Treasure Out of Tragedy: A Tiny Reminder of Genoa’s Avalanche

Call it the Hand of Providence.  How else to explain a fragile ceramic figurine surviving one of the worst disasters to hit Genoa, Nevada — and making it through another 132 years, too?!

As you may remember, the Great Avalanche of March 17, 1882 wiped out several Genoa homes — and took at least ten lives. [In case you missed it, here’s our earlier story about the avalanche: http://blog.clairitage.com/2018/10/12/genoas-avalanche-of-1882/]  Casualties included Mr. and Mrs. Nimrod Bowers, whose bodies were discovered buried in the debris of their flattened home.

The Bowers* were a German couple who’d settled in Genoa in 1864, after crossing the plains with the same wagon train as the G.W.G. Ferris family. But the tragic avalanche wasn’t quite the end to the Bowers’ story.

Sometime after the disaster, neighbor Mary Raycraft Virgin was examining the ruins of the Bowers’ home. And there amid the chaos and destruction she discovered a small porcelain figurine of the Madonna and Child — nearly unbroken except for one tiny chip. Mary eventually handed down the fragile and beautiful statuette to her daughter, Lillian Finnegan, who in turn gave it to her aunt, Annie Raycraft, who later passed it to her daughter, Josephine Raycraft Hellwinkel.

Photo courtesy of Donna Hellwinkel.

Imagine how excited we were to learn that the statue that survived the Genoa Avalanche still exists! Today it occupies a place of honor at the home of Josephine’s granddaughter, Donna Jo Hellwinkel. And it’s just as beautiful today as the day that Mary Virgin rescued it from the ruins.

Delicate details on the figurine are embellished with gold, and the features of the faces are delicately tinted. There seems to be no maker’s mark to identify where the figurine was made. But the Bowers were Catholics, and this little religious statue could well have accompanied them when they emigrated from Germany. We’re so grateful that the family has allowed us to share this photo of the precious statue with you!

And that isn’t quite the end of the Bowers’ story, either. Somehow, the Hand of Providence reached out yet again as we were working on this story. Thanks to Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park, we learned that photos of Mr. and Mrs. Bowers themselves still exist, too!

All four photos of Mr. and Mrs. Bowers (approx 1880 and 1865) courtesy of Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park.

The graves of Mr. and Mrs. Bowers at Genoa Cemetery are presently unmarked. But if you’d like to visit, they’re resting in Section F, Plot 15 — just downhill and a teensy bit north of Snowshoe Thompson’s grave.

Although the Bowers’ lives were cut short by the avalanche, somehow the “hand of Providence” made sure that these tiny pieces of their lives survived (as one newspaper story put it in 1947), “whole and beautiful and safe.”

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Grateful thanks to Marlena and Donna Hellwinkel and to Mark Jensen, Curator of Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park, who kindly provided information and photos for this story!

*The Bowers’ names are spelled many different ways: Meinrod, Nimrod, and Minrod; and Bower, Bauer, and Bowers. It’s thanks to Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park that we know the name of Mr. Bower’s wife: Margaret. What luck that another Margaret — Margaret Gale Ferris Dangberg — wrote Mrs. Bowers’ name on the back of her photo!

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Karen Dustman is a published author, freelance journalist, historian, and story-sleuth. For more about Karen, her books and other fun stuff she’s written, check out her author website: www.KarenDustman.com.

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There’s More to the Lillian Virgin Finnegan Story!

Sure, you’ve probably heard of Lillian Virgin Finnegan — one of the founders of the famous Genoa Candy Dance! But here are a few things you probably haven’t heard about this hometown Genoa gal.

Lillian was born in Genoa on October 6, 1878, to parents Daniel W. Virgin and the former Mary Raycraft. Older brother William had arrived in 1871, and sister Ellen in 1873. So when Lillian put in an appearance five years later, she was the “baby” of the Virgin family.

Wedding photo of Judge Virgin and his wife, Mary. (Picture of the original framed photo, at Mormon Station State Park.)

Lillian’s father was known to just about everyone as “Judge” Virgin. But here’s a tidbit of history I didn’t know: the good Judge wasn’t actually a judge for most of his long legal career! Sure, he served as the first elected judge in Douglas County, from 1865-66. But the vast majority of his career was actually spent as District Attorney. Virgin served in that capacity in Nevada’s Territorial days (from June 2, 1863 until Statehood arrived in 1864); and went on to serve an amazing eleven non-continuous two-year terms as D.A. beginning in 1874 and ending in 1910. (And by the way, Judge Virgin was no quitter; he actually sought re-election to the post of D.A. four more times after 1910, losing each time to F.E. Brockliss.)

