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Jeanne Sharp Howerton Speaks About Her New Book

Friends member and author Jeanne Sharp Howerton was the featured speaker at the August meeting of Pioneering Las Vegas.

Jeanne discussed highlights of her most recent book, Troy, Nevada and the Grant Range: Grant and Quinn Canyon Ranges and the Surrounding Valleys. She grew up on the Blue Eagle Ranch in Railroad Valley, which is bounded on the east by the Quinn Canyon, Grant, and White Pine Ranges. Jeanne is an expert on the region’s history.

Members of the Shoshone tribe were original inhabitants, harvesting and storing pine nuts in caches that still exist. European settlers displaced the Shoshone.

Jeanne gave fascinating examples of how Nevada maps evolved over time. They increased in accuracy and detail, and boundaries changed depending on the political and economic climate. George Wheeler surveyed the area in 1869, using a mule-drawn odometer cart to help measure distances. Additional mapping accuracy was achieved from data collected 1878 by an expedition that included the famous naturalist John Muir who guided and advised the survey team.

Odometer cart used by the Hayden Expedition, similar to that used by Wheeler’s 1869 survey.
Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archive.

Jeanne also described how the geology of the area helped determine the fate of mining, farming, and ranching enterprises.

Two towns in Britain were major investors in the Troy silver mine which started around 1870. The ore was not as rich as advertised, the mine flooded, and it was abandoned about 1876. The investors lost a lot of money. Jeanne photographed remnants of buildings associated with the mine and the images are included in her book.

There is a place in Railroad Valley called The Ox Frame. Jeanne researched this unusual name and discovered that an "ox frame" holds oxen in place so they can be shoed. Oxen cannot stand on three legs the way horses can. To solve this problem, the oxen were suspended in a sling from a wooden frame to take the weight off their feet so they could be shoed.

Ox frame for shoeing oxen.
Photo courtesy of the Mendocino County Historical Society Archive.

Farming efforts included construction of a dam across Cheery, Pin, and Cottonwood creeks to provide irrigation water. Although the project was a technical success, the market for the produce grown with the water vanished as mines in Pioche and Freiberg began shutting down and people moved away.

Jeanne explained the remoteness of the region made it attractive to the military for testing, and that there was a plane crash in 1944. The crew bailed out before the crash. People living in the area were also exposed to radioactive fallout from atomic bomb tests at the Nevada Test Site.

The area continues to be remote and sparsely populated, but much-loved by Jeanne who visits her family’s homestead frequently.

Dennis McBride Speaks About "Those Dam Women"

By Joan Whitely

Men built the massive infrastructure of Hoover Dam, but their wives built an intangible sense of home and community, even in the humble desert tents that workers set up near the gigantic federal construction site that became Boulder City.

A 1931 family home – cookstove and kitchen table are both outside the tent.

That was the key message from Dennis McBride, author and director of the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, who spoke Aug. 16 to the Friends of the museum about “Those Dam Women.” A native of Boulder City, McBride heard many stories growing up from people who had worked on the dam or lived in those tents. Eventually, as a young adult he also took formal oral histories from some of the stories.

The dam’s construction took place in the Great Depression. The nation’s unemployed swarmed to Southern Nevada in hopes of getting hired, McBride said. “Rag” towns of tents sprung up along the road from Las Vegas to present-day Boulder City, to house families of both workers and hopefuls, since the federal government never ordered enough dormitories or small cottages to handle the population connected with the dam’s workforce.

Even the cottages built by the Six Companies – a consortium of six engineering firms whose bid won the job to build the dam – were intended only for the short term, expected to be torn down when the dam was complete. Today many of the homes on A, B, C Avenues and California Street in Boulder City started as lowly dam cottages but have been improved over the years.

“What do you do if you come to the Mojave Desert – one of the most inhospitable sites – and you’re expected to make a home?” McBride asked rhetorically. “You can imagine – no heating, no air conditioning.” No running water or refrigeration or sanitary plumbing, either. And no admission into the project hospital unless you were a worker. Even for childbirth, the workers’ wives could not use the hospital. They had to make do with midwives attending their tent or cottage.

