One Bad Man & Two Tough Ladies: The Saga of Sam Brown

Everyone in Carson Valley knew “Bad Man” Sam Brown back in 1861. He was, after all, a pretty hard guy to miss.

Heavy-set and quarrelsome, Sam walked with a swagger. Besides his handy pistol, he kept a nasty-looking Bowie knife strapped to his belt. Sam didn’t hesitate to use that knife, either. He reportedly “carved a man to pieces” with it in 1860. Before another year passed, Sam had killed half-a-dozen men. No one – including local peace officers – was terribly eager to try to stop him.

Unfortunately for the sake of local peace and quiet, Sam was prone to drinking. And when he drank he’d get meaner than ever. Sam’s ugly ways weren’t confined to folks his own size or gender, either. His wife back in California, one Clementine Parsons, reportedly won a divorce on grounds of extreme cruelty.

But July 6, 1861 was Sam’s birthday. And luckily for Carson Valley, that birthday would be Sam’s last.

Henry Van Sickle kept a popular way-station just south of Genoa. Here’s old Henry, a few years after his run-in with Sam.

You’ve probably already heard the story how Sam showed up at Henry Van Sickle’s station for a drink, pulled a gun, and started shooting. Tired of the chaos, Van Sickle grabbed his own gun, ran out the back, and chased after Brown on horseback.

A galloping gun battle ensued. When the pair reached the settlement we now know as Mottsville, Sam was in the lead. He leaped off his horse and forced his way in the home of Israel and Eliza Mott. From just inside the doorway, he squeezed off a few more shots at his pursuer.

By now dusk was beginning to fall, and Van Sickle was fresh out of ammunition. He gave up for the moment, heading back to Genoa for bullets and reinforcements.

Israel Mott wasn’t home when Sam Brown barged in the door. But his sister, Louisa Mott Keyser, was, and some of his children. According to Louisa’s later recollections, the family had just finished eating their supper when Sam put in his unwelcome appearance, and Louisa was clearing away the supper dishes. Even though she recognized Sam, Louisa stood her ground.

Four generations of Mott women: Eliza Mott (seated), the wife of Israel Mott, about 1895. At left (standing) is daughter Louisa Beatrice (niece of Louisa Mott Keyser) with daughter, Clara, and granddaughter Lillian. (Photo courtesy of Billie Rightmire).

Luckily, Sam realized Van Sickle would soon return, so he’d better skeedaddle while the skeedaddling was good. He was about to mount his horse and ride off when he spied a man’s hat hanging on the wall. Sam had lost his own hat during the galloping pursuit, so he reached out to grab this handy replacement.

But Louisa wasn’t putting up with any funny business. That was her husband’s best hat, she protested! Sam tried to strike a bargain, offering a gold pocket watch in exchange. But Louisa was adamant. She wasn’t about to make a deal with this devil. Finally, Sam finally pulled a gold ring off his finger and threw that on the table as payment before making off with the hat.

Louisa may not have saved her husband’s hat. But she’d stood up to the bad man. Even more important, she’d delayed him a few minutes. And those few minutes just might have tilted the odds against Sam.

You already know how Sam’s birthday ended, right? Van Sickle had figured out where Sam Brown would go next, and managed to arrive there before him. When he heard Sam’s spurs a-jingling, Van Sickle stepped out from behind the barn door near Lute Olds’ hotel. “I’ve got you this time,” Van Sickle declared.

Both barrels of his double-barreled shotgun went off. And that was the end of Sam Brown’s last and most unlucky birthday.

This historical marker is close to the spot where “Bad Man Sam Brown” breathed his last — and Van Sickle finally breathed easy again.

Two days later, a coroner’s jury refused to call the shooting murder. Brown’s death, they concluded, was “a just dispensation of an all-wise Providence.” Henry Van Sickle was required to pay for Brown’s burial, including a new suit of clothes for the body and a marker for his grave at the early cemetery at the top of Nixon Street. Although we have no eye-witness reports about Brown’s funeral, it can safely be said that he was buried without a great deal of mourning.

Over the next thirty-odd years, many of the burials in that original old cemetery were exhumed and moved to the newer cemetery north of Genoa. But not Sam Brown’s. At least two old-timers reported that his body was deliberately left behind to languish in obscurity. And the grave marker that Van Sickle had to pay for — which by my guess would’ve been the cheapest wooden plank Van Sickle could find — has long since turned to dust.

As for the second feisty female in Sam Brown’s life, his ex-wife Clementine: she was so happy to hear of Sam’s demise that she tried to buy the shotgun that’d been used to dispatch him. Van Sickle, gentleman that he was, insisted on making a gift of it to her instead.

And Clementine, they say, kept that gun hanging prominently in her home for years to come.

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* * * Many thanks to local historian Cindy Southerland for the suggestion to write this fun story! And thanks also to the W.D. Keyser family for preserving Louisa Mott Keyser’s amazing family history and recollections. This story has been passed down in the Keyser family for over 100 years. Based on near-contemporary sources, it seems clear that Sam Brown did indeed barge into the home of Israel and Eliza Mott during his flight. Other sources suggest, however, that the feisty woman who confronted Sam might actually have been Eliza Mott, Israel’s wife and Louisa’s sister-in-law.   

Roots a Mile Deep: The Story of the Adams Family

They weren’t trucking cattle up to summer pasture when Wally Adams was a kid.

Wally (on horse) during cattle branding (Judy Adams photo)

Nah. For over 30 years, Wally helped drive cattle the hard way, saddling up at 2 a.m. to get the herd to the top of Old Kingsbury Grade before nightfall. That meant long, dusty days on horseback. But it’s what you did to help a neighbor out.

The roots of Wally’s life are tangled deep with traditions from a century and more ago. And the Adams family’s roots, too, run deep here in northwestern Nevada. John Quincy Adams (Wally’s great-grandfather) and his brother Rufus settled in Carson Valley in 1853, a full decade before Nevada became a state. They bought 640 acres of land in September that year a mile north of Mormon Station (today’s Genoa), a handwritten deed that’s now part of Nevada’s “First Records.”

Family patriarch John Quincy Adams.

Their land was the subject of one of the earliest property disputes, with none other than Judge Orson Hyde claiming title to the same land in 1855. Luckily the newly-created county court upheld the bulk of the Adams brothers’ claim.

