TIMELINE FOR THE BONANZA TELEVISION PROGRAM
REVISED November 24, 2003
BLUE FONT=INFORMATION FROM THE 1959-1973 TELEVISION SERIES
RED FONT=MY OWN SPECULATIONS AND INTERPRETATIONS
1776) Spanish priest named Pedro Font became the first European to discover the Sierra Nevada (“Snowy Range”). This was a 400-mile long range of mountains running northwest to southeast in Spain’s vast but underdeveloped North American holdings.
Circa 1800) The Indian group later to be known as the Northern Paiutes occupied almost the entire western half of what would become Nevada, as well as parts of California, Oregon, and Idaho. The Sierra Nevada formed the western boundary of their territory. To the north were the Bannocks, and the Shoshones were to the east. South of the Paiutes were the Washoes, who lived around the body of water later known as Lake Tahoe. Because of their land’s meager resources, the Paiutes were spread out in 21 bands of 100 to 200 people each. They called themselves Numa ("the people").
1809) Estimated birth year for Ben Cartwright. The television series doesn’t tell us the year or even the month of his birth, just that it occurred on “the 23rd” (“Little Man – Ten Feet Tall”). He had a brother named John (“ Return To Honor”) and his father’s name was Joseph (“Journey Remembered”). Nothing is known of Ben’s mother but her maiden name might have been Jones or Larson since the Cartwrights have relatives with each of those surnames (“The Saga of Muley Jones”). His place of birth and childhood are also unknown but there are hints. “Marie, My Love” informs us he grew up in a seaport. When Ben started the Ponderosa other people had to teach him how to raise cattle (see “Four Sisters From Boston” or “A Time To Step Down”). In “Elizabeth, My Love” Ben mentions his dream of traveling to the American West. And if Ben was from either New England or the South, it seems that fact would have been mentioned in one of the North vs. South disputes between Adam and Little Joe as shown in “A Rose For Lotta”, “A House Divided”, or “War Comes To The Washoe”. My speculation is that he was born in a city rather than a rural setting, in a Mid-Atlantic state. Given Ben’s remarkable lack of prejudice-a rare quality in the 1800s-I theorize that Ben Cartwright was a native son of Philadelphia, a city with a long tradition of racial tolerance.
1819) Pirate turned American patriot Jean Lafitte made his last recorded visit to New Orleans. In “Gentleman From New Orleans” Ben says once when he was an apprentice seaman he saw Lafitte in New Orleans. Ten years old is certainly a young age to go sea but it was not unheard of in the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries, especially if the boy had a relative or family friend on the ship. Perhaps his family thought he would be safer away from home. Recurring Yellow Fever outbreaks in Philadelphia killed thousands in the Colonial and Early Federal eras. Some of the places Ben visited during his career as a sailor were Madrid (“The Spotlight”), Palermo, Sicily (“The Deadliest Game”), and Amsterdam (“Elizabeth, My Love”). He may have been on Abel Stoddard’s ship, the Wanderer, from the start of his nautical service but that isn’t certain.
February 24, 1821) Mexico became independent of Spain.
1826 and 1827) Fur trapper Jedediah Smith became the first Anglo-American to pass through the territory of the Paiutes.
1826 to 1829) Civil War fought in Nicaragua between conservatives and liberals. This seems the likely conflict for Ben to serve as a soldier of fortune in Nicaragua as mentioned in “The Colonel”.
Summer 1828) Ben and Abel Stoddard’s daughter Elizabeth had a picnic in New England (referred to in “Elizabeth, My Love”).
Spring 1829) After rising to the position of First Mate, Ben quit the sea and married Elizabeth Stoddard. He and his new father in law Abel Stoddard opened a ship chandler’s shop in New England (“Elizabeth, My Love”).
Early 1830) The series doesn’t list an exact birthday for Adam but from “Elizabeth, My Love” we know he was born in New England and his mother died in childhood. “The Countess” indicates that his birthday came soon after Christmas. After Elizabeth’s death, Ben and Adam set off on a journey westward. This is also the estimated date for Will Cartwright to be born to Ben’s brother John since “Return To Honor” indicates Will and Adam are about the same age.
October 29, 1832) The first party of pioneers to travel over the Oregon Trail reached Fort Vancouver on the Pacific Coast.
1833) First recorded conflict between Anglo-Americans and Nevada Native Americans. Joseph Walker and his fellow fur trappers killed as many as 100 Paiutes they thought had hostile intentions.
August 28, 1833) Great Britain abolished slavery throughout its colonies, which included Canada. This prompted more American slaves to escape northward along the Underground Railroad.
1835) Ben and Adam visited the Ohio home of Ben’s brother John (as mentioned in “Return To Honor”).
March 6, 1836) 4,000 Mexican soldiers under General Santa Anna captured the Alamo and killed its 183 American defenders. Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie were among those who died fighting for Texan independence from Mexico.
Early Spring 1836) Ben met and married Inger Borgstrum in Illinois (as shown in the flashback sequences from “Inger, My Love”). Adam seemed to be five years old in this episode. After this episode but before the start of the flashback events of “Journey Remembered” Ben and his family traveled to St. Joseph, Missouri and met up with a group of people interested in traveling west.
April 21, 1836) Inspired by cries of “Remember The Alamo”, 800 Texans defeated Santa Anna and 1,250 Mexican soldiers at the Battle of San Jacinto. The victory led to the establishment of the Republic of Texas in what was northern Mexico. Texas joined the United States on February 19, 1846. In “A Dime’s Worth Of Glory” many years from this date, Ben meets one of the men who helped to capture Santa Anna.
Spring or Summer 1836) Ben has talked a group of people into selling their homes and traveling west with him. They set off from “St. Joe, Missouri” for the “gold fields of the west” (“Journey Remembered”). I believe the Cartwrights were originally bound for Oregon. Pioneers would not begin traveling to California until 1841 and gold would not be discovered there until 1848.
August 19th 1836) The Cartwrights and their fellow pioneers were still moving west to “Ash Hollow” where they plan to rendezvous with a larger wagon train. Ash Hollow is in present day Nebraska. In the winter of 1835 it was the site of a fierce battle between the Pawnees and the Sioux.
September 1st 1836) On the road to Ash Hollow Ben learned Inger is pregnant. The baby won’t come for “months” (“Journey Remembered”).
Late Fall 1836 or Early Winter 1836-1837) Birth of Eric “Hoss” Cartwright and death of Inger Cartwright near “Ash Hollow” as shown in “Journey Remembered”. In “A House Divided” we are told Hoss was born on the prairie just west of the Missouri River. Inger’s death and the need to care for Hoss may have delayed the Cartwright’s westward journey for a considerable time. Somehow Inger’s brother heard about her death because we know from “The Last Viking” that Gunnar Borgstrom was present at her funeral.
I speculate that Ben was involved in the fur business in the later 1830s and during this time he built at least a portion of the Ponderosa ranch house in the eastern foothills of the Sierra Nevada to use as a base for his trapping expeditions. The site he picked for the house may have been in a sort of No Man’s Land between the territories of the Paiute and Washoe peoples or he may have purchased or traded for the right to occupy that spot. Perhaps he came there by invitation. One of the leaders of the Paiutes in the first half of the Nineteenth Century was called Truckee by whites. Chief Truckee interpreted Paiute folklore to say that whites were the long lost brothers of his people and that their return would mean the start of a new golden age. “First Born” tells us that Ben built the Ponderosa ranch house with his own hands.
October 1838) Cherokee Indians in Georgia were forced to move westward on a route that became known as the “Trail of Tears”.
July 1, 1839) After business failures in Europe and the United States, German-born Swiss John Sutter arrived in Mexican California and persuaded the governor to grant him 50,000 acres of land east of San Francisco Bay. To qualify, Sutter had to become a Mexican citizen. We don’t know when the Cartwrights first arrived in California, but as noted in “Mr. Henry T. P. Comstock” Ben was there when Sutter planted his first fields of grain. I don’t see Ben becoming a Mexican citizen and then fighting against Mexico a few years later. I believe he worked for Sutter for a time and was paid off in land rather than cash.
