In the 1860s, Virginia City, Montana, was at the hard, frayed fringes of American civilization.
The first capital of Montana Territory, it was the birthplace of the Vigilantes, self-appointed police who became the law by taking it into their own hands. It was the site of public hangings and rough trade conducted in the open. And in 1865 it was the venue for one of the longest fist-fights ever recorded, when a slim blacksmith fought a barrel-chested heavyweight for 185 rounds.
But none of this is any cause to mess up your mustache.
Archaeology students from Montana State University conducting field work in Virginia City have unearthed artifacts from these storied days that would be the envy of any Hollywood prop master.
One student has discovered a Victorian mustache cup, a coffee cup equipped with a ceramic rim to keep a gentleman’s neatly waxed mustache from melting.
Another archaeologist in training uncovered so-called cheater’s cufflinks, equipped with a clip that ran up the sleeve to hold a spare playing card or two.
A bottle of snake oil, some boot leather, and toy guns are also among the artifacts.
MSU anthropology professor Nancy Mahoney invited some of her students to take part in this contract excavation, around a stone building foundation in an empty lot just off the town’s Main Street, to give her students experience in field archaeology techniques.
“We’re finding thousands and thousands of artifacts,” she told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
Virginia City is still a working, inhabited town, although most of it is owned by the state’s heritage commission.
Beneath the stone walls and the detritus of frontier life, the students also found the remains of wood structures that may be evidence of some of the earliest buildings constructed in Montana’s first capital.
The MSU team will spend the fall studying and recording their finds to help round out the story of this archetypal Old West town.