Our mentor, our friend, our favorite jockey, miner, storyteller and trailblazer was called to a new frontier on Wednesday October 26, 2016…Dean Otteson is not just another guy who passed through our lives. He was a living pioneer, a man with his own mind, and his own set of high standards and integrity…the likes of which isn’t easy to find anymore. Dean will be missed, but the truth is his spirit is alive in all of us that knew him and had the privilege of calling him our friend. His laugh, his gravelly voice imparting unending streams of common sense, and his sense of humor, which never failed to clear the air and define the moment, are all with us for the rest of our lives… They say he is gone, but he is not gone…He’s in the next room, he’s around the corner, he’s in our hearts, minds and souls…Dean can be found at The Mizpah, laughing, and rolling his eyes at the irony of life, playing his lucky machine, loving Donna, and loving life. Those of us who knew Dean will move ahead in our lives with him always right beside us. Thanks for the memories Dean, but truly thanks for defining for all of us what it means to be a great man, a great friend, a great trailblazer…
Nancy and Fred Cline and The Mizpah Hotel
How did a native of Austria-Hungary who barely spoke English become the first and only person to be executed by a specially-made ‘Gun Machine’ in the history of Nevada?
Andriza Mircovich’s tale begins with tragedy. His cousin Christopher Mircovich died in Tonopah's Belmont mine fire, an underground blaze that took the lives of many men on February 23, 1911. Since Christopher left no will, the state was charged with distributing his funds to surviving family.
Those included two siblings, Vasso and Maria, who received $1,700 between them, while Andriza received $50. This distribution was determined by John Gregovich, a fellow Montenegrin working with Nye County to handle the estates of Serbians who died in the Belmont fire.
Mircovich, furious at not being given control of the entire estate, was even angrier at what he felt was an unfair distribution of his deceased cousin’s estate.
On the morning of May 14, 1912, Mircovich spotted Gregovich at the Tonopah train station, and shouted “I’ll get you, you old son-of-a-bitch,” at which point he stabbed him several times with a knife.
Gregovich later died of his wounds, and Mircovich was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was given the choice of hanging or shooting, and chose the latter because he felt it would be faster and less painful.
When the time came for his execution, no sharpshooters could be found willing to serve as a firing squad, so the state constructed a 1,000-pound “shooting machine,” a rack with three 30.30 rifles and three strings – only one of which discharged the weapons. That way the guards who cut the strings did not know which one fired the rifles.
Mircovich was killed instantly, and it was the first and last time anyone was executed by gunshot in the history of Nevada. The rifles used in the execution are on display at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City.
When silver was discovered in this central Nevada town in 1865, it didn't take long for the fortune seekers to turn an empty spot in the desert into a town. By 1875, an estimated 2,000 people called themselves residents of Belmont, and it became the Nye County seat. To commemorate that designation, a courthouse was constructed that is the one remaining original structure today. Other buildings were not so fortunate - as nearby Tonopah became the next boom town in 1900, folks took what wood and other scarce building materials they could and relocated. Today, Belmont is home to three businesses - an antique store, jewelry store, and a saloon called Dirty Dick's. It is said that Charlie Manson once hid out in Belmont - his name is scratched into a door frame. Photos are courtesy of Travel Nevada. Read more about Belmont and other Nevada locales at http://matadornetwork.com/trips/travel-guide-nevadas-ghost-towns/.
You may have heard about the Lady in Red, whose spirit roams the fifth floor and who has visited many of our guests over the years, sometimes leaving a pearl on a pillow, or shaking a chandelier. Here is her story.
When Jim Butler discovered silver ore in the desolate location called Tonopah Springs in the spring of 1900, he and his wife Belle filed claims for eight mines. The largest, called the Mizpah, produced the most silver of all. It continued producing long after the other mines had petered out.
'Mizpah' has several meanings. It is Hebrew for "Watchtower." It also means an agreement between two people, and an emotional bond between people who are separated by long distances.
Before construction began on the Mizpah Hotel in 1905, the site was occupied by the Mizpah Casino, a one-story ramshackle place mostly populated by miners, gamblers, and 'working girls.' The hotel as envisioned by the wealthy mine owners and investors who funded its construction was to entice those with power, money, and prestige to Tonopah.
