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Transcript of interview with Donna Henshaw by Jeff Thompson, February 12, 1978






On February 12, 1978, collector Jeff Thompson interviewed short-order cook and maid, Donna Henshaw (born on February 11, 1937 in Appleton, Minnesota) in the collector’s home in Las Vegas, Nevada. This interview covers the history and development of the Las Vegas area.

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Henshaw, Donna Interview, 1978 February 12. OH-00844. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw i An Interview with Donna Henshaw An Oral History Conducted by Jeff Thompson Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas Special Collections and Archives Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada, Las Vegas UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw ii © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2019 UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw iii The Oral History Research Center (OHRC) was formally established by the Board of Regents of the University of Nevada System in September 2003 as an entity of the UNLV University Libraries’ Special Collections Division. The OHRC conducts oral interviews with individuals who are selected for their ability to provide first-hand observations on a variety of historical topics in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. The OHRC is also home to legacy oral history interviews conducted prior to its establishment including many conducted by UNLV History Professor Ralph Roske and his students. This legacy interview transcript received minimal editing, such as the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. The interviewee/narrator was not involved in the editing process. UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw iv Abstract On February 12, 1978, collector Jeff Thompson interviewed short-order cook and maid, Donna Henshaw (born on February 11, 1937 in Appleton, Minnesota) in the collector’s home in Las Vegas, Nevada. This interview covers the history and development of the Las Vegas area. UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw 1 Narrator is Donna Henshaw, date’s February 12th, 1978. Time is approximately two o’clock. Place is 1046 Lulu Street, Las Vegas, Nevada. My name is Jeffrey Thompson, the project is the Local History Project for History One Eleven. Okay, Donna, ask you a few questions about your personal history. Tell me your full name, your address. Donna Gene Henshaw, 111 Linden Street, Henderson. Aright, Donna, where were you born? Appleton, Minnesota. What day? February the 27th, 1937. What nationality do you identify with? American. Aright. Could you—could you kind of tell me the places you’ve lived, you know, from when you were born and approximate dates if you know ‘em, you know, up until now? Appleton, Minnesota, from birth to probably, one or two years old. Then, Lisbon, North Dakota, from—till I was probably about three, no, maybe about four, I guess. And then, we moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, until I was seven. Then we moved from Minneapolis to Richmond, Washington. And then, from Richmond, Washington, I went to California and stayed with my grandparents for a little while. And about 1946 or ’47, we moved to Las Vegas. Okay. And you’re living in Henderson now. Have you always lived in Henderson or? No. You lived in Las Vegas? Mm-hmm. Most of the time. Just—how long ago did you move out to Henderson? UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw 2 Well. We’ve lived in—off and on in Henderson probably the last twenty-five years. Alright. What kind of occupations have you had? I was a short-order cook, and a maid, and that’s about it. That’s about it. You’re a housewife, then? Yes. What’s your husband’s name? Sam. Sam Henshaw? Mm-hmm. How long ago did you marry him? Twenty-five—well, March the 19th, will be twenty-five years. And how many children? Eight. Eight children. Aright. They’re all living in Nevada or? Yes. They’re all living here—in Las Vegas? Yes. Okay. What kind of group feeling do you have? Do you feel like just strictly as an American or do you think you’re like Irish or? You know. No. Just strictly an American. Strictly American. In other words you’re kind of a mixture then? Mm-hmm. Okay. What’s your father’s name? UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw 3 Warren (Unintelligible). Do you know where he was born? In Minnesota, I believe. Do you have any (unintelligible) with you right now? No. Your mother’s name? Dorothy. Her maiden name? (Unintelligible) is her maiden name. (Unintelligible)? Mm-hmm. And do you know where she was born? Or? North Dakota, I believe it was. North Dakota. Okay. And do you have any idea of your grandparents that’s on your mother’s or father’s side? Like on your mother’s side, for example? On my mother’s side, my [grand]-father was born over at—over in the old country, I’m not sure where. Just where. But he come to America when he was two years old. And what about your grandmother on your—? No. I’m not sure. And what about on your father’s side? No. You don’t have any idea? Mm-mm. UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw 4 Okay. I want to ask you some questions about Las Vegas. What are some of the first things that you remember in Las Vegas, from recollecting back to about 1946, ’47 when you first came here? How