Dennis Cassinelli: How Yerington was named ‘Yerington’ | NevadaAppeal.com
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Dennis Cassinelli: How Yerington was named ‘Yerington’

By Dennis Cassinelli

Situated in Mason Valley on the Walker River, Yerington began its existence as a small trading post and whiskey store called Pizen Switch, a reflection on the poor quality of the whiskey sold there. When the tiny settlement had grown to a hamlet size, municipal pride demanded a more genteel name, so the citizens agreed on “Greenfield.”

A few years later, in the 1870s, the townspeople gambled that naming their modest town Yerington would be an enticement for V&T Superintendent Henry Yerington to extend a branch line of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad their way. Greenfield then became Yerington, but Henry did not extend the railroad to the town. It was not until the 1920s that copper mining activity justified bringing a railroad to Yerington.

Lyon County was one of the nine original Nevada counties created on Nov. 25, 1861. It was named after Nathaniel Lyon, the first Union general to be killed in the Civil War. Its first county seat was established at Dayton on Nov. 29, 1861. After the Dayton Courthouse burned down in 1909, the county seat was moved to Yerington in 1911. Being Lyon County residents, my wife, Mary, was once called for jury duty at the “new” Lyon County Courthouse in Yerington.

Joe Dini’s Lucky Club is a Yerington tradition, along with the historical footnote that boxer Jack Dempsey helped to lay the tile floor there during his Nevada roustabout years. Years later, he became the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion from 1919 to 1926. Despite its small-town lifestyle, Yerington’s Casino West offers the traditional enjoyments of dice, cards and video slot machines, and a variety of food and lodging is available.

In the Yerington Indian Colony is a monument to Yerington’s famous Native American, the Paiute prophet Wovoka. He was a major figure during the final downfall of the Indian nations. His Ghost Dance movement led to the slaughter at Wounded Knee. His vision of the return of the buffalo, and of the Native American lifeways, was an attractive prophecy to the native people whose culture was melting away, and it was fervently believed and spread through the Indian world. A granite monument that sketches his life stands within sight of the fields near Yerington where his wickiup was a common sight before his death in 1932. When I wrote my prehistoric novel, Legends of Spirit Cave, one of the characters in the book was a shaman that I named Akovow, which was Wovoka spelled backward.

Lyon County has three Nevada State Parks — Lake Lahontan, Dayton and Fort Churchill. The Fort Churchill State Park is located 25 miles north of Yerington. Fort Churchill was the first established in Nevada in 1860 following the Pyramid Lake Indian War. It was in use for just nine years and was abandoned soon after the Civil War. It was useful for suppression of the Paiute and Bannock Indian hostilities and to assist emigrants bound for California. The fort was made of adobe blocks with wooden roofs. The adobe has deteriorated substantially and just a few of the buildings remain intact.

Buckland station was built in 1861 using materials from Fort Churchill. It was used as a Pony Express stop, boarding house and home for the Buckland family. It is located across the highway from Fort Churchill. The Fort Churchill park includes a picnic area and a trail along the Carson River across the bridge. My family and I once found a Great Basin Crescent and some arrowheads on private property across the river from the park.

Dennis Cassinelli is a Dayton author and historian. You can order his books at a discount on his blog at denniscassinelli.com.