Edwards, Elbert Interview, 1986 October 16. OH-00522. [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 Elbert Edwards 1 An Interview with Elbert Edwards An Oral History Conducted by Layne Covington 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 Elbert Edwards 2 © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2018 UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 3 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 Elbert Edwards 4 Abstract On October 16, 1986, Layne Covington interviewed Elbert Edwards (born 1907 in Panaca, Nevada) about his life in Southern Nevada. Edwards first talks about his family background before talking about what it was like to live in Panaca. He then talks about changes in Southern Nevada, particularly those in Boulder City that have taken place over time. Edwards later talks about the work of his wife and both of their political involvement and his involvement and career in education. The latter part of the interview includes discussion of the building of Boulder Dam, Edwards’ job as a registrar in the Selective Service, and the effects that the war years had on Las Vegas. UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 5 Layne Covington, interview with Elbert B. Edwards for Nevada History 217, October 16th, 1986, Boulder City, Nevada. Okay, where were you born? Panaca, Nevada. Panaca, Nevada. What were your parents’ names? George Lee Edwards and Mariba M. Woods. What did they do there in Panaca? They were ranchers, farmers. My father began life working in mills—connection with mines, he became a mill right during the time that mills were in demand, and then for several years prior to taking over the operation of small farm ranch, he did consumable freighting. And where were your parents born? Father was born in Wellsville, Utah. Wellsville? Yes. He came to Nevada with his parents, the order what was—what is now Nevada at that time was still a part of the territory of Utah in 1864. My mother was born in St. George, Utah, born in a covered wagon while en route to Nevada. Do you identify with any ethnic groups at all, as far as your heritage? Well, primarily the English, part of the British Isles people. That was the only language you really spoke, then, as a child? Right. That was all that was spoken in your family? There wasn’t any ethnic holidays or anything like that really celebrated, then, in your family? No. UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 6 What are some of the things about your childhood? Where did you live, where did you grow up? Well, I grew up there in Panaca. Till what age? Until, let’s see, I guess I was eighteen when I left there to go to the University of Nevada at Reno. How is it that you made your way into Boulder City and the Las Vegas area? Well, in the university, I studied education, and then in February of 1929, because of the activity in Las Vegas, connection with the anticipated construction of the Boulder Dam, I was offered a teaching position in Las Vegas. I came to Las Vegas on February the 11th, 1929, took the position, and the Las Vegas elementary school had called on the junior high grades and taught there for the remainder of that year, and then the next year, in September of 1930, I went into the high school. I taught in the high school until 1938, at which time I was offered the position as deputy state superintendent of the construction, having jurisdiction over Lincoln, Clark, Esmeralda, and Southern Nye Counties. And I held that position for two years, was offered the position of superintendent of city schools in Boulder City in 1940. I moved down here in August of that year, and I’ve been here ever since. Do you have any brothers and sisters? Yes. My family consisted of eight children: five boys and three girls—six of which, three boys and three girls, lived to maturity. Are they still here in Nevada, too, or they’ve moved? Well, two of them are deceased; all the rest are in Nevada. What, right around here in Southern Nevada? UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 7 Two of them, my one brother and one sister live in Panaca. One brother lives in Las Vegas. I live in Boulder City. Were your aunts and uncles important in your life as you were growing up? Yes, they were very important. The families on both sides, my parentage were a very closely knit family, and that carried through over to, in to my life—aunts and uncles and cousins, (unintelligible) part of my life. A lot of Panaca was family, then, wasn’t it? Oh, yes. Like I say, there still isn’t that many people there, so were there other main family groups beside yours? Well, of course, Panaca was settled originally by the Lee family in 1864; my paternal grandmother was a member of that medley. And she came in with that family. It was a large family, and they became probably for many, many years the dominant family there in Panaca. We were a branch of the family, and through intermarriage, for a long while there, there was people in Panaca, I guess, that I wasn’t related to. Is the family still prominent up there as far as not only yourself, but the Lees too? No. No, as you indicated, Panaca was limited in its scope of population, and there’s many more people of Panaca descent living in Las Vegas, Clark County, than there