Saturday, January 11, 2020
During the 1930s, the famed Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), a Depression-era government work program embarked on a staggering number of public works projects in the state of Nevada. One of the more impressive was Wild Horse Dam in northern Elko County.
The dam was built in 1937 and behind its concrete walls formed Wild Horse Reservoir, a massive pond of water that covered what was once known as Owyhee Meadows. The name, Wild Horse, derived from the large number of wild horses that roamed the area at the time.
Beginning in 1869, Owyhee Meadows was a stop on the Elko-Idaho Toll Road, according to Nevada historian Shawn Hall.
As an aside, the CCC reportedly completed some 59 projects across the state of Nevada, which was the largest recipient of CCC assistance. According to historians, the CCC employed nearly 31,000 men during the 1930s in Nevada, largely benefiting from having so much land owned by the federal government (some 85 percent) and as a result of having two long-serving, influential U.S. Senators (Key Pittman and Patrick McCarran) at the time.
Wild Horse Dam stands 87-feet high and has a width of 458 feet. The reservoir is fed by the Owyhee River, a tributary of the Snake River that flows through northern Nevada, southwestern Idaho, and southeastern Oregon. The river stretches some 280 miles from north of Elko to the Snake River at a point near Nyssa, Oregon.
The water stored behind the dam, which was reconstructed and enlarged in 1969, is used for agriculture on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation (the dam was built under the auspices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs). When completely filled, the water surface area of Wild Horse is 2,830 acres and contains some 73,500 acre-feet of water.
In addition to its irrigation uses, Wild Horse, which is open throughout the year, is a state recreation area that serves as a popular fishing site (rainbow and German brown trout, small mouth bass, yellow perch, and catfish can be found).
In the winter, Wild Horse is one of the coldest spots in the state, which makes it ideal for ice-fishing and ice-skating.
About 32 miles north of the reservoir is the community of Owyhee, heart of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation. The name, Owyhee, was bestowed on the area in 1819 by three Hawaiian trappers working for the Hudson Bay Company. Originally intended to be the phonetic spelling of “Hawaii,” the pronunciation was corrupted by later white settlers.
The Duck Valley Reservation is home to both Shoshone and Northern Paiute people, who were relocated there in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In 1863, the Shoshone or Newe people signed the Ruby Valley Treaty of Peace and Friendship, but the federal government did very little to live up to the terms of the agreement.
The tribe, however, persisted, attempting to establish Duck Valley as their new home. In 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes finally signed an order guaranteeing the land to the tribe but promises to provide needed goods and other assistance were unfilled (and diverted) due to corrupt Indian agents.
The situation slightly improved in the early 1880s, when a new agent arrived, and the town of Owyhee became more established. A school was built in 1881 and later in the decade Northern Paiutes were added to the reservation. A post office opened in Owyhee in 1899 and telephone service began in 1904.
Disputes with local ranchers over water rights became an ongoing issue during the next decades, with the situation only resolved when the Wild Horse Reservoir was built in 1937.
Today, Owyhee is a largely agricultural community with a population of about 1,000 people.
The Wild Horse State Recreation Area offers a campground with 34 sites that each include a table, shade, fire pit and a camping pad. While there are no hook-ups, the campground has restrooms and showers year-round and there are centrally-located water faucets and a dump station in the summer.
Those looking to spend a day at the reservoir will find a picnic area with tables and grills as well as a boat ramp next to the day use beach.
For more information go to: http://parks.nv/gov/parks/wild-horse.
Monday, January 06, 2020
“Expect to find the worst desert you ever saw and then find it worse than you expected.”—John Wood, 1850 Diary
From the late 1840s to the late 1860s, travelers on the Emigrant Trail through Nevada, also known as the Central Overland Trail, endured a months-long journey through often inhospitable terrain in their quest to reach California.
By all accounts, the worst part of the trip was the stretch of barren, alkali wasteland located west of today’s community of Lovelock, which was known as the Forty Mile Desert.
The seemingly endless desert trek began just past the Humboldt Sink, where the Humboldt River flowed into a dry lakebed. At this point emigrants had two choices; continue west across the desert to reach the Truckee River or head southwest, across the desert until they encountered the Carson River (around the location of the area that is now known as Ragtown).
Regardless of the route, in between were forty miles of salt flats with little grass—and very little water.
