A Town That Won't Die
Tuscarora never died. There have been
times when it dozed and its future looked bleak but the old mining camp
survives. The place, though, will never regain its 19th century boom town
status when 5,000 people lived and worked there.
Today, it is a place to look out across a
sagebrush and grass valley and marvel at the beauty of the land; to gaze
at the sky and feel a personal freedom; and to walk in the past on the
streets. There are still whispers of ghosts - those people who lived
and labored, laughed and cried, and met their maker in the old town. A
stroll through the nearby cemetery is a reminder of those folks who once
Tuscarora began as most western mining towns,
by rumor. In 1867 brothers John and Steven Beard were in Austin, Nevada.
A trader mentioned that an Indian told him there was gold in a creek bed
up north. They enlisted six other prospectors and made the trek to Independence
Valley where, by panning, they found a few grains of gold. They were afraid
of Indian attacks and were not prepared to survive a frigid winter so the
party returned to Austin.
Gold fever brought them back in the spring
and they began placer mining in earnest. They found they could work only
in the spring when runoff water was plentiful in the creek. Even so, they
organized a mining district and named it Tuscarora after a Civil War Union
gunboat which, in turn, was named after an eastern seaboard tribe of Indians.
Scarcity of water remained a problem. So much
so that the miners hired Chinese laborers who had been laid off the Central
Pacific Railroad, to do the grunt work. Then, William O. Weed found
some good color two miles northeast of the camp. Well, that did it. All
the miners moved to the new strike. Silver or gold, it didn't matter to
them - they were pursuing their dreams of untold wealth.
The Beard brothers leased their first claims
to Chinese who, being more meticulous and patient than the white miners,
eventually took out about $3 million (conservative estimate) in gold dust,
nuggets, and flakes. In today's money that's $60 million or more. Old Tuscarora
was left to the Orientals and the name Tuscarora was taken to the new community.
Looking West on Weed Street, c. 1885.
By 1872 the secret was out and the camp was flooded
with hordes of prospectors, merchants, professional people, con men, hurdy
gurdy girls and outright crooks. This was a typical population of an American
West mining camp.
Young America was the first gold mine then
came the Navajo, about half silver and half gold. Tuscarora had hit the
big time! A small four-stamp mill was set up and crude bullion was freighted
to Elko for shipment by train to San Francisco. In 1876 the Grand Prize
was brought into production. By the time 1878 rolled in the population
had swelled to 5,000. Streets and alleys were declared public highways
to prevent men from staking out claims on the thoroughfares. A ten-stamp
mill went into operation. Miners' wages were up to four dollars a day.
Oh, those were grand times! But they didn't last long.
Tuscarora around the turn of the century.
In that same year a long, hard winter took its
toll. Many moved on to another dream. Some mines began shutting down prompting
more people to leave. Ore mostly gave out by 1880. That was the finale
of the exciting boom years. Estimates put mine production close to forty
million dollars in its heyday. Multiply that by 20 to get an approximation
in today's dollars. Sporadic mine production never amounted to much after
that although there was one last glimmer of hope when the Dexter, a gold
mine, brought a short revival. It was in business 15 years. The town's
motto was "Wait 'til next spring, it'll boom then." But it didn't.
Sagebrush, the cheapest of most plentiful fuel available,
fired the steam boilers in the mines and mills. The
many composed of Chinese, harvested sagebrush up to
25 miles from town.
Tuscarora's mining boom ended much as other mining
camps of the era. Up and down for decades, mostly down, until only a few
people were left. Some of the biggest excitement for decades came in 1963
when state health officials told Tuscarorans that their water supply was
being contaminated by cows. This prompted the repair and addition of pipe
to the Old Culver Spring system so the town could have cleaner water. The
community now has an even more improved water system.
In 1969 Julie and Dennis Parks started a pottery
school, Tuscarora Retreat, and, within a few years, were internationally
acclaimed. They consider the isolation of the camp, about fifty miles northwest
of Elko, ideal for living and creating clay art.
Tuscarora now has many conveniences - television,
a dependable water supply, and electricity. They have a few luxuries not
available to city dwellers - clear sky, fresh air, everyone knows everyone,
and each has his or her own claim to what they feel is personal liberty
Some urban dwellers say they wouldn't want
to live in such a remote place but one wonders just who is smarter? Tuscarorans'
way of life is enviable compared to the pace at which city folks run all
November 17, 2002
Source: "Tuscarora Never Died," by Howard Hickson and
Tony Primeaux, Northeastern Nevada Historical Society Quarterly,
Photographs are from the archives of the Northeastern
Nevada Museum, Elko
©Copyright 2002 by Howard Hickson. Permission to
use is given but, if any portion or all of this article is quoted, proper
credit must be given.
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