Welcome to the 21st century! All of Dennis Cassinelli’s books now available digitally

All of Dennis Cassinelli’s books, including his most recent, “Chronicles of the Comstock,” are available for download in digital format.

Dennis is pleased to announce that all of his books are now available for purchase in digital format. 

Legends of Spirit Cave is available from several online retailers, including Amazon, Apple iBooks, and Barnes and Noble. The price may vary depending upon the store. 

Preserving Traces of the Great Basin Indians, Uncovering Archaeology, and Chronicles of the Comstock are all available from Amazon. Preserving Traces and Uncovering Archaeology both sell for $7.99 each, and Chronicles sells for $9.99.

All of the books can be downloaded from the convenience of your own home and enjoyed on your eReader. 

Dennis will continue to sell physical copies of all of his books. To order physical copies, please visit the Contact page and complete the order form. 

We are excited to offer all of these titles in a new, easy-to-access format! 

Farewell to the outhouses

Every year in October, Virginia City celebrates its annual outhouse races. The 2018 races will be held Oct. 6 and 7. Potty humor abounds at this Virginia City tradition dating back to the day when outdoor plumbing was outlawed and angry residents took their outhouses to the streets to protest. These days, teams of three are pitted against each other in an all-out potty race to claim the latrine title. The parade of outhouses begins each day at high noon with races immediately following. The races challenge teams of three costumed outhouse racers to zip down C Street, the town’s main drag, and hit the toilet paper finish line first.

I want to do a short “ode to the outhouse.” By all reports, this is much preferred to an odor from the outhouse. I happen to be an old codger who still remembers when there were still outhouses being used in various places around the Silver State for their intended purpose with no thought of being used as a racing machine. Though not used for racing, as I recall, they sometimes were used for the “runs.”

I’m here to tell you the invention and widespread use of indoor plumbing and crappers has been one of mankind’s most welcome inventions. No longer do we need to use a rolled newspaper to clear the cobwebs and spiders from around the stinky throne before being seated. No longer do we sweat in a stinking sauna in the summer and freeze our buns off in the winter. One downside is we no longer have the convenience of being able to drop empty beer bottles, soiled underwear, chicken bones or corncobs down the poop chute like we once did. If you told someone in the 1870s the day would come when the privy would be located in the house where people lived, cooked, ate and slept, they would have called you insane.

I must admit I’ve been known to be an outhouse hole diver on some occasions in the past. It’s widely known by construction people in the area that old outhouse holes are prime locations to find antique bottles, tableware and any number of other artifacts that were tossed into the holes with the other crap in days of old. I have a nice collection of these tainted treasures on display at my home — outside, of course, because my wife doesn’t allow them inside for some unknown reason.

When I first moved to Dayton several years ago, there was still standing a fine, old two-story outhouse behind a rooming house in old downtown Dayton. There was a ramp from the second story of the adjacent Union Hotel that allowed access to the upper level. I never did understand how the person in the bottom level avoided getting pelted by a load of crap from above. The old timers obviously had a system figured out.

At my uncle’s ranch in Paradise Valley, there was a big three-seater at the nearby fishpond campground. This obviously was for families who liked to do everything together.

A favorite trick played by youngsters, especially at Halloween, was to lift the outhouse of an unsuspecting neighbor and moving it back a few feet from where it usually sat. When the neighbor, or the neighbor’s kids, stumbled out in the evening darkness to take care of business, they would end up falling headlong into the stinking pit, much to the delight of the perpetrators.

When I worked for the Nevada Department of Transportation several years ago, we were repairing the railroad crossing at Virginia Street in Reno. The contractor had set up a portable toilet alongside the railroad tracks with the door facing Virginia Street for the convenience of the workers. On one windy day, a big, burly construction worker paid a visit to the outhouse. As he sat there with his pants around his ankles, a train came by and the crossing arm came down, stopping traffic on Virginia Street. Suddenly, a strong gust of wind hit and blew the porta-potty door open. Poor Jim just sat there with his pants down while people in all the cars stopped at the crossing laughed and honked their horns with glee. He couldn’t stand up without everybody seeing everything, so he just sat there taking their abuse until the train passed several minutes later.

The modern age has brought with it a whole new set of problems with regard to outhouses. Now we have convenient plastic huts filled with blue liquid that splashes up on your bummy whenever you drop in a bomb. And don’t even think of asking your coworkers to help fish out your cell phone when you drop it down the hole. Don’t laugh — it happens.

Sometimes, the sick humor people write on outhouse walls can actually put a smile on your face when everything else seems to be going into the toilet. One of my favorites is, “Room for rent, Inquire downstairs.”

OK, all this is sick, but where else on earth do people make a contest of racing down the street seated on a toilet?

Nevada bunkhouse displayed at Smithsonian

Silver State Mill sack

An unused sack from the Silver State Flour Mill.

