Nevada History by John C. Evanoff

Visitreno.com is excited to present this series of articles by noted author and poet, John C. Evanoff. John will tell us about Nevada history and cover some of the more remote and unusual things to see and do in Northern Nevada.

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Battle Mountain and Winnemucca

by John C. Evanoff
September, 2006

Moving west on I-80 from Elko and Carlin over Emigrant Pass a small town just south on NSR306 named Beowawe is an interesting place to stop to see one of many large geothermal plants that have popped up in Nevada’s deserts in the last couple decades. In the high Nevada desert here and there were once hot steam vents and geysers along the hillside and down into the valley floors. Many of the Northern Paiute Indian families in these areas used the pools to clean their pinion pine cones of pitch before extracting the meat of the nut and creating pinion balls from the ground pinion flour, a staple of the tribe’s members through the winter months. The geysers are no more but Beowawe may become an important point of contention between Nevada and Washington D.C. politicians. Beowawe might be the east west railroad link to a soon to be created railroad line moving south to the Nuclear Repository at Yucca Mountain. Thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel will be shipped through the little town to a hole in Yucca Mountain if congressmen in Washington get their way.

It’s ironic that just down the road a town named Battle Mountain may also become significant in the event of this impending scenario because it will probably be a major supply route and station for the construction of the railway. Battle Mountain is a sleepy mining and ranching community set along the Humboldt River. The town grew and died several times during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s due to the presence of miners throughout the Reese River valley and all the way to Austin. The Central Pacific Railway and several smaller rail companies directed mining and supply traffic throughout the region at its mining heyday and the town sputtered to a standstill by the late 1920’s. Then the town came back to life a couple decades later when a large company started copper mining and then discovered large gold deposits. Several other silver and gold mines in the area have prospered since and ranching has always been a large enterprise in the area. One of the area’s best known ranches south of Battle Mountain was home to the 1978 World Saddle-Bronc Champion, Joe Marvel. Joe and his brother Mike rode in every rodeo they could while growing up in the area and in high school Joe garnered High School Bronc Champion honors. Joe then joined the big leagues and was in the top ten in the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association world standings five times eventually becoming the first Nevadan to win a world championship. He was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2005.

The area north of Battle Mountain is one of my favorite areas to hunt for sagehen and chucker. The hillsides are tough on the boot leather but the geography and vistas are incredible. I’ve driven and hiked a seventy mile stretch between Battle Mountain and Paradise Valley to the north and Midas and Tuscarora to the Northeast. The land is raw and peaceful and every little canyon and stream is full of wildlife.

Further west on I-80 past Valmy and Goconda is the town of Winnemucca. It had its start in the 1840’s and 50’s as a fording point along the Humboldt River and was known as Frenchman’s Ford before it was named Winnemucca. Another famous rodeo Hall of Fame inductee, Bob Tallman, is a native of the town. He has announced rodeos from atop his horse and in the announcer’s booth for several decades and is one of the most respected cowboys and announcers in the rodeo business. Bob regularly announces at the Reno Rodeo and at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. The town of Winnemucca was named after Chief Winnemucca, the most influential chief of the Northern Paiute in the mid 1800’s and the son of Chief Truckee, one of the most prominent Indians in the west. Chief Truckee helped the great pathfinder, Colonel John C. Fremont on several occasions and was a leader in creating dialogue with the white man. Chief Truckee’s granddaughter, Sarah became well known in the west and in Washington, D.C. as an interpreter of the wishes of the tribes of the region, a translator for the Army and as a teacher on several reservations including one near Lovelock. At the age of 14, Sarah could speak three Indian dialects as well as English and Spanish. Chief Winnemucca, on the other hand, was distrustful of the white man and their encroachment onto Indian lands. On one occasion at Pyramid Lake, he prompted his sons to confront a troop of Virginia City men bent on eradicating the tribe from the region. The episode ended up with the death of 76 poorly organized volunteers led by Major Ormsby from Virginia City. A plaque that details the story still stands at the big bend of the Truckee River on NSR447 north of Wadsworth.

But the town of Winnemucca is also famous for a bank robbery committed there on September 19, 1900 by The Wild Bunch including Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and their Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. The First National Bank was robbed of more than $32,000 by several of the Wild Bunch and still today the town celebrates the robbery or myth associated with the robbery. Even though it is well known that some of the Wild Bunch may have actually participated in the theft, no one knows for sure if Butch or Sundance were even near the area when it happened. No matter what happened then, Winnemucca brings out the Nevadan in all of us who know the area and the folks who live there. Many of the events in the town including the County Fair and Senior Finals Rodeo in September regularly bring back memories of small town Nevada and big time Nevada pride.

Next month we travel a bit north on Highway 95 to Paradise Valley and the Santa Rosa Mountain Range where a mountain pass called Hinkey Summit crosses the mountain and an amazing little campground called Lye Creek allows you to view and enjoy the splendor of a Nevada mountain autumn morning.


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