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 DennisCassinelli.com.

Growing up on the ranch

3-C Brand
The 3-C cattle brand.

This article is an autobiography about my early life when I lived on a ranch in Sparks, Nevada. My father, Raymond Cassinelli and my mother, Phillis raised me on the ranch their family owned on Glendale Road where Baldini’s Casino is now located. The family included Raymond, Chester, Bob and all their siblings. Also included were my grandfather, Pete and his wife, Edith. On the ranch/farm we raised livestock, hogs, hay, potatoes, onions and other vegetable crops.

The farm had an onion barn, potato barn, cow barn, equipment sheds several pastures. All the water for irrigation came from a network of ditches from the Truckee River. There were several wells for drinking water.

My chores included milking the cows, feeding the livestock, driving the derrick to stack the baled hay and planting the large vegetable garden for the family. Grandfather butchered hogs and made salami and blood sausage every year. Grandmother made cheese and did the cooking. She lived to the age of 102. Grandfather Pete, born in 1898, gave me my haircuts every week and died in his 60’s due to having sprayed his cornfields with DDT every year.

One of the years we hired a crop dusting airplane to spray the fields. The pilot of the plane lifted the plane too late one day and hit a tree behind the house where my mom, dad and I lived. My uncle Bob and I saw the crash and ran over to see if we could help. The pilot was shaken but was uninjured. The aircraft was a total wreck. 

We had Indian named Levi from the local reservation who ate his meals with the family each week, alternating between Raymond’s house or at Chester’s house. All of us who wanted one had their own horse on the ranch including me, my brother Ron and my sister, Rae. I still remember all the horses names. In the fall when it was time to pick the potatoes, the students from the Stewart Indian School came out to pick and bag the potatoes. Other farmers along Glendale Road did this as well. The school did not pay the individual students, but considered it part of their education in agriculture. The school was closed in 1980. 

We branded, dehorned and castrated the livestock every year. The brand was 3-C for the three Cassinelli brothers. When it came time to weed onions in the summer, I recruited students from Sparks High School to come out to help. My uncle, Chester, stood by the edge of the field at quitting time with a cowboy hat full of real silver dollars. As each of us came by, he gave us 5 silver dollars apiece for 8 hours work. This may not seem like much but if you consider the price of silver today, we were very well paid. I kept my silver dollars in a jar in the kitchen for my lunch money. If I found one that was a Carson City silver dollar, I kept it and went without lunch that week.

In the 1950s, there were 2 major floods on the Truckee River which ran directly behind the ranch. The flood water scoured some of the topsoil from the fields. After these floods occurred, I went down along the river and found hundreds of Indian artifacts, including arrowheads, manos, and metates. We used the large bowl shaped metates to feed the dogs.

I took a cigar box full of arrowheads to school one day for show and tell and when I got it back, it was only half full. In later years, I donated the hundreds of artifacts I had found to the Museum in Gardnerville where they are displayed today. These artifacts are described and illustrated in my book, “Preserving Traces of the Great Basin Indians.”

My grandmother and I often went down along the river to hunt for mushrooms in the sand on an island. We usually came back with half a gunnysack full. Obviously, a previous owner of the ranch planted asparagus along the ditch banks because it always returned for us to pick every spring.

One year, my uncle, Chester, offered to give my future brother-in law, Hank Murphy (I later married his sister, Mary) and me the option of planting a 3-acre field with potatoes and squash and selling the crop in lieu of wages. We took him up on the offer and took tons of the produce to the sparks school cafeteria where the crop was much appreciated. I grew rabbits in our back yard. My mother, Phyllis, skinned the rabbits and took them to Sewell’s grocery store where they eagerly bought them. Fortunately, there was no inspection of food products in those days.

I am in my 80s now, and as I reflect back on the years I spent on the ranch, I believe that my diet of raw milk, fresh fruit, vegetables, hard work and wild game we hunted each year has contributed to my longevity.

YouTube’s Jeff Williams tours the Sutro Tunnel with Chris Pattison


Chris Pattison, historic site manager for the Sutro Tunnel restoration project, gives a tour of the property to Jeff Williams, a popular YouTube blogger who specializes in history, gold mining and geology.

  • To learn more about the Sutro Tunnel restoration project — as well as to donate to the effort — please be sure to visit the Friends of Sutro Tunnel.
  • To learn more about Jeff Williams, please visit his website.
  • To read Dennis’s July 4, 2022 update on the project, please visit the Nevada Appeal.