Once it was opened for business in 1907, the Mizpah Hotel did indeed fulfill its mission, attracting politicians, bankers, stage and screen stars, and a host of other well-heeled guests who marveled at the luxury and comfort of such a palatial hotel in the middle of nowhere.
Meanwhile, the mine that gave the hotel its name continued producing prodigious amounts of silver ore. Finally, not long after World War II, the Mizpah mine was closed along with the other original mines. Today, visitors to the Tonopah Historic Mining Park, just behind the Mizpah Hotel, can see the Mizpah and other mines for themselves. We'll be discussing the mining park in a future post.
Wild west legend Wyatt Earp was known as a lawman and an outlaw. After emerging unscathed from the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral in Arizona’s Tombstone Territory, where he was a lawman, he became an outlaw when he later shot and killed his brother’s assassin.
A great blog post in Discover Nevada tells the tale of the Earp brothers and their search for riches in the turn of the century Nevada.
After the gunfight, Wyatt and brother Virgil set out to find their fortunes as prospectors, and for a time Wyatt found himself in Tonopah. Though only two years after the original strike in 1900, Wyatt was too late to get rich from silver. So he opened a saloon, and served for a time as a private policeman protecting mining companies from claim jumpers. It is said that the mere mention of his name, or showing his face, was enough to discourage the toughest scoundrel from malfeasance.
But the restless Wyatt moved on to other Nevada towns, and finally settled in Los Angeles, California. Virgil, meanwhile, failed to find his fortune in Goldfield, but became the sheriff of Esmeralda County. He died of pneumonia there in 1905.
The Earp brothers were legends in their own time, but that and a silver dollar will buy you a bottle of rotgut whiskey. History shows the famous brothers still had to eek out a living the best way they could. Even living legends, it turns out, still have to eat.
Here are some scenes from the Hollywood versions of the Wyatt Earp story:
TV Show: the Life and Times of Wyatt Earp
Deadwood: Fact vs. Fiction on the HBO Series
Scene from Gunfight at the OK Corral
The silver mines of Tonopah were financed in large part by San Francisco investors. So when the ground tried to shake the life out of San Francisco on April 18, 1906, it was largely Tonopah silver mines that financed the city's reconstruction.
A story by Mark Waite in the April 28, 2006 edition of the Pahrump Valley Times outlines the vital role Tonopah played in San Francisco's reconstruction.
"A lot of the high financiers from San Francisco had part ownership in a number of the different mining companies here. So a lot of Tonopah silver was sold to help reconstruct there because Tonopah was pretty tied into the San Francisco stock exchange at the time. (There) was a lot of investment from San Francisco. The mines here were able to use their dividends to reconstruct," said Shawn Hall, curator/manager of the Tonopah Historic Mining Park.
"It was right during the biggest of the boom years," Hall said about the timing of the quake. "That's what financed the reconstruction of San Francisco primarily was the Tonopah mines."
It is the first, but hardly the last, example of the major role Tonopah has played in the story of America since Tonopah's founding in 1900. Watch this space for other tales of Tonopah.
Lorena Trickey was a cowgirl's cowgirl.
Born in Palmer, Oregon on Valentine's Day, 1893, Lorena was thrown from her first horse at age 5. In 1919, she set the riding world on fire with her 'Let 'er Fly' technique - jumping off one horse onto another during a relay race. Before that, riders brought their horses to a halt before dismounting one and mounting the other.
Lorena also excelled at 'Roman Riding,' standing upright on two running horses, one foot on each horse's hindquarter. She won two of these races.
In one memorable victory in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Lorena remained in the saddle despite her horse going through two fences and into a brass band.
She was no stranger to injuries, unsurprisingly, and she often competed (and won) despite physician orders to let her broken bones heal first. Despite a broken leg, she once won a race by holding her broken leg stiffly out in front of her and executing the 'Let 'er Fly' technique.
In 1927, Lorena was charged with the murder of her common-law husband. She pleaded self-defense and was found not guilty after a highly-publicized trial. She moved to Hollywood and appeared as a stunt woman in two films, but her bid for stardom was cut short when she met and married Magnus "Pete" Peterson. She retired undefeated as the world's all-around champion cowgirl, and in 1929 the couple moved to Tonopah. They were ranchers and miners until Lorena died in 1961. She is buried in the Tonopah cemetery.
In 2000, Lorena was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Hall of Fame. Her family is currently shepherding her induction into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas.