The Story of Kermit Neddenriep

Put July 26th on your calendar. Three-quarters of a century ago on that same date, our community lost a local son.

The year was 1944. The place: somewhere near San Romano, Italy. Europe was convulsing in the final, ugly months of World War II.

Kermit Neddenriep had been cooped up in a foxhole for several days with his unit, the 88th Division of the 351st Infantry. And while there, he’d been thinking of the folks back home. “You seem to get used to the big guns going off and all the excitement,” he wrote his parents on July 20th from his uncomfortable quarters in the trench. He tried to add a reassuring touch:  “There are planes zooming back and forth over our heads all the time, but mostly all ours.”

Kermit had just celebrated his 34th birthday three months earlier. Born April 5, 1910 in Diamond Valley, (Alpine County), he was the second son of Henry Dolf Neddenriep, Jr. and Eugenia (“Gene”) Harvey. His siblings included an older brother, Virgil (Ripp), and two younger sisters, Louise and Gloria. Louise, too, had enlisted when the War broke out, joining the WACs.

Claus and Anna E. Neddenriep, probably taken in Germany.

The Neddenriep family’s roots ran deep in Carson Valley. Kermit’s father, Henry (Jr.), was one of the ten children of Henry Neddenriep (Sr.). His father, the senior Henry, had made his way here in 1869 with a cousin, by stowing away aboard ship. And Henry Sr.’s parents, Claus and Anna Neddenriep, soon followed their son across the ocean, arriving in 1872. The land that Claus and Anna purchased would eventually form the nucleus of the 900-acre Neddenriep Home Ranch in Carson Valley.

Although officially an Alpiner by birth, Kermit moved with his family to Carson Valley when he was three years old. About 1929 the family moved again, this time to Smith Valley, and Kermit graduated from Smith Valley High. After graduation he joined his father in working the family ranch and also was employed by L.L. Wedertz of Wellington.

And then World War II broke out. For a time, ranchers were exempted from military service, their work considered critical to the home front. But as the war ground on, that changed. In November, 1942, Kermit Neddenriep received his draft notice greeting from Uncle Sam. He enlisted in the Army on November 30, 1942, and was assigned to the Fifth Army, 351st Infantry, 88th Division, under the command of General Clark. And a year and a half later, he found himself in that foxhole in Italy.

Kermit’s last letter to his parents, six days before he died.

On July 26, 1944, Kermit’s unit staged an attack on the town of San Romano. “Fighting in the streets was exceedingly fierce,” the Army chaplain would later write to Kermit’s parents. “During the advance he was struck by enemy sniper fire.” Kermit died there on the streets of a town more than 5,800 miles from home. The letter he’d written his parents from a trench just six days earlier, assuring them “I am O.K.,” arrived the same day as the telegram announcing his death.

Kermit’s grave at Fredericksburg Cemetery has always had a special place in my heart, even before I learned his story. Tucked into a quiet, shady corner beneath an overhanging tree, it just has a sense of peacefulness about it. But how this grave came to be here is a story in itself — a tale of a family’s abiding love and a community’s deep respect.

Grave of Kermit Neddenriep at Fredericksburg Cemetery, Alpine County. (Photo courtesy of Judy Wickwire)

You see, Kermit wasn’t buried here initially. Like so many servicemen killed overseas, his body was laid to rest close to the place where he died. After a family friend located Kermit’s grave in Italy, the Neddenriep family began the process of seeking to return his remains. And eventually they were successful.

On November 17, 1949, over five years after he passed away, Kermit’s body was finally laid to rest here in Alpine County, where he’d been born. In the intervening years a VFW post had been established in Yerington in Kermit’s honor: the “Kermit H. Neddenriep VFW Post 8084.” Members of this new post served as pallbearers at his funeral, and ensured he was given full military honors for the observance, including the playing of taps and a 3-rifle salute. And they now maintain his gravesite.

Banner of the Kermit H. Neddenriep VFW Post No. 8084 (courtesy of Post Historian Charlene La Belle).

This year, July 26, 2019, will mark exactly 75 years from the day Kermit Neddenriep was killed in action, so far away from home. I hope you will join me in remembering him.

Fredericksburg Cemetery, Alpine County. (Photo courtesy of Judy Wickwire).

 

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Just released! Our new book, “Forgotten Tales of Carson Valley.” 33 great tales, including stagecoach robberies, murders, buried treasure, and even a romance or two! Read about the couple who eloped on horseback and the folks who searched for robbers’ loot with a dowsing rod.

Brand new — available in paperback and Kindle version here!

 

 

 

 

The Old Ferris Ranch House

Just one lonely image, captured by Juanita Schubert in the 1940s. That was all that was left of the old Ferris House in Carson Valley. Or so we thought.

But wait! Locals informed us the old Ferris home still exists — the house was moved in the 1940s, and now sits off Stockyard Road, a few miles east of its original location! So naturally we went “off on the hunt” to find it.

Back in its day, the house stood in a fairly remote location, at the crossroads of two early roads and about four miles east of Genoa. . From the west, the Boyd Toll Road meandered in from Genoa before heading southeast across the valley. And from the north, the Cradlebaugh Road headed down the valley from Carson City and continued on south.

Close-up of the two-story Ferris Ranch House, from Juanita Schubert’s picture. (Courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society & Museum).

In terms of today’s geography, that translates into north of Muller Lane, on the west side of Hwy 395. And there’s a great landmark that can help you find the right spot today: the old house once sat just below the prominent Douglas County “D” on the side of the hill. (Look closely at the top photo above, and you can make out the white “D”!)

The Ferris family arrived in Carson Valley in September, 1864, after crossing the plains by wagon train from Galesburg, Illinois — George W.G. Ferris, his wife Martha, and eight of their ten children. (Son Fred was a soldier in the Civil War at the time; and daughter Harriet had died as a baby in 1849).

This actually wasn’t the first trip west for George Ferris Sr.; back in 1851 he’d spent seven months in California seeking Gold Rush riches with relative Chauncey Noteware. Although Noteware remained in the west (later becoming Nevada’s first Secretary of State), Ferris had quickly realized there were more lucrative opportunities for him at home, and returned to Galesburg. But he never stopped dreaming of returning. And so in 1864, George Ferris and his family finally made the long, hard overland haul in 1864 by wagon, heading (they originally thought) for San Jose.

