Skip to main content

Search the Special Collections and Archives Portal

Transcript of interview with Horace Emery by Barry Sarles, March 2, 1980






On March 2, 1980, Barry Sarles interviewed river boatman and dam worker, Horace Emery (born 1911 in California) at his older brother’s farm in Nelson, Nevada. This interview covers the local area around Nelson and the early events that helped shape the area. Also present during the interview, Barry Sarles’s girlfriend, Diane Dobaj and Horace’s older brother, Merl Emery. Mr. Sarles also discusses his work as a river boatman on the Colorado River, working on the Hoover and Davis Dams, and employment as a factory worker in Clark County.

Digital ID


Physical Identifier



Emery, Horace Interview, 1980 March 2. OH-00547. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


This material is made available to facilitate private study, scholarship, or research. It may be protected by copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity rights, or other interests not owned by UNLV. Users are responsible for determining whether permissions are necessary from rights owners for any intended use and for obtaining all required permissions. Acknowledgement of the UNLV University Libraries is requested. For more information, please see the UNLV Special Collections policies on reproduction and use ( or contact us at

Standardized Rights Statement

Digital Provenance

Digitized materials: physical originals can be viewed in Special Collections and Archives reading room



Geographic Coordinate

36.0397, -114.98194



UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery i An Interview with Horace Emery An Oral History Conducted by Barry Sarles 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 Horace Emery ii © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2018 UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 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 Horace Emery iv Abstract On March 2, 1980, Barry Sarles interviewed river boatman and dam worker, Horace Emery (born 1911 in California) at his older brother’s farm in Nelson, Nevada. This interview covers the local area around Nelson and the early events that helped shape the area. Also present during the interview, Barry Sarles’s girlfriend, Diane Dobaj and Horace’s older brother, Merl Emery. Mr. Sarles also discusses his work as a river boatman on the Colorado River, working on the Hoover and Davis Dams, and employment as a factory worker in Clark County. UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 1 UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 2 UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 3 UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 4 This is an interview with Horace Emery, younger brother of Merl Emery. Taking place at Merl’s farm in Nelson, Nevada, which is south of Boulder City and about twenty miles from Lake Mojave. This interview is taking place on March 2nd, 1980. The collector for this interview is Barry Sarles, living at 969 East Flamingo, Las Vegas, Nevada, 89109. The project is Local History, Project of Nevada, Oral Interview, Life of an Old-Timer. Well, I was up in this country in 1918 with my dad on the ferry on the Colorado River. [Merl Emery enters the discussion]: Do you remember? Mm-hmm. Yes. [Diane Dobaj joins the discussion]: Yes. (Unintelligible)? Yes. No (Laughs) (Laughs) Anyway, me and Merl run boats on the Colorado River from 1918 on. I went to California and stayed there for a while and then I come back up here in 1929. Ah, I see. Merl had a ranch on the Colorado River right above where Boulder Dam is built now. He raised melons and cantaloupes and we had the earliest melons in Vegas those days. Oh. Even before Imperial Valley. So I came up here and worked with him and then we put boats on the Colorado River and boats on Lake Mead and run from the Grand Canyon to Yuma, with boats in the early days. Mm-hmm. UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 5 And my dad even run a—was on a steamboat that used to come up from Yuma to Eldorado with freight, for the Mormons and the mines and stuff. Mm-hmm. But we’ve been around here for a few days. Few days. How old are you right now? I’m sixty-nine right now. Uh-huh. Merl’s about eight years older than I am. So, he knows more about the country than I do or he should. Mm-hmm. Right. But anyway, he got into mining and I never did. I worked at some of the plants and the shipyards and different stuff and— When did you all come in to Nevada? 