November 3, 2005

Nevada's Online State News Journal

 

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Nevada History:

786      THE HISTORY OF NEVADA

CHAPTER XLIV.
CHURCHILL COUNTY.

BY D. E. WILLIAMS.

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

 

 

            Unique in the history of Nevada is Churchill County, in that it furnishes a most striking example of the magic touch of man making the desert bloom as the rose, this coming about through Uncle Sam selecting the Lahontan Valley for the location of his Seven-Million Dollar Farm, where the first government irrigation project was established and the land divided into 40 and 80 acre farms. Churchill County derives its name from an early military post, Fort Churchill, situated just west of the present county line, which was named in honor of an officer of the United States Army.  The county was created by a territorial act, approved November 25, 1861, in which the boundaries were described as follows : Beginning at the northeastern corner of Storey County, and running south along the eastern line of said county to the northern line of Douglas County ; thence easterly along the said northern line of Douglas County and the northern line of Esmeralda County to the one hundred and sixteenth meridian; thence north, along said meridian, to the fortieth parallel of north latitude ; thence west on the said fortieth parallel to where it strikes the old immigrant road leading from the sink of the Humboldt to the lower crossing of the Truckee River; thence westerly, along said road, to the point of beginning. When Lander County was created, on December 19, 1862, about one-third of the whole area of Churchill County was made a part of the new county—all that portion lying east of the fortieth degree of longitude. By an act approved February 20, 1864, the boundary between Lyon and Churchill counties was established at the line of longitude 41 degrees and 40 minutes, by means of which a small cession was made to Lyon County. By an act approved February 27, 1869, a triangular tract, forming the southwest corner of Humboldt County, was ceded to Churchill County, including about 25 miles of Central Pacific Railroad, the object being to increase

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the revenues of Churchill County. By the same act the present boundary between Lyon and Churchill was established. By an act approved March 5, 1869, a small triangular tract at the southeast corner of Churchill County was ceded to Nye County. An act approved November 29, 1861, attached Churchill to Lyon for county, judicial, and revenue purposes, including it in the third judicial district, and locating its county seat at Buckland's. By an act approved February 19, 1864, Churchill was made a distinct county, with all the rights, privileges and immunities belonging thereto, and the Governor was instructed to appoint its first officials. The following were appointed by the Governor as the first officers of Churchill County in March and April, 1864 ; County commissioners, Benjamin Curler, Thomas J. Cochran and J. B. McClure (Curler declined) ; probate judge, Alfred James ; district attorney, A. F. Patrick; sheriff, Walter L. Gates ; county clerk, W. E. Smith ; county treasurer, Walter Goodell; assessor, J. W. Cummings ; recorder, Nelson Murdock ; superintendent of schools, A. W. Doolittle ; surveyor, Wm. A. Jackson.

            There was a strong protest signed by thirty-six residents along the Carson River, between Fort Churchill and Dayton, presented to the Legislature against creating Churchill County, and stipulating that if it were created, they be set over into Lyon County. A territorial act, approved December 19, 1862, authorized Ellen Redman and others to construct a toll-bridge across Carson Slough at Redman Station, and to charge toll as follows : For wagon drawn by 6 or 8 animals, $2; for wagon drawn by 4 animals, $1.50; for wagon drawn by 2 animals, $1 ; for carriage or buggy, 2 horses, $1; for carriage or buggy drawn by one horse, 75 cents; for horseman, 25 cents ; for pack-animals, 12% cents; for loose stock, 10 cents. Two per cent. of these charges went to the Territorial School Fund. A fine for crossing the bridge without paying toll was not less than $10, nor more than $100. Any one maliciously injuring the bridge was liable to be fined from $25 to $500. All fines were to accrue to the bridge company. The rates of toll could be changed by the Governor and Legislature, and the commissioners of Lyon and Churchill counties could purchase the bridge in three years at its appraised cash value.

            An act of December 20, 1862, authorized J. Jacobson, John Bowan, Alexander Person, John Taylor, P. Reynolds and associates to improve the Carson River from Dayton to Humboldt Slough, thence to Humboldt Lake, thence across the lake and up Humboldt River to Humboldt City,

788      THE HISTORY OF NEVADA

cutting canals, etc., and rendering such route practicable for rafts and vessels. An act of February 20, 1864, empowered James A. St. Clair and J. J. McClellan to maintain a toll-bridge across Old River, at a point known as the upper sink crossing; no other bridge or ferry to be allowed within half a mile either way. An act of February 19, 1864, organized a distinct and separate county (heretofore connected officially with Lyon County) and, on the 2nd of April of the same year, Governor Nye located the county seat of Churchill County at La Platta, eighteen miles east of Stillwater. In 1868 the county seat was moved to Stillwater, where it remained until 1902, when the rapidly developing agricultural section further up the Carson River resulted in the removal of the county seat to Fallon, twelve miles to the west, where it remains. The removal was without opposition.