Perhaps it was sheer economics that led Ferris to abandon San Jose as a destination and determine to settle in Carson Valley instead. Perhaps the beautiful scenery won him over. Or perhaps relative Chauncey Noteware (by then living in Carson City) had some hand in the decision. However it happened, once here, the Ferrises decided to stay.

Back in Illinois, George Ferris Sr. had been a well-to-do farmer. He’d realized a handsome sum by selling his Illinois farm — some say as much as $60,000. But he had taken his profits in greenbacks. To his dismay, he found that here in Carson Valley, greenbacks were disfavored and he was forced to pay for his new land in gold. He would later tell listeners that he’d lost $10,000 to $12,000 by the conversion; descendants told an even worse tale, saying he’d realized a mere fifty cents on each greenback dollar.

They promptly set about building a home, and by 1865 they had what one later biographer called a “rudimentary ranch house” in Carson Valley. Great-granddaughter Grace Dangberg would later say that the home was constructed “with nails hammered out on the anvils of Henry Van Sickle.” The plaster on its interior walls was mixed with horsehair for strength, she tells us (a common building technique at the time). And the parlor featured a fancy fireplace with a marble face. Not quite so “rudimentary,” after all!

George Washington Gale Ferris, Sr. — aka G.W.G. Ferris, circa 1889. (Photo courtesy of Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park.)

In years to come, the Ferris house would be the scene of many happy memories — and several tragic ones, as well.

One of the happiest events took place in March, 1866, when Margaret Gale Ferris (oldest living daughter of George Ferris Sr. and an older sister of Ferris Wheel inventor, G.W.G. Ferris, Jr.) married prominent rancher H.F. Dangberg, here in this house. She was just 17 at the time, while Dangberg was in his middle-30s — twice her age. Margaret lived thereafter on the Dangberg Home Ranch, and raised her children there.

Daughter Margaret Gale Ferris, who married H.F. Dangberg. This photo is circa 1880s. (Courtesy of Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park.)

Although the house would continue to be referred to as “the Ferris house” for many years, the family actually didn’t live here for long. In 1868, George Ferris, Sr. purchased a nearly-new home in Carson City from Gregory A. Sears. The “Sears-Ferris House” had just been built in 1863, and it still stands today at 311 West Third Street.

Just why the family left Carson Valley and moved to Carson City is a matter of some dispute. One story has it that the family feared the local Washoe Indians after an accidental shooting raised hard feelings. But as historian Richard G. Weingardt put it, George Sr. was simply “tired of living on an isolated ranch.” Carson City probably offered a more citified existence and greater social and cultural activities for the well-heeled family.

Whatever the precipitating reason was, in 1868, just four years after arriving in Nevada, the Ferris family moved to Carson City. There George Sr. continued his passion for farming as a “gentleman farmer.” And he also did his best to beautify his new hometown; it’s Ferris who is credited with planting hickory, black walnuts and chestnut trees on the grounds of Nevada’s Capitol building. He would eventually sell the Sears-Ferris House in Carson to his daughter, Mary, in 1890.

The Sears-Ferris House in Carson City, at 311 West Third Street. (Wikipedia photo).

As for the Ferris Ranch in Carson Valley, Grace Dangberg tells us that the family eventually sold it to Margaret’s husband, H.F. Dangberg, who leased it to tenant farmers. So over the coming decades, the Ferris house didn’t stay empty.

And here’s where the tale turns tragic. German immigrants Anna and Fritz Sarman arrived with their family in May, 1882, and took up residence in the former Ferris House. The Sarman family continued to live peacefully in the home for the next dozen years. Then on May 8, 1895, Anna was brutally murdered inside the house — struck in the head with a hatchet.

Suspicions focused at first on Anna’s husband, Fritz, who claimed to have been out in the fields at the time. But he and other supporters contended the culprit must have been a passing tramp. It was true that drifters along the nearby roads would often stop in at the house for a meal, and one had just eaten breakfast there the day Anna was killed. Sadly, Anna’s murder is still a mystery that’s never been solved.

The grave of Anna Sarman at Genoa Cemetery. (Photo courtesy of Judy Wickwire).

The Ferris house would become the scene of yet another sad event some eight years later, in 1903, while newlyweds Henry and Viola Berning were living in the old Ferris home. The young couple had just tied the knot on Christmas Day, 1902 in Gardnerville. Young Viola soon found herself pregnant with triplets — a nearly unheard-of medical event for the day. About October 17, 1903, Viola successfully gave birth to three tiny girls: Nina, Ina, and Mina. Baby Nina died shortly after birth. And just nine days later, mother Viola, too, died here at the Ferris house (October 26, 1903).

The old Ferris house no longer stands in the fields where Juanita Schubert snapped its picture. But traces of the former occupants still turn up  occasionally near the site. An early dime, a silver-plated pocket watch, and parts from various agricultural implements have been found over the years.

View toward the site where the Ferris home once stood, with the old fence line still in place. (Rick Dustman photo).

And where did everyone go? Mother Viola Berning and baby Nina are both buried (in unmarked graves) at Genoa Cemetery. Viola’s remaining two triplets both survived, and lived on into their 70s. George Ferris, Sr. moved to Riverside, California in 1881, passing away there in April, 1895. George Ferris, Jr. died in Pittsburgh, PA in 1896, at the entirely-too-young age of 37. Fritz Sarman died in May, 1900, almost exactly five years after his wife’s murder. Margaret Ferris Dangberg passed away in 1946 and rests at Lone Mountain Cemetery.

As for the old Ferris house itself — it was moved to the sheep camp on Stockyard Road about 1942. A subsequent owner had the house significantly remodeled, and used it as a second home when he and his wife came down from Reno. In recent years the old house become part of the Bently holdings, serving as a ranch manager’s home.

It’s so amazing this piece of history is still here, square nails and all! For all the tragedies this old house has seen, how lovely to know that it’s still a survivor.

The Ferris house, as it looks today. (Rick Dustman photo).

Top image (Juanita Schubert photo): Courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society & Museum.

