Wednesday, May 29, 2019

C.C. Goodwin Forgotten By Some

C.C. Goodwin. Courtesy: Washoe Courts.

(Editor's note: For a few posts, starting with this one, I'll diverge from my review of C.C. Goodwin's "The Comstock Club." This post is a feature on Goodwin.)

by Glenn Franco Simmons

With the exception of "The War Prayer" by Mark Twain, my favorite writing of the Sagebrush School of writers is Charles C. Goodwin's "The Comstock Club" published in 1891.

At least, so far, among many writers I've read.

I find his portrayal of discussions among the men who established the fictional Comstock Club in Virginia City to be among the best prose to have come out of the Sagebrush School.

The Sagebrush School of Writers is a distinct American literary epoch composed mainly of Nevada-based writers. Until 2009, it wasn't given much thought by many in Nevada; that's when the Nevada Writers' Hall of Fame recognized the Sagebrush School. The Hall of Fame was established in 1988.

"The Sagebrush School was the literary movement written primarily by men of Nevada," according to Wikipedia's page on the Sagebrush School. "The sagebrush shrub is prevalent in the state. It was a broad-based movement and included various literary genres such as drama, essays, fiction, history, humor, journalism, memoirs, and poetry.

"The name Sagebrush School was coined by Ella Sterling Mighels, who stated: 'Sagebrush school? Why not? Nothing in all our Western literature so distinctly savors of the soil as the characteristic books written by the men of Nevada and that interior part of the State where the sagebrush grows.'"

"The roots of the movement were in the American Old West," the Wikipedia entry continues. "The Sagebrush School was the main contributor to American literature from Nevada's mining frontier during the period of 1859 to 1914. There were several characteristics of this movement that distinguished it from others, such as literary talent. These authors were known to be intelligent and accomplished writers."

The Sagebrush School's multifaceted styles are what distinguish the school from other American literary styles. The Sagebrush School's styles represent some of the richest veins of American prose ever compiled. Sadly, with the exception of a few writers, the literary school is not given the accolades it deserves, in my opinion. It is particularly frustrating because these writers collectively tower over most modern and contemporary American writers — again, my personal opinion as a voracious reader.

"The style included hoaxes, wit, audacity, or an irreverent attitude," Wikipedia notes. "The inspiration for the movement began with Joseph T. Goodman of the Virginia City, Nevada Territory's 'Territorial Enterprise' newspaper. The most notable of the Sagebrush School writers, and a Territorial Enterprise journalist, was Mark Twain. In 2009, the Sagebrush School was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame."

I would say the Sagebrush School represents far more than hoaxes, wit, audacity or an irreverent attitude. Just read C.C. Goodwin's "The Comstock Club" to gain an appreciation for his prose in which the gentlemen of the club discuss many ideas, often waxing poetic and philosophical. That book alone is worthy of a university course for its sheer brilliance.

One really has to wonder why it took so long for the Sagebrush School to be recognized by modern-era Nevada writers. That is not to say the Sagebrush School has been totally ignored. I'm just surprised more hasn't been written about all the writers within that genre.

Furthermore, in none of my university journalism classes did any teacher ever mention The Sagebrush School. That seems odd, given the influence that these Nevada writers had — not only on American literature, but American society.

Some of the more popular writers are celebrated, as noted by the University of Nevada, Reno.

Mark Twain. Courtesy: Wikipedia.

"Sagebrush writers Mark Twain, Dan De Quillle and Alfred Doten have been previously inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame," UNR states. "2009 celebrates the 150th anniversary of The Comstock Lode and a revival of interest in the Sagebrush School of writers.

"In recognition of the significant contributions of the authors, Samuel Post Davis, Joseph Thompson Goodman, Rollin Mallory Daggett, Charles Carroll Goodwin, James W. Gally, Fred H. Hart, Arthur McEwen, Henry Rust Mighels, Denis E. McCarthy, James Townsend, Thomas Fitch, and the many other writers whose work has yet to be excavated from the archives, the Sagebrush School has been selected to be inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. They were an extraordinary cast of characters who created a distinctive early voice in our national literature — with lasting (if hitherto unacknowledged) influence."

