About denniscassinelli

Dennis Cassinelli, avid outdoorsman, history buff and archaeology enthusiast, is the author of four books about the Great Basin region. Raised in Sparks, Nevada, Cassinelli developed an interest in Indian artifacts as a young boy working on his family’s ranch. In the early 1990s, he painstakingly identified hundreds of projectile points to create the Cassinelli-Perino Artifact Collection, now located at the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center in Gardnerville, Nevada.

Dayton’s Rock Point Mill

Rock Point Mill_1

Once the amazing discovery of silver bearing ore had been made on the Comstock Lode, the miners were faced with the problem of how to get the many tons of rich ore processed to recover the valuable silver and gold. Several arrastras were built to crush the material in a circular pit using a heavy revolving stone wheel. This primitive method proved too inefficient for the large volume of material being taken from the Virginia City and Gold Hill mines. Several small scale stamp mills sprang up but there was not enough water in the intermittent springs to operate them on a continuous basis.

The earliest prospectors and miners on the Comstock knew that there were mills in California, so they sent horse or mule drawn wagon loads of ore across the Sierras to be processed. This was at great expense but the ores were so rich, the investment paid off. As the volume of material being removed from the mines increased, it became evident that large scale local mills must be built to handle the demand. The problem was, there was not yet a water system in the Virginia City area that could supply the volume of water required to operate a mill of the size needed.

Rock Point Mill_2

A large number of small stamp mills sprang up along Gold Canyon, Six mile Canyon and around Virginia City and Dayton. These were relatively low production operations and usually processed not much more than one ton of ore per day.

The nearest place where there was sufficient water to operate a large quartz mill was along the Carson Rock Point Mill_3River. The placer miners who had been working along Gold Canyon for several years had constructed a ditch near Dayton to bring water from the carson River to the lower end of Gold Canyon. This same source of water was destined to be the source of water for a thriving new milling operation.

In 1861, the first large scale quartz mill in the region was constructed at Rock Point in the town of Dayton. Water from the Douglas Ditch was diverted to serve the Rock Point Mill and the ore from the Comstock mines could then be hauled down Gold Canyon for processing rather than the expensive journey over the mountains to California. The mill was also used to process much of the ore from the mines at Como and other nearby areas.

The original Rock Point Mill was owned by Hugh and J.R. Logan, James Holmes and John Black. The main building was ninety by one hundred feet with forty-two stamps and could reduce fifty tons of rock per day. It was powered by a waterwheel of one hundred horsepower. During its many years of operation, the mill was remodeled, refurbished and rebuilt several times. For those of you who have never witnessed the operation of a stamp mill, the one thing that everyone who has seen one in operation comments on is the noise the machinery makes as it crushes the ore to a fine powder under the clattering steel stamps.

The mill ran until 1882 when it burned down and was quickly rebuilt. The mill then began receiving ore from the Comstock on the new Carson and Colorado Railroad. It burned again in 1909 and was rebuilt in 1910 as the Nevada Reduction and Power Co. At that time, a new aerial tramway was constructed that carried ore to the mill site from Silver City and Gold Hill.

The 1910 reincarnation of the Rock Point mill was updated with steel and concrete construction. Due to decreased demand for milling in the early 1920s, the mill was dismantled and the machinery was taken to Silver City. Today, the site of the Rock Point Mill is a part of the Dayton State Park. There are extensive ruins that visitors are encouraged to visit and explore on a self-guided tour over well marked trails. It is located on the west side of U.S. Highway 50 across from the park. There is a concrete lined tunnel under Highway 50 for access between the park and the mill site.

The ruins that remain today are massive concrete foundations where the stamping machinery was mounted, stone walls and masonry built by Italian stonemasons, a massive concrete water tower and remnants of roadbeds and water storage areas. The ruins are located in and around a large grove of old cottonwood trees and although the area was used for years as the Dayton town dump, there is no trace of this unless you know where to look. There are two interesting rooms or rock tunnels carved into a hillside that were probably used for storage of explosives or flasks of mercury. These are safe to enter since they are carved in solid rock with no danger of cave-in.

After construction of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad through the Carson River Canyon between Moundhouse and Empire City in 1869, there were many more large mills constructed in that area. With the reincarnation of the V & T to Carson City, visitors can view the sites of these mills from the train as it passes through this extremely scenic canyon.

