November 6, 2005

Nevada's Online State News Journal

 

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Nevada History:

950      THE HISTORY OF NEVADA

CHAPTER LIII.
LYON COUNTY.

BY HON. N. W. WILLIS.

[From The History of Nevada, edited by Sam P. Davis, vol. II (1912)]

 

 

            Before the white man turned his face westward, Mason Valley was inhabited by the Piute tribe of Indians. It was a fertile country with meadows of wild grass along the river, which was filled with trout. There were no trees except a few in the Southern part of the valley. The Indians lived by hunting and fishing; using rabbit-skins for clothes and beds. Having no grain of any kind, they gathered the seeds from bunch-grass, grinding it on flat rocks to make a kind of bread. For sugar they gathered crystals from the canes that grew along the river banks. They gathered many pinenuts from the mountains and wild berries which were stored for winter. They had some very unclean customs such as using their mouths for a receptacle for vermin plucked from the heads of the children and carrying small worms thrust in the side of the mouth to keep the bait moist. Old Indians tell of their fright when they first saw white men driving horses. They fled to the mountains for safety. They often suffered from cold and hunger and are better off since the coming of the whites. When they had no guns often a man would chase down a rabbit, running and yelping like a dog to frighten and confuse the animal. After a light fall of snow they formed a long line driving the rabbits from their hiding places, sometimes killing as many as fifteen hundred in a bunch. These were skinned and dried for future use.

            The earliest account we have of a white man entering the valley was taken from the report which Fremont sent to the Government at Washington describing his journey over the Sierra Nevadas to California. On January 21st, 1844, he writes of camping over night at the forks of the river, opposite and near, the place now called Nordyke. He named the river Walker, after a member of his party. For a number of years after this, emigrants brought their parties through this valley. The old

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road is still plain in the Southwestern part of the valley, passing through the mountains into Smith Valley near Wellington Springs.

            During the year 1854, N. H. A. Mason with his brothers, who were driving cattle through to California, observed the value of the land for grazing purposes. Late in 1859, Mr. Mason returned and found that one William Dickson had, in October of that year, located in the Northern part of the valley. Mr. Dickson, no doubt being glad to see a white man, offered Mr. Mason half of his claim to remain with him. Mr. Dickson finally lost his property on account of being absent for some time. Mr. Mason, from whom the valley takes its name, located on what was known as the Mason ranch, now the property of Miller and Lux. In 1860, Mason built the first house here. It was 16x24 feet 8 feet high with sides of mud held in place by willows and roofed with tules. It was burned in 1866. Following Mason were the Wheeler brothers, who settled on what is now a part of the George Wilson ranch. Soon after them came Angus McLeod, Charles Sneider, and a man named Clement, also Charles D. Lane, Johnson, the Alcorn brothers and Jesse Woodcock. David Wilson, with his wife and four small children, came in the summer of 1863. Mrs. Wilson was the first white woman to remain in the valley. Mr. Wilson helped the Alcorn brothers cut hay with a scythe and put up the first of many haystacks built here. Mr. Wilson then bought Tom Wheeler's ranch and settled near his present home. For six months she lived without seeing the face of another white woman, and we may imagine her joy when Mrs. Sprague, with her husband and daughter Alice, moved in from Carson Valley. Mrs. Wilson, who was of a retiring nature, said, "When I heard there was a woman in the new tent I did not wait to be introduced, but just put on my bonnet and went to see her, and how we talked."

            Usually the Indians were friendly, but at one time, for some cause unknown, they put on their war-paint and executed a war-dance. Seven painted warriors camped opposite Mr. Wilson's house. He armed the six white men who lived with him, and they in turn stood guard several days and nights. All other white people in this valley fled to Fort Churchill, taking with them Mrs. Wilson's daughter, who was visiting the Sprague family. No shots were fired and the Indians peacefully withdrew to their camps.

            In the year 1864 the first white child, a son, was born to the wife of

952      THE HISTORY OF NEVADA

Adam Herboldt, living near the Brady ranch. The weather was stormy and the wind whistled through their abode ; but the boy John grew to manhood.

