We left off last week with the secret Eugene A. May had kept for over 50 years: his real name was Henry Head! He’d left his family back in Illinois after an emotional dispute with his step-mother. His own family in Empire may not even have known the truth.
After Hank’s death in 1900, his widow, Eldorado, found herself alone again. She now had buried her second husband. Eldorado would eventually marry a third time: a judge in Washoe Valley named Lamb.
Hank May’s step-daughter, Jennie, was now a schoolteacher. She had attended the University of Nevada Normal School and her first teaching assignments were at the elementary schools at Galena, Pine Grove, and Mina Nevada.
About 1898, Jennie May took a job just over the California border, and began teaching at the little white schoolhouse in Markleeville. In her oral history, Jennie would recall arriving for this job aboard the local stage: a spring wagon with two horses. The following year, 1899 Jennie accepted a teaching position at Fredericksburg School. And, as other Fredericksburg teachers had done, she roomed with the Bruns family in their beautiful ranch house adjacent to the school.
Schoolteachers were considered great marriage material. And sure enough, on December 28, 1904, Fred Bruns, Jr. wed young Jennie May in Carson City. Although she was no longer allowed to teach after her marriage, Jennie went on to become Alpine County’s longest-serving superintendent of schools (from 1916-1939). Jennie and Fred had four children together including Hubert, later a well-known Alpine rancher and supervisor.
Around 1923 Jennie’s mother, Eldorado, now a widow for the third time, came to live with Jennie and Fred. Eldorado died in 1924 of pneumonia at the age of 70, and is buried at the Fredericksburg Cemetery.
Fred Bruns, Jr. passed away in 1959. His wife Jennie — step-daughter of Eugene “Hank” May (aka Henry Head) and the little girl who grew up in Empire watching the old millworks turn — died in 1970. She was 92.
Jennie, Fred and Eldorado Lamb are all buried at Fredericksburg Cemetery.
So that’s the story of Hank May, who wasn’t really Hank May at all; his wife Eldorado, who lost three husbands; and little Jennie, who used to watch the millworks turn at Empire and grew up to become an important member of one of Alpine County’s most prominent ranching families!
Hank May’s grave at Empire still looks out over the site where the Mexican Mill once stood.
Here are directions if you decide to pay him a visit: From Carson City, take Highway 50 East. Turn south (right) at Deer Run and in a short distance, turn right again on Sheep Drive. The road will curve around to Waste Management. Follow the cemetery signs and a rather unusual access road will take you up the hill (you will think you’re driving through private business property, but just follow the cemetery signs!)
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Eugene A. May was a long-time resident of of Empire, the early mining town east of Carson City. You might say he’s still a resident: his quiet grave is tucked in at the little Empire Cemetery, overlooking the valley. Little did we know when first saw his headstone — but May had a secret life!
Known to his friends as “Hank,” May moved to Nevada about 1863 and was living at Empire at the time of the 1870 Census. Around 1878 he married a young widow named Eldorado, who had a one-year-old daughter named Jennie (Eugenia). May was 47 years old at the time of their marriage and solidly middle-aged. Eldorado, on the other hand, was only about 24 — roughly half Hank’s age.
Their age difference would raise eyebrows today, but May/December romances weren’t all that uncommon back then. And for a widow with a young daughter it was a practical match. Eldorado’s first husband, Michael Dunigan, had died in 1877 after a fluming accident at Lake Tahoe, and women had few work options outside the home. Eldorado had young Jennie to think about.
Hank May was a skilled millwright and was the foreman of the Mexican Mill. He was a stable breadwinner, and raised young Jennie as his own. The family lived in a house near the mill, and Jennie would follow Hank to work, later recalling spending “many hours of my early life watching the mill process.”
Hank was a “strong Republican,” and ran for state Assembly in the fall of 1880, beating Democrat Samuel Longabaugh in the election. Jennie remembered visiting the Nevada legislature with her mother, Eldorado, where “we sat proudly on the Assembly floor.”
The Mexican Mill eventually closed about 1885, but Hank remained on as a caretaker and watchman. When the mill was later remodeled to process gypsum (used for making cement), Hank was again employed. With his skills as a millwright, he also was called upon to help build other mills and hoisting works along the Carson River through the years, including the power plant at Rodenbaugh’s Station (the old Power Dam at Ruhenstroth).
One morning in the winter of 1898, however, Hank May met with a tragic accident. According to Jennie, he “slipped near the dynamo and his arm was caught in a revolving wheel.” His arm was dislocated at the shoulder, and the bone was broken in three places.