are in Panaca now. Has there been other areas that your parents have influenced you besides maybe just your life and the way you were brought up? Has that influenced what you’ve done in your life? I mean, you’ve followed an education background. Is there something there that they influenced in you to want to follow that type of work? UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 8 Well, no. They influenced me to the extent that they tried to give members of their family as much education as they possibly could. They encouraged us in seeking an education, but in order to get that education, why—and in order to make a living for ourselves, we generally had to pick out something we thought we could make a living at. Panaca, aside from farming and ranching, is about the only—well, the only occupational pursuits that we could really visualize were in the law, as a lawyer in town, and education. Those were the examples that we had, and I thought that I’d like to be a lawyer, but I couldn’t foresee a way of getting through law school. And so, I took the course of least resistance with education. Do you remember any special events or anything of that sort while you were in living in Panaca—maybe affected you or that you can remember right offhand that are still maybe alive in you and the things you think back on? Well, I think back extensively on my childhood and my childhood experiences. It was a happy life; it wasn’t an easy life. My dad was a—dad and mother both—were strongly converted to the work ethic and believed in making their own way, pursuing their own responsibilities. They taught us pretty well to do the same thing—taught us that way in growing up. They expected us to work, they expected us to earn our own way, they expected us to learn through so doing. It was an educational process as well as an economic. And you were born here in Nevada? Right. In Panaca? Right. UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 9 I remember that there was an article in that church newspaper in the little folder that comes out, told that you, about seeing your wife on the bank there in Panaca. Could you tell us a little bit about that? (Laughs) Well, as kids, of course, we roamed the town, and my wife was also born in Panaca, but her father, at the time, had a business in Las Vegas in 1912, and so they made their home in Las Vegas, but on occasion, they would spend vacations in Panaca. And any stranger in town or any new people in town were (unintelligible) matter of curiosity, so to speak. I would see a strange little girl, being along the (unintelligible) was something that stuck in my mind. Why is it that your parents—were they born in Panaca, too, or they were born there, too, right? No, my father was born in Wellsville, Utah. Oh, that’s right. He came in with the Lee family when they moved in there in 1864, when he was four years of age. Why did they come to Panaca to start with, the Lee Family? It was a mission call. They had been called to Dixie, the Dixie Mission, in 1860, 1861, and they had gone, originally, to Santa Clara, and later back to St. George. But at that time, I found that the resources or economic resources were pretty well monopolized by the several hundred people that had moved in there, and so they responded to the call to what was then called the Indian Company, Meadow Valley, out in the, at that time, was still a part of the territory of Utah. And the State of Nevada was not created until after they moved into Meadow Valley, and when Nevada was created, the area was still not part of the state. It was only on the boundaries of the state were extended to the east one degree of longitude, and that new eastern boundary was UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 10 extended south of the Colorado River (unintelligible) on down the Colorado to its junction with the California border at the 35th Parallel at that area. They were included into the State of Nevada. You mentioned that you felt like your life was happy, and you enjoyed living in Panaca. Did everybody there feel that way as far as, you know, your parents and—or was everybody—we’ve been talking about this in class, and the reason I ask is because a lot of that Dixie or Cotton mission was, people weren’t too happy with where they were. And as soon as Brigham Young says, “Come back,” they all left. Was people happy there in Panaca? Well, I can’t say as to that. I know that my mother had never liked Panaca. She was raised in the little valley to the southeast of Panaca in (unintelligible) Valley, Lincoln County. From 1869 on till the time she was married in 1893, or 1891, I guess it was. And she resented leaving her home there and didn’t like living in Panaca because she preferred her old home. Two of your brothers are still living there, right? The one brother and one sister. They are apparently happy with their life in Panaca. Well, they just stayed on. They haven’t really said much. There’s been a lot of changes; you’ve been here a long time. What are some of the major changes that you can remember in the history since you’ve been here, since, you know, here in Southern Nevada and Las Vegas in the valley here, things that, you know, would have probably really stuck with you as a change? I’m sure the Test