Sketch of the Adams Ranch from Thompson & West’s 1881 History of Nevada.
John Adams’ original cattle brand — still in use today. (Judy Wickwire photo)

Trained as brick-makers in their home state of Illinois, the Adams brothers built a brick kiln on their new ranch. Adams brick quickly became a popular building material, finding its way into some of the earliest structures in Carson Valley including the Genoa courthouse, and the U.S. Mint and Glen Eagles restaurant in Carson City.

The family home, too, was constructed of brick. An astonishing 6,000 square feet in size, it featured 21 rooms, including a ballroom on the second floor. The dusty Emigrant Trail passed right by the front steps, and the Adamses opened their house to travelers, selling rooms, meals and liquor as well as hay and barley to passing emigrants through about 1860. John Quincy Adams once called those the “happiest days of his life.”

A fourth-generation Adams, Wally still spots bits and pieces of his family’s history sprinkled throughout Carson Valley, from old brick buildings to family artifacts donated to the local museum. But despite his family’s deep local roots, the Adams story has rarely been shared.

Wally Adams holding a brick at the original site of the Adams brickyard. (Judy Wickwire photo)

“We’re a quiet family,” explains Wally. “We stuck to ourselves and never got involved in politics or stuck our noses in anybody’s business. My dad was just busy trying to make a living and run the ranch.”

There’s no pretense, either, as Wally shares what it was like to grow up as part of such a historic clan, with one foot still firmly planted in century-and-a-half-old ways. Take the house where he grew up, for instance, built of homemade brick fired right there on the Adams ranch. “We had one heater in the house when I was a boy, and that was the kitchen stove,” he smiles. “That was one of my chores, to chop and bring in the firewood. The rest of the house didn’t have heat, so we lived mostly in the kitchen in wintertime.”

The Adams home, once a way-station for travelers on the Emigrant Trail and still in the family today. (Judy Wickwire photo)

Remnants from the emigrant days were still in the house a century later, when Wally was a boy – and remain in family hands today. The home’s twin parlors (one for gents, one for ladies) still contained their original formal, horsehair-stuffed sofas. Also left over from the home’s first days: a 30-foot long wooden table with matching wooden chairs, where travelers once sat down to supper. Until about 1950 the house lacked both electricity and indoor plumbing.

Even today, drinking water for the old house is gravity-fed from a spring two miles up the mountain, ferried through two-inch riveted steel pipe salvaged from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. “They didn’t have much money,” Wally explains, “so they did what they could do. They went over with a horse and wagon and brought it back in 20-foot sections. I’ve still got some of that old pipe for when I have to make repairs.”

Old hay barn at the Adams ranch was built in the early 1850s by the Adams brothers. Horses for the stage were once stabled under the barn. (Rick Dustman photo)

By the time Wally came along, the Adams family’s original 640-acre ranch had roughly doubled in size.

A hand-wrought iron hinge still holds the old barn door. (Rick Dustman photo)

The best part of his inheritance: old ways and old-fashioned know-how. “By the time I was five, I was driving a tractor. I would cut wood, cut hay in summer. I helped Dad irrigate, wean calves,” he says. Hay had to be hand-pitched into the barn for storage, from bales stacked six high. “That top layer – it’s not so hard to throw. But when you got down to the bottom layer – well. That’s why I gotta have a total shoulder replacement now,” Wally chuckles.

There was plenty of old-fashioned penny-pinching. “One time my grandfather had a belt on a drill press that was slipping. He told me to go ask Grandma for some syrup or honey. He pours that on the belt — makes it sticky. He couldn’t afford belt dressing,” Wally remembers with a smile.

An all-around ranch mom, Wally’s mother, Elsie, served as “caregiver, nanny, referee, seamstress, knitter, crocheter, needle-pointer, excellent ranch hand and family cook, canner, avid gardener, tractor driver, hay hauler, and whatever it took to make it happen,” as her obituary put it when she passed in 2008. Even with all those duties, Elsie took on the job as postmistress at Genoa for about a decade, and volunteered to help with the Candy Dance and PTA.

Wally’s dad, Rufus William Adams, too, served the community as a school trustee, a founding member of the Genoa Cemetery Association, and fire chief for the local volunteer fire department. During World War II, Rufus would forward messages received on his ham radio to local families from sons stationed overseas. He imparted not only his love of ranching but also his ham radio skills to Wally.

Judy and Wally Adams outside the Genoa Courthouse, built with Adams brick. (Judy Wickwire photo)

By the time he was 14, Wally was driving a school bus. At 16, he became volunteer fire chief in Genoa – a post he would hold for the next 20 years. “They didn’t have all the fancy rules and regulations then,” he acknowledges. “If someone’s house was on fire, we responded and tried to put it out.”

To make a little extra money, Wally began working as brand inspector for Douglas County NV in August, 1974. “They started me out at $3.10 an hour and 13 cents a mile. I put 80,000 miles on my pickup in the first two years,” he remembers.

Judy Adams, Wally’s wife, is justifiably famous for her “Bomb Ass” pickles! (Judy Adams’ pickle label).

Now with 38 years under his belt inspecting brands, Wally’s earned his share of stories. “It could be scary sometimes when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, out of radio range,” he says. “I always carried my ‘girlfriend’ – that’s a sawed-off .12 gauge. And I had a sidearm.” But inspecting also had its fun side: Wally got to meet actor Red Skelton once – “nicest guy you can imagine.” And he was introduced to a sheik from Saudi Arabia, who’d just flown into Reno in a brand-new 747 to pick up a horse. Big money was involved. “Can I talk you out of $5 for my brand inspection?” was all Wally wanted to know.

There were new-to-the-country folk, calling to demand that Wally come get the wild mustangs out of their yards. (His polite response: “If you don’t want ’em in your yard, fence ’em out.”) And one pure-bred city slicker burned up his phone, irate about a cow delivering a calf within viewing distance of her four-year-old daughter.

“I told her that’s part of Mother Nature, and she hung up on me. Twenty minutes later she called me back: ‘That cow is being abusive to the calf. She’s licking it off and now the calf fell over. I think it’s got a brain concussion!’” Wally chuckles. “Then she asked if she could go get the calf. I said, ‘Well, it’s probably on private property. And by the way, how fast can you run?’ The lady didn’t get it. ‘What do you mean?’ she asked me. I had to explain, well, if you go get the calf, that momma cow’s going to be coming after you!”

