Battle of the Titans

Dangberg vs. Lucky Bill: One of them won the first round. The other got the last laugh.

1856 Was a Tough Year . . . . 

Where’s that “Wayback” machine when you need it?! It’s difficult to be rock-solid certain you’ve separated fact from fiction after more than 160 years have passed. But if there was one person in the world who had good reason to hate Lucky Bill Thorington, it was probably Heinrich Friedrich (“Fred”) Dangberg. And some would hint that he eventually got his revenge.

Dangberg was born September 16, 1830 in Halle, a province of Westphalia. Although today we know it as Germany, it was officially the Kingdom of Prussia at the time. Fred’s father was a farmer and stage operator. But Fred, the oldest of four sons, didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps, at least immediately. Instead, he was apprenticed to an uncle to learn the trade of operating a flour mill.

In 1845, when Fred Dangberg was just 15, his father passed away. His mother would remarry two years later, in 1847. All together this added up to a rough period in the young lad’s life. His relationship with his step-father was not a happy one and, with war looming in Europe, he faced the very real possibility of being conscripted.

Young and ambitious, Fred Dangberg was in no mood to wait for Fate to overtake him. In 1848, at the age of 18, he sailed from Germany to New Orleans. Lying ahead were not only fresh opportunities but a life on his own.

In America, Dangberg initially took a job rafting logs down the Mississippi. The following year, Dangberg and a friend, Benjamin Mast, followed the river upstream to St. Louis, where they secured work in a flour mill. And in 1850, the pair hired out as farmhands at a ranch in Illinois.

Nattily-dressed rancher H.F. Dangberg, circa 1875-1880. (Courtesy of Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park).

In the meantime, of course, the Gold Rush had begun. The lure of riches and land proved too compelling for ambitious young men like Dangberg and Mast to ignore. In the spring of 1853, the pair left St. Louis and headed west, driving 200 head of cows and oxen with them. They reached Gold Canyon on October 11, 1853, and promptly set to work panning gold.

For the next two-and-a-half years they would split their time between mining and trading, running their sluice box in the months when water was available, and trading goods to emigrants when water was scarce. They purchased wares in Placerville and Sacramento, and sold everything from flour, coffee and similar staples to simple comforts like tobacco and alcohol.

By early 1856 Dangberg had branched out into the dairy business, too, and began selling butter – more than 450 pounds of it that year alone, factoring in the weight of the small wooden barrels (firkins) that held it. Things were going so well, in fact, that he decided to abandon gold mining entirely and turn his energies to ranching instead.

Sometime that same year (1856), Dangberg settled on 320 acres of rich bottomland beside the East Fork of the Carson River, land that would later be known as the Klauber Ranch. He began building a log cabin, and set his cattle to grazing nearby. But as far as we can tell from recorded documents, Dangberg never bothered to file a formal land claim. Maybe he was working on it. Maybe he intended to hire a surveyor later, and just wanted to get his cabin up first.

Local trader and land baron, William “Lucky Bill” Thorington. (K. Dustman illustration)

But Dangberg wasn’t the only one with an eye on that same stretch of land. Returning home from a supply trip over the mountains, Dangberg found local trader and land baron Lucky Bill Thorington occupying his partly-finished cabin – armed with a gun and a group of supporters. Some say Lucky Bill taunted Dangberg, boldly declaring that he’d jumped Dangberg’s land claim and demanding “What are you going to do now, Dutchman?”

Although this may well have been Dangberg’s take on the situation, the vague descriptions and primitive title system of early land claims made it a far more nuanced matter. The intervening 160-plus years makes it doubly difficult to tell for sure, of course. But here’s one fascinating tidbit that might help explain the confrontation: these 320 acres could be the same property claimed and surveyed by Fred Heath and F.D. Clift on August 9, 1856.

Assuming it’s the same land, the big question, of course: did that Heath/Clift survey happen before or after Dangberg settled on the property? Did Dangberg perhaps even buy out Heath and Clift’s interest in an unrecorded transaction? Or did he commence building his cabin, unaware of their claim? On the other hand, could Lucky Bill have bought the Heath/Clift land claim? Or might Lucky Bill just have been friendly with Heath and Clift, and tried to help pitch out a person they felt was an intruder? We may simply never learn the truth. But it’s possible that Lucky Bill – a resident of Carson Valley since 1853 – honestly believed he or his friends had a valid right to the land.

