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Pahrump Mirror
Pahrump, Nevada
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May 22, 1997     Pahrump Mirror
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May 22, 1997
 

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8AA Thursday, May 22, 1997 Pahrump Valley Gazette Mining Town U.S.A. Welcome to "Little Water!" by Dave Downing Gazette Staff Tonopah is a Shoshone word that means, little water, little springs or water brush. Take your pick. According to Bill Metscher, curator of the Central Nevada Museum, "It's a difficult word to translate." It's hard to separate fact and fiction when it comes to the discovery of Tonopah. The popular story claims that Jim Butler was camping out in the area during a thunderstorm and his mule took off on him. Butler picked up a rock to toss at the ornery critter and, instead of throwing it, noted its unusual weight. It's a nice story but probably not true. Butler was well known to the Shoshone Indians and spoke their language. In all probability Butler knew exactly what he was doing when he camped in the area. It is believed the Shoshones informed him of the mineral deposits .that came to the ground and he came to see for himself. He collected samples in May, 1900 and eventually returned to Belmont, Nev. --i[| Butler was broke and couldn't afford the cost to have the ore assayed. Tasker Oddie  offered to have the samples assayed and received an interest in the mine in return. The mines made Oddie, a future governor, a rich man. The original Butler strike can be seen on Florence Avenue just down the street from the fire department. Behind the Best Western Hi Desert Inn Motel parking lot on the north side of the street there is a chain link fence and just inside the fence you'll see what appears to be earth fissures. These are actually the areas where the min- erals came directly to the surface and were mined by leasers deep into the ground. Wood framing still exists in the areas and some of the mining fissures go down sev- eral hundred feet. To stand at this location and imagine the hard work in climbing into the open areas to dig up and retrieve the ore is an experience in itself. This surface min- ing continued until the veins reached so far into the ground that it was necessary to build the large mines. While you're in Tonopah this weekend we recommend a stop at this loca- tion. A trip to the old Tonopah cemetery is a step into the past. You'll see a lot of 1902 and 1911 dates and some fam- ily plots that have the same death dates for all the family members. You'll wonder in silence, "what happened here?" In 1902 there was a pneumonia epidemic that swept through town. Historians refer to it as the "black plague," although it was probably a result of silicosis, a deadly min- ers disease that resulted from the breathing of silica dust within the mines. In 1911 the Tonopah-Belmont mine disaster took the lives of 17 miners. Find the grave marker of William E "Big Bill" Murphy to pay your respects. Big Bill was a hero who sa,ed many lives and sacrificed his own in the disaster. A coroner's inquest failed to determine the cause of a disas- trous fire that resulted in the tragedy but did determine that the mine managers exercised irresponsible decisions that helped lead to the death of so many. The Tonopah Army Air Field, (TAAF), was started in 1940 and began operations in 1942. This started a time of prosperity for Tonopah that may very well be unmatched to this day. In 1993, members of the TAAF came from around the country to participate in a 50th reunion hosted by the Central Nevada Historical Society. Nearly 150 members showed up and toured the old airfield and shared their memo- ties with us. Many memories were shared in tears as the members gathered around old crash sites and reflected on their fallen comrades. Melvin Halpren, a reunion member, relayed to us his story about Lucky Strike cigarettes. "They had a advertis- ing slogan called L.S.M.ET. It stood for 'Lucky Strike Means Finer Tobacco.' However, at the TAAF it meant, 'Lord, save me from Tonopah. '" We also learned that the airmen at the base had a poem about Tonopah: "245 miles to Reno 250 miles to Las Vegas 100 miles to water 50 miles to firewood 5feet from hell God Bless our Home." Military influence in the area has existed on and off ever since. The most recent being the Tonopah Test Range. This highly secret government facility was used, as it later turned out, to house and test the super secret F- 117A Stealth Fighter. Another spot to be sure to visit in Tonopah is the Stealth dedication memorial/statue in front of the fire de- partment. A must see place in Tonopah is the Central Nevada Museum. The community is proud of this museum and when you get there you'll see why. A modern structure, it ME AND JIM FOUND TONOPAH- The mule is a traditional member of the Jim Butler Days parade held on Saturday.  . contains a history of this area from prehistoric to modern times. A nature walk will take you dewn the path of desert plants and shrubs and past authentic miners' homes of turn- of-the century Nevada. Mining tools and equipment are on display throughout the grounds. The museum is present- ing two special performances sponsored by the Nevada Humanities Committee in the Chautuaqua Lecture series. The first program is entitled "Margaret Breen, Donner Party Survivor." Margaret Breen, along with her husband and seven children, were members of the Donner Party and shared the suffering of their fellow emigrants. She was born in County Carlow, Ireland, and departed from Indepen- dence, Mo. for California in the spring of 1846. Adevout catholic, Mrs. Breen worked tenaciously to ensure the sur- vival of her family during the winter of entrapment. Due largely to her efforts, the Breen family was one of only two families in the Donner Party to survive without the loss of human life. The choices with which the Breens were faced led to conflicting interpretations regarding their place in the Donner Party story. After the ordeal the Breens be- came the first American family to settle in San Juan Bantista. Margaret spent the remainder of her life there surrounded by her family at the inn that her family owned, and near the Catholic mission that she loved. The second presentation at the museum this week- end will be "Lansford Hastings: Scoundrel or Guide?" Hastings is a Western enigma. Termed an "incessant activ- ist with boundless energies," the Ohio lawyer is vilified by some because the Donner Party followed the difficult Hastings Cutoff in 1846, with disastrous results. He is con- demned by others because Hastings allegedly encouraged Western emigration in the hopes of becoming emperor of an independent California. Portrayed by William G. Chrystal, he will answer questions from the audience and discuss his life and times. Finally, Chrystal will step out of character and give the audience an opportunity to ask him questions about the character from today's perspective. See the schedule for dates and times of these performances. The Tonopah Historic Mining Park will be offering a special tour during the weekend. The park first opened for Butler Days in 1994 and had hoped to be open full- time this year but much more work needs to be done. None- theless, they have decided to open for special tours his Saturday only and we highly recommend it (See schedule of events). There's a pretty healthy walk involved but youill get the opportunity to see some of Tonopah's historic mining sites up close. You'll visit such sites as the Mizpah and Silver Top mines and their inner workings. See the spot where a mine cave-in reached the surface and left a huge crater. Bring extra film. The Mizpah Hotel is also a must visit place. The Mizpah is on the National Registry of Historic Buildings and has a beautiful history behind it. The hotel was once home to Wyatt Earp and Jack Dempsey. Incidentally, Virgil Earp was a deputy sheriff in neighboring Esmer- alda County. Howard Hughes was married at the Mizpah. We should point out that the Mizpah is reputedly haunted. Many guests and employees claim that a ghost, known as the Lady in Red, has made several appearances and is responsible for causing a keno board to play keno games. The Mizpah keno board hasn't been con- nected to a control panel or electrical source since the late 70s. We're un- able to verify that there is no connec- tion to power, but the Gazette did pho- tograph the board one New Year's Eve -- it was flashing numbers on and off. Another fun place to visit is the Tonopah Convention Center. So many events are held there over But- ler Days that you'll probably wind up there sooner or later. But, be sure not to miss it. Walk through the center and look at the huge photographs on dis- play of Tonopah's past. A special Stealth display was presented to the town by the U.S. Air Force. Tonopah's economy tends to swing through "bust and boom" times. Currently things are pretty rough in town. The loss of the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing at the Tonopah Test Range and the downsizing in mining and ranching has hit hard. Nonetheless, the town's 3,000- plus citizens can look forward to better times. New min- ing claims in the area indicate there will soon be a large surge in new mining facilities. There are always rumors that the military may bring in another project. If you're a regular visitor to Tonopah's Jim Butler Days you should be aware that the JB Committee has decided that next year's event will take place on July 31, Aug. 1-2. It is hoped by the committee that this will at- tract a larger California crowd since there will no longer be a conflict with Bishop's Mule Days. There were many other considerations also, but the ultimate decision was to change the date to later in the summer. Want to know more about Tonopah? The definitive books on the subject are at the museum and available for sale. Here's a money saving hint for you. Sign up as a member of the museum for $15 and then receive a 10- percent discount on all goods sold there. You'll also re- ceive quarterly installments of Central Nevada's Glori- ous Past. You'll want to remain a member for life. In fact, for a $150 donation you can become just that. You won't find a better deal in the west. The museum will be hosting special events throughout our Butler Days cel- ebration. For a complete history of Tonopah we highly recommend two companion books, "A History of Tonopah, Nevada" and "Tonopah -- The Greatest, the Richest, and the Best Mining Camp iti the World." Both books are by Robert D. McCracken and are part of a se- ries of books that cover Nye County towns. The books may be purchased at the museum. Welcome to Tonopah! Enjoy Jim Butler Days and our western hospitality. Above all, please be safe. Don't drink and drive. If you've had ioo much to drink and need to get home -- the Nye County Sheriff's Department has a program for you. Call them at 482-8101 and a deputy will drive you home. This "Ride Home" program is a service offered by the department 365-days-a-year! EDITOR'S NOTE: News releases from the Ne- vada Humanities Committee contributed to this story.