August 1840) A war party of 600 Comanches and Kiowas attacked the towns of Victoria and Linnville in the greatest Indian raid in Texas history. It is possible the Cartwrights were caught up in the fighting (see below).
End of 1840) “The Countess” says Ben and Adam (and presumably Hoss) were in New Orleans around Christmas time when Adam was “almost eleven”. I believe they went there to sell furs collected by trappers working for John Sutter. By this point or shortly there after the Cartwrights had property large enough for Ben to need help to work it because he hired Jean De Marigny of New Orleans before the flashback events of “Marie, My Love”. In an earlier version of this Timeline I had proposed that Jean was the son of the famous New Orleans Creole Bernard de Marigny (1785 – 1868). But a second (third? fifth?) review of “Marie, My Love” pointed out that Jean’s father was dead before the flashback events began.
May 12, 1841) The Bidwell-Bartleson expedition left Missouri. They were the first wagon train party to travel overland to California. While passing through the future state of Nevada, they received a friendly welcome from the Paiutes under Chief Truckee. A lack of food caused the pioneers to eat their oxen so they had to cross the formidable Sierra Nevada on foot. They arrived at their destination in California on November 4, 1841. Some 165,000 more would cross the mountain range in the next sixteen years.
Summer 1842) After the death of Marie De Marigny’s husband, Ben made another trip to New Orleans where he met and fell in love with the widowed Marie himself (“Marie, My Love”). Before they left New Orleans for the west coast Ben had a run in with a policeman named Charles Leduque (see “The Stranger”). Sometime after Jean De Marigny’s death I speculate that Ben hired ** ** to serve as his ranch foreman (see “”). When ** ** retired, it appears ** ** became foreman (“”).
Spring 1843) Birth of Joseph Francis Cartwright. Little Joe was definitely born on the Ponderosa (“The First Born” or “Bullet For A Bride”). I do not believe that the entire ranch house was in place at this early date, however (see Fall 1848). The series doesn’t give a birth date for Joe but several episodes are said to be set around the time of his birthday. In “Twilight Town” there is a “hot sun” overhead and in “Thunder Man” the house door is left open but there is a fire going inside. To me these clues point to a Spring or Fall birth date. I believe Joe had to be at least twenty-one in July 1864 (see that date) and the placement of his birth determined when Adam was born because we know from “The Countess” that there is at least an eleven-year age difference between them. I prefer the latest possible birth date for Joe because it makes it more reasonable for Ben to be physically active in episodes I place historically in the later 1870’s. One reason I chose Spring ’43 is because it allows more time to place two separate trips to New Orleans in the early 1840’s than a Fall ‘42 birth would. For another reason see late Spring 1865. As for why a pregnant Marie would be at the Ponderosa instead of the Cartwright home in California, I can only speculate that she and Ben had attempted to make an overland trip from New Orleans and were delayed or Joe came early.
May 1843 to August 1844) Time span for Army Lieutenant John C. Fremont’s second of five expeditions through western North America. On January 10th he and his men became the first Anglo-Americans to discovered Pyramid Lake and on February 14th, Lake Tahoe. So say the history books but I believe that Ben Cartwright got there first and kept the information to himself. This was the first American military survey of the future state of Nevada.
First Half Of 1846) “My Brother’s Keeper” tells us Adam went back east to attend an unnamed college. His field of study was architecture. If he didn’t go at this point it seems to me events would have kept him home for another four years because he would feel the need to stay with his family through the trying times ahead. It has been proposed that Adam went to Harvard in Massachusetts because he could be with his grandfather. But Abel Stoddard was an old man before Adam was born and I doubt the death of his daughter added to his longevity. Adam does indicate he has been to New England before in “A House Divided”. But in “The Way Station” we are told he has been to New York, as well. Adam may have thought he would study architecture in college but there would be no professional architecture classes in the United States until well after this date (see September 1868). During his time in college Adam befriended the (future) actor Edwin Booth (The Actress”).
May 13, 1846) President James K. Polk signed a proclamation of war against Mexico. We known Ben Cartwright fought in this war from references in “Yonder Man” and “Danger Road”.
July 5, 1846) About 700 Americans lived in California and John Fremont organized some of them into the California Battalion to fight against Mexico even though news of the war declaration had not yet arrived. Chief Truckee of the Paiutes served as a scout for Fremont. I believe Ben was a member of this unit for at least part of the war.
October 31, 1846) The Donner Party of 81 pioneers found themselves trapped on the east side of the Sierra Nevada when heavy snows closed the passes to California. Without food for the winter, there were only 47 still alive in the spring and some of them had resorted to cannibalism to survive.
1847) Poito, better known to whites as Winnemucca, succeeded the absent Truckee as chief of the Paiutes. Winnemucca had a daughter named Thocmetony ("Shellflower") who was about three at the time.
April 1847) The California Battalion discharged.
July 24, 1847) Brigham Young first looked upon the Great Salt Lake Valley and decided the Mormons should found a colony there. More than 1500 colonists would arrive by that Fall.
January 24, 1848) Gold discovered near the property of John Sutter in California.
March 10, 1848) The U.S. Senate ratified the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the war with Mexico and turned over to American control all of the future states of California and Nevada, as well as parts of New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, and Colorado.
June 1848) 2,000 Californians were digging for gold on or near John Sutter's land. By July it was 4,000. They stole Sutter's livestock and trampled his wheat fields. California had no legal system in place at this time to protect his property rights. “Mr. Henry T. P. Comstock” tells us Ben was a witness to the destruction of Sutter’s property. And if Ben never became a Mexican citizen or filed a proper claim on his property, he would have even less recourse to deal with squatters on his own land. I speculate that when Ben realized he had lost or would lose his ranch, he decided to do some prospecting of his own (see “Old Friends”) but met with little success.
August 19, 1848) The New York Herald carried a story about the discovery of gold in California but most Americans in the East were skeptical.
December 5, 1848) President Polk gave a speech that confirmed the abundance of California gold. The gold rush officially began.
Spring 1849) Death of Marie Cartwright at the Ponderosa ranch house as referred to in “Marie, My Love”. In “A Rose For Lotta” Joe says his mother died before he was five.
Late Spring or Early Summer 1849) Five-year-old Joe wandered away from the Ponderosa and had a traumatic experience on a nearby mountain (see “Between Heaven and Earth”).
Summer 1849) Merchants from California and Utah set up temporary trading posts in what would become Nevada to sell or barter supplies to west bound wagon trains. The weather there was unusually hot and dry that year. I speculate this was the time for the fire mentioned in “To Own The World” which may have been caused by passing emigrants. In “Blood On The Land” Ben says one of the first things he did when he came to the Ponderosa was plant lots of grass.
Losing his California property, then his third wife, and then having a fire on the Ponderosa in the space of a year’s time might understandably have made Ben Cartwright bitter and hostile toward outsiders. But I believe the series producers were garbling their source material when they show him still antagonistic to trespassers in “A Rose For Lotte” (see August 1869).
1850) A handful of placer miners drifted over to (future) Nevada from California and were prospecting in the area of Sun Mountain. Lake Tahoe received its first official designation: Lake Bigler. Tahoe didn't come into common usage until 1863.
September 9, 1850) California became a state and Utah a territory. The latter included most of the future state of Nevada. “The Spanish Grant” says part of the title to the Ponderosa was filed in Monterey, which was the capital of Mexican California. “Mr. Henry T. P. Comstock” mentions Hoss traveling to Salt Lake City to file land claims.
February 1, 1851) California mining camp known alternately as Dry Diggings or Hangtown officially adopted the name of Placerville. Before the founding of Virginia City, the Cartwright’s primary market for their beef was Placerville (“Death On Sun Mountain”).
March 1851) On a singing tour of America sponsored by P. T. Barnum, Jenny Lind (“the Swedish Nightingale”) gave five concerts in ten days in St. Louis, Missouri. In “The Spotlight” Ben says 15 years previously he went night after night to see an unnamed opera singer in St. Louis. I believe he was referring to Lind.