By the time Dangberg arrived, would-be settlers were swarming into Carson Valley and land disputes with those who’d settled earlier were common. Newcomers frequently had difficulty finding unoccupied land and many bitterly resented those who’d arrived before them, believing it unfair that early settlers had tied up such huge swaths of land.

It would seem out-of-character for Lucky Bill to have taken advantage of a newcomer, especially by force. He seemed to be well-liked by at least some (though not all) in the community, with contemporaries describing him as a “merry citizen.” Tales are still told of his kindness toward unfortunate travelers. Lucky Bill certainly had no need to steal land, having already amassed a home in Genoa, an extensive ranch in Eagle Valley, and another ranch at Fredericksburg. On the other hand, Lucky Bill probably wouldn’t take it lightly if he felt that someone was trying to take advantage. So perhaps the dispute was simply an unfortunate collision between two determined individuals, both convinced they were right.

The confrontation was certainly an unequal one. Fred Dangberg was a strapping young man, and hard work had made him strong. But Lucky Bill, topping six feet, was even larger. Worse yet for Dangberg, Lucky Bill had friends standing by his side as the pair faced off at the cabin site.

Finding himself outnumbered – and perhaps aware that his own unperfected land claim might be somewhat shaky – Dangberg abandoned his partly-finished cabin and sought out other land to claim. He moved south about a mile, crossing the river and heading upstream. There, in 1857, Dangberg and partners Ben Mast and C.E. Holbrook took up 640 acres of land in the middle of the fertile Carson Valley – land that ultimately would form the nucleus of the Dangberg Home Ranch.

From a water-rights perspective, it was a canny move. Here where the East Fork and the Middle Fork separated, Dangberg had first access to the water that flowed on to downstream ranchers – including Lucky Bill. And this time, the partners made sure they did things right: they hired a surveyor and set out corner markers for their property.

The Dangberg Home Ranch — H.F. Dangberg’s second choice. (Courtesy of Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park).

But that early, ugly confrontation with Lucky Bill Thorington was one that Fred Dangberg never forgot – and probably never forgave. When Thorington was hauled up on trial in June, 1858 for his alleged complicity with murderer William Edwards, eighteen jurors were plucked from the community to hear the charge. Old-timers including Thomas Knott and Harry Hawkins would later hint that Fred Dangberg was a member of that jury. Others, however, dismiss the allegation as pure rumor.

Rumor or not, perhaps no one was happier than Fred Dangberg when Lucky Bill was dispatched into eternity on June 19, 1858 by a hangman’s noose. Some two years after the unfortunate confrontation at the cabin, Dangberg may well have felt Lucky Bill had gotten his come-uppance.

And oh yes. There was one final joyful celebration ahead for Fred Dangberg:  he finally, finally managed to purchase the Klauber Ranch in 1902.

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Unsolved murders. Brazen stage robberies. Tales of buried treasure. They’re all here in our new book, “Forgotten Tales of Carson Valley“! Get your copy at local merchants or find it on Amazon.com!

Now available on Amazon.com!

 

The Story of Kermit Neddenriep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Old Ferris Ranch House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peters Station on Old Kingsbury Grade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stories of the Fairview School – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genoa Weekly Courier, April 27, 1894.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stories of the Fairview School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farm wagon.

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

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

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Yank’s Station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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)

Gardnerville’s Ritchford Hotel

William Ritchford was bound and determined to be a hotel owner. In March, 1893 he purchased the Gardnerville Hotel at the southwest corner of Main and Eddy Streets from Hans C. Jepsen. Here at his “fine hotel and saloon,” the accommodating new owner offered board and lodging by the day, week, or month. Patrons of his saloon were promised not only “good wines, liquors and cigars,” but also an opportunity to try their luck at the card tables.

The Ritchford Hotel, circa 1900. (Photo courtesy of the Douglas County Historical Society & Museum)

Ritchford had a partner in this new endeavor, Hans Nelson. And for a time, things went swimmingly. In June of 1893, the pair were already planning to build an addition to their hotel to “accommodate the transient custom that nightly make this a stopping point,” said the Genoa Weekly Courier. But by March of 1894, Ritchford had sold out his interest to Nelson for a bit more than $5,000, and was moving to Antelope Valley with his family.

