Silver Tailings: Gran Pah and Goldfield

When the two men headed into the desert of southern Nevada in the winter of 1902, they were hoping to strike it rich. They had been present when Paiute Indian prospector Tom Fisherman wandered into Tonopah with gold ore.

Fisherman received a ten-dollar grubstake from Jim Butler and Tom Kendall, to find a claim where the rock was found. But, Tom immediately got drunk, and the only information they could get from him was the rock was found thirty miles to the south.

After giving up on Fisherman, Kendall and Butler grubstaked Harry Stimler, a half Shoshone Indian, and William Marsh, both native Nevadans from Belmont to find the gold. As they set about hunting for the ore ledge, a dust storm arrived.

However, despite the conditions, they found what they were looking for. They named their first claim the Sandstorm and soon other prospectors joined them and a small city of tents and dug-outs appeared.

Stimler and Marsh eventually dubbed the new settlement, Gran Pah, which in Shoshone means great water. It was later anglicized to Grandpa, as in the Grandaddy of all strikes, which it remained until October 1903 when the name officially  to Goldfield.

By that time many of the structures in the town were a mixture of mud and empty whiskey bottles. A year later, the rush was on, and demand for housing had become so great that carpenters worked around the clock, with new residents were arriving on foot, horseback and by wagon.

Soon Goldfield would be Nevada’s largest city.


Trinidad Bay Goes Missing — Sort Of

Perhaps it’s hard to spot Trinidad Bay from the ocean in December, or perhaps the brigantine Cameo’s captain needed a refresher course before he began. At any rate, in 1850 the ship’s captain missed the bay and reported back to San Francisco that the bay was “a myth.”

His pride must have been stung when survivors from a group led by Josiah Gregg reached the city shortly after and reported Trinidad Bay’s existence. Gregg’s group had fought their way across the Coast Range and through the redwoods to reach the bay at about the time those on the Cameo were trying to find it.

The ocean-going group, an expedition from the Trinity mines, had left the diggings in November 1849 to travel to Sacramento Valley and, via Sutter’s Mill, to San Francisco. Once there, they chartered the Cameo and headed up the coast.

Their intention was to find Trinidad Bay. After Gregg’s party “re-discovered” Trinidad Bay, San Francisco newspapers played up the event and re-kindled interest in the Humboldt Coast. In early February 1850 two vessels sailed from San Francisco in another unsuccessful effort to pinpoint the body of water from the ocean.

Cameo advertised for passengers and freight, resumed the search for the shy body of water in March. Eleven other vessels followed her.

Due to a rough sail up the coast, she hove to near Trinidad Head on March 16 and put ashore a four-man landing party. Foul weather forced the brig’s captain to continue up the coast without those on board knowing the shore party had located Trinidad Bay.

The four knew when they found an inscription locating the bay. Gregg’s party had carved it into a tree near the headland Dec. 7 of the previous year.

Harold Del Ponte, 1916-2013

Harold Del Ponte died January 20, 2013, in Crescent City.  The lifelong Del Norte County resident’s 96 years read like a local history lesson.

He was born December 31, 1916, delivered by Dr. Fine, the namesake of the bridge over the Smith River. Raised by Swiss immigrants who homestead 200 acres in Klamath, Harold received all of his elementary education in the one-room Terwah Schoolhouse in the Terwer Valley before attending Del Norte High in Crescent City.

After a couple of years at Humboldt State University, he obtained a degree in forestry from Washington State University. In a newspaper article during his fifth supervisor campaign, he credited his forestry degree as making him a better supervisor for Klamath during the “Redwood Park controversy.”

He worked for the U.S. Forest Service in Del Norte, Trinity and Plumas counties before being drafted into service during WWII.  Harold remained in the Army Air Corps and U.S. Air Force Reserves as a retired major for 35 years.

From a Humboldt State University publication, “The Humboldt News Letter,” dated November 6 1944, a small article appeared about Harold’s ability to integrate soldiers: “Capt. Harold Del Ponte (’34-’36) is at Biggs Field, in charge of communications maintenance on all aircraft assigned to that base. Has both white and colors soldiers in his section and is rapidly becoming an authority on race issues.”

After the Second World War, he returned to Klamath, and ran the family dairy farm.

Harold was the longest-running Del Norte County supervisor, serving from 1953 to 1973, representing Klamath during the devastating 1955 and 1964 floods and the 1964 tsunami. In the aftermath of disasters, he became the point man for recovery efforts in Klamath, where he owned the Hunter Valley subdivision, which he created, allowing people to live there while they recovered from the disaster.

One of Harold’s most involved and longest duties began in 1947, when a man from the National Weather Bureau walked into the Klamath post office inquiring where he could find a dependable soul to become Klamath’s next weather observer.  The postmaster suggested Harold, who accepted the position assuming he would commit to it for a couple of years.

Fifty-five years later, in 2003, Del Ponte was given the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Benjamin Franklin Award for more than 20,075 weather observations.  The award ceremony turned into a grand event honoring all the achievements of Harold’s life with more than 250 people in attendance and the Crescent City Council and Del Norte supervisors declaring the day “Harold Del Ponte Day.”