Hank May lived for another two years, but never fully recovered. He died at his home in Empire in November, 1900. Rev. J.W. Durrance officiated at his funeral when Hank was laid to rest at the peaceful Empire Cemetery atop the hill overlooking the Mexican Mill where he worked for so long.
Soon after Hank’s death, however, an astonishing story came to light. Hank’s friend, B.F. Denton, notified newspapers back in Hank’s home state of Illinois about his death, noting that his real name was not Eugene May at all!
Eugene “Hank” May, it turns out, was actually Henry Head, son of a wealthy father (whose own name might produce chuckles today: Biggar Head).
Hank aka Henry was born in Illinois in 1832, and grew up at Sand Ridge, between Edwardsville and Alton, Illinois. Biggar had evidently remarried, and Hank/Henry got into a dispute with his step-mother that led him to leave home about 1850, at the age of 18. By 1863 Hank/Henry had made his way to what would soon become Nevada; the 1870 Census shows him living in Empire. He not only left behind his home and his family, but also adopted a new name and kept his true identity a secret: he was now “Eugene A. May.” Denton, his friend since childhood, knew about the fiction but at Hank’s insistence kept mum.
Hank/Henry held tight to his family grudge for the next 50 years, refusing to contact two living brothers back east, William and Augustin Head. A half-sister sent Hank several letters about 1880, but he refused to open the envelopes, sending each of the letters back unread. He admonished life-long friend Denton that “if he ever wrote East about him, they would never again be friends.”
Even Hank’s headstone held tight to his secret; it bears the name he was known by for so many years in Empire: ‘Eugene A. May.’
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE, INCLUDING A SURPRISING LINK TO ALPINE COUNTY!
Tune in next week to read the second half of this story, with more of the tale about widow Eldorado and her young daughter, Jennie!
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A giant thank-you for assistance with this story to Nevada historian Sue Silver for her amazing research on the Empire Cemetery! You’ll definitely want to check it out if you’re interested in any of the folks buried there. Her research is conveniently referenced by last name. Here is the link to her complete Empire Cemetery research online.
The other great resource we found helpful for this article was www.Newspapers.com. If you haven’t already stumbled across it, it’s a subscription site but definitely worth it for finding obituaries and other stories across the country. For this article, for example, we turned up the Alton Telegraph (Illinois), December 6, 1900, which gave fascinating additional contemporary details about Denton and May’s “secret”.
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“I do not believe in doctors,” quipped Brigham Young’s older brother, Joseph, in 1858. “I would rather call upon the Lord.”
It was a fairly common sentiment at the time, and for good reason: a wide variety of quacks were happily dispensing an equally wide variety of quack medicines.
There were “botanical” doctors; there were homeopathic physicians. There were traveling patent-medicine peddlers and newspaper ads confidently promoting “cure-all” remedies. In addition to ordinary physicians, there were “Thomsonian” doctors — followers of Samuel Thomson, a medical rebel who believed “restoring heat” was the trick for healing a patient. The harsh Thomson protocol applied an uncomfortable series of emetics, enemas and sweat baths, casually summarized as “Puke ‘em, sweat ‘em, and purge ‘em.”
Even mainstream practitioners back in the day were often dismissed by suspicious citizens as “Poison Doctors.” High doses of mercury and techniques like blood-letting were not unusual, and other quirky “remedies” seem outright bizarre by today’s standards.
Dr. Benjamin King approved the use of cow dung as a poultice to treat Hosea Grosch’s badly infected foot at Gold Hill in 1857, for example — a ministration that didn’t help and might have hastened Grosch’s demise. Even as late as 1892, a pneumonia sufferer in Virginia City was relieved of half a pint of his blood in a well-intended medical intervention. Ah Kee, a Botanical Physician with an office on Third Street in Carson City, claimed in his advertisements to have “cured many patients in town” — but there was also a Chinese section quietly located at Lone Mountain Cemetery.
The only ones who might have been happy about all these attempts at “curing” were the local undertakers, and those proliferated. Early practitioners of the mortuary arts in Carson Valley included M.A. Downey, George Kitzmeyer, and Samuel C. Wright.
Undertakers were evidently none too popular. Quipped the Reno Gazette Journalabout what they called the “disagreeable business”:
“[The undertaker] attends church and keenly surveys the faces of the congregation with a critical eye, . . . deftly tuck[ing] his business card under the door of the invalid. He is jolly when pneumonia gallops through a community, and howls with delight over a wholesale railroad accident. He can diagnose a case of physical degeneracy of any kind with unerring certainty at a distance of fifty feet. . . He knows the dimensions of every man in the community and the coffins he furnishes are always guaranteed to fit, so that the defunct customer can rest without danger of contracting chafes and bunions.” [Reno Gazette Journal, June 3, 1882].
