History even better than the myths

"People are adrift in a sea of historical misinformation."

Guy Rocha, Nevada State Archivist

At the 1998 annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History in Sacramento, Calif., Guy Rocha, assistant adminstrator for archives and records at the Nevada Department of Museums, Library and Arts, presented snippets of his work as Nevada's unofficial "history cop."

In the absence of a Better History Bureau, Rocha is in the vanguard of people trying to dispel historical misconceptions. Although some have responded to his work with criticism, Rocha is anything but a killjoy. While he is uncompromising in his advocacy of truth in history, he does not refute the cultural importance of legends.

Myths and the untruths they perpetuate often "add a little color to otherwise barren lives," invigorating the imagination and enhancing the emotional appeal of people, places and other times. However, Rocha, like many of his professional peers, has an unwavering respect for the truth and has little tolerance for those who intentionally compromise historical accuracy to further a political or social agenda.

One vehicle that Rocha uses to debunk historical myths, is his "Myth a Month" column for the Sierra Sage which is republished on the Nevada State Archives website. Myth No. 8 was particularly relevant to this column since it dealt, somewhat indirectly, with the Virginia & Truckee Railroad.

Following is the article that was co-authored by Rocha and journalist Dennis Myers dispelling some misconceptions about the railroad trestle depicted on the great seal of Nevada.

"In 1979, Houston Oil & Mineral, a mining company, expanded an open-pit gold mine in Storey County which threatened the destruction of much of upper Gold Hill. Comstock residents fighting the mining company said the property was so historic and hallowed it was depicted on the Nevada State Seal. The basis for the claim - sometimes repeated by state politicians - is the fact that there is a railroad trestle on the seal, and the Crown Point Trestle on the Virginia & Truckee (V&T) Railroad had been located in upper Gold Hill.

"The claim is widely accepted in Nevada, but there is no truth to it. The state seal was designed in 1864 and adopted by the state legislature in 1866. The trestle on the state seal is made of stone. Work on the V&T and the Crown Point Trestle, constructed of wood, did not begin until three years later.

"Actually, it makes a better story this way. After all, when the trestle was first depicted in the seal, there were no railroads at all in Nevada. The Central Pacific Railroad did not arrive until 1868. Its inclusion by lawmakers in such an important state symbol was an act of faith in Nevada's future, knowing the nation's first transcontinental railroad would run through the heart of the Silver State.

"And Upper Gold Hill - with its elegant Gold Hill Hotel, historic Greiner's Bend, and V&T Railroad depot - survived the onslaught of the mining company when it closed down its operation in the early 1980s."

When the V&T Railroad is ultimately reconstructed and creative ways are sought to promote ridership, hopefully we can avoid the temptation to rewrite history as a clever marketing tool.

The history of the Comstock and the emergence of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad as one of Northern Nevada's greatest economic assets are far more interesting than any fanciful tales concocted to compromise the truth.


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