May 1, 1851) Mail delivery established between Sacramento, California and Salt Lake City, Utah Territory.
June 1, 1851) Mormon Station founded on the west side of the Carson Valley, the first permanent settlement in the future state of Nevada. The Cartwrights came three years before this but their forced relocation from California must have been painful for them and I doubt that they spoke of it often in public. By the end of the year about 100 people were living in the Carson River Valley, which was lushly watered by run off from the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada. In 1855 Mormon Station was renamed Genoa.
Summer 1852) After failing at mining, trading, and ranching, a former New England shoemaker named James Capen Adams moved into one of the wildest parts of the Sierra Nevada. He supported himself by becoming a hunter of skins and furs and a trapper of wild animals for zoos and museums. He specialized in the California grizzly bear and this earned him the nickname of Grizzly Adams.
1853) The Gentiles (non-Mormons) of the Carson Valley petitioned California to take jurisdiction of western Nevada but were turned down.
Winter 1853-1854) Prospectors built a crude station house at the foot of Gold Canyon, which was actually a gulch or ravine along the southern slopes of Sun Mountain. Soon after a combination store, saloon, and bowling alley was constructed farther up the ravine.
January 17, 1854) Utah Territorial authorities created Carson County, which encompassed most of the future state of Nevada. Western Utah had about 200 permanent white residents by the end of the year. The episode “Blood On The Land” seems to be set soon after establishment of a legal system that would have jurisdiction over the Ponderosa so I believe it actually occurred in the mid 1850’s and that any references to Virginia City are anachronistic.
I have never subscribed to the commonly held belief that that the episodes of the TV series were broadcast in the order they would have occurred to the Cartwright family.
1854) An informal schoolhouse was established in Mottsville, just south of Mormon’s Station. Although this is some distance from where I think the Ponderosa ranch house was located, I believe eleven-year-old Little Joe might have been sent there. He could have boarded with a local family during the week. There are references in “The Far, Far Better Thing”, “Invention Of A Gunfighter”, “The Quality of Mercy”, and “The Trap” implying that Joe attended school in Nevada. Abigail Jones may have been the Mottsville teacher (“The Wooing Of Abigail Jones”). We know Hoss attended school as well (see “The Saga Of Whizzer McGee”) but that was probably in California.
May 1, 1854) First white child born in Western Utah of parents living in the Territory. Little Joe of course was born there eleven years earlier but Ben and Marie Cartwright were not residents at the time.
1855) 200 Chinese were brought in to dig a ditch between the Carson River and Gold Canyon. White settlers around Honey Lake in present day California made a treaty of friendship with Winnemucca.
After intensive lobbying by social reformer Dorothea Dix, Congress created the Hospital for the Insane in Washington D. C. In 1916 it was renamed St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. “The Unseen Wound” mentions the hospital.
January 1856) John A. "Snow-Shoe" Thomson began twenty years of crossing the Sierra Nevada on skis to deliver the mail between Placerville and Genoa.
1856) Possible setting for “The Last Viking” since the episode says Inger Cartwright died twenty years before. Little Joe would have turned thirteen in 1856.
Spring 1856) A small party of Mormons founded Franktown near Washoe Lake. After eight years of isolation the Cartwrights finally got some neighbors. Perhaps Ben even sold or gave them the land the town was built on.
September 5, 1856) Actor Edwin Booth sailed from San Francisco for the east coast. He would not return to the Western United States until 1876. Or so his biographers believed (see Late Spring 1865).
Fall 1856) A Canadian named Henry Tompkins Paige Comstock drove a herd of sheep into western Utah. Indians quickly stole them and he turned to placer mining to support himself. He settled in Johntown, which was a collection of a dozen shanties in Gold Canyon, and moved into a crude boarding house run by Eilley Orrum. Other miners living there included Scottish born former Missouri muleskinner Sandy Bowers and James Fennimore (“Old Virginny”) who in 1851 had come to the area to avoid prosecution for murder in California.
1857) The first stagecoach crossed the Sierra Nevada and passenger service was established between Missouri and the West Coast. Stages ran three times a week between Placerville and Genoa.
About 150 people were living in Washoe Valley and Franktown briefly had it’s own schoolhouse (see below).
March 6, 1857) U. S. Supreme Court ruled in Dred Scott vs. Sandifer that a slave of African descent would remain a slave even after entering a state where slavery had been abolished. “Enter Thomas Bowers” said to occur shortly the Scott decision handed down but at that time there was no Virginia City and no Territorial Enterprise as mentioned in the episode. Perhaps this story actually took place in Genoa or even California at a time when the Cartwrights were visiting. Either that or the date it occurred was 1859 or later.
August 5, 1857) Brigham Young issued a proclamation that a threatened Federal attack on Salt Lake City was to be resisted by force and most Mormons left for eastern Utah. The remaining population of future Nevada drafted a petition for Congress requesting separate territorial status but nothing came of it.
September 11, 1857) Mountain Meadow Massacre in eastern Utah in which 120 immigrants were killed.
March 1858) Remaining residents of the Carson Valley set up a vigilante committee to deal with local crime. A number of people were tried and convicted by the committee and at least one person was hanged for allegedly participating in a murder. Western Utah would not have a legitimate government for another three years.
May 1858) The Guerra de la Reforma began in Mexico as a bloody conflict between liberal and conservative factions. Benito Juarez headed the Liberal cause. It was probably about this time that Will Cartwright disappeared. Ben hired detectives to find him and when they failed to do so Ben assumed his nephew was dead. In fact Will was fighting for Juarez (see “Return to Honor” and “The Companeros”).
June 16, 1858) Abraham Lincoln, running against Stephen Douglas for a Senate seat in Illinois, made his "A House Divided" speech. The episode called “A House Divided” is said to occur a month after Lincoln’s speech but at that time there was no Virginia City yet, nor a Confederacy to send secret agents on special missions. Another instance where the location, the date, or both do not agree with the historical facts.
Summer 1858) Frederick Dodge appointed Federal Indian Agent for Western Utah. In 1860 a Genoa storekeeper named Warren Wasson succeeded him.
July 4, 1858) Telegraph line started east from Placerville. By Autumn it reached Genoa.
September 1858) Carson City founded 21 miles south of Sun Mountain. One of the men behind its creation was a visionary former New York businessman named Abraham Curry.
November 7, 1858) Abraham Lincoln lost the Senate election to Stephen Douglas and decided to resume his law practice. “A Man To Admire” probably occurs after this point but certainly before January 1860 when the Lincoln for President movement was officially launched. For most of this time period there was no Virginia City and no telegraph connection to Illinois until after the Civil War started. Again I suspect the events of this episode actually took place in California, or possibly Genoa, and any communication between Lincoln and the Cartwrights was by mail. “Love Me Not” mentions Senator Douglas so it seems to occur after this point but before the start of the Civil War.
1859) Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities published as a book in the United States. “A Far, Far Better Thing” said to be set the year the book appeared in America. “The Trap” is also clearly set in 1859 even though it includes an appearance by Roy Coffee before there could be a Sheriff’s position for him to hold (see December 1861).
About June 12, 1859) Discovery of the Comstock Lode on Sun Mountain, possibly the single richest minerals strike in history (55% silver and 45% gold). The find was named after Henry Comstock not because he discovered it, but rather because he was most likely to show it to visitors. Flashback events of “Mr. Henry T. P. Comstock” obviously set here. The daughter of Chief Winnemucca referred to here as Saratoochi (sic?) is almost certainly Thocmetony, better known to history as Sarah Winnemucca. Little Joe may actually have persuaded her to come to the miner’s party but she did speak English by this point and wasn’t living with the Paiutes (see Fall 1859). By my reckoning here, Ben would be 50, Adam 29, Hoss 23, and Little Joe 16.
July 1, 1859) First mention of the Comstock strike in California newspapers. People drawn by the lure of gold and silver began to cross the Sierra Nevada almost immediately. One of the earliest to do so was Irish immigrant John W. MacKay.
September 7, 1859) Isaac Roop elected Provisional Governor of Nevada Territory. The office held no legal authority.
