On a hunting trip across Northern Nevada on state highway 789, between Golconda and the Tuscarora Mountains, I came to the site of what is left of the old town of Tuscarora.
This colorful historic camp originated with an 1867 discovery of placer gold by John and Steven Beard. In 1871 W.O. Weed discovered the rich Mount Blitzen silver lodes, two miles northeast of the Beard claims.
These and other mines comprised the Tuscarora Mining District, which experienced its boom between 1872 and 1874. It ultimately produced between $10 and $40 million. At its peak, Tuscarora boasted a population of over 3,000, which included several hundred Chinese. The Chinese mostly conducted placer mining at the Beard discovery site, later called Old Town while the main camp developed at the present location of Tuscarora, platted in 1871.
Toll roads, crowded with stagecoaches and long strings of heavy freight wagons, serviced the camp from railheads at Elko, Carlin, Battle Mountain and Winnemucca. Tuscarora residents shifted their work between mining gold and silver and ranching in Independence Valley.
According to writer Howard Hickson, by 1872, the secret was out and the camp was flooded with hordes of prospectors, merchants, professional people, con men, hurdy gurdy girls and outright crooks. This was a typical population of an American West mining camp.
A small, four-stamp mill was set up and crude bullion was freighted to Elko for shipment by train to the San Francisco Mint. By 1878, the population had swelled to 5,000. A ten-stamp mill went into operation, miners wages went up to $4 a day but those times did not last long. That same year a long, hard winter hit and some of the mines began shutting down, prompting more people to leave town.
By 1880, ore was running out and even more mines shut down. Optimistic miners hoped for another boom but nothing substantial ever happened for the miners again.
This was not the end for Tuscarora, however. The town water source had become contaminated by cows. This prompted repairs and addition of pipe to a nearby spring so the town could have clean water. In 1969, Julie and Dennis Parks started a pottery school, Tuscarora Retreat, and within a few years, were internationally acclaimed. They considered the isolation of the camp, about 50 miles northwest of Elko, ideal for living and creating clay art.
Tuscarora now has many conveniences – television, a dependable water supply, and electricity. They have a few luxuries not available to city dwellers – clear sky, fresh air, everyone knows everyone else, and each has his or her own claim to personal liberty.
Dennis Cassinelli is a Dayton author and historian. You can order his books at a discount on his blog at denniscassinelli.com.