A visit to Lovelock Cave

Lovelock Cave

Lovelock Cave

This is the first in a two part series about Lovelock Cave, located on a terrace of ancient Lake Lahontan about 22 miles south of Lovelock in Churchill County, Nevada. The second in the series will describe some of the hundreds of artifacts recovered from the cave. It was excavated in 1912 by archaeologists Llewellyn L. Loud and again in 1924 by Mark R. Harrington. It yielded some of the richest archaeological Treasures ever found in the American West.

Scientists have determined the cave was inhabited by humans in several phases from about 3000 B.C. to about 1900 A.D. In more recent findings, the earliest habitation at the site may have been even older than originally determined by Loud and Harrington. In their classic book, “Lovelock Cave,” these two archaeologists collaborated to tell about the remarkable artifacts and human remains they discovered in the cave. I will describe many of these items in my next article in this series.

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Political correctness attacks historic place names

Exploring the Great American Desert

Exploring the Great American Desert

Political correctness really chaps the back side of my wrinkled old hide. I am going to cite just one example of how far bureaucrats will go to shove their interpretation of what they believe to be politically correct down our throats.

I have often used USGS (United States Geological Survey) maps published by the United States Government during my travels throughout the American West. The desert country of the Great Basin has often been referred to as the Great American Desert. This is largely a desolate land with few paved roads and even fewer places with human habitation. Before widespread use of GPS (Global Positioning System) for determining where you were, desert travelers commonly referred to USGS maps to keep them from getting lost.

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Ice fishing in Nevada

Ice Fishing in Nevada

An ice fisherman taking a rest after an exhausting day on the ice.

It has been a Cassinelli family tradition for several years to go ice fishing when the lakes and reservoirs are safe for ice fishing. Ice must be a minimum of six inches thick to be safe. If there’s corn snow above the solid ice, it may need to be even thicker. With the use of either a power auger or a hand auger, a 6-to-8-inch hole is drilled into the ice for each fisherman in the group. Those with a second rod stamp can use two holes.

Usually 4-6 or more of us pick a date in January or February and decide which lake or reservoir to try. Some of our favorites are Wild Horse Reservoir north of Elko, South Fork Reservoir south of Elko or Cave Lake southeast of Ely. We have also been known to go to Red Lake or Caples Lake along Highway 88 in California for day-trip fishing.

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Why I’m fascinated by silver dollars

silver dollarsMy mother, Phyllis, was one of the first female blackjack dealers in Nevada. She and her sister, Clare, worked for Harold’s Club in Reno in the early 1940s. General Manager Raymond “Pappy” Smith was the first Nevada casino owner to hire female blackjack dealers to work in the clubs. His reasoning was if casinos hired female dealers, more GIs from the Reno Army Airbase would be attracted to the clubs.

In those days, casinos used composition chips as much as they do today. However, they also used the common medium of exchange in Nevada at that time, the silver dollar, for many of their table games. Winnings were paid out in silver dollars and tips and even wages were sometimes paid that way.

When I started school in Sparks, hot lunch for the week was 20 cents per day or $1 for the whole week. Every Monday, Mom, being a blackjack dealer, would give me one silver dollar for my weekly lunch. I soon noticed in addition to the Peace Dollars minted from 1921 through 1935, many were the much older Morgan dollars minted off and on from 1878 through 1904 and again in 1921.

I was fascinated so many of the silver dollars given to me for lunch money were made back in the 1800s. One day, I noticed to my surprise one of the silver dollars she gave me was a Carson City silver dollar dated 1890. I went all week without lunch and kept the old silver dollar. I can honestly say I still have the first dollar I ever saved.

Later in my illustrious career, I worked on our family farm on Glendale Road in Sparks, weeding onions and working in the potato fields. My uncle, Chester, was the bookkeeper and paymaster for the farm/ranch. At that time, wages for farm laborers was 50 cents per hour. At the end of each workday, boys I went to school with and I, along with other laborers, were paid for our work. Uncle Chester stood at the edge of the field with a cowboy hat full of silver dollars. As each worker passed by, he gave each one of us five silver dollars for the 10 hours of work.

Now, before you think we were getting ripped off back in those days, you should consider this amazing fact. If I was paid those same five silver dollars today, each one would be worth approximately $20. This means the wages for one day of work would now be $100. I could almost live on that.

In 1999, my crew and I uncovered the amazing stash of coin dies that had been buried in the ground at the old Carson City Mint building, now the Nevada State Museum. More than 500 of the rusty dies were recovered and many of them that have been cleaned are now on display at the museum. I honestly believe that were it not for my fascination for silver dollars, the buried coin dies wouldn’t have been noticed.

If you visit the Nevada State Museum, you can see the original Coin Press No. 1 that was used to mint many of the Carson City coins and also the amazing collection of one of each of nearly all the Carson City gold and silver coins ever made. On the cover of my book, Chronicles of the Comstock, are color photos of several of my Carson City silver dollars, including the unusual Trade Dollars that were coined at the Carson City Branch Mint. The book has many stories about the Comstock era and the historic old mint.

Comments on the condition of burned rangeland in Nevada

Nevada rangeland deer

The impact to wildlife is a major concern when wildfires strike.

On a recent trip through areas of Northern Nevada rangeland that have been burned in fires during the past 3 years, I have made a few casual, unscientific observations. The purpose of my trip was hunting and camping in portions of Elko and Humboldt counties that had been heavily burned in recent range fires. I had hunted and camped in the same areas on different occasions in years before the fire damage had occurred and was saddened to see the destruction of the natural landscape that has occurred in recent years.

The most obvious damage occurred to the vegetation in the region where thousands of acres of rangeland and wildlife habitat have been lost. The Bureau of Land Management and other government agencies such as Department of Wildlife and U.S. Forest Service have been cooperating to revegetate as much of the area as possible. The methods being used are both aerial seeding with native grasses from aircraft and on-ground seeding in the flatter areas with mechanical grain drills. Seeding efforts are never a perfect solution for such disasters, but it is better than no action at all. Seeding in the high desert country depends on precipitation to be successful and water is a scarce commodity in the desert. If the rains come too fast before plants take root, heavy erosion occurs.

The impact to wildlife is the next major concern, since the native species that do survive the fires must relocate to places that were not damaged that are suitable for their survival. We cannot estimate how many birds and mammals simply do not survive this relocation. Most deer, pronghorn antelope, sage grouse, quail, partridge, coyotes, bobcats and other animals were obviously impacted by the fires. Until habitat for these creatures grows back, the range cannot support them. I estimate ten to twenty years before the range recovers even with revegetation efforts.

The extent of the destruction must be seen to be believed. When we observed the revegetation efforts in the older burned areas, I noticed the main seed used was the grass seed mix, probably crested wheat grass that has filled in quite well. The areas where the grasses had filled back in had numerous pronghorn antelope and coyotes, but no deer. Antelope feed quite well on the grasses and other small plants in the seed mixes. Deer, however, are herbivores that require vegetation that requires a longer period of time to mature in order to sustain a herd. These animals eat sagebrush, buck brush, bitter brush and others that require several years to mature to the point they will sustain many deer.

Sage grouse are the most affected by the fires. Sage hen habitat throughout the Great Basin has disappeared drastically from fire damage and human development in recent years. These creatures eat primarily sagebrush (artemisia) and little else. I have noticed that the sagebrush that has begun to grow in the reseeded areas does not look the same as the native sage brush. I have a fear that if it is not exactly the same as the native species, the birds will not eat it. The other problem I see with the sage brush coming up in the reseeded areas is that the individual plants are widely scattered. In original sage brush habitat, the plants are usually all sagebrush, not a mixture.

An up-close sighting of pronghorn antelope 

On a recent hunting/camping trip to Humboldt and Elko counties, my son, John, and I had a remarkable closeup experience with a group of the elusive pronghorn antelope abundant in the area. It is rare to approach very close to these beautiful animals, so this was a special treat to see them and their activities up close.