We hope you’ll visit Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park to learn more about the Ferris family, the Dangberg family — and Carson Valley’s wonderful history! Many thanks for help with this article to both Mark Jensen of Dangberg Home Ranch and a certain kind and generous researcher who’s too shy to see her name in print.

Peters Station on Old Kingsbury Grade

Halfway up Kingsbury Grade once stood an early hotel known as Peters Station. If you were a teamster, this was the place to stop!

Situated on a flat spot at a big bend in the trail, Peters Station was a welcome oasis where men and animals alike could eat, drink, and rest from their labors ferrying goods up and down the dusty track.

We’ve never found a photo of Peters Station. (If you find one, please let us know!) But other writers have suggested it may have looked something like Friday’s Station, shown in this Lawrence & Houseworth photo. The freight wagons that stopped there would have looked much like these. (Amazingly, Friday’s is still there on Hwy 50, at Stateline NV!)

Not all the teamsters who stopped here would cram into Peters’ three-story hotel to sleep at night, of course. Many were content to simply roll up in their blankets in the bed of their wagons or stretch out on the ground. At one time, the hotel was said to employ five Chinese cooks and five waitresses, and as many as 300 wagons could be found tied up at Peters Flat overnight. And it wasn’t just teamsters who stopped at Peters Station, of course. Travelers headed east or west would have paused here for water. The Pony Express, too, paid quick visits during its brief period of operation over Kingsbury Grade from spring 1860 through October, 1861.

So just who was the “Peters” of Peters Station? Born in Virginia in 1804, Richard Peters had been a mule-skinner himself before morphing into a station owner. Richard, his wife, Elizabeth Elvira (Enlow), and their seven children had crossed the plains in 1850 at the height of the Gold Rush, settling initially in Fremont, Yolo County. Perhaps lured by fresh mining strikes, the Peters family moved on to Grass Valley in 1851.

About 1860 the Peters family moved once again. This time they picked a small spot located about halfway down the fresh Kingsbury Toll Road to set their roots, a site that soon became known as Peters Flat. The ground here was relatively level and timber abundant. Nearby springs afforded them water. The family planted a garden in a meadow close by and raised staples like corn, beans, potatoes, beets and tomatoes for the hotel’s table. Although perched at an elevation of 6,400 feet, their gardening efforts proved a splendid success. The family would later claim that their vegetables ripened two weeks before crops in Carson Valley.

Richard Peters’ timing to launch his new station was auspicious — and probably not coincidental. Kingsbury & McDonald officially opened their new wagon road in August, 1860 (and it actually had been in use for several months earlier). The new toll road quickly become the preferred route for teamsters hauling goods to Genoa or Virginia City, not only shortening the distance but also cutting travel time from Placerville to Carson Valley by a full day.

But the early Kingsbury dirt roadway was steep and difficult to navigate. A pause to rest at the halfway point made splendid sense. Other settlers began to appear about the same time along this downward stretch, too. By 1861, a “grog shop” was in full swing just west of Peters’ Station, while yet another settler had built a house a bit down the canyon.

This reproduction of Lt. Ives’ 1861 map shows not only the home of Richard Peters but also Alex Robb’s “house and grog shop” slightly farther west, and a third house to the east.
Ives’ survey shows R. Peters’ way station tucked in a big bend of the Kingsbury road.

Young Richard M. Peters, the eldest son of the family, had been born in Missouri in November, 1839. That made him about 21 years old when the family first opened their station, and he soon began to cast his eye around for a wife. Options for a marriage mate must have been slim pickings indeed at the Peters outpost on the side of a mountain. But not far away was Lake Tahoe and the growing settlement at South Lake.

On September 22, 1863, wedding bells were ringing. Richard M. Peters and Miss Frances Marion Lapham, a Tahoe girl, tied the knot right there at the Peters family hotel. Richard was not quite 24 years old at the time; France was a mere 14. Despite her youth, Frances would have been no stranger to the hard work of running a hotel. She was the daughter of “Capt. Billie” (William W.) Lapham, a former hotel proprietor himself at Calaveras Big Trees and, more recently, a hotel and commercial fishing boat operator at South Lake Tahoe. Frances and Richard would go on to have nine children together.

Wedding certificate for R.M. Peters and his wife, Frances M. Lapham, wed September 22, 1863 at Peters Station. Richard’s sister, Clara, was a witness. (Courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society).

But patriarch Richard Peters did not get to enjoy his new station for long. He died there at Peters Flat on February 19, 1866. It was “the dead of winter,” and the roadway would have been covered in snow. Somehow, his body was ferried up Kingsbury Grade and buried “at Rowland’s Station in Lake Valley” (now known as the Pioneer Cemetery at Al Tahoe). Peters was 61 years old. His wife, Elizabeth, would live on for another 25 years, finally passing away in Ely on December 17, 1891.

The grave of family patriarch Richard Peters at Al Tahoe. (Born in Virginia, Dec. 2, 1804; died at Peters Flat, Feb. 19, 1866.)

After his father passed away, Richard M. and other members of the family continued to run Peters Station for a time. Timber was abundant and, according to family lore, they added logging to supplement their hotel income. In later years a sawmill was said to be operating at Peters Flat. One brief newspaper mention confirms that as late as 1892, two trips a day were still being made from Peters Station to Hobart using horse-drawn teams to haul cedar posts .

Eventually, however, Richard M. sold Peters Station (some say it was bought by Peter Van Sickle), and moved away. Family history says he went on to try his hand at mining in Ward, Nevada (south of Ely) and other sites in Central Nevada. He died on June 6, 1915 in San Francisco, and is buried at Cypress Lawn Cemetery.

The hotel itself is long gone, though as late as the 1980s a few surviving fruit trees still marked the site of Peters Station. Today, the spot where Richard Peters and his family once welcomed hundreds of teamsters is part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

U.S. Forest Service map showing the winding white line of present-day Kingsbury; a dashed red line for the old Kingsbury Toll Road; and the site of Peters Flat (#14).

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Family information for this story comes from materials kindly contributed by Dr. Perry Close (a Peters family descendant) to the Van Sickle Research Room at Douglas County Historical Society & Museum about 1992. Many to DCHS for the marriage certificate and first map shown above. Special thanks are also due to historian Sue Silver for her wonderful input, research and encouragement for this article, and especially for sharing the 1861 Ives map.  