            The act approved February 27, 1869, by which a portion of Humboldt County was given to Churchill, required Churchill to pay to Humboldt County therefor $3,000; but by an act passed by the State Legislature February 13, 1871, Churchill was released from its payment and all unpaid warrants on this account were ordered destroyed. The first school in Churchill County, under the county organization, was held in the "Big Adobe" in the St. Clair district, in December, 1871, the first teacher being Lemuel Allen, afterward Lieutenant Governor, and now a resident of Reno. The building still stands. In 1872 the county was divided into two school districts, the one being at the upper sink and the other at Stillwater, the county seat. In 1874 a third district was organized. In 1876 the three districts were combined into one, known as the union school district. Soon afterward a fine school house, costing $4,000, was erected on the upper sink ; a teacher and matron were employed, and from 40 to 60 pupils attended. In 1879 the county was sub-divided into four districts. E. P. Hall was the first school superintendent. Up to 1878 the late Judge W. H. A. Pike was superintendent of the Union School.

            In 1880 an unchartered temperance society was organized at Stillwater with forty-four members. The first religious service held in the county took place in the institute building at Stillwater in the spring of 1875. A Methodist Episcopal clergyman named Pendleton was in charge.  The first meeting of the Seventh Day Adventists was held in the institute on the 1st of June, 1876, under the leadership of Jackson Ferguson, with

CHURCHILL COUNTY         789

a membership of forty-four persons. This denomination built the first church in the county, located near St. Clair. The building was later moved to Fallon, where worship is held.

            Valuable Springs and Marshes.—About eight miles northwest of Fallon are situated two circular depressions containing water and surrounded by prominent rims marking the site of volcanic craters, active during and subsequent to the Lahontan period. The crater rims rise eighty-seven feet above the surrounding desert, and some hundred and fifty feet above the inclosed lakes. The larger body of water, known as Big Soda Lake, lies about fifty feet below the level of Carson River, and has a depth of about one hundred and fifty feet in the deepest part. There is no surface inlet or outlet connected with this lake, and the water probably comes by seeping through a subsoil from Carson River. In its passage through the underlying lacustral sediments large amounts of soluble material are picked up and carried into the lake. The smaller of these two depressions, known as Little Soda Lake, is nearly dry, containing water only in depressions. This water is very saline, and upon evaporating, during the summer, leaves a thick deposit of impure sodium carbonates. The larger lake comprises about four hundred acres and the smaller sixteen acres. These lakes were discovered by Asa Kenyon in 1855. He sold the property to Higgins & Duffy in 1868, who in turn sold to J. S. Doe and Mr. Dowd. In the earlier days a force of five men prepared about sixty tons for the market every month, which sold at from $55 to $65 per ton. At one time a two-fifths interest in the property sold for $35,000. The property is at present owned by Eugene Griswold, of San Francisco, but has not been worked the past couple of years, the owner claiming that the seepage water from the government canal system for the Truckee-Carson project rendered the lakes unfit for the manufacture of soda. Specimens from Big Soda Lake were awarded a prize medal and diploma at the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia.

            About twenty miles to the southeast of Fallon is situated the great salt marsh, where salt is taken out 95 per cent. pure. It is estimated that there are millions of tons of this salt, some of which was shipped to mining camps in the early days. The product was brought into Fallon in 1912 and sold for commercial purposes. Drilling has shown the salt deposit to be four hundred feet thick. Adjoining this deposit is the borax works, from which the product was shipped many years ago, and

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shipments were made from it in the year 1912. The property is owned by C. W. Kinney and Eastern associates.

            The Lahontan Valley.--The scientists tell us that Lake Lahontan, for many years called the Carson Sink Valley, was formerly a body of salt water. Into this valley are discharged the waters of the Carson River, which spread out upon the desert, forming upper and lower Carson Lakes. A few miles below the canyon, where the river emerges from the mountain the stream divided, the Main Carson flowing to the south into the upper lake, the other, Old River, turning to the north near Fallon and finding its way into the lower sink. During the flood of 1862 Old River was cut through, and later New River was formed in a similar way, branching off from Old River about one mile west of Fallon. However, when the Reclamation Service took charge of the project concrete dams were thrown across the Main Carson and New River, turning all the water down Old River, except a small quantity that was allowed to flow down the Main Carson to supply prior right pending adjustment. One of these rights was owned by F. W. Inman for his flour-mill on the slough a few miles south of Fallon, but this right was purchased by the government in 1913 for $7,500. The waters of the upper lake, or Carson Lake, found their way to the lower sink through Stillwater Slough, and while the upper lake is rapidly drying up, the slough serves a good purpose in carrying away the drainage water from the irrigation system.

