Still plenty of room at John C. Fremont Symposium, July 25-26

There’s still room to sign up for the John C. Fremont Symposium, July 25-26. My team and I will be cooking a delicious Dutch-oven lunch of smoked chicken breasts, buffalo chili, salad, roasted vegetables, cornbread and fruit cobbler. This should an amazing and educational event, and definitely lots of fun.

Signup information is below, as well as links to media stories with further details. Be sure to help spread the word!

Call Deborah Stevenson, Curator of Education, at 775-687-4810, ext. 237.

Sign up for the John C. Fremont Symposium, July 25-26

2014 is the Sesquicentennial year of Nevada Statehood. I can still remember celebrating the Centennial year in 1964 when I grew my one and only beard in celebration of the event. Now, it is the 150th birthday of Nevada, and I will celebrate it by growing a set of gray sideburns and cooking a dutch oven lunch for 80 people at Mills Park in Carson City on July 25th. To celebrate the event, the Nevada State Museum where I am a volunteer tour guide and part-time cook, is presenting a John C. Fremont Symposium.

One of the many events of this two-day extravaganza is a lunch like western explorer John C. Fremont may have had along the trail in 1844 when he entered our own area here in the Great Basin. I would really like to meet all those of you who read my History of the Comstock column and serve you a delicious Dutch oven lunch of smoked chicken breasts, buffalo chili, salad, roasted vegetables, cornbread and fruit cobbler.

My team and I have seasoned up about 20 Dutch ovens and are raring to serve you the greatest frontier grub this side of the Oregon Trail. Fremont’s crew used Dutch ovens for cooking on their 1843-1844 expedition through western Nevada where he discovered Pyramid Lake, Truckee River, Carson River, Lake Tahoe and disproved the myth of the legendary Buenaventura River thought to drain the Great Basin to the Pacific Ocean.

For those of you who may not know, the elusive Fremont Cannon that he abandoned along a deep creek near the West Walker River has been found. The Fremont Cannon Recovery Team found three of the cannon carriage iron wheels and the cannon mounting hardware from one side of the cannon carriage after an exhaustive search lasting several years.

It also appears the bronze 1835 Cyrus Alger cannon barrel long in possession of the Nevada State Museum is likely the same one that had been abandoned in the canyon, and was re-discovered in the mid-1800’s. It was then possibly sold where it made the rounds of several locations in western Nevada including Virginia City and Glenbrook at Lake Tahoe. Everywhere it traveled, it was referred to as the Fremont Cannon. When John C. Fremont visited Virginia City in the 1870s, he was shown the bronze barrel and identified it as the one he had abandoned in the winter of 1844.

The John C. Fremont Symposium to be held July 25th and 26th is a gathering of top Fremont scholars, archaeologists and authors from around the world, offering two days of lectures and panel discussions at the museum. You will be able to meet and talk to the members of the Fremont Howitzer Recovery Team and cannon experts who will tell about the amazing discovery of these artifacts.

Two special galleries have been set up at the Museum to contain the many artifacts and photographs from the Fremont Expedition. These include Fremont’s presidential campaign flag, maps drawn by cartographer, Charles Preuss, The original cannon carriage parts discovered near the Walker River, and a replica vintage cannon carriage with the bronze Fremont cannon mounted on it. Many of the original surveying instruments and equipment used on the expedition are shown, including the remains of a Dutch oven found at one of Fremont’s camp sites in Oregon.

Breakfast of coffee, tea and pastries will be served each day. The Dutch oven lunch that I will be serving at Mills Park will be at noon on the 25th. We are trying to arrange for a surprise presentation of some cannons firing blanks following lunch. On the 26th, the festivities extend into the evening hours with a theatrical presentation by actor Alastair Jaques in the Nevada Room at the Governor’s Mansion. This will be followed by a catered dinner at the mansion and songs of Nevada and Cowboy Poetry by Richard Elloyan, singer and songwriter, raised in Virginia City.

