Sam Clemens's cabin-mate in Aurora. There is also Laura
Sanchez, born into the politically prominent Crittenden family of Virginia,
who came to Aurora from San Francisco with her husband, Ramon Sanchez, soon
to be the town's leading banker and its only mayor. Laura's life on the
frontier, which she wrote about in letters to family members, is described
in fascinating detail.

The most famous resident of Aurora, of course, was young Sam Clemens, who
came to the camp hoping to make his fortune in mining--an episode he would
later imaginatively document in _Roughing It_. He is mentioned repeatedly
in the book's historical narrative and then discussed further in one of the
volume's several appendices. Twain's activities as a miner (and mining
investor) are described, as are his living quarters, friends and
associates, and his initial contacts with the _Territorial Enterprise_
newspaper in Virginia City, to which he began sending contributions in
1862. His colorful sketches of mining camp life led to his being offered a
reporting job in the summer of 1862, the acceptance of which necessitated a
move from Aurora to the Comstock. The volume contains several photographs
of Twain in the early 1860s, and some of what might have been his cabin in

Stewart's book does not provide new information about Mark Twain while he
was in Aurora, but in presenting a memorable portrait of the mining camp
and its inhabitants during the time he lived there, it does offer readers
some fresh details and perhaps a somewhat deeper understanding of the
conditions that shaped Twain, the man and the writer, during his tumultuous
Silver State sojourn. Even though it is marred by a number of noticeable
typographical and factual errors (which are not mystifying but do point to
a need for closer editing), _Aurora: Nevada's Ghost City of the Dawn_ is an
entertaining brief work that will appeal to those interested in the Western
mining frontier and Mark Twain's formative years as a Nevada miner and

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Eric Moody is Curator of Manuscripts for the Nevada
Historical Society.