Fall 1859) Ever increasing numbers of whites enter the territory of the Paiutes. They cut down the pinon pines for firewood even though the Indians were dependent on the pine nuts as their winter food source. Thocmetony and her younger sister, daughters of Winnemucca, had been staying in the home of Carson City hotelkeeper William Ormsby for the last several months learning English and studying the ways of white men. Their stay ended after they witnessed the shootings of two young Washoe Indians who had been accused of murdering a pair of white men. It was later determined that other whites had committed the murders and made them look like the work of Indians to avoid detection. Probable time for events of “Death on Sun Mountain”. “Walter and the Outlaws” also about this time since it occurs before the onset of Winter and the Spring of ’43 was 16 years ago. Why didn’t the Paiute girls stay with the Cartwrights? I suspect it was because Winnemucca was worried about Thocmetony being under the same roof as Little Joe!
October 1859) Rapidly expanding mining camp at the site of the Comstock Lode discovery first referred to as Virginia Town, apparently in honor of James Fennimore’s home state.
October 16, 1859) John Brown raided the Federal Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in the hope of sparking a mass slave uprising. His plan failed and he was hung on December 2, 1859.
November 22, 1859) A foot of snow fell on western Utah and closed the mountain passes to California. Although the local water supply was almost poisonous with arsenic, plumbago, and copperas, Virginia City had several hundred inhabitants by that time. Most lived in crude tents, brush wood hovels, or even their mining tunnels.
Winter 1859-1860) Only after the ground froze did digging stop on the Comstock. The weather was colder than usual and many were forced to abandon their meager shelters and descend to the communities in the Carson Valley. Food was scarce because several local farmers had abandoned their fields to try their luck prospecting.
Early 1860) Death of the Paiute Chief Truckee.
Spring 1860) When the mountain passes reopened, one thousand or more fortune seekers crossed over from California. Among them was the ardently pro-southern former Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, David S. Terry and the native New Yorker, William M. Stewart, who had previously served as California’s Attorney General. According to the series producers, the newfound wealth of the Comstock also attracted gangs of outlaws capable of attacking entire communities. If episodes like “Vendetta” and “No Less A Man” are not fictional, they must have occurred at about this date before Virginia City became too big for any single criminal organization to threaten.
March and April 1860) Bands of Paiutes gathered at Pyramid Lake under their various chiefs to decide on a response to the ever-increasing numbers of white people in their territory. Winnemucca wanted war but his cousin, Numaga, pleaded for peace.
April 3, 1860) The first riders of the first runs of the Pony Express left St. Joseph, Missouri and San Francisco. The distance between the cities was nearly two thousand miles but the trips would only take ten days. One of the riders was William F. Cody, later to be known as Buffalo Bill. As shown in “Ride the Wind” Ben was an investor in the Pony Express and Little Joe was one of the Riders. It’s doubtful though that Joe worked for the Express during the entire run of operation.
April 12, 1860) The telegraph came to Carson City but the connection only ran west to San Francisco. Within a few weeks, a spur was added to connect Virginia City to the system.
April 1860) Virginia Tilton was the first white baby born on the Comstock.
May 4, 1860) Numaga started a hunger strike to get the attention of the Paiutes and divert them from war.
May 6, 1860) After discovering two Paiute girls being held prisoner at William's Station about 60 miles northeast of Virginia City, Indians burned it down and killed five white men within. Word of the attack reached Virginia City by Pony Express rider the next day and from there to California by telegraph. Preparations for a punitive expedition began immediately. When Numaga heard of the attack he gave up his fast and prepared for war.
May 12, 1860) A volunteer force of 105 miners and settlers under William Ormsby fell into a Paiute ambush engineered by Numaga. 70 of them were killed, including Ormsby. This was the first battle of what would later be known the Pyramid Lake War. The survivors reached Virginia City early the next morning and panic quickly spread to the communities of the Carson Valley. The Pony Express was halted and stagecoaches were diverted from the Comstock.
June 3, 1860) A combined force of 800 volunteers and Army regulars under former Texas Ranger Jack Hays attacked the Paiutes. After a three-hour battle, at least 25 Indians had been killed and the rest fled into the nearby hills. This was the second and final battle of the Pyramid Lake War. As shown in “The Paiute War” one or more of the Cartwrights was present for each of the above events. Although William Stewart appears in this episode, he was actually away from Virginia City when news of the burning of Williams’s Station arrived.
Summer 1860) William Stewart made prosecutor of Carson County. Virginia City had 800 buildings by its first year, although most were ramshackle wooden structures. “The Mission” seems to occur here since the weather in the episode is very hot and there is talk of a war coming on.
August 7, 1860) Fort Churchill established about 25 miles east of Virginia City. It later became the military headquarters for the Nevada District of the United States Army. The fort is mentioned in “Sense of Duty” but that episode makes it seem to be days away from Virginia City.
Late Summer or Early Fall 1860) Likely time for “The Newcomers” (see entry for November 8, 1860).
October 1860) British explorer Richard Francis Burton passed through Virginia City.
17 children were attending school there.
The International House Hotel opened on “C” Street.
“Friday, October 17, 1860” mentioned as being the current date in “The Frenchman”. However 10/17/1860 fell on a Wednesday. Although Roy Coffee is shown on the job in this episode, the office of Sheriff for Storey County, which includes Virginia City, would not appear until December 1861.
November 6, 1860) Abraham Lincoln elected to the White House.
November 8, 1860) Phillip Diedesheimer arrived in Virginia City. After about thirty days he had solved the problem of support structures for deep mines. With help from Adam (“The Philip Diedesheimer Story”). Events of “The Newcomers” referred to.
1860) Census showed 3,017 people living in Virginia City and neighboring Gold Hill to the southwest. Men outnumbered women seventeen to one. Out of 111 women, 83 are married. Entire population of Nevada was 6,857.
1861) First sawmill on the western Utah side of Lake Tahoe opened at Glenbrook.
January 1, 1861) Civil War ended in Mexico and Benito Juarez became president. One of his first acts was to declare a two-year moratorium on repayment of foreign debts. With the fighting over, Will Cartwright drifted back to the United States and became involved with counterfeiters (“Return To Honor”).
“San Francisco” occurs at some point in 1861 between late Spring and early Fall when the mountain passes between western Utah and California are open. “The Courtship” also set in 1861.
February 17, 1861) David Terry left western Utah to join the Confederate Army (via California and Mexico).
February 19, 1861) U. S. Army forces in the future state of Arizona hung a number of captured Apaches in retaliation for recent Indian attacks. Three of the executed prisoners were close relatives of the Apache chief Cochise and in the next sixty days 150 whites were killed. This was the start of a quarter century of conflict between Americans and Apaches in the Southwest. “The Honor Of Cochise” must occur after this date and before the death of Cochise in 1874.
March 2, 1861) U.S. Congress passed a bill that created the Territory of Nevada out of the western half of the Territory of Utah. Voting was reserved for free white male residents aged twenty-one and up.
March 4, 1861) Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office as sixteenth President of the United States. One of his first official acts was to appoint New Yorker James Warren Nye the first Territorial Governor of Nevada. Nye had worked hard for a Republican victory in the 1860 election and was a friend of the new Secretary of State William Seward.
March 11, 1861) Virginia City’s first municipal election. Positions filled were President, Secretary, three Trustees, City Treasurer, Justice of the Peace, and a combination Marshal and Street Commissioner. This election might be the historical setting for “The Fear Merchants”. That episode clearly indicates the Cartwrights are not Virginia City residents and so cannot vote in municipal elections. However, in the later “The Last Vote” they can. Perhaps the Cartwright family was awarded honorable Virginia City citizenship for their many contributions to the community.
Spring 1861) Probable placement for “Return To Honor” since it must occur before July of this year (see below).
April 12, 1861) Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter signaling the start of the Civil War. The news reached the Comstock on April 20th and the Committee of Safety of Nevada was formed to promote the Northern cause in the Territory.
April and May 1861) 1500 Indians gathered near the mouth of the Walker River to consider a new war against the whites of Nevada but Agent Warren Wasson talked them out of it.