old were you? That—well, I was, I think about eleven when I first come here. And the one thing that stands out is like—you know like I said up there, up on Fremont Street, the old-timers and stuff like that. And the Union Pacific Railroad because of the green lawns and the great big green trees. ‘Cause there was many, you know, around there. So wherever there was big green trees and stuff, well, then, you know, it was beautiful. And the old courthouse here, you know where the old courthouse was at on, I think it’s Third? That was always pretty. Yes. You used to go there when you were little? Mm-hm. And play. What do you remember about the old-timers? They was on Fremont Street, you know, they—it seemed like everybody knew everybody, and stuff. And there wasn’t as many clubs, or anything on Fremont as there is now. And you know, you just seemed to know everybody. Okay. What you were saying about the courthouse, did you ever used to go inside there or anything? No. No? Just kind of around it. Mm-hmm. And the Union Pacific Railroad— Mm-hmm. Do you remember anything like about the trains or anything? Are they the same? Or? UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw 5 Yes. No different ones, you know. It was kind of like a busy center for the town, then? Mm-hmm. Like it’s not like it is now? No. No way. That was kind of like the hub bub, huh? Mm-hmm. Have you—? Your kids all go to school here. You went to school here. Mm-hmm. Where did you go? North Vegas, I went to elementary school and I went to Las Vegas High School. And then, I went— What year did you graduate? I didn’t graduate. Oh, you didn’t? No. Okay. And then I went in Henderson for a little bit. Okay. And your kids go to school here now. Do you notice there’s any difference in the education system now as there was? It’s, a lot been—you know, it’s improved a lot. It’s improved a lot. What were you saying—something about the—a parade or something like that on Fremont Street? UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw 6 The Elks Helldorado Parades. And when we first come here they were the biggest thing that happened in the whole, you know, the whole area. And they had big beautiful floats. And like the old-timer parades, they had like the covered wagons and a lot of the old-timers that were in the area would march in ‘em, and it was a real big thing, you know, every summer. Every summer. Well, they are having those—they have them now. What’s the difference between the way they are now and the way they were? They don’t have as many old-timers in ‘em. They don’t have the floats like they used to have. And there is people coming from other states that would, you know, march in them. And there’s not as many of them coming in anymore. They’re not as big and as beautiful as they were. And they had big street dances and things like that, you don’t have them. Street dances? Mm-hmm. What were those like? You know, Country and Western music and they’d block off the ends of Fremont Street and people could get out there and dance and whatever. Oh, kind of like a big hoopla. Do you remember anything like what your parents had told you about when you were younger? Like you know talking to ‘em now, about when you were a child here in Las Vegas? The way things were or anything? No. Just—just the growth of Las Vegas. It’s—it’s just changed so much. Well, why don’t you tell me about some of the changes? Well, like Boulder Highway was only two-lanes when we come here. Nellis Boulevard was just a—it was just desert, there was nothing. No road at all? UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw 7 Nothing. There. They had made a—you know, some of the cars had come across and they made like beat down a track across but that’s all it was, there was no road. And pass the Showboat, the only thing I can remember pass the Showboat was Four Mile, and that, you know, that was it. And then, East Las Vegas, which, in those—it was Whitney when we first come here. And that was all there was out that way. Whitney? Mm-hmm. Go ahead, continue. And North Las Vegas was—it had a few trailer parks, and it had the one drugstore. There’s only one drugstore down there. And Lake Mead—there was nothing past where Las Vegas Boulevard runs now, going out to Lake Mead, there was just, you know, a few houses here and there, but nothing else, until they put that big trailer space up there. And oh, out on the Strip, the Strip was just—I can remember the El Rancho Vegas Hotel and the Flamingo and the Silver Slipper. And that was Old West. They had it like a real western town there, and you could go out there. Like a lot of the teenagers would go out there and they had—like they had an old jailhouse, you know, like they had years ago. You could look in it and see what it was like. And they had places where you can take pictures and whatever. And it was like an old west town, and it’s not there no more. The Silver Slipper is but they took the old west town down or whatever. And—let’s see. What about the airport? I don’t remember much about it. About the airport at all? No. I don’t, and let’s see out toward Nellis, that’s all that was out there, was the Base. You know, there wasn’t all those (unintelligible) shopping centers and things that are out that way. UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw 8 There wasn’t hardly anything out that way. And Charleston, there wasn’t hardly anything up