The low-down on Victorian San Francisco from the author of "Shaketown"
Friday, April 27, 2012
Mark Twain in Virginia City
A big hunk of silver ore
Boomtowns of the west held quite a fascination for American readers, and Virginia City, home of the Comstock Lode, was first among them. In February 1863, 20 years before the mines were played out, Samuel Clemens, a reporter on the local newspaper Territorial Enterprise, first used his famous pen name: Mark Twain. In Shaketown, Wo Sam and his cousin are sent to Virginia City after the boom is well over. Economic development defined patterns of settlement for the earliest Chinese immigrants. Before the Chinese Exclusion Act, immigrants followed work in the western states: because mining and railway construction dominated the west, Chinese immigrants settled mostly in California and states west of the Rockies. The earliest immigrants were able to bring their wives and family members from China prior to the Exclusion Acts (at the time, the Chinese population in the United States was about 110,000). As railway construction and mining declined and anti-Chinese sentiment increased, the Chinese fled into small import-export businesses, service businesses and small manufacturing in such cities as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle. Others moved into abandoned towns and took over mining claims, such as those in Shaketown's Virginia City, forming their own tightly knit, well-functioning societies. In spite of the distance, a number of Chinese businesses (especially gambling) were controlled by San Francisco tongs.