Thiriot, Joseph Interview, 2000 August 10. OH-01813. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
An Interview with Joseph Thiriot An Oral History Conducted by Clay tee D. White The Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas ©The Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2007 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV - University Libraries Director: Claytee D. White Editors: Barbara Tabach and Gloria Homol Transcribers: Kristin Hicks and Laurie Boetcher Interviewers and Project Assistants: Barbara Tabach and Claytee D. White The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of Dr. Harold Boyer and the Library Advisory Committee. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank the university for the support given that allowed an idea the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes 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. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project. Additional transcripts may be found under that series title. Claytee D. White, Project Director Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University Nevada, Las Vegas 111 Preface Joseph Thiriot is a longtime Las Vegas resident who served the community as an educator. He was born in 1906 in Provo, Utah; one of five sons bom to George W. and Elvira Thiriot. He has vivid memories of moving about, including living in Idaho where his father sold a typing machine , a forerunner to the typewriter. Eventually the family moved to a ranch in Pahranagat Valley, Nevada, where the limits of educational opportunities compelled his paients to send him back to Provo to finish his education while living with family there. Gaining a teaching certificate enabled Joseph to teach in rural Nevada. He completed his degree at the University of Utah and after meeting Las Vegas Superintendent Maude Frazier he relocated to Las Vegas to become a teacher. He reminisces about his life and the changes that have occurred over the years in Las Vegas. iv Early Las Vegas Oral History Project Project Director, Peter Michel, Special Collections, UNLV Library, 895-3252 Use Agreement Name of narrator: Name of interviewer • h.—^ We, the above named, give to the Early Las Vegas Oral History Project the tape recorded interview(s) initiated on /Q HtilAliST^MO as an unrestricted gift, to be used for such scholarly and educational uses as shall be determined, and transfer to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, legal title and all literary property rights including copyright. This gift does not preclude the right of the interviewer, as a representative of UNLV, to use the recordings and related materials for scholarly uses. There will be no compensation for interview. ignfiture of narrator Date t? ^ i SEti Address of narrator f This is August 10th, 2000. I'm in Las Vegas at the home of — Joseph Thiriot. T-H-I-R-I-O-T. We're just going to start by talking about your early life if that's okay. Give me some idea of early life; I want to know what your parents' names are, if you have brothers and sisters, and where you grew up? Oh, dear, let's see. My mother's name was Elvira, her other name Elvira Henrie, H-E-N-R-I-E, and then she married George W. Thiriot, my father. I don't know exactly when they were married. It was about 1898,1 believe. I had an older brother—he was three years older than I—and so he would have been born in about 1903 and I was born in 1906. His name was Henrie. They used mother's maiden name, her original name. But when he was about five years old — in those days they had these children's diseases that were very difficult ~ he had scarlet fever and then I think he had something else on top of it and he died. So I got to know him very little. I was just very young and I knew him a little bit. My mother always wanted girls, but she didn't have any girls. What did they do for a living? Every time they had boys. So we had four boys, five boys all together. All the boys were younger than I except the one who died. Now they're all gone; I'm the only one left. What were the others' names? Next to me was named Dean, D-E-A-N, and then James and then William, Bill. What did your parents do for a living? My father, first, he was an assayer; he worked for the government. In those days there was a lot of discovery of metals. I was born in Provo, Utah. My mother said that I came before the doctor did - [laughing] - in the morning. At any rate, we went to Idaho where my father—he loved to hunt and so in his spare time he'd go (there) hunting. Then on the creeks up there, he took his gold pan and would pan for gold. I have quite a few little gold nuggets that he panned years and years ago—oh so many, many years ago. But we used to go fishing, (which) went right along with panning for gold. So we got quite a few gold nuggets. And then later on he was selling special machines—in those days, kind of a typing machine. It was the forerunner of the real typing machine. Then he worked for the government awhile. Later on he went into mining, did a lot of mining with his sons. 1 So you had a business together? I didn't. I was never in the business. When did you first leave home? Well, we lived on a ranch in Pahranagat Valley (Nevada). When I graduated from eighth