The Story of Double Springs (Part 1)

Today there’s little to mark the site of Double Springs, Nevada, roughly a dozen miles south of Gardnerville on Highway 395. All that’s left is just a historical plaque plus remnants of an old fence line and cattle trough. But a century-and-a-half ago, Double Springs was not only well-known — it was notorious!

An early hotel here beside the toll road to Aurora and Bodie offered travelers meals, beds, and pasture. A fluke of climate or simple bad luck, Double Springs was also the site of several early murders. And, because all good tales include a treasure story, there’s also a hidden treasure legend involving Double Springs!

The pair of springs for which Double Springs was named made this a valued spot for Native Americans back in the early-early days. Round dances were held here in both spring and fall, with prayers for the health of the pinenut trees and celebrations for abundant harvests. These huge events sometimes included up to 500 Native Americans, and pinenut harvests could last as long as six weeks. The site’s earliest recorded name, “Round Tent Ranch,” may have reflected these Native American celebrations.

This may be the same James C. Dean who once owned Double Springs station.

In 1861, rancher S.D. Fairchild claimed 320 acres here, erecting a hotel, stable, and barn. H.W. Bagley owned the property briefly, then sold it to James C. Dean about 1863. And here our tale takes a turn for the murderous!

Dean was a colorful if slightly shady character who popped up in various incarnations in early Douglas County history. He and a partner bought a house and town lot in Genoa as early as August, 1860. A year later, in 1861, Dean was appointed Justice of the Peace for Genoa by Governor Nye. Although ostensibly a lawyer, Dean swiftly made waves for failing to carry out the duties of his new post. Just one month after Dean’s appointment, an appeals court was forced to order Dean to do his duty; he reportedly stubbornly refused to file in papers appealing one of his decisions, and had similarly refused to send up a transcript for the higher court to consider. (The higher court was not amused.)

Despite this brouhaha, Dean’s Genoa home became the site where the very first meeting of the Douglas County Commissioners was convened just after Christmas, December 28, 1861. Dean also was honored by being elected to serve in the Nevada Territorial Legislature’s House of Representatives in September, 1863, as a proud member of the Union Party.

By late 1863 Dean had moved south to Double Springs in Nevada Territory’s Mammoth Precinct, a district that stretched from Teasdale bridge on the East Carson to the southernmost edge of the county. Here he was operating his own “1st Class” Hotel and serving as a retail dealer in liquor. But Dean continued to keep an eye out for political plums. In early 1864 he penned a pleading letter to Gov. James Nye, confessing a desire to become a military man and offering to assemble a cavalry company of “burly mountain boys” if the governor would accommodate him with a commission to do so. (The governor apparently didn’t take him up on this kind offer.)

Edwin Dean (possibly a cousin or younger brother of James) also briefly held elected office in early Nevada. Ed Dean became Lyon County Treasurer in September, 1864, only to resign in disgrace a little over a year later when his books disclosed a $2,484 shortfall.

1881 map showing Double Springs at the intersection of two roads. (Nevada Division of State Lands & UNR’s DeLaMare Library).

Dean’s Hotel was conveniently located at the junction of the cross-valley Olds Toll Road and the north/south Bryon’s Toll Road. Travelers to Bodie or Aurora could feed their horses on hay grown at the ranch, grab a meal, or spend the night at the hotel. Dean was appointed to fill a vacancy for Justice of the Peace for the Mammoth Precinct on December 5, 1864, with a member of the Olds family making the motion for Dean’s appointment.

The historical marker at Double Springs. Many later accounts suggest Dean was the murderer, though it appears he was never convicted of the crime.

Sometime around 1864, however, Dean’s wife, Fannie, came to a tragic end at the Double Springs station. A passing teamster found the house suspiciously quiet and, upon investigating, discovered Fannie’s lifeless body. She had been severely beaten and her head then “jammed into a bucket of water.” Dean was arrested by the local sheriff, but denied the murder. Dean’s hotel was only about two miles from Slinkard’s, and transients and travelers came and went on the road by the station. As Dean pointed out, it could have been anyone who murdered Fannie Dean. Neighbors “were not satisfied with the story told,” as the Record Courier later put it. But given the lack of evidence on which to hold him, Dean was finally released. Nevertheless, the story persisted for years that Dean himself had committed the murder.

By the following year, October, 1865,  Dean was advertising his Double Springs property for sale. And it wasn’t cheap: for his house, barn, blacksmith shop and 600 acres of land, Dean wanted $1,500, half down and the balance in just six months. But he clearly was ready to move on; in November, 1865, he managed to get himself elected Justice of the Peace for the Walker River Precinct to the south.

Fannie’s death, as it turned out, would not be the end of “notorious” murders at Double Springs. In November, 1881, another body was discovered in a small cabin about three miles south of the old station. E.A. Doud, about 65 years old, had once been an Alpine County rancher and member of the Board of Supervisors. He’d sold his Alpine ranch about 1873, taking up residence in a 10’ x 12’ cabin not far from Double Springs. The body was discovered by a Washoe Indian seeking work who had approached the cabin. Looking in a window beside the door, he spied Doud on the floor, covered in a bloody blanket. An ax was near the body. The Indian alerted the innkeeper at Double Springs, who in turn notified the coroner. Although a generous $150 reward was posted in early 1882, no suspects were ever identified.

Dean had already moved on by then, selling his Double Springs property to rancher P.L. Sprague about 1865 and trudging off to new adventures — and that quirky tale (including what happened to Dean’s second wife) is next week’s story!

View from Double Springs toward the west.

As for the famous Double Springs Hotel itself, the building was torn down in the fall of 1887. Its lumber was hauled off to a mining settlement known as South Camp overlooking Smith Valley, where (as the Genoa Courier put it), it was used “to cover the mill and to build a mansion for the miners.”

Join us next week for Part 2 of this story — whatever became of James Dean? And in Part 3, the tale of a hidden treasure at Double Springs! 

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3 thoughts on “The Story of Double Springs (Part 1)”

  1. Karen,

    Great story, and well written. You never know what’s buried among the sage and sand. You should begin a Markleeville series of stories, there is plenty the good and bad hiding in the hills of Alpine County.

    Keep them coming, I can enlarge the type to cancel my Macular problem.
    Dick

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