George Stimpson

His life and works

Home > Information Roundup > What does bonanza mean?
What does bonanza mean?

Bonanza (pronounced boe-NANN-za) is now synonymous in the United States with a rich mine, a successful enterprise, a profitable undertaking, sudden prosperity or good luck. It is a Spanish word meaning "fair weather," particularly calm weather at sea. The ultimate source of the term is Latin bonus, "good." "To wish one bonanza" in Spain originally was equivalent to "Godspeed," "bon voyage," "prosperity," "success," "a good trip." Bonanza, a port near [page 12] Sanlúcar on the Guadalquivir Estuary in southwestern Spain, was so named because of its good anchorage and security from the boisterous winds and storms of the ocean. In colonial times a chapel at Bonanza was dedicated by the South American Company at Seville to Virgen de la Bonanza, "the Virgin of Fair Weather." Bonanza, like El Dorado and eureka, naturally lent itself to application to the new-found. mineral treasures of the New World. A famous silver mine near Saltillo in Mexico was called Bonanza by the Spanish as early as 1554. The term in the sense of a rich deposit of ore was carried into the western United States from the border country before the Mexican War. It became customary to say of a prospector, when he discovered. an exceptionally large and rich deposit of gold or silver, that he had "struck a bonanza." The term was given national circulation after the discovery and development of the Comstock lode in Nevada. This lode, fabulously rich in ore containing both silver and gold, was named after Henry Tompkins Paige Comstock (1820-1870), who was born of United States parentage in Trenton, Ontario. After serving in the Black Hawk and Mexican wars and trapping in the Rocky Mountains for the American Fur Company, Comstock went to Utah Territory in 1856 and laid claim, by right of discovery and previous location, to the land under which the richest silver and gold lode in existence was later found. Not suspecting the presence of the mineral wealth under his land, Comstock sold it for a trifling sum and spent the rest of his life prospecting farther north. The Comstock lode was discovered and opened in 1859. From that year to 1902 it produced 350 million dollars worth of silver and gold. During the development of the Comstock lode, around which Virginia City grew up as a mushroom mining center, some ten "bonanzas" were found. The most famous of these, the Big Bonanza, was discovered in 1876. Between 1862 and 1868 the average yield of the Comstock lode was eleven million dollars; in 1877, the peak year and the year after the discovery of Big Bonanza, it yielded more than thirty-six million dollars. San Francisco capitalists operated these famous mines under the name of Consolidated Virginia, with headquarters at Virginia City, and the remarkable output became the basis of a notorious stock speculation fever that swept the whole country. Shares in the company, that originally represented many dollars per square foot in the mines, continued to rise in price for several years notwithstanding the fact that they were multiplied in number until they represented in terms of mining land little more than the thickness of the paper they were printed on. After the inevitable collapse of the stock scheme, bonanza, [page 13] which had become associated in the public mind with the Comstock lode acquired the connotation of short-lived as well as sudden riches. because of its mineral wealth, Montana used to be nicknamed the Bonanza State. Bonanza survives in the names of towns, mountains, streams and other places and objects in the western United States and Canada.