Charleston. It was a lot smaller back then? Mm-hmm. I bet. It was. Did you ever go out to the lake or anything when you were young? Yes. And the lake was even—it seemed like the lake was—it was cleaner, it was nicer out there then, than it is now, it seems like. And Boulder City, Boulder City was the greenest place in the whole area that I can remember, you know, ‘cause they had bigger trees and everything and it was beautiful, you know, really nice to drive up there. Okay. You came here then when you were fairly young, you know, you were still in school and everything. How ‘bout, how has the community allowed you to attain your goals in life? I mean, has it restricted you at all? No. Or do you feel that you could have done anything you wanted to in this town? Yes. As far as education? Mm-hmm. (Laughs) There was no problems there. It was basically pretty good. What about the Old Ranch? Do you remember anything about the Old Ranch? UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw 9 If—if it’s the one that I’m thinking it was, it was up on, we called it Fifth Street, when we were, you know, when we were younger. I don’t know what they call it now. And we played up there, and I can see it in my mind but I don’t know what it was there. I know it was a landmark. But I never did—we played around there and everything but I don’t, you know, remember you know, who was there, what it was there for. But I remember seeing it. You remember any of the people that were there? No. Oh. What did you used to do around there when you played? I mean. Well, there was—there’s a pool up there. Just right about a—not even a half a block from where the Old Ranch was. There was a great big public swimming pool. So we’d go up there swimming and stuff and we would just—we’d always pass there but we just never did pay that much attention to it, you know. Can you remember any incidents or anything that happened there, at all? No. No? Could you describe the location and the condition of the adobe walls that surrounded the original Mormon settlement here? No. Do you have any idea of that? No? Can you remember any of the old trees or plantings at the Old Ranch? If you were to go there, could you identify them? There was—if I remember right, there were big, big trees around that area. And yes, I can take you to where the spot was if it’s—I can see if it’s the one that I’m thinking that it was. I can take you right where it was. But there’s nothing there now that—you know. What do you remember, the first time you saw Las Vegas? What could you tell me? UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw 10 We came through Salt Lake City and over that hill into North Town. When I came up over the hill and I see this big nothing, it was, you know, it was really disappointing. What do you mean the big nothing? Well, like a—you know it. Las Vegas is—you heard a lot about it, you know, and stuff. I guess I can remember hearing them talk a lot about it when they decided that we was ‘gonna move this way or whatever. So I thought it would really be something, you know, it was a big move for the whole family. And so, I was expecting something really super when I got here and it was desert and very little grass and hardly any trees or anything. So I come over the hill—there was nothing really, and I cried. Because after coming like from Washington to here, it was a big, big difference. And for three days I had to lay under the swamp cooler ‘cause it was so hot. You open the door and it was like opening the door to an oven or something. And in the summertime if when you did get out, you had—we went to the pool, or on Saturdays, we’d go up to this movie theatre on Third. I think it was Third and Carson. The Palace Theatre and they had the big stereos there and we’d—everybody went to the movies on Saturday. And in the evening, you were, you could go roller skating. We had a roller rink up on Fifth and Bonanza and it’s torn down now. It’s not there. And that’s about it. Oh, and—and the Golden Nugget. Seen signs all the way, you know, “See the Golden Nugget.” And this, so I thought, well, it will be worth the trip seeing a real golden nugget and it ended up being the club. (Laughs) (Laughs) Kind of a disappointment. Well, what did your family do? Family activities? There was a dancehall and it’s still there, on Charleston and I believe where Charleston and Fremont comes together. The—it was called the Saddle Club. There was Country and Western music there. And it’s been there as long as I can remember. That’s the Silver Dollar now. UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw 11 Yes. Okay. What do you remember about like when you were a child, as far as like your house? Where did you first move into when you first came here? A trailer. It was a one bedroom trailer and there was—when we first come here, there was only five of us kids, but then we had a—my mother had another baby. So then, we stayed outdoors a lot. (Laughs) Hm. Because of it only being one bedroom. Then we moved from the trailer up to Carver Park in Henderson and it’s no longer there. That’s a trailer park, too? No. It was apartments. They’ve been there since—well, they must have come in just before we got here or right after we got here. Because they said it was in the forties when they built Carver Park and Victory Village. But neither one of them are there. Then where did you move to? Well, ah, after—after