Then there was a memorable encounter with a judge. A man had pled guilty to stealing a calf, and the judge was imposing just a fine. Wally had to speak up. “I told him he should’ve put the man in jail. ‘It’s only a $400 calf,’ the judge responded. ‘I can’t make him a hard-core criminal over that.’ Well, that ain’t the point, I told the judge. That’s the rancher’s livelihood.”

Wally’s father, Rufus W. Adams, purchased this 1937 Diamond T truck new, and it still runs great today with only 37,000 original miles on it. The family would haul three cows at a time in the back of the truck to the Fallon auction yard. (Judy Wickwire photo)

Wally finally quit inspecting for Nevada in 2012. “I found myself living out in romantic downtown Gerlach or Tonopah or Coyote Camp and those places, and was gone from home most of the time. It’s not 9 to 5; you’re on-call eight days a week, 48 hours a day. I wanted some time to myself,” he sighs. Even so, he just couldn’t quit entirely. Wally continues to inspect brands for California – including 3,000 head for Centennial Livestock every year.

Like so many historic ranches, the Adams Ranch has shrunk in size over the years, as economic forces and family needs required that portions be sold off. Even so, Wally hopes that his family’s traditional way of life will continue – and will inspire future generations to appreciate Nevada’s ranching heritage.

The old gas pump at the Adams Ranch. (Judy Adams photo)

“As a kid, I had the freedom other kids don’t have,” Wally reminisces. “I’d take my .22 with me everywhere and I’d go hunting when I wanted to. Ranching life is a good life. It’s a hard life. But if everyone had a chance to do it, it would change their attitudes about where food comes from. Today, they go to the grocery store and see a carton of milk or a package of meat, and don’t realize the work that went into it.”

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*A longer version of this story first appeared in Range Magazine (Fall 2020 issue).

A Photo Visit to the Sutro Tunnel

It’s been well over a century since the last mining car filled with ore from the Comstock rolled out of Sutro Tunnel. By the time the Tunnel was completed in 1878, the Big Bonanza was winding down, and the best guess is that the last batch of Comstock ore came through about 1880. But just three years ago, workers began converging at the old Sutro site once more.

The Sutro Tunnel entrance as it looks today, with the brick candle house on the right. Just visible on the hillside between the two upright posts is a survey marker, used as the tunnel was built to make sure it ran straight. Work commenced October 19, 1869 and the tunnel was completed July 8, 1878. What looks like “1888” in the arch above the tunnel is actually “1869”. (Rick Dustman photo).

The Sutro Tunnel entrance before restoration. (Photo courtesy of Dan Webster). 

No, they’re not miners. In 2017, a determined group of volunteers began working to preserve and restore the old buildings and artifacts that still remain here from the Sutro’s hey-day. It’s now privately owned. But thanks to restoration volunteer Dan Webster, we were fortunate enough to be invited to visit the site!

The tunnel mouth remains the most prominent feature of the site. Volunteers have re-plastered the brick entry wings and repainted the markings, restoring it to the way it looked when the tunnel was new. Water still flows out of the tunnel, thanks to its gently sloping design.

Back in Sutro’s day, the tunnel stretched 3-1/2 miles underground to connect first with the Savage Mine at Virginia City. From there, additional tunnels branched out to connect with other Comstock mines.

Interior of the tunnel, viewed through the bars. (Rick Dustman photo)

The original theodolite base is still visible, where surveyors set up their transit equipment to ensure the tunnel ran straight to its intended destination. Survey markers are still in place on the hillside above (see first photo, above).

Fixed metal base for anchoring the theodolite (survey transit). (Rick Dustman photo)

Sutro himself once had a mansion on the hillside to the right of the tunnel entrance. Completed and occupied in late 1872, the house was a mansion indeed, featuring gas lighting and indoor plumbing. Sutro’s wife and children lived here until – well, as the story goes, until Sutro was caught with another woman, after which the wife departed for San Francisco. Sutro, too, eventually moved to San Francisco as his tunnel prospects faded. Sadly, the mansion was destroyed in a fire in 1941, thought to be arson committed by a disgruntled former employee.

The Sutro Mansion (now gone). Photo courtesy of Dan Webster.

To the right side of the tunnel entrance stands the brick candle house. One side has been caved in by falling rocks from the hillside, but its original bricks have been saved to allow it to be rebuilt eventually.

The candle house, which held candles to provide the tunnel workers with light. (Rick Dustman photo).

Next door, the old machine shop has been cleaned and its floors oiled. Photographs and artifacts are being assembled inside, and it’s hoped this will one day become a museum, helping to acquaint visitors with the history of the site. Still visible in the floor are tracks that once allowed mining equipment to be rolled into the building for repair.

The inside of the machine shop at the mouth of the Sutro Tunnel in days gone by. (Photo courtesy of Dan Webster)

Outside, a cluster of iron ore cars that once rattled along the tracks of the tunnel still stand a silent vigil. Markings on some of the wheels show they were cast at the V&T foundry in Carson City. (Fun fact: the V&T foundry provided not only machinery for the railroad, but also for mines and mills all over Nevada.) The car bodies themselves were built on site here at the machine shop. Each ore car could haul 2-1/2 tons of material.

Ore cars, built using wheels cast at the V&T foundry in Carson City, on a restored section of rail in front of the machine shop. (photo courtesy of Julie Michler).

Next door is the mule barn, where mules for the tunnel work were stabled. And there’s even tack still hanging inside (see photos, below).

Mule barn including interior stalls, with tack still hanging, and its well-used wooden floors. (Karen Dustman photos)

This is thought to be a second mule barn, built in the early 1900s; the first was said to have burned in a fire. The roof of this mule barn had begun to sag sadly before renovations began in 2017. It was stabilized and additional roof support added by volunteers just last year (2019).

Once the warehouse for Sutro’s Tunnel, this became a bar and dance hall in the 1960-1970s. (Rick Dustman photo)

To the left of the tunnel mouth, a large warehouse (below) once held supplies during Sutro’s day. In the 1960s and ‘70s, hippies turned the former warehouse into a bar and dance hall.

