About Dennis Cassinelli

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.

An Evening with Dennis Cassinelli at the Gold Hill Hotel (2005)

Video

Dennis discusses American Indian stone tools, and he illustrates his lecture with actual display boards from the Cassinelli-Perino Artifact Collection. He also talks about the discovery of the Spirit Cave Man mummy, as well as how he helped unearth a cache of rare coin dies at the Carson City Museum, formerly the Carson City Mint.

Recorded 4/19/2005.

Burial site at Mound House

Moundhouse Burial 1

In the days when the Virginia and Truckee Railroad traveled between Virginia City and Carson City, there was one important station along the way known as Moundhouse. Located about halfway between the two cities, Moundhouse also was the terminus point for the narrow-gauge Carson and Colorado Railroad. The Moundhouse Station was quite substantial, having numerous warehouses, loading and unloading areas, and an extensive train yard. It was situated just north of present U.S. Highway 50 and east of Redrock Road.

The railroad yard at Moundhouse was abandoned in 1939. The tracks were taken up and the buildings gradually disappeared. By the 1980s, commercial development completely covered the site. The shop and equipment yard for my family business, Cassinelli Landscaping and Construction, are now located on the site of the former Moundhouse Station. This is now one of Nevada’s most famous ranching districts, being located near the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, the Sagebrush Ranch, the Kit Kat Ranch and the Bunny Ranch II. All of these beautiful ranches are visible from the windows of our offices.

Due to the extensive commercial development that has occurred in recent years, the rebuilt Virginia and Truckee Railroad will not be routed where the original station once stood. The new route will be about a half mile west of the original site near where the Lyon County/Carson City line crosses U.S. Highway 50.

Being an amateur archaeologist, I have searched the area extensively looking for some remnants of the old Moundhouse Station. The area is so changed, there is only one thing that marks the site today. Just across the driveway from our office stands a gnarled old pinion tree. Beneath the tree lies a grave surrounded by an ancient wooden picket fence. The fence was so old and fallen down that someone had enclosed the gravesite with a modern chain-link fence. A weathered wooden grave marker, though illegible, leans precariously against the pinion tree.

Fortunately, the person buried there shall not be forgotten. Years ago, someone used an old Highway Department marker to create a memorial of sorts to the person buried in the grave. Painted on the marker by hand is the following inscription:

“This marks the site of the Mound House Halfway station between Carson City and Virginia City, named after the grave of Maria A. Kennie Mclain, 1835 – 1871.”

A few years ago, I told the historian at the Nevada State Railroad Museum about the grave. She was able to locate some descendants of Ms. Mclain. The relatives lived out-of-state, so we took pictures of the gravesite to send to them. My crew and I respectfully tend to the grave, and on dry years we drag the hose out and give the gnarled old pinion tree a drink. Hopefully, those who follow us will continue to preserve and protect this one last remnant of the original railroad station at Moundhouse.

This article originally appeared in the Comstock Chronicle, Virginia City, Nev.

Mammoth hunting in Nevada

I hope the title of my article does not prompt some local nimrods to apply to the Nevada Department of Wildlife for a mammoth tag. On the other hand, I can tell you with some authority that at one time, mammoth and other giant animals left over from the Pleistocene Age were hunted and eaten by some of the earliest hunters to enter the areas around the Great Basin.

Mammoth Tooth

This mammoth tooth is on permanent display at the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center in Gardnerville, Nevada, as part of the Cassinelli-Perino Artifact Collection.

In my younger years, I was an avid hunter of deer, antelope and upland game found in the deserts and mountains of the Great Basin. In those days, a hunting license cost $5, and a deer tag could be purchased over the counter for $7.50. Those days are long gone, but I still enjoy getting out in the hills and letting the elusive Chukar partridge make a complete fool of me.

