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Transcript of interview with Jackie Abell by Robert Stuart, April 03, 1976






Robert Stuart interviews Jackie Abell (b. 1924) about her experiences growing up in Virginia City, Reno, and Overton, Nevada. She specifically discusses her experiences growing up on a ranch, railroading, above ground atomic testing, flooding, and wild animals.

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Jacqueline Abell oral history interview, 1976 April 03. OH-00002. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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UNLV University Libraries Jacqueline Abell 1 Interview with Jacqueline Abell An Oral History Conducted by Robert Stuart Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas Special Collections Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada, Las Vegas UNLV University Libraries Jacqueline Abell 2 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 Jacqueline Abell 3 Abstract Robert Stuart interviews Jackie Abell (b. 1924) about her experiences growing up in Virginia City, Reno, and Overton, Nevada. She specifically discusses her experiences growing up on a ranch, railroading, above ground atomic testing, flooding, and wild animals. UNLV University Libraries Jacqueline Abell 4 This is an interview by Robert Stuart, the 3rd of April, 1976 with Miss Jackie Abell at the old Cane Springs Ranch about 12 miles to the north of Moapa. Rather than go through the standard interview form, I’d like to divide this interview into about three parts. I’ll be talking to Miss Abell about growing up in the Virginia City, Reno, Sparks, Carson City area, then about her experiences after she moved to Las Vegas in the mid-forties, and finally about the experiences that she and her husband have had since they moved to the old Cane Springs Ranch. Jackie, let’s start off with talking about the Virginia City area. Were born on the ranch or? No, I was born in Reno. The folks already had the ranch, but Mother had gone into Reno to (unintelligible) when I was one. They had, it was a homestead that they had bought. I see. The ranch was just a little ways from Virginia City, wasn’t it? Four miles during, or up through the Chop Canyon, where the old Chop Ranch was. I see. Virginia City, I’ve only been up there a few times, and that’s since it’s become a tourist trap, and I’m sure you remember it a little bit different back in the days when you were growing up and when you’d go over there. Well, actually, in my recollection, it was still a tourist attraction. They had, not the refinement of it as they do today. The superabundance of gaming or thing like slot machines and things like that. And they had all board sidewalks, and the chandeliers in all the bars were the big attractions in those days – which most of the bars sported soda fountains as well as liquor bars where children could go at one end and the adults in the other, where we spent quite a number of times. Also, we spent a good deal of time just down the hill at Bowers Mansion, which at that time was set aside from Sandy Bowers, who had made his fortune there at Virginia City. They used to have Nevada Day celebrations there. It was contingent with Virginia City. There was a loop that UNLV University Libraries Jacqueline Abell 5 people used to take at that time from Reno to Virginia City, down to the Bowers Mansion, back to Reno. Well, that was mostly back during the Depression days that you remember Virginia City, Jackie? Right, uh-huh. The early thirties – well, up until, say, 1938, and then they began turning quite commercial. Took out the – well, now they tell me they redid the Piper Opera House, and the old Southside School was where my mother went to school that’s still standing at the north end of town. Your mother was born in Virginia City, wasn’t she? Yes, Mother was born there in 1892. Did she ever tell you about any of her recollections? Yes, it was at the end, of course, the major Comstock was over, gold was over. But a lot of the men were going through the mine tailings and trying to (unintelligible) put aside. And her father worked, was a bookkeeper for one of the large mining concerns, but I can’t recall now which one. I think you mentioned to me that the kids had a way of getting a little extra cash during the Depression days there in Virginia City, too? That’s through the cracks in the boardwalks. It was always the idea of the day to dig underneath the board sidewalks and you could always find silver coins and, if you were real lucky, some gold coins. They tell me now they are all gone. I’m not, I don’t guess there are any (unintelligible) sidewalks. I think the boardwalks up there now are all recently constructed ones just for atmosphere. Yes. UNLV University Libraries Jacqueline Abell 6 But they were the originals back in those days. And very warped, so the getting through the cracks wasn’t too difficult. Well I know, I grew up, of course, here in Southern Nevada (unintelligible). I remember the Depression days but I don’t remember them really being terribly difficult down here ‘cause most of the people around were