April 27, 2006
Nevada's Online State News Journal
[From Third Biennial Report of the Nevada Historical Society, State Printing Office, Carson City: 1913, pp. 224-230.]
RECOLLECTIONS OF THE EARLY HISTORY OF SMITH VALLEY
By TIMOTHY B. SMITH, One of the Original Settlers
In August, 1859, a party of herdsmen consisting of R. B. Smith, Cyrus Smith, the writer (T. B. Smith), Chandler Stratton, and Simon Baldwin, with John A. Rogers, Bill Patterson and others as assistants, settled on West Walker River with their horses and cattle. The first camp was made near the river on the west side a short distance below the location of the present lower wagon bridge in Smith Valley. This was the first white settlement in the valley and possibly the first on the Walker River. The name of the place was selected on account of the predominance of "Smith" in the party.
While this was the first white settlement, we were, however, not the first white men to view the valley. Leading across the south end we found the wagon tracks made by some miners who had a few months previously passed through on their way to the Dog Town Diggings between Mono Lake and the Bridgeport Valley. Also we found what had been a fairly well-beaten emigrant road crossing the valley from what is now known as the Wellington Spring Pass from Mason Valley to the Jack Wright Pass on the southwest. The line of the road passed under one corner of the present Petersen milk house, and twenty years ago traces of it were still visible on the sagebrush flats. A grave, no doubt of a member of an emigrant party, was found by us above the present Hoye bridge in Antelope.
Another conspicuous memento left by the emigrants in this section was a number of wagons which they had abandoned by the wayside. One was left in the lower end of Smith Valley and several more at the head of Lost Canyon above Antelope Valley. An interesting fact connected with the wagon found in our valley was that the axle had been broken and to repair it the emigrants had bored both ways from the break and inserted an octagonal gun-barrel. Old chains and other iron taken from these wagons may still be found on the ranches of Smith and Antelope Valleys. Fremont in 1844 viewed the valley from the old Indian trail leading from Mason Valley, but was deterred from bringing his party up that way by a severe snowstorm which he saw raging in the mountains on the southwest. Fremont reported having learned, from the Indians, of another party who had passed over the mountain that way before his time. Both Smith in 1826 and Walker in 1833 are supposed to have crossed this way and may have passed through Smith Valley. Another traveler, whose name I do not remember, took an outing trip from Columbia, Cal., in the 50's and described the West Walker country in an article which appeared in one of the early California magazines.
We had driven our herds from the west side of the San Joaquin River in California. The motive which had led to our making this change in herding grounds, taking us to a place as it seemed so far removed from the market, was the necessity of procuring feed for our stock. The previous winter had been an unusually dry one on the ranges of the west side, and the feed became so scarce that something had to be done.
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We had learned of the Walker River country from some emigrants who had three or four years before crossed through to California by this route, and who gave glowing accounts of the abundance of meadow grass they had seen on the river bottom as also the quantities of bunch grass on the flats and hills back from the river. Accordingly Cyrus Smith and Simon Baldwin took a trip over the mountains to investigate. On their return the move was decided upon. The route followed was by the Big Trees, Hope Valley, Carson Canyon, Carson Valley and Antelope Valley. Carson Valley by this time had been pretty well taken up along the river bottom. Antelope Valley was not settled as yet, but that fall Hod Raymond came in with his stock from Carson Valley.
The grass on Walker River when we reached our destination was a fine sight. In the meadows it was standing practically undisturbed except where the Indians had made trails through it on their way to the river. The spot chosen for the camp was on the edge of a fine large meadow which has since been so cut up with sloughs and by the changing channels of the river that today it has very little suggestion of its former appearance. Corrals for the stock were constructed and a house for ourselves erected. As there was no sawmill within forty miles of the valley, the only building material for the house was tules. This house served very well for the first winter, and, there being very little we could do with the cattle, we spent most of our time within its walls. One morning it caught fire and considerable damage was done before the flames were extinguished. We patched it up as well as we could and made the best of it until the next summer.
The fall after we arrived we gathered up the fattest of the beef cattle and sent them back over the mountains. John Rogers was one of the party that drove these cattle and "Salty Sam," the Indian, led the pack horse. The route was by the Lost Canyon and Stanislaus River way, now known as the "Sonora Road." The winter proved to be an unusually severe one, both in amount of snow and as to extremely cold weather, resulting in the death of many of our cattle. We often found them frozen in piles of three or four together.
