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New books by Alpine authors roll off the press

Record Courier Staff Reports

In sparsely-populated Alpine County, where artists and authors abound, two new books by local writers have just been published.

The first book, self-published by Markleeville historian Nancy Thornburg, is a spiral-bound research paper of 22 pages, titled, “The ‘Spanish’ Flu Pandemic of 1918-1920: and its impact on the Carson Valley and Alpine County.” The second book, published by the University of Nevada Press and written by Woodfords historian Michael J. Makley, is a hardback book with 291 pages, titled, “The Infamous King of the Comstock: William Sharon and the Gilded Age in the West.”

Thornburg’s interest in the worldwide flu epidemic in the early 20th century stems from two sources: her knowledge that her husband’s uncle, William Thornburg, died at age 24 in the fourth wave of the Spanish flu, plus the fact that today’s comparable avian flu is threatening world populations.



The familiar names of German and Basque settlers and ranchers of our area mark the pages of her research paper.

“The first three pages give an overview of the Spanish Influenza pandemic,” Thornburg explains, “and the rest were researched from the files of The Record-Courier.”



While records are incomplete, and there are no known statistics for flu deaths in Alpine County, it’s certain that both valley and mountain communities were impacted adversely.

“Therefore be it ordered: that all public gatherings in the county of Douglas be refrained from and under no excuse be allowed. This includes meetings, gatherings in saloons or pool halls, private parties, etc.,” so decreed the Douglas County Board of Health on Oct. 17, 1918. In November of that same year, the Alpine County Board of Supervisors ordained the public wearing of protective masks, “consisting of at least three thicknesses of gauze or such material of similar texture, and of such width and breadth to cover the nostrils and mouth.”

The Spanish flu book may be purchased directly from Thornburg, by writing to her at P.O. Box 156, Markleeville, CA 96120, or by e-mailing her at nthornburg@gbis.com. The price is $10, plus $2 for mailing.

Amazingly, up until publication of Makley’s new book, “The Infamous King of the Comstock,” no biography of the notorious “robber baron” William Sharon had been written. Makley spent three years researching and writing a definitive tale of two states and the capitalist character who linked the complex history of San Francisco financial institutions with the mines of the Comstock Lode.

With research material he mainly uncovered at the Bancroft Library at the University of California in Berkeley, libraries of the University of Nevada, Reno, and Storey County records in Virginia City, Makley has painted a fascinating portrait of an outrageous person who created a vertical monopoly.

“William Sharon not only enjoyed playing poker, but also he thought of his life as playing a game, and he believed that every man should be out for himself,” Makley said.

Sharon saved the Bank of California from financial disaster and was responsible for the Virginia and Truckee Railroad’s founding to ensure the delivery of the Comstock Lode’s valuable ore.

Twenty eight black and white photos enhance the historical vision presented by the author, as described briefly in the last chapter.

“The saga of the Sharon wealth traces, in remarkable fashion, America’s story in the Gilded Age. William Sharon himself was a man of laissez faire ‘survival of the fittest’ capitalism, building his wealth through monopoly and ruthless individualism.”

The William Sharon biography is included in the Wilbur S. Shepperson Series of Nevada History published by the University of Nevada Press. Available nation-wide and at area bookstores, Makley’s book sells for $34.95.

n Gina Gigli is a Markleeville resident. Reach her at 530-694-2253.