Related: The Remains of the Rock Point Mill 

‘Making Arrows’ Part 11

The hunting season was about to come to an end before winter set in around the mountain hunting camp. As the two arrow makers watched the people from the valley help fill the baskets fun of dried meats for the journey back to the winter camp, they came to a sobering realization. The entire summer had been spent in the mountain hunting camp, but neither of them had so much as fired an arrow since they had been there.

Autumn in the high country was a stunning spectacle for anyone to experience. The short days caused the scattered groves of quaking aspen in the canyons to light up with a luminescent yellow brilliance trimmed with flaming patches of red and orange. All this was set against a backdrop of emerald and dark green conifers that pointed toward the sky. The native shrubbery added to the display with clumps of every imaginable color.

Women who had made the steep journey to the camp from the valley were making preparations for a feast of thanksgiving that evening. Choice cuts of meat the hunters had bagged that autumn were being cooked over the campfires. Berries, pine nuts, fish, and many other delicacies were being prepared for the evening feast. Celebrations were being planned where dancing, gambling and feasting were featured events. Elderly members of the tribe worked on costumes to wear when enacting mythical and spiritual stories around the evening campfire to the delight of the younger generations.

Rabbit and Coyote quickly forgot the struggle they had endured while making their arrows in anticipation of the exciting events of the upcoming celebration. Visitors and participants in the two day long event included smaller hunting parties from the surrounding region, invited guests from nearby villages, and the women and children from the Truckee Meadows encampment. Many friends and acquaintances of Rabbit and Coyote began to arrive for the festivities.

As the sun fell low in the western sky, it was filtered through the rustling pine boughs, and cast long orange rays through the smoke that rose over the mountain meadow encampment. Several roaring bonfires were being set to light up the grounds for the celebrations. A large area was cleared for dancing, and smells of many kinds of food being prepared filled the chilly autumn air. Before the feasting began, the people all gathered in the large clearing at the edge of the mountain meadow to hear prayers of thanksgiving. One by one, the respected elders of the tribes spoke about the successes the people had enjoyed since the last gathering.

Being in jovial spirits, the people sat quietly and listened to the prayers and the speakers. Many families and friends sat in small groups gossiping and renewing acquaintances. The children were anxious for the tellers of the mythical and legendary stories to perform for them and relive the old oral traditional stories.

Rabbit and Coyote paid little attention to the prayers and speakers. They were occupied visiting some of the young girls who had come up to visit from the valley. They chatted and laughed with their friends until they noticed the unmistakable booming voice they had learned to obey and respect during the long summer months. It was Silent Buck’s turn to address the crowd and mention the deeds of the brave hunters who had gathered the game animals the people would need to feed them through the approaching winter. The two young men stopped their visiting and carefully listened to their teacher out of their habit of paying close attention to the things he had to say.

Buck went on for some time reciting the names of the various hunters from the camp and the game animals each had bagged for the community stockpile of provisions. The shaman mentioned the bear that Rabbit and Coyote had hit in the head with their rocks. He referred to the boys by name and gave them credit for assisting in the kill of the bear.

Rabbit and Coyote looked at each other and smiled. This was the first acknowledgment that Buck had forgiven them for telling the incredible story of driving the bear away by throwing rocks at him. They were somewhat confused that they were even mentioned at all by the hunting shaman, since they never actually did any real hunting all summer.

Unexpectedly, Buck walked over close to where Rabbit and Coyote were seated, and with hand gestures in their direction, he spoke to the gathering about the arrow-makers. “This summer, we have had Squealing Rabbit and Coyote Skin at the hunting camp learning the skills required to make arrows. And it was very fine arrows they learned to make. These two arrived here as mere boys. After their training and apprenticeship, I can now say they have grown to the status of men. They have learned to produce arrows that would be the envy of any hunter.

“Congratulations, Rabbit and Coyote. You have learned your lessons well. Now that you have mastered the art of arrow-making, it is time for you to move on to the next step to becoming hunters for our tribe. Next summer, I will teach you how to make some splendid bows with which to shoot the fine arrows you have made.”

The End

‘Making Arrows’ Part 10

After Coyote had finished fletching about six arrows, Silent Buck came by to see how things were progressing. The shaman examined the arrows, sighted down their lengths, hefted them in his hands, and threw them back to Coyote.

“How many feathers do the other hunters use on their arrows?” Buck asked. “I don’t know. I never really noticed. We kids always used two feathers on the willow arrows we made.”