The Indians at first kept away from us. But one morning we were greatly surprised when nearly two hundred of them came in from all directions whooping and yelling and driving our cattle on the run ahead of them. Thirty or forty came up to where we were and in no uncertain manner ordered us off their range. We parleyed with them for some time and finally succeeded in making a compromise by killing three beeves for them. These they soon cleared up and went off satisfied. However, we afterwards found that they were constantly killing our cattle in spite of our vigilance. They seemed to keep watch over our movements and would kill an animal while we were riding on another part of the range. No one, however, could accuse them of being wasteful, for we could find very little of an animal left when they were through with it. The Piute Indians of the Walker River, as we saw them, were of a good type as Indians go. Their lot was no doubt a hard one before the white man came, but they seemed to be equal to the conditions. The men were energetic and ingenious hunters and the squaws hoarded up such supplies of roots, seeds and nuts as could be found. In hunting, the old Indians used the bow and arrow, while many of the younger ones used rifles which they had obtained from the trading posts and emigrants. A band of antelope grazed in the valley, and in the mountains there were
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deer and some mountain sheep. For the killing of such game the Indians would dig pits beside the trails leading to the river. In these pits they would crouch and cover themselves with brush or grass and shoot the animal with an arrow as it passed by. Such methods, however, were so uncertain that there was little danger of thinning out the game. Rabbits were plentiful. For catching these a net several hundred feet long was so placed that the game was driven into one end of it and there killed by the hunters.
Fremont, fifteen years before our arrival on the river, inclined to view these Indians as a poverty-stricken people whose main protection from the robber tribes across the mountains lay in the fact that they possessed nothing of value to tempt a raid. He made a great deal of the fact that they did not seem to have any horses. Nevertheless, when they came in upon us that morning, nearly every man was mounted and some of them were on horses much better than the ordinary Indian pony. Such animals had probably been stolen from emigrant parties.
It was in the spring after our arrival that the Indian war broke out -- a war which Nevada will long remember because of the disastrous affair at Pyramid Lake in which Colonel Ormsby and the larger part of his volunteer command lost their lives. At this time our household consisted of seven men, including two miners who were stopping with us for a short time during the trouble. It was a nervous period for us. We kept our horses saddled and picketed near by, and were careful to have our guns in readiness for any surprise. Fortunately we were not molested. An accident brought about indirectly by the strain upon our nerves we could not forget. One moonlight night our dogs were making more noise than usual and one of the miners arose and was looking out through the door when the other miner wakened and, thinking the first man was some one looking in, he shot and killed him. This was, so far as we knew, the first death of a white man in the valley. We buried him on the bluff southwest of our camp.
At one time during the Indian excitement our supply of flour gave out, and two of us, Baldwin and myself, went with a team and a light cart, which we had rigged up from the front wheels of our wagon, to Genoa for supplies. On our way back we ran into a large body of Washoes at the Double Springs. They had gathered there to hold a fandango. We were stopped and a long consultation was held in which there was evidently much argument as to what they should do with us. But evidently a decision was reached to let us go—why, we never knew.
For years after the Pyramid disaster the Indians on Walker River could be seen with watch chains and other articles of jewelry; also the number of rifles in their possession increased noticeably. With the assistance of these rifles they were able to kill off the game more rapidly, and the result was that in a few years none of the antelope were left, while the deer were considerably reduced in numbers. In justice to the Piute Indians it must be said that during the first years we were among them, though we would gladly have seen them leave the country because of the anxiety and annoyance they caused us, yet a few years later I do not see how we could have managed without their assistance in the harvesting of our large crops of hay as well as in some other lines of work. What they did was generally pretty well done. As hay stackers and in the use of the horse fork they excelled.
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After the Indian excitement in 1860 passed Stratton's brother, Cyrus Smith, and I built a log house just south of the location of the present Gage barn and took possession of the bottom land now comprised in the Gage and Petersen places. In the fall the Hutson brothers, W. R. ("Doc") and George, came into the valley with their cattle. They had driven through soon after our arrival the previous year. They spent this first winter at Walker Lake. Now they settled on the west side of the river below our first location. At this time R. B. Smith of our party settled on the land above our original camp. The place was known in later years as the Fennimore Place and was afterwards owned by Burbank.
In 1861 J. B. Lobdell located on Desert Creek about six miles south of us on the road leading to the Dog Town Diggings. His ranch is now a part of the Hunewill Place. He used the water from the creek for raising hay, grain and vegetables. Thus he was the first settler to do any real farming. The hay he sold, at what would now be considered a marvelous price, to the Government for use by the troops at Fort Churchill. Soon after this Mr. and Mrs. Johnson came in and lived for a short time with Lobdell. Afterwards they located land just below Lobdell. It also is now included in the Hunewill Place. Johnson was later killed in Aurora, and Mrs. Johnson married Hank Mather. The first white woman in the valley, she was educated, bright and refined, a splendid cook and housekeeper. The bouquets she gathered from her flower garden were difficult to surpass. She afterwards built what was, until the Hoyes moved down the canyon, by far the finest residence in the valley.
