Toasting the ghosts of Rawhide
Despite the fact that virtually nothing remains of the old Nevada mining town of Rawhide, the place continues to fascinate ghost town explorers and historians.
Perhaps it’s because of its colorful name — Rawhide — which conjures images of old prospectors wandering the streets with their burros and pickaxes and streets lined with frontier false storefronts offering everything from overnight accommodations to adult beverages.
But while once upon a time Rawhide might have been able to boast all of those iconic Old West amenities, it’s been a long time since anyone has been able to belly up to a bar or pick up a sack of flour.
Rawhide traces its origins to December 1906, when a miner named Jim Swanson is said to have found gold in the area, which is west of the Buckskin Mountains of central Nevada.
A few months later, Charles Holman and Charles McLeod joined Swanson in working the site. Holman, in fact, is credited with naming the town. Allegedly, he called it Rawhide as a play on words to indicate his dislike for a nearby mining camp called Buckskin, which had tossed him out.
McLeod and Holman staked several claims on a mound that became known as Hooligan Hill. Their holdings proved promising and they sold them to a larger mining operation for $20,000 plus 10 percent of the profits.
By the end of 1907, word about Rawhide’s riches had spread and it became a classic Nevada mining boomtown that swelled to about 7,000 people.
The rush to Rawhide attracted a number of well-known — and notorious — western figures including Bill “Swiftwater” Gates, who had made a fortune in the Alaska gold rush, as well as “Diamondfield” Jack Davis, who occasionally worked as an enforcer and strike-breaker for Goldfield’s mining boss, George Wingfield.
Additionally, among those early residents was George Graham Rice, a legendary conman who reportedly had embezzled about $100,000 from investors during the earlier Goldfield mining boom. Other, more reputable arrivals included George “Tex” Rickard, who opened a bar in Rawhide called the Northern, and invested in several local mines.
Despite all the interest and feverish activity, Rawhide’s glory days were brief, less than a half dozen years. One of the town’s main challenges was a lack of a water source. The precious liquid had to be hauled in from a distant well and was sold at the incredible price of 5 cents per gallon.
Still, at its peak Rawhide had a telegraph and long distance telephone service as well as three banks, five newspapers, a half-dozen restaurants, several dozen shops and hotels, more than 30 saloons, a school and a thriving red light district known as Stingaree Gulch. It was also served by a daily automobile-stage with mail service from several surrounding communities.
In September 1908, however, tragedy struck the town when fire destroyed a third of a mile of local businesses and residences. While some of Rawhide was immediately rebuilt, the community didn’t entirely recover as mining revenues began to dip.
Less than a year later, the Rawhide boom was over. Most of the population moved on to other, more promising communities. By the 1920s, Rawhide was almost completely abandoned.
But while the town didn’t last very long, it did make an impression. In 1908, famous British romance novelist Elinor Glyn came to Rawhide to get the flavor of a real western town for her books and wrote about her visit.
Rawhide also experienced several unsuccessful railroad-building attempts. The closest to becoming a reality was the Rawhide Western Railroad, which would have linked the town to the Nevada-California Railroad at Schurz. With less than three miles of grading to be completed, the railroad line was abandoned after investors bailed following the 1908 fire.
Today, old Rawhide is long gone. Modern mining operations can be seen in the area, but there is little to mark the town beside a small cemetery. Even the original Rawhide Jail has been relocated to the city complex in Hawthorne.
The former site of Rawhide is located about 55 miles southeast of Fallon via U.S. 50 (go about 30 miles), Nevada State Route 839 (turn right and continue another 10 miles) and about two miles of dirt roads.
A good website with information about Rawhide can be found at http://www.ghosttowns.com/states/nv/rawhide.html.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.