The Territorial Enterprise and "Birth" of Mark Twain and Western Journalism

Sweeping the west like wildfire, The Territorial Enterprise became the mainstream venue for sensational stories of the American frontier. Founded in 1858, The Enterprise provided a foundation for western American journalism for more than three decades, operating out of Nevada’s famous boom town, Virginia City.

In 1858, W.L. Jernegan and Alfred James published a local newspaper in a former Mormon colony, Mormon Station (later renamed Genoa) in the then Utah Territory. This paper, The Territorial Enterprise, later became the first newspaper in Nevada Territory. Printed as a weekly column, The Enterprise did not gain much traction until its move in 1860 to the quickly booming town of Virginia City.

The Comstock Lode, one of the largest silver discoveries in the United States, brought thousands of hopeful miners to Virginia City. Capitalizing on the rising mining population, Jernegan and James decided to uproot their small-town newspaper, and moved it to Virginia City in September of 1860. The move to Virginia City brought the paper under new ownership. Throughout its time of operation in Virginia City, The Enterprise resided in three locations, its last and present location on C street.

The 1860’s was a prosperous decade for the growing newspaper. In 1861 Joseph T. Goodman and Dennis E. McCarthy became the new proprietors of the newspaper. With their business sense combined with the hiring of shrewd, witty writers, Goodman and McCarthy made The Territorial Enterprise the territory’s most popular paper. William Wright (under the pen name ‘Dan de Quille’) Rollin M. Daggett, Sam Davis, and Judge C.C. Godwin were among the few who created The Territorial Enterprise’s lasting legacy. However, the most famous of the small crew was a man who would later become one of America’s most beloved authors, Mark Twain. Before the birth of ‘Twain,’ he was simply known as Samuel Clemens. Clemens, a former riverboat pilot, migrated west hoping to strike-it-rich in mining. However, due to bad luck and laziness, Clemens found that mining was not his calling. Turning to journalism, Clemens was hired as an editor, and joined The Enterprise staff in 1862.

Between 1862-1864, Clemens created a new name for himself. Adopting the pen name ‘Mark Twain,’ Clemens wrote the most sensational articles for The Enterprise. Entertaining, but not necessary accurate, Twain’s stories quickly became a favorite. Writing for a community where libel was rarely monitored, Twain creatively reported mining incidents, Indian encounters, local leaders and gossip, as blown-up, over-the-top dramas. He humored readers of The Enterprise with his sharp criticisms and hilarious commentaries. Twain left The Territorial Enterprise after two years, but the newspaper did not fall apart after his departure. Continuing to print daily after Twain’s departure, the bohemian-style stories of local and national news entertained and informed the citizens throughout the territory and later, the state of Nevada for nearly two decades. However, as the silver boom died, so did the town and the newspaper. Its last issue came off the press on January 15, 1893, The Territorial Enterprise closed its doors after three decades, but left a legacy as the foundation of Western American journalism and produced some of America’s wittiest writers.

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