As an attorney, Virgin had a hand in some of the most prominent legal battles of his day. Remember the famous 1870s water-rights case in which Henry Van Sickle sued J.W. Haines over the water rights to Daggett Creek? Representing Haines in that epic battle was none other than Daniel Virgin, whose vigorous defense propelled Haines to victory in 1872 before the Nevada Supreme Court, based on the doctrine of riparian rights. (It would be a short-lived precedent, however, quickly reversed in favor of the “doctrine of prior appropriation.”)

Advertisement for Virgin’s law practice in Carson Valley News, May 15, 1875.

Lillian grew up in Genoa’s Pink House, purchased by her father from merchant J.R. Johnson in April, 1884, when Lillian was about five years old. Johnson himself hadn’t built the Pink House (at least most of it); the central two-story portion is thought to have been built back in 1855 by Martin Gaige for John Reese, near Reese’s grist mill on Mill Street. (Judge Hyde himself is said to have met assembled Genoans in this same house when he arrived to organize the first local government!)

In 1870, Johnson purchased the former Reese house and had it moved to its current location on Genoa Lane. And Johnson, it’s said, was also the one who first had the house adorned with its signature “pink” paint. And finally, in 1884, Judge Virgin bought the Pink House from Johnson.

Judge Virgin’s purchase of the Pink House was noted in the paper in 1884. (Genoa Weekly Courier, April 4, 1884).
The Pink House, purchased by the Virgins in 1884. (Dustman photo).

Prior to acquiring the Pink House, Judge Virgin and his family had been living in a sturdy brick house on Main Street that Virgin had owned since March, 1869 (the very same brick house, by the way, that had formerly been owned by the ultra-unlucky Lucky Bill Thorington). We don’t know exactly why the Virgins decided to move in 1884. But we can hazard a good guess! One gigantic hint: the Avalanche in the winter of 1882 had swept away two houses located just above the Virgins’ brick home, depositing a pile of rubble and debris in their back yard. That likely unnerved Mary Virgin just a tad, and might have helped prompt the family’s search for new quarters.

According to local legend, Lillian and her aunt, Jane Raycraft Campbell, were the original brain-storming pair who came up with the concept for the fundraising Candy Dance in 1919. But it turns out the truth may be a bit more nuanced.

Some say Genoa already enjoyed a traditional fall Harvest Dance every year — locally known as a “Thrashers Ball.” At least one local claimed the initial idea for a fundraising dance was the brainchild of the “Hot Stove League,” a group of local men who passed the time at the General Store. Still others say that Lillian herself had the idea, inspired by a dance she attended on a cruise ship, where silver trays of candy were passed around among the dancers.

However the idea for the dance originated, locally-made candy was indeed a treat at Lillian and Jane’s initial fundraising dance in 1919 — though it was not the advertised focus of the event. But after Lillian and Jane began treating guests to tasty treats crafted by the local ladies of the town, it didn’t take long for the name “Candy Dance” to emerge. Genoa historian Billie Rightmire believes the name was officially bestowed sometime about 1923.

Nobody ever talks much about Lillian’s husband, Louis Serratt Finnegan. They were married in 1907, when Lillian was 28 years old and Louis Finnegan a good twenty years older. Finnegan is sometimes described as a wealthy miner from Goldfield and Tonopah. But as his obituary put it, he actually “made and lost several fortunes” over his lifetime. Louis and his bride settled down in Genoa for a few years, then made their home in Southern Nevada for a few years more, before eventually returning home to Lillian’s beloved Genoa. In later life Louis gravitated to Texas, where he was said to be “engaged in the contracting business” as a mining middleman.

Lillian’s mother, Mary Virgin, passed away in 1918. Judge Virgin was getting on in years, and Lillian returned to live at the Pink House to care for him. Then in 1926, Lillian’s husband Louis died suddenly in Texas. Her father, Judge Virgin, passed away two years later, in 1928, at the age of 93. Lillian herself lived another decade. Too ill to attend one last Candy Dance in 1937, she passed away in February, 1938 at just 59 years of age. Lillian, her parents, and her husband all are buried in the Virgin family plot at the Genoa Cemetery.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of that first special Candy Dance in 1919. And oh, Lillian would have loved the Centennial attention for the event she helped to start so many years ago! 

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DON’T MISS THIS FUN NEW BOOK!
     Genoa Historian Billie Rightmire has just written “Genoa Candy Dance: The First 100 Years (1919-2019).” You can find the book at Candy Dance this year (Sept 28 and 29, 2019), or look for the book at local merchants in Genoa!