Site was something, in those days, was a change around here. UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 11 Well, the growth of the population, of course, is the big thing. When I came here, there was probably, oh, in the vicinity of 4,000 people in Las Vegas, maybe 6,000 in all of Clark County. And so, the increase in population by thousands, there’s been probably the major change, although corresponding changes have been made in not only the demographic but the economic, the political, various other developments necessary for the support of the people. And as you mentioned, the Test Site is one; Nellis Air Force Base is another—the development of various industries. When I came here, of course, the railroad was the major supporting economic factor in the county. And the railroad is still important. Tourism, highway travel, is probably just more important as the railroad at the present time. The development of McCarran Field and airplane traffic is another factor—coming of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is another very important and significant development. Of course, I may have mentioned the building of the Hoover Dam; that was the initial factor, probably, in the beginning of the expansion, the growth of population, the growth of industry, and the growth of the availability of power and all that, that began bringing people in. Another sociological factor is that of the introduction of gambling—legalized gambling that has made such a contribution to the development of the population, tourism, so on. What about the plants in Henderson? Did they have much effect at the time they were being built, of Henderson getting started? That, again, was another of the major factors. Of course, they were brought in as a result of the availability of plenty of power and water for reduction of magnesite into magnesium. They were strictly and primarily, at that time, a war baby. The need, the demand, for ammunitions for the war in Europe to combat the German bombing of the Allies, Allied Forces in Europe, called for fast production of magnesium. There was, as I remember, one relatively small plant for the UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 12 production of magnesium in England. That was always subject to being bombed, and they needed a greater supply, they needed in a hurry. They looked around in the United States, and in Nevada, why, they had available water, power, and magnesite, their own material for which the magnesium was reduced. And so, they just put the three of them together. It was easier to transport, initiating the transports from mines from Gabbs, Nevada to Clark County where the water and power was available. And so, the City of Henderson was born for that purpose. And when the war was over, even before the war was over, they had so stockpiled magnesium in excessive, any foreseeable need, and they probably, at the time same time, were contemplating the completion of an atomic bomb that would take the place of everything else in the way of munitions. And so, the production there was stopped, and when the BMs talking about scrapping the plant, Nevada looked upon it as a potential resource for industry and for jobs—took it over from the federal government and made it available to different agencies interested in utilizing the resources that were available. And so, Henderson became a permanent spot of the map of Nevada. Is that when titanium moved in and—? Titanium and— And these kind of options? Yes. And they’ve been there for quite a while? Yes. At the (unintelligible) it’s long since I’ve (unintelligible)—I can’t name the rest of the agencies down there. What about that mine on the way to the lake from Henderson out at Lake Mead? Was that something to do with the Henderson plant? UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 13 The Three Kids Mine? Yes, they manufactured manganese, a manganese mine, manganese ore out there. And as a war product, they needed that. And so, they went into that. That, however, was a temporary thing. I don’t know whether there’s—to an extent, there’s still the raw product up in the mine. But with the—I think I better not comment on that because I don’t know enough about it. Do you know where they truck that in, or was there a rail line? No, they just trucked it. It was just trucked. You’ve seen a lot of changes, you know, we’ve been talking about those, but is there something you’d like to see change for Nevada, something that maybe you have thought about in the years you’ve lived here that you’d like to see changed and has never come about? Well, on the whole, I used to enjoy Nevada so much, I’ve rather been inclined to recent developments. Change? And change. Do you feel like Boulder City is one of the places that’s changing less or changing at a lot slower rate than other places, especially in Southern Nevada? Yes, Boulder City, people themselves; that is, the old timers. They like Boulder City because it was so much different from the hurry-scurry environment in Las Vegas. They have resisted change by placing limitations on the population growth (unintelligible) housing growth. And it has been slow; they have resisted the gambling movement coming in. They resisted, for a long time, liquor, but when Boulder City came