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Fabled Western Mining Boomtown

(GOLDFIELD, NEVADA.). Collection of 23 Photographs of Goldfield, Nevada

Goldfield, Nevada: Laura Titsworth et al., 1905-1906

23 gelatin silver prints (approx. 7 x 9 ½ in. to 8 x 10 in.), all but two signed “Titsworth Photo” in the negative. Remnants of old mounting on most versos. One photograph with trimmed corner, very good to fine condition overall.

This spectacular collection documents the height of the gold mining boomtown of Goldfield, Nevada. The images present the movement of gold from the solitary prospector and small claims to large industrial operations, from excavating, processing and shipping of ore to its sale, banking and stock trading, and ending with its expenditure on gambling and prostitutes.

The wonderful mining views include images of large commercial operations, small claims, a girl playing outside a dugout home, a prospector with his burros, and caravans transporting ore. Town views include the main street and the businesses the gold boom fueled, the tent in which the Mining Review was operated by the con man Jacob Herzig, large commercial banks, and the trading floor on which mining stocks were bought and sold. Most of these photographs were taken during the boom of 1905-1906 by a little-known female photographer, Laura Titsworth. The Goldfield boom began in 1902 when two bankrupt prospectors, Harry Stimler and Billy March, discovered gold in the hills south of Tonopah. Tents soon appeared at claims in the barren hills in the mining district known as “Grandpa.” As vast deposits of gold were discovered, the town was renamed Goldfield.

The town attracted not only miners but also the people and businesses that served them, including the gambling hall and the brothel seen in these photographs. These latter images depict one of the earliest and best photographs of the interior of a Western gambling hall and one of the best-known brothels in the state.

By 1904 Goldfield had attracted some of the most famous—and infamous—men of the American West. The fabled lawman Virgil Earp came to Goldfield in 1904 and was soon named deputy sheriff in 1905 despite an atrophied arm caused by the bullet taken at the O.K. Corral. Wyatt Earp was a pit boss and enforcer at Tex Rickard’s Northern Saloon, which boasted the longest bar in the history of mining towns and would soon become home to an infamous gambling house. The celebrated saloonkeeper and sporting promoter Tex Rickard knew Wyatt Earp from a previous mining venture in Alaska. In 1906, Goldfield’s best mining year, the town had a population of 30,000 inhabitants, produced $11 million in gold, and was the largest town in Nevada. That year, Tex Rickard’s Northern Saloon gained national attention thanks to Jacob Herzig—a criminal stock trader and con artist who operated under the name George Graham Rice. With Herzig’s help, Rickard set up a boxing match between Joe Gans and Oscar “Battling” Nelson that attracted national attention. As recognition for the town grew, so did Herzig’s mining stock trading company, L.M. Sullivan Trust Company. The following year, Herzig fled to Reno when his company finally went bankrupt, and by 1913 Goldfield was in rapid decline.

Comprehensive collections of documentary photographs of gold mining boomtowns are now very scarce in private hands, and those of legendary towns like Goldfield are rare.

Collection inventory, most with titles from the captions in the negatives

[Gambling Hall in Casey’s Merchants Hotel.] Manuscript caption on verso “Casey’s Merchants Hotel – Goldfield 1906.” This scene shows faro, craps, and roulette being played at Casey’s Merchant’s Hotel in Columbia, one mile north of Goldfield. A slot machine is on the wall at the right, and a bartender works by the window. One of the men at the craps table is tossing chips onto the layout, as evidenced by his blurred arm. The hotel was owned by Casey McDonnell, who also operated hotels of the same name in other Nevada boomtowns. The Nevada State Journal for 13 April 1911 reported the destruction of the hotel by fire, calling it a “famous gambling resort” and “one of the most historic dwellings on the desert.” This is one of the earliest and best photographs of the interior of a Western gambling hall.

Birdseye View of Goldfield, Nev. Titsworth Photo 22. A panoramic birdseye view of the sprawling, makeshift town at its height.

A Prospector. Titsworth Photo 23. A prospector sits astride a burro, his three other burros laden with equipment.

Florence Mine, Goldfield, Nev. Approximately $2,000,000 in gold have been taken from this mine. Titsworth 29. A splendid birdseye view of the rich Florence Mine.