In dozens of accounts of the time, travelers wrote extensively of the challenges. They wrote of blistering heat during the day, animals—and people—dying of thirst, and of often having to discard nearly every possession along the way.
To minimize the difficulties, most waited until early evening to depart and continued through the night in order to avoid the daytime heat. And, because the trip took several days, they would attempt to rest and sleep during the heat of the day.
Compounding the situation was the fact that most travelers had to wait until late spring and early summer to begin their trek from Missouri to California to take advantage of warmer and better traveling weather, so they typically arrived at the desert in August or September.
Additionally, they had just completed more than 300 miles of following the winding Humboldt River across Nevada, which offered poor water and, as the wagon trains increased, fewer places with good grasslands for animals.
By the time that most of the travelers and their surviving animals reached the desert, both were stressed out and in poor physical condition.
In his diary, emigrant John Wood captured the mood of many travelers when he wrote: “All are preparing and dreading to cross, by the worst desert we have met yet. They, perhaps, would not mind it, and neither would I, if we had plenty to eat; but here are hundreds already lamenting their anticipated death, and suffering on the burning plain.”
Even famed writer Mark Twain, who crossed the desert in 1861 via stagecoach, noted: “It was a dreary pull and a long and thirsty one, for we had no water. From one extremity of this desert to the other, the road was white with the bones of oxen and horses. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that we could have walked the forty miles and set our feet on a bone at every step!”
According to an historical marker located at the edge of the Forty Mile Desert (at the Interstate 80 Rest Area at its intersection with U.S.Highway 95), a survey in 1850 indicated that even that early in its usage the routes had resulted in 1,061 dead mules, almost 5,000 horses, 3,750 cattle, and 953 graves.
One of the best ways to view the Forty Mile Desert is by traveling on U.S. 95, after it branches south from Interstate 80 (about 17 miles west of Lovelock). Directly to the west of the highway are the sandy, alkali flats that once challenged so many travelers.
If you pull off on one of the handful of dirt roads that lead into the desert and park, you can (once the road traffic disperses) hear the whistling wind across the flats and imagine what it must have been like to have to trudge across this forsaken landscape, dreaming of a better life at the end of your journey.
A good place to learn more about the Forty Mile Desert is the Churchill County Museum and Archives (http://ccmuseum.org/) in Fallon, which has a nice display of artifacts that have been found in the desert.
Additionally, a good book with information about the desert is Harold Curran’s “Fearful Crossing,” available at many local bookstores or online.
Sunday, December 15, 2019
Just about everything you could ever want to know about Susanville, California, and Lassen County, can be found in the Lassen Historical Museum in Susanville.
Interestingly, you’ll also learn about the remarkable connections that Susanville has to early Nevada.
The museum is located at 115 North Weatherlow Street, about one block north of Main Street. Susanville itself is located 86 miles northwest of Reno via U.S. 395.
Susanville traces its name and its roots to one man, Isaac Roop. In June 1854, Roop erected a one-story log house from which he sold goods to emigrants traveling through the area on the Nobles Emigrant Trail, which had been established a few years earlier.
Known as the Roop House or Roop’s Fort (as well as Fort Defiance), the crude building sold staples as well as tobacco and whiskey. In 1856, the structure was the site of the signing of a document forming the State of Nataqua (allegedly a Native American word for “woman” or “wife”), with frontiersman Peter Lassen named President and Roop as secretary.
Apparently, that portion of what today is Lassen County and Washoe County (in California and Nevada) was not clearly defined when the boundary between California and the Utah Territory (of which Nevada was then part of) was drawn so residents believed they could create their own territory or state to avoid being taxed by either.
In 1859, the short-lived Nataqua territory became of the effort to create a Nevada Territory and Roop was named the first Provisional Territorial Governor of Nevada (with all believing the Susanville area and Honey Lake were in what was designated as Roop County, Nevada Territory).
This confusion regarding where the boundary between California and the new Nevada Territory persisted until February 1863, when Plumas County, California officials decided to resolve the matter by issuing warrants for the arrest of Roop and other local citizens.
Known as the Sagebrush War, the conflict—which only lasted a day and a half—began when the Plumas County Sheriff and 40 men arrived in Susanville to enforce the county’s authority over the region. After a day of unsuccessful negotiation, apparently the two sides began shooting at each other.