grade, there was no high school there. So I had to go back to Provo with my aunt who was in Provo, Aunt Dee was her name. She invited me up there to go to school. So I really left home when I was going to high school. And all the winters I spent up there going to high school. In the summer, I went back to the ranch and worked, learned how to milk cows, hoe weeds and cut grass and alfalfa and bale hay and all that kind of stuff that you do on the ranch. So after high school when did you start working and where? Well, after high school I wanted to go to college. In those days it was very, very difficult. Nobody had any money. When I tell the kids who are going to college now that I went to the BYU (when tuition) was only $25 a quarter; $25 four times a year. I went two times, stayed with my grandmother and went to college. Then I came home and didn't have any money, and so I worked all summer. My dad—we had a great big corn crop. I think we had 40 acres and ten, about 50 acres of corn, great big ears of corn. He couldn't sell it. So he decided to get some steers and fatten the steers and then sell them. So we got to work and fed all that corn to those steers. They really got nice and fat. In those days we had to go 50 miles to the railroad. So we had to drive those cows 50 miles to put them on the railroad to send them to California. So this was like "Rawhide?" Do you remember the TV show "Rawhide?" Yes, I do. You bet. Uh-huh. When we got down there, the market went down and we lost it all; didn't make one single dime on all that corn and all the work. So when it came time to go to college that year — that was in my junior year -- my brother said, "Look, I'll go work on the road and get enough money so we can pay your tuition." I said, "If I can get up there, I know I can get a job; I know I can make it all right." So he worked on the road and gave me $40. Twenty-five paid for the tuition and the rest paid for some of my books. What kind of work did he do on the road? 2 In those days you had to use a scraper. They started building highways, building little roads and all kinds of roads, county roads. There were very few roads. This is back in the 1930s, you know. So which year were you born? 1906. 1906. So this is in the 30s. How long did it take your brother to earn the $40? Oh, I guess it took him about a week. So did he continue to work on the road until he earned the $40? Yes, he did. Did you ever pay him back? You bet. [Laughing] Are you the only one who went to college? No. My brother Dean went to college. And my brother Jim went one year and then he joined the Marines. It was during the wartime. Then my brother Bill, he went to college and learned accounting. Oh, I could tell you stories about him, I'll tell you. Give me the name of the place where the ranch was located again. Well, it was between Alamo and Hiko and they call it Pahranagat Valley. About in the middle there, there was a spring called Ash Springs. Now, with five boys, at that time were you going on missions? Yes. But we didn't have any money to go on missions. Tell me about what you did when you finished college. Well, I taught one year before I finished. It came to the last year and I didn't have any money again. So I decided to... teach in grammar school. Some kind of certification? Certification to teach in grammar school. I got that in summer school and I got a job teaching up in White Pine County. That's just a little below Lund, Nevada. It was an eight-month school, $110 a month; $880 for the year. Well, that was a fortune. It permitted me to go back to school and finish up. So I finished in the summertime because I had to finish before that last summer; and, therefore, I -- in those days they only graduated in June. So you had to wait until the next June. You're all through and you've got everything done. So I applied for school, a school up in Panaca, Nevada, to 3 teach high school before I had really marched. You might say march. You knew you'd march and get your degree. But I had finished everything; therefore, I was qualified. So I got a job in Panaca, Nevada. Now, that first job where you made the $880, did you live with a family? No. They had a special room where we had the school, a little school, and there was a little room there where you could live and a little kitchen. Luckily, they had a piano there. So I played the piano and had a lot of fun. One of the little girls that I taught wanted to learn to play the piano. So all the time I was there I gave her lessons, teaching to play the piano. Eventually she learned to play the piano. Isn't that something? Do you still play the piano? Oh, yes. What kind of music? Oh, I used to play tough stuff, but I don't anymore. I just play waltzes and things of that sort. There's a number that I wrote for my wife when we were courting each other. Oh, great. So you're a real romantic. [Laughing] So tell me what happened after you taught the second year of school. You went back then and you marched in June. Marched in June and got married in June. So how did you meet your wife? I met her in summer school when I was trying to make up this extra time in summer school. I went up to the University of Utah. I think it was providential because my Grandmother Thiriot lived in Salt Lake