I honestly can say that I have hunted one native Nevada animal that most hunters never even knew existed here. It may come as a shock to some people living in or visiting our fair state to learn that in years past, the slopes of the mountains and valleys of Nevada were grazed by herds of elephants, more properly known as mammoths. Imagine, if you can, driving across the desert hills near Winnemucca and spotting a family of elephants browsing along the banks of the Humboldt River. My first encounter of this beast was in the early 1960s when I was a field engineer for the Nevada Highway Department. I was working in the Winnemucca District Office when Jerry Fitch, the local resident engineer, invited me to go with him to the Rose Creek Gravel Pit about 10 miles west of town where an equipment operator had just uncovered a huge tusk in the floor of the pit. The blade of the scraper had skimmed the tusk, revealing the distinctive, nearly full curl of a mature mammoth tusk fossil.

Fitch notified Donald Tuohy at the Nevada State Museum of the discovery. Tuohy came out and spent several days hand-excavating the tusk and encasing it in a plaster-of-Paris cast so it could be transported without breaking. The tusk was taken to the museum storage facility in Carson City. I recently asked archaeologist Eugene Hatouri whatever became of the tusk. He told me it was still in storage and never had been removed from the plaster cast. I have seen other museum displays where such tusks were cleaned and polished so visitors could see, touch and feel the warmth and grain of the beautiful fossilized ivory. It almost gives a person a connection to the original animal to be able to touch and feel this polished ivory.

The Nevada State Museum has a display of a huge Imperial Mammoth skeleton that was found in the Black Rock Desert. The display is made of plastic castings of the original bones, as the originals are so heavy. I would challenge the staff at the museum to clean and polish one of the original ivory tusks for people to see and touch. The experience is unforgettable. Many mammoth sites have been discovered in the Black Rock Desert. Some of the sites had Clovis points nearby, indicating early hunters may have hunted or killed the animals. Clovis points are the stone lance tips that were used by early man for hunting mammoth before the creatures went extinct about 10,000 years ago.

It is well-known that Early Man entered the Great Basin more than 10,000 years ago. These people were hunter-gatherers who roamed the region in search of food. It’s also known that a few mammoths still roamed the region at the same time. Many mammoth remains from that time period have been uncovered. Many human hunting camps have been found from that same time. Clovis points have been found at some of these hunting camps. In other areas, Clovis points were used exclusively for mammoth hunting. By simple logic, we can conclude that the hunters were engaged in hunting the few remaining pachyderms.

My next encounter with a mammoth was a few years later when I was the one who made a discovery of mammoth remains. I was taking soil samples under the West Winnemucca Interstate-80 interchange when I noticed some fossilized material in the recently excavated roadway fill. I gathered up the fossils and put them in a canvas sample bag. I called Amy Dansie, fondly known at the Nevada State Museum as “The Bone Lady.” When I told her I had found some fossilized bones, she was skeptical and said I probably had just found some old cow bones. When I took them in to the museum for her to see, she looked in the bag and exclaimed, “Wow! These are Pleistocenes!”

I replied that I did not know what they were, but that there sure weren’t any live ones running around. Amy told me the fossils I had found were the teeth and jawbone of a young mammoth. She sent a paleontologist out to investigate further, but no more remains were found. She put the bag of mammoth teeth into storage with other such samples — except for one tooth, which I kept. I coated the crumbling fossil with resin to protect it and donated it to the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center, where it is on display with a collection of Indian artifacts I had given to them. In Douglas County, there have been some excavations of mastodon bones in the Pine Nut Mountains. The Bureau of Land Management is limiting off-road vehicular travel into the Ruhenstroth area to protect the fossils in this region.

If you would like to read about how Early Man hunted and processed mammoth meat 10,000 years ago, I suggest you get a copy of a book I have written titled Legends of Spirit Cave. It is available at the Gold Hill Hotel bookstore near Virginia City. The book is a prehistoric novel that shows how people lived in this area near the end of the Pleistocene Age about 10,000 years ago, including how they hunted and killed the last mammoth. (The first chapter of the book, titled “The Last Mammoth,” can be read in its entirety right here.) Although the book is fiction, the way the people lived, the foods they ate, the medicines they used and the ways they interacted with one another all is researched and factual information. It is a fun book to read, and it really takes you back to the time when ancient hunters of Nevada pursued the mighty mammoth with nothing more than sharpened sticks and stones.