The town of Paradise valley lies about 40 miles north of Winnemucca, Nevada. It is a beautiful old town like something out of an old western cowboy movie. The valley is dotted with large active cattle ranches dating back to the 1860s. One of the ranches known as the old Mill Ranch at the far north end of the valley has been owned by my uncle, Bob Cassinelli and his family for many years. Bob is deceased but his wife Georgene and son Danny still call the place their home. Prior to the Cassinelli’s ownership of the ranch, there were many other owners going back to the 1860s when the Silver State Flour Mill was built on the ranch and is still standing.

In 1980, the bunkhouse at the ranch was selected for display at the Smithsonian’s “Buckaroos in Paradise” exhibition in Washington D.C. This bunkhouse form is the basic building block for most American folk house types. Its prime features are its one-room square or rectangular shape with the door in a long side and a gable roof. Though scholars call this a “single-pen house” the people who make and use them just call them cabins or bunkhouses. Today one might just call the 8’ X 10’ structure a “Tiny House.”

The bunkhouse was acquired by the Smithsonian from Bob Cassinelli, at the Mill Ranch. Originally, it was built for John Schneider in about 1920 by Teddy Weller for rancher Lorenzo Recanzone. Schneider was an immigrant German trapper who came to the ranch in the 1920s and stayed on as a ranch hand and jack-of-all-trades. Called “Coyote John” or “Hans,” Schneider was well-known in Humboldt County in his later years working at the Mill Ranch. Schneider, who lived in the bunkhouse, became an informal member of the Recanzone family, who found him to be a stout worker and loyal friend who was able to protect the women and children when the men were working away from the ranch. Carlo Recanzone remembers from his childhood at the Mill Ranch when Schneider chased a threatening stranger away with his trusty “thirty-thirty” Winchester.

People from the Smithsonian came to the ranch to arrange to remove the bunkhouse for the Smithsonian’s “Buckaroos in Paradise” exhibit. Bob Cassinelli agreed to donate the bunkhouse to the Smithsonian and allow them to dismantle the structure board by board, numbering each piece and reassemble it at the exhibit site. After the exhibition was over, the bunkhouse remained the permanent property of the Smithsonian to be displayed at various times and locations featuring the lifestyle typical of early Nevada and the American West.

Other Paradise Valley ranchers, including Les Stewart, contributed photographs, chaps, branding irons and other artifacts from their ranches to help create the most interesting exhibit of Nevada ranch history ever assembled. If you ever visit the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. check to see where the exhibit is being displayed or visit the Smithsonian website.

Artifacts recovered from Lovelock Cave

Lovelock Cave

Lovelock Cave

In this, the second article about Lovelock Cave, I will describe a few of the thousands of artifacts recovered from the site between 1912 and 1924. The remarkable things about Lovelock Cave were the state of preservation in this dry cave and the amazing variety of well preserved objects that were found there.

Llewellyn L. Loud first began recovering artifacts from the cave in 1912 after guano miners had finished removing tons of bat guano from the floor of the cave. Unfortunately, looters had already removed many items of archaeological value before Loud started his work. Despite the previous ransacking of the cave, Mr. Loud recovered many items of great archaeological and anthropological value.

Approximately 45 sets of human remains ranging from scattered bones to complete mummies and human skeletons were found. One Mummified child about 6 years old wrapped in fish netting was given to the Nevada Historical Society. Loud recovered the remains of a newborn child with the placenta still attached. I recall the days in the 1960s when some of these remains were on display at the Nevada Historical Society in Reno before the insensitive public display of them was discontinued.

Many examples of mammal remains were found in the cave. These included animals that had entered the cave seeking shelter, and others that had been brought into the cave as food by human occupants. examples of these remains include deer, bighorn sheep, wolf, coyote, badger, pronghorn antelope, jackrabbit and cottontail.

Human and animal excrement was found that gave an indication of what these mammals had eaten. Some coyote excrement contained human remains and human excrement revealed what the humans were eating in those days. It was an incredibly coarse diet of seeds, hulls, tough fibers and fish bones.

Bird remains included ducks, geese, pelicans, feathers, bird bone artifacts, and bird skin wearing apparel. The cave contained an abundant collection of artifacts made from bones of various birds and mammals. These included awls, flutes, beads, tubes, fishhooks, pendants and scrapers. Mammal horns and hoofs were used to make spoons, pendants and rattles.

The cave provided protection from the elements to preserve such things as blankets of fir and feathers, strips of rabbit skin made into blankets, skins of meadow mouse and muskrat. Textiles included plant fiber aprons, sandals, and moccasins of tule and rush. Matting was made from grass, spike rush and cane. Many examples of wicker basket work were found.

In 1924, Mark Harrington resumed excavations in the cave started by Llewellyn Loud in 1911. Undoubtedly, many artifacts were stolen from the cave during the 13 years no professional archaeologists worked there. A few of these were brought to Harrington when he started his work at the cave. The excavations done by Mark Harrington were mostly in the deeper areas of the cave where some of the older artifacts were found. Eleven perfectly preserved duck decoys were discovered.

Harrington decided to do a stratigraphic section in the deepest part of the cave. The layers of the stratigraphic section were called the older period, the transition period and the later period. By studying the types of artifacts recovered from these layers, Loud and Harrington were able to determine that atlatls (throwing sticks capable of hurling a lance with great force) were used only during the older period. They found that during the transition period, both atlatls and bows and arrows were used. Finally, the later period, being the most recent, had only bow and arrow artifacts for weapons and hunting.

