August 29th 1863, a fire swept through Virginia City, causing between $600,000 and $700,000 in damages. Beginning in a carpenter shop in the rear of Patrick Lynch’s saloon in the business section the fire quickly swept through the dry wooden buildings. At once it consumed the brittle board and canvas shanties.
The damage may not have been so great had the two most important fire crews in town fought a heated argument on the street near the scene of the fire, trying to settle an old feud between them. Instead of putting their differences behind them, and their energy into dowsing the flames, they took to bricks, bats, and fire nozzles to battle one another. When all was said and done there was one man dead and many more injured — but not from the fire.
However, the contours of traditional civic life swiftly developed, and in 1863 the respectable community fought a final symbolic battle with the city’s sporting men. A fire in a carpenter’s shop provoked a brawl between Engine Company No.1 and its adjunct hook and ladder company (the sports) on one side and Young America Engine Company No. 2 (the respectables) on the other. The two companies fought to determine which should put out the fire, and before they finished one man had died and a portion of Virginia City had burned. The melee was the first and only large, overt conflict between the two groups and the legal decisions in its aftermath sealed the respectable community’s dominance.
Aug 29, 1863