and my Uncle Joe, who I was named after, called me and said, "Why don't you come up here to summer school instead of BYU because Grandma needs somebody to kind of help her a little bit?" I said, "Sure, I'll come." So I went up and helped her and did all her shopping for her and did things like that that she needed done and went to the University of Utah, and there I met my wife. What was she doing? She was going to summer school, too. [Laughing] Yep. We took a class in geology, and I've always loved geology. That's where I get my interest in all the rocks you see. So that's where I met 4 her. Then the next winter, you see, I taught high school in Panaca, and she was already teaching. She was teaching grammar school up in Salt Lake. So we taught that year and wrote back and forth and decided to get married the next spring after I had graduated. Where did you live? In Panaca. We got to work and built a house in Panaca. How long did you live there? Seven years. I taught high school there for seven years. Wonderful bunch of kids. The high school at that time was bigger, a bigger high school than the one in Las Vegas. So now, where is Panaca located? Panaca is between Pioche, which is a mining town, and Caliente, which is a railroad town, about halfway between. So they used to bus the kids from Pioche and from Caliente to Panaca. So that's why the high school was so big. Uh-huh. We had a nice high school, great. Did you start your family right away? I guess about a year and a half after we were married. How many children did you have in all? We had three daughters and one son. What is your wife's name? Ellen. And your children's names? Alice is the older one. Janetta was next. And then there was a miscarriage. And then Jon, J-O-N, not J-O-H-N, J-O-N. That's the French because my father's mother was English, but her husband was French, and that's where we get the name Thiriot. So after living there for seven years, is that when you moved to Las Vegas? Yes. Why did you decide to come to Las Vegas? Well, Ms. Frazier, who was the superintendent out here and I had known her, she called and wanted me to come down. Is that Maude Frazier? 5 Maude Frazier. I knew her very well. What a gal. And she wanted me to come down and offered me a little bit more money than I was getting up there. It was very difficult to raise a family or do anything on the salaries they paid teachers. So I came down here and I didn't realize that they didn't have an auditorium. We put on our plays over in the grammar school gym. They had a stage there, but it was a very poor stage. What did you teach? Dramatics, public speaking, English, grammar, literature, and one time I even taught typing. And then I taught Glee Club. That's Girls and Boys Glee Club. I did that up in Panaca. I taught that for seven years up there. So did you ever do anything with all of that musical talent, artistic talent, other than teach? Yes, I certainly did. We formed a quartet when I came down here. Of course, I had sung in different organizations before that. But we formed this quartet. We sang for, oh, a lot of the things that started out here and kept on working and, finally, I had a very good friend who invited us to get into the Kiwanis Club. So we all joined the Kiwanis Club and became known as the Kiwanis Quartet. Who was in the quartet? Well, it was my friend Wayne Gamette and Joe Wendell, Fred Gillis and me. We sang for the Kiwanis Club I guess for, oh, maybe nine, ten years. Went all over the country. We sang at international conventions. We sang from coast to coast. Tell me just a little something about what the Kiwanis Club does. Oh, they are a great organization. I still belong. Their biggest push is just to help kids, help children go to college, help children do this and that and try their best to help parents be good parents. That's the big push. So tell me where you lived when you first moved to Las Vegas. It was about five blocks from here. This wasn't a very big town then. The high school was here on Seventh Street, you know, right where it is. That was about the last of the town. It was a little bit. Finally, they built this little section down here. When we moved here there was not one single house between here and the mountain, not one. Now we're almost to the mountains. Oh, yes. Up on the mountain. 6 Yes. That's true. We just rented there for the two years is all. Give me some your first memories of Las Vegas. What did it look like when you first came? You just told me about the size, but what was here? Well, when we used to come from Salt Lake. [Ellen] lived in Salt Lake, so her family was there and we often went up there. When we'd come over that hill at night, just look down here and there was just a little bunch of lights down here in the middle, just a little bunch, nothing else. Just in the middle of the desert. Right. Well, the first year when I taught over here at the high school, they didn't have the roads paved. They were still muddy roads when it rained. Then we had this big rain and the roads were just simply terrible, mud. So Ms. Maude Frazier called the Union Pacific and she said, "Look, we're having troubles down here; the kids can't get across the street without getting their feet all muddy and then they track it into the