Is there a bright side to a Depression? | NevadaAppeal.com
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Is there a bright side to a Depression?

Barry Ginter

If you go to Sean McMurry’s talk on Oct. 28, you might come away with the idea that a Depression wouldn’t be as bad as it sounds.

McMurry, who’s researched the Great Depression for a number of years, will talk about what she learned by studying a place in Nevada called Rabbithole Springs, which is just north of Lovelock in Pershing County. Nobody lives there now, but there were anywhere from 50 to 400 people scraping out a living there during the Depression, which lasted for about a decade beginning in 1929.

What did she learn from archaeological remains and from talking to people who lived there?

“It was one of the more positive parts of their lives,” she said. “It was a time when people could count on each other; you had to rely on your neighbors and your own fortitude to make it through.”

Don’t think that McMurry, 27, is advocating for another one, though. Nor that she is romanticizing the suffering the Depression brought ” people starved. Even the Rabbithole miners had to live on jackrabbits on occasion, and anyone who’s eaten one of those knows the level of desperation that would take.

McMurry, who is a Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), and an intern at the Nevada State Museum, said Rabbithole typified a trend during the Depression: Many people went back to the land rather than looking for government handouts. For some, that meant mining, and the trend is called the “automobile gold rush.”

In Rabbithole, they worked placer mines, looking for tiny bits of gold.

“People would mine for their daily beans,” said McMurry.

It was hard work, but through it all they didn’t forget the importance of community.

On Saturdays, for example, they’d get together for a pie social. They’d pass the hat around if someone got married or had a baby, giving whatever they could spare.

“That’s something a number of people from the Depression haven’t felt since,” she said.

Though McMurry is no economist, she wondered even before the current economic mess whether something as bad as the Depression was about to happen again. People just seem to be overextended, she said.

If the economy does sink to that level again, will people react the same way?

Let’s hope we won’t have to find out, but if it happens, McMurry is optimistic that the strength of human nature would prevail and people would pull together once again.

“I really think that people could pull together and mitigate the effects of the Depression,” she said.

McMurry’s talk, Depression-era Mining in Rabbithole Springs, Nevada, will be part of the Nevada State Museum’s Frances Humphrey lecture series. It will begin at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call Deborah Stevenson, Curator of Education at 775-687-4810 ext. 237.

Talking with McMurry reminded me of another call I took this week, from a Carson City woman named Inga. She started the conversation by talking about the man who found some of Steve Fossett’s belongings in California, including $1,000 cash. That hiker turned in the cash, rather than keeping it for himself, and said he wasn’t interested in a reward.

“He could have kept it because nobody would have known,” she said. “There are honest people in the world.”

She hopes it is one of those people who has found the small weather wallet she dropped on Monday ” she believes it happened while she was visiting her bank. Inside was $250.

Inga, 73, who lost her husband five years ago, cried as she talked about what that much money means to her. While she’s hopeful the person who found the wallet will turn it in, she is not optimistic.

“Now naturally the times are so bad everyone is in such a money crunch,” she said. “Whoever is going to find a $250 wallet is going to keep it.”

Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. You can reach him at 881-1221 or at bginter@nevadaappeal.com