“You aren’t kids anymore,” replied the shaman. “You are making hunting arrows, not toys. Only children use two feathers on their arrows. Warriors use three feathers, but hunters always use four. If you are to become successful hunters, you must use four feathers for maximum accuracy. No hunter in my hunting camp will hunt with anything less than four arrow feathers.

”You have also failed to polish the arrow shafts before attaching the feathers. It is always easier to polish the shafts before the feathers are attached so the feathers will not be in the way . You must think more about what you are doing in order to achieve perfection. Your project is nearly completed, but I have yet to see a finished product I can accept as worthy of seasoned hunters. Let me know when you think you have finished the arrows to the standards of our tribe.”

When the shaman left, both Coyote and Rabbit concentrated their efforts on polishing the arrow shafts and putting the required four feathers on all the arrows. They were becoming extremely anxious to finish their tedious project and join the ranks of the seasoned hunters.

Rabbit used a small stone mortar and pestle to grind a few lumps of red ocher to a fine powder. He then he added bear grease until it formed a thick paste. This he applied to the arrow shafts with a piece of tanned leather, sliding it up and down the shafts, rubbing the compound into the wood. This treatment gave the arrows a beautiful reddish brown polished finish, protecting the wood from weather and making it smooth to the touch.

As Rabbit finished polishing each arrow, Coyote attached the required four feathers to each one with sinew wraps top and bottom. He also made a few wraps of sinew two or three inches back from the arrowhead for added strength. This was to keep the arrow shafts from splitting when they hit wood or bone. The two young men showed remarkable concentration these last few days. They were trying to finish their assignment and make the perfect set of arrows to the satisfaction of their teacher before the hunting season was over in the high country.

Just before the last few feathers were attached, Buck came back for another look at the work being performed. He held up a few of the completed arrows and looked at them from behind, slowly turning them in his fingers. Rabbit and Coyote silently waited as the inspector checked out their work. The young arrow makers were almost afraid to breathe with the anticipation of what the man would say. Finally, Buck shook his head and handed the arrows back to Coyote.

“Do either of you know the purpose of the feathers on your arrows?” asked the shaman.

Rabbit and Coyote were afraid to answer for fear of revealing their ignorance about the subject. Finally, Coyote decided to break the silence and take a stab at answering the question put to him by the shaman. “I think the feathers are put on the arrows to make them fly straight, instead of twirling through the air like a throwing stick. “

“That is only part of the answer,” replied Buck. ”The feathers must be applied in such a way that they cause the arrow to spin in flight for better stability. This keeps them from wobbling during their flight toward the intended target. You have not attached your feathers in the correct way to provide that spin. All the feathers on a single arrow must be from the same wing of a bird. Some of your arrows have both right wing and left wing feathers mixed on the same arrow. Notice the curve of the feathers as you attach them to the shafts. They must all curve the same way.

“Take the advice of one who knows how important true flight is to an experienced hunter. Some of our best hunters will use feathers from only the left wing of a bird. Others will use only the right wing. In this way, they know the performance of every arrow in their quiver will be the same as every other one.

“Once you have made this last correction, I will accept the arrows you have made to be worthy of the best hunters of out tribe. I will talk to you more about this when your work is finished.”

Once again the two wannabe hunters had to repair mistakes they had made. They knew they were close to being finished, but every setback was a source of discouragement and frustration. The many setbacks they had experienced truly reinforced their character. Undaunted, they changed all the feathers to curve the same way on each arrow. To simplify the procedure, they used left wing feathers for Coyote’s arrows, since he was left-handed, and right wing feathers for Rabbit’s arrows, since he was right-handed.

Rabbit and Coyote worked until late that evening in order to finish their arrow-making project. They did not wake up until mid-morning the next day when they were awakened by a commotion in the encampment. A large troop of visitors from the valley had come up to the hunting camp to help with processing the bounty the hunters had taken in the late fall hunt. It seemed spring and summer had slipped away while the two young men worked on their arrow-making project.

To be concluded….

‘Making Arrows’ Part 9

Occasionally, the steatite stone had to be reheated in the fire, but this soapstone-like material was suited for repeated heatings without damage. With use, the tool took on a smooth, dark finish with almost a greasy feel. The groove where the arrow shafts were rubbed took on a shiny, polished appearance. As with many tools, the stone seemed to improve with use and to almost become a part of the hand of Rabbit as he worked. As the shaman had said, the tool absorbed the spirit of the maker.