19—I came, moved back up in to Nevada in 1929. Merl stayed here. He was here all the time. From the time he was here with dad. So you got plenty of what you need right here. (Laughs) (Laughs) (Unintelligible) Oh. Look at your pictures. Surely. That’s a good picture of you. That’s when I worked in (unintelligible) Uh-huh. (Unintelligible) UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 6 That’s a very good picture of you. Looks like Ernest Hemingway, really. The Ernest Hemingway? You’ve heard of him, haven’t you? Sure. Ernest Hemingway. Yes. Ernest Hemingway. (Unintelligible) Boarding the D.C. That will give you a lot of information. But you were in here, too. That book and then take some pictures of him and whatnot and you could make up your own setup. Okay. Sounds good. Thank you (unintelligible) Thank you. Getting cold out. Oh boy, he’s still smoking corn cob pipes, today. Well, you ought a see the amount of corn cob pipes he’s got. (Laughs) He’s always leaving ‘em someplace. How many corn cob pipes do you have, Merl? Oh. Fifty. Fifty! Wow! (Laughs) UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 7 Any—any you made yourself? No. No, they only—they only charge fifteen to thirty-five cents. Mm-hmm. Cheap. That’s what they were years ago but what are they now? They’re about a dollar, aren’t they? I think they are, two. I wouldn’t doubt it. Every Christmas he gets some tobacco and then couple a new corn cob pipes. (Laughs) Ah. Looks like you’re making a sketch of the country, there. Yes. Diane’s got a little sketch here. We’re—I’ve been in the Arizona side, Willow Beach and the Colorado. Oh. Uh-huh. That’s nice. Well, this—this will give you a good background of the whole thing. Except it’s in German. (Laughs) Well, I thought you could— Mm-mm. I work, German restaurant but I don’t speak German. But you don’t speak it. Well, fine thing! Working a joint and can’t talk the language. (Laughs) I know. I get a lot of German people— Right. UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 8 What’s your nationality? Oh. Probably— English, Irish. English, Irish. Red hair? (Laughs) (Laughs) Probably some Scotch tied into it or something. I don’t know. I‘ve never have looked up our nationality. No? Probably such a mess, we couldn’t collect it. (Laughs) [Photo shutter sound in background] That thing makes so much noise. It’s so distracting. (Unintelligible) Merl? (Unintelligible) Put a rock on it. Okay. (Laughs) Well, that’s the best way. Yes and (unintelligible) Geo. I know. That’s a very good one. Better than National Geographic’s. (Unintelligible) And what month is that—what month is your photo in the National Geographic? October. UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 9 Of what year? It was five years ago. I’ve gotta find that one. I’ve got one but I’ve misplaced it. (Laughs) (Unintelligible) Yes. Mm-hmm. So, let’s see, you—did you say you helped grow, with boats across the Colorado? Up and down the Colorado. Yes. We—passenger boats and freight and sightseeing boats. During the construction of the dam. Yes. We had the first boats there on the construction of the dam. We hauled men down to the dam site, pulled barges, and—let’s see, Merl was running boat there part of the time and I was running boat and our dad was running boat and my brother-in-law was running boat. (Laughs) We had quite a few boats there on the river, in the early days. Tunnel-stern boats, that’s the only thing you could use ‘cause sometimes the river was so shallow you couldn’t use anything with a prop underneath it. It had to be up inside. Weren’t they mining—like they were mining gold and silver and copper, no? All up and down the river. All along there? Yes. Way up there at Temple Bar. It was preferably—preferably gold. But when you run out of gold then you went to mine silver. (Laughs) Know the price of gold? Yes. Mm-hmm. UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 10 But in those days (Laughs) what was it twelve, fifteen dollars an ounce? Mm-hmm. If you got fifteen dollars an ounce, you were really making money. Now look what it is. About eleven hundred dollars an ounce? (Unintelligible) You got any old gold hidden up there, somewhere? (Laughs) Yes. But do you stop and realize what it cost them to mine in those days and what it cost them to mine nowadays? Yes. A lot of difference. Was the Magnesium factory here, two of you never worked there did