After camping for two days on the shore of Willow Creek reservoir in Elko County, we decided to return home, since the deer habitat in the area was in such poor condition due to recent fires which had devastated the area. We were traveling south between Midas and Golconda through a portion of the range that had been turned to scorched earth along the east side of the highway. On the west side there was the yellow grass from BLM revegetation operations.

During our trip through the mountains and desert country, we had seen many groups of from one to thirty or more pronghorn antelope running in the distance. It seems they always see us long before we see them, since their eyesight is so remarkable.

Suddenly, a small group of three antelope does dashed across the highway directly in front of us. They immediately stopped and looked back across the road where they had left two fawns behind. We stopped the truck with the camper to get a look at the animals. We noticed that the two fawns were still behind the barbed wire fence alongside the highway. Pronghorn antelope do not jump over fences like deer do, but rather, they prefer to crawl under the bottom wire of the fence.

Crawling under the wire of a fence was obviously not a skill the fawns had yet learned, since they just paced nervously back and forth waiting for the does to come back to rescue them. Amazingly, the does ignored us, parked just a few feet away and dashed back across the highway to rescue the fawns. After a few minutes of encouragement from the mature does, the fawns figured out they had to crawl under the wire and join the does.

The tiny heard then galloped back across the highway and took off through the tall grass.

The need to rescue the fawns overpowered any fear the does may have had of us parked in the highway just a few feet away. Their maternal instinct saved the tiny baby antelope from abandonment. We can be sure the fawns will know what to do the next time they need to cross a fence. The BLM requires that all fences in antelope habitat have a bottom wire high enough for the antelope to scurry under.

Mark Twain admits to setting a wildland fire at Lake Tahoe

lake tahoe beach and mountains

Lake Tahoe used to be known as Lake Bigler. Mark Twain preferred the name “Lake Bigler.”

When young Samuel Clemens first came to the Nevada Territory in 1861, he thought he would be given an easy office job assisting his brother, Orion, who had been named by President Lincoln to be the first and only Territorial Secretary for Nevada. When young Sam learned there was no money available to pay an assistant for his brother, he decided to search for some other means of earning an easy living. He noticed that there was a growing demand for lumber and firewood due to the  booming mining industry in the region. In September, 1861, Sam and a friend named John Kinney decided to hike to Lake Tahoe to stake out a timber claim in hopes of becoming timber barons.

In 1874, after Sam became famous as Mark Twain, he wrote his account of this adventure in Roughing It. At the time of Twain’s lumber baron venture, Lake Tahoe was known as Lake Bigler. Very few of the landmarks Twain described in the book had names we would recognize today. There were only descriptions of topographic features and some highly exaggerated estimations of mountain elevations. Also, Twain was writing from memory about things that had happened thirteen years previously.

Several subsequent researchers have attempted to determine the route taken by Twain and Kinney to the lumber camp and determine its exact location. As usually happens with Twain’s writing, historical accuracy is often sacrificed for humor and the creation of an interesting story. Having worked for over eight years at Glenbrook and navigated my own boat along the east and north shores of Lake Tahoe, I feel I can easily trace the route taken and where the camp was located by the descriptions given in the Roughing It account. My interpretation places the camp on the east shore of the lake, and other authors surmise it was on the north shore. Regardless, the story remains basically the same.

It appears to me that the pair hiked up a route that followed close to modern U.S. Hwy. 50 over Spooner Summit and down to the Glenbrook Area. When they reached the lakeshore, they found an abandoned skiff and used it to row around what is now known as Deadman Point to a place known as Skunk Harbor, a distance of three miles. There they discovered the timber claim that had been staked out by Territorial Governor James Nye and his brother, John. Twain and Kinney knew of these men and their associates and referred to them as “The Irish Brigade.”

The wannabe timber barons spent the night at the Nye camp and helped themselves to some supplies they found stashed away in storage. They then rowed the skiff another three miles north to a place now known as Secret Harbor and set up a camp of their own. Twain and Kinney set about marking the perimeter of an area of 300 acres and pinning “Notices” on trees. They cut down six trees and let them fall along the boundary to indicate the extent of the claim. Since law required a cabin be built, they constructed a brush lean-to as a shelter.

In Twain’s own words, he describes how he avoided any strenuous activity, delegating the rowing of the skiff and anything requiring any effort to Kinney. The remainder of their stay at the camp was spent loafing, playing cards, fishing and enjoying the serene beauty of Lake Tahoe. They floated in the skiff and admired the fishes and underwater features through the pristine crystal clear waters that made them feel as if they were floating in a balloon. Their most strenuous activities involved smoking their pipes, reading dog-eared novels and occasionally rowing over to the camp of the Irish Brigade to raid their cache of supplies.

Upon return from one of their “shopping” trips, Mark Twain built a fire for their evening meal while John carried the provisions to the lean-to house. Mark went back to the skiff to fetch the frying pan when John shouted that the fire had escaped the fire pit into the dry pine needles and brush. Within a few minutes the escaping camp fire consumed the lean-to house, the provisions and all the furnishings of their beautiful lakeside home. It raged through the brush, slash and pine needles and began consuming some of the huge old dead standing trees.

The pair watched helplessly as the fire raged on over the mountains and from one ridge to another in crimson spirals as far as the eye could see. They were spellbound by the spectacle and the roaring, crackling inferno they were witnessing. From a position alongside the skiff, they marveled at the beauty of the flames and the “bewildering richness about it that enchanted the eye and held it with stronger fascination.”

And so, after just two or three weeks of “working their claim” on the shores of Lake Tahoe, the timber baron phase of Twain’s experience in Nevada Territory came to a flaming end. The pair never sold a single log and they never even filed the timber claim at the recorder’s office. Twain and Kinney returned to Carson City the next day after eating up the rest of the provisions from the stash of the Irish Brigade. Upon their return, Twain told the Brigade about raiding their supplies and asked forgiveness. It was granted, only upon payment of damages.

Since operating a logging and timber operation did not seem to be a vocation suited to Twain’s aptitude, he contemplated something more appropriate, such as prospecting, for example. Sooner or later, he would find his niche in the History of the Comstock and America.

Rededication of the Historic Asylum Cemetery

Nevada State Asylum memorial marker

This obelisk memorial now stands in remembrance of past patients of the Nevada State Asylum who were buried disrespectfully.

During the past several years, I have written several articles about the plight of the historic cemetery located at the old Nevada State Asylum in Sparks, Nevada. Many of Nevada’s old cemeteries have long existed in a state of neglect and abandonment. Most of them have little to mark the graves of the long departed pioneers but a few grave markers of wood or stone.

Unlike many of these historic cemeteries, the one at the old Nevada State asylum has not a single grave marker left to identify the graves of at least 767 and possibly as many as 1200 former residents of Nevada whose remains are buried there. During the years from 1882 to 1949, many of the patients of the old insane asylum who happened to die there were buried on the grounds of the hospital. What started out as a neat and orderly graveyard eventually became little more than a mass grave where the hundreds of deceased patients were buried in a haphazard fashion with some actually being buried one atop another. These burials were often done by other patients of the hospital.

Conditions deteriorated during the 1940s when a large pipeline was installed through the cemetery and several of the graves were ripped apart and the remains were later shoved back into the excavation to become backfill. As a small child, I was witness to this and other desecrations. When 21st Street was constructed in 1977, several graves were accidentally dug up and had to be reinterred inside the cemetery boundary. The City of Sparks constructed a kiddie park atop part of the cemetery and uncovered even more remains. Recent excavations on 21st Street in 2010 uncovered at least four sets of remains which were eventually released to me to be reinterred near the new memorial marker.

In my book, Chronicles of the Comstock, I tell about several former residents of the Comstock who were patients of the asylum and were buried in the infamous old cemetery. Perhaps most recognized of these was Mrs. Piper, wife of John Piper, who built and operated Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City. Many of these people had become insane from causes related to the difficult living conditions experienced by the miners, mill workers and other people living on the Comstock.

