Dennis Cassinelli: How Johntown was named

In an earlier article, I wrote the story of Johntown, Nevada’s first ghost town. A few days after the article appeared in the newspapers, I received an email from one of my faithful readers, Rich Vadenais, of Minden, Nevada. In my article, I had made the statement that "In my research, I have yet to find where the name Johntown came from. Perhaps some of the early ladies of the evening named it for their customers or Johns.”

Rich Vadenais pointed out to me that my statement about the naming of of Johntown was incorrect. He had a copy of Helen S. Carlson’s Nevada Place Names (University of Nevada Press, 1974) and her entry regarding Johntown read:

“A small settlement of mill hands in a canyon three miles north of Dayton. Chinese placer miners worked there in the 1850s, causing others to name it Johntown, after an old term, “John Chinaman." Mark Twain used the same reference in his writings and there are other references to this as well. There is a historical marker in Dayton that states that it was first known as Chinatown, due to the presence of the early Chinese placer miners in Gold Canyon.

Between the discovery of gold nuggets near Dayton in 1849 and the discovery of the fabulous Comstock lode in 1859, most of the major players and early prospectors who finally made the discovery of Comstock silver, made their homes in ramshackle miners’ cabins, tents and rooming houses in the mining camp of Johntown along Gold Canyon about half way between what later became Dayton and Silver City. These included Eilley Orrum, Queen of the Comstock, Sandy Bowers, who eventually married Eilley Orrum, Business man Dutch Nick, (Nicholas Ambrose) , the Grosh Brothers, and Old Virginny (James Fennimore), who discovered the Comstock Lode in 1859.

The settlement was founded in 1853 by Walter Cosser. Of all the early towns of the Comstock era, none was more important or less talked about today than Johntown.

The Nevada State Museum has a special section in their History Gallery devoted to the Chinese in Nevada. Hundreds of Chinese came to Nevada to build the Central Pacific Railroad in the 1860s. When that was completed, they came to the Comstock area to build the Virginia and Truckee Railroad from Carson City to Virginia City and from Carson City to Reno. The underground mining was left to the Scotch and Irish and the Chinese were not allowed to be employed in the Comstock mines. The railroad building was left to the Chinese. There was once a State Law in Nevada prohibiting Orientals from working on State Public Works projects. Fortunately, it was later removed from being a Nevada State law.

Near the junction where Nevada State Route 341, (Virginia City Highway), intersects with the truck route south of Silver City, there is a small historical marker placed there by the Clampers, that tells about Johntown. The actual site, about one mile east of the junction is now on private property with no original existing buildings. My purpose in writing this article besides correcting obvious misinterpretations, has been to remind everyone how humble the first 10 years were for the prospectors and placer miners who persisted long enough to eventually discover the fabulous Comstock Lode. This tough little town, which was home to all the original participants in the discovery of Nevada silver was truly the birthplace of the Comstock.

This article is by Dayton Author and Historian, Dennis Cassinelli. You can order his books at a discount on his blog at Just click on "order books"


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