you? Here. Want your pipe? In Henderson? Yes. I think so. Yes. That was during the war they built that. Uh-huh. Yes. That was a— (Unintelligible) That was a war plant. The plant (unintelligible) (Unintelligible) (Unintelligible)? Yes. The view of the mines. (Unintelligible) UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 11 Now they had to hit rich pockets to make a go of it. Yes. They couldn’t move too much ground and make any money on it. They had to get right into the high grade. Okay, smile, Merl? (Laughs) [Photo shutter sound] And this old statin mill that we have out here, my dad used to run that down to Searchlight years ago. That could be (unintelligible) (Laughs) Yes. (Laughs) And then Merl went over and got it and moved it out from down here and set it up. (Unintelligible) That one? To crush ores. Yes. That’s what they used it for, see. They’d—it crushes it real fine and then you’ll get the gold out of them. You run it down over a ripple. You could either put mercury on the ripple or use sheep’s wool or stuff like that to collect your gold. (Unintelligible) That one over there. Other stuff run off you know that you don’t want. Way over there. Oh. Yes. Did you ever—was there any program for Roosevelt you know, Recovery Act, that employed any people around here, to do anything? UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 12 Oh, you mean during the three C’s? (Unintelligible) Yes. There was some around here. (Laughs) They built roads up out of here and trails and stuff. There was some of the three C’s in this area. And there were some of them to work the Grand Canyon. Now that was a—that was quite a project. (Unintelligible) I think they do. They should. I know. I know they do. They should take ‘em and make one of those now, for a lot of people that— There used to be work. Get ‘em out of the cities and get ‘em to working. Uh-huh. I think that would be a darn good idea. But we don’t have much to say about it. You see that flag pole way up there on top? Yes. Well, that’s where the soldiers had a flag up there that was a detachment of northern soldiers here and then your southern soldiers were clear down at Fort Mojave but they never did get together during the Civil War. That’s when they had an encampment up there. (Unintelligible) UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 13 But that was a—that was quite a setup, because they wanted to protect—they were shipping silver and gold to Washington from this state and they had those soldiers up in here to protect the shipments of gold. Did you ever work at construction of any of the dams? Yes. Uh-huh. What was that like? Oh, that was quite a deal to see them dig those big tunnels and— (Laughs) Bypass the Colorado River around it and then go down to the hard rock and build up from there. Yes. I worked in the tunnels for a while after they got to where they didn’t need our boats any longer, then I went to work for Six Companies. Uh-huh. Worked in the tunnels and worked up on the spillways and then as soon as they backed the water up unto the lake, well, Merl put boats on the lake. Ah. He had a concession up there from the government to handle tourist and—and even push barges up to what they call the Lakeshore Mining Company, which was on the Nevada side of Lake Mead and they hauled gold ore down from up there. Uh-huh. Now that was run by Fred—the Lakeshore Mining Company was run by Fred Gibson. He’s passed on now but they had quite an operation up there. They got quite a bit of gold out until it finally petered out. UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 14 I just found out the other day that that, that thing was around twenty bucks like that. In fact it’s mining that (unintelligible), twenty dollars. Oh no. [Photo shutter sound] He told me that (unintelligible) (Laughs) This thing’s so loud. Yes. They pulled—I was coming down from Paris’s Ferry one time, with a boat on the lake and they flagged me over to the dock at the Lakeshore Mining Company and gave me a little bar of gold to bring down and send in to the bank. Oh no. (Laughs) Yes. Little bar? (Laughs) Yes. It was about two inches wide and maybe an inch thick and about six inches long. It was pure gold. They’d— It wasn’t enough (unintelligible) (Laughs) (Laughs) (Laughs) (Laughs) UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 15 Yes. I was kind of nervous with that gold. (Laughs) Imma get rid of that stuff before somebody discovers I’ve got it. (Laughs) Right. Take it