Two seats better than one?

Wells Fargo adUsually they are. After all, who doesn’t want to have an adjacent empty seat when on a long flight? When it comes to government, however, can two seats ever be better than one? Imagine the confusion if you had to vote two different ballots.

One old west mining camp faced exactly that situation.

In August 1860, a group of prospectors exploring the high mountains and desert southeast of Virginia City came across a ledge of mineralized quartz they recognized as containing silver. They staked their claims and went to the closest town, Monoville, Calif., to enter public record. The site of their find was named Aurora—almost immediately a rush was on. While these events are the usual beginning for so many mining camps, the founding of Aurora only starts the intrigue.

Following the strike, and others in the area, Congress formed the Nevada Territory in March 1861. Concurrently, the California State Legislature set up a new county on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada crest, Mono County. Several other California counties—Tuolumne, Mariposa, and Amador—extended over the crest of the Sierra Nevada from the western slope, crossing a rather ill-defined border with Nevada Territory. Commerce and government over the crest was difficult enough in summer, and impossible in winter. While relatively close, the two sides of the mountains were very separate places. Mono County, Calif., selected Aurora as its county seat. But Nevada Territorial Governor James W. Nye also selected Aurora as the county seat of its new Esmeralda County!

Aurora had parallel governments, two courts—and in the election of 1862 voted for representatives to both California and Nevada state government. Ponder this: The Speaker of the California Assembly was elected from Aurora, and the President of Nevada Territory’s Assembly Council was from Aurora at the same time!

Wells Fargo adIn 1863 a more precise survey was completed, which found Aurora was more than three miles inside Nevada. (This border skirmish, so to speak, would not be resolved until the U.S. Supreme Court settled it in 1980.) Mono County selected a new county seat, and Supervisors reassembled in Bridgeport in September 1864.

Wells Fargo opened an express office in Aurora (Nevada!) in 1864. Christ Novacovich was the Wells Fargo agent there for many years (a Wells Fargo Express office in Bridgeport, Calif., opened in 1870). Mining in Aurora was not very productive, ultimately; Aurora had quickly become Nevada’s second largest city, but declined within a few years. One of many prospectors who did not strike it rich decided to change his career. Samuel Clemens took the pen name Mark Twain, and wrote about his Aurora experiences in Roughing It.

Aurora was one of the few nineteenth century gold camps with brick buildings, thanks to the local abundance of clay and mortar. This air of permanence, however, led to its ultimate disappearance; the bricks were taken for new structures during a post-Second World War housing boom.

Wells Fargo coverAs we move closer to November elections, we can feel relieved that we face only a single ballot. Aurora is an example where, unlike flying, a single seat is better than two.

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Guided By History

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