One unfortunate who landed in the undertaker’s parlor, a victim of prevailing medical wisdom and probably also malpractice, was young Harrison Shrieves.
A Civil War veteran (he had enlisted in the 10th Ohio Cavalry when he was about 15), Shrieves moved west after the war and landed a plum job as a conductor on the V&T Railroad. Fate continued to smile on Shrieves for the next few years. Around 1870 he married Louise Tufly, daughter of George Tufly, wealthy proprietor of Carson City’s St. Charles Hotel (and later state Treasurer).
It wasn’t quite the “Ides of March” that got him, but it was close. Harrison Shrieves was given a well-intentioned dose of the homeopathic remedy “Nux Vomica” by Dr. Stephenson of Virginia City in 1873. Concocted from seeds containing strychnine, Nux Vomica was commonly used in dilute form to treat a wide range of illnesses from constipation and heartburn to flu. Harrison, however, was apparently given much too much. He suffered for months, and was just 28 when he finally succumbed on March 11, 1874 from his treatment. He is buried in Lone Mountain Cemetery.
There’s more about Shrieves, Tufly, Kitzmeyer, Wright and a great many other Carson Valley pioneers in my friend Cindy Southerland’s beautifully-illustrated book, Cemeteries of Carson City and Carson Valley(Arcadia Publishing 2010). Mark Twain himself commented that “to know a community, one must observe the style of its funerals and know what manner of men they bury with most ceremony,” as Southerland points out. This fascinating book highlights the final resting places of a wide variety of pioneers in this beautiful valley — from stagecoach drivers to governors, soldiers to desperados. Great photos and a helpful description of cemetery symbolism make this an uplifting and informative read. You can find it here through Amazon.com.
Another great book we wanted to mention, this one about early Nevada doctors and early medical remedies (including Chinese and Native American practices): The Healers of 19th-Century Nevada, by Anton P. Sohn (Univ. of Nevada, 1997). This one was a happy recent “find” for us at Morley’s Bookstore in Carson City, Nevada. If you haven’t been there, take time to stop in. Morley’s offers a fabulous assortment of local and Nevada history books plus a great “old-time bookstore” feel. Its 1864 brick building on West King Street is one of only four original stores still extant in Carson City. Be sure to check out the great historic photos on the wall showing this historic building’s evolution through time. Tell him we sent you.
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This mysterious building on Waterloo Lane used to be something. Carson Valley folks have probably driven by it dozens of times, wondering: what’s its story?
Back in the day — 1891, to be precise — this used to be the Carson Valley Creamery. And not just any creamery, mind you; this was a gold-medal-winning local creamery!
What got the whole creamery notion rolling was a series of letters to Carson Valley’s E. Cohn from a man in L.A. And these letters weren’t any ordinary letters; the writer happened to run a creamery in Los Angeles for Lucky Baldwin. (Don’t know who Lucky Baldwin was? I didn’t either. His real name was Elias Jackson Baldwin (born 1828); the “lucky” moniker came from his extraordinarily good luck at wheeling and dealing. Wikipedia calls Baldwin “one of the greatest pioneers” in California business; he built San Francisco’s posh Baldwin Hotel & Theatre, and bought up so much Southern California land that his name still lives on there. Here’s the Wikipedia article on Baldwin, well worth a glance!).
It was something like receiving a letter from Bill Gates. If Bill Gates tells you creameries are a grand business, you have to at least consider it!
A meeting of local farmers was speedily convened at Valhalla Hall in March, 1891, to discuss the idea. C.C. Henningsen explained the relatively simple concept to the group: each dairy farmer would put his own marked milk cans out by the road; a creamery wagon would pick them up and haul them to the creamery; skim milk could be returned to the farmers in their own cans, for a small price. By selling and shipping their butter and cheese collectively, the farmers hoped to reach larger markets and get a better price. H. Springmeyer immediately came out as an advocate for the plan.
The newspaper was jammed with “Creamery Talk” that whole spring and summer. Before long, a 36 x 86-foot two-story building was being erected on a 10-acre parcel at the southeast corner of William Dangberg’s ranch. Plans for the new building called for a cold storage area, a butter room, and a separator room on the ground floor; and an “ice room” that spanned both floors. Upstairs would be the cheese room, kitchen, dining room and three “chambers.”
