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John Mackay regarded Virginia City, Nevada, as his home although he lived two-thirds of his life elsewhere. Moreover, because he rose from the ranks of the miners he was always considered one of the boys, and owing to his honesty and generosity, when he succeeded he was lionized in his adopted state.

San Francisco interests ran nineteenth-century Nevada mining operations. Because hard-rock, deep-fissure mining required great amounts of capital, the San Francisco stock market, with its sale of shares and assessments, allowed the mines to be developed. But the story of Mackay on the Comstock is of a local miner overcoming the dominance of corporate San Francisco. The importance of Mackay to western history would be significant if his story ended with his mining successes. Other histories and biographies have presented considerable information regarding that episode of his life.

But only cursory attention has been paid to his second career: building a worldwide communication network, which featured waging war on national and international communications systems that had undergone horizontal consolidation. In his endeavor Mackay opposed Jay Gould, the most vilified of the group of finance capitalists identified by muckrakers as robber barons. This work is not intended to be a critical study of western mining or a history of the Gilded Age. It does not attempt to analyze the dynamics of the monopolization of the Comstock or the national rise of the large corporation.

It is a biography, placing the Mackay story in the historical perspective of the era and illuming his successes and failures as he fought against certain of its dominant entities. Mackay left few personal papers. It is largely because historian Grant H. Smith collected a wealth of material on him in the s and early s that a more fully developed picture of Mackay can be presented.

McAvoy Layne provided insightful commentary on portions of the manuscript; Scott Walker suggested works on economic history; and Frank Kovac, as with other undertakings, provided valuable technical support. University of Nevada Emeritus Professor Jerome Edwards read the manuscript and provided insights that clarified many portions of it. Ronald James also read it, contributing expertise in western history and an understanding of Scottish, Scots-Irish, and Irish heritage. Professor James contributed many hours, and his efforts are reflected in this final version. Once again Sarah Nestor has edited what I thought was a finished product, adding, deleting, and suggesting alternatives to make the book more readable.

The text, notes, and bibliography are all substantially improved because of her precise and exhaustive corrections. Finally, to say that in writing this work I stood on Grant H. Mackay reminded the heartbroken wife that her husband was absentminded. She rummaged through the clothing, in the bedroom, but found nothing. As he left the house Mackay gestured to a coat in the hallway, telling her to look there, too. In one of the coat pockets the woman found nearly three thousand dollars, the amount of the shortage.

She looked out the door to tell Mackay the good news, but he was far down the block, keeping to the shadows as if having just committed a burglary. The story illustrates traits universally attributed to Mackay: generosity and an extreme reticence at being recognized for it.

But there are questions about the tale itself. Did Davis, who was not averse to embellishing a story, recount history or lore? Did Davis perhaps concoct the tale to perpetuate the Mackay legend? From the early s until his death in , John Mackay was among the richest men in the world. Typically, he has been lauded for his role in developing hard-rock mining and his rise from penniless immigrant to a man of rarely matched material achievement.

He also has been portrayed as the outstanding character of the Comstock era. Unlike many of his wealthy contemporaries, Mackay did not suffer public antipathy. Amid rampant commercial corruption, he was seen as an everyman who made good.

He worked his way up earning clean money, so called because it was believed that extracting ore from the earth benefited all while harming no one environmental destruction went largely unnoticed. In Fredrick J. Turner presented his thesis that successive frontiers, terminating in the West, gave birth to a unique American way of thinking and a new, noble culture.

Over the past twenty-five years historians, in reexamining the West and then using similar tools in other regions , have brought to light the moral ambiguity, vices as well as virtues, of the culture that evolved in regions where newcomers intruded into indigenous environments. The emergent perspective emphasizes the convergence of various traditions, including those of Native peoples, Latin Americans, Europeans, Africans, and Asians, and the influence of women as well as men.

It also studies the prevalence of racism, sexism, environmental degradation, and cutthroat economics and offers new interpretations of their consequences.

John Mackay Silver King In The Gilded Age Wilber S Shepperson Series In Nevada History 2009

The new history challenges the ethnocentric concept that English-speaking white males who dominated in finance or warfare won the West. Implicit in this refocusing is the question of the degree to which those previously credited with shaping the West deserve honor. This book argues not only that Mackay is worthy of the status awarded him in Nevada and mining history, but also that he warrants standing as an important business leader fighting the consolidation of power in the Gilded Age. These enterprises were of paramount importance and contributed significantly to the evolving mosaic of American life.

In the first case, Mackay and his associates freed the Comstock from a vertical monopoly whose hold was so complete that Davis observed, People despaired of ever escaping from its relentless grasp. In the second case, at a time when the U. Moreover Mackay, who prided himself on being a common man, was proud that his fight against the cartels promoted public use. Because he shunned publicity and left few personal papers, a study of Mackay presents difficulties. As with the Davis anecdote, the most readily available primary accounts are not entirely trustworthy.

Goodwin, and John Russell Young, also helped create the mythic old western history with their tales and hagiographic accounts.

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Nevertheless, a distillation of the collective accounts reveals consistent, effusive praise for Mackay, the first evidence that he was a singular figure. In the s and early s, Comstock historian Grant Smith collected an invaluable body of information regarding Mackay. As a young job seeker in the s, Smith had met Mackay long enough to be turned down for a position working in the mines.

Smith intended to write a book about Mackay, and the materials, notes, sections of manuscript, newspaper clippings, and interviews with those who had known Mackay remain in several large cartons at the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, California. Instead of the biography, Smith used the mining material he had collected to create his comprehensive study, The History of the Comstock Lode. He dedicated the book to Mackay, who had died forty years earlier. In an age of deceit and machinations, Mackay earned the sobriquet the honest miner. And it was Mackay who created the transoceanic cable system.

During his childhood, Mackay had earned a pittance as a fatherless Irish immigrant on the streets of New York. As an adult, he spent nights educating himself.


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Davis told of calling on him one evening on the Comstock to find him with a schoolbook. Mackay did not attempt to hide it. He told Davis frankly, I never received much education and I have to put in my leisure hours catching up. Once he garnered wealth and fame, his speech attracted little attention from social commentators. Mackay came to Sierra County, California, in , during the gold boom. But the rich claims had already been staked out, and although he was diligent and learned the intricacies of placer mining, as the years passed he watched profits in the county steadily diminish.

A fellow who worked with him commented, Mackay worked like the devil and made me work the same way. Even when his ownership of the Con. Although he later lived in San Francisco and New York, Mackay always maintained that he was a resident of Virginia City, Nevada, and he had a special affection for its residents.

He provided pensions for many old Comstockers. When Dan DeQuille could no longer support himself, word carried to Mackay, and the millionaire directed that DeQuille be paid an allowance equal to his former salary for the remainder of his life. When asked about generous gifts to those he did not know, he said, They are suffering, that is sufficient. His gift giving was extensive; however, it was done without a plan. He provided stipends to hospitals, orphanages, and old acquaintances yet failed to create an organization to continue the philanthropy after his death. This led the New York Herald to eulogize that in every state there would be some widow, once-forgotten orphan, poor soldier, broken-down miner, failed contractor, needy student, or priest who would miss his charity.

Canvassers gathered signatures.


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