A small red house off to one side has its own fascinating history. Not original to the site, it was moved here from Carson City in the 1960s from the area that’s now the Nugget parking lot. According to local lore, this humble cabin used to be the home of famous prostitute Rosa May!

Okay, it’s anecdotal. But what a fun anecdote! According to local lore, the small red house at the rear of this photo used to be Rosa May’s in Carson City! (Rick Dustman photo)
This old Victorian home was also moved from Carson City to the property near the Sutro Tunnel. (Karen Dustman photo)

A two-story Victorian home is also on site – and it, too, was moved. This once was the home of John and Helen Schulz in Carson City. Here at the Sutro site it was occupied by tenants until very recently, but now is vacant.

Just over the hill below the tunnel mouth, a ten-stamp cyanide-process mill was erected in 1900 by Mr. Leonard, then president of the Sutro Tunnel Company, and is thought to have run sporadically through the early 1940s. It was originally water-powered, using pelton wheels. That power source was replaced by two diesel engines, probably in the 1930s. Ore from various Comstock mines was initially trucked to the mill. Later, a tailings pile west of the mill was worked,  using a steam shovel to load dump trucks, and the tailings material was then gravity-fed to the stamps.

The old wooden mill building itself burned in 1967. But much of the large metal mill equipment can still be seen, some pieces still showing signs of distortion from the fire.

Metal parts from the mill are collected on site. Some show bends from the heat of the fire that destroyed the mill. (Rick Dustman photo)
Remnants of a large old wagon. (Rick Dustman photo)
An old saw. (Rick Dustman photo)

Below the mill once sat the Town of Sutro, a neatly-laid-out company town where workers and their families once lived. Crops were grown there using water from the mine for irrigation. Sutro himself brought in German Cottonwood trees, and had them planted in nice, straight rows to line the streets.

The former Town of Sutro, complete with a grid of tree-lined streets, once sat on this plain below the tunnel. (Rick Dustman photo)

Volunteers are continuing to work hard to restore the buildings and preserve the extensive artifacts at the Sutro Tunnel site. Eventually, they hope public tours may help raise money to assist with restoration efforts — and share the amazing story of Sutro himself and his famous tunnel!

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Story copyright Karen Dustman 2020. Unlawful to use without prior written permission.

The Story of Dr. Ernest Hand

Physician. Surgeon. Obstetrician. First responder. Ambulance driver. Back in the day, Dr. Ernest Hand did it all.

Baby arriving? He’d come to your home for the delivery. Had a hunting accident out in the wilderness? He’d fight his way through the roughest territory to get to your side and render aid. Need an ambulance? He’d tote you piggyback out to his own Lincoln automobile, and then race for the hospital at Carson or Reno – with no regard for posted speed limits. “Not to worry,” he’d say. “I used to be a race car driver.”

Dr. Hand and his wife, Eleanor, arrived in Gardnerville in December, 1934, the year they were married. And for the next 23 years Dr. Hand would render expert, compassionate care to everyone in town, regardless of race, creed, color, or ability to pay.

Dr. Hand’s two-story residence on Douglas Avenue. It’s said the good doctor helped build it with his own hands.

Born in Pennsylvania June 8, 1886, Dr. Hand put himself through Baltimore Medical College by working as a linotype operator for the Baltimore Sun newspaper. He began his medical career in New York in 1909, alternating private practice with a stint as an in-house physician for a company with 75,000 employees. He honed his medical skills in both urology and dermatology. Perhaps more important for his future career, he also delivered some 5,000 babies – experience that would later prove invaluable when he arrived in Carson Valley.

The good doctor not only loved medicine, he loved carpentry too. An excellent cabinet-maker, he helped build his own house on Douglas Avenue and crafted cabinets for his medical office. He also loved animals and gardening. In his off-hours (few as those were) he lovingly tended a garden and fruit trees by his home. He’d can and preserve the fruits and vegetable he grew, too.

And oh, his work ethic! From 7 to 8 a.m. every morning Dr. Hand’s waiting room would be jammed with drop-in patients – no appointments needed. His office was right on Main Street, just north of the Overland, where “Restyle” stands today. He’d treat everything from sniffles to gunshot wounds right there in his office. He made the drive nearly every day to Carson City and Reno to check on his patients in the hospital. And he also served as county health officer for both Douglas and Alpine Counties.

Many Carson Valley residents still remember Dr. Hand fondly. “He was a happy ol’ guy — he looked like Santa Claus,” remembers one long-time local boy. “He had a belly, and white hair and glasses. He was very kind. And he would talk to you. One time as a kid I had pains every morning and my mom thought I just didn’t want to go to school. But there really was something wrong, and he figured it out.”

Dr. Hand, circa 1950, with a pocket full of pens. (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society).

“He was kinda like a miracle worker; it was like he had 48 hours in the day, not 24,” recalls another former patient. “Even after normal office hours, he’d go out and make house calls. And he’d still have just as much interest in you. It didn’t matter how late he’d been up the night before.”

Medical care would often be simple but effective. “I fell once as a boy and broke my arm,” one local still remembers. “Dr. Hand came up to the house and he just pulled on it to set it. You didn’t get pain shots for every little thing back then.”

Newspaper reports provide a snapshot of the wide variety of ailments Dr. Hand was called upon to attend. He cared for the victim of a logging accident with major spinal injuries. He trekked six miles into the hills outside Markleeville to render aid to a teenager whose leg bone was shattered in a hunting accident. He administered polio shots to local school children, and treated a road worker with severe burns after his oil-stained clothes had caught on fire. And when floods closed local roads and prevented a pregnant military wife from reaching the base hospital in Hawthorne, Dr. Hand came to her home for the delivery – despite getting the call just hours before the baby arrived.

Dr. Hand was credited with delivering more than 500 children during his 23 years of practice in and around Gardnerville. (Image courtesy of TheGraphicsFairy.com).

Those who knew the good doctor still shrug and smile about his lead-footed driving. “I rode with him once for a trip to the hospital – he said he’d used to be a race car driver, but he was still a race car driver!” grins one former patient. “He would blow the wheels off that car!” confirms another.