The Amazing Tale of Agnes Train

        She was a woman very much ahead of her time. A talented artist, author, botanist, and fossil collector, Agnes Train served as the first curator of the Nevada State Museum in 1941. And oh yes, from 1939 to 1956, she was also the owner of Genoa’s Pink House (with husband Percy), and was instrumental in preserving this landmark’s history and contents.
Despite all that, few folks have ever heard of Agnes Train. This wonderful guest blog about Agnes is written for you by Gail Allen, curator at Douglas County Historical Society and Museum. We’re so excited to share this exciting story about such an amazing and little-known woman. Hope you’ll stop in at the Museum soon to learn even more!

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Agnes Hume Scott was born in Seattle on March 24, 1905, to Margaret Hume and Walter John Scott. The family later moved to Chicago, where Agnes attended school. Her high school yearbook from 1924 shows her with a nickname of “Scotty.” Her interests at the time included art-related activities, with plans to become an “Artist Extraordinary.”

After high school, Agnes began working as a librarian in the Chicago Public Library. It was a fortuitous post, giving her skills and training she would use throughout her future life.

Agnes Train. (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society & Museum)

Using her earnings to buy two train tickets, Agnes traveled in 1926 with her mother to Seattle, to tour the area of her birth. And here fate intervened. She chanced to meet Percy Train aboard the train — a renowned fossil hunter, archeologist, mining engineer, and field representative of the Smithsonian Institute. After this chance encounter, the pair kept up a long-distance correspondence for over a year. Much to the amusement of Agnes’ co-workers Percy mailed her oddities from his travels, including a sheep fleece rolled up in a gunnysack and a dead black tarantula.

On June 7, 1928, Agnes and Percy hiked up Lone Mountain near Lovelock, where they were married at sunrise. She was 23; he was 52. They would spend much of the next eleven years together collecting fossils, minerals and plants together in the remote reaches of Nevada. Agnes used her artistic talent to sketch the specimens, and they were sent to museums across the country.

Agnes and Percy, roughly a year and a half after their marriage. (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society & Museum).

In 1937, the Trains joined a statewide project to identify and collect Nevada native plants. As part of this project, the couple interviewed of tribal members about the medicinal and other traditional uses of native plants. The results of their research were published in 1941 in a major work titled “Medicinal Uses of Plants by Indian Tribes of Nevada,” by Percy Train, et al. This groundbreaking study unexpectedly led to a breakthrough discovery in 1942 by the University of Minnesota’s pharmacological research team that helped preserve food rations in the Pacific during World War II.

Agnes on horseback on one of the couple’s specimen-collecting trips. (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society & Museum).

In April 1939, the Trains purchased the “Pink House” in Genoa with all of the Virgin/Finnegan family possessions. They lovingly preserved the furniture, clothing, housewares, trunks, saddle, papers, books, portraits and records, and also restored the house to its original pink color.

In 1941, Agnes began volunteering at the not-yet-opened Nevada State Museum. The Chairman of the Museum Board, Judge Clark J. Guild, tasked her with unpacking “pioneer treasured items brought to the Museum on loan from Carson Valley ranches.” These had been left stacked in the basement in unopened boxes since the Museum office staff thought they were too “folksy.” Six weeks later, Agnes was offered the position of Museum Curator.

This achievement was marred by the sudden death of her husband, Percy, less than two months later. But Agnes continued her work. She became a tireless promoter of the museum, writing articles and speaking to community organizations about Nevada history, museum collections and the Trains’ work. Her librarian skills proved invaluable for cataloging Nevada fossil, plant specimens, and managing the Museum’s collections.

Agnes Train with her beloved Percy. (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society & Museum).

Agnes left Nevada in June 1944 after marrying John Janssen. The Janssens were dairy farmers, land developers, and cattle ranchers in California. The couple eventually retired to Salem, Oregon, where Agnes resumed her career as a librarian. Agnes continued to own the Pink House until 1956, where her parents lived and acted as caretakers of the residence and its contents. She sold the home after her widowed mother moved to Oregon.

In 1951, Agnes began to take actions to preserve both the Percy Train collections of fossils, minerals and flowers and the Pink House artifacts. Collections of historical items were donated to Mormon Station State Park, the Nevada State Historical Society, and Carson Valley Historical Society, now Douglas County Historical Society. In a letter to the Nevada State Historical Society, Agnes explained she wanted to “place various collections where the public will have access to them for research and reference.”

In 1977, Agnes published a book of recollections, “Nevada through Rose Colored Glasses.” This is a story of her Nevada life with Percy Train.