It was in this same year (1861) that Aurora was discovered and travel through our way greatly increased. To accommodate this travel Jack Wright and Len Hamilton built a bridge across the river and also a station house near by. In 1863 they sold out to Daniel Wellington, who established a stage line to Aurora. The house was enlarged by Wellington, and a portion of it still stands and is now owned by Mrs. Hoye. Wellington dug a ditch from the river about a quarter of a mile above his place. The water from this ditch he used for raising vegetables and for the irrigation of an orchard, which was the first in the valley. He also established a postoffice and gave it the name of "Wellington Station." Before this time our mail came to Genoa addressed to "Jack Wright's Bridge; and was brought out by a carrier who charged us 25 cents for delivering a letter. When Jack Wright sold out to Wellington he bought the R. B. ("Salty") Smith cattle and place.
About 1862 Hall and Simpson located on Desert Creek near the place where it debouches from the mountains. They raised hay and vegetables, using a ditch dug many years before by the Indians and which they now enlarged. In 1863 or 1864 Fuller and Mitchell, with the aid of Hall and Simpson, dug a ditch about five miles long—the present Rivers Ditch—to their land, which is now the Rivers Place of the Plymouth Company. Another settler of 1862 was Billy Chandler, who located on the river bottom now comprised in the Tidd Place and formerly owned by A. H. Hawley and D. R. Ames.
In the spring of 1863 Simon Baldwin, my partners (Cyrus Smith and Stratton) and myself took out a ditch about four miles long to our places. Baldwin had located east of us on what now forms the southernmost forty of the Petersen Place together with another forty just east of that. During 1863 Lorin Clark, Rice, and Jerome Mann came in and settled as follows:
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Rice on the present McVicar and Schooley Places, Mann on the Mann and Lynch Places, and Clark on that portion of the Hutson Place east of the present Mann and Schooley Places. In the next year the three men last mentioned together with others constructed a ditch known as the Walker River or "Big" Ditch, now owned by Tidd, Schooley, Ames, McVicar, O'Banion and others.
About this time Zerah Smith rented twelve acres of land east of the road now running south by the Simpson Place and north of the "Big" Ditch. On this he planted grain, using the first water taken from the "Big" Ditch. The grain was threshed by a machine brought in from Carson Valley by John Olds.
Mr. and Mrs. Hoye came to the valley in 1863 or 1864 and rented a place on the edge of Alkali Flat where they kept a station. They soon left this location for the better one at the head of the river canyon in the lower end of Antelope Valley. La Sue (or Rasue) had built a road down the river canyon, and this attracted most of the travel that way in preference to the Jack Wright Canyon. Here they were very successful as station and store keepers. All the old-time travelers on the road will remember the fine table set by Mrs. Hoye. In the early 80's they moved down to the present location and built a fine residence, a large store building, etc.
It was about 1864 also that Andrew Muir and Steve Whittlesey located on the land south of the present Schooley and McVicar Places now owned by Schooley, Carter, and Ames. Also James Nichol and Robert McCall came in and with Zerah Smith bought out the Rice property and began raising grain the next year. Later they bought out Muir and Whittlesey. The first header in that section was brought in by James Nichol for the purpose of cutting this grain.
Other arrivals at this time were David Thompson and George Semple who bought out Simon Baldwin's place. The next year Stratton and I bought the western half of the Thompson-Semple Place, and, dividing our former interests with Cyrus Smith, built on the present Petersen Place. The house we built is still standing and in use. The barn was destroyed by fire about 1901.
About 1865 Burbank Brothers gave up the wood business near Empire and located a farm east of us, buying an interest in the Walker River Ditch from Clark and Mann. Their parents followed them a few years later. About 1877 they sold their ditch stock to the other stockholders and constructed a ditch of their own—the present Burbank Ditch, now owned by O'Banion.
Several families came in about this time and passed out again after a stay of two or three years. One of these was Mr. and Mrs. Stewart, who rented the Clark Place; another was Henry Purcell and family. Purcell lived on the Jack Wright Place, now known as the Fennimore Place. His son, Samuel Purcell, now of Mason Valley, was the first white child born in the valley. The Purcells afterwards moved to Mason Valley, where Mrs. Purcell and several of her children still reside. The Clark Place was purchased by the Hutson's.
About 1865 Robert McCall went back to Canada, and when he returned in 1866 he was accompanied by his mother, brother Duncan, and sister Tillie, together with one other person destined to become very important
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to me, for we were married the next year—Miss Margaret Nichol, a sister of his partner. Duncan McCall bought a place in the eastern part of the valley from Frank Rivers, who had located it and had extended the Fuller and Mitchell Ditch to cover it. On Duncan's death in the middle 70's this place went to his mother, who sold it to Hall and Simpson. It is now owned by Mrs. Simpson. Rivers, meanwhile, bought the Fuller and Mitchell Place. About 1868 Nichol sold his interest to his partner, Robert McCall, and located in Mason Valley where he now resides. . On Robert McCall's death in the early 70's the part of his place south of the road went to his mother and the remainder to his widow, who later married H. M. Schooley and who with her husband still resides in the valley.