            The discovery of gold by William Wilson in Pinegrove during 1866, materially increased the population of this country. As there was no established mail-route, Charles Sneider and Angus McLeod ran a four-horse stage from Pinegrove through Mason Valley to Virginia City, carrying letters by express. Mr. W. R. Lee in 1861 pre-empted 160 acres of land and built the first house in Yerington, which is at present occupied by Mrs. Barton. Soon after Mr. E. W. Bennett bought near and built a store. Mr. James Downey moved from Pinegrove, secured a large amount of land and built a saloon, thus forming a nucleus for the present town of Yerington. Before anyone settled there, the pioneer trading post was a small store located near the Rhymers ranch; but afterward moved to about a mile north of Yerington and called the Gieger store. Mail came from Wadsworth, Nevada, once a week to this place and it was known as the Mason Valley postoffice. About this time the first school was opened by Miss Mattie Wiley, who taught in the home of Alec McLeod, near the present town.

            Religious services were not neglected, being held as early as 1866 by Rev. R. Carberry, who was followed by Rev. Mr. Orne. Rev. Thomas Bartley organized the Methodist Church with two or three members. Rev. J. T. Ladd erected the present church building. A Good Templars Lodge was organized by Rev. F. M. Willis with good results.

            During the spring of 1876 a bridge was built across the Walker River on the Sprague ranch, south of the present crossing. Being improperly constructed it settled in the centre, and when the high water in summer came, it floated down the river. The timbers were anchored by M. John Gallagher and the bridge rebuilt near the Geiger store. The next bridge was built on the East Fork of the Walker River. Through the summer months when the water was high, Mr. Sprague towed a barge back and forth by means of a windlass and rope to ferry teams across. The fare was a dollar and a half, so he did not go often. Early in the history of the valley, the cultivation of the soil began.

Mr. Wilson and Mr. McLeod raised grain, hay and potatoes; Mr. McLeod took a load of potatoes to Aurora, receiving $250 a ton for them. These pioneers also brought in the first alfalfa seed, but as they

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sowed it on wet ground the results were small. Old Mr. Osborne secured the first good field on what is now the Fitzpatrick place. He was also the first man to bring in bees about 1883.

            For years cattle-raising was the principal industry and vast herds roamed the unfenced plains. Gradually the ranches have been fenced, the cattle sold, and we have now a vast area of land devoted to diversified farming. For a period of ten years, between 1880 and 1890, the monster known as "Hard Times," visited the farmers. Prices were low and there was no market for produce. Eggs sold for ten cents per dozen, chickens $3.50 per dozen, potatoes 50 cents to $1.00 per sack, and hay as low as $2.50 per ton. The cowboys rode about singing "Oh Mason Valley with her alfalfa hay, that's the gold standard down there. You ask for a dollar and the rancher will holler, I've only got alfalfa hay." During this season, Mr. Sayers started the Mason Valley Tidings, which was sold to Mr. Charles Patterson, and he changed the name to the Yerington Rustler. About 1902, Mr. Fairbanks moved his paper in from Dayton, giving it the name of Lyon County Times. Later the name was changed to the Yerington Times.

            The manufacturing interests of the valley were few ; however, in 1868, W. R. Lee built a flour-mill near George Wilson's present home, and selling that, built another about two and a half miles from Yerington. In 1891 a new and up-to-date mill was erected at the place now called Nordyke. About two years later the present creamery was established and also one year the Nichols ranch, which was destroyed by fire. Lately an ice-plant has been added to the manufacturing industries.

            Yerington usually was supplied with a number of boarding houses, but for many years Mr. John Craig conducted the principal hotel. It was burned in 1883 by a fire which swept the northern part of the main street on the west side. About a year later another large fire consumed the southern part of the same street.

            The valley has always been well supplied with stores which gradually increased in size and number, the two largest being Mr. Lam's, built in 1907, and the Mason Mercantile, a brick store just completed.

            Yerington has not always been known by that euphonious name; but for many years bore the opprobious cognomen of "Pizen Switch." The first postoffice was Mason Valley, afterward changed to Greenfield. Cowboys are fond of nick-names, and in early times Mr. Downey went

954      THE HISTORY OF NEVADA

to Virginia City and bought a receipt for making his own liquor, which the boys called "pizen." Mr. Downey's saloon was nick-named "the depot," and a small drinking-place built of willows, about a mile off the road was called the "Willow Switch." Farther down the road was the Geiger store called "The Dump." The vaqueros amused themselves racing horses from one drinking place to another, and used the expression frequently, "Let's switch off and get some pizen." Finally the other drinking places were closed, and Mr. Downey's was called "Pizen Switch." As the town grew the name of the postoffice was so far forgotten that a letter addressed to Grann or Smart, no matter which, safely reached its destination. Later the name was changed to Yerington, and the influx of strangers made it permanent.