Agnes spent the last two years of her life in Carson City. She died on July 17, 1991 at age 86, and was buried next to her beloved Percy in Genoa Cemetery. His headstone reads: “Geologist . . . Botanist,” and hers: “Librarian . . . Curator.”

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Written by Gail Allen, Curator of Douglas County Historical Society & Museum. Based on the story and background research was provided by Debbe Nye. Many thanks to both Gail and Debbe for sharing this wonderful information about the amazing Agnes Train! Featured photo (at top), showing the Trains all packed up for a collecting trip (with dog and chicken!) is courtesy of the wonderful Douglas County Historical Society & Museum.

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)

The Story of Kingsbury Grade (Part 1)

Few people ever stop to read the Historic Marker for Kingsbury Grade. Perhaps that’s because the marker isn’t actually on today’s Kingsbury road at all, but rather on Foothill, tucked between Mottsville and Muller Lanes. But this small sign marks a fascinating and important early site: the original jumping-off spot for emigrants bent on taking the Daggett Pass route to the goldfields of California.

It wasn’t everyone’s first choice as a route, though.

The Nevada historic marker at the foot of the original Kingsbury Grade.

Long before white men arrived, this trail began as a simple Washoe footpath up to the lake. At the height of the Gold Rush, Georgetown (Calif.) boosters began working to press the track into service to draw emigrants to their community. These enterprising townsfolk sent “salesmen” over to the Eastern slope to divert would-be miners to Georgetown, instead of the usual Placerville route. Hired hawkers vigorously promoted what soon became known as the “Georgetown Cutoff,” assuring emigrants (falsely) that it would slash their trek to the goldfields by 50 miles or more.

But the Georgetown Trail or Cut-off (as it then was known) remained a barely-improved footpath. In July, 1850, emigrant Edmund Hinde took one look at the steep, rough climb and decided to stick with his original plan to follow the more-established Carson Canyon route. “On looking at the [Georgetown] road, we concluded to keep to the old one,” he sighed.

The flat at the base of the trail did make a fine place for a party, however. Many eager gold-seekers who opted for the difficult Georgetown route simply abandoned their wagons, guns, and other personal possessions at the foot of the trail and forged ahead as “packers.” Those piles of discarded belongings became a temptation to mischief. In his 1850 diary, Abner Blackburn recounts how the boys of Mormon Station would go on a “spree,” setting fire to piles of abandoned wagons, cutting up discarded harnesses, bending guns around trees, and “run[ning] amuck generally.”

Kingsbury Grade historic marker.

In 1852, J.H. Scott and his brothers settled at the foot of the trail, building a small log cabin there. The location was a good one: it had a spring, and was only a few miles south of Mormon Station. The following year, the Scotts sold out to Dr. Charles Daggett. Born in Vermont in 1806, Dr. Charles Daggett had come west in 1851. According to local lore, Daggett brought two African-American slaves with him to Carson Valley, a woman and her little boy, thus becoming one of the very few early slave-holders in the valley.

Daggett and his companions settled into the log cabin at the base of the mountain. His land claim, filed May 12, 1853 for 640 acres, was among the earliest in the “First Records.” In 1854, Daggett solidified his claim by having a survey made of his property. A graduate of Berkshire Medical College in Massachusetts, Daggett was the first doctor in the region and, by some accounts, the first in all of future Nevada. He also held public posts in 1855 as Carson County Assessor/Tax Collector as well as its prosecuting attorney. Not surprisingly,  the trail up the mountain near his home, the creek that flowed down the mountain, and the pass above all soon took his name.

The very fortunate traveler, Orson Hyde.

And a lucky thing Dr. Daggett’s presence was for Judge Orson Hyde, who arrived at Daggett’s cabin with frostbitten feet and legs in December, 1855, after crossing the mountains in the snow. Aware of the dangers of rapid-thawing, Daggett chopped a hole in the ice on a nearby stream and told Hyde to soak his legs. He then rubbed Hyde’s frozen legs with turpentine and bandaged them in soft cotton.

For several more years, Daggett Trail remained practical only for travelers on foot or with pack-horses or mules. Surveyor George Goddard, visiting in 1855, noted that although the trail from top to bottom was just under four miles, the drop-off was steep and “a false step would precipitate one into the rocky canyon 500 feet below.”

Then about 1856, a Genoa merchant named William Nixon took an interest in improving the Daggett route. A Mormon from St. Louis, Nixon had arrived in Genoa that year from Salt Lake with a load of goods with which he opened a store at Mormon Station. Before returning to Salt Lake in ’57, Nixon had the trail over Daggett Pass improved so that wagons carrying goods had an easier time of it.