In July, 1891, the creamery group signed a five-year contract with Julius Kaupisch and his brother, both trained at a dairy school in Saxony, Germany. One Kaupisch brother promptly set off for Chicago to procure machinery. A steam engine was purchased and hauled in from a former steam laundry in Carson City, and a 90-foot well was drilled by George Hawkins to supply the new creamery with fresh water.
Corporate officers for the new enterprise included John Frantzen as president and C.M. Henningsen as Secretary. Banker (and man-of-many-talents) Fritz Heise not only served as the company’s treasurer but also helpfully hauled rock for the new creamery’s foundation. C.E. Merrick hired on as the manager.
“The farmers are enthusiastic over the subject and are preparing to milk as many cows as possible,” the newspaper boasted, adding that local dairymen were scouting for good stock to add to their herds. “In a few years this Valley will be stocked with the finest lot of milk cows to be found anywhere.”
To expand local herds supplying the creamery, the Kaupisch brothers brokered the purchase of another 360 cows from dairies near the California coast that were shutting down — a whole train-load. In the process, though, the Kaupisch pair managed to royally irritate some local feelings; the new cows were mostly Jerseys, Durhams, and Short Horns, because (the Kaupisch brothers claimed) Holsteins “do not prove to be good milkers.”
This last comment received an agitated response in the local Appeal: “The Kaupisch Brothers, if they made such a statement, evidently know little about milch cows,” the writer sniffed. “Let the proprietors of the Carson Valley Creamery investigate the records of thoroughbreds and not take the products of halfbreeds as a standard.”
The new creamery was touted as a win-win-win for local farmers: “Instead of hunting a market for their butter, they can remain at home and give their full attention to the farm and dairy work,” the local newspaper cheered. “There is no longer need for importing cheese from other States, for a choice article in this line will be manufactured” right there at the new creamery. And the more Carson Valley hay that local dairymen purchased to feed their growing herds, “the more you are patronizing home industry and assisting in making your own community self-supporting.” It was downright patriotic to patronize the creamery!
When the new creamery building was up and running in the fall of 1891, it had machinery able to handle milk from up to 3,000 cows, and promised production of up to 1.5 tons of butter and 3 tons of cheese each and every day. Milk was to be delivered to the creamery twice a day in summer, and once a day in winter months, and farmers were promised $1 per hundred pounds of milk to start (provided it tested at four pounds of butter to the hundred-weight).
A visiting reporter from the Genoa Weekly Courier gave a fascinating overview of the operation in July, 1891. Farmers would deliver ten-gallon cans of milk, each weighing roughly 80 pounds. Cream content was tested once every month for each farm, and every batch of incoming milk was tested, too, to be sure it hadn’t been watered or skimmed.
The incoming milk was dumped into an immense bucket for weighing; then the bucket was hoisted to the upper story and drained into a large vat, where pipes took the milk to a centrifugal separator. And not just any separator, mind you; this separator was a special gem, imported from Germany and known as the “Alexandra.”
Once the Alexandra had done its work, the skimmed milk was returned to cans for farmers wishing to buy it (at ten cents for hundred pounds), or drained into the cheese tank for reuse. Watching one such operation, the newspaper reported that farmers “had the skimmed milk in the cans and were ready to return home” just twenty minutes after the milk was delivered.
The butter and cheese operations were additional marvels. Cream was conveyed from the giant Alexandra separator to a cream vat for cooling, where it was allowed to rest or “ripen” for 24 hours before being sent off one of two steam-driven churns, holding 400-gallons each. A six-foot circular “butter worker” table came next, where salt was added and the butter got worked over by rollers. Off to the cold storage room it went, where it was molded into two-pound square blocks and then packed into cases of 120 pounds apiece. Shipments of butter went to Carson three times a week.
A separate cheese-making operation produced small and large rings of cheese, weighing 9 and 28 pounds respectively; as many as 200 of these were turned out a day. (The secret to turning skimmed milk into fatty cheese, shared later by a worker: the addition of just the right proportion of lard!) From the curing room, cheese wheels would slide down a convenient chute into a waiting wagon and were whisked off to market. As for the butter, that was packed into wooden crates, shipped by wagon to Carson City, then loaded onto trains for Virginia City and San Francisco.
