Nevada magazine points up Genoa-Dayton controversy
What do you think? Should a town be counted as being established even if there are no permanent building structures, yet dozens of “residents” have grouped together to live in tents while looking for their fortune in mining?
Or, should a town be counted as being established only when the first permanent structure is built, indicating a commitment to stay and cultivate land for agriculture?
This question is at the heart of the ages-old “Who’s first?” debate between Genoa and Dayton. The dispute has been thrust into the limelight this week because of a featured article in the October issue of Nevada Magazine.
Many residents of the two towns disagree as to whether one or the other is really the First Official Nevada Settlement, and both towns bear signage declaring them first.
Billie Rightmire, a fourth generation Genoan, whose first ancestors arrived in 1858, said that while she feels the historical data proves that Genoa was first, she realizes that it is hard to find definitive answers when researching what really happened long ago.
‘History is in the telling,” she said. “So much depends on which book, which author, you read.”
Rightmire, 65, is featured on the cover of the magazine, along with fourth-generation Dayton resident, Ray Walmsley. Rightmire is the historian for the Genoa Town Advisory Board as well as a researcher for the Carson Valley Museum and Historical Society.
She said that although the magazine cover shows the two town representatives stubbornly standing back to back with their arms folded, the picture at the end of the article – Walmsley and Rightmire amicably shaking hands – indicates more accurately the interaction between them that day.
“We weren’t at all adversarial, and enjoyed ourselves throughout the whole photo shoot with (Minden photographer) Jay Aldrich,” Rightmire said. “The way Ray Walmsley and I parted, I still feel we are the first, but I’m not going to be knot-headed about it.”
n Keeping an open mind. Rightmire said her experience in researching history has taught her to be “broad-minded,” and not rule anything out.
“But at this point, I don’t consider a mining area to be a settlement. It always was a camp,” she said, referring to Dayton’s Gold Canyon mining camp. “If you equalized it with today, you could be in Idaho, but your permanent address was in Gardnerville. Their families were somewhere else. It always was a camp.”
Rightmire added that if we are to count an encampment as evidence of the start of a settlement, Genoa would still win.
When the gold-seekers came through on the Emigrant Trail, which ran through Genoa, there was an encampment and a trading post as early as 1850 in Genoa, approximately one year before the debated May 1851 miners camp at Dayton, she said.
Nevada archivist Guy Rocha, accused at times as stirring up the pot when it comes to the Genoa/Dayton question, says that in many ways the debate it is much ado about semantics.
“The question is continuous habitation versus permanent structure,” he said. “I took a position, but I didn’t suggest that it’s conclusive as far as history is concerned.”
Rocha’s stated position is that Dayton, because it has had the longest continuous habitation – structure or no structure – should get the nod as the oldest settlement. He cites the difference in how a mining community begins as opposed to how a farming community starts up.
“Mining settlements don’t begin with a permanent structure,” he said. “As people come, they establish themselves, but they don’t necessarily put up a permanent structure at first. This is virtually how all mining towns began – Tonopah, Goldfield – with the first discovery or settlement, not the first building. Farming communities start up differently.”
n It’s good enough for Tonopah. Rocha cited Tonopah, which began as a mining town and still celebrates founder Jim Butler Day on May 19, which marks the initial mineral discovery Butler made in the town, not the first permanent structure he built.
“There is really no agreed-upon standard for which came first, though, and until a clear, standard definition is established, this debate will be unsettled,” he said. “The word ‘settlement’ is so ambiguous.”
Bob Ellison, a member of the Mormon church, 30-year Valley resident and history buff, agrees that the question of who came first is practically impossible to call.
“Everything hinges on what you call a ‘settlement,'” he said. “It’s that simple.”
Ellison is nearing completion on his first history book about the territorial lawmen of Nevada.
Rocha said he hopes both communities will be able to celebrate their 150th birthday in 2001 in a way that is harmonious.
“I respect the people of Genoa’s claim – it has validity, but I would argue that so does Dayton’s. They have always been the underdog in this debate,” he said.
“It would be wonderful if the two towns could embrace each other in 2001 and say ‘Let’s both celebrate our communities.'”
n Re-writing history. Rightmire said that while she is open minded about any future revelations regarding the Dayton/Genoa struggle for position, she wonders if Nevada history books would have to be rewritten at that time.
“I told Guy Rocha that if something can be brought out that actually proves that one or the other is first, we’ll accept it,” she said. “But I asked him, ‘How will you rewrite history if it turns out that Dayton is first?'”
Something everyone seems to agree on is the fact that the writing of history is a tedious, labor-intensive job, fraught with misinformation, difficult-to-read diaries, questionable first-hand recollections and publications that often contradict each other.
Where the truth lies is somewhere inside the pile of accumulated information, and as time goes on and more information is discovered – in basements, attics, newspaper archives and a variety of surprise sources – sometimes the facts are altered.
Until that day, Genoa author Nancy Miluck, a 30-year resident, will support her community as the first official Nevada settlement.
“I do not see how you can mention that someplace is a settlement unless it has families and buildings,” she said. “I think it is something they’ve stirred up to get people to go to Dayton. I feel sorry for them, but they’ll just have to take second.”
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