school. It's terrible. Can't you bring some ties down here so they can walk across?" "Sure." So they brought ties down, they put them down there, and the kids walked across on the ties so they didn't get their feet wet crossing the road. They had sidewalks, but nothing across the road. So Fremont Street wasn't paved, either. Oh, yes, Fremont Street was paved when I came. Which year was it that you moved here? 1940. The fall of 1940. Tell me what kinds of stories were being told about early Las Vegas. In 1940 what were some of the stories that you heard as soon as you moved here? Well, the first thing we heard about was about the high school, of course. I think it was built in about 1935 or '36, somewhere along in there. It was almost new when I came. Ms. Frazier was criticized very severely for building the high school so far out of town. Can you imagine? No. [Laughing] Very severely, yep. Well, there was not much. So how far was it from town at that point? 7 The same distance as it is now. So downtown was - we're talking about -- Fremont Street. Fifth Street and Fremont. Okay. So Fifth and Fremont. And we're at Ninth and — and the school was at Seventh and — Uh-huh. Just two blocks. Just two blocks. Can you imagine? Wow. So you can see how sparse it really was. Yes. So tell me about the church life here when you first came. Well, there were two or three churches here when I came. There was the LDS church up here on Ninth around Clark, this building up here. Then there was a Baptist church. We knew all of them very well. There was a Catholic church and there was Methodist. When I was with the quartet we used to go and sing at all the churches. Yeah. We sang at all the Easter ceremonies for years because we sang a lot of religious numbers and at one time we knew 100 numbers. Tell me what kinds of things your wife got involved in? And by the way, is she still teaching? When you come here, does she still teach? She didn't have a job when I came, but she soon was called on to teach. She was a very good teacher. She was probably a better teacher than I was. I Did she join any kind of women's clubs? Oh, yes. Do you remember any of those that she participated in? The church, of course, has what they call the Relief Society and she belonged to that. But there were two or three other clubs that she joined, all women's clubs. What about entertainment for adults and children? Other than school, what else did your children do as they were growing up here? Well, of course, they had church activities. All the kids had some church activities regardless of what church they belonged to. They used to have dances, church dances, that they all liked to go to when they got old enough... We used to take the kids wherever we went. When the hotels were first 8 starting out here, why, we'd go out to dinner, we'd take the kids out, always took the kids. So if you were going out to dinner, would you go to a place that had a casino as part of it or would you go to a restaurant? Well, there were very few restaurants by themselves in those days. Most of them had a casino attached, but we often went to both. What did you teach your children about gambling? We just told them that the best way to double their money was to take the bill and fold it and put it back in your pocket. [Laughing] What kinds of services were available in the early 40s? What kind of mail service did you have? What kinds of grocery stores? The mail service was usually pretty good. We almost always had good mail service. They came right down here and delivered it right in our little place here. And grocery stores? They had quite a few different grocery stores. They were just local; they weren't national or anything like that. But we had some good ones. We always knew the owners and we'd always go visit a little bit, you know, or knew the guys that ran it and worked there, so you got well acquainted with them. Were there many clothing stores at that time? On Fremont Street there were some good ones, yes. Yep. They had Hanson's and then -- oh, dear, the ones that the ladies went to. Fanny's? Fanny's, oh, yes, they all went to Fanny's. That was a good place to go. They always got good service there. Now, a few minutes ago when I first came in you showed me some rings that you had made for some great-grandchildren. At that time, early on in the 40s, were you interested in stones then and crafts and making rings and things like that? No, I learned that later. I was pretty busy at that time, but when my son graduated from high school, I asked him what he wanted as a gift. He had taken a class in lapidary. Now, lapidary is the science of making things out of rocks, stones. He said, "Yeah, I'd like to have an outfit so I can do some lapidary work." I said, "Okay." So I bought this outfit, presented it to him. 9 We went out there and he tried to show me two or three things that he learned. Shortly thereafter, he graduated and then the next year he went on a mission down to the Navahos. So he kept writing back and saying, "Dad, get to work and leam how to do that so when I come back you can help me." So every little while he'd do that. So every morning I'd get up early and set the saw so it would cut a rock and it automatically would cut it and turn oft when it got