Eureka County was formed from part of Lander County in 1873. It was named for its major town, Eureka, one of Nevada’s oldest mining communities. Lead-silver ore was found there in 1864.
The word Eureka is Greek for “I have found (it)!” — the exclamation is attributed to Archimedes on discovering a way to determine the purity of gold in King Hiero’s crown. It became a favorite expression of prospectors when they found the mother lode or a rich vein of ore.
According to Thompson & West’s “History of Nevada” (1881), near the Overland Stage station of Diamond Springs, silver-bearing veins were found in May 1864.
“Prospectors ranged through the mountains with much energy, and often with little judgment, as is proven by the neglect to discover the richest outcroppings until a number of years afterwards,” the book recounts. “The discovery which gave the name to Eureka, and subsequently led to the explorations that disclosed the rich bodies of ore that have since given the place its wealth and celebrity, was made on the nineteenth of September, 1864, by a prospecting party from Austin, composed of Messrs. W.O. Arnold, W.R. Tannehill, G.T. Tannehill, J.W. Stotts, and Moses Wilson. This party found a species of rock differing from any they had previously seen, and curiously examined it. The croppings at Austin were a rich chloride, and when pieces of ore were placed in a fire, small globules of silver would appear on the surface. This experiment was tried with ore found by Arnold and his companions by placing large pieces of the rock in their camp-fire, the result being a flow of metal greatly surprising the prospectors. They could not believe it was silver, and it was too hard for lead. However it was metal, and they exclaimed, ‘Eureka,’ locating their claims and organizing a district under that name …”
The total bullion yield for the Eureka District for the year 1869 was less than $100,000, but the Eureka Sentinel in January 1877 reported a total bullion shipment for the prior years as $4 million.
Thompson and West enthused over the growth of the town of Eureka:
“Excellent stone quarries within the town limits furnish an abundance of good building material, and large quantities of brick are manufactured just south of the town. These advantages are noticeable in the architecture of Eureka, stone and brick structures being numerous. The recently completed Court House, the cost of which was $55,000, is the finest in the State, with the exception of that at Virginia City. The first edifice for religious worship was built in 1871, by the Episcopal Church, and is a solid structure of stone. The Roman Catholics erected a frame edifice in the same year, but have since built another one of stone. The Presbyterians and Methodists also have fine church buildings. Among other attractive buildings should be mentioned the International Hotel, Jackson House, Sentinel building and the Opera House. The County Jail, vault and fixtures cost $15,000; the Court House and the lot surrounding it cost $55,000. The County Hospital, its furniture and library, cost $10,000.”
Of course, like every city of that era, there was tragedy, or as the book calls them: “destructive conflagrations.”
“The greatest calamity of the kind occurred on April 19, 1879. At about one o’clock in the morning of that date, while a fearful gale was blowing, a fire broke out in the green-room of Bigelow’s Opera House, from the explosion of a lamp,” the history book relates. “The flames spread to the Sentinel building, the Masonic Hall and the Western Union Telegraph office, and by the winds were blown east and north, down Buel, Spring and Main Streets. The Jackson House and the front portion of V. B. Perry’s saloon escaped by a miracle, but the remaining portion of the town embraced within the streets above named, was, within the period of two hours, a mass of blackened ruins, and the fire was only checked when it reached the end of Main Street at the foundry, Spring Street above Mrs. Dennis’, and Paul Street at its terminus. In all this area the only property that escaped, excepting the two structures already mentioned, consisted of the fire-proof building of the Sentinel office and the vaults of Paxton’s bank.”
The owner of a restaurant was fatally burned. The loss was estimated at $1 million.
“Immediately after the conflagration, a remarkable journalistic feat was performed by the Sentinel force,” the book states. “The stone fire-proof building at the rear of the main office was so hot that the printers could remain in it only by shrouding themselves in wet blankets. Nevertheless they set up the paper and got out an edition before ten o’clock in the morning.”
The town rebuilt quickly but another fire the following year “taking almost the same course as the conflagration of the previous year” destroyed 300 structures.
While mining was the principle business in the county its ancillary business of smelting spawned the infamous “Fish Creek War” in August 1879.
The managers of Eureka’s mine decided that they would no longer pay 30 cents a bushel for charcoal to fire their furnaces and would pay only 27.5 cents. The Charcoal Burners’ Association, several thousand men, refused and halted charcoal deliveries.
The charcoal association took over the town.
The sheriff telegraphed the governor: “2,000 persons, banded together, and with arms in their possession, defied the civil authorities, and refused to have any of their number arrested … they now hold forcible possession of many coal pits in this county. By force they have prevented, and are now preventing the owners of charcoal from hauling it to the furnaces, and they threaten to destroy other property and burn the town. Arrests have been resisted by the rioters who are well armed and organized under the command of desperate leaders.”
The governor called out the state militia. A sheriff’s posse attacked the Fish Creek coal ranch and fired on several hundred coal burners. Five were killed, six wounded and several captured.
The Carson Appeal later wrote: “Whoever is in the right, this infraction and defiance of law cannot be permitted in this State. There is scarcely a question but that the coal burners have been imposed upon. They furnish coal to contractors, who deliver it at the furnaces from their own teams, and insist that the burners shall take their returns without being furnished with certified measurements from the receivers. It is easily seen how great wrong can be done through the collusion of dishonest parties.”