Spanish Speaking Settlers: Nineteenth-Century

The first speakers of Spanish in the western Great Basin came from Mexico and California as well as South and Central America. Like others, they exploited the early Comstock and its vast economic opportunities. In 1860, before the creation of Nevada Territory, the federal census documented a Spanish-speaking population in the area. It possessed two characteristics worthy of comment.

Although men dominated Virginia City, founded in 1859, fourteen percent of the Hispanics living there were women. This figure was almost five times larger than the percentage of women from other groups. Spanish-speaking settlers and their children were the first to establish a substantial family-based society in the region.

In addition, Spanish-speaking pioneers were crucial to the early economic development of the region. Both men and women pursued diverse trades and businesses. The Maldonado brothers, for example, owned Virginia City's profitable Mexican Mine, employing hundreds of people including many Spanish speakers. The brothers built a three-story brick mansion, one of the largest homes in Nevada Territory.

By 1863, the Maldonados sold the Mexican Mine and left Virginia City. The Spanish speaking population failed to grow with the rest of the community. Eventually, Chilean Americans became more numerous, and Spanish speakers pursued fewer occupations.

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