through. You can set them to do that. So I did that, oh, all the time he was gone, a year and a half. When he got back, I had a lot of slab cuts. So, good, we'll try it some more. I think we tried maybe two or three times and then he was called into the armed forces, war. He joined the navy, went into the navy, (and) had a great time. He went to China, even, when he was in the navy. So do you remember which year he went into service? I can't remember exactly. I think it was World War II. Or maybe it was Korean War. I don't know. It's hard to remember. Tell me about race relations when you first came to Las Vegas. Do you remember anything - I don't remember having any problem at all. We had some colored children and some Japanese and I think we had some Mexicans, sure we did. There didn't seem to be any problem at all. Did we just have one high school at that time? That's all, one high school. So all of the kids went to the same high school. Now, you were telling me about some of the major changes. You told me about some of the families on this block and how now there are only three families left that were here when you -- In all these four blocks. There's one, two, three, four. Then you get on the next block and part of that goes into Charleston Boulevard. And so although there were — I think we knew two people that we knew down there, but all the rest of them were kind of businesses, even then. So what are some of the major changes when you look outside of the neighborhood? Well, as I said, it looks like they get a great big 40-acre piece of land and it isn't like they used to do, they just clear the whole thing and build the whole thing all at once and sell the houses and they all 10 look alike. At least our houses were different a little bit so that you could recognize the difference. [Laughing] When you first came in the early 1940s, what kinds of stories did you hear people telling? Did they still tell stories about when everybody here worked on the railroad? Did they still talk about that? Well, you get with the right people you can talk about it, but most of them don't talk about that anymore. In those days, of course, the railroad was very important. It was the lifeblood of the community. Heavens, I can remember the railroad was really something when we lived up above Caliente. My grandfather ran sheep and he ran them up on that mountain. Ely Mountain is the name of the mountain, north of Caliente. We lived in a little place called Dutch Flat. In the early spring after school was out they used to come and shear the sheep. And when we wanted to go from there to Salt Lake or to Provo, you had to go on the train. My dad used to go out and the train would come out of this great big tunnel, and there was maybe 200, 300 yards before it got to where we were. He d get out there and flag the train. And that train would stop, we'd get on, and away we go. Now that doesn't happen anymore. It was like flagging a cab. Yeah. Isn't that something? [Laughing] Yes. But the railroad was very important, it was, and it still has some importance here. But you can hear the train whistles at night and that's about all. Las Vegas is one of those places that are sometimes still called the Wild West. We saw it in the movies in the 50s and the 60s. How would you describe crime? What was the atmosphere like when you first came? Was there fear? Was there crime? Would you have considered it the Wild West at that point? No. We didn't feel that at all. In fact, I can remember in the early days they'd bring horses down and they used to have a place over there where you could tie the horses up. Lots of people who had horses would ride their horses. As the quartet I remember we rode some beautiful horses. They weren't ours, but some of our friends had them and we went riding on their horses. 11 Did the quartet ever take part in the Helldorado Parade? Oh, yes. Yeah, we did. Did you ride in the parade as a quartet? No. We rode on a float as the quartet for the Kiwanis Club. Tell me about the Helldorado Parades. Oh, they were wonderful. I've got a lot of slides of the parades, of the early parades. Some of them were really fabulous. We even had an elephant in the parade one time. And in Las Vegas an elephant was unusual. And then, they had horse drawn vehicles and cowboys riding horses. Of course, the high school always had their band in there. And there was a marching group of girls. They were always in the parade. I want to ask a question that most of us don't know that much about. If you feel free to do this, could you tell me information about a mission? When your son went on a mission, could you tell me what happens then? Well, of course. The purpose of the mission is to get people acquainted with how our church started and some of the precepts of the church. In order to do that in those days they when out and talked to them a bit and told them some of the things that they needed to have done. Now they prepare them much better than they used to. But then they would go and usually have someone in that particular area who was a good member and who had a home and kind of looked after things. Then they'd go, two of them together — they didn't know who their companion was going to be, but it would be somebody maybe from a different