railroaders and they had steady jobs. What do you remember about that area of Northern Nevada back during the Depression? Were times real tough, or? I, as I recall, financially, yes. Being raised on a ranch there, we had oodles to eat, and nobody suffered anything. There was no exchange of money. My mother used to take eggs into Sparks to a market and trade for the staples that we couldn’t raise. You had very little in material things, clothing and things, but we didn’t, really weren’t aware of doing without. I’m sure maybe my parents were, but I can’t remember suffering any or – but, and they tell me that Nevada is, particularly at that part, wasn’t nearly as hard hit as major metropolitan areas. (Unintelligible) think that it was. Jackie, would you tell me a little bit more about your experiences as a girl growing up there on the ranch? Well, I was educated at the Lockwood School, about two miles from the ranch. Everybody, well, all the students, they lived in an area of about 20 mile radius. Everybody got there either by foot or horseback, or in severe winters, we skied to school. It was a one-room schoolhouse with 11 students from the first to the eighth grade. When I was in first grade, we had a terrific snowstorm that my father came to get us, and on the way home, we got lost in a blizzard. We were only about a quarter of a mile from home when off the embankment, my sister fell and my father told my older sister to hold onto me, and she lost me in the blizzard. And after (unintelligible) my sister and searching for me, he finally decided to take the other two home and come back. And UNLV University Libraries Jacqueline Abell 7 when he got there, I had beat them there, and I don’t recall now, other than the snow was so cold and I couldn’t see, how I got there, but it seemed to me then the snow was waist-deep. And being so small, it probably was. Growing up on a ranch, Jackie, did you have your own horse when you were a girl? Yes, we all had our own horses, and this was our main form of recreation. We spent many, many happy days up in the (unintelligible) Canyon where we were raised, and then where it turned into the (unintelligible) Canyon on up to Virginia City, which was just a four mile ride. However, no road from the ranch house. To get there by automobile, you had to go into Reno and then out the South Virginia Road and that way to Virginia City. There was an old wagon road from the ranch up to Virginia City, but it just wasn’t passable for a car. Was your dad ranching full time, Jackie, or was he working and ranching both? He worked and ranched both. He was a heavy equipment operator, and he worked on the old Highway 40, put a major part of that highway, and then he worked up at Galena Creek, up at Lake Tahoe, and numerous other highway jobs all around. And sometimes he would only be home weekends if he was too far to drive back and forth, which left my mother and three little girls out there in the canyon, and she fended the best she could with us. My mother and we girls did the irrigating and tending the fields and the livestock. Did you have a good water supply on the place, or? Only at times of year it was inclined to dry up, and real bad summers sometimes, July and August, and even September the creek would be dry. My dad had planned and hoped to dam the creek, but it cost him $3,000 at that time. He never did ever get it to get it. UNLV University Libraries Jacqueline Abell 8 A lot of money back then. Except for water problems, it kinda seems like life comes full circle. It’s not too terribly different from your experiences up here on the ranch, which would be given to after (unintelligible). They are very similar. Jackie, how old were you when you left the ranch there? I was 14 years old when we left the ranch and moved to Reno, where I finished my education and graduated from the Reno High School. I worked several years there in Reno, and in 1946, we moved to Las Vegas for my mother’s health. Las Vegas was very different then than it is now, quite small. After 6th Street, you were virtually out of town. There were no hotels on the Strip except the El Rancho Vegas and the Frontier, and the Flamingo Club was in the process of being built at that time. All of the major casinos were Downtown. When I first arrived, the Union Pacific was the major employer in Las Vegas. What do you remember – think about one thing that your commission has been one of the great things in Las Vegas since (unintelligible) back when you first came down, were a lot of the places still using swamp coolers? Almost all. I don’t recall particularly about the casinos or hotels, but almost all of the hotels at that time had swamp air conditioning, or coolers. What part of town did you live in when you came down to Vegas? When I first came to Las Vegas, we lived at Henderson, but later moved to Vegas Heights. At that time, you could have saddlehorses and things there, and lived there until 1950 when we came to Overton. Did you have a horse when you were in Las Vegas, Jackie? UNLV University Libraries Jacqueline Abell 9 Yes, uh-huh. I have all these old horses, and which eventually brought us to the