Arrow Shaft Straightening Stone

Arrow Shaft Straightening Stone

The shaft-straightening operation did not escape the critical eye of Silent Buck. He came by several times to lecture Rabbit about the importance of straightness of the arrow shafts. Many times, his trained eye found slight kinks and imperfections that Rabbit had to work out before the shaman would accept them. A few of the shafts were cracked or broken under the pressure applied by the arrow straightening procedure.

By the time the arrow shaft straightening was completed, Rabbit’s hands were painfully burned and blistered. The two young men asked Silent Buck if they could take a couple days off to heal their wounds from the work they had done. The hunting shaman refused to allow them to slack off from the tasks they had to perform. He reminded them that the hunting season at the camp was quickly slipping away and he expected more progress in order for them to finish the arrows.

Important milestones had been reached by the two craftsmen in their assigned project. Both men had learned a respect for authority and developed a sense of pride in the excellence of the work they were doing. The two major components of the arrows (shafts and arrowheads) had been completed to the satisfaction of the hard-to-please hunting shaman. All that remained to be done was the attachment of the stone arrowheads to the wooden shafts, and the fletching, or putting on the feathers.

While Rabbit used a graver he had made to cut grooves in each arrow to receive the arrowhead, Coyote set out to find the feathers to be used to guide the flying arrows straight and true. After Rabbit cut identical grooves in several of the arrow tips, Buck came by to examine the work.

”What the hell are you doing?” asked the shaman. ”You are cutting these grooves all the same. Each groove has to be cut to the exact shape of the arrowhead you are using for that particular arrow. Every arrowhead is slightly different from every other. The grooves must match the exact shape of the stone point, or the points will not line up correctly.

Rabbit took his latest ass-chewing in stride and set about to make a fine new cutting tool to use for the intricate notches he had to make in the arrows. He then took the pouch of arrowheads Coyote had made and cut a groove in each shaft to match the shape of an individual arrowhead. Though the differences were slight, he could quickly see that each shaft had to be custom fitted to the slight differences in thickness, curvature and shape of each stone point.

As the hunters in the camp had brought in several deer, Rabbit used his razor-sharp obsidian blade to peel thin strips of sinew from the backstraps of the deer to use for attaching the heads to the arrows. The two foot long strings of sinew were allowed to cure before being used as thread for binding the arrowheads to the arrow shafts. The sinew threads were extremely strong and were wrapped around the arrow point and shaft in a specific manner that was demonstrated to the men by Silent Buck. The shaman showed them how to stretch the sinew as they wound it around the shaft and how to criss-cross the threads through the notches in the arrowheads. He showed them how to grind any sharp edges from the stone points that were in contact with the sinew, so the threads would not be cut. When the wrap was completed, he showed them how to pull the loose end of the sinew through the last three wraps with a small loop of thread so there was no knot or end showing.

The final step to attaching the arrowhead was to warm the arrow point over the fire to remove any moisture from the sinew. This caused it to shrink around the head and shaft to create an extremely tight fit. Pine pitch resin was then applied to the bindings. This, too was heated over the fire to evaporate the turpentine from the pitch. This last procedure left a hard, waterproof coating on the tiny sinew bindings much like varnish. The coating protected the sinew from getting wet from blood when the arrow was in use. If sinew should become wet, it would stretch and allow the point to become removed from the shaft.

Since the arrow-makers had no weapons of their own to bag a bird of any kind, Coyote traded a few of his fine arrowheads with another hunter for a bag of nice hawk feathers for him and Rabbit to use for their arrows. Coyote had put feathers on his willow arrows many times before, so he was confident he could do the job to the satisfaction of Silent Buck.

Coyote took the arrow shafts after Rabbit had attached the stone points and used a sharp stone knife to trim each shaft to the exact length from his nose to the knuckles of his left hand when his arm was extended to the side. Since Rabbit had somewhat shorter arms, Coyote trimmed his arrows to the length required for him with his arm extended. He then used a grooving tool to cut a “nock” or groove at the tail of each arrow to straddle the bowstring.

Following the example set by the other hunters, Coyote split the hawk feathers with his teeth to obtain the material he needed. He careful]y trimmed each feather to the exact size and shape he had seen the others make. He then carefully wrapped a sinew binding around the arrow shaft to hold both ends of the two feathers he put on each arrow.

‘Making Arrows’ Part 8

After the stone nodules were taken from the heat treatment, they were struck a well directed blow with another stone to break off large flakes. Flakes of different sizes were struck off the lump of stone, which now became known as a “core.” The core was turned in the hand to find the ideal surface from which to strike the size and shape of flake desired for the item being made.