Harold never ran for political office beyond Del Norte, but he maintained close contact with many outside politicians to better serve his community. The strongest friendship being with former Del Norte supervisor and U.S. Congressman Don Clausen, who represented Del Norte from 1962 to 1982.

To this day, there is a Del Ponte legacy that beckons tourists from Highway 101 in Klamath with a giant yellow sign reading: “Tour Thru Tree.” Since 1976, Harold owned and operated one of only two redwoods in the state with tunnels large enough to drive a car through.

Harold asked two nephews, an engineer and a tree faller, if they would carve the tunnel into the tree. Offered compensation of either $600 or half the proceeds from tourists, the nephews took the cash up front, not knowing that the tree would draw thousands of tourists from across the globe.

Paralyzed from the neck down in a 2004 accident, Harold spent the final years of his life in the Crescent City Convalescent Hospital. He is survived by his wife Judy, his two sisters, Valeria Van Zanten, 99, and Rena Tryon, 92, and his daughter Lynn Russell and son, David Del Ponte;  granddaughters Amy Anderson, Sarah Taylor, Stephanie Wyrobeck, and Carmen, Kathryn and Lesley Del Ponte; ten great-grandchildren including David Elerding, Theron, Keana and Olivia Anderson; Nate, Daniel, Carmela, and Gabbreila Gilbert, and Trinity and Steven Taylor; and was was preceded in death by first wife, Grace.

As a note of personal interest, Valeria was my third-grade teacher and the principal of Margaret Keating School at one point. She is also my sister, Deirdre’s Godmother. Harold and Valeria’s mother, Alice Del Ponte (1889-1987) taught me and all three of my sibling catechism lessons for our First Communions at their home near the entrance to the Klamath Glen.

The Hudson Bay Company

Known by its slogan, “We are Canada’s merchants,” the Hudson’s Bay Company is the oldest commercial corporation in North America and one of the oldest in the world. And its reaches extended all the way to Del Norte County.

Founded May 2, 1670, it is also in the history books as having once been the largest land owner in the world, perhaps inspiring a satirical interpretation of its initials as standing for “Here Before Christ.” Satire aside, the grand lady of the north controlled the fur trade throughout most of then-British controlled North America for several centuries.

The company launched expeditions that to some degree influenced the boundaries of the Pacific Northwest. Serving as the only government available to many areas of the continent before large-scale settlement began, the company remains in business today.

The company evolved from a tip that French traders Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Medard des Groseilliers received from the Cree tribe that the best fur country lay north and west of Lake Superior. The Indians also told the two men a “frozen sea” lay farther north.

Following up on the information Radisson and des Groseilliers sought French backing for a plan to set up a trading post on the Bay. Although the French government declined, the men were successful in convincing a Boston firm to finance them.

In 1668 the British commissioned two ships, Nonsuch and Eaglet to explore possible trade into Hudson Bay. After successful trading during the winter of 1668-69 the company received a Royal Charter from King Charles II.

It was given dominion over a 3.9 million square mile area known as Rupert’s Land. The company’s success led to bickering with competing trappers who also sought the wealth furs brought.

Not until 1870 was HBC’s monopoly dissolved. The company controlled nearly all trading operations in Oregon Country as its trappers worked their way from company headquarters at Fort Vancouver near the mouth of the Columbia River.

Its trappers were deeply involved in the early exploration and development of this area, traveling down the Siskiyou Trail and as far south as the San Francisco Bay Area. Trapping “brigades” worked their way through Northern California in the 1830s.

They included Edwin Young, known as an “American visionary,” who led a herd of horses and mules over the Siskiyou Trail in 1834 from this area’s mission to British and American settlements in Oregon. Young returned in 1837, purchased 700 head of cattle and drove them over the Siskiyou Trail to Oregon.

For many colonial settlers, the only source of cash money was furs and hides. High dollar hides were deerskins, valued at 50 cents for a doe and $1 for a buck’s skin.

The worth of buckskin entered into commerce lingo as the word “buck,” slang for one dollar. Not only did the fur trade become a major factor in drawing the boundaries of the United States, especially its northwest corner, fur traders discovered the Oregon Trail and provided guiding during the country’s western expansion.

Because of their own prejudices, much of the western exploration history of American Mountain Men, Canadian Voyageurs and Native American fur trade from the 1500s through 1840 is racially colored.

Silver Tailings: Downtown Reno Library

The Washoe County Library, on South Center Street in Reno, is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP.)  Completed in 1966, the library is significant to the history of Reno and represents the city’s interest in and appreciation for art and architecture.

The library’s construction came as Reno was moving  from a strictly gambling and divorce town to a family oriented community. The 1960s saw construction the library as well as the Pioneer Theater, which made the list in 2004 and the Fleischmann Planetarium, which received its listing ten-years earlier.

All three buildings show modern architecture constructed for public benefit.

The Washoe County Library, which is commonly known as the Downtown Reno Library, is a design created by architect Hewitt Campau Wells.  An expert in earthquake-proof design, Wells was a consultant to the Nevada State Public Works Board and a member of the Nevada Wildlife Commission and the boards of the Salvation Army, Trout Unlimited, and other conservation groups.