all. What happened about the warriors? What’d you do during the World War Two? Ah, during the war, when the war broke out, I went down to California and went to work for the shipyards. I worked in the shipyard all during the war. Then as soon as that was over, well, I pulled stakes from down there and moved back up to this country. You were more in middle Nevada. You didn’t stay down here in Clark County, really. Oh while, we were on the river, we run from California line up to the Grand Canyon. No, I didn’t—I lived in Clark County, oh for about thirty years after the war and everything was over ‘cause I went to work for one of the plants out in Henderson. (Unintelligible) Then Merl had the boat docked. Fact is, I come back up to this country to run boats on the river, fishing boats. [Unintelligible background noise] ‘Cause he had a trout fishing camp down here at Nelson. Oh yes? Great. And then we moved one, built a new dock and moved it down to Cottonwood, opened up the Cottonwood Fishing Landing. Then after my boy and girl got old enough to go to high school, why, there were no schools out here, so that’s why I had to move to town to be able to put them in school. No high school in Searchlight. Fact is, there isn’t even one now. (Laughs) UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 16 They have to come to Boulder City for high school. What’s the population of Nelson now? Thirty. Thirty people? (Laughs) Smallest town I’ve ever been in. (Laughs) Yes. I lied to somebody the other day, I told them there was about fifty people down here in this town. (Laughs) (Laughs) I guess I overdid it (Laughs). (Unintelligible) (Laughs) Well, if you go anywhere from twenty-five to a hundred, you’ll cover it won’t you? (Laughs) Yes. Up where I’m living now in Pioche, there’s only seven hundred people up there. Oh boy. Could probably count the animals, too, here, huh? (Laughs) Yes. Right. In a (unintelligible) we didn’t. (Laughs) Oh, you get down here around the evening now, there will be rabbits all coming out, rabbits all running around all over here. UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 17 That’s what lives out here. Quail. But there’s no shooting, no shooting allowed in the town. So, that’s why you have your rabbits and quail. Dove are starting to come back in now, too. Oh. (Unintelligible) No rabbit soup tonight, then, huh? (Laughs) Yes. We had that last night. (Laughs) (Laughs) (Laughs) Mm-hmm. They’ll be here. What—what type of fish are at Lake Mojave, to catch? Oh, there’s bass and trout and catfish and bluegills. There any stripers in Mojave? I know komodo are there. I never seen any komodo down there yet but— Maybe they got ‘em to Lake Mead. Well, they probably some of ‘em come down from—through the spillways and stuff. Well, they were here. They’ll come back. They’ll— They’ll come. Few little ones will get down and then they’ll grow up. UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 18 Yes. How do you fish here? How’s the Colorado for fishing? Fish there? Well, you don’t—in this area, up here now, you don’t have very much of Colorado to fish in. Because when it comes out of Lake Mead it’s dried in Lake Mojave, then, you’ve got a stretch between Davis Dam and Havasu Lake, which is a few miles there that you’ll get river fishing and then you run into Lake Havasu and go down to Parker Dam and then from Parker on down, you’ve got Colorado River, but it’s all clear now. Not muddy like it was in the early days. Did you ever swim across the Colorado? Yes. (Laughs) Many, many, many times. ‘Cause you took boats like it’d be fun to swim across, too, if you know how to swim. Yes. (Laughs) Was it cold? Well, generally, yes. Well, I—we’ve seen slush ice coming down the Colorado River. Ooh. So you can figure how cold that was. Right. What did you—what were the rafts made out of? You just wrapped wood together? Or were they real boats you took across? Well. You could find— In the beginning? UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 19 You didn’t usually find enough wood to make a raft out of in this country. So, you’d take and make one, make a boat, latch a couple of boats together and use them. Well, you had a better money (unintelligible), too, far as that goes. I was an expert beaver trapper. Oh my God. And they’d take— Sell the (unintelligible)? One by twelves and make a boat out of them and float down the river and trap beaver all the way down. And then, when you got down to California, you’d