into existence, it was during the Prohibition era. And during the gangster period, it was set up as an ideal community, free of those things UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 14 (unintelligible) control of the federal government. The federal government knew that the dam itself would be a marvel, an engineering marvel, and that the eyes of the world would be on it. And the United States had been unable to control the prohibition, and they figured that as much as they had absolute control over the Boulder City, it would be on a federal reservation—they would keep liquor out, they would keep gambling out, they would keep it free from the liberal nature of Nevada’s industry and population. And they did it. They put in a city manager here with absolute autocratic power to carry out their wishes. If anyone was caught, needless to say, there was plenty of liquor, but it had to come in the back roads down through Black Canyon. They originally had a station out where Railroad Pass is now—gateway to Boulder City, and they had the rangers there to check every car. They’d look in your trunk and look in your seats—look for liquor. And if anyone had gotten through and was apprehended in Boulder City with liquor, he was expelled. But the federal reservation, the federal control, was not a natural thing in the United States. Where the country was set up for democratic control, and the people always felt like they were Indians on the reservation—everything done for them—and that was contrary to a human American, human nature. And so, why, in 1948, the people began to agitate for self-control, self-government; by 1960, they got it—became a city of self-control. For a while, the people that were here at the time, they would want liquor, they wanted to maintain the values placed highly in the type of life they lived—no liquor, no gambling. Eventually, enough new people moved into town, so they opened it up to liquor, but were still free of gambling by popular choice. Railroad Pass is about the only place, and that’s, really, in Henderson. Railroad Pass was never in a part of Boulder City boundaries. Never was? UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 15 Boulder City boundary is just this side of Railroad Pass. Do you have children? We have four boys. Four boys. Are they all still here? Three of them live in Las Vegas, and one is the professor in Ricks College in Idaho, Rexburg, Idaho. Are they all into education, too? No. Carl, in Idaho, is the only one who went into education. Two of them are lawyers. One is an insurance adjuster. Do you get involved at all in any civic activities here in Boulder City or any political activities? I’ve been playing it low-key the last several years because of health. I had a heart surgery in 1981—haven’t had the energy. What were you doing before that? Oh, primarily, after I—well, I retired from school administration in 1963 and went to work for a savings & loan association there in Las Vegas for four years, and then I went back into the classroom just to update my retirement. The state legislation opened up a more liberal retirement program, and I went back in the schoolroom to work for the public to upgrade, improve my retirement program, and followed it through for some three years. In 1952, I think it was, I was appointed to the Public Employees Retirement Board, and I stayed on that, I was reappointed repeatedly under five different governors. It was a (unintelligible) position? UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 16 Yes. And then I was also appointed to the Nevada State Historical Society Board of Trustees. And I stayed on that, I suppose—well, I was replaced on the retirement board in 1979 after twenty-seven years of service, and I withdrew from the Historical Society Board of Trustees primarily because of health in ’81, I guess it was. Who makes those appointments? The governor. The governor makes those, too. Did you know these governors on a personal basis? Yes. Well, five of them you knew pretty well, then. You’ve been pretty close to political issues, then, for Nevada. Yes, I’ve been critically acquainted with Nevada governors since 1923. That must have been something different and exciting. You had never spent any time in Virginia City, though, or Carson City, or up in that area? Most of your dealings with them were down here in Southern Nevada? Only as I’d go up there in connections with the appointments that were made. Our meeting places were generally up there. That should have been something interesting. Are you still associated—I noticed President Gibson’s sign out there—are you still at all active in that part of it as far as—? Not particularly active. I try to keep abreast of candidates and what they’re doing. If things go the way, contrary to my wishes, why, I yell. (Laughs) What about your wife? Has she worked alongside of you with these things, or does she have her own interests as far as civic and political—? UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 17 Well, her interests have been primarily in the church. And Jim Gibson has made state president—he chose her for his state relief society president, and he kept her on in that position as long as he was state president. And she was—well, he kept her on because