May 26, 1861) Committee of Safety Secretary John A. Collins wrote to the commander of Fort Churchill warning that a secret force of 100 secessionists organized by David Terry were planning to seize the fort and then use the weapons found within to take over the rest of Nevada. Reinforcements from California were in place at the fort by early June and no attack occurred.
June 20, 1861) James (“Old Virginny”) Fennimore died after falling off of his horse while drunk.
June 28, 1861) The Central Pacific Railroad Company incorporated. I believe this is the unnamed railroad that “A Pink Cloud Comes From Old Cathay” tells us Ben has invested both his money and his prestige in.
June and July1861) The remaining events of “The Waiting Game” begin four months after Frank Dayton’s death. “The Pressure Game” occurs around the time of the Fourth of July and is the episode in which Laura Dayton first meets Will Cartwright.
Summer 1861) The Overland Mail route was moved northwards to lessen the possibility of Confederate attacks.
July 7, 1861) James Nye arrived in Carson City (via Panama and San Francisco) to begin his duties as Territorial Governor. He quickly showed himself as a zealous, almost fanatical supporter of the Union. During the war, Nevada raised 1,180 volunteer soldiers, formed into the 1st Nevada Volunteer Cavalry, as well as assorted infantry units. Nye offered to send them back east to fight at no expense to the government but instead they remained in the west, guarding miners, settlers, and the Overland Mail route from Indian attacks. These volunteer forces were under military control but Nye had direct authority over the territories’ militia units. Virginia City raised four militia companies. Dayton, Silver City, Carson City, and Aurora had one each. It seems likely to have been during the Civil War that Ben first became involved with the “116th Militia of Virginia City” which is reactivated in “Sense of Duty”.
August 14, 1861) Orion Clemens arrived in Carson City after a three-week stagecoach journey. He served as Territorial Secretary of Nevada and Acting Territorial Governor during James Nye's frequent trips back east. His brother, Samuel Clemens, accompanied Orion on the stage trip.
August 1861) Virginia City population was 2,704.
September 14, 1861) The Territorial Enterprise began daily publication in Virginia City. It would continue until 1893.
Late Summer or Early Fall 1861) “The Cheating Game” must occur here because it is a sequel to “The Waiting Game” and because mention is made of the approach of the Fall roundup.
October 1 to November 29, 1861) First Territorial Legislature met in Carson City in Abraham Curry's Warm Springs Hotel. A code of laws was written, including one prohibiting miscegenation. Nine county seats were established, with each county to have three county commissioners, a sheriff, county school superintendent, county clerk, etc. Virginia City and the Comstock Lode were located in Storey County. Ben and Adam seem to have had some involvement with Storey County government since they have a say in choosing or replacing sheriffs (see “No Less A Man”). In “Napoleon’s Children” a horse thief caught outside the Ponderosa ranch house is held in the jail in Virginia City. It seems pretty clear then, that the Cartwright house is in Storey County. However, in both “A Rose For Lotte” and “Mr. Henry T. P. Comstock” it is implied that the Comstock Lode is twenty miles east of the Cartwright home, which would put the ranch house in the middle of Washoe County. The first three Territorial Judges were Gordon Mott, Horatio Jones, and George Turner. As late as 1864, Nevada still had only three territorial judges.
October 24, 1861) East and West Coasts linked by telegraph lines.
November 20, 1861) The last rider of the last run of the Pony Express handed over the mail in San Francisco.
December 11, 1861) Storey County received its first sheriff. In the next seventeen years, seven different men would hold that office, none longer than four years. In my opinion the character of Roy Coffee is actually a composite of several different law enforcement officials present in Western Nevada during the time of the series. These officers would include the Municipal Police in Virginia City, the sheriffs of Storey, Washoe, Ormsby, and Douglas Counties, and a Federal Marshal.
Late 1861) The Comstock had 76 mills with 1200 stamps to process ore. Their noise, along with the constant rumble of the pumps used to drain water from the mines produced a 24-hour cacophony over the area.
1861 or 1862) Julia Bulette, a rather plain English woman in her mid-thirties, came to Virginia City from New Orleans. She became a middle status prostitute and moved into a two-room cottage without indoor plumbing or a kitchen. Obviously the series producers decided to embellish historical fact in the making of “The Julia Bulette Story”.
January 1,1862) Abraham Curry's Warm Springs Hotel was leased to the government and became the Nevada Territorial Prison. Inmates were put to work quarrying limestone for Carson City's public buildings. Curry was the first Prison warden.
January 1862) French forces sent by Emperor Louis Napoleon III landed in Mexico in response to President Juarez’ moratorium on foreign debt repayment.
January 14, 1862) The first Storey County Superintendent of Schools was elected. References to Ben and Adam’s participation in local school administration can be found in “The Actress”, “The Fourth R Is Right” and “Look To The Stars”.
March 1862) Overland Mail service between the eastern and western halves of the United States temporarily suspended due to Shoshone and Ute attacks.
May 1, 1862) Sandy and Eilley Bowers (nee Orrum) sailed from San Francisco to begin a Grand Tour of Europe. The Bowers were one of Nevada’s few original placer miners to retain their claim long enough to see real profit. They returned to Nevada in April 1863 and in 1864 moved into a 16-room mansion in Washoe Valley. By the time Sandy died in 1868 the production of their mine had fallen off considerably. Eilley eventually lost all of their property and had to support herself by telling fortunes. The “Washoe Seeress” died alone and destitute in 1902. Perhaps someday a writer of Bonanza fan fiction will explain how Ben Cartwright could let that happen to a woman who must have literally been a close neighbor.
May 1, 1862) Union forces captured New Orleans from the Confederacy and General Benjamin Butler was made military commander of the city. Civilian authorities were removed from office and newspapers that did not support the Northern cause were closed down. Butler prohibited the use of Confederate bank notes and ordered that women showing disrespect for Union soldiers were to be treated as prostitutes. The less repressive General Nathaniel Banks replaced him in December 1862.
May 23 to 25, 1862) Indian Agent Warren Wasson arranged a conference between Governor Nye and the Paiutes. Despite the overt hostility of Nye’s military escort, the meeting at least temporarily eased tensions between whites and Indians. I believe the episode “The Last Mission” is a somewhat fictionalized recounting of this conference. After the conference Wasson became a U. S. Marshall. “The Toy Soldier” seems to be set after this point but before April 1865 since it mentions that the Paiutes need an Indian Agent and that Lincoln is President.
June 1862) Father Patrick Manogue became Catholic priest in Virginia City, holding that position until 1885. “Triangle” seems to occur this month, which has a Saturday the 14th as mentioned in the episode. Eleven months have passed since Adam gave a pony to Peggy Dayton (shown in “The Waiting Game”). Since Will Cartwright leaves with Laura Dayton in this episode, his appearances in “The Roper” and “The Companeros” must occur before this date.
Summer 1862) Samuel Clemens was working as prospector in the Esmeralda District in western Nevada when he wrote a series of satirical letters about pompous Territorial Chief Justice George Turner (AKA “Professor Personal Pronoun”). Clemens sent the letters to the Territorial Enterprise newspaper in Virginia City where they were published with the byline “Josh”. Editor Joe Goodman liked them enough to offer Clemens a job.
August 6, 1862) Colonel Patrick Edward Connor took command of the Military District of Nevada. From his headquarters in Fort Churchill he immediately issued “Order no. 1” which authorized the arrest and confinement of any one speaking out against the government of the United States. Offenders who refused to take an oath of allegiance to the United States found themselves sentenced to a spell of sawing wood and toting sandbags around the Fort’s parade grounds.
Late September 1862) After walking 130 miles, Samuel Clemens arrived in Virginia City and began working for the Territorial Enterprise. The pay rate was $25 a week. “Enter Mark Twain” shows his arrival occurs on the 6th but which month isn’t specified. The episode’s Judge Billington appears to be a fictionalized version of Chief Justice George Turner.
Late Summer or Early Fall 1862) “The Stranger” occurs twenty years after Ben and Marie were in New Orleans together.