            The building of the Carson and Colorado Railroad in 1880 through the northern end of the valley brought the town of Wabuska into existence. It was a narrow-gauge road without much traffic. After the discovery of Tonopah, it was taken over by the Southern Pacific Company, and broad-gauged, and during the last two years (1910-1911) the Nevada Copper Belt has been built from Wabuska south to the Ludwig in Smith Valley, with a short branch running north to the new town of Thompson and the new smelter now in operation, treating from 700 to 1,000 tons of ore daily. For many years the growth of the population was very slow. The writings of Fitz-Mack, advertising the copper deposits near the opening of the Reservation brought new blood and life to the valley. A telephone line has been constructed, a bank founded, a high school established, and a new Court House built at Yerington. A fine new grammar school building was built in Yerington, finished in 1912. About the year 1909, Mason, a sister city, was surveyed, laid out, and built, being situated on the banks of the Walker River, about three miles southwest from Yerington. It is the headquarters of the Nevada Copper Belt Railroad, and of the Mason Valley Mines Company. It has grown rapidly and supports a good hotel, several shops and a good school.

            About 1890 an Indian known as Jack Wilson, a large, fine-looking Indian of the Piute tribe, began giving ghost dances out in the timber and in the open spaces in the woods and creating quite a stir among the Indians, but he did not receive the support that he expected here. So he went East and through his agents communicated with the Sioux In-

LYON COUNTY        955

dians, and started the last Indian war, known as the Ghost Dance War. This Indian Jack was raised in the family of David Wilson, where the old-fashioned custom of reading the Bible, and having the family prayers twice a day obtained. He evidently listened closely to the story of the Messiah and, being a very bright Indian boy, at the age of about 17 was employed by a sleight-of-hand performer going through the country to work over this section with him as an assistant. Through this employment, he learned many mysterious tricks, and so it was a very natural sequence to his early impressions that he should constitute himself the Indian Messiah. At the age of about 28 years, he started these ghost dances before mentioned. His promises made to the Indians that after they begun the war there would be a resurrection of all the Indians who had previously died, and they would join in the battles and drive the white men out of the country, formed the inspiration for their actions. This same "Messiah" now receives prominent Indians from the Middle West and Montana, who give him many presents and treat him with great consideration when they come. He accepts these attentions with great dignity and in profound silence.

            This county was organized in 1861. In 1883 that portion of Esmeralda County lying west of a line commencing at a point on the boundary line between California and Nevada, where the counties of Esmeralda and Douglas corner, and running thence, in a northeasterly direction to a point on the north boundary line of Esmeralda County, where the Carson and Colorado Railroad crosses said line, was detached from Esmeralda County and annexed to Lyon County. It was part of what is known as Mason Valley.

            As already stated, the greater part of these lands—nearly 200,000 acres—is now lying idle, though abundance of water is afforded by Walker River to irrigate all. This county in its contour resembles a four-pointed star; the last part added from Wabuska south was taken from Esmeralda in what is known as "the land slide."

            In the palmy days of the Comstock, Dayton, at the north end of Lyon County, was the teamsters' camp for the Virginia mines, twelve miles distant. After the panic it was no longer the skinners' resting place and the business shifted to the new city of Yerington, the centre of the great copper mining district of that name.

            A few years ago an unfortunate fire destroyed the Court House at

956      THE HISTORY OF NEVADA

Dayton, which had been built in the sixties, and at once a fight began between Dayton and Yerington for the county seat. The fight was a very bitter one, but it was won by Yerington, and this town now boasts of a Court House built on modern lines. To that has been added a beautiful public school building and waterworks, with a standpipe supplied with water pumped from four artesian wells. The town also has a modern sewer system. Where two years ago the lizards and coyotes roamed the outlying plains and foothills of Wabuska, Thompson, a smelter town stands with its tall chimneys belching smoke from the manufacture of copper. From these plants seventy-five tons of copper matte a day are produced as the product of the great Yerington district. Another unit is being added and more are to follow to keep pace with the constantly increasing output. Yerington supplies Mason Valley, Wabuska, Thompson, Shurz, Morningstar, and Pine Grove as a depot point, and a monthly payroll of more than six hundred men redistribute the profits of the mines, and farms making a healthy commercial condition which has succeeded the first hurrah of the boom days.