valley. There were many people at that time who owned horses, which made Helldorado such a wonderful thing at that time. It seemed more of a, really, truly, Western idea. (Unintelligible) very much a Western parade, I remember, back in those days, but (unintelligible). At that time, they used to divide their parades, and I think they did up to just several years ago, where the main parade was the Western parade, and (unintelligible) of covered wagons and (unintelligible), and I remember particularly the Budweiser team coming to Las Vegas. What do you remember about the social activities in Las Vegas back then, Jackie, and the main places that people went up to the El Rancho or the Frontier? Well, I can remember the show houses, then, and which one, the El Portal, which is still in Las Vegas, was the classy place to go in town. They had many nice restaurants, and more of a family atmosphere. It used to be at that time that small children could participate. Even the Strip shows were all children-oriented, too. They could go, easily, too. Jackie, you were in the Las Vegas area when the above-ground atomic testing was going on, weren’t you? Yes, I was. I particularly remember them notifying us to go home and open doors and windows to keep repercussions from breaking glass. However, none of this was ever felt, at least in the area that I was. It was during this time, which, it was blamed on by not, certainly never proven, that the epidemic of moths that attacked Las Vegas, and as far as I have ever heard, it was the first time that lights were all turned on in the Downtown area. And large spray trucks would go up and down the streets spraying all the different insects. This lasted most of the summer of 1952. UNLV University Libraries Jacqueline Abell 10 How long did you live in Las Vegas altogether, Jackie, before you moved out to Moapa Valley? Six years. And in that time, most of that time that I was in Vegas Heights before we moved on out to Overton. And worked in various places while you were there, mostly around the Western business? Yes, uh-huh. I worked at the New Frontier, which at that time was next door to the Golden Nugget, at the old market spot on 2nd and Carson, and at the steak buffet that was on Main Street. The first place I ever worked was at the Oasis Buffet in North Las Vegas, which was considered one of (unintelligible) restaurants. Do you remember much about the customer back then, remember any difference between them and the people you see in Las Vegas now? Does it seem to be pretty much the same? I would say they’re pretty much the same. Tourists and on the (unintelligible) they’re the same. Let’s move on to Moapa Valley then. What do you remember back when you first came out into this area? Well, of course I was mainly attracted to the farming community, being a farmer at heart, and I liked the, the valley was so green and pretty. And I liked the people there; it was such a friendly and kindly place that I had decided this would be the place that I would like to make my home. Jackie, I know after you’d been in the valley (unintelligible), Joe moved up here to the old Cane Springs Ranch, about ’62, I think it was, and of course I’d looked into the history of the ranch, trying to find out (unintelligible) several times over the years. The Indian occupation around the area here is pretty evident from the pe(unintelligible) cliffs and rock writings and Indian sites and one thing and another. I haven’t had too much luck in tracing down the history of when the first Europeans or Spanish or Caucasian type people came in UNLV University Libraries Jacqueline Abell 11 here. First thing that I’m really aware of (unintelligible) my dad had at one time, a gentleman had come through, I think, in the early (unintelligible) seventies, about the time that Pioche was building in. They were mining down at Eldorado Canyon, and this was on one of the main thoroughfares in the State of Nevada. The next information that I was able to find about the place was some of it I had just whispered to people before, but in (unintelligible) book a hundred years (unintelligible) she did mention some of it. And it seems that when the original Mormon settlers left the valley, there were people called 49ers, and some histories, at least miners and members of the Mormon Church, it would’ve been (unintelligible). Here on the ranch, (unintelligible) was taken over by a gentleman named (unintelligible), I assume, in the mid-seventies, ‘cause Mister (unintelligible) got killed in gunfire with another gentleman named Longstreak, apparently about 1881. And then the next thing that I’ve been able to find on the place, the Huntsman family moved up here about 1891, and (unintelligible) talks about some of their experiences here on the place. For example, apparently, they gave the railroad a right of way for the right to ride (unintelligible) trains or the L.A. SPLA (unintelligible) back in those days back and forth. You head to Caliente or Las Vegas, and apparently the trains also made (unintelligible) stops here at one time. And the Huntsman family lived on the place; Miss Huntsman lived here until about 1920 when