When people think of Nevada they typically only think of Las Vegas and Reno, completely ignoring all towns in between: including the town of Goldfield.
In 1902 gold was discovered 25 miles south of Tonopah and Goldfield was born. In just a few years Goldfield became the largest city in Nevada due to millions of dollars of ore being extracted from the mines. Railroads were built that connected Goldfield to all the major cities in Nevada. Goldfield was filled with fancy restaurants, hotels, athletic clubs, casinos, a red light district and many other businesses of the day. By 1907 it was the leading political and economic power of the state.
Goldfield was home to many interesting individuals including Virgil Earp, brother to famous gambler Wyatt Earp who also spent time in Goldfield. Virgil was the Sheriff of Goldfield until he died of pneumonia in 1905.
The longest boxing match in history took place in Goldfield. In 1906 Joe Gans and Batteling Nelson went 42 rounds in 100-degree desert heat for the lightweight title. The purse for the fight was $33,000. It was the largest amount of money offered at the time for a lightweight title. Both men were giving and receiving a profuse amount heavy blows throughout the match. Old footage of the fight shows Nelson bleeding from the ears at the end of the second round. As fight progressed Gans knocked Nelson down three times but Nelson was resilient. It wasn’t until the 42 round that Nelson delivered a low blow and was disqualified.
In 1913 a major flood wiped out many homes and businesses and destroyed railroad lines but the town remained. In 1923 a devastating fire wiped out all of Main Street. It is believed that liquor still in one of the resident’s homes had exploded. A shoemaker, David McArthur died of a heart attack while watching his store burn to the ground. After the fire, Goldfield would never resemble the town it once was. Another fire the following year destroyed Goldfield’s news building and the Montezuma social club. Goldfield high school and The Goldfield hotel are two of the few buildings that survived the disasters.
The ghost of prostitute named Elisabeth haunts the walls of the hotel. In 1908 richest man in Nevada, George Wingfield, bought the hotel shortly after it was built. Wingfield was a powerful banker and miner of Goldfield. He would frequently visit Elizabeth and she became pregnant with his child. Wingfield paid her to stay away in fear that his reputation would be ruined. When her pregnancy could not longer be hidden, Wingfield lured Elizabeth into room 109 of the Goldfield hotel where he chained her to the radiator and supplied her with food and water until she gave birth. Once the baby was born Wingfeld murdered Elizabeth and threw the child down a mineshaft.
One of few businesses still operating in Goldfield is the Santa Fe Saloon, which was built in 1905 making it the oldest bar in Nevada. The oak bar is in its original state. The walls of the bar tell the story of Goldfield and the history of Nevada. The Santa Fe Saloon keeps Goldfield and its stories alive.
From the outside Goldfield looks like a ghost town but it is full of history and characters. When walking down Main Street you can imagine what it looked like when in its hay day, a bustling boom-town that commanded so much attention. You can imagine Wyatt Earp gambling in the Sante Fe. You can imagine Gans and Nelson’s exhaustion after 42 rounds under the desert sun and you can imagine Elizabeth meeting Mr. Wingfield in the hotel lobby of the Goldfield. So next time you drive through an old ghost town, don’t underestimate its historical significance because every shanty has a story.