They weren’t gone long, however. By October of 1896, the Ritchfords were back in Gardnerville, renting the lower floor of Pete Wilder’s house. By 1897, Bill Ritchford was operating a livery and feed business in town. But he still had heart set on another hotel.

About 1898, Ritchford purchased a parcel on the west side of today’s “S”-curve, then the south end of Gardnerville. An early blacksmith shop occupied the south corner of the property (opened by Chris Nelson and later operated by Fred Fricke). By March that same year, carpenters and stone masons were hard at work erecting a new hotel for Ritchford at the north end of his property.

Things didn’t get off to a terribly auspicious start. First, carpenter Henry Beste took a nasty fall at the under-construction hotel, confining him to bed rest for a day or two. Then the following week stone mason Henry Mathews, who’d been hired to lay the building’s foundation, suddenly passed away.

But by mid-July, Ritchford and his family were able to move into their new hotel. The building was finished enough that the newspaper was able to report on its “imposing appearance,” with a cornice painted a patriotic red, white and blue. In November, 1898 Ritchford added a tall water tank to the property, bringing gravity-fed water to the new building. Genuine “horsepower” of the old-fashioned kind was used to lift the large tank into place.

Advertisement for a “Grand House Warming” for Ritchford’s Hotel. (September 9, 1898 Genoa Courier).

That September, 1898, a “Grand House Warming” celebration and dance was advertised to celebrate the new hotel. In deference to the size of the expected crowd, festivities were held just up the street at Valhalla Hall. Tickets for the event cost $2, but thoughtfully included not only supper for attendees but also “horse feed.”

Even so, however, it appears the new hotel building was not quite finished. In June the following year, the Courier reported plans under way to “immediately finish” the third story of the hotel, “owing to the throng of people in Gardnerville.” A Sanborn Fire Insurance map drawn that year shows a two-and-a-half story “boarding house” on the property. Ritchford finally had his own hotel.

Advertisements in the Genoa Courier in late 1899 cheerfully informed the traveling public that Ritchford’s new hotel was open for business. He had picked an auspicious official name for it, too:  “The Latest.” Guests could stable their horses at the livery just 38 feet to the south (possibly a new incarnation of the former blacksmith shop). And Ritchford wasn’t done yet. By early 1900, carpenter Henry Dixon was “finishing up” what may have been more of the third story of the Ritchford.

A Sanborn Fire Insurance map from 1899, showing a large livery stable on the south of Ritchford’s property (where the early blacksmith shop probably sat) and a 2-1/2 story “Boarding house” at the north end.
Ad for Ritchford’s Hotel, “The Latest,” in 1899.

When finally completed, the Ritchford Hotel featured 20 “first-class” rooms. Mrs. Ritchford charmed guests with her cooking, including  “sumptuous” turkey dinners. The livery business did so well that in 1902 a “large addition” was made to the stable. And in 1903, in keeping with the hotel’s name, “The Latest,” Ritchford had his hotel electrified — a significant improvement over the original gas lighting.

“Word of the Ritchford Hotel spread around the state, and anyone traveling through the valley wanted to stay there,” noted Scott Schrantz in a 2006 blog, Around Carson. “Even in San Francisco they spoke of its elegance and luxury.”

And even more improvements were yet to come. In the fall of 1905, Bill Ritchford added an “ice house” to the hotel and a “rustic front” to his stable. This latter change, the Record-Courier noted approvingly, “greatly add[ed] to [the stable’s] appearance.”

Ritchford worked hard to ensure a steady stream of patrons to his hotel. After the V&T opened its Minden depot in 1906, Ritchford  drove his team to meet the train every day to pick up “drummers” (traveling salesmen) needing a place to spend the night.

By 1907, the Sanborn maps show that another narrow addition had been made to the livery stable, pushing the building even farther south. And by 1912, almost the entire southern corner of the property had been covered with various extensions to the livery building.

Among other amenities for guests, it seems medical help was close at hand for anyone who needed it. As early as 1899, a patient was said to be “undergoing treatment at Ritchford’s hotel.” Advertisements from 1908 indicate that Dr. E.H. Hawkins kept both his medical office and his residence in the hotel. Another physican named Dr. Marotz had a convenient office nearby, and “at night [he] can be found at [a] cottage adjoining Ritchford hotel,” according to Marotz’s ad.