So it took a historic milestone of 150 years to prompt a recognition. While I realize the Hall of Fame wasn't conceived until 1988, it seems UNR or some other institution could have done more to recognize the Sagebrush School in 50, 75, 100 or 125 years.

Furthermore, with UNR and all the students, professors and graduate students, why haven't the archives been thoroughly searched to include any writers not yet listed?

A book on the Sagebrush School of Writers was published in 2006 by the University of Missouri. UNR lists a book published by UNR in 2008 titled "Literary Nevada : writings from the Silver State." That is good news, and I purchased an inexpensive used book from Barnes & Noble for a little more than $3, although shipping was almost twice that.

In a summary of the 831-page book (plus 24 unnumbered pages of plates), UNR states, "'Literary Nevada' is the first comprehensive literary anthology of Nevada. It contains over 200 selections ranging from traditional Native American tales, explorers' and emigrants' accounts, and writing from the Comstock Lode and other mining boomtowns, as well as compelling fiction, poetry, and essays from throughout the state's history."

While it is a commendable effort, why is this book the "first comprehensive literary anthology of Nevada" — especially when the state has an excellent university in the very region where the Sagebrush School of writers flourished? It boggles the mind.

"There is work by well-known Nevada writers such as Sarah Winnemucca, Mark Twain, and Robert Laxalt, by established and emerging writers from all parts of the state, and by some nonresident authors whose work illuminates important facets of the Nevada experience," the UNR book summary continues. "The book includes cowboy poetry, travel writing, accounts of nuclear Nevada, narratives about rural life and urban life in Las Vegas and Reno, poetry and fiction from the state's best contemporary writers, and accounts of the special beauty of wild Nevada's mountains and deserts. Editor Cheryll Glotfelty provides insightful introductions to each section and author. The book also includes a photo gallery of selected Nevada writers and a generous list of suggested further readings."

Not mentioned in the summary is Goodwin. {Note: The book arrived and I still haven't found mention of C.C. Goodwin, but I will not that if I do find him mentioned.} To me, he was a better writer than Twain, although he wrote few books (I have only found three; if you know of more, please leave the title or titles in a comment). "The Comstock Club" is far superior to anything Twain wrote about The Comstock Lode, in my personal opinion, and it's better than many of Twain's books I've read — and I've read a lot of Mark Twain, with my favorite being not a novel but "The War Prayer."

So, who was Goodwin?

"Charles C. Goodwin was born in the Genesee Valley, N.Y., a few miles from Rochester," according to the Washoe Courts' website that features excellent and thorough articles on former Washoe judges. "He received an academic education, and became a wonderfully proficient mathematician. He had most of the English classics at his tongue's end when a boy, but could never surmount the barriers which lay between him and the dead languages.

"In 1852 he came to California and studied law under his brother, Jesse Goodwin, in Marysville, where he afterward became teacher in an academy. He practiced law and taught school until 1861, when he came to Nevada and built a quartz mill a few miles below Dayton. Goodwin invested a small fortune into the mill's construction. When the mill was nearly completed the owner announced a 'warming' {akin to a grand opening in the modern era}, and was making preparations to celebrate the event ... when a freshet {flash flood} swept it away."

Within minutes, his mill that represented his significant investment was gone, but that wasn't the worst part of this natural disaster.

"At the same time six of his men were drowned, one of them leaving an orphan boy to the cruel charity of the world," according to the Washoe Courts' biography. "Goodwin adopted the boy, who held the position of lieutenant in the Regular Army. His kind care and providence for the future of that child speaks of a generous, loyal nature, true and unflinching in its instincts, louder and with a more certain sound than would a eulogy.

"Selling the dismantled machinery of the mill. he paid off such of his men as were left. With a few hundred dollars in his pockets, Goodwin put up an arastra at Dayton."