Stories of the Fairview School – Part 2

We left off last time with the story of a funny Halloween prank played on old-time rancher Abednego John. (If you missed it, you can find that tale in Part 1, here!)

The original Fairview School, as you’ll remember, sat at the mouth of Fay-Luther canyon. But roughly twenty years later, a new and improved, second Fairview school was built about a mile to the south. Was this new spot just a more convenient site? Or were there other reasons for starting over?

That question’s a mystery. But we do know that well-known local builder John Cress was chosen as the contractor, and the new schoolhouse quickly sprouted at the corner of today’s Fairview and Fredericksburg Roads in the summer of 1893 . When school began again that fall, the teacher at the new one-room Fairview school was a Miss Lloyd. Just imagine how she must have felt, moving into the freshly-built quarters!

Could this the first day of school in the brand-new Fairview School building, in the fall of 1893? That would be my bet! For one thing, there are no trees visible around the new school (the trees didn’t arrive until 1894). If so, that’s probably Miss Layne in the far-back right, with her 24 students. See this rare photo for yourself at Douglas County Historical Society in a charming exhibit (downstairs). The exhibit includes a child’s antique alphabet-block (just visible at lower left in this photo). (Photo courtesy of Judy Wickwire.)

The following spring, Miss Lloyd had a grand idea to beautify the rather barren school grounds. In honor of Arbor Day, 1894 (the last Friday in April), Miss Lloyd put her students to work planting trees around their new schoolhouse. Then each student took on the responsibility of watering the tree they had planted.

“We hope the trees will live and flourish,” enthused the Genoa Weekly Courier on April 27, 1894, “and that the teacher and pupils will be able to enjoy their shade for many years.” That happy wish that would come true — and not just for Miss Lloyd’s helpful students, but for generations of Carson Valley residents to come. Many of those early saplings still adorn the site today!

Genoa Weekly Courier, April 27, 1894.

A further upgrade for the new school arrived in January, 1901, when Allen & Dake bored a new well. The school’s fortuitous location in the bottomlands made this a relatively easy task; they only had to go 40 feet deep. The new well probably helped greatly with keeping the trees watered. And how many thirsty students must have paused to get a drink from the school’s handy new “pump well”?!

The number of pupils attending Fairview School seems to have stayed fairly constant, at least for a time: 29 students were in attendance in 1881, and 25 occupied its desks in 1901. But Fairview was said to have been one of the roughest posts for teachers. “The Dresslers and the Bohlmans and the Ruhenstroths were all tough boys,” remembered one long-time Valley resident. “They would put skunks in the girls’ billy [outhouse]. So the teacher made the boys use the girls’ outhouse!”

Perhaps those rowdy kids help explain why Fairview teachers seemed to come and go with great rapidity. Mr. Spencer, the school’s first educator, was replaced by Mrs. Layne in 1876. By 1883 Katie Taylor had taken over, only to be replaced by Miss Belle Leslie in 1888 and Mrs. Mary Field in 1889. None other than Ellen Virgin (daughter of the Genoa judge) was engaged to teach at Fairview for the term beginning fall 1890. The tree-planting Miss Lloyd presided stuck it out for a few terms from 1894 to 1897 before returning to her home in Empire. 1898 featured a Miss Lamb from Washoe County as the teacher, while Nellie M. Cavanaugh was in charge for the 1899 and 1900 terms, before departing to take the post of principal at the Oak Grove School in Santa Clara County, California. In 1904 the Fairview School District secured its next teacher, J. Novacovich, from Reno. And that’s not an exhaustive list; there were likely a few other teachers as well!

The Fairview School circa 1908, at the southeast corner of Fairview and Fredericksburg Roads. By now its saplings were mature trees. (Scossa family photo).

But it’s hard to fight progress. As with so many small school districts, economics eventually forced the tiny Fairview School to close. Fairview’s School District was merged with Minden’s School District in the spring of 1929. The old Fairview schoolhouse was auctioned off that same year, with Charles Mapes becoming the successful bidder. About 1939 the old building was moved up the road to the Crosby Ranch (later Ahern Ranch), where some say it was converted to a bunkhouse and others say it became an office. Today all traces of the old school seem to be gone, however; local researchers say they have tried to locate it, without success.

Those Arbor Day trees planted by the students and their thoughtful teacher back in April, 1894? Some of those are now giants!  These tenacious survivors have continued to offer graceful shade and shelter for 125 years — and still counting. Miss Lloyd must be smiling at her handiwork indeed.

Site of the second Fairview School, looking south, with its 125-year-old trees. A private residence now occupies this parcel.(Rick Dustman photo).
Looking east from the corner at Fredericksburg and Fairview toward the spot where the Fairview School once stood. (Rick Dustman photo).
Discover the history of nearby Fredericksburg CA in this fun book – and walk its historic cemetery to “meet” local  pioneers! The book’s available right on this site, on the “Books” tab. Let us know and we’ll gladly sign your copy, too!

 

Stories of the Fairview School

We still don’t know exactly when the first schoolhouse was built at Fairview, Nevada. But it had to be sometime before 1875 — because that’s the year teacher Ella S. Lane became known as the “Heroine of Fairview School District”! And a well-deserved honor it was. Here’s the tale:

Like most buildings of the day, the Fairview School featured a handy woodstove to help ward off winter’s chill. Teachers’ duties would often include arriving early to light the stove before students arrived.

All was well until one chilly day when, in the midst of her lesson, Miss Lane happened to glance up. Quickly altering her plans, she seated herself at the school organ and commenced a rousing rendition of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” This was the students’ cue to march outside for a recess. No one (except the teacher) realized that the woodstove chimney had caught the loft on fire until the children had all made it safely outside the burning building. A heroine she was, indeed!

We’ve never seen an image of the very first Fairview School. This is the second school building at Fairview, ca. 1908, at the southeast corner of Fairview and Fredericksburg Roads. The earlier building stood at the head of the canyon a mile or so north. (Photo courtesy of Scossa family).
A pot-bellied stove was a common central feature in early schoolhouses. (c) K. Dustman

A few more tidbits about the early days of the Fairview School have been handed down to us courtesy of old-timer Owen E. Jones, who set pen to paper in 1925 to record his recollections. Fairview was the “first schoolhouse built in [this end of] Carson Valley,” Jones assures us. Its very first teacher? A Mr. Spencer. And the school itself moved around a bit; the first building initially sat at the mouth of the canyon, about a mile “west” [probably really northwest] of the spot where the second incarnation of the school later materialized.