            Lahontan Valley also received a portion of the flood waters of the Humboldt River. During the flood of 1859-60 the waters of Humboldt Lake broke over and a channel was cut through the low depression, allowing the water to run over into the Carson Sink. This still goes on every season. So strong and continuous was this flow that a quartz mill was erected in the '60's near White Plains, using the current of the slough for power. This mill is in Churchill County, and falling into disuse, was sold for taxes in 1912. The old immigrant train down the Humboldt crossed at this mill and from that point the weary pilgrims to the West faced the famous Forty-Mile Desert, on their way from Lovelock to Ragtown. This was a waterless, sandy desert, though for the most part it was one of those sleek, hard flats where the wheels of wagons scarcely made an impression as they passed over it.

            Ragtown was at one time one of the most noted localities in Churchill County region, though now the place is known as Leeteville, the ranch

CHURCHILL COUNTY         791

and residence of James Leete keeping vigil over this landmark of the past. For some years Mr. Leete kept a postoffice in his residence, hence the name of Leeteville. In the earlier times Ragtown was a station on the overland road, when the immigrants moved across the Forty-Mile Desert from Humboldt, and pushed on to the gold fields of California. When the Simpson route was discovered and adopted in 1860 and immigrants came by way of Schell Creek, Egan Canyon and Jacobsville, on Reese River, Ragtown still remained an overland station. Two reasons are assigned for the origin of the novel name of the town. One is that it was originally composed of cloth-houses built by traders from California, who, leaving in the fall, left their ragged shelters to flutter in the wind. According to another authority, the immigrants, on reaching it, hastened to divest themselves of their ragged garments and plunge into the cooling waters of the Carson. Long, scattered piles of rags daily adorned the banks of this stream. There was once a burying-ground at Ragtown consisting of two hundred graves, results of cholera, fever and exhaustion in early years, which were variously marked with log-chains, wagon tires, etc. During the flood of 1861-2 it was completely covered over and obliterated, and a public road now passes over the spot.

            Lahontan Valley is historic in western travel. The old Pony Express used to pass through near Fallon, coming by way of East Gate and crossing Old River and going on to the west. The old telegraph line also crossed Old River a few miles to the north of Fallon. How history changes as time rolls on ! The early immigrants passed along up the Carson River, emerging from Lahontan Valley at what is now the site of the great Lahontan Dam, where this structure, one hundred feet high, will throw the waters back up the stream for fifteen miles, impounding 300,000 acre-feet of flood waters to be conserved and used in irrigating the lands of the hundreds of homesteaders who have settled in the valley below. This dam is now well under way and will be ready to catch the flood-waters of 1914.

            Soil and Climate.—Situated at an elevation of a little less than 4,000 feet above sea level, the Lahontan Valley has a mild and equable climate. Snow forms but a small part of the annual precipitation, and the ground is seldom covered for more than a day. Being remote from the lofty snow-ranges of the Sierras, the winter weather is usually warm and pleasant and the farmers can generally plow their land every month in

792      THE HISTORY OF NEVADA

the year. The soil varies from the heavy adobe to the rich black loam and light sandy soil, well adapted to various kinds of agriculture, and is wonderfully prolific in the growth of vegetation, once water is applied. Alfalfa, wheat, oats and barley grow and yield abundantly, while potatoes, onions and vegetables are important crops for export. Fruits of delicious flavor are produced, and Lahontan Valley watermelons and cantaloupes are in great demand in the mining camps.

            Fallon Beet Sugar Factory.—The largest commercial enterprise in Churchill County is the Nevada Sugar Company's factory, located one mile from Fallon, at a cost of $600,000. It was first opened in the fall of 1911, and is supplied with beets from the Lahontan Valley and western Nevada in general. It is the first beet-sugar factory to be erected in the State. Thorough tests have demonstrated that the soil and climate of western Nevada are admirably adapted to the growing of sugar-beets, the percentage of sugar running unusually high. The enterprise was promoted largely through the efforts of Dr. C. A. Hascall, the builders and financiers being H. W. Hinze and Fred Hinze.

