Trekking through Paher’s Nevada

Nevada author Stanley Paher speals at the Churchill County Museum Thursday night.

Nevada author Stanley Paher speals at the Churchill County Museum Thursday night.

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Nevada author Stanley Paher knows the Silver State better than most people know their backyards.

For Paher, though, Nevada’s cities, towns, mining camps and people all came from his backyard of stories woven into a number of books about this state.

Now in his mid-70s, Paher wrote his first book — “Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps” — more than 45 years ago after he earned a master’s degree from the University of Nevada, Reno. Most recently, though, Paher wrote a book during last year’s Nevada Sesquicentennial that was released in December.

As part of the Churchill County Museum’s series of discovering Nevada authors, Paher spoke to about 70 attendees Tuesday night to discuss his latest book, “Nevadans, A Spirit of the West,” a history of Nevada’s early years that also described statehood before 1864 and many of the stories and their accompanying photos associated with Churchill and surrounding counties.

“Museums are the heat of history in Nevada,” Paher said before beginning his presentation.

For the current generation of writers who have based their books on Nevada, no one comes close to Paher; in terms of his love Nevada and its history, Paher ranks up there with such writers as Robert Laxalt, who founded the University of Nevada Press; author Walter Van Tilburg Clark; who wrote “The Oxbow Incident,: and Mark Twain, one of the most famous 1860s journalist who turned novelist.

Paher’s most recent book, though, describes the early explorers and settlers who visited the state prior to statehood, most notably John C. Fremont and Kit Carson.

“Fremont had a photographer to help map out Nevada,” Paher said, adding that Fremont wrote many books about the area.

Then, an “earthquake” of news rocked the United States when gold was discovered at Coloma (Sutter’s Mill) in 1848, thus causing hundreds of people to head west by crossing Nevada and the Sierra Nevada on their way to present-day Sacramento.

Along the route to California and especially near the rivers, Paher said trading posts could be found up and down the Humboldt River, and along the Carson River at Ragtown, west of Fallon and near the future towns of Carson City and Dayton.

Just north of the Carson River, prospectors struck it rich in the now Comstock area of Virginia and Silver cities, and by 1864, year of Nevada’s admission into the Union, Virginia City grew to be the state’s largest town.

“The 1859 boom in Virginia City carried Nevada into statehood,” Paher said. “Silver set off a mining boom.”

Fallon teacher Brad Whitaker listened intently to Paher’s accounts of early Nevada.

“This has been a fun series,” he said. “It has taught me how much I don’t know about Nevada.”

Paher gave some insight into Carson City’s humble beginnings by calling the state capital a “sleepy little town” in the 1880s. For many years Carson City was the nation’s smallest state capital until a population boom caused the city to grow to more than 70,000 residents.

“Now, 12 to 13 other state capitals are smaller than Carson City,” Paher said.

The noted historian and author talked about mining booms and busts and how Aurora, which is east of one of the most famous mining districts, Bodie, Calif., boomed for 21 years as a mining camp and county seat before losing that status to Hawthorne.

Speaking of government, he said several locations including Stillwater served as Churchill County’s county seat before Fallon emerged as the principle town and hub for the nearby mining camps.

Paher turned his presentation on Nevada’s military role during World War II and started with the battleship USS Nevada, which survived the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, to the Army using tanks for desert training near Searchlight, a small mining camp south of Las Vegas.

“Then there was the spirit of Stead Air Force Base north of Reno, Paher added.

The Army Air base, which was activated in 1942, served as a training facility during the war.

Paher spoke at the museum as part of the Nevada Humanities’ “Humanities on the Road” program, one of its longest running programs that rely on creative thinkers who will travel across Silver State to bring public presentations to local communities.

Jennifer Jones, education curator at Churchill Count Museum, said she was surprised at the number of Nevadans, and especially local residents, who have written books on the state and its people.

“We have had a really good response,” she said of the authors’ series.

Jones said she read Paher’s first book when she lived in Tuscarora. At the time, her father was a geologist.

The final presenter in the series is Terri Farley, the author of “Wild at Heart: Mustangs and the Young People Fighting to Save Them,” a work of narrative non-fiction featuring science, history and eyewitness accounts of America’s wild horses.

Farley’s presentation is Oct. 20.


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