state. So they got together and then they'd talk it over and decide who they'd go and visit and every day they go visit somebody and talk to them about it and try to get them to join the church, you see. Now, the young boys do that. Do the young girls do anything? Yes. The girls do missions now, too. They do a lot of the things on the missions. They have different assignments and they're not sent to some of the places that the boys are because they're a little bit rough, you know. But they have thousands of missionaries now, all over, all over the world. And how long is a mission? Two years. And can you stretch it out longer if you want to? 12 Not that mission. You can come back and then you can volunteer to do something else, but that mission ends in two years. Okay. Now, getting back to the Las Vegas of the 1940s, did your family ever go to movies here? Oh, sure. There was [a movie theater] up on Fremont Street, and about the only one that we knew about then. Then later there was one down here that was just a block away. Now, was one the Majestic? The Majestic, that's the one uptown. Where was that one located? Oh, it was in about — oh, dear, what was it? It was about Fourth Street, maybe Fourth Street on Fremont. On Fremont. Yeah. They ve changed that so much now I can't remember. But I have some beautiful pictures of that street before they changed it. You still have them now? Oh, you bet. Taken at one o clock in the morning on a rainy night so that there was not many cars or people in the way. You know that I have to see those. Oh, they are just beautiful. I'll invite you over and show you a lot of stuff. Good. Las Vegas had a thing back in the 30s called the dude ranches. Do you remember any of those, what they were for? To give people a chance to know what a ranch was like, give them a chance to ride a horse, maybe a chance to learn how to throw the lariat, catch the horse and hit them, and how to cut the cattle out and do the things that they did on those early ranches. So did the locals do that, as well as the tourists? Sometimes. Of course, when we were on the ranch, we always had lots of horses. We had mustangs. Now, those are wild horses that you catch and tame and teach them so that you can ride them. We had the most beautiful little horse called Pat that was a mustang. Now, did your father still have the ranch when your children were born? 13 Yeah. So your children were able to go to the ranch and ride horses? Yes, if they got a chance. It was just about two years was all, and then they sold the ranch and went up to the mine. What do you remember about Basic Magnesium? Ooh, I worked out there one summer. I surely did. I worked as an electrician because I had taken electricity and knew something about it and had a chance to work out there. It was probably the biggest money I ever made in a short time. They needed people out there in their big plant. I can't remember exactly, but there were three or four of us that went out and all got jobs and worked all summer, every day. That was during the war? That's right. During the war were you involved in any of the rationing programs, any of the scrap metal drives or anything like that? Oh, sure. Absolutely. Tell me a little about that and how they were organized and who took care of that. Well, they had certain people assigned to take care of it. When they were trying to get metal, of course, then they could melt it up and make guns out of it or whatever they needed to, bullets. You just went around and anything that you didn't need that was metal you'd contribute it or if you knew somebody who had a whole blacksmith shop and a lot of old iron, why, you went and talked to him. I think we went one Saturday and got quite a bunch of stuff from a couple of places. So were you involved in that? It sounds like you did some of collecting? Oh, yes, I think they tried to get everybody involved that they could. I think as a result of the schools, of course, we were sort of pinpointed to pass the word along and be examples, and so that's what we did. Were you aware of special security measures for this city since there was so much? You had an air force army base, you had Basic Magnesium and I think there was a gunnery place. Yes, there was. So were there any special -- did you notice? 14 I think we felt it at one time there when it was a little more important than later. But I don't think it affected our lives too much. Do you remember a housing area near the Basic Magnesium Plant called Carver Park? Yes, I do. Did you ever see that? You bet I did. Could you describe it to me? I remember it very well, Carver Park, you bet. It seems to me the houses were pretty much the same. I remember we went out there one time. Of course, I went out more than one time, but I remember the one time we went out there it looked like it was just a lot of people there. We just thought that they were good people and wondered why they'd come there, you know. But I don't know. In 1947 the Flamingo was completed. What did people in the town say about it? What was the talk? [Laughing] Oh, gosh. Well, of course, there was a lot of—this Bugsy Siegel and some of those. It kind of bothered people to think that these rats, they called them, were doing it, but it became quite the place