January Mine — Goldfield, Nev./City of Goldfield in the distance. Titsworth 19. An excellent view of January Mine with the town in the background.

Reilly Lease – Goldfield Nev. One Million Dollars were taken from this property in four months. Titsworth Photo. A well-dressed woman holding a parasol stands next to sacks of ore at a mine. It is likely that the woman is Dr. Frances Williams, a tenacious physician turned mining promoter who was one of the first women in Goldfield.

Partial View of Ore Dump – on Sandstorm Mine. Value $60,000 per ton. Titsworth Photo 47. A photograph of ore in sacks awaiting transport from the mine.

Partial View of Ore Dump Combination Mine./Goldfield Nev. Titsworth Photo 40. A miner pushes a load of ore in a cart on elevated rails.

Kendall Mine – Showing $40,000 Ore Sacked for shipment. Titsworth Photo 49. Gold ore sacks stacked next to the mine entrance.

Combination Mine and Mill – Goldfield, Nev. Titsworth Photo 16. A view of a large industrial mining operation, with a wagon drawn by a team of four horses in the foreground.

Main Street, Goldfield, Nev. Titsworth Photo 35. This classic mining town view shows establishments like the Manhattan Mining Company, Arcade Music Hall, Hotel Esmerelda, A.D. Myers and J.F. Douglas Miners, and a telegraph office.

Home of John S. Cook and Co., Bankers. Goldfield, Nev. Titsworth Photo 41. An imposing view of John S. Cook and Co. Bankers with men standing proudly at the threshold of their establishment. The bank, which held most of the gold found in Goldfield, was central to the town until it finally failed in 1932.

Ore from Kendall Mine–Value $119,000 per ton – being deposited in bank vault. Titsworth Photo 53. A crowd of men proudly display their gold ore in front of the bank where it was to be deposited.

Stock Exchange, Goldfield, Nev. Floor Members in session. Nov 24th 1905. Titsworth Photo 57. This is probably one of the first images of a great early mining stock exchange in the American West. Local mines including Kendall, Goldfield, and Red Top are represented on the trading board in the background. The man leaning forward in the front may be saloon owner and boxing promoter Tex Rickard. Low interior lighting required a slow shutter speed and painstaking setup, suggesting that this photograph documents an historic moment for the exchange, Goldfield and Western stock trading.

[Mining newspaper tent.] Titsworth Photo 12. The tent walls and doors are lined with The Mining Review, the monthly promotional publication of Jacob S. Herzig, aka George Graham Rice. Herzig established the paper and the L. M. Sullivan Trading Co. to promote his stock schemes and to lure unwary investors to Goldfield. This is a rare photographic record of an infamous mining stock swindler.

[Men with bags of gold ore.] Titsworth Photo 52. In this town view well-dressed men stand next to bags of ore as a team of horses pulling a wagon waits nearby.

Freight leaving for Bullfrog [front view]. Titsworth Photo Goldfield Nev. This spectacular view shows an enormous wagon pulled by a team of sixteen horses to bring freight to Bullfrog, a nearby mining town. By 1907 a railroad ran between Goldfield and Bullfrog.

Freight leaving for Bullfrog [rear view]. Titsworth Photo Goldfield. A rear view of the freight wagon to Bullfrog.

A Desert Landscape — The road to Bullfrog. Titsworth Photo 27. Small mines dot the desert landscape in this birdseye view showing an enormous wagon being driven to Bullfrog, another great gold deposit near Goldfield.

Dugouts [with young girl]. Goldfield, Nev. Titsworth Photo 11. In this poignant image a little girl plays at the entrance to her dugout home.

A Novelty in Architecture Goldfield, Nev. Titsworth Photo. A man poses with his son in front of their adobe home in which the walls are reinforced or decorated with metal cans or lids.

The Joshua Tree – Pride of the Nevada Desert. Titsworth Photo 50. The Joshua tree is endemic to particular regions of the South Western United States. The rugged plant, seen here with mining operations in the background, symbolized the strength and determination of the miners of the American West.

[Red Top Bar and Brothel.] Manuscript caption on verso reading “Red Lights! Goldfield.” A man and woman, the man holding a drink, pose in front of Goldfield’s famous Red Top Bar, beyond which stretch the rows of rooms in which the prostitutes worked. A Goldfield landmark, the Red Top was a brothel, saloon, and dance hall.