But “easier” was a relative term. In 1859, Capt. J.H. Simpson gave his own skeptical opinion that a great deal of work would be necessary to make the route truly passable by wagons.

The town of Genoa, as it appeared to Capt. J.H. Simpson and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1859. (National Archives).

For the most part, the Daggett route remained essentially a pack-mule or horse trail. But the Comstock Lode would soon change all that.

Two ambitious businessmen (D.D. Kingsbury and John M. McDonald) saw huge profit potential in improving the road (and, of course, charging a hefty toll) to serve wagons laden with goods for the mines of Virginia City. They constructed the “Kingsbury & McDonald Toll Road” over Daggett Pass, beginning in the winter of 1859 and finishing in August, 1860.

It was an important step not only for Kingsbury and McDonald, but for Carson Valley itself. Writing in November, 1859, Richard Allen predicted the road project would “facilitate communication, reduce freight, and add materially to the advancement of Carson Valley.” And right he was.

Stay tuned for “Part 2” of the Kingsbury Grade story!

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Many thanks to the Douglas County Historical Society for permission to use the wonderful image at the top of this post. It’s of Kingsbury Grade circa 1885-1895 taken with an early model Kodak camera, which produced these circular images.

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Karen Dustman is a published author, freelance journalist, historian, and story-sleuth. For more about Karen, her books and other fun stuff she’s written, check out her author website: www.KarenDustman.com.

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Lost in World War I

It was going to be the “War to End All Wars.” But when America entered the dreaded conflict overseas in 1917, local draft boards all across the nation were forced to make awful decisions: choosing which of their community’s young men should be sent off to fight.

Here in Douglas County, Nevada, local County Clerk Hans C. Jepsen became one of the men tasked with service on the Draft Board. They did it the fairest way possible: a lottery was organized, so the men to be drafted would be chosen at random.

Hans C. Jepsen, Douglas County Clerk

Imagine Jepsen’s horror when the name that he picked was that of his own son, Earl.

Two other men were in the room when Earl’s name was drawn. According to family lore, they both urged Hans to simply put his son’s name back and draw again. Perhaps they knew that Earl wasn’t a likely candidate for the military because his eyesight wasn’t good. Or perhaps they sympathized with a father’s guilt in sending his own son off to war.

Whatever their reasoning, the honorable Hans C. Jepsen refused. His son Earl’s name had been chosen, and that was that.

The Army, however, wasn’t so sure. Earl’s poor eyesight was indeed a stumbling block, and they repeatedly refused to induct him. But Earl kept presenting himself. He wanted to serve his country, he said. And eventually, the Army relented.

Earl F. Jepsen in his military uniform, 1918.

Earl enlisted on June 26, 1918 and was assigned to the Infantry, and by August had been sent overseas to the war zone in France. In late September, he was assigned to Company B of the 308th Infantry (part of the 77th Division), just in time to march with them into the Battle of the Argonne Forest. During this lengthy battle, Earl’s company became separated from the rest of the Allied forces and was surrounded by German forces. (The 554 men in these units would later become known as the “Lost Battalion.”)

Earl F. Jepsen’s headstone in San Francisco. (There’s a bit of conflict on his date of death; other sources say he was killed October 5, 1918.)

Earl was assigned as a runner to the battalion’s field headquarters, a job so dangerous it was considered a suicide mission. Earl was killed by sniper fire October 5, 1918, while on patrol. Just five weeks later, on November 11, the Armistice was signed, ending the war.

Earl was 26 years old when he fell on the battlefield. His body was buried initially in France, along with other American casualties. Some three years later, thanks to funds raised here at home, his remains were brought home again to the States. He now rests at the Presidio in San Francisco.

Plaque honoring WWI Veterans at the old Courthouse in Minden, Nevada. The star by Earl F. Jepsen’s name signifies that he died during the war. (Photo courtesy of Harold Jepsen)

At the old Courthouse in Minden is a brass plaque, honoring those from Douglas County who served during World War I. And as you will see if you visit, Earl isn’t the only Jepsen to have served during this “War to End All Wars”: his brother, Hans R., and cousin, Hans  J., also are honored on the plaque. A simple bronze star beside Earl’s name signifies that he gave his life for duty.

This Veteran’s Day, we hope you will remember him — a local boy who did what he felt he must to serve his country.

Genoa’s Avalanche of 1882

Genoa, Nevada has weathered its share of disasters:  earthquakes, high winds, and of course the Great Fire that nearly wiped out the town in 1910. But did you know Genoa once was struck by an avalanche?

