The Nevada Traveler: Sodaville: Home of the rare and once endangered milkvetch

These abandoned structures (located on private property, so no trespassing) are among the handful of ruins marking the once-thriving railroad town of Sodaville in central-eastern Nevada.

These abandoned structures (located on private property, so no trespassing) are among the handful of ruins marking the once-thriving railroad town of Sodaville in central-eastern Nevada.

 You won’t find a Coke in Sodaville.
You also can’t find Pepsi or Mountain Dew or any other brand of soft drink. Despite its frothy name, Sodaville owes its existence to the presence of two mineralized hot springs that flow in the area (hence the name) and a railroad’s need for a station in the area.
Located on U.S. 95, about three miles south of Mina, Sodaville is today, in fact, little more than a name on a map with a handful of decaying buildings. Some online sites actually describe it as “an extinct town in Mineral County.”
Historical records indicate the area was settled in the 1870s under the name Soda Springs. Situated about 20 miles north of the mining boomtown of Candelaria, it’s believed Soda Springs might have provided water to that mining camp and surrounding camps.
In 1881, the Carson & Colorado Railroad decided to locate a rail station and roundhouse at Soda Springs, which was renamed Sodaville. Additionally, a stage/freight line was established linking Sodaville to the mining community of Belmont (about 110 miles to the east).
Along with transportation-related enterprises, Sodaville also became a popular warm springs resort for locals.
By the early 1900s, Sodaville had become an important shipping point for ore coming out of Tonopah and Goldfield and supplies going back to those booming mining towns.
Sodaville also became the site of a couple of small milling operations, which worked ore from nearby mining camps.
Nevada history writer Stanley Paher has noted that in 1904, there was such demand for faster travel between the Carson & Colorado terminus at Sodaville and Tonopah that the horsedrawn wagons were replaced with Stanley Roadsters boasting 32-horsepower engines and room for up to 16 passengers.
The trip, which previously had taken an entire day, was now possible in a blazing six to eight hours.
Sodaville’s usefulness as a regional transportation hub soon came to an end following establishment of the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad in the summer of 1904, which offered quicker, cheaper and better service.
A year later, the Carson & Colorado’s owners decided to relocate its operations from Sodaville to Mina.
In about 1915, tungsten was discovered in the mountains west of Sodaville and by the mid-1920s, a tungsten mill, the Silver Dyke, was erected in the community.
These mining operations, however, were short-lived and Sodaville quickly slipped into obscurity. Today, only a few buildings, foundations and mounds of dirt mark the site of the original settlement.
A perhaps apocryphal story about Sodaville appeared in the “WPA Guide to Nevada,” published in 1940. According to the guide, in 1904 a notorious local gunman named “Two-Gun” Mike Kennedy had been bullying camp residents for some time when he encountered a quite but determined miner named James Lund.
Kennedy had been messing with Lund, who, tired of the harassment, challenged the gunman to a shootout. According to the story, Lund was unarmed, so “Two-Gun” Kennedy loaned one of his pistols to the miner.
The two squared off in the center of town, with residents lining both sides. Despite his reputation as the “toughest man ever to emerge from the East,” Kennedy was no match for Lund, who apparently fired all six of his bullets into Kennedy’s body. The sharpshooting Lund, however, was unharmed and, it was said, walked back into the saloon for another drink.
While little remains of the community, Sodaville has been in the news for two non-mining related reasons in recent decades. In the late 20th century, naturalists discovered that the area was the site of a rare plant known as the Sodaville milkvetch (or Astragalus lntiginosus var. sequimelralis), a member of the pea family.
According to reports, the Sodaville milkvetch has only been found at two locations in Nevada and one in California. It can be recognized by its divided leaves, purple flowers and inflated, elongated seed pods.
The Sodaville milkvetch only flourishes in moist, alkaline clay flats near springs and around desert seeps, such as the marshy spring-fed areas found at Sodaville. As a result, it was included on federal endangered species lists until recently.
The other reason Sodaville has been in the news in recent decades was in the 1990s, when an entrepreneur acquired ownership of the area’s hot springs and decided to raise Australian red claw crawfish, which resemble small lobsters, in tanks fed by the springs.
For a time, he was fairly successful, advertising to travelers on U.S. 95 that they should stop in to pick up what he called “Desert Lobsters.” At the peak of his operations, he had more than a half-million of the shellfish in his tanks.
Unfortunately, however, he neglected to obtain the proper permits from state wildlife officials to commercially farm a non-native species. Concerned that the crawfish might migrate into other nearby warm springs, some of which contain threatened or sensitive species, his operation was shut down.
According to news reports at the time, the would-be crawfish magnate wasn’t supposed to sell the crawfish live, which he was apparently doing. After repeated warnings, wildlife officials raided the crawfish farm and killed off the invasive species by pouring chlorine bleach into the tanks.
So, the next time you’re heading south on U.S. 95 and you’ve just passed the town of Mina, pause for a moment at Sodaville to ponder “Two-Gun” Kennedy, the infamous Desert Lobsters and the rare milkvetch.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.

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