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.

Family members and I first visited Lovelock Cave about 20 years ago. I also worked on several highway construction projects in the Lovelock area and hiked around parts of the mostly dry Humboldt Sink, which was once filled with marshes during the time the cave was inhabited. More recently, Phil Hanna and I returned to Lovelock Cave to see the improvements that have been made there to accommodate visitors to the site.

Unlike many other archaeological sites in Nevada, Lovelock Cave has been opened up to visitors who can freely take unescorted tours of the site and safely go inside on a well constructed platform to take photos and to see first-hand the interior of this remarkable site. There is a convenient parking area with a restroom and a path up the steep slope to the cave entrance.

In the early 1900s people exploring the cave found the uneven interior had a layer of bat guano several feet thick that had been deposited over thousands of years. When the ancient Humboldt sink west of the cave was full of water, swarms of bats lived there, eating insects from the marsh and depositing the guano in the cave where they nested. Before long, miners began to excavate the nitrogen rich guano and ship it by railroad to farms in California.

As the guano miners hauled the material away, they began to uncover items from the floor of the cave that had been left there by the former people who had lived there. Uninterested in the baskets, matting, furs, hides and other items, the miners piled much of it on the ground and left it there. Occasionally, bows, arrows, atlatls and other items were discovered. Sometimes, when human remains were found, people from lovelock would come out and take the skulls and some of the skeletons away.

Fortunately, when the amount of what the miners called “Indian Junk” interfered economically with their operation, they abandoned the venture. The guano miners left after removing two hundred fifty tons of guano from the cave. The Nevada Historical Society in Reno salvaged some of the archaeological material from the cave and contacted the University of California for assistance in conducting excavations. They sent L.L. Loud to conduct the unassisted recovery of over 10,000 well preserved specimens from the cave between April 1 and August 1, 1912. This material was divided between the Nevada Historical Society and the University of California.

In 1924, Mark Harrington was sent to the cave by the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation to resume further excavations. In my last article in this series, I will describe a few of the thousands of artifacts that were recovered by Loud and Harrington. No one knows how much valuable archaeological material had been removed from the cave by weekend collectors between 1912 and 1924. 

Political correctness attacks historic place names

Exploring the Great American Desert

Exploring the Great American Desert

Political correctness really chaps the backside of my wrinkled old hide. I’m 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 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) maps published by the U.S. 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 Global Positioning System (GPS) for determining where you were, desert travelers commonly referred to USGS maps to keep them from getting lost.

I bought my first book of USGS maps in the 1960s when I was traveling extensively through the mountain and desert country of Nevada. In my younger years, I worked as a construction surveyor and inspector. I have hunted and fished in nearly every county in the state. The early USGS maps showed the names of every mountain, creek, cow camp and glory hole in the region. The colorful names of the places shown on the maps were given by the early hunters, trappers, miners, cowboys, Indians and pioneers who first settled the West.

No matter where you were, you could know the name of the canyon, stream, or mountain range where you pitched your tent, shot your deer or caught your fish. The early map makers made no effort to edit or change the names originally given to these places. You could tell a fellow hunter you had jumped a big bunch of sage hen just north of Chicken Shit Springs and he would know exactly where you were talking about. You could tell another group of hunters to meet you at Squaw Tit Butte and be certain they would be there at the agreed upon time. (These are actual examples from an old USGS map of Humboldt County).

The early USGS maps showed many of the ruins of historic places such as ghost towns and archaeological sites. These references have been removed from the more recent editions of the maps, presumably to protect them from vandalism.

I used my book of USGS maps so much over the years, it became dog-eared and worn. I had torn out several pages to loan to other travelers or hunters at different times and finally decided to buy a new book of the maps. To my great disappointment, I found the newer editions had been heavily edited for political correctness. By that I mean many of the colorful old place names have either been changed or eliminated.

Some U.S. government pencil pusher, who probably never spent an evening under the stars listening to the coyotes howl, removed all the old descriptive names from the maps. No longer can any names referring to Indians be found. No petroglyph or archaeological sites are shown. No place names with even a hint of profanity can be found on the revised editions. Names of places used by hunters, ranchers and miners for more than 100 years were removed to keep from offending one group or another of people who likely have no business out in the back country anyway.

In my opinion, the entire effort failed miserably. I, for one, am highly offended some government employees can take it upon themselves to change the colorful history of a region by editing out the names people have assigned to places for decades. This is similar to the protestors and politicians who are destroying symbols of our cultural heritage. The new USGS maps are readily available. It may take some searching to locate one of the older sets that still have the wonderful historic names given to these places. This article was taken from my book, “Uncovering Archaeology.” Since I wrote this book in 2009, there have been some efforts by the USGS to scan and sell thousands of pages of the older USGS maps, including those described by me in this article. Apparently, other interested persons have also pressured USGS to make copies of these historic old maps available. If you’re interested in obtaining some of these copies, check out the USGS website.