Fall 1862) Nevada experimented with Bactrian Camels from Siberia. Two years later there were still a few camels in use carrying salt from the marshes near Walker Lake. Released camels would wander the Nevada deserts until at least the 1870’s. Possible setting for “The Stranger” which is said to occur twenty years after Ben was in New Orleans with Little Joe’s mother.
Winter 1862-1863) International Hotel in Virginia City expanded from 12 to 100 rooms and now had its own elevator.
1863) Star City, Nevada had a population of 1200 people. By 1868 when the silver ore had given out, only a single family lived there.
Virginia City had three daily papers: the Territorial Enterprise, the Virginia Union, and the Evening Bulletin.
“Bank Run” set sometime this year.
January 1, 1863) Starting date for the Emancipation Proclamation which freed all slaves within the Confederacy.
January 8, 1863) Central Pacific Railroad construction began just east of Sacramento.
January 27, 1863) Colonel Conner’s Nevada and California volunteers killed as many as 400 Shoshones at the Battle of Bear River. Connor was afterwards promoted to Brigadier General.
February 2, 1863) First appearance in print of Sam Clemen's pen name, Mark Twain.
February 24, 1863) Territory of Arizona created. The Territorial Legislature met for the first time the following year and divided the territory into four counties. One of them was Pima County with the county seat in Tucson. “Credit For A Kill” seems to occur in or after 1864 since the episode mentions the Sheriff in Tucson.
Spring 1863) Equipment to set up gas lights for the streets of Virginia City captured at sea by the Confederate raider Alabama.
May 1863) Average daily wage for a miner was $3.50. This was excellent for the time but the work was dangerous and a skilled, stable workforce was crucial. By about 1867 it was up to $4 a day. In “Showdown” we are told Ponderosa hands get $30 a month. In ”To Stop A War” it was up to $40 a month.
May 1863) President Juarez fled Mexico City just ahead of its occupation by French soldiers.
June 1863) Maguire's Opera House opened in Virginia City with seating for 1600 people. There was a livery stable in the basement and the smell of horses was noticeable in the auditorium. It was replaced by Piper's Opera House in 1868.
July 1863) Sixteen year old Lotta Crabtree came to the Comstock to begin a three month singing and dancing engagement. I do not believe this is the correct placement for “A Rose For Lotta” (see instead the entry for August 1869).
July 2, 1863) Treaty signed at Fort Bridger in which most Shoshone bands agreed to make peace. The main exception was the Western Shoshone group known as the Gosuites.
August 13, 1863) Virginia City law set the geographic boundaries of its red-light district.
August 28, 1863) Riot between rival volunteer firefighting companies in Virginia City left one man dead.
Fall 1863) Most mines on the Comstock showed signs of depletion, with the gold and silver deposits playing out at about 500 feet down. This was the beginning of Borrasca, ("bust") which is the opposite of Bonanza. This economic slowdown may have escalated the boundary line dispute between California and Nevada officials over who had jurisdiction for the important mining town of Aurora.
October 1863) 420 children in school in Virginia City.
October 1, 1863) Governor Nye and Governor Doty of Utah negotiated a peace treaty with the Gosuites.
October 25, 1863) Paiute Chief known as Captain George murdered by whites.
November 12, 1863) Virginia City streets finally received gas streetlights.
December 11, 1863) Proposed constitution for statehood for Nevada completed by committee of 39 delegates.
December 18 to 29, 1863) Humorist Artemus Ward visited Virginia City. He toured the city's dance halls and the Chinatown District.
Winter 1863-1864) For the first time in Virginia City history, "To Let" signs appeared and the town had many idlers. Despite increased unemployment, prices did not fall and many people suffered. About a third of the local population left for more promising finds in other parts of the Territory.
1864) Indians kill a number of white prospectors near Paradise Valley in northwestern Nevada.
Proposed placement for “To Own The World” since the episode talks about a big fire on the Ponderosa 15 years earlier (see Summer 1849).
January 19, 1864) Proposed constitution for statehood rejected by the Territory's voters 8,851 to 2,157 because of a requirement for taxes on mines.
February 27, 1864) Actress Adah Isaac Menken arrived in Virginia City. Although only thirty at the time, she then was married to the third of her eventual four husbands. (“The Magnificent Adah”).
March 17, 1864) St. Patrick's Day parade in Virginia City. The Irish were the largest foreign-born ethnic group on the Comstock. They preferred Virginia City while Cornishmen ("Cousin Jacks") made neighboring Gold Hill their home. Fights between the two groups were common.
Spring 1864) Despite or perhaps because of the mining slowdown, Virginia City undertook a feverish renovation program. Old buildings were torn down and replaced. Brickyards and lumber mills were swamped with orders.
May 24, 1864) Ferdinand Maximilian arrived in Mexico. He had been chosen by Napoleon III to rule the country.
May 29, 1864) Mark Twain left Virginia City to live in San Francisco. After writing a satirical article on miscegenation, he had been challenged to a duel. It turned out to be a nonviolent affair but still a violation of the laws of the Territory of Nevada. He would live in San Francisco until December 1866.
June 24, 1864) Two stages carrying bullion from the Comstock were robbed near Placerville by a gang of Confederate sympathizers.
Summer 1864) Union forces were bogged down on all fronts and demoralization was spreading through the north. Lincoln's supporters urged him to make peace with the South, even if it meant abandoning emancipation.
July 4, 1864 to July 21, 1864) Second Statehood Convention held in Carson City. As shown in the (fictionalized) “War Comes To the Washoe” Little Joe cast the deciding vote at this convention. At issue was not whether Nevada would join the Union, but if a Constitution for Statehood could be created that a majority of the Territories’ citizen would vote for. If David Terry were in Nevada at the time, he would have to have remained in hiding since he was then an officer in the Confederate Army. Terry had four sons but no daughters. In my opinion Joe has to be at least twenty-one years old at this point (see March 2, 1861).
August 22, 1864) Public outcry against their corrupt practices forced all three Nevada Territorial Judges to resign. Nevada remained without a working judicial system until the Fall. Possible setting for “The Dilemma”.
September 3, 1864) An agent of French Emperor Louis Napoleon arrived in Virginia City to investigate the possibility of acquiring the entire Comstock Lode.
September 7, 1864) Voters of Nevada approved the new constitution 10, 375 to 1,284. In Washington, supporters of Abraham Lincoln immediately begin the process of approving statehood. Republicans were worried about Lincoln's reelection chances and it was believed Nevada's electoral votes might be the key to victory. Lincoln's chief rival was former General George McClellan, a pro-slavery candidate.
Late September and Early October 1864) Governor Nye twice called in troops from Fort Churchill to suppress labor activities of miners in Storey County.
October 15, 1864) The Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul established a school and orphanage in Virginia City. They remained until 1897.
October 31, 1864) Nevada officially entered the Union as a state even though it's population was estimated at no more than 30 to 45 thousand.
November 8, 1864) Henry G. Blasdel, a Virginia City mine and mill superintendent, elected first governor of state of Nevada. He was a deeply religious man who became an honest and energetic political leader. James Nye and William Stewart were the first Nevada Senators sent to Washington.
November 29, 1864) About 200 Cheyennes and Arapahos, many of them women, children, or old men, were massacred at Sand Creek, Colorado by white soldiers.
September 6, 1864) William Sharon opened up a branch of the Bank of California in Virginia City. The weak local economy allowed Sharon to buy up several local mills. His ruthless business practices and duplicitous nature quickly made him the most powerful businessman in Nevada. William Sharon and Ben Cartwright would have been natural enemies and I’m sure their paths crossed many times. I believe a good number of crooked businessmen the Cartwrights battled against were actually disguised versions of Sharon.
1865) Virginia City had seven schools. By law, Chinese children were not allowed to participate in public education. In 1872 the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that was unconstitutional.
March 1865) A new war between whites and Indians broke out in the Black Rock Desert of northeastern Nevada.