Wells received his master’s from Princeton in architecture in 1940. During WWII, he served on the destroyer U.S.S. Bailey in the Pacific, earning three battle stars.

He gradually retired from practicing architecture and was busily pursuing watercolor painting, an avocation at which he excelled. He also taught and judged art shows.

Wells, born in 1915, died October 2nd, 1989 after a lengthy illness.

The Downtown Reno Library is an unexpected contrast between the building’s interior and exterior, with its landscaping inside. Angled glass and copper panels surround the front doors,  leading to a bridge spanning the center of an atrium of the library.

Meanwhile the ground floor of the atrium features a pond complete with a fountain and inlaid stone paths. Mature trees and extensive foliage extend toward the skylights with spiraling stairs and circular reading pods completing the dramatic interior.

The National Register is the nation’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation.

The Passing of Two Reno War Vets

Another of Nevada’s remaining World War II veterans has passed away.  Charles Tremain was born on July 20, 1927 in Yankton, South Dakota and raised in Beatrice, Nebraska.

He served in the United States Marine Corps during the Second World War and as a captain during the Korean War. Chuck, as he was known, later graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1951.

That same year, he married his college sweetheart, Marian Stapleton.  They returned to Beatrice, Nebraska where they raised three children on a farm and bred cattle.

In 1972, the couple moved to Reno, where he began his 35-year career as an insurance and investment consultant.  He was among more than 30 other veterans in northern Nevada’s inaugural Honor Flight to Washington D.C. in October 2012.

Jus’ last week Jack Streeter died at the age of 91. He was a native Nevadan and longtime Reno Resident and attorney.

Jack attended Sparks High School, graduating in 1939.  He then attended the University of Nevada Reno and was a member of the ROTC and Pacific Golden Gloves Champion in the light heavyweight division.

During World War II, Jack became the most decorated Nevadan of the war, being awarded four Silver Stars, two Bronze stars, four Purple Hearts and the Legion of Merit.  He served as an officer in the First Infantry division, participating in the D-Day invasion, the assault across the Rhine and the Battle of the Bulge.

After the war, he attended Hastings Law school then moved back to Reno where he was Washoe County District Attorney from 1951-1954.  The newest tower at the VA Hospital in Reno bears his name in honor of his service.

You can read about Jack’s wartime exploits, title, “Outside of War and Food, We didn’t Have Too Much,” in the 1995 book, “War Stories; Veterans Remember WWII.”

Jedediah Smith

Jedediah Smith was a mountain man. With the middle name Strong, he epitomized the word.

As a fur trader and prolific explorer he survived a grizzly bear mauling and hostile encounters with natives. Born on January 6, 1799 on the East Coast in Jericho, N.Y., he spent the better part of his 32 years looking Westward.

Smith was the first white man to travel into California from the East. And in 1827 he was the first to cross the Sierra Nevadas.

Smith, in his lifetime, covered more land than the famed Lewis and Clark. On April 10, 1828, Smith and his 20-person crew began their trip past the Sacramento Valley that would eventually bring them into Del Norte County.

While on their trek north, Smith encountered the Trinity River and traveled along its banks for many days. He was so impressed by its size that he named it after himself.

This designation, obviously, did not stick.

Smith followed the Trinity until he encountered the Klamath River, camping along the banks of tributary creeks. It was here that Smith had his first meeting with the Yurok Tribe.

Trading razors and beads, Smith was able to buy canoes from the Yurok to help his party cross the Klamath. The Yurok again assisted Smith and his men when they were nearly starved.

The Yurok visited Smith’s camp multiple times with loads of berries, lamprey eel and blubber for trade. Smith said of the Yurok’s propensity for capitalism: “They were great speculators and never sold their things without dividing them into several small parcels, asking more for each than the whole were worth. They also brought us some blubber, not bad tasted but dear as gold dust.”

It was around this time that Smith reached Crescent City, resting at South Beach and Pebble Beach, then traveling north through Jordan Creek and Lake Earl. Smith and his fellow trappers encountered the Tolowa in this area, trading with them for fish, clams, strawberries and camas root.

On June 20, 1828, Smith headed east, crossing Howland Hill and first glimpsed the flowing waters of his official namesake river. Three days later he crossed into Oregon and followed the coastline until reaching the Umpqua River, the eventual location of his groups demise.

While cooking breakfast on July 14, 1828 over 100 Indians attacked Smith’s camp. Everyone was killed save Smith and two others – Arthur Black and John Turner.

The three men escaped through the mountains until they reached Fort Vancouver in Vancouver, Washington.  Smith spent the next two years, 1829 and 1830, trapping animals along the Wind River in Wyoming and Montana.

On May 27, 1831 Smith ended his explorations of the West. He was going to Santa Fe when he was ambushed by the Comanche.

He shot their chief in hopes of scaring away the group. He died with a Comanche lance in his back.

Smith is the namesake of both the Smith River and the Jedediah Smith State Park. The latter of which is home to some of the “noblest” trees Smith ever saw – the redwoods.