Sun Mountain: A Comstock Memoir

Richard S. Wheeler, Author Forge $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-312-86725-6
Sitting down to write his recollections of the silver-mining boomtown of Virginia City, Nev., on ""the virgin day of a virgin century""--January 1, 1900--Wheeler's narrator Henry Stoddard muses about the wealth of the Comstock Lode, whose gold and silver drew him from his schoolbooks to the Great West in 1861. No miner, Henry is an educated fellow who prefers work aboveground, finally getting a job as a reporter for one of the town's newspapers. Henry learns all he can about the mechanics and finances of silver mining, and becomes an authority on mine operations during Virginia City's remarkable history as the rich and risky silver capitol of the West. For 20 years Henry reports on mining failures and successes, new inventions, scandals, grim disasters, financial speculation and manipulation, and the colorful rogues, silver barons and bold entrepreneurs who make and lose millions on the whim of an ore strike. Henry is a plodder, however, a stolid reporter always overshadowed by his more famous newspaper cronies, Samuel Clemens and William Wright, and surrounded by tycoons who want to use him as a mouthpiece for their speculation schemes. He desperately wants to get married, but pickings are slim in the mostly male town--slimmer even for Henry, since reporters are ""known for their wanton ways and utterly heathen conduct."" Eventually, Henry's loyalty and patience pay off, both in wealth and love, but his happiness is tragically short-lived. Wheeler, author of more than 30 novels (several of which deal with the boom and bust cycles of the precious metals market in the American West), is expert but not pedantic, and again produces lively historical fiction. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/03/1999
Release date: 05/01/1999
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