As luck would have it, it was the doctor’s own speedy driving that once led to a special kind of cure. A young child had gotten a small whistle stuck in his throat and Dr. Hand was, as usual, putting pedal to the metal to get the boy to the hospital for an operation. Suddenly another car cut in front of them. Dr. Hand slammed on his brakes and threw out his arm protectively to keep the young boy from falling forward. Lo and behold, that sudden jolt was just what the doctor ordered. The whistle was dislodged – and no operation was required!

In 1950, Dr. Hand was lauded for his years of work by a grateful community. Donations totaling $1,000 had been taken up – enough to pay for a new incubator and a hospital room at Carson-Tahoe Hospital in honor of Dr. Hand. The doctor’s wife, too, received special thanks from the community for her “untiring assistance” to her husband – and no doubt her patience with years of middle-of-the-night emergency phone calls. The community’s tribute came as a complete surprise to Dr. Hand. He was, as he put it, “too full for words.”

Dr. Hand passed away on December 27, 1957 of a sudden heart attack, at the age of 71. He’d tended patients here in Carson Valley for 23 years. More than 800 mourners turned out to pay their respects at his funeral at Carson City’s civic auditorium. He was laid to rest at first in Lone Mountain Cemetery – but it wasn’t for long. In the summer of 1960, Dr. Hand’s family had his body moved and reburied at the Garden Cemetery in Gardnerville, the town he had lived in and served for so many years.

If you visit, you can read his epitaph:

       “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Dr. Hand’s memorial plaque at the Garden Cemetery in Gardnerville.

The Adams House in Carson City

Even from the street, this little bungalow at 990 N. Minnesota St. in Carson City looks like it was built with love. It’s called the Adams House. And today, it is the home of KNVC Radio. But just who was Adams? And what’s the house’s story?

Thanks to Sandie LaNae, I got to visit the Adams House and hear the story. Turns out whole lot of life has passed through these doors. And a little bit of death, too.  Here’s the tale!

Period styling includes the square, leaded glass lights in the front door, and dark-stained wooden door trim and paneling.

Turns out this century-old home wasn’t the first house on this property. Mining engineer John S. Phillips once had a farm house here. (Just imagine this residential section of Carson City, dotted with small farms!)

Phillips died after a tragic mining accident in 1909. By 1915, his widow had become so destitute she was forced to put their young children in the Orphan’s Home. She arranged to have the farmhouse itself moved to Mina, Nevada. And in May, 1922, she sold the now-empty town lot to DeWitt Adams, for a bit more than the back taxes.

Born in South Carolina in 1885, DeWitt had worked his way west when he was 13. About 1916, he married Carson City native Meta Anderson. At the time he purchased the property in 1922, DeWitt was working in a local hardware store. He and Meta would eventually have a total of six children: Jasper, Maurice, Margaret, Walter, Arthur (who died as an infant), and Robert.

With five kids and a wife, Adams wasted no time creating a home. Between 1922 and 1923, he built the present bungalow, largely with his own hands. Plans for the house may have been ordered from a catalog, or perhaps they were taken from a magazine of the day. Either way, it’s true Craftsman-era styling through and through, with features including built-in cabinets lovingly made by Adams himself. The family was in a hurry to enjoy their new home; they moved in even  before it was totally finished. The house would remain in the Adams family for the next 75 years.

The Depression years were soon upon them. For extra spending money, DeWitt grew an extensive fruit and vegetable garden out back, and the family raised fryer chickens and sold eggs. “Seed money” from the sales was carefully tucked away in a small tin box, hidden in the warming-oven of the old kitchen woodstove. City water hadn’t yet arrived, so water for household use and the garden came from seven artesian wells right there on the property.

Meta passed away in June, 1930 at just 38 years old, from complications of childbirth. DeWitt finished raising their children alone, and never remarried. In later life, he left his job at the hardware store and worked for the state buildings and grounds department, retiring in 1956. He passed away in 1969, at the age of 84.

Even today, traces of the family’s life are still visible. The small front entryway once doubled as Meta’s sewing room. To the left is their living room, separated from the dining room by built-in bookshelves crafted by DeWitt himself. The old stained-wood wainscoting and rough plaster still remain, and the original milk glass light fixtures are suspended from the ceiling.

The living room features the original hanging light fixture and dark-stained trim.

The dining room features a built-in china cabinet, also crafted by DeWitt himself. Although the old potbelly stove is gone, now, it was a central feature when the house was new, keeping the family warm as they sat around the dinner table.

The built-in china cabinet was lovingly crafted by DeWitt Adams himself. Note the typical Craftsman styling of the glass-fronted doors.

Wood floors are featured throughout much the house, though Mrs. Adams likely accented them with colorful rugs. One warm example of a well-worn old rug remains in today’s radio studio (originally DeWitt and Meta’s bedroom). Old-fashioned linoleum in the kitchen and two children’s bedrooms gave those wood floors a durable, practical finish. The four boys shared a single bedroom adjacent to their parents. Daughter Margaret – the only girl – got her own bedroom at the back of the house.

Painted wainscoting and hardwood floors in the kitchen.

The kitchen once featured a large wood-burning stove (the same one where the “seed money” got stashed), and a big freestanding sink. The home’s single bathroom – though included in the original plans – wasn’t functional until the late 1920s when an artesian well was dug to supply it with water.

At the rear of the house, a cold storage room was added in the 1930s, constructed of thick stone blocks originally hewn at the Nevada prison quarry. It features a sawdust-filled ceiling for insulation, and vents at floor level that could be opened or closed to regulate the inside temperature. A rear entryway and breakfast room were added about the same time.

The thick stone walls of the cold storage room provided refrigeration without electricity.

Daughter Margaret never married. She stayed home and cared for her father in his waning years, and continued to live in the house until her own death in 1997.

The Adams house was purchased after Margaret’s death by Carson-Tahoe Hospital, which initially planned to raze it for additional parking. Thanks to efforts by preservation-minded community members, however, the Hospital Board was convinced to save the building.

Today it’s a living reminder of life in Carson City just a century ago – and the beauty that loving hands can build.

Many thanks to Sandie LaNae for the kind visit to the Adams House and the information for this story! Connect with her through her website, www.sandiespsychicstones.com.

Gardnerville’s Coolest Building (Part 1)

The sign on the outside used to read “Perry’s Dry Goods.” And locals today still smile when they remember Frank Perry, a short, wiry Basque known for his charming mustache and his wide range of Western wear.