The skirmish continued for about four hours with the Susanville/Honey Lake continguent holed up in Roop’s House while the Plumas County group clustered in a barn that was about 500-feet away. During the back-and-forth volleys, either two or three participants were injured but there were no casualties.
Finally, a truce was called and the warring parties (if you call them that) agreed to cease hostilities and let the governments of California and the Nevada Territory resolve the matter. A year later, a survey showed the area was indeed inside California’s borders and in response the California legislature established Lassen County, with Susanville named the county seat.
Despite not being able to serve as Nevada’s provisional governor, Roop played an important role in the community. Generally considered the town’s founder, the name, Susanville, is derived from Roop’s daughter’s name. The settlement was originally named Rooptown but was changed by Roop to Susanville in 1857.
As for Roop’s background, he was born in Maryland in 1822 and headed to Shasta County, California in 1850, after his wife died. After establishing a successful farming and trading business, he lost nearly everything in a fire. In 1853, he moved to the Honey Lake area to rebuild his fortune with a trading post.
He served as District Attorney of Lassen County from 1864 until his death in 1869.
The Lassen Historical Museum, which encompasses the original Roop’s Fort, offers a number of displays that spotlight regional history. In addition to arrowhead collections and Native American art, it features diplays of antique weapons, equipment, furniture, and bottles, as well as an extensive historic photograph collection.
A visit to the fort is worthwhile just to get a sense of the rough and challenging conditions under which the community’s founder once lived and worked.
For more information, go to: www.cityofsusanville.net/departments/administration/community-development/parks-and-rec/museum/.
The museum is open year-round, call for hours at 530-257-3292.
Wednesday, December 11, 2019
“Mountain City is not a town or city or anything else. Mountain City is copper and a little silver and less gold. Mountain City is a state of flux and impermanence.” —Gregory Martin. Mountain City, 2000
It’s fortunate that writers like Gregory Martin and Helen Oster and Shawn Hall and Stanley Paher have written portions of the story of Mountain City, located about 85 miles north of Elko and 16 miles from the Idaho border, because the community is slowly but surely fading away.
Founded in 1869, Mountain City was originally known as Cope after gold was discovered near what became the townsite by a miner named Jesse Cope. A mining district formed in May of that year and within a month some 300 people had settled in the area,
In July—things happened quickly—Cope was renamed Mountain City and by the end of the summer the settlement boasted more than 700 people. Historical accounts say that the town had nine stores, two rooming houses, two bakeries, two breweries, four blacksmith shops, two livery stables, two drugstores, an assay office, a bank, a post office, one first-class hotel, a brothel and an astounding 20 saloons. A year later, it had grown to encompass more than 200 buildings and had a population of nearly 1,000. A school opened in July 1871.
But like so many other mining towns, the ore began to be played out. By early 1872, the population started to decline as miners moved on to more promising areas. By 1875, Mountain City had only 77 residents and by 1882 the population was down to 20.
As mining declined, ranching became more prominent and several large outfits started in the area.
The area continued to experience ebbs and flows over the next decades including short-lived booms from 1877-1880 and again from 1904 to 1908.
Mountain City’s fortunes perked up in the early 1930s after the discovery of large copper deposits in nearby Rio Tinto (about four miles southeast). Many of the buildings still standing in the town today date from this period, when Mountain City became the major supply point for those working the Rio Tinto mines.
But like earlier booms, Rio Tinto began to decline in the late 1940s and Mountain City did too. The town saw a brief flurry of new mining interest—this time, uranium—in the mid-1950s but that fizzled within a few years when the ore deposits proved to be smaller than originally thought.
Since then, the community has had a permanent of between 75-80, many of whom work on area ranches, a handful of local businesses and government offices (the US Forest Service has an office there).
Sadly, one of the town’s longest lasting businesses, Tremewan’s Store, which was the subject of Gregory Martin’s book (his family operated it for more than 40 years), closed in 2002. Other businesses, like the Miner’s Club, still stand but have long been closed and abandoned.
One place that has survived is the Mountain City Motel, Bar and Steakhouse, a popular local hangout that offers good food in a friendly atmosphere. It is located at 525 Davidson Street (Highway 225 is called Davidson Street in Mountain City limits), 775-763-6622,
A great source of historical information about Mountain City is Shawn Hall’s book, “Old Heart of Nevada: Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of Elko County,” published by the University of Nevada Press and available from Amazon.