he liked her work. And she’s very active. Of course, at that time, why, it was the Lake Mead stake, and the Lake Mead stake (unintelligible) Kingman, Arizona, Needles, California, went on down to Lake Havasu City, Bullhead City. And she was making, doing (unintelligible) in those areas once every month, taking her officers down there, taking care of that part of it as well as the Henderson-Boulder City boards. And there was fourteen units (unintelligible) in the stake, and when Gibson was released, she was released along with him, and the state was divided into what is now Henderson and Henderson West. But she has carried on with her church work. Our interests in the political—well, she’s about as interested as I am in that, and we see things pretty much the same so far as candidates, candidate qualifications, the public trends are concerned. While I’m doing writing, she’s doing handwork, making quilts, that sort of thing. Has she ever had an occupation outside the home, or? No. Never has? Well, she has to. She was a telephone operator for many years. That was primarily, I guess. What was that, here in Boulder City, or? Yes. Did she enjoy it? Was it a routine kind of job for her, or something she enjoyed? I don’t think she’d let anything be routine. (Laughs) UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 18 She’s always giving into it and (unintelligible) back, so she made a lot of friends (unintelligible) conversations on the side. What was the telephone company at the time? Was it the same? Before it was taken over by Centel, it was, I guess, Southern Nevada, or Las Vegas—I don’t remember. At that time, everything was long distance to call to Henderson, Las Vegas, any of that. Yes. I remember a long time ago, I remember every time you wanted to call anywhere, call from Henderson to Vegas, you had to pay ten cents or twenty cents or something like that. You’ve worked all these years in education; what changes—you mentioned that you went back to update your retirement—what other changes has there been in education that you’ve seen through the years? Is it better or worse, or? Well, when I came here, when I entered into education, the laws of the state provided that, for compulsory education, provided that a school district would be formed on the basis of every five students in any given district. If there were as many as five students in any district in the area, it was (unintelligible) otherwise provided the school—the people could organize the school district, and then they were (unintelligible) they could receive the help from the county and the city educational portions. And as long as they kept as many as two in the major fraction of the students in an average daily attendance, they could continue to receive that aid. And so, in Clark County, I think, there were at least seventeen such school districts; there was a school district in Searchlight, there was a school district in Paradise Valley, in the (unintelligible), and Pahrump—well, Pahrump was in Nye County. But they had most every section along the railroad, and the school district, there was on out there at Dry Lake, north of Las Vegas in Moapa, Bunkerville, UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 19 Mesquite, Overton, Logandale—they were all school districts, although in the northern part of the county, they were consolidated, consolidated up there about 1919. But there was a school district down to Eldorado Canyon in Goodsprings and Sloan. And when Boulder City was organized, it was on a federal reservation. And people on the reservation refused to pay taxes; there were federal agents in (unintelligible). And so the State of Nevada wouldn’t provide them any schools; they couldn’t provide them schools because they had no tax income to support the schools. And they brought the case through the courts, and of course the only private property, the only taxable property on the reservation was that that was owned by Six Companies, private property owned by people. And so, there was no provision for schools, no state provision for schools, in Boulder City until they brought the case through the courts and won the right to levy taxes on personal property, which included all of the— [Audio cuts out] You was talking about the taxation in Boulder City for schools. Yes. And so, when they won the right to collect taxes, why, they went ahead and organized a school district for elementary school purposes, and that provided for the children of grades kindergarten through eighth—the high school students were transported to Las Vegas to the Las Vegas High School. At that time, they didn’t think that Boulder City would last long enough to justify the organization of a high school district. Las Vegas High School was—well, the county, as I noted before, was a consolidation of the school districts in the northern part of the county. And so you had the education district number one in the northern part of the county, educational district number two for high school purposes in the southern part of the county, and that was Las Vegas (unintelligible) the rest of the county for high school purposes. They still had the elementary, the individual school districts for elementary school purposes, and I recounted a UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 