Alfred Doten

Born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Alfred Doten (1829-1903) sailed to California in 1849 to make his fortune in placer gold mining. Unsuccessful, he moved to Nevada in 1863 to participate in the silver boom but gravitated instead to journalism. He worked as a reporter on the Nevada newspapers: the Como Sentinel, the Virginia Daily Union, the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, and ultimately the Gold Hill Daily News. In 1872, he purchased the News and under his editorship made it one of the most important papers on the Comstock Lode.

Doten was a highly competent and respected all-around journalist. He wrote news stories, editorials, and theater reviews. In his early career, he wrote several short stories but became more interested in history. He had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of early Nevada journalism, and wrote several essays on the subject, which are now standard sources. Despite the talents of his peak years, Doten's life ended tragically. He became a drunkard, went into debt, lost ownership of the News, became estranged from his wife and children, and died poor and alone in a rented room.

Doten's claim to fame, however, does not rest on his journalistic writings but on a private diary he began keeping when he boarded the ship to California and continued until, literally, the last day of his life. Upon his death, it passed in manuscript form from one family attic to another until the University of Nevada acquired it in 1961, had it edited by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, and published it for the first time in three volumes in 1973. It instantly became an invaluable and indispensable record of the Comstock. It covered on a daily basis not only the intimacies of his personal life, but also the mundane activities of the Comstock and its eminent personalities.

No detail was too trivial, no scandal too politically dangerous to be recorded. Like the diary of England's Samuel Pepys, with whom he can be fairly compared, Doten's almost compulsive journalings add up to a remarkable portrait of himself and a candid and classic portrait, full of color, of his time and place.

Article Locations

Further Reading

None at this time.