In the latter 60's J. C. Hinds and family came to the valley and bought John Fairchild's property at Hot Springs. Hinds erected a hotel and bath houses. This property is now owned by O'Banion and Snell. John McVicar came in about 1870, and a little later C. R. Ames, who married Susie Hawley and later owned the Hawley Place. Z. Pierce and family started a store in the late 70's on the old Wellington property near the bridge, having purchased the stock of two Kentucky men who had attempted this line of business and failed. Soon after Pierce built on the present Reading Place and moved his store to that location.
In 1876 Major Gardner and John McTarnahan took out their ditch, heading above Spring Gulch and leading down the side of the canyon and out to the ranches they had taken up in the south end of the valley. These places are now comprised in the Smith Valley Land Company's property.
In 1871 I planted the first alfalfa raised in the valley. There were about ten acres in the patch, which was located south of the road on what is now the Petersen Place. That land has produced alfalfa practically ever since excepting one season during which it was plowed and reseeded. I also have the honor of having built the first wire fence. The wire consisted of plain iron telegraph wire, about No. 9. It was threaded through holes bored in the posts and stretched by means of a double stick twister. Before this we used the willow fences almost entirely, with the exception of an occasional board fence.
The first public school in the valley was started in the fall of 1880 with Miss Lottie Pierce, now Mrs. John O'Banion, as teacher. The schoolhouse was built by popular subscription and was located near the site of the present Methodist Church. It was moved to its present position nine years later. At first there were but ten pupils, but later many more came. Some years before this school was started a private school was maintained by an assessment on the parents whose children attended. The school was held in a building now owned by John Rogers and was located on his place about one-half mile below the Wellington bridge in what is now the Fulston field. Miss Ella Crozier was the teacher. This school, however, did not last long. After this, private teachers were employed at those ranches where the young folks were old enough for such instruction. Simpson, Mather, Hinds and I each had a school of this kind on our places. The valley was divided into the present two school districts about 1892.
Of the first settlers in Smith Valley no one besides myself is now left. My brother, Cyrus Smith, lived on the place we located until his death in 1891. He is survived by his widow, now Mrs. Gage, who still owns
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the place, and by his two daughters. R. B. Smith—"Salty," as he was best known—left men to take charge of his cattle and went back to California as soon as we were settled, for his main interests were still on the San Joaquin in California, and there he died in the later 70's. Simon Baldwin some time after leaving the valley bought the Five-Mile Ranch on the Aurora road. He died at this place about 1902. Chandler Stratton, after selling his interest to me about 1867, returned to Berkshire County, Massachusetts, where he died about 1880.
Of those who helped drive in the cattle, John Rogers was the only one who afterwards owned property in the valley. He bought the Wellington Place. The hotel and stables he sold to Keane. Mrs. Hoye now owns what remains of them. The ranch he farmed for many years until he sold out to Fulston in the late 90's. He died in Reno in 1912.
Of the other early settlers, Mrs. Simpson and Mrs. Hoye still own places and reside in the valley; James Nichol lives in Mason Valley; Mrs. Henry Purcell in Mason Valley; Zerah Smith, my wife and I in Berkeley, California; Mrs. Sam Burbank in San Francisco; Mrs. Frank Rivers in southern California; Mrs. Schooley, formerly Mrs. Robert McCall, also her brother, John McVicar, and Mr. and Mrs. L. R. Ames still live in the valley. George Hutson died in the late 70's; "Doc" Hutson in 1896; D. C. Simpson about 1897; Warren Hall in 1894; Frank Rivers in 1912; Mrs. Mather about 1909 or 1910; John Hoye in 1889 or 1890; Len Hamilton in 1890; Jerome Mann about 1897; Bill Chandler in the late 60's or early 70's; Mrs. McCall, the McCall brothers' mother, in the late 60's; J. C. Hinds about 1896; Mrs. Hinds in 1906; A. H. Hawley in the late 90's; Sam Burbank about 1902. Thus has time thinned us out.
I trust that these few facts, given in a rather rambling way, may be of interest to the descendants of those people who with myself settled in Smith Valley. Some of the dates given may not be absolutely correct. But there are some dates which are well fixed in my memory and I have recovered the others from them. Many of the events may be checked up by examining the early records of deeds for land transfers. It has been a real pleasure to recall the old-timers and our experiences together. With very few exceptions the early residents of Smith Valley were good, honest, hard-working people—men and women well adapted to the breaking in of a new territory.
 Nevada Historical Society. Second Biennial Report, 126.
 Ibid, 123.
 Note by the Secretary: This name is also written Rissue. See article on Nomenclature in this volume, p. 196.
 Zerah Smith died (1913) between the writing of this paper and its going to press.