20 little earlier in the conversation. So, the high school students of Boulder City were hauled west into Las Vegas for several years. In fact, until the dam was completed and the population was reduced because of the workmen moving out looking for jobs elsewhere, and the school population (unintelligible) 1937, I think it was, why, Boulder City contracted with the education district number two, the Las Vegas High School to keep the ninth grade out here. And in 199, they kept the tenth grade; in 1940, the eleventh grade—anyway, the spring of 1942, they had their first graduating class from high school in Boulder City. But we were still technically a part of the Las Vegas School District. And after I’d been here for a couple years, why, we organized educational district number three for high school purposes and had our own high school district out here and unionized that with the Boulder City Elementary School, and they maintained that status, educational district number one, educational district number two, and educational district number three of Clark County until the application of the (unintelligible) report of 1956, at which time, which provided for the consolidation of those schools under the (unintelligible) plan. It's been slow, but it’s been constant movement toward anyhow. What is it, is Henderson behind Boulder City as far as development? Well, Boulder City came into existence in 1931—Henderson about 1941. Well, Henderson’s a little bit behind as far as getting things that, and things happening there as far as education or anything else. It sounds like you’ve been busy all your life, have you been—do you have any hobbies, anything that you like to do? I know you do quite a bit of writing. Has that been a lifelong thing for you? Well, I started in 1933. I had become acquainted with Nevada’s governor, Jim Scrugham, in 1923, and he served only one term. And then he took over the control of the publication of the Nevada State Journal in Reno. And incidental to that, why, he began writing his history of UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 21 Nevada. This is Jim Scrugham’s work (unintelligible) two volumes of it, known as what they call a mug history. What is that? Well, that’s a method of financing—the history of the cell subscriptions to the book, and for—that’s the volume one, which is the history. These are the mug histories that finance it. You buy a book, or buy the (unintelligible), you get your name and biography and publication. Mm-hmm. You gotta make a place for yourself in history, or so doing—well, Jim wanted to do something different. No one knew, when he was doing this, anything about Southern Nevada. All the history that had ever been written had been written about the north. The history of Nevada was the history of Virginia City and the Comstock Lode, and he came to Maude Frazier and wanted a recommendation on someone that could do some work on Nevada history. And I was teaching history in the Las Vegas High School, so she just said, “Well, talk to Elbert Edwards”—came to me, told me what he wanted. It appealed to me, so I went to work, and anyway, I got a chapter in there on the history of Southern Nevada, primarily Lincoln and Clark County. Now, these people are just individual people that wanted to be part of history. Wanted to get into history, yes, when they were making the book. Just, there’s a lot of names in here, Silver City—this is still going on, or is this something that went on only for a period? Well, every once in a while, someone comes up with an idea of making some money. I bet there’s a lot of personal history in those. Yes. People you wouldn’t know normally about. UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 22 And (unintelligible) this history of 1981 was done that way. These are just updates, then, when they had the history of 1981, that’s just what went on in that year, kind-of-thing? No, not that year. This covered Nevada, the history of Nevada, up to 1881. Oh. And then here’s a more recent volume of the Silver State. The general idea of it all is frowned upon by profession historians. Why? Because they think people telling their own story and that’s not enough facts? Well, they decry the method of editing. Now, Jim Scrugham’s work there was a good work because he did the work. That was those first three volumes? Yes, first three volumes. This one is pretty much trash because they just went from county to county and got somebody to write the history of the county. Mm-hmm. Now, they paid nothing for it. Sam Davis picked up what he could—very unreliable history, as written by nonprofessionals. At the same time, there are values on the books. There are values on the biographical notes. In the case of Jim Scrugham, why, he covers a lot of very prominent people in the state of Nevada at that time. And if you wanted to look up some of the Las Vegas old timers, they’re covered. Reno old timers are covered really well. Just, I don’t know, I guess there are so many things that are written down places that you can’t—it’s just amazing to me how much—I mean, the book we have to study about Nevada history is like this, you know, where there’s all these kind of things that really UNLV University Libraries Elbert Edwards 23 could