The time was 5:30 a.m. on March 16, 1882. Residents who happened to be awake at that early hour heard a terrible warning rumble, akin to an oncoming freight train.

Main Street in early Genoa, looking north.

It was indeed a train of sorts; an avalanche of terrifying proportions came cascading down Genoa Canyon, sweeping along everything it encountered. Directly in its path was the home of Nimrod Bowers. When the snowslide finally stopped, the bodies of Bowers and his wife were found lifeless amid the snow and debris. With epic bad timing, two relatives from Germany had just arrived to visit them the previous evening. Both relatives luckily managed to escape alive, although one suffered a broken shoulder.

The crushed remains of Bowers’ barn and house came to rest in William Daniel Gray’s kitchen just below, “heaped in a confusing mass,” mixed liberally with hay from Gray’s own mangled barn.

A native of Ohio, William Gray was one of the earliest citizens of Genoa, arriving in 1862, finding work initially as a blacksmith for Henry Van Sickle. Before long, Gray had his own blacksmith shop and was building buggies, spring wagons and heavy wagons across the street from the Genoa courthouse. Gray and his wife, an Irish lass named Anna, had a house on Main Street, right next door to the lovely brick home once owned by Lucky Bill Thorington.

William Daniel Gray’s advertisement for his blacksmith shop, from the Genoa Weekly Courier of 1882.

Gray was an early riser, and on that fateful March morning in 1882 he was already up and shoveling snow away from his back door when he heard the approaching torrent. He yelled to his wife, and they both managed to run toward the front of the house before the mass of snow struck, crushing the kitchen into (as the Genoa Courier put it) “a shapeless mass.”

Miracle of miracles, not only did the Grays survive but their children also were spared. The kids’ bedroom off the kitchen was seriously damaged, with snow coming “within a foot or two of their bed.” As old-timers today tell the tale, the children had gotten cold during the night and moved into the main portion of the house to sleep by a woodstove. Talk about lucky!

Behind the hedge is the Genoa home that once belonged to W.D. Gray and his wife. A corner of Judge Virgin’s brick home (formerly owned by Lucky Bill) is just visible at right.

Old-timers also claim at least one animal miraculously survived the onslaught: when the gigantic pile of snow finally ceased moving, one lucky horse was discovered standing right on top of the heaped-up mound!

Next door to the Grays, Judge Virgin’s sturdy brick home survived the devastation largely intact, although his orchard, barn and  outbuildings were flattened. But the Boerlin home on the other side of the Grays was completely demolished. Mr. Boerlin, one son, and two other occupants came through unscathed. Mrs. Boerlin was also discovered alive, still in bed, some distance away from where her house once stood, although she’d been “nearly suffocated” under broken timbers and debris. Sadly, she was clutching the lifeless body of her little daughter, Paulina, in her arms.

Hardest hit of all was a structure farther south, occupied by several Washoe Indian families. This “Long house” (as the Courier described it) was completely destroyed by the snow slide. At least seven Native Americans tragically lost their lives in the disaster.

Surprisingly, as workers were clearing away debris from one of the homes two weeks later, they discovered a dog beneath the broken timbers and snow. “Although it had lain cramped up for 14 days,” the newspaper happily reported, “the little animal was still alive and is likely to entirely recover.”

A dog somehow managed to survive in the rubble for two weeks!

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Hope you enjoyed this story! And if you’re a fan of Genoa history, you’ll be happy to know our next book about the Genoa Cemetery is nearly done!  (Small pause for happy dance!!) This will be Book #2, filled with more great stories about fascinating people buried at Genoa. We’re hoping to finish it up by December!! Just drop us an email if you’d like to be among the first to know when the new book comes out!
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Snowshoe Thompson’s Headstone — Stolen??

Well, almost!! 

Here’s the fascinating tale about how Snowshoe’s grave got capped with concrete — and who’s sleeping in the long-forgotten grave next to him!

John A. “Snowshoe” Thompson, as he looked about 1870.

Snowshoe Thompson, you may remember, exited this life on May 15, 1876 at his ranch in Diamond Valley, California. Just 49 years old, this giant of a man was likely felled by an opponent he couldn’t fight: a burst appendix.

Erected by Snowshoe’s widow in 1885, Thompson’s headstone features a pair of crossed skis.

It took nine long years before Snowshoe’s widow, Agnes, was able to have a tombstone placed on his grave. But when she finally did, the headstone was a thing of beauty. Carved of white marble, it features a carved pair of miniature skis, crossed in silent mourning.