And a lucky thing all that hauling that proved to be for teamster Fritz Dangberg. Dangberg arrived from Germany in 1895, and quickly got hired on by the Creamery to drive teams to Carson City. While in Carson, Dangberg used to stable his horses with Zirn Andersen, at Andersen’s Hay Yard. And there, as luck had it, Dangberg got to know Zirn’s sister-in-law, Metta Winkelman, who was staying with the Andersens. One thing led to another, and Fritz and Metta were married in 1897.
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Okay, that’s not the end of the story! But it was too long for one post. So stay tuned next week, when we’ll continue with the rest in Part 2!
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Tucked away at the tail end of Ezell Street is a gem of a house. Just looking at it, you know it has a story!
When Arendt Jensen first set foot in Gardnerville, Nevada in 1887, there were just two houses in town. Jensen was young — 28 — and full of energy. By the time he died in 1940 at age 81, Arendt had become one of Gardnerville’s most successful and respected businessmen.
Heard of Douglas County Farmer’s Bank? Jensen founded it, and stepped up to serve as president. How about the Midland Garage? He built it. And the classic brick Carson Valley Merc building? Yup, Jensen built it. (It housed his Arendt Co. store.)
Born in Denmark in 1859, John Arendt Jensen came to the States in 1880. He married Lena (Paulina) Norgaard (a fellow Dane) in 1882 when she was just 16. Arendt made his way west and, with a keen eye for the future, spotted opportunity in the fledgling town of Gardnerville. He and Lena moved to the tiny settlement in 1887, opening a small store on Main Street “flanked by sagebrush and barbed wire fences.” Arendt went on to build a thriving mercantile business, eventually acquiring multiple business interests and extensive property.
But Arendt’s most outstanding architectural contribution to his new hometown was the Jensen Mansion, a gracious Colonial Revival home that still graces Ezell Street.
Touted as a “palatial residence” when construction began in 1910, the Jensen home was to be “modern in every respect.” Floors would be hardwood, and the house would be “steam heated throughout.” Arendt himself invented a special galvanized form that would make the home’s poured-concrete foundation resemble more-attractive cement brick construction.
Arendt died in 1940, and Lena passed away in 1948. Later decades saw the beautiful old Jensen mansion become a boarding house, a vacant eyesore, a bed-and-breakfast, and eventually a much-loved private home again. An architectural survey in 1981 by the Douglas County Planning Department dubbed it as one of Gardnerville’s “most outstanding buildings.” It received the recognition of a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.
Best of all, the Jensen Mansion is reputed have a resident ghost — as all great old houses should! Former owners reported the strong odor of lavender wafting through the great room from time to time.
How lovely to imagine it’s Lena Jensen, still keeping an eye on the goings-on in her magnificent home.
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If it isn’t the ugliest jail structure west of the Mississippi, it probably ranks among the top ten. Its walls are poured concrete; its lower door is metal; and its boxy shape is (as one writer politely put it) “devoid of architectural detail or ornamentation.” Inside, the jail saved space by giving prisoners the penitential equivalent of Murphy beds: fold-down bed frames made of steel.
Douglas County shelled out just $25 for Louis Springmeyer to draw up the plans in 1910 (and some might argue that was too generous.) But believe it or not, the Gardnerville Branch Jail holds a coveted position on the National Register of Historic Places. And there’s a perfectly fabulous story filled with politics, positioning and power behind how this tiny small-town jail came to be built!
Segue back in time to the year 1910, when Genoa was the official county seat and boasted the only county jail. Roads were primitive and automobiles were few, but crime was an equal opportunity occupation. So although Gardnerville had its own share of criminals, it had no convenient hoosegow in which to house them.
L.S. Ezell, East Fork Justice Court judge since 1884, had come up with a makeshift solution: he allowed constables to use his Gardnerville granary building to lock up offenders when needed. This may have been convenient but it wasn’t such a grand idea from the prisoners’ point of view; the local newspaper called the granary a “vile hole” and “no fit place for a human being.”
Opportunity for a better solution knocked when Judge Ezell finally retired in 1909 after some 25 years on the bench, and thoughtfully donated the granary property to the county. Local citizens petitioned the commissioners to build a new and improved branch jail in its stead. It seemed like a grand plan. But politics is a tricky thing.
Eager for the new town of Minden not to be left in the dust, H.F. Dangberg, Jr. launched a counter-petition to protest against building the jail in its competitor, Gardnerville. And when the County commissioners formally took up the issue in April, 1910, local heavyweights William Dressler and H. Park joined Dangberg in the protest.
As government officials so often do, the beleaguered commissioners listened politely — and went right ahead with their original plans. Approval was given to build a one-story jail. And as government officials also frequently do, they quickly expanded the project to make it two stories, adding a courtroom on the top floor.