April 9, 1865) General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox ended the Civil War. Virginia City heard the news the next day and a spontaneous celebration erupted. Flags were hung everywhere, bells and whistles were sounded and the Provost Guard fired off its two cannons. Five days after that came the news of President Lincoln's assassination by John Wilkes Booth, brother of Edwin Booth. Soon mobs roamed the streets in search of anyone who would dare speak ill of Lincoln or the Union. One man who did got ten lashes with a bullwhip. The mines of the Comstock had produced $50 million in precious metals during the war years. This helped the Federal Government to maintain sufficient credit to finance the war effort.
April or May 1865) I place “The Actress” here because of a comment that Little Joe just turned twenty-two. Actor Edwin Booth appears in the episode. The entire Booth Family had come under suspicion when the identity of Lincoln’s murderer was revealed. Edwin apparently decided to make a secret trip west until things cooled down.
October 8, 1865) Earthquake in San Francisco.
October 19, 1865) Construction of the Sutro Tunnel to drain water from Comstock mines begun.
1866) Alfred Nobel discovered dynamite.
New mine discoveries lead to a new era of prosperity on the Comstock. Probable time for events of “Thunderhead Swindle”.
I speculate that “The Spotlight” also occurred in this year (see March 1851).
January 12, 1866) Final battle of the Black Rock war.
April 1866) Estimated setting for “The Avenger” since the episode has April 25th falling on a Wednesday and Ulysses Grant is mentioned.
October 27 to November 12, 1866) Mark Twain visited Nevada to give a series of lectures on Hawaii. He left abruptly after a group of disguised friends played a practical joke of robbing him at gunpoint.
November 6, 1866) Henry Blasdel reelected governor of Nevada.
1866-1867) This winter was particularly harsh in the Sierra Nevada with 44 separate snowstorms. The mountain passes were not clear until April.
1867) William Sharon pressured the Nevada Legislature to put the burden of taxation onto the state’s ranchers and other property owners and away from the mining industry. He attempted the same thing in 1871.
January 20, 1867) Virginia City prostitute Julia Bulette found murdered. She had been sick for months before her death and the meager estate she left did not cover her medical and funeral expenses. (“The Julia Bulette Story”).
May and June 1867) Chinese employees of the Central Pacific Railroad working in the Sierra Nevada went on strike. Probable setting for “A Pink Cloud Comes From Old Cathay”. While tunneling continued in the mountains, another Central Pacific work party was sent ahead to Palisade Canyon to construct a bridge over Nevada’s Humboldt River. “The Prime Of Life” may be set here since it mentions the Cartwrights have a contract to supply timber to the CPRR for “the Humboldt Canyon trestle”.
June 19, 1867) Maximilian executed by forces loyal to Benito Juarez.
November 9, 1867) British novelist Charles Dickens arrived in America for a speaking tour. The westernmost city he visited was Buffalo, New York. He left for England on April 22, 1868. Either “A Passion For Justice” is entirely fictitious or Ben wrote a very persuasive letter of invitation to Virginia City because Dickens was in poor health at this time and the Transcontinental railroad was more than a year from completion. Of course Dickens made the tour because of his need for money and Ben was a remarkably generous man…
December 13, 1867) The Central Pacific Railroad crossed the California-Nevada line.
1868) “The Thirteenth Man” occurs this year since it is mentioned in that episode that 1864 was four years ago.
“The Late Ben Cartwright” also said to occur in 1868 but Nevada had no election for governor that year.
“Desperate Passage” set in 1868 as well.
March 27, 1868) Scottish born naturalist John Muir arrived in San Francisco and immediately headed for the Sierra Nevada. He would eventually spend ten years exploring what he came to call the “Range of Light”.
April and May 1868) Mark Twain made his last visit to Virginia City. He delivered two lectures on the Holy Land.
April 23, 1868) John Millian, convicted murderer of Julia Bulette, was the first person publicly executed in Virginia City. More than four thousand spectators watched.
May 4, 1868) The Central Pacific Railroad reached newly founded Reno, Nevada. However, the name Reno appears on the painted map behind Ben’s desk in episodes clearly set before that time. (For example, see “War Comes to the Washoe”). Regular Train service between Sacramento and Reno began June 18, 1868.
Tuesday, September 1, 1868) Events of “A Girl Named George” begin. Candy works for the Cartwrights in this episode, which means that his first appearance in “Sense of Duty” must be set before this date. So why don’t we ever see Adam and Candy together in an episode? Perhaps because Adam was away from home more frequently in the year before he moved away from the Ponderosa (see Summer 1869). Or simply because the series producers never got around to depicting an adventure with the two of them together before the departure of actor Pernell Roberts.
September 1868) The first professional school of architecture in the United States opened at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Before this Americans who wanted to learn architecture either paid an architect to teach them or went overseas. The Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris was perhaps the Nineteenth Centuries most prestigious school of architecture and it was open to foreigners who could pass its rigid entrance exams.
1869) The Virginia City Base Ball Club was beaten by the Star Base Ball Club of Carson City 54 to 17.
February 19, 1869) Construction began in Carson City on the Virginia & Truckee Railroad. “Mirror of A Man” probably occurs shortly after this since that episode mentions the railhead at Carson City.
April 7, 1869) A fire at the Yellow Jacket Mine killed at least 34 men.
May 10, 1869) The Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads met at Promontory, Utah, completing the Transcontinental Railway.
June 10, 1869) Examination was held to see who would be that year’s appointment from Nevada to the U.S. Naval Academy. Albert Abraham Michelson, the 16-year-old son of a Virginia City merchant, was one of three young men to tie for first place. When the position went to one of the others, Michelson left for Washington DC and persuaded President Ulysses Grant to find another opening for him. Adam may well have helped him prepare for the entrance exam as shown in “Look To the Stars” but Michelson went to high school in San Francisco not Virginia City. It’s possible Adam went with Michelson and the trip back east fueled his growing restlessness with life on the Ponderosa. The subplot of a bigoted teacher is fictional or occurred at an earlier time. The reference to Nevada being a Territory is in error.
August 1, 1869 to September 10, 1869) Charlotte "Lotta" Mignon Crabtree made a return visit to San Francisco after four years on the East Coast. Although only 21 years old, she already had a national reputation as an actress. Some scholars feel the events depicted in “A Rose For Lotta” are entirely fictional, citing Ben’s uncharacteristic hostility to strangers and Little Joe giving the wrong name for his mother. If, however, some of the mining interests in Virginia City had engaged Lotta Crabtree in a blackmail scheme against the Cartwrights, this would have been a likely time for it to occur. I believe the disparaging remarks Little Joe makes about the mothers of Adam and Hoss are invented or actually happened when he was much younger.
The presence of Candy and the approach of his fortieth birthday lead me to theorize that Adam decided to leave the Ponderosa in the second half of 1869. If true, the episodes where Adam is mentioned after he leaves Nevada (including “The Other Son”, “Mighty Is The Word”, and “Home From The Sea”) all occur after this date.
November 20, 1869) First passenger train of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad arrived in Gold Hill from Carson City.
1870) In the previous ten years in western Nevada, 30 whites and 287 Indians were killed in fighting between the two groups. These numbers do not include the death toll from the Pyramid Lake War.
1870) A Paiute named Tavibo had mystic visions that later inspired the Ghost Dance religion. Wabuska (sic?) from “Sense Of Duty” seems to be a fictionalized version of Tavibo but that episode must occur two or more years before 1870 (see September 1868).
1870) Thocmetony, better known to whites as Sarah Winnemucca, led a group of 500 Indians from the squalid Truckee Reservation to Camp McDermit and begged the Army to fed them. Several hundred more quickly arrived from southeastern Oregon. She had been educated in California and was fluent in English, Spanish, and three Indian languages.
Pioche, Nevada was as tough as any city in the West. The first 75 deaths there were by gunfire.
Census of the Comstock showed 3000 miners, 400 mill workers, 160 prostitutes, 49 butchers, 22 bakers, 2 music teachers, and 31 doctors, nurses, and dentists. Living in Storey County were 7,864 men and 3,495 women. Two thirds of all adult county residents were born outside the United States. Nevada had 3,152 Chinese residents in all.
