Tragic family mystery solved

In this working ranch, lush, green fields lay beyond a thick hedge of sagebrush with a long row of tall trees standing in the distance.
Pietro Cassinelli operated this ranch in Dayton, Nevada, from the late 1880s through the early 1900s.

Several times in the past, I have written stories about my family when they owned a ranch across the Carson River from Dayton, Nevada. My Great Grandfather, Pietro Cassinelli, owned and operated the ranch — now known as the Ricci Ranch — from the 1880s until about 1910. These stories included family squabbles, bar fights, Pietro being shot in the back while taking water from an irrigation ditch and lawsuits among some of the family members.

I had done some research on the family, and — with assistance from family members and others — was able to make a list of the family members who had lived on the ranch and the dates they were born and died. The list was fairly complete, except for one child who was listed without a birth date or a date of death. This person, named Angelo, was listed with an unknown birth date and a death date of “as a baby.” No one in my family could tell me anything more about the boy until my brother-in-law, Phil Hanna, sent me the following newspaper article:

“Pietro Cassinelli, an Italian rancher on the Carson River across from Dayton, while running a hay mower Tuesday afternoon, fearfully mangled his little three year old son. The child had wandered into the alfalfa field where the mower was in operation, and was probably asleep in the tall grass. The machine struck the little fellow before his father observed him and could not stop the team (of horses). The sickle of the machine severed one of the child’s legs and nearly cut off another, besides cutting and bruising him on other parts of the body. A physician was immediately summoned and rendered the proper medical care, but it is doubtful if the child can recover.”

Lyon County Times, July 2, 1904

Sadly, the little boy did not survive the injuries from the mowing-machine accident. His name was Angelo Cassinelli, and he was born to Theresa and Pietro Cassinelli sometime in 1901. He was the ninth of their 12 children. I have searched the Dayton Cemetery, but because there were so many unmarked graves, I was unable to find Angelo’s grave. However, it’s possible the family buried his remains at the ranch. 

Angelo’s older brother, Bill Cassinelli, suffered a similar tragedy several years later, when he was a solider in the Aleutian Islands during World War II. He lost a leg when he was hit by a Japanese artillery shell and surely would have died if fellow soldiers from Nevada, Paul Laxalt and Leon Etchemendy, had not helped take him to a field hospital.

At the Dayton Museum, I donated a 1906 Dayton school photograph picturing several of the family members, including Bill, who had attended the school. I also donated an accordion my dad had played at dances held at the Odeon Hall

I had seen Pietro and Bill a few times when I was a child, but I had never heard anyone in the family talk about the tragedies. It was my experience that the old-timers were very tight-lipped about some tragic events, and now I can understand why.

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About Dennis Cassinelli

Dennis Cassinelli is a Nevada author, historian and outdoorsman. He’s written extensively about American Indian culture and Comstock history. His book, Preserving Traces of the Great Basin Indians, contains up-close photographs and detailed pen-and-ink drawings of American Indian stone artifacts. It also contains a fold-out chronology chart showing projectile points across a 12,000-year time scale. The book is a must-have for every enthusiast of Great Basin archaeology. Dennis’s website is