Now that there was to be a new branch jail, an official branch jailer would also be required. Albert Daudel was hired for the post, at $2 per day — upped to $4 on more arduous days when he’d oversee a chain gang fixing county roads.
Although Genoa wasn’t eager to relinquish its time-honored post as the County seat, Fate had other ideas. On June 28, 1910, much of that town was destroyed by fire — a loss that included the County’s main jail and courthouse. Luckily only one prisoner was being housed in Genoa’s jail at the time. It is said he was “chained to a post” until he could be moved to the still-under-construction branch jail in Gardnerville.
Within just a few more years, Minden succeeded in wresting away the crown of County seat. And by 1916, a brand new County courthouse was erected there which included jail cells in the basement. Officially, all county prisoners were now supposed to be incarcerated at Minden and, officially, the Gardnerville branch jail was discontinued. But for reasons of economy, convenience, habit, or perhaps lingering tensions between the two towns, Gardnerville’s old branch jail continued to be used for prisoners well into the 1950s.
As the National Register listing description put it in 2003, the old Gardnerville jail remains “an excellent example of turn-of-the-century jail architecture,” with its steel cages, large hasps and padlocks, bull pen and woodstove still intact.
Those poured-concrete, steel-reinforced walls may be plenty ugly. But they certainly were practical; they successfully kept Gardnerville’s prisoners “from digging through the barriers as they had in Genoa’s brick jail.”
It’s not a museum — yet. But you can check out the exterior of the Gardnerville Branch Jail at 1440 Courthouse Street, Gardnerville, Nevada.
The iconic old barn on Foothill Road has “Jubilee Ranch” emblazoned on the side. If you’re like me, you’ve driven by it hundreds of times. And if you’re also like me, every time you’ve gone by, you wished you knew its tale! So, who built this great old barn, and when? And what’s the backstory to the name “Jubilee”? We did a bit of digging — here’s the story!
Yes, it turns out, it’s an old-old ranch — one of the very first ranch claims in Carson Valley. Some sources suggest this ranch was originally owned by settler John Cary in the early 1850s. Sometime after Cary, the property was acquired by soon-to-be Senator J.W. Haines and was known as the “Old Haines Ranch.” And around 1857 (even before the Comstock Lode boomed), Haines sold the ranch to Peter Van Sickle.
Born in New Jersey, Peter was the younger brother of Henry Van Sickle. And Henry, as you’ll recall, was the early pioneer who ran the famous “Van Sickle Station” hotel and stage stop just up the road.
Peter, like his brother, was considered a “thrifty Dutchman” and he, like Henry, was skilled as a blacksmith. In addition to this prosperous hay and dairy ranch (620 acres of it, by 1881!), Peter also operated a blacksmith shop in Genoa at the northwest corner of Main and Nixon Street. Peter and his wife, Lillies, lived in a small house near the church just up the street from his blacksmith shop.
Peter eventually grew tired the blacksmith trade; in 1888 he placed an ad in the paper, trying to sell his shop and other holdings. It seems he wasn’t successful at finding a buyer, however; in 1892, his Genoa blacksmith shop had been leased out to W.J. Armstrong, another blacksmith.
As for the giant barn at his ranch south of town, Peter is said to have built the current structure about 1900. It’s a giant indeed: some 65 x 100 feet in size. Built using a “peg-and-groove” technique, Peter’s barn resembles that of his brother Henry Van Sickle’s barn up the street. Unlike Henry’s barn, however, Peter’s lacks windows.
The lower floor of the Jubilee barn was once used for dairy cows, and loose hay was stored in its 13,000-sq.ft. second-floor loft. Although today the Jubilee Ranch barn is all on a single level, some say it originally was built into the hillside (a style called “bank-a-hill”), so hay could be loaded into the hayloft without requiring a hoist. (To us it seems more likely that this actually describes Henry Van Sickle’s red barn slightly farther to the north, however, which clearly follows the descending contour of the hillside).
In addition to his dairy ranch, Peter Van Sickle also engaged in the meat business, and by 1883 was running two meat wagons to supply local demand. Not all Peter Van Sickle’s customers were happy ones, however. Alpine mining mogul Lewis Chalmers wrote him a snippy letter in 1879, complaining: “The beef you are now sending me is not of the same quality as you sent me at first, and not such as I intend to pay for.”
Leander Hawkins, too, had unhappy memories of working for Van Sickle as his first job at the tender age of 10. When Leander finally requested the heifer that had been promised to him after a full year’s work, Van Sickle reportedly refused to pay him.
