New evidence of Genoa’s seniority
September 4, 2016
Where is Nevada's oldest settlement — in Genoa or Dayton? The question has generated a good deal of newsprint over the years since 1997. There have been numerous articles in Northern Nevada papers and magazines as each side has made its case. The controversy even generated a legislative proclamation.
The contention has usually centered around a couple of points. Was there already a merchant's station at the mouth of Gold Canyon when Col. John Reese passed by in 1851 on the way to where he would establish himself in Carson Valley? What is the criteria for applying the label "settlement?" If there was a merchant in Gold Canyon, did he encourage settlement around his post or did he try to hold hundreds of acres around his establishment as his private ranch?
All of the past arguments now fall away since California has digitized many of its old newspapers and put them online. It is now possible to see the original stories from the 1850s, which early writers of history tried to recall and use in their works from the 1880s on. It can now be seen where their memories failed them. It can also be seen what items fell through the cracks and were later forgotten. This ability to throw new digitized light on old events creates a fascinating review of history.
In the case of the argument about Nevada's first settlement, it supplies information from a new direction.
There are a few already known sources of information about the Mormon Station established in 1850. Abner Blackburn, one of its founders, told of it in his reminiscences. Hampton S. Beatie, another founder, also narrated information about the post to Bancroft's interviewer for that great historical work. Information about Mormon Station also comes from the many journals taking note of it as the Argonauts passed through Carson Valley on their way to the gold fields. There are also emigrant reminiscences written about it over the years that followed. It was known that although Beatie, the Blackburn brothers, and their partners intended to make their 1850 enterprise a permanent settlement, they changed their minds in the fall of that year. The company broke up — one part heading west into California and the other heading east towards Fort Hall.
It was thought that Mormon Station sat unattended through the winter of 1850-51.
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Attention was then turned to Col. John Reese who re-established a station near the same spot as the preceding one when he arrived in June 1851. From that point on, Reese's station became the permanent one and it was always considered the founding of the first settlement. Three months after his arrival in Carson Valley, Col. John Reese and his partner, Stephen A. Kinsey, went to Sacramento to recruit companies of men for the colonizing of Carson Valley. He joined California Militia Gen. A.M. Winn in a failed attempt to organize paramilitary companies to come to Carson Valley and firm up the establishment of a settlement.
Other men did remain in Carson Valley that year. They were part of the California Militia unit sent here to protect the emigration due to the Indian War going on in El Dorado County. The captain of the militia company, William Byrnes, stayed on and was elected as the first sheriff in the new Carson Valley government created in November 1851.
After noting he had built his cabin about 50 yards from where Reese built his 1851 structure, H. S. Beatie reported, "I left there in September (1850) and we sold out to a man named Moore. I think Reese bought this man out." Little attention was paid to Beatie's comment.
Col. Reese failed to name the man he bought the site from. After mentioning Beatie in his reminiscences, Reese said, "I bought the log cabin afterward that they had … it was only about ½ mile from mine … I bought it from a man that pretended to own it. I suppose he was one of the party and had come through there on his way back from California. I paid him about $15 or $20.00 for it."
At this point, the recently digitized California newspapers provide new information. A frequent correspondent to the Daily Alta California supplied confirmation for these statements long before Beatie and Reese made them. On Sept. 21, 1850, he wrote:
"We are now camped at the Mormon Station, about half way down Carson Valley. Last Summer, about 20 Mormons, from Salt Lake, on their way to California, found gold on this side of the mountains, and built in Carson Valley two immense log houses intending to winter here. Changing their minds, they sold out to a trader named More, from Stockton … he intends to winter here if he can get up a party strong enough, in case of need, for defense against the Indians … Fifty men, well armed, and living in log houses, would be safe … Mr. More, of Mormon Station, has the construction of a saw and grist mill in contemplation…"
So the questions arise, did Moore put together a group big enough and did they spend the winter in Carson Valley? Was there continuous occupancy at Mormon Station back to the summer of 1850?
The answer might be found in another unrelated article from the digitized Daily Alta California. On June 19, 1851, a piece was written concerning the El Dorado County Indian battles going on. Dr. Wozencraft, the Indian Commissioner, was interviewing all he could gather intelligence from. The news noted, "Persons just in at Sutter's Mills, who had wintered in Carson Valley and traveled thence in companies, informed Dr. W. that they had been obliged to fight the Indians off all the way after crossing the Sierra Nevada."
The name Mormon Station was changed to Genoa in an initiative during the formative election of September 1855. Today, Genoa's claim to being the oldest settlement may, therefore, go back to June 1850. Does that leave Dayton out of the competition?
As Col. Reese was being interviewed for Bancroft's history, he made the statement about his arrival in Carson Valley, "Not a single white man was there then. The nearest white man was a man in Gold Canyon who had a trading post there before and he wintered there in a kind of small dug out … The man who lived in Gold Canyon was nick-named Virginia and it was after him that Virginia City was named. I don't know what his real name was."
Of course, there were other white men in Carson Valley when Reese arrived. There were about 300 emigrants backed up in the valley waiting for the snows in the mountains to melt and the wagon road to open. Reese was referring to residents, not emigrants, when he said there were no other white men in the valley. From 1850 on, there were a few merchants that would return each year to establish tent, brush or dugout posts through Carson Valley and along the Carson River. The question about Virginia, or Old Virginia as others knew him, was which winter did he first stay at Gold Canyon? Was it 1850/51? Probably not since Stephen Kinsey said Virginia was one of Reese's teamsters that came with them from Salt Lake in 1851.
As for Mormon Station, it seems the date for continued occupancy may now be moved back to the Spring of 1850.