she passed away. Sometime during the Depression, a gentleman by the name of Bernie bought the place and came up here. And then of course in the late forties, we got the place. It seems like it’s always been a stopping point. The people who have lived here had a lot of experiences helping out weary trailers and people with troubles of one kind or another. I’d like to spend some time talking about the experiences that you UNLV University Libraries Jacqueline Abell 12 and Joe have had since you came up on the place. Do you remember when you first came up here and what it was like? Yes, I remember it very well, and my fondest memory, I think, is the Evergreen tree at the gate the lovely odor it has. I think this was started, the first (unintelligible). There was real warmth and friendliness here, and perhaps because of its isolated location, that so many troubled travelers stopped by for (unintelligible) has been ever since the history of it. The house has been allowed to deteriorate considerably when we first came, and it has been a going project since restoring here and there, a never ending process, but still a very satisfactory one. We’ve had our spells with floods, which the canyon does drain all the way from Pioche, and on one spring, I believe, it was 1969 that we were flooded in for 11 days. There’d been a late snowfall up at the Pioche area, and then when warm weather came and the melt kept the high water up for, let’s say, 11 days, there had been other reoccurring floods, which go with the draining of the canyon. I mentioned briefly that the trains did apparently use to stop here at one time from (unintelligible). I understand that they stopped again at one time for your son to be able to get back and forth? Yes, they did. When five and six were still running, my son was going to school in Las Vegas and had a pass, and the train would stop directly across from the ranch and let him off, but he did have to go down to (unintelligible) just a quarter of a mile below to get on because they couldn’t see him around the curbs to see if he was flagging the train down. I guess there’s still a little bit of informality left in railroading where they help people out, out in the country like this. Well, the railroad does seem to have a great deal to do, at least around the place, because there has been so many accommodating railroaders here. The section foreman who used to live above UNLV University Libraries Jacqueline Abell 13 us was one of our flood warners who used to do his work from Caliente, and would come down and let us know to get prepared, be on the right side of the water. An awful lot of history. The place seems to be tied up with floods. I know in Miss Haffner’s book, she mentions that 1910 flood, which was one of the greatest (unintelligible) floods in this country – practically wiped out their orchards. And I know you’ve had some very specific experiences since you’ve been here. Let’s talk about this a little bit more. Well, one that comes to mind is that my husband was trying to build a bridge out; he constructed it out, and at the time we had a pet goose. And as he would lay boards, the goose would try to supervise and get caught up in the current where he would have to rescue the goose. That bridge, at one point, was at least five feet, five-and-a-half feet tall, and the next flood went right over the top of it, taking the bridge and all with it. Have you ever been trapped on the (unintelligible)? Oh yes, many, many times. I’d say the longest was the 11-day flood, but a two or three day (unintelligible) flooded in is not at all unusual. (Unintelligible) during flood time. Yes, this has happened, too. One summer, we had some friends here visiting. When we were discussing the possibilities of summer floods and flash floods, and she was quite thrilled about this and made the statement that she would like to see one. And she certainly got her wish – that not only did she see the flood but all the roads washed out where it took a CAT to put the roads back in before she could get out of here. How long was she here? What were they here – 12 hours? A day and a night before they were able to get the roads passable enough for vehicles. UNLV University Libraries Jacqueline Abell 14 Jackie, I know that, occasionally, people get in the road up down into the Valley Wash (unintelligible) by accident, and they see a sign (unintelligible) and start down and find out that it gets (unintelligible). Yes, we have. And one particular incident comes to mind. Some truck drivers coming down from Idaho thought they were taking a shortcut to Las Vegas. They did manage to get all the way down to the railroad bridge at Farrier. And they couldn’t get under the bridge, so they attempted to cross over the tracks where the (unintelligible) and broke the drive line. One of the men started for Glendale to get aid, and he did get a wrecking truck, but he didn’t get back in time. Just as they arrived, a freight train came by and broke the truck right in two. The train crew didn’t try to stop because they immediately thought of a hijacking when they saw this truck across the road, so they just moved on and