BY WILLIAM LEFKOVICS
Often anointed as “Nevada’s first newspaper,” the Territorial Enterprise was founded by William L. Jernegan and Alfred James. The first edition of their new weekly publication was printed on December 18, 1858 at Genoa, Utah Territory, where “two bearded men assisted by an apprentice boy wrestled with a secondhand Washington printing press.” Their makeshift office was Singleton’s Hall at the Hotel Nevada on Mill Street.
Dan DeQuille would write later that the name was the recommendation of a friend of Jernegan and James in California, as the newspaper was a new enterprise in Utah Territory – thus, the “Territorial Enterprise”. Its initial slogan was “A Journal for the Eastern Slope.” While it was the first printed newspaper in what would later become Nevada, there were at least two handwritten newspapers prior to the Enterprise (according to former Nevada State Archivist, Guy Rocha, they were the Gold-Canon Switch in Johntown in 1854 and the Scorpion in Genoa in 1857).
Jonathon Williams took over for Alfred James in August of 1859. Genoa was being left behind by development in the Territory, and the last edition of the Enterprise to be printed in Genoa was dated November 12, 1859. Jernegan and Co. moved the Territorial Enterprise to Carson City, Utah Territory, where, upon resuming publication on November 26, 1859, it became the first newspaper to be printed in the future state capital.
Creditors seized the Enterprise in July of 1860 and sold the business. Jonathan Williams was able to buy it back. To get closer to the real action, Williams moved the Enterprise up the hill to the slopes of Mount Davidson to Virginia City, by then the largest town in the area. The Territorial Enterprise on November 3, 1860, became the first newspaper to print in Virginia City.
Joseph T Goodman and Denis E McCarthy, both in their early 20s, became partners with Williams on March 2, 1861. It was Goodman who hired some of the legendary writers of the Enterprise, including William Wright, aka Dan DeQuille, and Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. This was the start of the golden era for the Enterprise, which expanded to a profitable daily paper on September 24, 1861. The combination of quality, sometimes imaginative news with the sharp writing and wit of its staff made the Territorial Enterprise one of the most popular and influential publications of the west.
Joseph Goodman became the sole owner on September 15, 1865, and when Goodman sold it to future U.S. Senator for Nevada William Sharon on February 10, 1874, Virginia City was the largest city in Nevada. The Territorial Enterprise was by then the premier paper in the state and was larger than any newspaper in San Francisco. Then came the Fire of 1875 and the decline of mining on the Comstock. Virginia City was rebuilt, and the Enterprise fought back, too, under the watch of Rollin M. Daggett. Daggett was elected as U.S. Representative for Nevada in 1878.
The Enterprise survived under various owners and editors thereafter until May 30, 1916, though it was not published through most of 1893. The Enterprise did go through a couple of revival attempts. Helen Crawford Dorst began publishing under the name Territorial Enterprise on March 13, 1946, but suspended her effort on June 12 after just seven issues. Journalist and railroad historian Lucius Beebe and his longtime partner Charles Clegg arrived in Virginia City and purchased the suspended Virginia City News. Beebe then revived the News as the Territorial Enterprise and Virginia City News with its first edition published on May 2, 1952. The Territorial Enterprise got a little of its swagger back under Beebe, but he sold it in 1960. The publication languished until its final issue was published on March 28, 1969. That is, until…
William Lefkovics is a technical writer, a history enthusiast, a perpetual student of his surroundings, and a 16-year Nevada resident. He manages @HistoryNevada and historynevada.com. Whatever he’s doing, he’d rather be riding his bike or hiking Nevada.
Featured: Clegg and Beebe