A public building like a school was, after all, a public building; so the community embraced the Fairview schoolhouse for other needs as well. Following its week-day service as a one-room schoolhouse, the building wore a new role on Sundays as a place to hold church. Separation of church and state? No one evidently bothered their heads about such things, back in the day.

And there’s a hilarious story about one of those religious gatherings in the Fairview School, again preserved for us courtesy of Owen E. Jones. It seems that Abednego Johns, a pioneer Jacks Valley rancher, had arranged for two distinguished LDS ministers to come and preach at the schoolhouse one Sunday in late October during the 1880s. Mr. Johns, his wife, and the two visiting ministers — all “heavy-weighted persons” — clambered aboard Abednego’s wagon and rode south for the event. The Fairview school building was filled with neighbors, eagerly awaiting the out-of-town preachers. And then Mr. Johns stood up to introduce his guests.

Now, Mr. Johns was a “very splendid old gentleman,” Owen Jones tells us, whose “only fault was that, when he got to talking religion, he never knew when to stop.” So after beginning his introduction of the two visiting Mormon ministers, Mr. Johns just kept on talking! By the time he finally ceded the floor, most of the assembled crowd had given up and left the building. The two preachers were forced to simply bid the stragglers good-bye and call it a night.

Farm wagon.

And that wasn’t entirely the end of Mr. Johns’ rather unfortunate evening, either. While his “fillibuster” droned on, some wag had played a Halloween joke. Slipping outside, the prankster swapped the front and back wheels of Johns’ wagon, then added a heavy sack of wet sand beneath the driver’s seat and tied another to the rear axle. When the non-preaching event finally was over, Johns and his guests boarded their wagon, only to endure an excruciatingly slow journey home in the dark. They were mystified about why the team was so exhausted — until, hours later, they finally made it home to Jacks Valley and discovered the prank.

But wait! There’s more! Tune in next time for “Part 2” of this story — including who planted the trees around the old Fairview School, and where (more than a hundred years later) you can see them!

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Unsung Heroes: Mary Shaw Shorb and Vitamin B12

She’s probably one of the most interesting women you never read about. And long after her death, she may have just solved a friend’s puzzling health problem.

Her name was Mary Shaw Shorb, and she was born in the wilds of North Dakota on a blustery winter day, January 7, 1907. Women weren’t allowed to vote at the time. And although that, at least, had changed by the time Mary reached her twenties, job opportunities for women were pretty slim. You could be a teacher, a seamstress, a cook, a nurse, or a mom. Women in any other occupations were rare indeed.

Mary Shaw (Shorb), about the time she graduated from college (courtesy of the family).

But Mary Shaw wanted wider horizons than that. A family friend had taught her to recognize wildflowers and edible mushrooms as a child, and Mary was fascinated by botany. And as luck would have it, this same family friend had been one of the founders of the College of Idaho. Mary enrolled there in 1924, graduating four years later with a B.S. degree in Biology — and, just in case, a minor in Home Ec.

Mary’s older brother was studying to be a doctor at Johns Hopkins University and before long Mary enrolled there as well, earning her Doctor of Science degree (Sc.D.) in immunology in 1933. For her dissertation she developed an antigen that proved so successful it became one of the front-line treatments for pneumonia until sulfa drugs came along.

By now Mary was married to fellow grad student Doys Shorb, whom she’d known since kindergarten. Their first child arrived in 1936, followed by two additional children in 1938 and 1942. For a time, Mary stayed home with the kids.

But during the War years, determined to do what she could to help, Mary accepted a technical job with the Bureau of Dairy Industries: culturing a bacillus known as “LLD” used to make yogurt and other milk products. It was a mundane, routine kind of job. But Mary became fascinated when she heard about a well-known quirk in the industry: For some strange reason, in order to properly culture LLD the growth medium had to include a special extract made from liver.

Why was that? What did liver have to do with making these organisms grow? No one could tell her. Then in 1946, even that mundane job evaporated — the employee who’d previously held the position was now back from the war.

But Mary’s curiosity had been piqued. There was something in that liver extract– and it didn’t just help LLD to grow properly. Liver was also the only known remedy at the time for treating pernicious anemia, an often-fatal ailment that had already killed Mary’s father-in-law.

Unappetizing as it sounds, raw liver had indeed proven beneficial for anemia victims. But the treatment required taking nearly a pound of raw liver a day. And so far, the mysterious “active ingredient” in liver had never been isolated and standardized.

Fresh out of a job, Mary was able to wangle lab space at the University of Maryland as an unpaid “research position.” A Merck Company researcher came through with a $400 company grant to fund the upstart young scientist’s efforts. Her brilliantly simple approach: if LLD only grew in the presence of this unknown liver factor, then measuring its growth rate should help pinpoint this mysterious X-factor.

Mary Shaw Shorb

Mary developed a “bio-assay” protocol — and it worked. In just three months, the Merck scientific team was able to isolate the first red crystals of this special active ingredient from liver extract– now known as Vitamin B12. It was a stunning breakthrough, and produced astonishing results for victims of pernicious anemia.

Asked about this breakthrough in a 1954 Idaho newspaper, Mary was her  usual humble, retiring self. “It was such a gradual discovery it’s hard to express my feeling when it was proved the vitamin did cure anemia,” she confessed. “But I will admit that it was a thrill and quite a wonderful experience.”

A tiny dynamo standing just four feet eleven inches tall, Mary was granted a full research professorship at the University of Maryland. Over her lengthy scientific career, she authored or co-authored 58 papers for scientific journals before finally retiring in 1972. Ironically, she passed away at the age of 83 in 1990 from complications of pneumonia, the same illness she’d helped treat with her dissertation.

And how did Mary Shaw Shorb manage to help rectify my friend’s health problem, long after Mary’s own death? Actually, it was her discovery of B12 that did it.

