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William Wright (Dan DeQuille)


   In the masthead of a memorial copy of the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise there are the portraits of two men. One is Mark Twain and the other is Dan DeQuille. The Enterprise was Nevada Territory's first newspaper, established in 1858.
   Dan Dequille is the pen name of William Wright, who was born on a farm north of Fredericktown in 1829. When Will was 18 the entire family moved to Iowa. A few years later William married and began raising a family. But this was mid-nineteenth century and the stories of gold and adventure farther west were too much to ignore. In 1857 he left his wife and three children and, with his brother Hank, went to the gold fields of California to seek his fortune.

   For several years he wandered through the West. He had little luck in prospecting, but he discovered enjoyment and some success in writing about his experiences and observations. He became a popular free-lance writer for western newspapers and magazines, using the pen name, Dan DeQuille. In 1862 he joined the staff of the Territorial Enterprise in tumultuous, gaudy Virginia City, Nevada Territory. Dan was hired as a roving reporter. He developed a unique style of "tongue-in-cheek" reporting. Readers soon discovered that his facts were often embellished; indeed, they were sometimes invented. The interesting thing was that he became all the more popular because of this. Sometimes it was so difficult to tell fact from fiction that other newspapers or magazines were gulled into copying one of these especially amazing "news" items. An example of this was the report of a man being found frozen to death on the desert, wearing a "solar vest" that he had invented to protect the wearer from the heat of the sun. Sadly, it had been too successful. Follow-up news items provided more detail. (Incidentally, the man was found to have been from Knox County, Ohio.) The Scientific American, July 1874, carried a note regarding this invention.

   About the time that Dan DeQuille went to work for the Enterprise, another young man came wandering through the west. Arriving in Virginia City, he applied for work at the Enterprise and was employed as assistant to Dan. This young man was Samuel Clemens. The two young reporters became fast friends. They roomed together and worked together. Clemens soon began to write as Mark Twain. The association of Dan DeQuille with Mark Twain was a happy one. Some historians and critics credit DeQuille with influencing Twain in his style of writing. However, Mark Twain was more aggressive in making a name as a writer and soon became well known on his own. Dan, on the other hand, was happy to write for his newspaper and other publications. Although Mark Twain stayed in Nevada only a few years, he and Dan DeQuille remained friends for life.

   At the encouragement of Mark Twain, Dan wrote his major book, The History of the Big Bonanza (1876). Twain wrote an "Introductory" to the book, published in 1876. Dan wrote a preface of two lines, in which he said "I have put all I had to say into the body of this book; but, being informed that a preface is necessary, I have written this one." This book is now considered classic Western Americana. In recent years DeQuille's writings have been gathered from various sources, edited, and published in collected volumes. Although many of these writings are of a humorous sort, some of them are of a serious nature, revealing his extensive understanding of religion and philosophy. But even in these more scholarly or historical works, Dan often could not resist the insertion of whimsy or fantasy.

   There is some uncertainty about Dan's status and relationship with his family. It is known that he kept in contact with them and provided financial support. His wife and daughter came to Nevada to care for Dan during a period of illness. In the end William Wright returned to Iowa, where he died in 1898.


(A chronological listing of DeQuille's books,
including those that have been edited and published since his death.)


History of the Big Bonanza. 1876. (Republished 1947. 1969, 1983)

The Wonders of Nevada. 1878. (1966)

A History of the Comstock Silver Lode and Mines. 1889. (1973,1974)

The Local Editor, His Duties and Delights. 1953

Snowshoe Thompson. 1954.

Washoe Rambles. 1963.

Dan DeQuille of the Big Bonanza. 1980. (Ed. by James J. Rawls)

Silver Walled Palace.1981. (Ed. by Dave Basso Sparks)
     Reprints from Golden Era magazine, 1864.

Little Lucy's Papa: A Story of Silverland. 1987. Reprints from Golden Era, 1864.

Dives and Lazarus, Their Wanderings and Adventures in the Infernal Regions. 1988.
     (Ed./Lawrence I. Berkove)

Dan DeQuille the Washoe Giant. 1990.
     (Ed./ Richard A. Dwyer and Richard E. Lingenfelter)

The Fighting Horse of the Stanislaus. 1990. (Ed./ Lawrence I. Berkove)

Knox County Historical Society

875 Harcourt Road
Mount Vernon, OH 43050

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