But though Snowshoe’s grave was now properly marked, it became something of a mess. Agnes died in 1915, and Snowshoe’s only son passed away just two years after his father. With no one left to care for the family plot, the ever-present sagebrush and weeds began taking over.

Until Decoration Day, 1924, that is. (Never heard of Decoration Day? A predecessor of Memorial Day, Decoration Day was started to honor the Civil War dead, and expanded after World War I to include those killed while serving in any war.)

On that fateful 1924 Decoration Day, a thoughtful little girl from Gardnerville decided Snowshoe’s grave deserved a champion. A “self-appointed guardian angel,” she pulled the weeds and laid flowers on Snowshoe’s nearly-forgotten grave that year — and for years to come. Even though Snowshoe hadn’t died in a war, she felt he merited that special remembrance.

Years passed, and eventually other school children took up the cause. Hearing that “persons unknown” had callously attempted to steal Snowshoe’s headstone (unsuccessfully, thank goodness!), children in Genoa began raising funds to anchor his stone firmly in concrete.

Snowshoe Thompson’s family plot is now neatly protected by a concrete cap — paid for by funds raised by Genoa school children.

And thanks to their efforts, by the end of May, 1948 (now known as Memorial Day), the Thompson family plot had been covered over in two feet of heavy concrete. (They were taking no chances!) Public-spirited Genoans Carl Falcke, Sr., Arnold Juchtzer, and Joe Gossi pitched in to do the heavy labor.

Thompson’s headstone was happily safeguarded from thieves, and his family plot protected from encroaching sagebrush. It’s a great tale of community involvement, and local generosity. Once unkempt, Snowshoe’s grave is now such a point of pride that special signs mark the way for eager pilgrims.

Next time you pay a visit to Snowshoe’s marble marker, take a brief look around for the long-forgotten grave of John Sauquet next door. Today, nobody even knows Sauquet’s name. But back in Snowshoe’s time, he was a “honcho” in tiny Alpine County.

John Sauquet’s grave near Snowshoe’s, in Genoa Cemetery. The weeping willow is a symbol of mourning.

Born in France about 1818, Sauquet was well over forty when he made his way to the mining boomtown of Silver Mountain City. He opened a general merchandise store there about 1865,  selling groceries, provisions, mining supplies — and, of course, wines! (He was, after all, a Frenchman!) Sauquet did so well that between 1865 and 1870 the value of his inventory jumped from $800 to $2,000 — not an easy feat, in a town where mining busts typically followed the short booms.

Sauquet tried his own hand at mining speculation, becoming a trustee (director) of the Mountain Mine. And when mining entrepreneur Lewis Chalmers racked up an unpaid bill approaching $4,000, Sauquet took title to the Imperial Silver Quarries mine as a way to satisfy his judgment.

By February, 1881, however, Sauquet (now in his early 60s) had become ill. He ventured as far as San Francisco to consult a doctor, and in October, 1883, left Silver Mountain behind entirely, moving his merchandise from the now-nearly-abandoned town to the tiny settlement just below at Silver Creek. Sauquet hung on two more years, finally passing away September 27, 1885.

And here’s the fascinating connection to Snowshoe Thompson: Sauquet drew his last breath in Diamond Valley at the home of Agnes (Thompson) Scossa. Snowshoe’s widow and her new husband (John Scossa) took care of Sauquet in his final illness. As a token of his gratitude, Sauquet’s will left everything he owned to John Scossa — assets that included real property in San Francisco as well as in Alpine.

All those old Alpiners knew each other. And Snowshoe Thompson — even though he’s buried in Genoa — was truly an Alpiner, too.

And P.S. — Look closely at Snowshoe’s headstone — the “P” in Thompson is missing! Exactly why remains a mystery. But some say either Agnes or John Scossa may have accidentally given that misspelling to the stone-carver.



Like to read more of the stories, legends and amazing true tales about Snowshoe Thompson, Silver Mountain City, and Alpine’s wild and crazy silver mines? Jump in and grab a copy– you’re in for a wild ride!

A fascinating treasure, enjoy, read and re-read!  http://www.Clairitage.com

Old Hans of Jacks Valley, Nevada

Al Livington got a nasty surprise when he stopped by a saloon in Jacks Valley the morning of August 9, 1880: he discovered the proprietor face down on the floor, with a gunshot wound through the chest.

Old Hans owned a saloon at his house in the south end of Jacks Valley. (Illustration copyright K.Dustman)

Popularly known as “Old Hans,” the saloon owner’s true name was Christopher Johannes Hull. Robbery seemed to be the motive; a search disclosed Hans’s large silver pocket watch and about $100 were both missing.