"An arrastra (or arastra) is a primitive mill for grinding and pulverizing (typically) gold or silver ore," notes the Wikipedia page dedicated to arrastra. "The simplest form of the arrastra is two or more flat-bottomed drag stones placed in a circular pit paved with flat stones, and connected to a center post by a long arm. With a horse, mule or human providing power at the other end of the arm, the stones were dragged slowly around in a circle, crushing the ore. Some arrastras were powered by a water wheel; a few were powered by steam or gasoline engines, and even electricity."

In his ranching and mining ventures, it has been reported that his Achilles heel was debt in the form of compounded interest-bearing notes.

"His bad luck seemed to follow him like a shadow," the Washoe Courts' website notes.

Despite such misfortune, Goodwin staked out a ranch in Washoe County. However, even that venture resulted in a bit of bad luck.

"A lawsuit 20 miles away cut off the water supply with an injunction, and he left the ranch a howling wilderness," states the Washoe Courts' website. "Shortly afterward he was elected District Judge of Washoe County, and edited a newspaper. ...

Territorial Enterprise building in Virginia City, Nev. Courtesy University of Nevada, Reno.

"He next located a mine in Eureka, and just as his friends were expecting to see him blossom into a millionaire, the mine gave out and left him in the lurch again. Another mine opened in Nye County treated him with the same lack of devotion to his interests."

Probably more stunned by even more misfortune, Goodwin "returned to the newspaper business, where he really belonged," the Washoe Courts' website notes.

"For six years he ran The Territorial Enterprise, for a while as editor-in-chief and a portion of the time in connection with Congressman Rollin M. Daggett," the Washoe Courts' website recounts. "The judge edited the paper with a vigor that made its influence felt in Nevada, and it was recognized as a journal controlled by a man of brains and culture. While he was editor The Enterprise had nothing but gall and wormwood for the unreconstructed Bourbons. In 1880 he left that paper to accept a position as editor-in-chief of the Salt Lake Tribune.

"In private life Goodwin is a conversationalist such as one seldom meets, and his fund of quaint humor, ready repartee and good stories, seemed inexhaustible. His home was always open to his friends, and his purse at the mercy of every old tramp, dead-beat and imposter who called upon him for assistance, as he could no more resist an appeal for charity than he could change the attributes of his nature."

Goodwin's character and talent were widely respected. Carson Appeal's editor and publisher Henry Rust Mighels paid tribute to Goodwin in the Nov. 12, 1878 edition:

Henry Rust Mighels. Property of Special Collections Library, University of Nevada, Reno. via Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Pinterest page.

"In the history of Nevada journalism no such brilliant and effective assaults were ever made by any newspaper upon the enemy's line as Goodwin has been making," according to the Washoe Courts' website. "His splendid services should be most generously remembered; and he has, while making an enviable reputation for himself, placed The Territorial Enterprise in the front rank of live and powerful political newspapers.

"The people of the state have a right to be proud of their leading daily print, as his brethren of the pen-and-scissors have a right to glory in the achievements of their overworked but unflinching and faithful brother. The Appeal gives him all hail!"

Having worked in radio, web and print journalism for 33 years, I can tell you that praise from a journalist from another publication is rare.

Later in life, Goodwin would immortalize himself in the annals of Western Frontier literature with his books. "The Comstock Club" may have been his best novel and features far more literary brilliance than any of Mark Twain's literary endeavors — with the exception of Twain's "The War Prayer." Goodwin also wrote "As I Remember Them" and "The Wedge of Gold," both of which can be found on Project Gutenberg and "The Wayback Machine" (, respectively.

(Editor's note: The Washoe Courts' biography of C.C. Goodwin had grammatical errors in it that have been corrected, as well as a different style than AP Style, and I changed the present tense to the past tense. Changes include capitalization changes, grammatical corrections, spelling corrections, etc. The Wikipedia information quoted has also had slight edits for clarity. Thank you to Washoe Courts and Wikipedia for providing such historically significant information that should not be forgotten. Disclosure: I subscribe to The Nevada Appeal. I do not accept and have not received any monetary or other incentives to write any articles on this blog.)

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