Newspaper pages discuss payment in ‘chicken fixins’
Special to the Appeal
Some of the earliest and most reliable accounts of early Nevada history come from the Territorial Enterprise while it was still being published in Genoa. Carson activity really didn’t exist in any “real news” form. News came by letter through those willing to share information carried overland from the territorial capitol, Salt Lake City. World news came when couriers brought publications from Placerville along the route that U.S. 50 takes today.
When the snow cleared, people like John A. Thompson, (“Snowshoe Thompson”) made their way over the Sierras past Lake Bigler (Lake Tahoe) not by snowshoes, but by skis. The westbound trip typically took two days to Placerville, while the eastbound trip took three days. Thompson, who later died of appendicitis, delivered the mail between those two points and later to Virginia City for 20 years and claimed never to carry a blanket or to get lost. He was also credited for never being paid for his work.
In 1857, most of the Mormons who had settled the valley had left in a great exodus to return to Salt Lake City. In a notice published on the front page of the Enterprise in February, 1859, it was claimed that only one Mormon remained on the eastern Sierra range that claimed more than one wife. The turmoil of the day concerned whether the new governor of the territory, Alfred Cumming, had turned Mormon.
Then the newspaper stopped.
“Although the temporary suspension of our paper has doubtless resulted in much greater injury to us than to our patrons, and the occurrence was the result of circumstances entirely beyond our control, we feel that we owe an apology to our subscribers which we can offer a statement of facts in connection with the matter.”
The publishers had ordered enough paper and materials to keep them through until spring, when overland coaches could bring more. But in February, 1859, when it snowed, everything stopped, so the paper stopped when they ran out of paper.
“We may as well mention in this connection that for the paper of this present issue, we are indebted to our worthy and esteemed friend, John K. Trumbo. His devotional friendship towards us led him to toil over the snow-clad summit of the mountains with the paper on his back – to the peril of his own life — to do that for us which he has not yet recovered. We would fain express our appreciation of such an act of kindness, and give vent to the emotions of gratitude which we feel towards one whose generous impulses led him thus to exert himself in our behalf.”
So, until the snow went away, the editors took out everything but the basics.
The news turned to one of the first murders of the day, the People Vs. John Hern. Hern was being tried for the murder of Elzy H. Knott, the son of T. Knott, the owner of the largest grist and saw mill in the valley at that time. On March 10, 1859, Chief Judge John S. Child brought the trial to order. It was agreed to adopt the statutes of California “on polite of law” and “definition of crime.” The defendant pleaded not guilty.
It had appeared that the two men were playing “freeze out” for candy and then for a pot of $5. The loss of $12 resulted in a bridle being given for the debt. One man died of a shotgun blast when the bridle was not returned.
Hern was found not guilty.
“There being some dissatisfaction expressed at the decision of the jury, a meeting of the people was called immediately after Court adjourned. Wm. M. Cary was elected President of said meeting.
“Mr. T. Knott offered the following resolution. Resolved, That the people shall keep in custody the body of John Hern until the next term of the District Court.” Ayes numbered 15. Nos, 17. After the meeting was adjourned, John Hern left town.
In the next column of that edition was a death notice of Knott and of Lulu, infant daughter of John J. and F. Musser, aged 3 years.
Camp Floyd was a U.S. Army post near Fairfield, Utah, constructed to house some 3,500 persons sent by President James Buchanan to quell the perceived Mormon rebellion, which came to be known as the Utah War. In 1858, it was the largest single troop concentration in the United States.
The Territorial Enterprise printed a day-by-day account of the trip from Camp Floyd to Genoa, some 620 miles in the dead of winter, by an unknown writer.
“We left Camp Floyd at 12 p.m. our party consisting of Major Prince, Lieut. Marmaduke in command of the escort, myself and two soldiers, with wagon master for guide, until we should overtake our gide, Mr. Miles and parties who had been sent on before.”
“Feb. 12th. – It being difficult to herd the mules, then wanting to wander in search of grass, we concluded to pack about 12 o’clock and go on, thinking we should come up with our party by daylight. Before going two miles the pack … spilled everything with the exception of the mess things, and started on the back track, with great clatter.”
“Feb 19th. -The mules got away from the herders in the night, and it was 10 o’clock before we got underway again. Struck Summit valley, the snow from one to two feet in depth, until we made a pass where we found it from 4 to 6 feet deep, with very heavy crust, and we were about six hours in making 3 miles.”
“Feb. 20th. – Saw over 200 antelopes feeding in Steptoe valley. Snow very shallow, not over 3 inches in depth. At 2 o’clock re-packed and went through a very low pass called by Mr. Egan Perkin’s pass, which led us into Round valley.”
Of note was the discovery of Egan’s pass, which cuts the trip some 50 miles. The trip had taken over 15 days, during one of the most severe periods of the year.
Even in 1859, there were complaints about newspaper delivery.
“Complaint – Frequent complaints have reached us from time to time, particularly from the upper portion of this Valley (Carson Valley, south of Carson City), regarding the delivery of our paper. It is plain to every one that it is highly detrimental to us to be negligent in the delivery of papers to our subscribers. Aside from personal interest we are desirous of doing all in our power for the accommodation of our patrons. If those who have cause for complaint will send us their names with directions how and where they wish their papers sent, we will warrant their prompt delivery.”
In the paper delivery department, the publishers decided that the newspaper should be published on a regular basis and as such, started sending friends – some six in all – across the mountains to Placerville to haul newsprint back on their backs. Lew Doron was first, bringing enough back for four or five weeks of publication. He was assisted by Mr. L.D. Noyes, brother E. B. Noyes, Messrs Kellog, Drew and Latimer.
“May their shadows never be less,” wrote the editors.
Not to be different then than now, newspapermen have taken payment in various ways. In tough times they asked readers to come to the rescue.
“To the Rescue. – To subscribers in the Valley we would be under many obligations, if they would pay for their paper in any kind of ‘chicken fixins,’ such as pork, beef, flour, potatoes, butter, eggs, ham, bacon, beans — in short, anything that will sustain the inner man, as we are woefully short of grub at this time, and there is none to be had in Genoa, for love or money. Printers, like other people, live by eating, and we have too much confidence in our subscribers after this notice to believe that they will allow us to remain upon short commons; so bring in hour comestibles as soon as possible.”
A great deal of space is taken weekly on new routes and shortcuts between Genoa and Salt Lake City. News comes from stage agents carrying farm implements to remote parts of the Carson River for stage stops. Mr. Theo Winter of Washoe Valley reported that preparations were underway for growing grain in that valley. Major Dodge, the local Indian agent returned from Salt Lake City after a trip of some 1,700 miles in less than a month scouting new trails that will shorten the route between the city and Genoa by some 100 miles.
At the Territorial Enterprise office, the boys have concluded that their lady friends have decided to no longer enliven that office with their presence.
“We know, ladies, that you are like angels, and we have often thought that you should occupy a sphere far above us – a midway station between heaven and earth, and should only descend now and then on a golden wire to cheer us with a smile, but why since you are confined to earth, do you make your visits so like those of angels?”
Judge Crain sends word from Washington that Congress has defeated again the Territory Bill, having been distracted by the slavery question, Nicaragua and Central America, the right of search, the tariff, Kansas and the Utah War that all other questions have been declined.
• Trent Dolan is the son of Bill Dolan, who wrote this column for the Nevada Appeal from 1947 until his death in 2006.