Still, Van Sickle evidently had a generous side as well. In 1895, Peter and his wife adopted a little two-year-old boy whose mother had died. They renamed him Oscar Van Sickle and Oscar became part of the family, along with the other four Van Sickle children.
Peter Van Sickle died in 1908, at the age of 77. He and Lillies had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary the previous year. Adopted son Oscar continued to run the Peter Van Sickle Ranch until 1927, when it was sold to Thomas Summers, becoming known as the “Summers Ranch.”
In 1951, young entrepreneur named Ted Bacon bought the ranch. At the time, Summers was using the ranch to raise pigs. Rather than rename it after himself as the “Bacon Ranch” (a humorous name for a hog farm), Ted decided to name it after a memory from a recent trip he had taken to England, when a “jubilee” had been held to celebrate the crowning of the queen. Bacon decided to rename his property the “Jubilee Ranch.” It was, he said, a “happy name.”
And there you have it — the fascinating story of this historic ranch, and the way it got its “Jubilee” name!
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One lonely tombstone at Gardnerville’s Garden Cemetery begs silently for justice. “Murdered” it proclaims, as if visitors might help solve the terrible mystery.
The victim, William Moore, met his awful fate sometime between the 9th and 14th of December, 1900. But the story behind Moore’s demise is a tangled one indeed. Did he even really die?
Moore, 67, was evidently something of a hermit. A poor man and in poor health, he’d lived alone for twenty years in a small cabin on his ranch near the east fork of the Carson River above Horseshoe Bend. Here he raised horses, ran a few head of cattle, and perhaps panned for flour gold in the nearby river.
A few days before Christmas, 1900, local Indians alerted authorities that Moore’s tiny cabin had burned to the ground. Sheriff Brockliss and Judge Dake promptly rode out to investigate. Not finding Moore, they searched the remnants of the charred cabin, but didn’t locate any trace of a body. A day or so later other local citizens, too, showed up to paw through the debris, and they, too, came up empty-handed. Possibly complicating matters was the fact that a rainstorm had gone through sometime after the fire.
Christmas came and went, and a few determined searchers decided to try again. On December 26 they returned, “sifted the ashes” — and came up with a few small pieces of charred something that might have been bone. These were carted off to Dr. Gerdes of Gardnerville, who pronounced them shards of a human skull. And when he examined one fragment more closely, “three small shot” were found embedded in the bone.
The local newspaper promptly dubbed this as “almost positive evidence that William Moore was murdered, and his cabin burned over his body.” Dr. Gerdes opined that the position of the bone might explain why the fragment was charred but the shot hadn’t melted. A Coroner’s Jury was convened, which agreeably confirmed the general belief that Moore had beens murdered. Community suspicion instantly focused on “a certain Indian” named Mike Holbrook, a “half-breed Washoe” said to have threatened Moore in the past.
In January, the Board of Commissioners for Douglas County put out a $250 reward “for the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who murdered William Moore.” That was more than enough encouragement for three enthusiastic Genoa citizens. Having heard further rumors, young William Gray, accompanied by his brother-in-law Frank Walker and their friend Edgar Seamon drove a wagon out to Mountain House in March, where they made a citizens’ arrest of “Indian Mike.” The local paper assured readers that this private party arrest was a “perfectly proper and legitimate proceeding,” adding uncharitably that if the prisoner should later establish his innocence “he will have no one to blame but himself.”
By now a new sheriff had been sworn into office and was eager to show the public his chops. The local paper expressed confidence that now-Sheriff McCormack would not only do his best to suppress crime, but “criminals have good cause to fear him.”
The murder case against Indian Mike was now the talk of the town. The Genoa courthouse was “packed” during the two-day preliminary hearing, and “nothing was talked of on the streets but the Moore tragedy.”
Several other Indians now came forward, claiming that Mike Holbrook had an alibi: he had been with them on a rabbit drive when the killing occurred. The evidence against Mike Holbrook appeared decidedly thin — except for one thing. Charlie George, also an Indian, swore he had personally witnessed Holbrook shooting Moore.
Charlie’s credibility as a witness left something to be desired, however. Among other things, Charlie had been arrested the same evening as Mike on an outstanding warrant for larceny. Charlie and Mike also were said to be enemies; as the newspaper put it, “it is stated that Mike is very friendly with George’s mahala.”
Nevertheless, Mike was bound over for trial. The case languished for another month until April, when a new Grand Jury could be convened to issue the indictment. Friends urged Mike to take a plea bargain and admit to manslaughter in order to “save his neck.” He refused.