And now, what will all this cost? When you consider all the meals, outstanding speakers, and a chance to meet your favorite historian, (Me), the Symposium is a bargain at just $100 per person. For $40 you can attend just the dinner and entertainment at the Governor’s Mansion on the 26th. Call soon to make your reservations, since there is a limit of just 80 participants. Call Deborah Stevenson, Curator of Education, at 775-687-4810, ext. 237.

See you there.

The Carson River Canyon Mills

Someday, when all the political maneuvering and financial woes are settled, the revived Virginia and Truckee Railroad will extend from Moundhouse through the Carson River Canyon to Carson City again. When this route is finally completed, it will pass through an incredibly scenic and rugged area that was once the location of many of the great mills that produced gold and silver from the ores mined on the Comstock.

When silver ores were first discovered and identified there in 1859, none of the early prospectors knew how to process and refine the sulphuret of silver to produce the shiny white metal. Several Mexican miners who had been working the diggings knew methods they had learned years earlier in Mexico. They adapted their methods of using arastras, the patio process and adobe smelting furnaces to process the ores. These methods proved too slow to process the large volume of ores being produced, so other more efficient methods were introduced through innovation and experimentation.

Soon, stamp mills were being used to crush the ores and the amalgamation method using mercury and mixing pans was employed to separate the silver and gold from the rock. The drawback for all these methods was the shortage of water required to operate these mills in the mountains where the ore was being extracted. Water being pumped from some of the deeper mines did provide water for ore processing but this was expensive and inefficient.

Tons of ore was hauled over the Sierra Nevada Mountains to California mills at great expense in the early days of operation. The richness of the early ores made even this venture profitable. Soon the idea of transporting ore to mills located along the nearby Carson River attracted development of mills in Dayton and along the Carson River Canyon between Moundhouse and Carson City. Dams, canals and ditches were constructed to divert Carson River water to operate these mills.

The first large scale quartz mill to use Carson River water was the Rock Point Mill in Dayton, constructed in 1861. Many other smaller scale mills sprang up along Gold Canyon, Virginia City and Six Mile Canyon, but lack of water was a limiting factor in their production. After the Virginia City and Gold Hill Water Company began delivering water through the Marlette System in 1873, more mills were able to operate on the Comstock.

Once the Virginia and Truckee Railroad was completed in 1869, eight large scale mills sprang up along the Carson River Canyon between Moundhouse and Carson City. This canyon was an extremely busy industrial area during the 1870s and 1880s. In addition to the huge mill buildings, there were ore dumps, railroad spurs, machine shops, employee residences, mill offices and other associated buildings. Several trains each day delivered ore, timber, building materials, machinery and passengers to the busy mills.

When traveling from Moundhouse toward Carson City, the trains served the Eureka, Santiago, Vivian, Copper Canyon, Merrimac, Brunswick, Morgan and Mexican mills. Unfortunately, all the great mills and other structures have now disappeared. The canyon has pretty much been reclaimed by nature except for the modern reconstruction of the old railroad bed. As the train passes by each of the old mill sites, I am sure the conductor will point out the location of each of them.

I explored all the old mill sites over 50 years ago and there was not a single structure remaining even that long ago. In 1997 I worked for a construction company for over a year where Brunswick Canyon meets the Carson River canyon. I was there when the flood of 1997 came through the canyon and the water level came up to the level of the old railroad bed at that time. It washed out the footings of the Brunswick Canyon bridge during that flood.

Several years ago, the canyon was under scrutiny as a potential superfund pollution site due to the tons of mercury lost in the river from the amalgamation mills back in the Comstock mining days. During some of my early explorations along the river, I found several of the old steel flasks that were used to transport 76 pounds each of mercury to the mills. I also found a V & T railroad lantern but it was rusted so badly, I threw it away.

Copyright © 2014 by Dennis Cassinelli