“D. L. Bliss was one those critical players who made the success of the Comstock possible. Jack Harpster describes the three indispensable industries - mining, milling, and lumbering - that depended on one another in a symbiotic relationship. Indeed, that was the case. Many types of supplies were needed for mining and to feed and clothe a community, but wood was at the heart of the mines.”

Ronald M. James, author of
The Roar and the Silence: A History of
Virginia City and the Comstock Lode

Lumber Baron of the Comstock Lode:
The Life and Times of
Duane L. Bliss

Published 2015
by American History Press,
Staunton, Virginia

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Lumber Baron of the Comstock Lode: The Life and Times of Duane L. Bliss is the biography of an extraordinary, yet little known man who helped shape the Pacific West. Bliss’s dual career as a successful entrepreneur in both the lumbering and tourism industries in the latter half of the 19th century and the opening years of the 20th century allows the reader to follow the arc of the nation’s mindset from Western expansion-at-any-cost to the dawning of conservation consciousness.

After a decade in California unsuccessfully panning for gold as a 49er and clerking in a mercantile, Massachusetts-born Bliss cut his business teeth as a trusted lieutenant of William Ralston and William Sharon. These two men forged the Bank of California’s notorious “Bank Ring” that tightly controlled the fabulous flow of silver and gold from the Comstock Lode in the 1860s. By the early 1870s Bliss was on his own, with the Bank Ring’s blessing, building the largest lumbering operation in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The company supplied the vital timbers needed to shore up the Comstock’s underground mines; the lumber to build Virginia City and other burgeoning towns on Sun Mountain in Nevada; and the firewood to warm the homes and fuel all the steam-driven machinery that was necessary for underground mining.

Carson City Lumber Yard, 1866.
The vital role played by lumbering-and specifically by Bliss’s lumbering firm-during the Comstock era is largely an untold story. Yet the full historical significance of the Comstock era cannot be fully understood until this critical piece of the puzzle is added. It is estimated that two-thirds of the Lake Tahoe Basin was stripped of its trees during the four decade period beginning in 1860, accounting for between 400 and 500 million board feet of lumber. While the mines of the Comstock produced about $400 million in wealth, lumber to support the mining effort produced $90 million, a remarkable statistic. Despite that, both modern and contemporary accounts of the Comstock era either ignore the lumbering aspect altogether, or give it scant attention at best.

One of the themes in the book is the decimation of the Tahoe forest and the shifting concern for conservation of the forests by Duane Bliss and others during this process.

At the end of the Comstock era, Bliss entered the next phase of his career: turning Lake Tahoe into a national and even international summer tourist destination. He built a railroad to bring the tourists in, the grand Tahoe Tavern resort to house them, and a fleet of lake

Tahoe Tavern
steamers to entertain them. With his encouragement, two of his sons built the rustic Glenbrook Inn & Ranch to accommodate families of more modest means. Both of Bliss’s enterprises were built using a business management principle called “vertical integration.” The development of this principle, still important today, is credited to steel baron Andrew Carnegie in the 1870s. However, the book posits the argument that vertical integration was actually developed on the Comstock in the 1860s, which is another of the book’s major themes.

It is impossible the fully understand the Comstock era and its importance to the growth of the Pacific West without reading this book.