But at the age 0f 75, after more than two decades in the hotel business, Bill Ritchford passed away in a tragic accident. It was February of 1922. Despite his years, Ritchford was hauling hay from Minden to Gardnerville on a sled being pulled by a four-horse team. The load of hay slid forward, spooking the horses. Ritchford  fell off and was dragged for several hundred feet, and the sled ran over his body. His chest was crushed. Ritchford died the following day.

Son Bill Ritchford, Jr. continued to carry on the hotel business for the next two years. But not long after Bill’s death, his wife Anna’s health began to fail. She passed away in August, 1924, and was buried beside Bill in Carson City’s Lone Mountain Cemetery.

A few months after his mother’s passing, son Bill, Jr. sold the old Ritchford Hotel to the Aja family. It was still quite a place, featuring “stove heat,” electric lights; a parlor, two offices, a soft drink concession, dining room and kitchen, according to a 1923 Sanborn map. With automobiles now taking the place of horses, the former livery stable by now had been converted to a painting shop and “temporary fire headquarters.”

What remains of the Ritchford Hotel today. Gone are the third story, the front porch and architectural embellishments, but the “bare bones” of the old hotel still remain.
The former Livery stable, after innumerable additions.

Today, a portion of the gracious three-story Ritchford Hotel still stands. The current wooden structure is now just two stories tall, thanks to a fire that broke out on the third floor in January, 1937. Although the lower floors were saved, the top floor of the hotel was never rebuilt.

Next time you pass by, remember the tall water tower that once stood beside the Ritchford, boosted into place using old-fashioned horse-power. Think of the many smiling guests who crossed its threshold to enjoy Bill’s hospitality and Anna’s home-cooked dinners. And imagine Gardnerville’s early days when the gracious Ritchford Hotel was known as far away as San Francisco.

Historic plaque commemorating the much-beloved, long-lived Ritchford Hotel. This plaque notes the hotel was first opened in 1896. (Our research suggests his hotel actually opened in 1898.)

Carson Valley’s First Settler Wedding

The year was 1854 when two young riders pulled up outside Henry Van Sickle’s blacksmith shop, astride a single horse.

Their arrival at Van Sickle’s station wasn’t all that unusual — “Van” (as locals knew him) was an in-demand blacksmith and wheelwright, and his trading station had become a popular stopping place for passing-through emigrants.

What was unusual, however, was the mission of the two riders. Young David R. Jones and his even younger companion, Frances Angeline Williams, weren’t interested in Van’s assistance as a blacksmith, but rather his help as Justice of the Peace. They’d just eloped together on horseback, and wanted “Van” to marry them.

Frances was a native of Pennsylvania who’d come west with her family in a wagon train, arriving in Carson Valley during the fall of 1853. David had been born in Wales in 1830, emigrating initially as a child with his family to Wisconsin. David, too, had followed his dreams west to Carson Valley in 1853 as a member of the same wagon train as the Williams family, and was now living and working on the ranch owned by Frances’ father*, William T. “Billy” Williams.

Henry Van Sickle.

David was 25 years old when he rode up to Van Sickle’s blacksmith shop that fateful day. Frances, on the other hand, was just 15. And they hadn’t asked her parents’ permission to get married.

As later writers have recounted the tale, “Van” was hard at work at his forge when the eager young couple rushed in. Still clad in his leather blacksmith’s apron and rolled-up shirtsleeves, Van Sickle obliged with the briefest of ceremonies. Clapping one meaty hand on David’s shoulder and the other on Frances’, he solemnly proclaimed: “As Justice of the Peace of this township, I pronounce you man and wife under the law of the Territory of Utah.”

That was it. They were married.

Henry Van Sickle didn’t bother to take off his rough blacksmith’s apron for the marriage. Photos below of David R. Jones and Frances (Williams) Jones are courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society & Museum.

It was the first settler marriage ever performed in Carson Valley, at least according to local legend. (Small pause for a word of caution: when it comes to “firsts” like marriages and babies, there can often be room for dispute! But that’s how local legend tells it.) And the wedding wouldn’t be Van Sickle’s last. In August, 1857, Van Sickle also “stopped branding cattle long enough to perform the marriage” for Elzy Knott and Mary Harris.

