Comstock Lode, richest known U.S. silver deposit, W Nevada, on Mt. Davidson in the Virginia Range. It is said to have been discovered in 1857 by Ethan Allen Grosh and Hosea Ballou Grosh, sons of a Pennsylvania minister and veterans of the California gold fields who died under tragic circumstances before their claims were recorded. Henry T. P. Comstock, known as Old Pancake, was a sheepherder and prospector who took possession of the brothers' cabin and tried to find their old sites. He and others searching for gold laid claim to sections of the Comstock (1859) but soon sold them for insignificant sums. The lode did not become really profitable until its bluish sand was assayed as silver. News of the discovery then spread rapidly, attracting promoters and traders as well as miners, and the lode was the scene of feverish activity. Among early arrivals was William Morris Stewart, who later became one of Nevada's first senators. Camps and trading posts in the area became important supply centers, and Virginia City, a mining camp on the mountain, was for several decades the "capital" of the lode and a center of fabulous luxury. Great fortunes were made by the "silver kings," John W. Mackay, James Graham Fair, James C. Flood, and William S. O'Brien, and by Adolph Sutro, George Hearst, and Eilley Orrum Bowers. Silver determined the economy and development of Nevada until exhaustion of the mines by wasteful methods of mining and the demonetization of silver started a decline in the 1870s. By 1898 the Comstock was virtually abandoned.
See G. Smith, History of the Comstock Lode (1943); G. Lyman, The Saga of the Comstock Lode (1934, repr. 1971); L. Beebe and C. Clegg, Legends of the Comstock Lode (4th ed. 1956).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.