Dennis Cassinelli: Why no one ever told me about Uncle Bert
I suppose every family has an Uncle Bert hidden away in the dark recesses of family ancestry. I never realized our family had an Uncle Bert until my research into our family tree revealed he even existed.
Certainly, none of the old family members I grew up with ever mentioned his name or even hinted that such a person existed. At first, I could not understand why no one had ever talked about anyone named Bert Cassinelli. I would have thought that the brother of my great-grandfather, Pietro Cassinelli, would have been mentioned at some time or another during my lifetime.
I know from newspaper accounts that Pietro suspected Bert and cousin Vitoria of setting his house, haystack and barn on fire in February 1896, but this was never proven to be true.
The case was taken all the way to the Nevada Supreme Court. The final award was for the plaintiff, Vitoria, in the amount of $305. This was hardly worth the time and effort, not to mention the bad blood it stirred up within the family.
I do remember several times asking the older family members about the old days when the family started out in Dayton in the late 1800s. For some reason unknown to me at the time, they were reluctant to talk to me at all about the old family or the things that happened back in those days more than 110 years ago.
I have since dug up enough information to form some opinions on why no one was willing to talk to me about the early days in Dayton.
Bert (or Bartholomeo) Cassinelli was born in Tuscany, Italy, in 1870. At age 18, he moved to the United States. Bert and his brother, Pietro (my great-grandfather), along with two cousins, worked their way west across the United States from the East Coast.
They worked for a time driving cattle along the Chisholm Trail from Texas to Kansas and eventually found their way to Dayton, Nevada during the waning days of the Comstock boom. They worked on a ranch in Dayton which Pietro was able to secure ownership. The family grew hay, garlic, onions, potatoes, livestock and vegetable crops, which they sold in Virginia City and other mining towns around the region.
The following are some interesting newspaper accounts I found of things Bert did during the time he spent in Dayton:
“ARRESTED FOR FIGHTING: B. Cassinelli, of this place, got into a fight in Carson, with a Swiss, and pulled his gun to shoot. The Authorities in Carson tried to arrest him but he got away from them and came to Dayton where he was arrested Wednesday by the deputy Sheriff of Ormsby county, and taken back to Carson. (Lyon County Times, Oct. 8, 1893).”
“AN ITALIAN INSTANCE: Bert Cassinelli and his cousin had a row with his brother and his wife last Thursday morning at the Fish Ranch across the river, and gave the man and woman a severe drubbing. Cassinelli, the abused party, had his brother and cousin arrested a few hours after and lodged in jail. They were taken to Silver City yesterday morning for trial before Justice Walker, Justice Hawkins of this place, being absent from town. The men were discharged at the hearing, the testimony showing that Bert Cassinelli asked for some money coming to him, and Pietro, his brother, then attacked him, and he only took his own part (Lyon County Times, Nov. 25, 1893).”
“FALL FIGHTS: Bert Cassinelli and A. Scanavino had a row last Thursday evening. Scanavino got hit on the head with a chair but afterwards got Cassinelli down and was putting a fine finish on him when he was interrupted by outside parties. No arrests. (Lyon County Times, Jan. 1, 1898).”
“THE CORPSE DISAPPEARED: Thursday morning Butch Baglin found what he supposed was a corpse in the stable back of the butcher shop. A pair of feet were sticking out from between two piles of baled hay and Butch could not arouse the individual they belonged to. He therefore summoned the Coroner, Sheriff and a crowd to go to the stable, but upon arrival there, the corpse was gone. It was discovered afterwards that Bert Cassinelli had only been taking a morning snooze. (Lyon County Times, Dec. 16, 1899).”
“A CONSIDERABLY CHEWED THUMB: About six weeks ago Otto Schroeder, a saloon keeper, and Bert Cassinelli got into a fight at Dayton, during which the latter got the former’s finger and thumb in his mouth and chewed them considerably before Schroeder could get away. Schroeder did not pay much attention to the injured members at the time and dressed them himself; but in a few days his injured hand caused him much pain. He came to this city and Friday, Dr. Pickard amputated the thumb. The trouble was caused by Cassinelli calling upon his wife, from whom he was divorced a short time ago, and who went to live in a house owned by Schroeder. The latter ordered Cassinelli from the premises and a fight ensued. (Daily Independent, Jan. 16, 1902. Originally reported in the Virginia City Enterprise).”
I recently saw a photo of Schroeder in a book written by Laura Tenant that shows that the entire hand had become infected and was amputated.
The moral of the story is this: If you shake your family tree hard enough, some rotten apples are sure to fall out. Despite a few rascals, our family has endured and is proud to have so many members who contributed to the settlement of the Wild West. Times were tough in those days. It took tough men and women to cope with the conditions of the time.
This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli. You can order his books at a discount on his blog at denniscassinelli.com.