There’s just one small factual hiccup giving later historians pause about the long-ago Jones wedding story: Henry Van Sickle probably wasn’t actually a J.P. yet in 1854. It wasn’t until Carson County, Utah Territory was formed in September, 1855 by Orson Hyde that Henry officially became a judge, as nearly as we can tell. Prior to that, although J.P.’s did exist, their authority was limited to handling court cases. With no authority for anyone at the time to perform weddings, emigrant marriages were sometimes accomplished by written “contract” or by stretching the fictitious jurisdiction of an eastern J.P.

Still, the story of the Jones’ wedding is so detailed there’s likely some truth to the tale. Perhaps the young couple thought Van Sickle had the power to marry them, and Van simply tried to oblige. Maybe later tellings got the year wrong and the marriage took place in 1855, after Henry really was a Justice of the Peace.  Or maybe the well-respected Van Sickle was simply the closest thing anyone had to a J.P. in those early days, and local folk never questioned the well-intentioned marriage attempt.

However it happened, if the oft-repeated story about the early wedding is true, newlyweds David and Frances must have had quite an interesting conversation with her family when they finally returned home to the Williams ranch! But any hard feelings were apparently soon forgiven. David would later purchase the Williams ranch in 1857.

Over the years, the couple prospered. David was (or at least, as he claimed to be) the first to plow the ground with an ox team near Genoa, and he soon began hauling hay and grain to Virginia City. But the early years of their marriage were filled with the dangers and difficulties of early pioneers. He would later recall: “We hid in the willows at night, [my] wife and I, because the Indians were hostile in those days and we feared for our lives.”

The Jones Ranch, as it appeared about 1881.

The couple’s first son, John R. Jones, born in 1855, was reportedly the first white male child born in Carson Valley. All told, David and Frances would go on to have a total of eleven children. One of those children, daughter Sarah, grew up to marry Lorenzo Smith of Washoe City, a tale recounted in this earlier story. (Daughter Sarah was laid to rest at the Washoe City Cemetery in early 1894.)

The Jones ranch grew, and by 1882 was valued for tax purposes at $3,500. David also evidently developed a passion for fine horses. In 1878, the newspaper reported the price for breeding services from his “noble-looking” stallion, Westfork.

D.R. Jones’ “noble” stallion, Westfork, was mentioned in the Carson Valley News of April 12, 1878.

David Jones was an active member of the local community, officiating as a judge of elections at the Mottsville Precinct in 1880, and serving as a Douglas County commissioner in the 1890s. According to some accounts Jones also became a prominent  and well-respected member of the Mormon Church — although in actuality, he’d broken ties with the LDS church. Instead, Jones may have been affiliated with the Re-organized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when that movement emerged in the 1870s, though even the nature of his association with that group remains unclear.  In any event, Jones was listed as a “minister” at the marriage of John Boston and Nettie Jones in March, 1872, and was kindly referred to as “Rev. Jones” in February, 1898 when he officiated at the funeral of Mrs. Mary Gilman.

Frances passed away in 1909, with seven of her 11 children still surviving her. Five years later, David was applauded as the oldest still-living Nevada pioneer at the state’s 50thanniversary celebration. He died that same year, 1914, at the age of 85. David and Frances Jones are both buried in the historic Genoa Cemetery.

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     * William T. Williams is identified as Frances’ father in Sam P. Davis’s later History of Nevada (Vol. II), but according to letters in the possession of descendants, her real father was actually David Williams. It’s possible that William T. Williams was an uncle.
Special thanks also to the Douglas County Historical Society for the wonderful pair of photos of Frances and David Jones for this story, and the account of their elopement from the reminiscences of Robert A. Trimmer, a typescript in the Historical Society’s Van Sickle Library collection. A similar story about the Jones wedding was told by Owen E. Jones in the 
Record-Courier of September 4, 1925. David Jones’ account of hiding in the willows was reported in the Record-Courier of February 5, 1909, and his land purchase from “Bully [probably Billy] Williams” was in the Genoa Courier, December 19, 1902. The account of “Rev.” Jones conducting the funeral of Mrs. Gilman is from Genoa Weekly Courier, February 11, 1898.
And just a quick acknowledgment: I am so thankful for the help of local historians who know so much more and so freely share!  So, many thanks to one local historian in particular (who prefers to remain nameless) for the great information about the date of Van Sickle’s election as Justice of the Peace, various early marriage hurdles and work-arounds, and David Jones’ still-not-quite-clear connection with the Re-organized Mormon Church.