Virginia City


Virginia City

Secrets of a Western Past

Ronald M. James

Historical Archaeology of the American West Series

176 pages
36 illustrations, 1 map


May 2012


$25.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

May 2012


$25.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Spent cartridges. The pieces of an original Tabasco Pepper Sauce bottle. Shards of a ceramic pot, stained red. For archaeologists each of the thousands of artifacts uncovered at a site tells a story. For noted Comstock authority Ronald M. James, it is a story resulting from decades of research and excavation at one of the largest National Historic Landmarks in America, the Nevada town that, with the discovery of the Comstock Lode, became a boomtown microcosm of the American West.

Drawing on the work of hundreds of volunteers, students, and professional archaeologists, Virginia City: Secrets of a Western Past shows how every detail—from unearthed artifacts to reports of local saloons to plans for the cemetery to surviving nineteenth-century buildings—adds to our view of Virginia City when it was one of the richest places on earth. James recreates this unlikely epitome of frontier industry and cosmopolitan living, the thriving hub of corporate executives, middle-class families, miners, prostitutes, and barkeepers—and more foreign-born residents per capita than anywhere else in the country—in a spot that had begun its life a few years earlier as the mining camp of several lucky guys. An excavation of the history of Virginia City, a window on the heyday of the American frontier, James’s book is also an enlightening look at how archaeology brings the story of the past to life.

Author Bio

Ronald M. James is the long-term state historic preservation officer for Nevada and chairman of the National Historic Landmarks Committee of the National Park Service. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including The Roar and the Silence: A History of Virginia City and the Comstock Lode.


“Framing his inquiry within the cultural context of a nineteenth-century urban mining community, Ronald James elaborates on the ways in which artifacts, ecofacts, architecture, abandoned cemeteries, probate records, journals, newspapers, and maps offer new directions for understanding the dynamic history of the American West’s great Comstock Lode and ‘people from another century.’”—Kelly J. Dixon, author of Boomtown Saloons: Archaeology and History in Virginia City

"If you love Comstock history, then you'll find a bonanza of great reading in Ron James' gem of a book."—Cynthia S. Kennedy, Virginia City News

"James, historic preservation officer for Nevada, brings to life the story of legendary gold rush-era Virginia City from its origin through its heyday. Just as compellingly and significantly, James walks readers through the archaeological process to provide a remarkably interesting journey through how the diggings take place and how archaeologists interpret the past from the material culture that they uncover."—T Maxwell-Long, Choice

"James' impassioned plea for the interdisciplinarity and greater cooperation among historians and archaeologists is an important reminder of how valuable the insights of both disciplines can be for understanding our history."—Robert McCoy, Annals of Wyoming

"James make the past come alive by exploring the intricate lives of people who came to the mining town in search of prosperity and economic stability during its nineteenth-century boom and bust."—Stacey Lynn Camp, American Antiquity

"This book is delightful and highly readable. It is especially recommended for those interested in historical archaeology, the history of the American West, and industrial history and would also be useful in classes in the same subjects."—Donald L. Hardesty, The Historian

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

List of Maps


Introduction   Twenty-one bits of glass, historical archaeology, and the meaning of the West

Chapter 1   Gold and silver!

Chapter 2   A crowded city on the mining frontier

Chapter 3   An Irish blacksmith and the archaeology of belief

Chapter 4   The Chinese

Chapter 5   Saloons and the archaeology of leisure

Chapter 6   Women on the mining frontier

Chapter 7   Kids on the Comstock

Chapter 8   Piper’s Opera House and the archaeology of theater

Chapter 9   Death and the material culture of the final chapter

Epilogue    Breathing meaning into the past




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