            There are indeed few men living in Churchill County today who were active in its early history, but among these may be mentioned Hon. W. C. Grimes, who at the second election, November 3, 1866, was elected a member of the Assembly. While holding many official positions in the county, among them State Senator, to which he was elected in 1874, and several times to the office of district attorney, he was again elected a member of the Assembly in 1912, now being a member of that body after a lapse of forty-six years. During these years he has accumulated a goodly portion of this world's goods and, above all, has maintained an unsullied character. J. W. Richards, elected county clerk in 1878, and Assemblyman in 1880, is now serving his third consecutive term as county treasurer. Mr. Richards was born in Bath County, Kentucky, November 3, 1839, locating in Churchill in 1863. J. J. Cushman, who was elected county clerk in 1872, still resides on his ranch a few miles south of Fallon, on which he settled in 1861, the tract comprising 1,200 acres of land.

            The City of Fallon.—A postoffice was established in 1896 on Mike Fallon's ranch; and was given the name of Fallon postoffice. It was carried on in a little 10 x 12 shack near the residence, where the people of the neighborhood called to get their mail. The farm was later sold

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to Warren W. Williams and the first postoffice was situated just east of his present residence. Within a year J. W. Richards moved his store from Stillwater to Fallon, erecting the building now owned and occupied by the Churchill County Eagle. He later became postmaster. F. W. Inman started a butcher shop, and these were the only two places of business in the town at the time the act was passed by the Legislature of 1902 moving the county seat from Stillwater. There was, however, a school house and the New River Hall.

            Hon. Warren W. Williams donated the land for the Courthouse and Jail and laid out an addition for the town on the west side of Maine street, naming the principal street after his native state of Maine. John Oats laid out the Oats addition from part of his ranch on the east side of the street. Lots were sold at $30 each and the town rapidly sprang into life. The courthouse was completed the following year, and with the passage of the Reclamation Law in 1902 establishing the Truckee-Carson irrigation project, with Fallon as the center, the permanency of the town was assured. The various construction camps of the contractors and the government located adjacent to the town made times lively and Fallon grew by leaps and bounds. The discovery of rich ore at the camps of Fairview and Wonder created great excitement and caused a big rush in the spring of 1905. Fallon being the natural "Gateway to the Mines," reaped a great harvest the next few years from this traffic. Outside of the business center it was a city of tents, for houses could not be built fast enough to accommodate the rapidly growing population. The town was controlled by the county commissioners, sitting as a town board. The Legislature of 1907 passed a special incorporation act for the Town of Fallon, but when submitted to the voters that summer they rejected it, and the government of the town went on as before until 1908, when the City of Fallon was organized under the general incorporation act, but the validity of this law had to be tested by the Supreme Court, which caused much delay. The law was sustained and the City of Fallon actually launched out as a municipality.

            In 1911 the City Council decided to bond the city for $35,000 for a water-system and $10,000 for a sewer-system. This did not meet with any opposition, a petition not even coming in from the necessary 15 per cent. of the voters to have the question submitted to a vote. However, there was considerable difficulty in arranging details and disposing

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of the bonds, and before this was carried out the Government decided to construct an electric transmission line from Lahontan Dam, eighteen miles west, to the city, at a cost of $20,000, in order to supply the corporation with light and power. Therefore, it was decided to issue $15,000 more bonds for a city-light system. This, as before, did not meet with any opposition, and the three municipal improvements were installed at the same time, during the summer of 1912. But before the sewer system was completed it was seen that it should be extended to outlying districts in order to accommodate the entire population, and a change was made in the plans, entailing an additional expense, which called for $17,000 more, and for this the council provided by an additional bond issue of $17,000, there being no protest from the people. This made the sewer, water and light systems cost the city $77,000. The work was carried through under the direction of E. P. Osgood, as city engineer, L. W. Crehore having special charge of installing the electrical system and the pumping-plant.

            The three systems were put into operation during the summer of 1912 and there was not a hitch in any department. Everything was a success from the very start. The city officials who had the responsibility of expending this $77,000 were: Geo. E. Sherman, mayor, and Councilmen John Oats, Judson C. Jones, and Joe Jarvis, with the assistance of City Attorney E. E. Winters, who directed the legal procedure, and City Clerk W. H. Reavis, who had the responsibility of handling the accounts. And here it may be said that while but few if any cities with 1,200 population have carried out so completely the system of municipal ownership of utilities, yet be it said to the credit of the men who had official charge that there was not the slightest suspicion of graft or any misappropriation of funds. To the contrary, when it came to the election in May, 1913, every one of the above-named officers were returned by the votes of the people to serve another two years, so well had their work been performed. Municipal ownership of water, light and power in the City of Fallon has proven highly satisfactory. Besides a splendid public school and a county high school, the City of Fallon is provided with five churches—Baptist, Methodist Episcopal, Episcopal, Seventh Day Adventist, and Catholic, which were built in the order named.