On March 28, 1949, The Nevada State Legislature abolished the use of any cemeteries located on the Hospital Grounds. During 1947 through 1949, 18 patients had been buried in a small strip of land about 300’ west of the historic cemetery.  There was never any provision made by the State to improve the two cemeteries until an organization known as the Friends of the Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services Cemetery, led by Carolyn Mirich, approached the Nevada State Legislature. Due to the persistent efforts of this group during the 2009 Legislative session, Senator Bernice Mathews and Assemblywoman Smith sponsored SB 256. The bill was passed and signed into law by Governor Gibbons on May 22, 2009.

As a result of this legislation, the hospital cemetery achieved the status as a historic cemetery. The Nevada State Public Works Board prepared plans and several contracts were awarded to make major improvements to the long-neglected cemetery.

The entire perimeter of the historic cemetery was fenced off with a substantial black iron fence. The playground park that the City of Sparks had built was dismantled and turned into a memorial park. A concrete plaza with sidewalks and new lawn areas was built. A 9’ tall granite obelisk memorial marker was installed with bronze plaques on each of the four sides. The plaques contain the names of 767 people known to be buried in the cemetery. This single marker is the only marker to memorialize the hundreds of people buried there. There is evidence there may be up to 400 others whose names remain unknown.

Cassinelli Landscaping and Construction was employed to exhume the 18 graves buried west of the main cemetery and reinter them near the memorial plaza. Unfortunately, the name plates on these graves had been placed some time after the burials were made. The archaeologist we employed to help identify the remains was unable to positively identify the remains as those of the persons named on the markers. I was also given four sets of unidentified remains that had been accidentally dug up during recent reconstruction of 21st Street. All the remains were placed in new caskets with liners and reinterred in the area surrounding the plaza and grave markers were placed over them. All the work authorized by the legislation has now been completed.

A rededication ceremony was held at the Historic Cemetery at Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services on January 21, 2011.  After many years of destruction and neglect, the hundreds of Nevada citizens buried there will now receive the respect and memorialization they deserve.

This article was originally published in The Comstock Chronicle

Related:

The Historic Cemetery Memorial Marker

Relocating a Nevada Cemetery 

Horrible Childhood Memories

Dennis to give April 7 lecture at Gold Hill Hotel

Dennis Cassinelli book-signingDennis Cassinelli, award-winning Nevada historian and author, will present a lecture at the Gold Hill Hotel on Thursday, April 7.

Topics of discussion will include Dayton’s petrified forest that was mentioned by Mark Twain in Chapter 26 of Roughing It. Samples of this petrified wood, including black pieces that Twain believed were coal, will be shown.

Another topic will be the discovery of the oldest petroglyphs (14,000 years) ever found in the Americas discovered at Winnemucca Lake. Dennis has created many pieces of petroglyph yard art which will be on display and offered for sale.

For this event, all of the books written by Dennis Cassinelli will be signed and offered for less than half price. These include Preserving Traces of the Great Basin Indians, Uncovering Archaeology, Legends of Spirit Cave and Chronicles of the Comstock.

Exterior of Gold Hill Hotel

The Gold Hill Hotel

Details:

What: Petroglyphs & The Dayton Petrified Forest

Where: Gold Hill Hotel, 1540 Main Street, Gold Hill, NV

When: Thursday, April 7. Lecture takes place from 7 – 9 p.m. (Restaurant and bar open at 4 p.m.)

Cost: $25 dinner and lecture; $10 lecture only

For more information, please visit the Gold Hill Hotel’s events page. Be sure to call early for room reservations.

Celebrating Dayton Valley Days 2015

My awesome brother-in-law, Phil Hanna, has been helping me run my booth at the 2015 Dayton Valley Days event.

My awesome brother-in-law, Phil Hanna, has been helping me run my booth at the 2015 Dayton Valley Days event.

I reserved a booth in this year’s Dayton Valley Days event to sell my books and imitation petroglyphs. It’s been great getting to meet so many interesting people. The turnout this year has been amazing, and there are lots of food and craft vendors to visit. The downtown Dayton atmosphere offers an historic background as attendees explore the various booths.

I’m located across the street from the old high school on Pike Street.

The event continues tomorrow, so if you haven’t yet, come on by! Lots to see and do!