Dennis Cassinelli: Nevada bunkhouse displayed at Smithsonian
The town of Paradise Valley lies about 40 miles north of Winnemucca. It’s a beautiful old town, like something out of an old western cowboy movie. The valley is dotted with large, active cattle ranches dating back to the 1860s. One of the ranches, known as the old Mill Ranch at the far north end of the valley, has been owned by my uncle, Bob Cassinelli, and his family for many years. Bob is deceased, but his wife, Georgene, and son, Danny, still call the place their home. Prior to the Cassinellis’ ownership of the ranch, there were many other owners going back to the 1860s when the Silver State Flour Mill was built on the ranch, and it’s still standing.
In 1980, the bunkhouse at the ranch was selected for display at the Smithsonian’s “Buckaroos in Paradise” exhibition in Washington, D.C. This bunkhouse form is the basic building block for most American folk house types. Its prime features are its one-room square or rectangular shape with the door in a long side and a gable roof. Though scholars call this a “single-pen house,” the people who make and use them just call them cabins or bunkhouses. Today, one might just call the 8-by-10 structure a “tiny house.”
The bunkhouse was acquired by the Smithsonian from Bob Cassinelli at the Mill Ranch. Originally, it was built for John Schneider in about 1920 by Teddy Weller for rancher Lorenzo Recanzone. Schneider was an immigrant German trapper who came to the ranch in the 1920s and stayed on as a ranch hand and jack-of-all-trades. Called “Coyote John” or “Hans,” Schneider was well-known in Humboldt County in his later years working at the Mill Ranch. Schneider, who lived in the bunkhouse, became an informal member of the Recanzone family, who found him to be a stout worker and loyal friend who was able to protect the women and children when the men were working away from the ranch. Carlo Recanzone remembers from his childhood at the Mill Ranch when Schneider chased a threatening stranger away with his trusty “thirty-thirty” Winchester.
People from the Smithsonian came to the ranch to arrange to remove the bunkhouse for the Smithsonian’s “Buckaroos in Paradise” exhibit. Bob Cassinelli agreed to donate the bunkhouse to the Smithsonian and allow them to dismantle the structure board by board, numbering each piece and reassembling it at the exhibit site.
After the exhibition was over, the bunkhouse remained the permanent property of the Smithsonian to be displayed at various times and locations featuring the lifestyle typical of early Nevada and the American West.
Other Paradise Valley ranchers, including Les Stewart, contributed photographs, chaps, branding irons and other artifacts from their ranches to help create the most interesting exhibit of Nevada ranch history ever assembled. If you ever visit the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., check to see where the exhibit is being displayed, or visit the Smithsonian website.
This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted on his blog at denniscassinelli.com. All Dennis’ books sold through this publication will be at a 50 percent discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.