Richard Moreno: Who was Major William Ormsby? (Part 4)



In the end, some 76 members of the citizen militia died in the battle at Pyramid Lake (and, according to reports, only three Paiutes perished). The survivors straggled into Dayton and other settlements to spread the word of the disastrous encounter.

Within days, news of the massacre had spread throughout Northern Nevada and California. In Virginia City, women and children were herded into a stone building for safety and sentinels were posted around the community.

In late May, a more well-armed, experienced and supervised force of more than 200 U.S. Army troops and about 550 volunteers from Northern California and Northern Nevada came together to march on Pyramid Lake for a second battle.

This time, the result was a draw with the Native American forces, said to number about 300, ultimately retreating and dispersing following a fierce three-hour battle.

Following the June 2 battle, Major William Ormsby’s body, which had been temporarily buried on the battlefield, was taken to Carson City, where he was interred in the Pioneer section of what is now the Lone Mountain Cemetery.

However, according to Chris W. Bayer, author of “Profits, Plots, and Lynching: The Creation of the Nevada Territory,” Ormsby’s daughter had his remains removed from Carson City in the 1880s and reburied in Northern California (some sources claim Oakland, Calif.).

Bayer said Ormsby’s body was cremated in 1908 and reburied at an unknown location, although some say his ashes were taken to New York.

Margaret Ormsby, who built an elegant home at 302 S. Minnesota St., in Carson City two years after her husband’s death, remained active for a time in the Carson City community and managed the family assets, which included considerable real estate and some mining claims.

She remarried in 1863, to a doctor, John H. Wayman (the marriage ceremony was performed by Acting Territorial Gov. Orion Clemens, brother of writer Mark Twain). The couple relocated to California and she died three years later in San Francisco at the age of 48.


On March 2, 1861, the Nevada Territory was created by an act of Congress. As part of the act, the territory contained nine counties, including Ormsby County, named to honor the brave, fallen Major William Ormsby. Carson City was designated seat of the new county.

In 1969, however, the Ormsby name was discarded when a combined city-county government, simply named Carson City, was created.

The original Ormsby House, owned by Margaret Ormsby for several years after her husband’s death, remained a popular lodging house into the late 1800s. But by the early 20th century, the property, now called the Park Hotel, was in decline.

When it was purchased in 1932 by the Laxalt family, the old Ormsby was, according to at least one historian, little more than a flophouse, and was torn down.

A newer, grander Ormsby House Hotel and Casino, built at Fifth and Carson streets by the Laxalt family in 1972, thrived for several decades before it closed in 2000. In spite of a decade-and-a-half-long renovation project initiated by later owners, the property remains closed.


Had Maj. William Ormsby not been killed on the muddy, bloody and chaotic battlefield near Pyramid Lake, he probably would have returned to Carson City a hero for simply surviving the skirmish.

His fine hotel would have made him the toast of the future capital city. No doubt, he would have continued to expand his financial holdings to become an extremely important and prominent member of the community and the state. He might even have been elected to public office — perhaps as one of Nevada’s first governors or U.S. senators.

Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.


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