The contents of a metal time capsule, recently discovered after being buried in a school foundation for 135 years in the ghost town of Aurora, have become the source of a modern-day dispute.
The community near the California border between Bridgeport and Hawthorne is abandoned now. But in July 1864, it was a bustling community that rivaled Virginia City, with enough residents to warrant creation of a school district.
A document recording that event and the selection of a board of trustees, along with nine previously unknown issues of the Esmeralda Daily Union, were found in July by Tina Munoz of Gardnerville in a sealed metal cylinder.
Now, that cylinder has become the center of a controversy - not over the validity or historic importance of the papers, but over who owns them.
Munoz says they're hers. She found the the cylinder after her daughter knocked a piece of the old school house foundation loose.
U.S. Forest Service officials say she could be right. But until they're sure, agent Wayne Smith seized the papers and the cylinder under the Archaeological Resource Protection Act. He said they have important historic significance and were found on Forest Service land.
"I can't discuss the case, but I seized the property as evidence in an investigation to protect it," he said.
Munoz says the agent had no right to take the papers, which she had given to state archives manager Jeff Kintop for examination.
"He took them with no warrant, no writ, no receipt," said Munoz. "There was no due process here."
And she said she wants them back.
Kintop says Smith confiscated the papers Oct. 8 pending an investigation of who owns them but that he microfilmed them first so the contents are available to historians while the argument is resolved.
Smith says those actions required of him under federal laws designed to prevent the private sale of historic and archaeological treasures that rightfully belong to the public.
"If they were sold in the meantime, then it would be much harder to get them back," he said. "We're talking about the heritage of the people of Nevada."
The papers include a four-page, handwritten description of the creation of the Esmeralda County School District in July 1864 which states that the document would be placed in a time capsule and enclosed in the school foundation under construction at the time. The document also says that Aurora had just been confirmed to be in Nevada instead of California by a survey team.
Enclosed with the document were nine previously unrecorded issues of the Esmeralda Daily Union so well protected by the metal case that the paper was still white and not even brittle. They begin June 20 and run through July 2 of 1864 and include the Union Platform of Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party.
"Too bad that July 4 isn't included," said Kintop. "But they have all these references to people and events."
He said all the detail contained in the newspapers is what historians are most enthused about because "it helps us tie things together at that time."
"This is just a wonderful find," he said.
Although they are arguing over ownership of the papers, Munoz says it's not the money but the principal. She said the cylinder was found on a patented mining claim and that she has the owner's permission to keep the documents.
While Smith said he couldn't discuss any details of the investigation, he said the exact location of the find is one of the things that must be determined. He said the materials could well be state or federal property, in which case they would probably be turned over to a museum for study, very likely the Nevada State Museum and Archives.
Munoz said she doubts the papers are actually worth much money, but other historians say there is financial value to historic documents.