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.

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 6” thick to be safe. If there is 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” – 8” hole is drilled into the ice for each fisherman in the group. Those with a second rod stamp can use two holes.

Usually 4 to 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.

Layers of protective clothing must be worn, since the winter weather can be brutal. Waterproof boots with treaded soles, insulated gloves, earmuffs, long johns, and a warm jacket with a hood will help. It is always better to bring extra clothing than be “caught out in the cold.” Children dressed up in winter coats and mittens love to skate and run around out on the ice. Letting them pull out a fish is a treat they will never forget.

A family group will always have an ice sieve to clean snow and ice from the fishing holes when needed. The holes drilled are sometimes 24” or more deep. Some groups (including ours) may set up a portable ice fishing tent, a collapsable table with a propane stove, ice chests with no ice to keep worms and drinks from freezing and plenty of your favorite beverages. Simple wire or PVC rod holders to keep your pole at a 45 degree angle with the ice are nice to have. One year, I even made some wooden balanced and weighted trout decoys to lower down into an ice hole to attract fish to the place where we were fishing.

Every one fishing must have a license, trout stamp, extra rod stamp if wanted, short ice fishing poles, tackle box, worms, power bait, shrimp, jigs or whatever bait or lure you (and the fish) desire. Game wardens do check for licenses and go from group to group on snowmobiles. There should be a folding chair with a drink holder for each person. A trick we learned early on, was to attach a jungle bell or a rattlesnake tail to the end of the fishing rod so you can hear when you have a bite. You can then visit and tell lies to the other fishermen until the bell rings. An ice fishing sled or a large plastic box for your gear can easily be pulled across the ice to the desired place to fish.

A few times when the ice was solid and over 2 feet thick, we have taken the truck out on the ice. This must be done with extreme caution and is not recommended. The NDOW website usually has ice fishing conditions listed for each lake or reservoir. There is a humorous story about prehistoric ice fishing in my novel, Legends of Spirit Cave. Several ancient stone ice fishing picks were found at and near Lovelock Cave by the Humboldt sink, so we know that prehistoric people enjoyed the sport and the fish they caught.

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 

Antelope

Above Photo Courtesy: Rvannatta at English Wikipedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Subject to disclaimers.

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.

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

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!

I’ll be at Dayton Valley Days Sept. 19-20

Rock Art 5Come see me at the 2015 Dayton Valley Days celebration in historical downtown Dayton, Nevada.

I’ll have a booth, and I’ll be selling copies of my books, as well as my own handmade petroglyphs. The petroglyphs make terrific rock art for your yard, and they’re ideal conversation-starters.

My family and I attend Dayton Valley Days nearly every year, and it’ll be exciting to participate in this year’s event. I hope you can come out to meet me and the other vendors, and I look forward to seeing you there!

Dayton’s petrified forest

My Great Grandfather, Pietro Cassinelli, an Italian emigrant, arrived in Dayton, Nevada in the late 1880s after working his way across America as a cowboy. Within a few years, he and his cousin, Bert, acquired a ranch along the Carson River. There, he and his wife Theresa raised a family of 12 children, one of whom was my Grandfather, Pete.

Roughing It

When I was a boy working on Pete’s ranch in Sparks years later, he told me about a petrified forest with many logs of petrified wood he had seen near the ranch in Dayton where he had grown up and went to school in the early 1900s.

My invaluable research assistant and brother-in-law, Phil Hanna, who recently moved to Dayton with my lovely sister, Rae, recently turned me on to something that Mark Twain wrote in Chapter 26 of his classic book, Roughing It. It seems that when describing some of the mineral resources of the Silver State, Twain remarked “Lately evidences of bituminous coal have been detected. My theory has ever been that coal is a ligneous formation” (Ligneous meaning resembling wood).

Twain was skeptical about the idea of coal existing in Nevada until he spoke to a Captain Burch on the subject and was told that in the region of Dayton, Burch had seen petrified trees the length of two hundred feet. This established the fact that huge forests once existed in this remote area. This firmed up in Twain’s mind that coal may also actually exist in Nevada.

Now, let’s jump forward to modern times. My family and I enjoy hiking, rock hunting and exploring the many hiking trails around the region. Occasionally, we find a few pieces of petrified wood but nothing like the two hundred foot trees described in Mark Twain’s Roughing It.

We did find some long trenches obviously dug over 100 years ago that were surrounded by a few small pieces of petrified wood. This is an indication that the petrified forest described to me by my grandfather and written about by Mark Twain did actually exist. All the huge logs obviously have been taken away and we have no idea who took them or where they ever ended up.

Amazingly, some of the pieces we have found are black and have the appearance of coal, except they have the wood grain typical of petrified wood. Our theory has always been that the black petrified wood was caused by the trees being in some ancient forest fires or perhaps knocked down during a volcanic eruption millions of years ago and being covered with hot volcanic ash. This would have turned the wood black like charcoal and buried it until it became petrified.

This year, Dayton Valley Days will be celebrated in downtown Dayton on September 19th and 20th. I have signed up to have a booth at the celebration where I will have samples of the beautiful petrified wood and even the amazing black coal – like wood described by Mark Twain. We will have these items offered for sale in addition to a selection of rock art collectible petroglyph replicas that make interesting yard art that will last for centuries.