VICKSBURG FACTS: Key Pittman, an icy legend

Published 8:00 am Friday, May 5, 2023

Did you know that Vicksburg is the home of Nevada Senator Key Pittman?

Key Pittman was born in Vicksburg on Setember 19, 1872 to Catherine Key Pittman and William Bucker Pittman. According to the Nevada State Journal’s Nov. 1, 1934, edition, “His mother traced her ancestry to the Marshalls of Virginia and to Francis Scott Key. His father was a descendant of the North Carolina Pittmans and the Buckners of Kentucky.”

As a child, Pittman had private tutors for his schooling and in 1890 he graduated from Southwestern Presbyterian University in Clarksville, Tenn.

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By the time Pittman was 18, it was time to start his promising career as a lawyer. According to the Nevada State Journal, his father was a well-known lawyer but died prematurely. Due to his father’s death, some family ties were broken and opportunities were limited by the South’s upset political nature. So, Pittman decided to head Northwest.

Pittman became a lawyer and was soon made partner at the practice of August M. Moore, who was a friend of his father. He was able to quickly develop his career in law and was appointed by the supreme court of Washington to the International Congress of Lawyers at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

By 1897, Pittman quit his life at the office, decided to become an adventurer, and ended up in Yukon, Canada according to the Nevada State Journal Nov. 1, 1934, edition. In January 1902, he traveled during the winter from Alaska and eventually arrived in Nevada. Once he arrived, he got involved in mining and became an attorney again.

In 1910, Pittman received the Democratic nomination for United States senator and for the first time stood for public office according to the Nevada State Journal.

On Jan. 28, 1913, Pittman won a seat in the Senate by 89 votes. He set a record in the 1913 election for winning an election with the smallest number of votes, which was only 7,942. Another reason why Pittman’s election was so noteworthy was due to the fact that he won by popular vote at a time when the Constitution still required state legislatures to elect senators. This is all according to U.S. Senate’s webpage on Key Pittman.

Many sources about Pittman speak about his colorful life and career as a politician. There was also a legend about his death. The legend was that Pittman died before his next election.

According to Nevada Public Radio, “ Nevada Democrats reasoned that re-electing him could be very difficult if the public knew he was dead. So, they, yes, put him on ice in a hotel room — in Reno, or possibly in Tonopah, the mining town where he had once lived.”

Once he was re-elected, the Nevada Democrats announced that he was dead. 

However, archivist Guy Rocha wanted to know the truth about Pittman’s death and did some investigating. Rocha eventually interview Pittman’s doctor and he was able to confirm that “Pittman had a heart attack, regained consciousness, but had no hope of surviving. He did indeed die on Nov. 10,” according to Nevada Public Radio.