But Perry, as it turns out, wasn’t actually his real name. At birth it was Yparraguirre. “Perry” was just shorter. And much easier to spell.

Frank Yparraguirre with his trademark smile. Perry’s Dry Goods sold Western wear, ranch clothing, and of course men’s hats. (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society).

Even today, the tall, narrow building that once housed Perry’s Dry Goods (1448 Highway 395) still draws your eye.  That high, false wooden front stretches an imposing two stories in the air — yet from the side it’s so narrow it seems half the building went missing.

In the rear, that towering front slumps down to merge with a squat, unassuming cottage. (Looks like nothing important back there, right? Spoiler alert: Its history may be even cooler than the front!)

The history of this quirky edifice — arguably Gardnerville’s coolest building — is also the story of Frank Yparraguirre (aka Perry), of course. And before him, Ole Haugner, the shopkeeper who occupied it in earlier days. Together, these two early residents peddled wares within these walls — day after day, year after year — for nearly a century.

So, read on for Frank Yparraguirre’s story. Part 2 will go back even further in time to share Haugner’s own tale. Along the way you’ll discover how this “coolest” building got its strange shape. And we’ll share two secrets about this quirky structure that almost nobody knows today!

Francisco (Frank Sr.) and Marie Yparraguirre at their Sweetwater Ranch (Ancestry.com).

Here’s the Backstory on Frank Perry:
Frank’s father (Francisco Yparraguirre) emigrated from Echalar, Spain at the tender age of 13, in 1876. He made his way to San Francisco, where an older brother already owned a hotel at the corner of Powell and Broadway (naturally enough, named the Yparraguirre Hotel).

Like so many young Basques, Frank Sr. found employment as a sheepherder. The succeeding years took him all over California and Nevada, from Six-Mile Canyon near Elko to Monitor Pass, California, tending sheep. Eventually about 1886, Frank and his brothers pooled their resources and purchased a section of land in the Sweetwaters. There, Frank served as proprietor of a 32-room hotel serving travelers on the road to Bodie and Aurora.

Finally secure enough to think about a family, Frank Sr. got married about 1901. And in 1903, Frank Jr. (yes, our Gardnerville “Perry”) was born at the family hotel in San Francisco.

In his early years, Frank Jr. grew up on his family’s ranch in the Sweetwaters, finally starting school in San Francisco belatedly at the age of ten. He proved to be a good student, however. He caught on quickly and graduated with his age-mates in 1921. For a time, he returned to work on the family ranch. But a pair of ranching accidents left him with a broken ankle and two broken clavicles. A recession and downturn in the sheep business also made the young man think, “Well, maybe I don’t belong on a ranch.”

Frank Jr. moved to Gardnerville about 1924. His first job was for Standard Oil Co.; then he did a seven-year stint with the Minden Merc. But finally, in August, 1939, he determined to leap into business for himself. He opened a small dry goods store in a rented building just south of the Corner Saloon (today’s Sharkey’s) — and “Perry’s” was born.

Here Fate stepped in to shuffle up the deck of Life. Ole Haugner, long-time proprietor of a shoe store just up the street, had just lost his wife in May, 1939. And that following March, 1940, Ole too gave up the ghost and, at the age of 85, followed his wife into the Great Beyond.

After more than forty years of service for Haugner’s shoe business, the tall, two-story building just up the street offered a perfect spot for the new Perry’s dry goods store. The location was well-known. And there’d be far more room for inventory.

Frank Yparraguirre cut a deal with the Haugner heirs, eventually purchasing the building in 1949. And that tall, two-story former shoe store location became what locals would know as Perry’s Dry Goods for some 49 years.

Frank Yparraguirre holds forth inside his well-stocked dry goods store. (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society).

“Be “Be Practical! Give a Practical Gift!” was the caption for this Christmas ad for Perry’s Dry Goods in 1941, not long after he opened. (Record-Courier, December 12, 1941).

Cool as it was on the outside, Perry’s new dry goods building came with an even cooler history. There was the story of Ole Haugner himself, the enterprising Norwegian emigrant who arrived in Gardnerville in 1897 and spent more than 40 years making shoes right here.

And that unimpressive single-story cottage in the back? Well, here’s the first little-known “secret”:  it reportedly was once the home of John Gardner (after whom the town of Gardnerville was named), and had been moved from the original Gardner Ranch to this location!

There’s way more to the story — but we’ll stop here for now. Stay tuned next time for more of the story of Haugner, Perry, and Gardnerville’s Coolest Building!

Love Carson Valley history? Check out our new book — 33 forgotten tales about people, buildings, buried treasure and more!

Mrs. Pitts’ Maternity Home

This year, a modest house on Centerville Lane will celebrate its 100th birthday (or so the assessment records say). And ironically, the word “birthday” holds a very special meaning for this old home. Think 159 of them . . . .

Options for pregnant mothers were limited in Gardnerville during the World War II years. You could have your baby the old-fashioned way, at home. But if you opted instead for a high-speed run to reach the hospital in Reno or Carson City, you took your chances on getting there in time.

After a few “hair-raising experiences” involving babies delivered by the side of the road, local doctor Ernest Hand figured there had to be a better way. He prevailed upon Mrs. Frieda Pitts to open a maternity home right here in Gardnerville in 1943.

That plan sounded great to Frieda Pitts. A widow, Mrs. Pitts had lost her husband, William, to kidney disease in March, 1940. Never mind that she had no formal training as a nurse. Or that the “maternity home” facility would consist of just two beds in her own house here on Centerville Lane – a home that initially had no indoor bathroom and no furnace.

Mrs. Frieda Pitts, circa 1950. (Photo courtesy ofDouglas County Historical Society).

Mrs. Pitts devoted her living room and a bedroom to the cause. Neighbor Lizzie Etherton assisted with laundry, courtesy of her wringer washer. And Dr. Hand taught Frieda all about labor, delivery, and maternity care.

And that’s how, you might say, Mrs. Pitts’ Maternity Home was born. When it opened in March, 1943, the facility was a welcome addition for Valley mothers indeed. Over the next eleven years, some 159 babies would enter the world there. Dr. Hand was just a phone call away.