the cab let it go. Luckily, no one was hurt; everyone was out of the truck. I imagine that was kind of a spectacular (unintelligible) out here. How about people with passenger cars? (Unintelligible) break down occasionally and (unintelligible)? Yes, we’ve had very many. The road is misleading up around Caliente, and they try to come down it with little passenger cars, which usually causes a loss of oil pan, and things like that. We had one couple at least coming from Idaho, and they got this far and it wasn’t till the next morning that my husband (unintelligible) to Las Vegas. We put them up for the night, and we heard from them (unintelligible). They were very appreciative. Most people are. We’ve had a man who was a troubleshooter for Standard Oil Company here that got lost up the canyon. He got his car stuck, which we had to get him out and fix tires that he had damaged. So many people will get out when they really don’t know the surrounding country or don’t know how to take care of themselves in the area. UNLV University Libraries Jacqueline Abell 15 Do you get many, just, weekend visitors who (unintelligible)? Yes, we have an awful lot of those – people that are sightseeing. They see a dirt road and want to see where it goes. Most people are very considerate and are careful on the ranch and care for the livestock. However, we go get the other kind, which has been expensive in livestock in the damage that they have done. These people, I think, are the same (unintelligible), though they’re just as bad of your city environment as they are when they get out. (Unintelligible) you end up with a full dinner table occasionally on weekends when people come and eat (unintelligible)? Yes, this seems to be the place to come to on the weekend. We do enjoy the people and look forward to their coming. And I think they enjoy the (unintelligible). It’s certainly different; it still as it was in the beginning. We have no electricity, we use kerosene lamps, we do have (unintelligible) refrigeration, which I’m certain the other settlers didn’t have. While we have very few of the modern conveniences, everything is very comfortable. And I do think the people enjoy it. I think they like to get out and get away from all those other things once in a while. Jackie, I know that you occasionally get (unintelligible) on the place (unintelligible). It was during that – comes to mind. Some years ago, they transplanted some beavers into the canyon, who have built a large number of beaver dams. This frog hunter who was up in the canyon heard a beaver dash into the water and slap the water with his tail and told that if the frogs were that big, he just didn’t want any part of it. (Unintelligible) (Laughs) UNLV University Libraries Jacqueline Abell 16 Jackie, one of the things that a lot of people think about when they’re thinking about a place up there in the country is that (unintelligible) they might run into that many experiences out here with wild horses or wild animals. We have had a great abundance of wildlife around here. They have been a great number of (unintelligible) great number but a number of wild horses and burros. They came back to the creek to water. We’ve had a wild stallion come right into the ranch; in fact, he ran off our horses, and my husband had to go out and reclaim them. The burros never did give us any trouble; they came for their water and went back to the hills again. There is a great number of bobcat and desert fox and coyotes – none have ever really given us any trouble. One time, we had a bobcat raid the chicken yard that we had to shoot, but beyond this, we (unintelligible) well with the wildlife. They don’t seem to trouble us. Even the beavers, although we fuss with them over the water, everyone seems to live well together because we can get water and they hold it. What about snakes, rattlesnakes in particular? That’s one thing most people think about out on the desert (unintelligible) been bitten here (unintelligible). Well, we have seen quite a few. Actually, they kind of stay to themselves. They don’t come down right onto the place. One was across the ditch that had caught a bird when my husband shot him. But other than that, they stay back up on the hills, and mostly if you leave them alone, they will you. One time when I was working on the irrigation ditch, I did run into a sidewinder with every opportunity in the world to bite me, and didn’t. However, I did chop him with a small axe and did have to kill him. Jackie, thank you very much for the interview. Like you said earlier, I guess things really have come full circle. You grew up on a ranch and now you’re back on a ranch again. Things haven’t really changed all that much. UNLV University Libraries Jacqueline Abell 17 No, actually, we’ve raised with the kerosene lamps and – well, we did have a hand pump, and now we do have a gasoline pump on the well, so we don’t need to worry about that. There are some progresses even here. But the basic things are the same, and perhaps all the good parts are the same. I think that’s one of the good things about Nevada, at least part of it. Life doesn’t change a whole lot in some place.