Of all the active mining claims in Nevada, only a few thousand are patented claims, claims whose title is held by the claim owner not the Federal government.
Unpatented claims, upon which the claimant has only the right to explore for and to mine certain minerals, on the other hand, number in the hundreds of thousands. Unpatented claims are staked, dropped, and restaked; names are usually changed with restaking and there is a huge turnover in staked ground each year. In the era when the now-patented claims were originally staked, most claims were staked by individuals who carefully chose the ground to be claimed and, in many cases, intended to mine the ground themselves. The names that they gave to their holdings had special meaning to them. Modern claim names, in contrast, are commonly selected by a company agent more interested in brevity than anything else.
What did early-day miners use for claim names? Did the old names reflect news and current events? if so, lots of Civil War names would have been used in those districts active in the 1860's, Teddy Roosevelt and San Juan Hill would be reflected in turn of the century claim activity, etc. There are a few Union claims, some Richmond claims here and there, one Big Stick claim that commemorates TR's sword rattling, and a couple of Women's Rights claims. In general, however, the claim-name selection process appears to have been more or less random and, in a lot of cases, unimaginative. Names like Hilltop, Valley View, and Cliff borrow from topography; Red Ledge and others like it reflect the colorful outcrops that caught the prospector's eye; and Sandstorm recalls the weather on the discovery day.
Women's names comprise one of the largest claim name groups with a common link. The names must recall mothers, girlfriends, wives, popular actresses, and probably other ladies of the prospector's acquaintance. Names like Jennie, Emma, and Caroline hint at home and less lonesome times; Lily Langtry, an actress, appears in at least two mining districts; Big Nell, and Little Maud somehow bring to mind a different class of lady. In a sampling of the largest districts, women's names ranged from 3 percent to 15 percent of the total and averaged about 7 percent of the total claim names.
Home, wherever it might have been, provided another source of claim names. There are Virginia and Richmond claims that may honor both home and ties to the south of a Civil War veteran. State names were most common but a few city names, such as Cleveland and Chicago, appear in several districts.
Metals that the prospectors hoped to find their way into many of claim names. Gold and Silver, of course, add up to the largest group. The words gold or silver are found somewhere in the name of 289 patented claims (199 with gold, 90 with silver). It seems strange that in the Silver State, over twice as many prospectors used gold in their claim name as silver. This either reflected the silver miners adage that "it takes a gold mine to make a silver mine", or the old timers foresaw Nevada's present role as the number one gold-producing state in the U.S.
Following gold and silver, copper is the next most common metal to appear in claim names. There are many small copper districts within Nevada and a Copper King and a Copper Queen can usually be found in each of them. The three major copper districts, however, show definite relationships of time of first activity in the district to the number of copper claims. The Battle Mountain district in Lander County and the Robinson district in White Pine County, first active in the 1860s, were originally precious metals districts. Only eight claim names (out of 255) with copper included are found at Battle Mountain and Robinson has a mere five claims (out of about 700) that have copper as part of their names. The Mason or Yerington district in Lyon County, however, has always been known as a copper district and its main claim-staking activity dates from about 1912. Out of about 300 claims in this district, 26 have copper as part of their name. In other mining districts around the state there are a few claims with either tungsten, iron, lead, antimony, or manganese in their name but no other metal names are used as frequently as are gold, silver, or copper.
The name Great Eastern is found on claims in 16 separate mining districts across the state and this might be the record for the use of one name. Great Eastern was the name of the Great Iron Ship, launched in London, England in 1858, that laid the first trans-Atlantic cable between Europe and the United States. The Great Eastern was the largest iron ship of its day and it was the first ship ever to exceed the biblical Arc in size. With twice the passenger capacity of the much-later Queen Mary, the Great Eastern was a sensation with both the English and American public of this era. Great Eastern claims were located beginning in 1868 through 1906 and are found in ten counties within Nevada. Whether for its size, the largest ship then afloat, or for its cable-laying feats, this ship obviously captured the attention of the Nevada miner.
The record for most common name in any one district lies with Comstock. In the Gold Hill-Virginia City district of Storey County, 31 begin their names with Comstock. The Comstock Lode was a proven silver-gold bonanza and to name a claim the Comstock Anything was probably seen as a sure way to success through association.
Beyond the somewhat obvious groups of names described, there doesn't seem to be much common thread between most other claim names. There are, however, many names that stand out for their uniqueness or that are just plain odd. Other names raise questions that could probably have been answered only by the person who created them.
In the Bullfrog district of Nye County, for example, we find a group of claims with the names of Lily Langtry, Julia Marlowe, Mary Mannering, Cissy Loftus, Edna Edwards, Vesta Tillery, and Maude Adams. Lily Langtry (the Jersey Lily) and Julia Marlowe were popular actresses of the late 1800s who played some of the larger mining camps but who were the others? Another group of claims in the same district includes the names Penn Mutual, Prudential, Banker's Life, and Mutual, all names of major insurance companies. One miner apparently frequented the music halls and another, of a more conservative nature, bought insurance.
A group of three claims in the Goldfield district -- One Little Girl in Blue, Two Little Girls in Blue, and Two Little Girls in Blue Extension -- must have an interesting history. Another name in the Goldfield district, Partners in Crime, hints at a background we might just as soon not know. Seven claims in the Diamondfield part of the Goldfield district contain diamond as part of their name; one of these is Diamond Joe, an adjacent claim is descriptively called South One Thousand Feet of Diamond Joe. Another miner, in the main Goldfield district, liked roses; we have Rose, Desert Rose, Pink Rose, Primrose, Rose of Tralee, White Rose, Yellow Rose, and Violet thrown in for variety.
In the El Dorado district of Clark County, the Genghis Khan claim is found alongside the Golden Horde claim. The Argo, Argonaut, Jason, and Golden Fleece claims are found together in the Mountain View district of Mineral County.
Two elegant Latin phrases were popular in several districts; Ne Plus Ultra was used on four separate claims in Humboldt, Mineral, and White Pine Counties; Nil Desperandum (or Desperadum) appears on claims in both Mineral and Eureka Counties. These terms translate as The Best (or The Ultimate) and Never Despair. An explanation is in order for names used on two other claims in the Eureka district in Eureka County; we may, however, not want to know what the locator meant by Honeymoon Amended and Marriage Amended.
---Joe Tingley, Economic Geologist