It’s fitting that Nevada’s oldest town offers two of the official registered statewide events celebrating Nevada’s 150th birthday.
The 5th annual Genoa Cowboy Festival, May 2 to 4, is one of the 150 sesquicentennial “signature” events by the Statewide Nevada 150 Commission leading up to Nevada Day, says town manager Phil Ritger. The other, of course, is the Genoa Candy Dance, held annually in September.
Ritger expects the Carson Valley Historic Ranch Tour, set for May 2, will remind people that Genoa and the early ranches in the Valley were stable components for the foundation of statehood.
“This is a unique opportunity to visit four different ranches in the Valley,” Ritger said: Bently Ranch, formerly part of the Dangberg Ranches; Mack-Springmeyer Ranch; Stodieck Farm; and Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park.
Tour guide Dr. Michael E. Fischer, a retired Valley dentist who led last year’s historic ranch tour, said he will draw upon his nearly four decades of working with ranching families. His goal, he said, is to offer visitors a better understanding of Carson Valley agriculture and the ranchers’ deep respect for the land.
Fischer uses anecdotes and humor to keep his discussions moving. “With my love of the past, there’s always a lot of history and family stories that get mixed in,” Fischer said. “I try to make it lighthearted and interesting because a lot of old ranchers were patients of mine and they shared their firsthand knowledge. From 9 a.m. to about 4:30 p.m. you get almost eight hours of full-on entertainment and education, and you get to go places you wouldn’t normally get to go.”
The bus tour begins at the Genoa Cemetery, established in 1865. As the bus rolls down Genoa Lane toward Highway 395, Fischer will briefly talk about Ranch One, operated by the same family since 1909, the Genoa Hanging Tree and the Foothill Road area, the location of the emigrant trail of the 1850s.
Agricultural practices were different on ranches set at the base of the foothills where water came off the face of the Carson Range, Fischer said. In the center of the Valley, ranchers turned to the Carson River for irrigation water.
“H.F. Dangberg Sr. was the first one to have a ranch in the center of the Valley,” Fischer said. He established it in 1856. “Places in the center of the Valley used entirely river water, and later some even pumped water. We will talk about the development of the river and water rights.”
A theme that runs through the tour will be the contrast from early-day farming to modern practices and how ranchers today must diversify as well as engage in sustainable agricultural methods.
At the historic Sheep Camp, now part of Bently Ranch, visitors will learn how the ranch is converting to organic beef and in the future will have its own label for retail sale. Unlike H.F. Dangberg’s ranch hands of the 1850s who were limited to what water they had rights to in the river, Bently Ranch employees can supplement field irrigation with wastewater, properly known as treated effluent.
“The bottom line is we will talk about how they have changed,” Fischer said. “Change is important for ranchers to survive in this day and age.”
Yet returning to the ranch’s roots is important, too. Christopher Bently, owner of Bently Ranch, is looking to open the long unused Minden Mill as a distillery. Rye grown at the ranch will eventually be distilled into whiskey in the renovated building.
“It was a granary and mill (built by the Minden Milling Corporation) where the local ranch grain could be stored, sold or processed, and now they are going to make spirits in it,” Fischer said. “It’s important for a community to keep that continuity and move forward with it. That’s a really nice adaptive reuse of an historic building.”
Next on the tour is the Mack-Springmeyer Ranch, which began business as the H.H. Springmeyer Ranch well over 140 years ago. Springmeyer’s son-in-law Maurice Mack took over the ranch, and one or more of his descendants will join in the discussion of how they have adapted to changing times and kept the family business intact.
“They have raised hay for race horses, angus cattle and commercial cattle. They did all kinds of things to make them able to stay in business on the same ground since early statehood,” Fischer said.
After lunch at the J.T. Basque Bar & Dining Room in Gardnerville, the tour will continue at the Stodieck Farm, which boasts the log cabin built by the original owner in 1864.
Frederick Wilhelm Stodieck bought the farm in 1868 with $2,000 in gold coin. In an effort to keep the business going, early-day Stodiecks owned a commercial cattle herd, operated a dairy and raised hogs. Present owner Frederick C. Stodieck will discuss the various ways the family has been able to retain the property during good and bad times.
The last stop on the tour is the Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park. Fischer said curator Mark Jensen has arranged a new exhibit specifically for the tour with items from the more than 39,000 Dangberg family artifacts, including many things that haven’t been seen in years.
“We will talk about the fields around the home ranch and how the management (by current owner Park Cattle Co.) of cattle has changed,” Fischer added. “I will talk about the historic practices…getting water out of the river and how cattle were managed in the early days versus later days.”
Although the tour doesn’t actually touch on the Nevada sesquicentennial, Fischer said these ranches and the families still running two of them reach back to the territorial and early statehood era.
“It is interesting that those ranches, at least and the Mack-Springmeyer and Stodieck places, have been in the same hands, and those hands have been adapting to what they have to do to stay in business,” Fischer said.
“Since the Dangberg Ranch dates back to the preterritorial period and Stodieck Farm and Mack-Springmeyer date to early statehood, it’s a unique experience to be on those places and hear from those people.”
Last year’s historic tour was sold out. Tickets are $125, with lunch at the J.T. Basque Bar & Dining Room in Gardnerville and bus transportation included. Visitors should wear layers of comfortable clothes and sturdy walking shoes.
Visit www.genoacowboyfestival.org to order tickets for the Carson Valley Historic Ranch Tour, other ticketed Genoa Cowboy Festival events and main stage performances. Day passes allow entry to various activities and performances by festival favorites. On tap are cowboy music and poetry; demonstrations; western art, clothing, gear and food; workshops; Emigrant Trail and Genoa Cemetery tours; Native American Cultural and Historic Center; Chautauqua presentations and historical plays; and a bird walk. Main stage performers include Hot Club of Cowtown, Rondstadt Generations, Dave Stamey, Mary Kaye and Paul Zarzyski. There are also many free events.
“You get almost eight hours of full-on entertainment and education, and you get to go places you wouldn’t normally get to go.”
Dr. Michael E. Fischer,
Carson Valley Historic Ranch Tour guide