Tribal Chairman issues letter asking to silence Minden siren
In 1917, George Dutchy, a Washoe and one of the first Douglas men drafted to fight in World War I, wasn’t allowed to be in town after 6:30 p.m.
An April 5, 1917, ordinance approved by Douglas County commissioners required all Indians to be out of Minden and Gardnerville by 6:30 p.m. or face a fine and jail.
Four months later, Dutchy had to fight the U.S. government before he could fight the Germans in the Great War, because he wasn’t recognized as a citizen of the United States.
The Washoe Tribe is seeking to silence the Minden siren, saying it’s a symbol of the town’s sundowner past.
In a letter to Douglas County and the Town of Minden, Tribal Chairman Serrell Smokey asked that the county remove the siren.
“This is an issue that seems to have been long forgotten,” he said. “As the current leader of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, it is my duty to continue to search for solutions to issues that affect my people.”
Smokey said the request was an attempt to resolve “years of underlying racism and historical trauma in our town.”
Smokey said he’s asking for more than just the silencing of the siren.
“My request is that we all recognize this piece of history in the area which we all love so much,” he said. “History should be recognized not buried. If we choose not to remember this history, we are bound to repeat it.”
Smokey said the Tribe’s elders recounted that not leaving town when the siren went off would result in Washoe being beaten.
A change.org petition was organized by Santa Cruz, Calif., recreation writer Matt Niswonger to silence the siren.
Douglas County turned the siren off for two months in 2006 at the request of the Washoe Tribe because of the connection.
Residents then and now argued against turning off the siren, saying the Minden siren wasn’t around when the ordinance was expanded beyond the boundaries of Gardnerville.
However, the Gardnerville Fire Department purchased a new siren that was tested in 1917, and could be heard in Minden, according to the Aug. 17, 1917, edition of The Record-Courier.
Douglas County moved into its new courthouse in Minden in 1916.
The ordinance, which was never constitutional, was repealed by the county in 1974, when the county’s code was compiled.
In an opinion published Sept. 29, 2006, Carnegie Smokey wrote Washoe had to eat out of the back of Carson Valley restaurants until the mid-1950s.
After a very public debate in 2006, the Minden Town Board voted to acquire and operate the siren to honor volunteer firefighters.
That was determined to be unnecessary by county commissioners, who voted in November to restore the siren.
County officials turned the siren on again Nov. 10, 2006, re-dedicating it to emergency services and service in general.
Retired East Fork Fire Chief and Minden Town Board member Bill Driscoll argued against shutting off the siren in a social media post he submitted to The Record-Courier on Monday.
“To me the sound of the Minden Siren is a proud tribute to the hundreds of volunteer firefighters that have served Douglas County over the years,” he said. “The siren, like many others that existed around the County, served as a means of notifying our volunteer firefighters to leave their place of work to respond to an emergency in the community.”
The siren sounds daily at noon and 6 p.m. It no longer serves to call volunteers to fires.