‘Devils Will Reign:’ The story of us
For her ninth Nevada history book, author Sally Zanjani has come home.
In “Devils Will Reign: How Nevada Began,” Zanjani covers the turbulent 10 years beginning with the arrival of John Reese in Carson Valley in 1851 through 1861 when Nevada became a territory.
“It’s breathtaking how fast it all happened,” she said in a recent interview.
Published this spring by the University of Nevada Press, the book is an account of the crucible forged by the arrival of frontiersmen, Mormon emigrants and the Washoe and Paiute Indians who had already laid claim to the eastern Sierra.
Other contributing factors were the discovery of gold in California and the national debate over slavery.
“The story here had never been told before in depth or detail,” Zanjani said. “It’s an original story of where we came from and, some would say, we still are.”
As Zanjani shows, settlers had not come to stay.
“In those early days, it was not largely composed of people who came to build up the community,” she said. “They came in to get rich and get out.”
That decade marked the arrival of the area’s legends: John Reese, Snowshoe Thompson, Orson Hyde, William Stewart, Henry Comstock, Chief Truckee, Chief Winnemucca, Sarah Winnemucca, Lucky Bill Thorington, Peleg Brown, Ben Palmer, William Ormsby, the Grosh brothers and Judge John Cradlebaugh.
Zanjani’s favorite character is Judge Cradlebaugh, a U.S. District judge assigned to the territory. Cradlebaugh Bridge was named for his family.
“Upon his arrival in Genoa, the town received him with firing cannons and ‘every demonstration of joy.’ In early October Cradlebaugh convened court in Genoa in a second-floor room that could be accessed only by ladder, but legal talents new to the region made the climb,” Zanjani writes.
Through letters and early newspaper accounts readers get a glimpse of the hardships pressed upon the emigrants from the desert crossings to the treacherous conquest of the Sierra. Diaries and letters from those rough-and-tumble times chronicle the day-to-day struggles.
“This hot, barren desert and the mighty wall of mountains that guarded it in the West were the last and most terrible ordeal of a journey optimistically begun months earlier at the edge of the Plains. All was stripped to the essentials now – life, water, food, and somehow putting one foot ahead of the other.”
Newcomers to Carson Valley would agree with the image of its earliest settlers:
“At last they arrived in the Carson Valley, with its verdant grasses, where hundreds of animals grazed; its timbered mountain slopes, where pure, cold brooks cascaded down; and its civilized wood buildings at Mormon Station, where a traveler could dine on grizzly steak or sage-hen soup, as well as more common fare,” Zanjani writes.
At the Nevada Historical Society, Zanjani pored over everything from divorce records to previously unpublished letters, some bearing the Snowshoe Thompson postmark.
She also credits the “top-notch” research of Minden historian Robert Ellison and his wife Marion.
Zanjani, a Reno resident, is an adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at UNR. But, since childhood, she has been a frequent visitor to Carson Valley.
Her parents, George and Sallie Springmeyer, brought their children to the ranch at Mud Lake south of Gardnerville almost every weekend.
Sallie Springmeyer, who celebrates her 103rd birthday in August, permanently moved to the ranch in the 1960s following the death of her husband.
Zanjani dedicated “Devils Will Reign” to her grandparents Wilhelmine Springmeyer and Herman Henry.
Zanjani takes no sides in the dispute over whether Genoa or Dayton is Nevada’s oldest town.
“I have friends on both sides,” she demurred.
Having opened the book with the settlement of Mormon Station, Zanjani leaves the reader with this image of Gold Canyon at the end of the story:
“In this neglected place, we stand upon historic ground, because it was in this canyon so many years ago, along this creek of rounded, water-smoothed, gray stones, lined with trees greening with spring, the gateway to the great Comstock Lode, that Nevada really began.”
“The position of the eastern slope as the periphery appears central to the ensuing events. On the periphery, where the worlds of Indians, frontiersmen, and Mormons met, conflict may well have been inevitable.”
Introduction: Where Three Worlds Met; page 5
“At the same time, he (Orson Hyde) strongly urged Brigham Young to send more colonists, especially voters, to overwhelm the Gentiles in elections and occupy the empty spaces that might otherwise be filled by Gentiles from California. He proposed one hundred men traveling west in early spring with sealed instructions: ‘It is necessary for a strong force to be here. The country is worthy, but Devils will reign unless we get in so thick that there is no chance for them.'”
Chapter Four: The Mormons Take Charge, 1855, page 61
“The struggle was over, and in an amazingly short time. Nevadans had been granted their territory and a scant three years later their state. Of the elements who faced off at the beginning, the Mormons had retreated, the Indians had been marginalized, and the old Californians ruled triumphant.”
Chapter 11: Territory! 1861; page 167