A Town That Won't Die
Tuscarora, Nevada (1867-?)

      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 lived there.
     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.

Tuscarora looking down Weed Street.
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.
Turn of the century Tuscarora.
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 as fuel.
Sagebrush, the cheapest of most plentiful fuel available,
fired the steam boilers in the mines and mills. The crews,
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 staked out. 
     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 day.

Howard Hickson
November 17, 2002

Source: "Tuscarora Never Died," by Howard Hickson and Tony Primeaux, Northeastern Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, 83-1.

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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