Book Review: Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps

This review of Stanley W. Paher’s Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps ran in our first issue. Although the first book was released in the early 1970s, we decided to run a review of it here because of its ubiquitousness on the Nevada bookshelf.  Read this interview I did with Stanley previously published in the pages of Nevada in the West Magazine.

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Paher, Stanley W.  Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps (Historical and Old West). Howel-North Publishing Co., 1970.  492 pages.  $54.95—In my business as a bookseller, I am often asked which book to start with in an inquiry into the history of Nevada.  While notable literary authors, including Robert Laxalt and Effie Mona Mack, have written fine informative histories of Nevada, I always suggest Stanley Paher’s Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps.

I purchased my first copy of this book in 1972, and I still have my original copy.  Through my many years of hunting, prospecting, and business travel around the state, I have referred back to Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps to keep informed about the history of the places I visited.  I am not alone in this reliance on Paher’s work for Nevada history, as the book has gone through 14 printings with over 67,000 copies printed.

While Paher’s work does not set out to be a general history of Nevada, the comprehensive coverage of the mining camp era makes it indispensable for understanding the development of Nevada as a state and the background of the formation of modern Nevada.  This book differs from most histories in that it is not organized chronologically or by subject, but rather geographically.  The entire book consists of short histories of the many mining towns and camps that sprang up, sometimes grew, and then declined in the last half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the 20th century. Again, these vignettes are organized geographically by county.

The idiosyncrasies of the work are the result of the approach and motivations of the author. Stanley Paher was born and raised in Las Vegas.  As a young man still in his teens, he became enchanted with the Nevada desert and the numerous ghost towns scattered around the state.  He would typically spend his weekends in the desert exploring the various mining sites and the remains of towns that were much more in evidence at that time. In short, he became a young “desert rat.”  His curiosity about the history of these areas led him to spend more and more time searching for historical records and old photographs to shed light on the origins of the towns and mines that he had visited.  In the process, he accumulated an extensive library and archives of Nevada histories, photographs and ephemera.  He also met and interviewed a number of the old-timers that had been involved directly in the Nevada mining booms and busts. The publication of Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps in 1970 by Howell-North Books was the result of this very personal project of historical research.

Paher’s historical vignettes paint a wonderful picture of a unique era in Western American history.  All aspects of historical development are touched upon as they relate to the different towns and times.  There is information on the westward migration, military activities in Nevada, the development of ranching and farming, transportation, education, religion, social life, and especially the mining and mineral milling industries.  The focus on the mining camps makes this a history of the common man.  The personalities are not Nevada’s governors, senators, and socialites, but rather the prospectors, miners, promoters, gamblers, prostitutes, merchants, criminals, freighters, and saloon keepers striving to make a living and establish a civilization in the great Nevada desert.

The narrow focus of this book necessarily omits many facets of Nevada history that the serious student will want to pursue in other works.  There are many books addressing pre-history, political history, railroad history, histories of the modern cities, and other subjects that are not extensively treated in Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps, but there is no other book that recreates the flavor of early Nevada in the same way as this important work.

Since the book was written nearly 40 years ago, there have been many changes in the Nevada landscape, including the growth of the cities and towns, modern mining operations, and improvements in the highway system.  Therefore, much of the contemporary information in the book describing existing conditions and directions to the locations has become obsolete. In order to remedy this, the author has created the Nevada Ghost Towns and Desert Atlas. The Atlas has sold over 30,000 copies and is now in its 7th printing.  The new edition contains 71 up-to-date color maps showing the locations of the ghost towns described in Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps as well as many recreational areas in Nevada and Death Valley.

In the 1970s, one of the common sights around Reno was an old green Jeep Wagoneer driven by Stan Paher with signs emblazoned on both sides that read “READ NEVADA GHOST TOWNS AND MINING CAMPS.”  If you have any interest in Nevada history, that advice is just as good today as it was then. ?

Lee Johnson

Zephyr Books, Reno, Nevada

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