In 1862, William Talcott discovered silver ore in Pony Canyon, a pass through
central Nevada's Toiyabe Mountains. The strike attracted newcomers who
founded Clifton below the new claims. David Buel then platted Austin up the
canyon, naming his town for his partner Alvah Austin. Because of the rush,
legislators created Lander County in December 1862.
Austin boomed in 1863. A temporarily depressed Virginia City even
contributed its International Hotel, businessmen moving the substantial
building the one hundred and seventy miles. Before the end of the year,
Austin became the seat of Lander County.
Austin incorporated as a city in 1864, a year more memorable for a rivalry
between Reuel Gridley and H. S. Herrick. Gridley, a southern sympathizer, bet
Herrick a Democrat would win a local election. Gridley lost the wager, costing
him a fifty-pound sack of flour, which he carried to Herrick with a band playing
"Old John Brown."
The men donated the flour to the Sanitary Commission, a precursor of the
Red Cross. Gridley took bids for the sack, but the winner returned it to the
commission, and it was auctioned off repeatedly. After Austin donated all it
could, Gridley took his sack on the road.
Between Nevada and California, the phenomenon raised roughly $175,000 to
help the Civil War's wounded. What began as inconsequential gambling
became one of Austin's more celebrated moments.
In 1865, the Manhattan Silver Mining Company began purchasing competing
mines and mills, nearly monopolizing the local industry. Productivity, while
consistent, remained modest. Occasional rushes to places such as Hamilton
and Pioche drained Austin of its work force.
Profits peaked during the late 1860s and early 1870s. In 1872, miners pushed
for unionization, demanding the Comstock standard minimum wage of four
dollars per day. Labor action resulted in a few arrests, but the union was
The Nevada Central Railroad reached Clifton in 1880, and a narrow gauge
extended service up to Austin the following year. Despite the activity, Austin's
mines continued to slump. Austin and its Reese River Mining District failed to
become the next Virginia City.
Nevertheless, Austin was a springboard for exploration and exploitation of
regional mineral resources. Its network of communication, commerce, and
finance encouraged the growth of Hamilton and Treasure Hill, Eureka,
Belmont, Tuscarora, and many other mining towns.
Austin's newspaper, the Reese River Reveille, was an important voice for
central Nevada with reporter Fred Hart writing in the tradition of Mark Twain
and Dan De Quille. The mining town was also home to Emma Nevada Wixom,
who won international acclaim as a nineteenth-century opera star.
The Manhattan Silver Mining Company disbanded in 1887. By 1890, the
community had dwindled to a little more than one thousand. Limited mining
continued into the twentieth century. A 1979 election transferred the county
seat to Battle Mountain, stripping Austin of one of its remaining industries.
Today the Austin Historic District on Highway 50 survives as one of the
nineteenth century's great centers of mining. Churches, businesses,
residences, and even one of the nation's last Greek revival courthouses
preserve vestiges of a former time.
and the Reese River Mining District
from Online Nevada
An 1863 map of Austin captures the community just as it was taking shape in
response to one of Nevada's great mining booms.
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