On April 24, 1901, a jury pool of 40 local citizens was pulled, and by 3 p.m. the jury was in place. Trial began the following day, and the evidence was over by 5 p.m.. Charlie George “proved a strong witness,” the paper pronounced. Other “sensational” details of the case now came to light, including a “wild story” that Moore had always kept a skull in his cabin, “the victim of his rifle in former years.” The newspaper hinted darkly that Brockliss, the former sheriff, had done a lousy job of investigation, sniffing that “no steps officially were taken to investigate the matter until McCormack, the present Sheriff, took office.”
About dinnertime the jurors retired to deliberate, and by midnight they had their verdict: Not guilty. “And so another chapter is added to the criminal records of this county, which is not without blemish now,” the newspaper concluded.
As for the County Commissioners, they rescinded their earlier offer of a $250 reward for Mike’s capture. Opined the local paper: “they have learned that a mercenary incentive for the capture of criminals does not work satisfactorily in this county.”
You may have heard the tale about Adam Uber’s famous curse — uttered just before an angry Genoa mob hung him. But did you know the hanging tree is still there?
It sits on the south side of Genoa Lane, just east of Genoa (and a convenient distance from the old-time jail!)
The year was 1897, and the crime began with Uber swilling Red Eye — and ended with a gunshot. Hans Anderson was dead. And Uber didn’t even remember what happened when he finally sobered up in the Genoa Jail.
Anderson had been well-liked; Uber was not. And a group of locals decided swift justice was the finest flavor. They rushed the jail, demanded the jailer’s key, and whisked Uber off for a hasty meeting with the hangman’s rope.
But Uber got off a few choice last words before dropping into the Great Hereafter: he cursed those who did the foul deed “unto seven generations.”
And, according to local legend, Uber’s curse ultimately came true. Some of mob died sudden, violent deaths; some committed suicide; but all of them met an unhappy end. Family members, too, reportedly suffered.
They’re all gone now, of course; 1897 was a long time ago. But locals say Uber’s ghost can still be seen “hanging around” from time to time — either here at the tree, or at the old brick Courthouse which once held his cell.
If you decide to pay a visit to the scene of this long-ago murder, consider making a stop at the old Genoa Cemetery as well. Uber is buried there somewhere, in an unmarked grave.
“Murder and Suicide,” the 1888 headline blared! The Reno Gazette-Journal made no bones about its feelings toward a “long and rather unfavorably known” Carson Valley ranch hand named Zack Field.
Community distaste had begun several years earlier with Zack’s poorly-received romance with 17-year-old Mary Gray, pretty daughter of Genoa blacksmith W.D. Gray. Courting a teenager wasn’t all that unusual at the time, but Zack’s age certainly was: he was sixty years old when he induced Mary to run off with him to Carson to be married in 1882.
Then came the awful rumors about strychnine. In February, 1888, Zack’s father-in-law had noticed an odd taste in his water cup. Suspicious crystals found in the bottom of his glass were tested by two local doctors, who both “pronounced it strychnine.”
Zack’s name, of course, immediately sprang to mind; he had “been acting strangely for some time,” the newspaper hinted. (The fact that Mary’s parents recently had tried to induce her to leave her “wretched” husband also raised suspicions.)
It wasn’t the first time Zack had been suspected of foul play involving strychnine. Zack and Mary had moved in with the Hawkins family shortly after their marriage — and shortly after that, the entire household came down with strychnine poisoning. Fingers also had been pointed in Zack’s direction when rancher John Cronkite was found dead in with a “big wound in his head” — and “cattle money” missing from his pocket.
After the tainted water-glass episode, Zack and Mary high-tailed it out of Carson Valley, taking up a residence (aka hiding out) in Scott’s Valley, California. But only a few months later, things came to an unhappy head yet again.
On August 13, 1888, in what the newspaper poetically called a “case of marital infelicity and pistol practice,” Zack shot poor Mary square in the chest with a Winchester rifle.
Thoughtfully saving the justice system the bother of a trial, Zack then used the remaining charge to “blow the top of his [own] head off.”
No words of sympathy were wasted by the newspaper on Zack. But despite the awful headline deeming it “murder,” readers making it to the last sentence of the column would discover that Mary actually had not actually died yet.
Although her life was “despaired of” initially, she did eventually recover. And in one of those weird twists of fate, Mary went on to marry another man named Field — thankfully no relation to the “long and unfavorably known” Zack.