And yet, McBride made clear, period photos show that many took pride in their canvas dwellings. Some families tended cactus plants in “yards” outlined with rocks. Others built shade porches next to their tents.

Daily tasks such as obtaining groceries, cooking, bathing and doing laundry were daunting. But the women adapted, according to McBride. To get water from the muddy Colorado River, they discovered that a hole dug several feet from the river bank would eventually fill with water that was clearer than that flowing in the river. Or, they sometimes added powdered milk to a container of murky river water; this somewhat cleared the liquid because dirt particles clung to the milk granules and sank to the bottom.

Laundry dries easily in the desert air.

In addition to running their own households under adverse desert conditions, some of the women brought trade and professional skills to the growing community. Several hair salons operated out of homes. Birdie Yandell, a woman from Baltimore with a background in haute couture, did seamstress work for neighbors with her foot-powered sewing machine.

The Six Companies had not anticipated entire families moving to the dam site. Older children, in junior or senior high school, were bused to schools in Las Vegas, but there was no elementary education in the camp. So Anna Bissell and Winnie Hamilton, both with a background in education, lobbied the Six Companies, which donated two cottages to serve as classrooms led by the two.

“I could not imagine trying to set up a household under the conditions they faced,” said Friend Pat Thacker after the Aug. 16 meeting. “And these women were smiling in photos.”

Nancy Brady, another Friend, who sometimes leads museum tours for schoolchildren, said that thanks to McBride’s talk she can now elaborate on the dam-era photographs on exhibit. “I often point out the photo of a family standing in front of their home, a tent. I will now describe (it) in more detail.”

Reuben and Margaret Gard in Ragtown, 1931.

Dr. Samantha Rubinson Speaks About “Preserving Archaeology through Photography”

By Cam Camburn

On Saturday August 25th, as part of the Southern Nevada Archeology Speaker Series, Dr. Samantha Rubinson presented the lecture “Preserving Archaeology through Photography”.

Dr. Rubinson speaking on site preservation.

“The loss of our ancient places is inevitable” said Dr. Rubinson. Today 80% of known archeological sites have been looted, vandalized or damaged. It is predicted that by 2050 there will be no such sites!

Dr. Rubinson outlined multiple factors having such a devastating impact on archeological sites:

  1. Climate changes causing sea levels to rise
  2. Natural disasters such as wildfires, earthquakes or hurricanes/tornados
  3. Natural degradation
  4. Looting
  5. Religious intolerance
  6. Industry
  7. Over-visitation
  8. Urbanization, such as vibrations from passing cars
  9. Curation cost issues

How are these archaeological photo histories used? Photos can identify sites and, more importantly, note degradation or changes over time. These changes may be due to environmental or climate change. You can utilize virtual recordings, or photogrammetry (the science of making measurements from photographs), on photos because they are easier to preserve compared to actual sites.

Enter the Nevada Site Stewardship Program staffed by volunteers. An archive of photos is maintained which is used to train the public and assist in the identification of sites before and after graffiti. Globally photos such as these are also used for studies of and reconstruction of lost sites.

Dr. Rubinson concluded with the the question: How can you help? She stressed that every photo is precious. For more information on the photos, on reporting damage to a site, or becoming a volunteer for, or learning more about the program's reach, you can contact Dr. Rubinson through the The Nevada Site Stewardship Program.

All events held at the museum and are free with paid admission or membership. No registration required unless otherwise noted. Friends general meetings are the 3rd Thurs. of month. The museum is at 309 S. Valley View Blvd., inside Springs Preserve, LV 89107
Thu Sept 20 6-7 pm Challenges, highlights of cultural preservation in Nevada Rayette Martin of Nevadans for Cultural Preservation Friends General Meeting
Sat Oct 13 2-4 pm Archaeological Resources Protection Act Training Kelly Turner, United States Forest Service Southern NV Archaeology Speaker Series
Thu Oct 18 6-7 pm Atomic Testing Museum & Nevada's role in testing Michael Hall of Atomic Testing Museum Friends General Meeting
Sat Oct 20 2-4 pm Lake Mead and Colorado River Geology   Southern NV Archeology Speaker Series

To see the complete schedule for the year, please go to our Events page.

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