Sometimes mothers would come to stay with Mrs. Pitts before the baby arrived. But “generally you would go to Mrs. Pitts when your contractions started,” a long-time Valley resident recalled. “You’d leave home with your little satchel and then you would stay there at Mrs. Pitts’s for eleven days. They wanted to make sure the baby had a good start. So that was considered the proper length of time to see if the baby did well and if you did well. And they kept you in bed for those eleven days. You didn’t get up and run around.”

Mrs. Pitts not only cooked meals for her patients, she also changed diapers, prepared formula, and cared for the babies at night so their mothers got a good night’s sleep.

Pitts Maternity Home became so popular that Frieda added an addition to her house in September, 1944. It must not have been a large one, however; as late as July, 1952, the facility offered only two beds. In a pinch, however, it was able to accommodate a small “baby boom.” The largest: five babies in a single week.

Image courtesy of TheGraphicsFairy.com.

Babies of all sizes made their debut at Mrs. Pitts’ home. One of the smallest, a 4-pound daughter, was born to Mr. and Mrs. Andres Ortiz in 1948. For tiny preemies like this one, Mrs. Pitts created a make-shift incubator that was lined with flannel and heated with hot water bottles. At the other end of the spectrum, one baby boy tipped the scales at 10 pounds, 4 ounces! At least one set of twins was delivered at Mrs. Pitts’ home. And one impatient baby didn’t even make it in the front door, instead making its debut at her front gate! But of all those 159 children born at Mrs. Pitts’ home, not a single baby was lost.

The Record-Courier once noted that the names of those who gave birth at Mrs. Pitts’ home “reads quite a lot like the old Carson Valley telephone book.” But it wasn’t just Valley children born here. A few mothers came from Markleeville. And even a few moms-to-be who were just “passing through” availed themselves of Mrs. Pitts’ kind services.

So, who was Frieda Pitts, the kindly soul who tended to all these moms and babies? Well, she was oldest of the eight children of Fritz and Marie Sarman, born October 22, 1906. The Sarman family owned the “Ladies Best” flour mill south of Gardnerville, and Frieda was raised there. Frieda’s siblings included brothers Edwin and John; and sisters Mabel Marie (Mrs. James Perry) of Smith Valley, Mrs. Aldon Arigoni of Reno, and Edna Araujo.

Frieda Sarman (soon to be Pitts) is seated in the front row, third from left. This is the Freshman Class at Douglas High School in 1922. (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society).

Frieda married William Pitts in 1925, when she was fresh out of high school. He was 39 at the time; she was just 18.

Despite her lack of formal nursing training, Mrs. Pitts became a fine  nurse, midwife, and caregiver. When Douglas County began registering all the registered and practical nurses in Douglas County in 1956 for “civil defense and disaster planning” purposes, Mrs. Pitts was the one they put in charge of the nursing registration effort.

But in 1954, state regulations changed. Hospital births began to be required, essentially putting Mrs. Pitts out of business. But she never stopped caring for others. Various younger siblings and nephews from Smith Valley lived with her over the years so they could attend Douglas High School. Dr. Hand’s granddaughter, Debbie Lambert, lived with Frieda for a while. She cared for her father when he became ill, and her mother eventually came to live in the house with her. Frieda was also in great demand as a local babysitter. Locals still remember the fine homemade bread and cookies she would bake.

Frieda Pitts died in 1991, and is buried at Garden Cemetery in Gardnerville. Although she never had any children of her own, she always said she felt a special kinship with every one of those 159 babies she helped bring into the world.

 

Carson City’s Vanishing History: Please Help Save Adele’s!

A beautiful piece of Carson City history may soon be — history.

The former Adele’s restaurant, that popular upscale eatery that has graced N. Carson Street since 1977, could soon be razed to enlarge the gas station next door.

An view of the building that became Adele’s, circa 1900. (Carson City Historical Society photo).

Folks are scrambling to save this century-and-a-half-old landmark. But the deadline to raise an estimated $100,000 and physically move it? March 1. Yes, this March 1, 2020. Just a few weeks away. So if you want to help preserve Adele’s, there’s no time to waste.

As of this writing, over $5,000 has been donated to the cause between checks and a GoFundMe account. Contribute NOW to Carson City Historical Society’s fundraiser to save the original part of the building: www.GoFundMe.com/f/cchistoricalsociety-save-adeles.

Like to know the history of this 146-year-old lady? Here’s a short thumbnail:

The building we know today as Adele’s was built in 1874 by a man named Captain Porter. It featured the gracious mansard roof and dormer windows typical of a Victorian building style known as “Second Empire,” popular between 1860-1880.

Daily Appeal, 5-28-1874 story about Capt. Porter building his home — the “first of the kind” in Carson with a mansard roof.

In the 1880s, the home became the property of Benjamin F. Slater, a hotelier and hay yard owner who later would enter politics. The Slaters apparently didn’t own it long, moving on to Southern California in March, 1884.

In the 1890s, the home’s owner was Judge Michael Augustus Murphy. Born in New York, Murphy had made his way west at 16, mining as a young man at Aurora. After becoming a lawyer in 1872 Murphy entered public service, serving as district attorney for Esmeralda County, state attorney general, a District Court Judge, and eventually a Nevada Supreme Court justice.

After Judge Murphy’s death in 1909, son Frank Murphy continued to live in the house until the 1920s. Frank started his career with the V&T Railroad as a baggage handler, eventually rising to the post of V.P./General Manager.

Just think of all the conversations about law and politics that have taken place through the years under Adele’s roof !

The Belknap House (from National Register application).

But if the Porter/Murphy/Adele’s house was the first mansard-roofed home in Carson, it wouldn’t be the last. There’s a similar home just two blocks away. This one, at 1206 N. Nevada (just west of Adele’s) was built the next year, in 1875, by Henry Hudson Beck. It was purchased in 1881 by Judge Charles Henry Belknap, Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court. Belknap and his wife Virginia  lived there for more than two decades, eventually moving to California in 1908 (Judge Belknap died in 1926). The Belknap House is now listed on the National Register.

The Leport-Toupin house at 503 E. Telegraph St. (National Register application photo).