Carver Park—well, I got married while we was living in Carver Park. And then, we moved to Whitney, and then— Whitney was East Las Vegas? East. Yes. That’s where East Las Vegas is now. And then, my mother and them, moved out to Trailer Estates, off of Lake Mead, and they’ve been there ever since. She’s still living here? Mm-hmm. What’s her name again? Dorothy (Unintelligible) UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw 12 She probably would be a good interview for somebody to do. What do you remember about the heat and stuff? How did you stay out of the heat? You stayed out of it like, you know, I guess the ones that were used to it, it didn’t bother them, but like for us, we were used to having, you know, like, not real hot summers. And we had snow and things like that in the winters and things like that. But we stayed under the swamp coolers. Or like in the trailer park, they had these big brick buildings for washrooms and we’d stay in the washrooms and play jacks or whatever in the washroom. And it was pretty cool in there. And then, you didn’t do much till after the sun went down, you know, unless you wanted to get a real bad burn or whatever. Where was like a gathering place for the kids? Okay. In North Las Vegas there was a drugstore, E and T Drugstore. And then, the one supermarket there was Loveland’s Market. And that was all on the main—on Main Street. And we’d go down to the drugstore like for our Coke’s and whatever and sit around in there, you know, just a typical—it was at that time, a typical old drugstore. And that was there for a long time. And—oh, and then, when we were teenagers, we all gathered at the (Unintelligible) Drive-In and that was on Charleston and Fremont there and there’s a carwash there now. What about religion? We were raised Catholic and the church we attended was on Fifth Street and Owens and it’s a drycleaners now. There’s a drycleaners there now. Uh-huh. And we went to (unintelligible) over at one of the old grammar schools and I’m not sure—it’s up across, it’s on Lake Mead but it’s—let’s see, it’s left as you go down Main you turn left and it’s I believe it was Jefferson Grammar School, I’m not for sure of the name. UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw 13 Sometimes that happens. It’s okay. North Town. North Las Vegas. And then, oh, and then another place we used to go was out there at Twin Lakes, when they had the boats out there. You could rent a boat like for fifty cents or a dollar and spend a day just rowing around on the lake or whatever and they had a swimming pool there, and picnic areas, and that’s about—that’s the only thing we’d do. Did your family have a car? Or? No. When we first come to Las Vegas my grandfather and grandmother had a car but we didn’t have one. And I think I can remember the first car we got—I mean my parents, I believe it was in ’52, and other than that we had to ride the buses. But at that time, they had buses that ran everywhere. Was it—how much did it cost you to ride a bus? It was ten or fifteen cents. Go anywhere in town? Mm-hmm. Or a quarter. I think the most I ever paid before we got the car, was a quarter. I see. And that was—that was from North Las Vegas up to Fremont Street. Or no, I’ll take that back—that was from Henderson to Fremont Street. We caught—they had buses, I believe that went every hour or something like that. So we had to depend a lot on the bus, you know. Do you remember the line number? No. No. But I—we rode the bus a lot—from out there especially after I got married and whatever. Have you ever done any travelling around the state at all? No. UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw 14 Or any travel at all? From here to Tennessee. When was this? We—well, we went almost every year since we’ve been married. Do you know anything about industries around town? In—when we first came here, you know, like in ’46, or that, well, when we first moved, got to Henderson, my father went to work for Manganese Ore and it was located on Lake Mead, going out toward the lake. Hm. And I believe they refined ore out there and I was—I believe in the late ‘50s or maybe early ‘60s they had a fire out there. And after the fire, the plant just kept going down and now there’s nothing out there but just rubble. But at that time it was a good place to work, because the pay was good and other than, you know, like working in some of the casinos or the hotels or whatever, you know, if you got on out there, you had a steady job, and worked all year round and the pay was good. Tell me about what it was like when you first you heard about your husband, you know, like your family life and everything, like how much pay you had and housing and stuff? Well. Well, like he worked out at Manganese and at one time he could buy a house that was located on Lake Mead through the company for about eight thousand dollars and they would take the house payment out of his pay or whatever. And at one time, we had six children and he was starting to go into the garden—gardening business, and he would make like eighty to a hundred and twenty-five dollars a week. And that was his take home pay. Does your family know any famous people around town? UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw 15 The only one that, well, my husband knew—he worked for his son, was Tommy (Unintelligible) and he was here when they were building the dam and