It all started out with a wonky blood result. My friend, a long-time vegetarian, had had chronically low white blood counts for well over a decade. Recently, though,  her WBC number dipped into the “what’s going on” crazy-zone. Her doctor was ready to send her to an oncologist. That’s right: they thought it might be cancer.

My friend thought otherwise. She’d read that vegetarians tend to have lower WBC numbers anyhow. And there were a few hints that B12 might be helpful for improving both red and white blood counts. For three weeks, she took a daily B12 supplement and added nutritional yeast (a B-vitamin source) to her coffee.

And that crazy-low WBC number? It jumped by two full points. She’s back in the “normal” range for the first time in ten years. And she credits it all to Mary Shaw Shorb and her amazing B12.

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(Caution/Caveat/Disclaimer: This anecdotal health story is shared just for reading interest; it’s not intended as medical advice of any kind. Please talk to your own doctor before trying any home remedies or self-treatment!)

 

 

 

 

Yank’s Station

Old Yank’s Station has a cool anniversary coming up on Sunday, April 28th  — 159 years, to be exact!

On April 28th, 1860, exactly 159 years ago, a young Pony Express rider named Warren Upson came flying in to change ponies, stopping for the very first time for his mount change at Yank’s.

The new road over Kingsbury Grade had just opened, you see, which offered a shorter route for the mail heading east to Genoa than on Upson’s previous rides. (On earlier rides, Upson had taken a longer route through Hope Valley and Woodfords.) Now, with the new Pony Express stop at Yank’s, Upson would only need to ride as far as Friday’s Station (today’s Stateline) before handing the mochila over to the next Pony Express rider.

Pony Express plaque at the former Yank’s Station, at Meyers.

Today, of course, they don’t call it “Yank’s Station” anymore. The site is now home to Holiday Market (formerly Lira’s), at the southwest corner of Highway 50 and Apache Avenue in Meyers. The Pony Express only stopped at Yank’s for a year and a half — until October 26, 1861. But Yank and his station had a fascinating and much longer history!

Ephraim “Yank” Clement had been the owner for less than a year when Upson arrived that April. The previous owner, Martin Smith, had  settled there in 1851, rebuilding the trading station once after an early fire. By the time Yank Clement came along and bought it from Smith and a partner in 1859, the station was already a well-known trading post and stage stop. A telegraph relay station had just been added in 1858.

And Yank Clement brought his own bigger and grander ideas. After he purchased the station in 1859, he kept adding and expanding. Eventually his station was three stories tall, featuring 14 rooms, a general store, a blacksmith shop, and last but not least — twosaloons! It’s said that those quickly became popular with travelers not only for drinks, food and card games, but also a handful of ladies of dubious virtue who could be found there. Across the road, Clement added large corrals, and the station featured a large barn with stables for travelers’ animals.

Sketch of Yanks’ three-story station about 1861. As the building on the right suggests, the earliest buildings here were likely log structures.

Yank was a larger-than-life character who quickly became a local celebrity. He was a true Yankee indeed, claiming to have moved west from his native New Hampshire at the age of 40 and acquiring the station “at the instance of Chorpenning.” Yank would regale visitors with tales of his early adventures, which (supposedly) included a brief sojourn as a cooper in Cuba and service as a chaplain at the Battle of Bunker Hill — this last an amusing but thoroughly impossible tale for a someone born about 1817. Planned future improvements, he assured guests, would include a tree-house lookout for better views of the lake; a fish pond with water-spouting Cupid; and a brand new piano (pronounced “peeyan-er”) for his house. The warm and effusive host was said to accompany his narratives with “many amusing peculiarities of phrase and gesture.”

In the outpost’s early days, at least, the location was still a remote slice of the Old West. A California teamster named Grace got held up at gunpoint near Yank’s Station in November, 1865, while on his way home after delivering a load of goods to Dayton, Nevada. Five “foot-pads” with shotguns accosted Grace’s wagon near Yank’s Station, and the poor teamster was forced to hand over the entire $450 proceeds he’d earned for his trip.

Wedding announcement in the San Francisco Examiner, July 6, 1868. The new Mrs. Clement was evidently already living at Yank’s Station at the time of their marriage.

After almost a decade in business Yank acquired a bride, marrying Mrs. Lydia D. Mark in Genoa on June 30, 1868. The new Mrs. Clement became a strong partner in the hotel business, with visitors commenting on her excellent cooking and housework skills.

Tragedy struck the pair just a few short years later, however, when Yank’s hotel was consumed by fire in December, 1872. Among those who barely escaped with their lives were Yank, his wife Lydia, and a Mrs. Cleveland, the wife of a senator. Mrs. Cleveland suffered burns on her face and hands as she rushed out of the burning building, and Lydia Clement was said to have had her hair “singed to the roots.”

Perhaps as a result of this catastrophe, “Yank” sold his station to George D.H. Meyers in 1873. Meyers would later expand the holdings, purchasing nearby land, and began raising cattle there. The property would stay in the Meyers family for the next 30 years, and later was acquired by the Celio family.

Despite the sale of his original station, Yank wouldn’t abandon the hotel business, however. He soon built another hotel near Camp Richardson known as Tallac House, memorialized by famed photographer Carleton Watkins in 1876. This hotel was grander than ever, featuring a spring floor for dancing called an “emotional floor.” And naturally, given Yank’s personality, it was still commonly known as “Yank’s.”

A visitor in August, 1875 described the accommodations, which included a bed “at least four feet from the floor” and a single shared toothbrush “in a large pressed-glass tumbler,” thoughtfully provided for the comfort of Yank’s visitors. Clements and his wife set a good table, the writer confirmed (“I mean it — a real good table is theirs”), and described them as “bustling around as usual and doing all in their power for their guests.” Another guest remarked cryptically that he and his friends had managed to procure an early breakfast by “ventur[ing] to brave the small explosive dangers of Yank’s dining hall” — possibly a reference to being cornered by Yank with a story.

Yank was described as “the most obliging old coon in the world, [who] flies off here, there, and everywhere all day in the interest and comfort of his guests.” Mrs. Clement was a “first-class housekeeper,” keeping the hotel running smoothly along with help from her niece, a Mrs. Rogers. And Yank was said to out-do himself for guests: “If you want his house, team and wagon, it comes marvelously at your order; and if you order saddle horses or boats he makes a spring and a whiz and you are equipped.”

For a time, Yank Clement also served as local justice of the peace, much to the amusement of those in his courtroom. During the trial of one case, Yank fell sound asleep and “began snoring like a house afire.” When roused from his slumbers so the evidence could continue, Yank responded tartly: ‘That’s all right. I knew all about the darned case [before] it came into the court [and] made up my mind about the merits long ago.” In another instance, one man was trying to sue another for an unpaid debt. “Well,” Yank inquired, “Did you have a talk with him about the matter? And he wouldn’t give you no satisfaction?” No, Yank was assured, the debtor had refused to pay. “By jingo!” he erupted. “If you couldn’t do nothin’ with him, how in blazes can you expect me to do it?”

Clement’s Tallac House was sold about 1880 to Elias “Lucky” Baldwin, who would later build an even grander Tallac Hotel there. As for the original Yank’s Station in Meyers, it was finally “done in” for a third time by fire in 1938  — along with much of the surrounding community of Meyers.

Visit the plaque for old Yank’s Station in the parking lot of today’s Holiday Market at Meyers.

So this April 28, it’s only fitting to consider a pilgrimage to the site of old Yank’s Station in honor of this 159th anniversary. Imagine young Warren Upson, tired and cold, making his hurried change of ponies and dreaming of a quick stop at Al Tahoe and the warm fire ahead at Friday’s Station. And imagine Ephraim “Yank” Clement standing in the door of his original Yank’s Station, waving good-bye and wishing Upson god-speed on the road ahead.

 

Do You Believe in Dowsers?

Minor miracle or self-delusion? Lost art or pure malarkey?

Whether dowsers really have a special ability to locate underground water with a forked willow stick (or an iron bar, or welding rods, or half-a-dozen other purported tools of the trade), people have believed in their uncanny abilities for generations.

“I can’t explain it any more than I can explain the sense of direction possessed by migrating birds,” dowser Roy Newman shrugged back in 1961. “I do say I have never yet located a dry well while using the divining rod.”

Newman, a Frazier Park, CA resident at the time, amassed a healthy track record to back up his water-finding bonafides. He successfully picked a spot for a new well in Cuddy Valley in 1926. And over the years, he went on to locate five or six more good water wells in the vicinity — including one that successfully turned up water after more scientific methods to locate a drill site turned up bone dry.

Preferring ‘water diviner’ or ‘dowser’ to the old-fashioned term, ‘water witcher,’ Newman’s tools of the trade included a forked willow branch, a  thin metal wire or, on occasion, a crowbar. But the willow switch was apparently his favorite. Holding a freshly-cut forked willow with down-facing hands, Newman would walk forward over the ground until the willow tip dipped. That was his signal, he said, that water would be found below.

One of six wells in the Frazier Park area discovered by a trio with divining rods. This one produced 350 gallons per minute.

Even walking wasn’t always necessary; sometimes, to cover larger areas, Newman would simply perch on the hood of a car, willow rod in hand. To strengthen the signal, he’d sometimes place one hand over his heart. And once a promising water site was located, Newman would simply hold his willow stick over the spot and count “vibrations” to read the water’s depth.

And Roy Newman wasn’t the only dowser helping find wells near Frazier Park back in the 1960s. M. Pickner of Gorman reportedly chose several successful well sites using an iron bar as his dowsing rod, including finding water at one spot after professional well-locators had failed. Dowser Frank Thorpe also successfully helped choose sites for producing local wells. His preferred dowser’s tool: a wishbone-shaped piece of wire.

Hokum or an as-yet-unexplained gift? It’s hard to say. But it’s fun to watch a dowser in action. We were privileged, once, to watch as a local dowser named Percy Pimley searched for a well site here on the Eastern Slope of the Sierra. According to Percy — then 83 years old — a fresh, forked willow stick was the ticket.  But those with the “gift” need to be extra-careful when using willow, Percy warned. “It can tear the skin right off your palms when it bends if the signal is real strong.”

 

 

Yank That Dandelion – And Eat It!?

They’re the bane of gardeners everywhere. And adding insult to injury, they’re the happiest of flowers nobody ever planted. Cheerful yellow intruders, they pop up with smiling, sunny faces, as if mocking eradication efforts.

We’re talking the dandelion, of course. Native to Europe and Asia, the dandelion is said to have arrived in the New World in the early 1600s. Were the seeds stowaways when the Pilgrims first set foot at Plymouth Rock? Or were they deliberately brought along by colonists as a medicinal plant? No one seems to know for sure. But once having arrived in the New World, the dandelion quickly set its roots. And it’s certainly made itself right at home.

Public Domain – shared courtesy of National Library of Medicine; from “A Curious Herbal” by Elizabeth Blackwell (1737).

Like so many things we detest, though, there’s another side to dandelions if we look hard enough. The humble and ever-present dandelion has been treasured for centuries as both a food and a medicine.

Its roots have long been used as a detoxifying “tonic,” stimulating for the kidney, liver and gallbladder. The leaves make a dandy salad or smoothie green (yeah, pun intended), and some folks toss those cheerful yellow blooms in their salads as well. There’s dandelion tea (made by simmering the leaves), and dandelion “coffee” (brewed from the dried, ground root). And don’t forget that home-brewed staple of country living, dandelion wine. (Even proper Victorian women who weren’t supposed to imbibe strong drink were permitted to consume this “medicinal” remedy!)

Public Domain – shared courtesy of National Library of Medicine; from p 93 of “A New And Complete American Family Herbal” by Samuel Henry (1814).

The white sap that oozes from a dandelion’s cut stems or roots has been used in folk medicine to treat warts. Centuries ago, herbalists used the plant as a remedy for fever, depression and even hair loss. And some today say the root contains substances that could potentially help treat cancer. (Take all those “cures” with a grain of salt . . . but the cancer link just might be worth further research.)

Dandelion tea is easy to make: Just simmer the washed, chopped leaves and root for about 15 minutes, let cool, and strain. (It’s a natural diuretic, so check with your doctor first if you have liver, kidney, or gallbladder issues, or if you’re already taking a diuretic.)

Wash and cook the leaves just like spinach — like spinach, they’re high in iron and calcium.

And if you’d like to try making your very own dandelion wine (and wreak a bit of revenge on those cheerful yellow blossoms in the process), all it takes is a heaping quantity of flowers, a bit of yeast, some citrus fruit and raisins, and a lot of sugar. Oh, and a few weeks of toe-tapping as you wait for it to brew.

There are scads of recipes available online for making dandelion wine, but here’s one with great how-to pictures – plus a bonus recipe at the end for making dandelion cookies:

https://commonsensehome.com/dandelion-wine-recipe/

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(Photo at top:  Public Domain image shared courtesy of National Library of Medicine; from “Medical Botany” by William Woodville .)

The Dake House: A Genoa Treasure

This beautiful old Victorian home sits just south of Genoa. It’s known as the Dake House, and it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But it’s notable for yet another reason, as well: this is also said to be one of the most haunted sites in Nevada.

And given its history, there’s are a few good reasons why a ghost or two might be hanging around!

Charles W. Dake served as a local undertaker for many years (though he listed his occupation simply as “carpenter” in the 1880 census). He did indeed work as a carpenter, building a railing for the Genoa courthouse, and a bridge in Smith Valley, for instance. Surprisingly, however, he didn’t actually build his own coffins in his second career as an undertaker; those were shipped in, already assembled.

A native of Canada, Dake had initially settled in Alpine County, California, after moving west in the 1860s. By 1866 he and his wife, Harriet, were living in the silver mining boomtown of Silver Mountain City. There he became an Alpine County supervisor, even serving as Chairman of the Board from 1868-69. The Dakes already had four children; their fifth baby, named Charles after his father, was born in 1869 while the family lived in the snowy Alpine mountains.

By the time of the 1870 census, Dake and his family had moved to Monitor, where he found employment as superintendent for the mill at the Globe Mine. Like other eager miners, Dake invested a bit in the local mines. But after the Globe Mine shut down “temporarily” Dake moved on, purchasing his property here in Genoa about 1872.

Dake is believed to have built this house himself. But he wasn’t the first settler to actually live at this site. According to old-timer Harry Hawkins, an elderly African-American man had once lived at this site. That fits with the story that an early log cabin once sat here, before Dake came along. According to Hawkins, the property’s former owner died and was buried just north of the present-day house. Sadly, Hawkins recalls that someone later built a rock fence right over the man’s grave.  Well, that might explain why at least one irritable ghost would still occupy this property!

One of the original out-buildings. (Photo courtesy of Judy Wickwire).

During Dake’s time, his Victorian home did double-duty as the post office and as his Justice of the Peace office. Dake also had a barn and carriage house on the property.  The Dake property was sold in 1909 to Theodore and Clara Hawkins, and Clara reportedly planted the lilac bushes, snowball bushes, and fruit trees you can still see there today.

As for the undertaking parlor, well, that moved around a bit (literally!). In early 1888, Dake was renting space for his undertaking business in J.R. Johnson’s building in Genoa, just north of the butcher shop. That didn’t last long, however. Dake had already  purchased the  Audrain property next to his home in 1887, and had moved the former Audrain house closer to the road. In the spring of 1890, Dake moved his undertaking business there. It was conveniently close — and there’d be no rent!

Dake’s undertaking parlor made at least one more journey, too, before it was eventually demolished in 1958. In July, 1891, a heavy cloudburst washed the entire structure down the hill and into fields below owned by the Frey family. “The building was turned completely round and what was the south wing is now the north,” reported the Genoa Weekly Courier. Stories are still told today about coffins coming down into the field with it.

The disaster was no problem for those unsentimental old-timers, though; they simply dragged the wooden building back up to its earlier spot and set it back on its foundation. When the undertaking building was finally demolished for good in 1958, caked dry mud was said to be found still packed between the old floor joists.

Ad for Dake’s undertaking services from the June 5, 1885 Genoa Weekly Courier.

And the ghostly encounters reported at the Dake House? Well, there’ve been lots of them!

Staff in the antique store have reported “phantom shadows.” The ghostly figure of an older woman has been spotted on the first floor, and some visitors claim to have smelled sweet perfume in the parlor. People say they’ve heard footsteps echoing from the empty upper floor. One visitor upstairs felt a distinct slap on the face – when no one else was in the room at the time.

But perhaps the most frequently re-told ghost story involves a beautiful oil painting. It appears to be an ordinary-enough still-life of a vase filled with roses. But it’s thought to be either an original or a duplicate of a “spirit painting,” created by a medium at a seance in San Francisco.

The painting is thought to possibly be a “spirit painting,” created by a medium. (Illustration: K.Dustman).

According to local lore, the antique store owner tried to sell the painting three separate times. But each time a sale was imminent, the painting would crash to the floor. Once it even struck an electrical plug on its journey, sending up a dramatic cascade of sparks. Three times was enough to get the message across, however: the owner hasn’t tried to sell the painting since.

Given that an undertaking parlor once sat nearby, you can kinda understand why a few ghosts might be hanging around the property, right? And there could be other reasons for unsettled spirits, as well. There’s that unfortunate former owner with a rock wall now covering his grave. There’s the “spirit painting,” which may have come with its own unsettled spirit attached. And in addition to the bodies that passed through Dake’s undertaking parlor over the years there were the grieving spouses who came to his home.

But that’s not all. Dake’s wife, Harriet, passed away in Genoa (possibly even here in this house) in September, 1878. The precise day she died? You guessed it: Friday the 13th.

As for C.W. Dake himself, he passed away at the age of 79 in November, 1908. Records show he is buried in a plot near the top of Genoa Cemetery, along with wife Harriet, son Bert, and five other Dakes. Sadly, these family graves are currently unmarked. Like so many early ones, their headstones may once have been made of wood. There’s even a local rumor that C.W. Dake’s headstone may have been stolen long ago. Or perhaps you might say it was — spirited away!

Charles W. Dake, his wife Harriet, and several Dake children are buried toward the top of Genoa Cemetery (near the southwest corner). There’s one small marker on the plot for John Simonis (likely a son-in-law), but no remaining headstones for the Dake family members in this plot. (This photo and top photo both courtesy of Judy Wickwire)