sell your pelts. Oh my goodness. Didn’t use a motor in those days. You use—you just floated. (Laughs) Pull in the bank and do your trapping. (Unintelligible) Were there a lot of beavers, (unintelligible) (Laughs)? Yes. There was. Yes. In the early days on the Colorado River, there was quite a few beaver. And it was illegal to sell the pelts in this state. So (Laughs) you’d take it to California to sell it. (Laughs) Yes. You’d drive all the way down. Drive? Float. (Laughs) (Laughs) Yes. That’s what—Jedidiah Smith. Did—couple years before Merl came in from out east, trapping in Utah, Colorado, and sold them in California. Uh-huh. UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 20 What’d they sell ‘em for? Did they sell ‘em for hats? Or what’d you do with ‘em? It was the best skin we could get. What’d people use them for? Well, (unintelligible) beaver. Keep you warm. Beaver (unintelligible) Take a beaver hide to make one hat, wasn’t it? That meat was good eating too if you wanted to—if you got hungry enough. (Laughs) Yes. Well, if you can eat rabbit, you sure can eat beaver. (Laughs) Well, beavers are, strictly a vegetarian. Yes. He eats roots and all that kind of stuff and bark and things. So, he should be good eating. You’ve never eaten one? No. I never have. Have you eaten a beaver ever, Merl? Merl’s probably had it. Merl’s eaten some. I haven’t. How was it? Ah, pretty— Strong? (Laughs) Like deer meat? Yes. (Unintelligible) UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 21 Burros good eating. Burros the best eating. Want to sit here? It’s more comfortable. I took a roast home one day from down there at the river and told the wife it was mutton and she cooked it up and after dinner she said, “You’re sure that was mutton?” She says, “That wasn’t mutton.” Then I said, “Well, what was it if it wasn’t mutton?” She says, “That was burro.” And I says, “You’re right.” (Laughs) (Laughs) Probably enjoyed it, huh? Huh? Yes. She didn’t mind it. She liked it. My sister shot a deer last year. The first one in the season. Uh-huh. Back in upstate New York. And, they cooked it up and I had it last Easter. I just couldn’t, you know, eat too much of it knowing what it was. (Laughs) (Laughs) Well, if you don’t know what it is, then it wouldn’t bother you. (Laughs) It wouldn’t bother me, uh-uh. Oh we get a deer, up in here, every year here. Do you? Yes. Good hunting up around that neck of the woods where I am. Although I waited the last day to get one this year. The last day? You’re lucky you got one. UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 22 The last day of the season. (Unintelligible) Got it. Well, last year I waited till the day the before the season was closed to get one. (Unintelligible) You get desperate the last couple days. (Laughs) (Laughs) Do—do you remember the floods that happened here? Any great floods happened in the southwest? (Unintelligible) (Unintelligible)? Well, I’ve seen the river come up a foot an hour. Wow. (Laughs) From the Colorado River, the amount of water that comes down that son of a gun, that’s a lot a water. Yes. Very nice. But you’re up on the hill here. So, you never really get—? Well, we were down on the river at that time. You’d be standing on the bank and watch the river rise. Oh. UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 23 About the time it gets up ten, fifteen feet, well, there’s a lot of wood and stuff coming down and driftwood and stuff, we wouldn’t dare get out on it with a boat then. Yes. Do you remember when they filled up Lake Mead? Yes. What happened? (Laughs) Was it all a big pit, that they filled it up with water or? Well, what they did is they closed the big gates on the— Spillways. On the spillways and then on your tunnels that bypass the water around, well, they just closed those big gates and then your water started rising, they couldn’t close it all off, they had to let so much run through and when it got up to where they could spill it, oh, we went up there and checked around on the lake and you’d have little islands and stuff and there’d be animals and stuff on them; mainly rabbits and fox and lot of mice and stuff like that and they’d go up and catch some of them. (Laughs) But you could see it come up and then it would cover, cover these sand dunes and things but there wasn’t too much wild life that the raising of the lake bothered because they were all mainly banked on the sides and they could get out. Well, there wasn’t too many island