Carson Valley’s buried treasures, unsolved murders, and celebrity weddings |

Carson Valley’s buried treasures, unsolved murders, and celebrity weddings

by Lisa Gavon
Special to The R-C
Members of the Douglas County Historical Society listen to a presentation by Alpine County historian Karen Dustman.
Lisa Gavon

He was close to death. The man was an inmate at the Nevada State Prison for many years, serving a sentence for crimes other than the stagecoach robbery at Double Springs. As the grim reaper drew nearer, he decided to share the location where he had buried $17,000 in gold coin. He had finally realized that his buried treasure would do him no good at all where he was headed.

This tale was related at one of the talks in the Heritage Lecture Series at the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center this month. Author Karen Dustman presented stories from her newly released book, Forgotten Tales of Carson Valley.

The location of the robbery had long been a special spot to the Washoe Tribe. The land was a rich pinyon pine forest, providing an abundant harvest of pine nuts: the cornerstone of their diet. Now the acreage was rich in stolen gold too. Armed with a gun and a shovel, the man admitted to robbing the stage that had come from Aurora on that fateful day in 1863. He entombed the box, thinking he would return.

Many have tried to find it. One fellow “dug up a good sized ranch,” another used a divining rod, and one poor fellow said he saw the spot in a dream, only to arrive at a hundred desert vistas that looked just the same.

Karen also shared the details of two unsolved and grisly murder mysteries. At a house near the old Boyd Toll Road, Anna Sarmon was killed by an ax blow to her head in 1895. She was found in her bed that had been set on fire. The second murder was at a first class hotel where the wife of James Dean had been beaten and drowned: her head shoved into a bucket. Dustman reports that no one was ever charged in either of these 19th century “cold cases.”

Karen and Rick Dustman have a “big mission for a small press.” The first volume they published required extensive research on Silver Mountain City in Alpine County. Through it, they realized they had found their passion. Karen went on to write a parcel of self-guided tour books exploring historic sites and old cemeteries in our area. She has even written several volumes on how you can put together your own memoir or family story.

Karen penned two extremely successful home improvement books early in her writing career. They won her spots on top television shows including Discovery Channel, the Weekend Edition of the Today Show, Good Day New York, Woman’s Day TV, HGTV, and the Howie Mandel show. She has had magazine articles appear in publications such as Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle, Natural Health, and Westways. She has a wide range of interests, and she explores all that fascinates her.

Today the couple has worked together to produce many volumes translating the oral history of our community elders. Karen has done podcasts, YouTube tutorials, published more magazine articles, and maintains her own Blog.

Since they decided to launch Clairitage Press in 2011, it has grown to be the center of their lives. They want to capture local Nevada and California history before it vanishes and help people to preserve their own family history. Karen says: “All we really have are our stories. Find them out there in the world, or in your heart. Speak them plainly. Love them. And pass them on.”

They combined the word “Heritage” with the name of Karen’s mother: Claire. Claire Marie Christy Dale had a deep fascination for an old brick railroad station in New London, Connecticut near their home. She fought fervently to keep the building from being demolished. Karen reports many people helped save the train station from being destroyed but that, “It was Claire’s single-minded tenacity that was definitely at the core.” Growing up, there were always stacks of reports, letters, and newspapers spread out over the family’s dining room table. Claire was someone who never gave up.

Claire’s zeal for justice and for preserving history were passed down exponentially to Karen, along with a deep sense of dedication to one’s community. Before her career chronicling the past, she was a lawyer and then a District Attorney.

Claire left this earthly realm in 2002. Clairitage Press was not even a star on the horizon then. Karen says, “It would have made her happy, I think, just to know that so many folks treasure history, and get so excited about uncovering and preserving these wonderful stories.” You can tell Karen is remembering her bright smile as she relates this happy message.

Karen has a free bi-weekly history newsletter. You can find past issues and sign up for free at the Clairitage blog. You can order her wide selection of books by going to,, or on Amazon. However, it may be easier to come to the Carson Valley Museum during the Shop Small event on Nov. 30 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The sale gives you 10% off everything, and 20% off if you are a Historical Society Member.

Forgotten Tales of Carson Valley even tells about the wedding of film legend Clark Gable to actress Kay Williams. They showed up at the courthouse in 1955, but Justice of the Peace Walt Fisher was at home. They ended up being married right at his house on Mono Avenue. His wife just missed the ceremony, which was held in front of their living room fireplace.

Karen and Rick conceived this book by wondering about the “Ugly Duckling” buildings here in Carson Valley. These ancient run-down and boarded-up structures all had fascinating histories of their own to tell. Their excellent research skills have allowed them to print yet another riveting volume.