planted most of the trees that are in the Valley and furnished the vegetables and things to the—you know, men that were working on the dam. And how did he know him? Did he work for him? He worked for his son. And he’d seen—they had a ranch out in Paradise Valley and he’d, you know, see him there at the ranch all the time. And whatever he worked for them, I think it was a couple years, two or three years he worked for ‘em. And where is he now? The father has passed away and I don’t know where the son’s at now. What about clothing? What kind of clothing did you have, you know, back then? Like when we was kids, you know, like that? Yes. Well. The girls, they more or less wore dresses and skirts and whatever, or slacks. You never like—if you could possibly talk your mother into it—letting you have a pair of jeans, they’d get you girl jeans that button on the sides but no Levi. And then, if you could get a pair of Levi’s than you was really dressed up. It was considered high class, huh? Mm-hmm. Aright. I’d like to ask you about your friends. Could you tell me anything? Well, like there’s not many of them that are still around. Well, in fact, I—right off hand, I couldn’t think of any that’s been here, you know, as long as we have. And we’ll make friends, UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw 16 and they’ll be here a while and then they just kind of wander off or whatever. So there’s not any of them that I can name that’s been here for quite a few years, other than my family. Who would you say has been here the longest? Or who do you know? There’s only one couple that I know that’s been here quite a few years now: it’s Wanda and Phil. And I believe they’ve been here thirteen, fourteen years that I know of. What’s their last name? Atuso. Do they live in Henderson? No. In North Vegas. Oh. Okay. Have you noticed any difference like in the cost of living? I know that it’s probably gone up but—? In comparison to when—you know like in the fifties and sixties it has. But we went, when we was back in Tennessee, I couldn’t believe that, you know, there where everything grows, and everything, their produce and everything. Well, our groceries and things are much, much cheaper here in Vegas than they are back there. And you know, a lot of our stuff has to be shipped in or whatever. But it’s still cheaper here. What about housing? Their rent is outrageous. It’s as high as Vegas. And years ago you could go there and get you a little house for maybe twenty dollars a month. And now the rent is just, you know, it’s about the same as Vegas. But—and then, their wages—our wages here in Vegas are a lot higher than back there. You know, so it’s a lot different and it’s you know Vegas is—it’s a lot better here. What about the job market here? UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw 17 Like here—if you get a—like if you get into the hotels or whatever and you work year round. And—so, this would be the best place like if you have a large family or whatever to raise children and stuff. Because once you get to work here you know you’re gonna work year round. What about—how was it before when you first came here? Well. When we first came here, if you didn’t get into the hotels or casinos to work, well, then there were service station work. Or if you lucked out and got into one of the plants or whatever that was pretty good, you know. But that was about all there was around. And you know, Vegas is built up so now that there is quite you know, a lot of work. Okay. You mentioned that your mom lives in town. What can you tell me about her? She’s over sixty years old now and like I was saying, she is got a memory. Like she could remember Vegas a lot better than I can. Because I can’t believe at some of the things, you know, that she can remember. And here I’m younger than her but she can remember better than I can. Like what is the things that she tells you about? Oh, you know like some of the places that were here when we first come here and whatever, to Vegas. And there’s, you know, I’ll be looking in the Sun at some of those pictures of Vegas, like in the 1960s or 1950s and a lot of the places I can’t even remember, you know, but—I guess it’s because I had such a large family, there was things going on around. But I wasn’t aware of what was—you know, what was happening and I’ve forgotten quite a bit of it. But she didn’t. You know, she remembers a lot of it, real good. Okay. Just relax. (Laughs) (Laughs) Okay. I want to ask you a question. Think about it for a minute, okay— Mm-hmm. UNLV University Libraries Donna Henshaw 18 Before you answer. What do you think is probably the greatest change, I mean, as far as the general change in the town, the atmosphere of the town? The greatest change? That’s a hard question but— Yes. For sure. There’s probably a lot of things but I mean it doesn’t have to be just one thing. Just you know, general change in the at—maybe the way the people are, or, I don’t know, you know—what do you think? The people are friendlier. Yes. I think they’re a lot friendlier. And then, you know, there’s more of them. For sure. Mm-hmm. And the modernization of everything. Everything’s so elaborate and big. I guess that’s probably it. That’s about it? Okay. Well. Thanks a lot. This is Jeffrey David Thompson. The date is February 12th, 1978. Our narrator was Donna Gene Henshaw of 111 Linden Street, Henderson, Nevada. Views concluded.