With practice, this striking off flakes would produce the right shape blanks for making arrow points, knives, scrapers or other tools. The area around where the craftsman was striking flakes from a core quickly became littered with discarded flakes, chips and pieces of cores that were not quite the right shape to be used for whatever tool he had in mind. Those flakes that were the right size and shape were set aside or bagged in a pouch for further processing.

Coyote used the same methods used by Stone Age hunters for the past million years to make his stone tools. He used a few completed points given to him by Silent Buck as patterns to gauge the size of his flakes being struck from the core. After a few days of trial and error, Coyote produced a heavy leather pouch full of arrow point blanks he had struck that met with the approval of Silent Buck. Now that he had the raw material for making the arrowheads, he was ready to begin the next, and most tedious step, that of pressure flaking to make the finished arrowheads.

The flakes he had struck from the core all had the same basic leaf shape with a slight ridge up the center of one side and a slightly rounded convex surface on the other side. Only about one flake in every ten struck from the core had a shape suitable for making an arrowhead. Basalt, the material being used by the mountain hunters, was a dull, black volcanic stone that chipped fairly well when properly heat treated. It was most commonly used in the High Sierra hunting camps due to its abundance in the mountains.

To perform the fine pressure flaking, Coyote used a sheet of thick leather draped over his knee to use as a work platform. In addition, he had a leather “palm” with a thumb hole cut in it to wear on his left hand to protect it from being cut by the glasssharp chips as they were dislodged. He held the stone arrowhead blank in the leather-lined palm of his left hand, securely resting on his knee. With a pointed tine of deer horn, held in his right hand, he applied quick, snapping pressure against the edge of the stone blank at each place along the edge where he wanted to make a chip. With pressure applied at just the right angle, the chips came off in tiny, narrow ribbons that went halfway across the surface of the blank.

The pressure flaking left a distinctive pattern along each side of the arrowhead. Both edges and both sides had to be chipped to obtain the desired shape for the type of arrowheads he was making. Once the sides were chipped, the corners were notched using the same inward pressure to dislodge the tiny chips. Silent Buck checked in often to correct Coyote about subtle deviations in shape, thickness, width, length and workmanship. The shaman rejected several points that had imperfections by smashing them with a rock so no one would attempt to use them.

Though the criticism may have seemed harsh, Coyote began to develop an appreciation for perfection in his workmanship. After the inferior points were weeded out by the shaman, those remaining were truly works of art, having a distinctive shape and form that defined the customary type of arrowheads made by his people. Coyote became extremely proud as he held the handful of perfect stone points that he had created. Unknown to him, the beauty of his workmanship would be discovered and appreciated by modern man hundreds of years later.

After finally receiving some praise from Silent Buck for the fine quality of his work, Coyote became obsessed with doing well. He became determined to produce the finest projectile points by any hunter in the tribe. At last he was beginning to think of himself as a master of his art. He was eager to produce the perfect weapon and move on to the mastery of hunting with the weapons he had made.

In his enthusiasm to produce more and higher quality arrowheads, Coyote dislodged a chip of basalt that struck him in the eye. Startled, he quickly rubbed the razor sharp chip of stone into his eyeball with the knuckle of his hand. The chip cut its way into the man’s eyelid and eyeball, drawing blood, tears and intense pain. It would take a few days of rest and healing before he was able to resume his work. The concentrated effort of working with the sharp stone pieces was also taking its toll on his raw, sore fingers. They were bloody from being cut in several places by the shards of stone.

While Coyote Skin perfected his flintknapping expertise and recovered from his occupational injuries, Squealing Rabbit sharpened his talents at perfecting the arrow shafts for the two of them. Rabbit shaped his steatite arrow-straightening stone to fit the exact shape of his palm. He heated the stone in the fire as he had seen the other hunters do. He then took a thick piece ofleather folded over a few times to use as a hot pad to protect his hand as he worked with the hot stone.

Rabbit took each blank arrow shaft and examined it closely, sighting down its length to determine where each curve in the wood had to be removed. Using the surface of a downed log as a work platform, he applied the hot, grooved arrow straightener to the shaft and ironed it back and forth along its length until even the slightest curves were removed. As he worked, a hot sizzling steam often issued forth from the wood. The hot stone permanently removed the moisture and curves from the shafts and helped to polish and steam-cure the wood to retain its straightened shape.