Monday, March 19, 2007
Central Nevada's Shoe Tree
There’s a big cottonwood on U.S. 50 near Middlegate in the center of Nevada that is filled with shoes. It’s known as the Old Shoe Tree—and there are almost as many versions of the story about how it came to be as there are shoes hanging from it.
According to Rus Stevenson, who operates the nearby Middlegate Station Bar, located about 110 miles east of Reno, the tale of the Old Shoe Tree dates to the early 1990s. A young couple had been married in Colorado and was heading toward California.
As they drove across Nevada, they began to argue. Finally, the husband pulled over the side of the road, under the big cottonwood, and left his new bride there to cool off while he drove to the Middlegate Station for a beer.
After tossing back a brew, he returned to the tree and found his wife still hopping mad. In response, he grabbed a pair of her shoes and tossed them into the tree, then headed back to the bar for another beer.
After another half-hour or so, he returned to his wife. This time, they managed to patch-up their differences. Unfortunately, he found he couldn’t get her shoes out the tree and they drove off, leaving the footwear hanging from a branch.
Over time, others saw the shoes in the tree and began tossing old pairs into its branches. And thus, the legend of the Old Shoe Tree was born.
But there are other versions of the story—in fact, Fallon poet Kirk Robertson, who edits "neon," the Nevada Arts Council’s newspaper, recently asked people to send him their versions of what he called the tree’s “creation myth.”
According to another version, the event occurred a few years earlier, the couple was married in Reno, and driving home to Eastern Oregon.
After a fight, during which the wife threatened to walk back to Oregon, the husband threw her shoes into the tree and headed to the Middlegate bar. In this version, he returned to her only once and reconciled. However, she insisted he also toss a pair of his shoes into the tree.
Then, the apparently bare-footed couple headed home. Other folks came along, spotted the two sets of shoes in the tree, and began tossing their shoes into the cottonwood.
Regardless of the origins, it is a fact that for many years people have been throwing pairs of perfectly good shoes into the big tree.
These days, there are dozens of leather and canvas sneakers, oxfords, pumps, boots, wing-tips, slippers, sandals, and other foot items hanging from the Old Shoe Tree, which is located about three and a half hours east of Reno via U.S. 50. If you look closely, you might also notice a plastic pink flamingo tossed into the tree.
Additionally, a few years ago a person nailed a small, sock-shaped plaque to the tree, upon which is printed the following:
“The largest Shoe Tree in the world . . .
My friend as you’re driving by
Would you leave a pair of shoes
Fore now you have aplenty
So what have you to lose.
Someday someone may come walking
Bare feet so bruised and sore
To him, I’ll five a pair of shoes—
A friend who passed this way before
Dedicated to the memory of writer
E.M. Chapin, 10-97
Perhaps we will never know the sole reason for the Old Shoe Tree.