Alfred Doten Papers

Identifier: NC08

Scope and Contents

The papers of Alfred Doten include manuscript materials dating from 1849-1903. The most important series in the collection consists of seventy-nine volumes of diaries kept by Doten from March 18, 1849, his first day at sea on the voyage to California, until November 11, 1903, the day before he died. Doten wrote daily entries with few omissions, noting events, people and places of interest. He frequently pasted in newspaper clippings or inserted memoranda, playbills, stock certificates, letters, etc. into the diaries, making them an incomparable source of information on the California gold rush, farming and ranching in California, mining and journalism in Nevada, and the early history of both the gold and silver states of California and Nevada.

These diaries, often nearly illegible because of their faded pencil entries, are supplemented by typed transcripts prepared by Mary Ann Jaffe under the supervision of Walter Van Tilburg Clark. Clark edited the diaries which were published in 1973 in three volumes by the University of Nevada Press under the title, The Journals of Alfred Doten.

Also part of the collection are notes written by Clark as he edited the diaries for publication. These notes appear in several locations in Series 2 on reproductions of Doten's writings, as notebooks, and as correspondence. There are also transcriptions of the diaries prepared by Aubrey Drury and notes collected by him toward a book on Doten which was not completed before Drury's death.

The collection contains many other writings by Doten in the forms of manuscript stories, poems, historical sketches, and correspondence. These date from 1835-1902 and are accompanied by transcriptions (probably by Jaffe).

Two boxes of the Doten papers contain newspaper clippings, many of them articles written by Doten, beginning with Doten's "California Letters" published in the Plymouth (Mass.) Rock in 1849. There are articles by Dan De Quille; clippings about James G. Fair and family and the Pacific Coast Pioneers; and miscellaneous clippings collected by Aubrey Drury. The titles of these articles, author's name, their source, and date published are listed in this guide.

Doten invested heavily in Nevada silver mines and went bankrupt in the late 1870s when the Nevada mining industry suffered a severe depression. Series 8 contains stock certificates for many of the companies in which Doten had an interest. Other materials in this series are statements, bills, letters, and receipts dating from 1863-1881, all related to Doten's mining businesses.

As mentioned previously, there are some 297 photographs in the collection which have been transferred to the photo archives sections of the Special Collections Department. These images are all original cartes de visite and stereopticon slides (also known as stereo cards) and are of mining scenes in Nevada and California (there is a particularly nice series showing hydraulic mining in California), views of Virginia City and Gold Hill, and portraits of family, friends and acquaintances. All but a small number were identified by Doten and all have been cataloged by the Special Collections Department staff. A list of images, their identification, and their photo call numbers is included in this guide.


  • 1834-1972


Conditions Governing Access

Original diaries require special handling and consultation with staff. Advanced notice required.

Collection is open for research. Materials must be used on-site; advance notice suggested. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.

Biographical Note

Alfred (Alf) Doten was born on July 21, 1829 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. In March of 1849, at nineteen years of age, Alf sailed on the converted whaling bark Yeoman for the gold fields of California. Doten began a journal of his adventures on the first day at sea, March 18, and continued to keep a diary throughout the rest of his life.

In California Doten soon abandoned gold mining for odd jobs, farming, and ranching. Doten left California in 1863 for the Nevada silver boom of the Comstock Lode at Virginia City. His career in journalism was born there as he became a newspaper correspondent for several California and Nevada papers and then owner of the Gold Hill News. At his peak, he was one of the most influential newspaper men in the Comstock.

Doten married a widow, Mrs. Mary E. C. Stoddard in 1873; together they had two sons and two daughters, and raised Mary's daughter from her first marriage.

Unwise mining investments brought about Doten's downfall in the last two years of the 1870s and Doten lost his newspaper along with all other assets. The family moved to Austin where Doten edited the Reese River Reveille for a time but Mary's teaching job provided the real income for the family as Alf's drinking increasingly incapacitated him. Eventually they separated, Mary moving to Reno (where an elementary school at West 5th and Washington Streets was named for her), and Alf to Carson City as engrosser of bills for the state legislature and contributor to the Territorial Enterprise. But drinking once again lost him his jobs and he was forced to move to Reno where, as Walter Van Tilburg Clark states, he became "a kind of prisoner of his family, pledged to give up drinking" (The Journals of Alfred Doten, volume 3, page 1577).

Unable to keep his pledge, Doten made a final move back to Carson City for a legislative reporting assignment. There he received a monthly stipend from Mary but was forbidden to move back home. He died November 12, 1903, having made his last diary entry the day before.

Mary Doten taught in Reno and was a well known educator until her death in 1914 at age 69. Son Alfred Jr. was part owner in a Reno warehouse; he died in 1926. Son Samuel B. was director of the Agricultural Experiment Station and professor at the University of Nevada; he died in 1955. Daughter Bessie died in 1905 at age 31 and daughter Goodwill committed suicide in 1911 at age 30 after the death of her fiance.


13.542 Linear Feet (16 boxes, 297 photographs, 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials



Diaries relating to Alfred Doten's trip from Plymouth, Mass. by sea to California in 1849, his life as a placer miner and rancher in California, and as a newspaperman in Nevada; literary, biographical and historical manuscripts; a complete file of the Como Sentinel and its successor, the Lyon County Sentinel; and clippings of Doten's articles. Other papers relate to Governor C. C. Stevenson of Nevada, the construction of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad, the town of Gold Hill, Nevada, and the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight (1834-1972).


The Alfred Doten Papers are divided into the following series:

Series 1: Diaries

Series 2: Diary Transcriptions and Materials Used in Preparation of the Published Diaries

Series 3: Manuscripts and Transcriptions of Other Doten Writings

Series 4: Newspapers

Series 5: Newspaper Clippings

Series 6: Photographs

Series 7: Nevada Playbills

Series 8: Stock Certificates and Material Related to Stock Transactions

Series 9: Miscellaneous Material

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers of Alfred Doten were purchased in 1961 by the University of Nevada through funds donated by the Max C. Fleischmann Foundation and the Nevada State Legislature.

Bibliographic References

Clark, Walter Van Tilburg, ed. The journals of Alfred Doten, 1849-1903. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1973.

Processing Information

All of the photographs were previously transferred to the photo archives of the Special Collections Department as collection numbers UNRS-P0133 to UNRS-P1390; xerox copies made and placed in binders in the reading room. In December 2021, all image descriptions were updated in the finding aid and all photographs physically rehoused together. Original identifiers were maintained.

  • Duplicate transcriptions without annotation


Guide to the Alfred Doten Papers
Robert Armstrong
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Edition statement
Additional notes by Susan Searcy, July 1990

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)