January 29, 1870) The Virginia & Truckee Railroad reached Virginia City.
January 1870) U.S. Mint in Carson City opened. Abraham Curry had overseen its construction and he was named the first superintendent. “Company of Forgotten Men “ occurs some time after this date.
April 7, 1870) Black residents of Virginia City held a celebration to honor the passage of the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery in the United States. They numbered less than one hundred.
July 4, 1870) Nevada's first statewide suffrage convention held.
July 19, to September 2, 1870) France was soundly defeated in the Franco-Prussian War. Perhaps Adam was a witness to this conflict because in “The Unwritten Commandment” he is said to be in Paris.
September 27, 1870) Henry Comstock committed suicide near Bozeman, Montana.
November 4, 1870) The West's first train robbery occurred near Verdi, Nevada.
November 8, 1870) Louis Rice "Broadhorns" Bradley, a cattle rancher from northeast Nevada was elected governor.
1871) “A Patchwork Man” seems to occur after this date because the episode says Nevada was opened up for settlement more than twenty years ago (see June 1851).
March 24, 1871) A recent series of suspicious fires in Virginia City lead to vigilantes breaking a man out of the Storey County Jail and lynching him.
July 18, 1871) Another vigilante lynching in Virginia City. No one was ever convicted for these killings.
September 17, 1871) 29 men escaped from the Nevada State Prison. They were hunted for months afterward in Nevada and California.
October 4, 1871) Fires killed 250 people in Chicago and 600 people in Peshtigo, Wisconsin.
October 24, 1871) Anti-Chinese riot in Los Angeles resulted in at least 18 deaths.
November 5, 1871) Death of Numaga.
December 16, 1871) After embezzling an estimated $30 million in public funds, New York City politician William Marcy “Boss” Tweed was indicted for corruption. Some of this wealth plays a part in “Six Black Horses”.
December 22, 1871) Susan B. Anthony visited Virginia City.
April, 2, 1872) Lotta Crabtree began a three week stay in San Francisco. Probable setting for “Return Engagement”.
August 24, 1872) Virginia & Truckee Railroad connected at Reno to the Transcontinental Railroad.
August 16, 1872) William Sharon had to withdraw from Nevada’s Senatorial race after a Storey County Grand Jury indicted him for conspiracy. Sharon ran again in 1874 and won.
1873) Proposed setting for “Right Is The Fourth R” which is set thirty years after Nevada’s first army survey (see 1843). Since Adam is prominently featured in this episode, a case could be made that he doesn’t leave the Ponderosa until this year. I prefer to believe that he was back home on an extended visit. The reference to Nevada being a Territory is in error.
February 1873) The Big Bonanza discovered in John Mackay's Consolidated Virginia and California Mine. It would eventually produce $105,157,490 in precious metals.
August 1, 1873) Water from the Sierra Nevada piped into Virginia City for the first time.
July 1874) A vigilante committee known as the 601 cleared Reno of a horde of burglars, crooked gamblers, and robbers who had been ignored by the local sheriff.
November 3, 1874) Louis Bradley reelected governor of Nevada.
1875) Storey County had population of 19,528 which included 47 doctors, 38 lawyers, 13 school teachers, 172 merchants, and 113 saloon owners. The county had 1,254 Chinese men and 84 Chinese women. Less than one in three local miners lived with a woman.
This is the estimated setting for “Old Friends” which is said to occur 27 years after Ben worked as a prospector (see June 1848).
February 20, 1875) Prestigious Washoe Club opened in Virginia City.
October 26, 1875) A fire destroyed most of Virginia City including the entire downtown district which had to entirely rebuilt.
I believe “The Night Virginia City Died” is a fictionalized retelling of the incident.
1876) This was the best year ever for Comstock mines at $27 million.
First Territorial Prison for Arizona established at Yuma. The prison is mentioned in “The Guilty” so presumably that episode occurs after this date.
June 25, 1876) The Battle of the Little Big Horn in which George Armstrong Custer and 210 members of the Seventh Cavalry were killed fighting the Sioux. “My Friend, My Enemy” must occur after this date because Hoss refers to Custer’s fate. By the same reasoning, episodes like “Forever” which seem to occur after the death of Hoss must also be placed after Custer’s defeat.
But did Hoss Cartwright really die at such a relatively early age or was it the untimely death of actor Dan Blocker that caused the series producers to write him out of the show? An impossible question to answer but I have shown throughout this chronology that the Bonanza creative staff did not feel bound to a strictly historical depiction of the events the Cartwrights took part in. And there have been instances where “real life” events have effected what we saw in the show. Dan Blocker had his arm in a sling in a number of Third Season episodes because of an accident he had and Lorne Greene wore an eye patch once in the Seventh Season for the same reason. Furthermore, it has been well documented that “Forever” was originally to present Hoss getting married…
September 1876) Opium dens were outlawed in Virginia City.
1877) “The Unseen Wound” placed in this year because it seems to occur twelve years after the end of the Civil War. This is the latest year I can place an episode of the series. Ben would have turned 68 in 1877, Adam 47, Hoss 41, and Little Joe 34.
January 19, 1877) Second public execution in Virginia City.
May to October 1878) The Bannock War. Some Paiutes joined in willingly while others were forced into fighting. Sarah Winnemucca volunteered her services to the U. S. Army. In June she located the Bannock camp and rescued her father and other relatives being held prisoner there. After that Sarah became the personal messenger, interpreter, and guide for General Oliver Howard. Her bravery under fire was widely reported in newspapers of the day and she used the attention of the press to criticize the corruption and inefficiency of the Indian Bureau.
July 8, 1878) Completion of the Sutro Tunnel.
1880) Over the previous 17 years there had been 295 mining deaths and 606 mining related injuries on the Comstock. This year was the start of a decades long depression for the Comstock.
Early January 1880) Sarah Winnemucca, her father, and brother Natchez arrived in Washington where they met Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz and President Rutherford B. Hayes. Many promises were made for better treatment of the Paiutes but none were kept.
June 18, 1880) Death of John Sutter. He had never recovered financially from the destruction of his property during the Gold Rush of 1848.
September 7, 1880) President Hayes and his wife visited the Comstock.
1881) 402 recorded homicides in Nevada to this date.
January 1, 1881) The Comstock had produced $306,000,000 worth of bullion since it’s discovery.
October 1882) Chief Winnemucca of the Paiutes died. Shortly before his death, he had accused his new young wife of bewitching him. At his order, she and her two or three year old son were stoned to death.
1883) Buffalo Bill Cody went on the road with the first of his Wild West shows. It was a huge success and toured throughout the United States and Europe. Cody and Little Joe probably would have known each other from their time together in the Pony Express.
1884) Publication date for Life Among The Piutes (sic) by Sarah Winnemucca.
1885 to 1887) Sarah Winnemucca ran a school for Paiute children in Lovelock, Nevada. It finally closed down because of a lack of government funding.
October 16, 1891) Sarah Winnemucca died of tuberculosis in her sister’s home in Montana.
February 15, 1898) The American battleship Maine blew up in the harbor of Havana, Cuba which then under the control of Spain.
April 25, 1989) United States Congress declared war on Spain.
July 1, 1898) Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and black men of the Tenth Cavalry were among the various U. S. Army forces who charged up San Juan Hill. The battle would become an American victory but at the cost of over one thousand killed or wounded U. S. soldiers.
August 12, 1898) Peace treaty signed between Spain and the United States.
April 18, 1906) Great San Francisco earthquake killed 450 people and left another 200,000 homeless.
April 6, 1917) America entered World War One on the side of the Allied Powers.
November 11, 1918) World War One ended with Allied victory.
March 22, 1919) First aerial crossing of the Sierra Nevada was made by a group of U. S. Army planes on a flight from Sacramento to Reno. By my chronology Ben would have born about 110 years before this date, Adam 89, Hoss 83, and Little Joe 75.
COMMENTS, QUESTIONS, OR COMPLAINTS CAN BE DIRECTED TO MICHAEL HOWARD AT [email protected]