Thursday lecture features historian Mary Mathews |

Thursday lecture features historian Mary Mathews

by Caryn Haller

For her first public speaking engagement pinenut resident Tammy Mathews Degenhart's subject is a familiar one — her great-great-great-grandmother, Mary McNair Mathews.

Degenhart is speaking Thursday about Mathews' memoir "Ten Years in Nevada or Life on the Pacific Coast," for the Douglas County Historical Society's lecture series.

"So many people don't know their backgrounds," Degenhart said. "To read the book and know it's your ancestor is interesting."

Degenhart said she sees a lot of similarities between herself and her ancestor. Born in San Francisco, Degenhart's parents homesteaded some property in Juniper Valley above the Johnson Lane area in 1952, and started a ranch.

After graduating from Douglas County High School in 1963, she married German immigrant Ludwig A. Degenhart and raised her three children in the Valley while running her own ranch.

"I built my own ranch and she built her own boarding house," Degenhart said. "It's like being a pioneer just like she was."

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In 1880, Mathews published her memoir which talks about her life on the Comstock.

Originally from New York, Mathews owned a hoop skirt factory. But when her brother was shot in Goldfield she sold it to come out West and search for his killer.

During this time to support herself, Mathews opened two boarding houses in Virginia City which burned down, however, her third boarding house was successful.

"She was a woman of temperance and very honest," Degenhart said. "She took care of people there. She started the first soup kitchen in Virginia City."

Although she never found her brother's killer, Mathews stayed in Virginia City.

"She stayed because she liked it," Degenhart said. "She made friends with some higher-up people there, and she raised her son Charlie Weston there."

Weston became an actor at Piper's Opera House and later started his own acting troupe.

"She never talked about great-great-great-grandfather who must have been in the Civil war and died," Degenhart said.

After a decade in Virginia City, Mathews moved to Ukiaha, Calif., where she died.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Cost for the lecture is $3, or free to historical society members.

The Carson Valley Museum & Cultural Center is located at 1477 Highway 395 in Gardnerville.

For more information, call 782-2555 or visit

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