Researcher: Letters offer first-settlement evidence

A letter from E. Allen Grosh and Hosea B. Grosh.

A letter from E. Allen Grosh and Hosea B. Grosh.

The conflict between Genoa and Dayton over which was Nevada’s first settlement has seen a salvo fired in favor of the older claim.

Researcher Heidi Englund went to an original source to substantiate Mormon Station’s position as Nevada’s first settlement: letters from the Grosh brothers.

The Nevada Historical Society has a collection of letters from E. Allen Grosh and Hosea B. Grosh, who left Philadelphia for the California gold fields in 1849.

They arrived in what would become western Nevada in 1853, writing to their parents about what they saw.

“These letters provide an accurate, unbiased scientific approach toward describing the area without exaggeration,” Englund said.

An E. Allen Grosh letter of 1856 describes the inhabited areas of western Nevada in 1850.

“The only part of it settled is along the immediate base of the east summit of the Sierra ... in the foothills,” Grosh wrote.

According to Englund, Grosh next mentions the “Gold Kanyon Range,” offering only details of the ore composition. He doesn’t mention the existence of a settlement in that area.

“This priceless testimony shows that the area’s continuous habitation was ‘in the foothills’ of the Sierra, in Washoe, Eagle and Carson valleys, and not in the future Dayton area,” Englund said. “The Grosh description conclusively that Nevada’s oldest settlement was Mormon Station in Carson Valley.”

The letters were recently published in a book called “The Gold Rush Letters of E. Allen Grosh & Hosea B. Grosh” and are preserved at the Nevada Historical Society in Reno.

Englund said the letter collection survived three fires and was sold to the historical society for preservation as one of the first historical documents of the gold rush in Nevada.

Nevada historian Stan Paher has been arguing the case for Genoa as Nevada’s first European settlement since the debate hit the headlines in the late 1990s.

The chief evidence presented by those favoring Dayton was the handwritten diary of Lucena Parsons, who passed through Dayton in late May 1851 and described a busy mining camp at Gold Canyon, 2 miles north of where Dayton is now.

Paher’s problem with the diary is that no one has the original. He said Englund, who is an assistant at the Nevada Historical Society Library, searched for the original diary. In 2011, she asked the Stanford University Library Special Collections staff, who responded that all they had was a typescript authored by sisters Elizabeth and Elene Wilbur in 1928.

“Its use for historical purposes is seriously questionable,” said Englund at the time.

“In police detective language, the crime scene has been tainted by the Wilbur sisters and the body is missing,” Paher said.

Then state archivist Guy Rocha pointed out that farming and mining towns tend to date their founding from different events. Where a farming town might consider the construction of the first building as it’s beginning, mining towns tend to date back from the time of the strike.

According to the Nevada Historic Preservation Office, gold was first found in Gold Canyon above Dayton in July 1849. The second find was farther up the canyon in May 1850.

Englund said H.S. Beatie built the first trading post near Mormon Station in 1849, well before any claim for Dayton as a settlement.

Genoa’s official founding dates to June 1851, when John Reese built a permanent trading post along the route to California.

In an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal at the time, Paher revealed that the original diary wasn’t the source for the Parsons’ material. Rocha said more evidence would be needed to alter his opinion of Parsons’ diary.


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