It was a “murder most foul,” the Genoa Weekly Courier pronounced. Old Hans was a “pleasant, harmless old man,” as the Reno newspaper reported. About sixty years old and nearly crippled from years of hard labor, he was “inoffensive, generous, good-natured, and the friend of everyone,” as the Courier added.

Hans had been a miner in the early 1870s and, more recently, had worked at several stables in California and Nevada. Saving his earnings, he had purchased a saloon at the north end of Jacks Valley and, just three months before his death, sold that and moved to the little house where he was killed.

The remains of the Pony Saloon in Jacks Valley in 1937, showing the beautiful and remote general location. (Photo courtesy of Billie Rightmire).

In addition to the gunshot wound to his chest, Old Hans had been hit by a hard object at the base of his skull. Powder burns on his shirt showed the bullet had been fired at close range. The coroner’s jury ruled it a “death by gun shot and other wounds,” committed by person or persons unknown.

Hans’ house stood in a “lonesome part of the valley,” and no one had seen anything — or anyone — suspicious in previous days. But the community was incensed. Ormsby County posted a $500 reward to try to flush out the murderer.

Suspicions focused first on a local miscreant with the colorful nickname of “Buckskin Bob.” According to rumor, Buckskin Bob even confessed his involvement in Hans’s murder to a pal. Bob proved to have a solid alibi, however, and the “pal” was unable to be found.

Suspicion initially focused on a local thief named “Buckskin Bob.” (Illus. copyright KDustman)

By mid-October, however, Sheriff Williams and his tenacious investigators managed to track down Old Hans’s silver watch. The watch had been sold near Sacramento by another local ne’er-do-well named Harry Fowles (sometimes spelled Fowler).

Fowles, just 26 years old, had already spent a two-year stint in prison at Carson for burglary. And unlike Buckskin Bob, Fowles’ account of his whereabouts of August 8 did not “hang together,” as the Genoa paper smugly put it. Fowles was arrested at Rocklin, east of Sacramento, and hauled back to Genoa to face the music.

Harry Fowles had no good explanation for his whereabouts. (Illustration copyright KDustman)

After cooling his heels in the Genoa jail for several weeks awaiting trial, Fowles outsmarted his captors: on the afternoon of November 9, 1880, he escaped. The Genoa Weekly Courier described how Fowles managed to pull off his escape from a brick jail cell: “He made a hole in the wall between the Jailroom and a small bedroom adjoining the Sheriff’s office, crawled through and made his way out an unbarred window on the South side of the Court House.”

Just what the jailer was doing that same afternoon went unreported.

Curious Genoa citizens turned out in force to inspect Fowles’ route of escape. “Everybody who could get away from business immediately went to the jail,” the newspaper noted. “They looked in through the hole in the wall, and then they went in the jail and looked out through the hole, and went up town and knew all about it.”

 

Everyone in Genoa came out to inspect Fowles’ escape route. (Illustration copyright Kdustman)

Sightings of the escaped prisoner soon trickled in from far and wide. Four days after the daring afternoon escape, the Genoa paper reported: “So far, he has been seen at Walley’s Springs, Cradlebaugh’s Bridge, Jacks Valley, Silver Lake, Twelve Mile House, Holbrook’s, Desert Station, Woodford’s, Glenbrook, Small’s, Silver Mountain, Carson, Virginia, and in Roop County . . .”

Despite all these “sightings,” the paper had to admit that “no definite trace” of Fowles had yet been found.  It nevertheless confidently predicted that the escapee’s recapture was “only a matter of time.”

Recapture, however, was not meant to be. Harry Fowles had slipped out of sight for good, and his crime (if indeed he shot Old Hans) was properly punished only when he went to meet his Maker.

As for Old Hans, his body was “properly prepared” by kindly local citizens for burial in Genoa, where he was laid to rest on Tuesday, August 10, 1880. No headstone currently exists for this well-loved local gentleman. It’s likely Old Hans was given a pauper’s burial, with perhaps just a simple wooden cross to mark the location of his now-forgotten grave.

We hope this story will at least help keep his memory alive.

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It Wasn’t Always Called Jubilee Ranch

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!

Peter & Lillies Van Sickle

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.

Peter’s older (and better-known) brother, Henry 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.

By 1892, Peter had leased his Genoa blacksmith shop to W.J. Armstrong.

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.

This was Henry’s barn, which boasted windows.

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.

Henry’s red barn, slightly farther north, is tucked into the hillside.

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 and his family are buried in the Mottsville Cemetery

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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