And there’s also a third Second Empire-style house in Carson City at 503 E. Telegraph, on the east side of town. This is the Leport-Toupin house, built in 1879 by French merchant Alexander Leport for his soon-to-be bride, Mary Blavee. The house was later acquired by Genoan T.P. Hawkins and his wife, Clara, in 1907, and it stayed in the Hawkins family until 1963. The Leport-Toupin house, too, is currently listed on the National Register.

Similarly-styled building at 377 S. Nevada St.

By coincidence we also spotted this similar-looking beauty at 377 S. Nevada St. It’s more modern than it looks, though; the assessor’s records peg it as a 1985 creation.

 

 

Like to help save Adele’s and its history for future generations? Upset with great historic buildings going away for a parking lot?  Please donate generously to saving Adele’s. Then tell your friends that you did, and urge them to contribute, too.

Make sure Adele’s 146-year history doesn’t come to a tragic end on March 1! Here’s that link for Carson City Historical Society’s fundraiser to save it:

www.GoFundMe.com/f/cchistoricalsociety-save-adeles

Or checks can be mailed to: Carson City Historical Society, 112 N. Curry St., Carson City NV 89703, with a memo “Save Adele’s.”

 

 

Newly-Discovered History at Mormon Station

Next time you drive past Mormon Station State Historic Park, keep an eye peeled for a small, white, garage-looking structure just north of the stockade.

When Mormon Station acquired the 1.2-acre property adjacent to the Fort in 2002, that’s exactly what they thought this small building was: just a “barn or garage.” Initial estimates dated it to about 1948-50, so it was brushed off as having “no significant historic value.”

Not surprisingly, the Park Service’s 2005 Master Plan called for this small building to be torn down. At the time, planners had grand ideas to actually rebuild some of the early Genoa’s now-gone buildings, such as Gelatt’s Livery Stable and the early “White House Hotel”, which once sat to the south of the small garage. There was no place in such a glorious picture for a remnant of the 1940s or ’50s.

Well, that all sounded terrific — until the price tag showed up. Initial estimates pegged the ambitious project at $1.6 million. And even that figure could have been too low. Yup, after that wake-up call, the plan to recreate long-ago buildings was no longer in the cards.

In the meantime, however, Park employees began noticing a few things about the humble “garage” that were, well – a little bit odd. For one thing, it had been built on a stone foundation. Pretty unusual for 1940s/50s construction. There were square nails in the wooden flooring. And, a central section of the floor planking was missing entirely, suggesting perhaps a forge once sat there.

The vacant space in the floor probably held a forge.

Yep, on closer inspection, it didn’t look like much a 1940s or 1950s building, at all!

Park staff already knew that the property had been owned by the Rice family from 1872 to 1902; the Rice family’s White House Hotel once was located just to the south. When Chris Johnson was hired at the Mormon Station in 2017 as Park Interpreter, he began digging more into the past ownership of the property. He started searching through the old newspapers for  mentions that might shed additional light on the building and its former use. And because some early-1900s newspaper issues aren’t searchable, that meant long hours of skimming page-by-page through microfilm reels.

But Johnson’s sleuth work finally paid off! Johnson turned up a newspaper article from 1908 reporting that the White House Hotel had been purchased by a man named Nels Morrison (legal title was actually held in his wife Hattie’s name). Best of all, that same 1908 newspaper story reported that Morrison was planning to use part of the old Rice Hotel to build a blacksmith shop on the property. “Bingo!” says Johnson. His suspicions that this had been a blacksmith shop were confirmed.

The front door, with its original heavy metal hardware.

As Johnson kept digging,  even more fun pieces of the puzzle began coming to light.

An oral history by local Arnold Trimmer mentioned the old Hotel had been torn down and that some of the hotel’s lumber went into a house across the street.  So it’s no surprise that Morrison might have used some of the lumber from the old hotel to build his new blacksmith shop, too.

The Rice brothers’ White House Hotel, circa 1865. This hotel was one of the first buildings to be erected at Genoa, according to a 1908 newspaper account. (Photo courtesy of Mormon Station State Historic Park).

As Johnson and his crew began clearing away decades-worth of trash from inside the old  building, even more fun traces of the building’s past came to light!

Trap doors in the old wooden floor concealed lots of litter beneath — and a few treasures!

That “solid” wooden floor? Well, turns out three small trap doors had been cut in it. Reaching beneath one of the trap doors, Johnson discovered an intact bitters bottle, dating from the period 1906-1920. Although sold as a “medicinal” remedy, such potions contained as much as 37% alcohol. Can’t you just picture the boys sitting around the blacksmith shop, passing the “medicine”?

The beautifully-preserved “Bitters” bottle discovered by Johnson beneath the shop floor is now on display at Mormon Station.

Lath marks on some of the interior boards of the “garage” (photo below) confirm that some of the lumber used to build the blacksmith shop had originally been part of a different building – quite possibly Rice’s earlier White House Hotel.

Studs and crossbracing boards show lath and nail marks, suggesting they likely were salvaged from an earlier building — quite possibly the White House Hotel.

Three sets of initials also were found painted on the shop’s walls: “C,” “CM,” and “CF.” Although the first two are a mystery, the initials “CM” might stand for “Claire Morrison” — one of owner Nels Morrison’s sons, who worked as a mechanic at COD Garage.

Three sets of initials painted above the workbench include “C.M.”

But the most exciting discovery of all came to light only a few months ago.

As Park employees cleaned out the debris that was packed in the old building, they eventually uncovered the original old work bench. Johnson looked closely at the side of the wooden bench – and discovered blacksmith Nels Morrison’s “maker’s mark” stamped into the old wood!

The name “N.P. Morrison” is stamped repeatedly in a vertical line down the front of the old wooden bench — a great remnant of his blacksmith’s “maker’s mark”!

Johnson hopes the old Nels Morrison blacksmith building will eventually be restored into a working blacksmith shop, with artifacts on display to show how it would have looked. Already, they’ve begun acquiring equipment from the 1902-1906 period, including a historic forge and blower. Perhaps volunteers might eventually operate the blacksmith shop on weekends or for school groups, Johnson said, crafting metal objects like dinner bells that might be sold in the gift shop.

Artifacts that might eventually be used in the blacksmith shop exhibit.

So now you know the fun story of this long-forgotten Genoa gem – and the tale of just how close it came to being demolished. Stop by to see the building and the Bitters bottle next time you’re at Mormon Station!

 

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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