things. But they did catch some, they call it Sheep Island, up in the lower end of Boulder Canyon now and there were some sheep got trapped on that, when the lake raised. They still living there? I don’t know. I doubt it. I doubt it—too small. UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 24 Too small of an island. It wasn’t a very big island. And then the government may have trapped ‘em and moved them over to shore. But there was a lot of bighorn mountain sheep up through that country. Any wild horses, now? Ah, wild horses are in the back country. They’re not down—they weren’t down on the river. River. There was a number of burros on the river. Mm-hmm. Burros would come down the river for water There was quite a few of them. Did you have a car? How did you get around, in those early days? In 1930? Oh, you had Model T Fords and— Uh-huh. And then, you went to Model A and like Merl’s got a 1917 Dodge sitting here that it run around this country a lot in the early days. (Laughs) You never used ten, twelve horses to pull a wagon? You never—ever been in a wagon trade? You never did that? No. I never have. Oh, we’ve had horses and burros and stuff around here but we never worked on wagon train or anything like that. That was before my time. Your father ever—where’d your father come from? He come from Michigan. Ain’t that where—where dad was born, was in Michigan? UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 25 Did he come right to—? No. That’s where he was from but no— Well, anyway, he came from Michigan and then dad was quite interested in mining engineering and mining. He followed that a lot. And well, fact is, he had a license for operating a hoist and all that stuff in the mines. (Unintelligible) He was an old mining engineer. Did he ever—? He was a mechanic—for years and years. Did he ever talk about the Comstock Lode, coming here, for that, 1860? No. He was (unintelligible) Well, see that was in Northern Nevada, your Comstock Lode. Mm-hmm. But dad was more interested in the slower part of Nevada and Arizona, New Mexico. He did a lot of travelling in Arizona and New Mexico. What about—around here is mostly copper ore? A quite a bit of gold. Gold. This is where the gold is. Gold, too? This was through your (Unintelligible) and your Wall Street up here and a lot of these, practically all the mines around this area was gold and silver. There wasn’t any copper to speak of at all in this area. I don’t think they mined any copper down here, did they? None. Not in this country. UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 26 They would get—probably get some a little bit in their ore that they were mining. But— What about silver? Well, that goes with your gold. I see. And usually if they’ve got a silver mine, they’ll get enough gold recovery out of it to pay for their operation and their silvers. That’s where they make their money off of. How big were the towns in 1930, 1940? Where they had mining? Go—what was the size of this berg in 1930? 1930? How many people? 33. Well, there wasn’t much more than there is now. (Laughs) (Laughs) Well, you take—in the early days, though, when the (unintelligible) was going strong and that mill was running down there, the town of Nelson, on the riverbank down here was the largest town in the state of Nevada. Oh boy. Yes. They had quite a few people down there at that time. (Unintelligible) But then your mining folded up and they moved on. Yes. (Unintelligible) Didn’t I see in a book a while back or whatnot that the population of Eldorado on the riverbank was eleven hundred? UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 27 Sounds about right. Well, that was a lot of people for those days. How were the roads in 1940? Like you said there were cars. There were cars. They could— But they were all dirt roads. But they drove? All dirt roads. Searchlight to here? Just—just oversized cow trails. Oh boy. Then we, in 1935 and around in there, well, we had a little—Merl had a little store on the riverbank down below where they started to build the dam and we went to town ever so often for supplies for the store and you had a flat tire every trip. (Laughs) None better. So you could figure out how the roads were. You couldn’t make a round trip without at least one flat tire. Well, that ought a take care of you. Yes. You want to go over and take a look at the statin mill? Sure. If you want to take a walk. Sure. UNLV University Libraries Horace Emery 28 Okay. (Tape ends)