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Butler celebration and the inquisitive burro

I like jackasses.

Some folks say that’s because they’re my intellectual equal and have me beat to pieces when it comes to work ethic. Others note that we speak the same dialect. Still more contend they’re able to spot a family resemblance about the ears and nose of those beasts and me.

Although I can’t counter such contentions, one of the big reasons I like jackasses is that the humble creatures have great historical significance in the Silver State. Not only did they carry packs, provisions, and valuable ore, but as the tale goes one particularly talented burro helped found the bustling mining town of Tonopah.

Sure, Jim Butler gets the credit, but according to the official legend it was his burro that led him to the second biggest silver strike in Nevada history.

Don’t take my word for it. Go to the source. You know, Wikipedia: “The community began circa 1900 with the discovery of gold and silver-rich ore by prospector Jim Butler when he went looking for a lost burro he owned. The burro had wandered off during the night and sought shelter near a rock outcropping. When Butler discovered the animal the next morning, he picked up a rock to throw at the beast, but instead noticed the rock was unusually heavy. He had stumbled upon the second-richest silver strike in Nevada history.”

There you have it.

More important than the silver strike itself is the story of the silver strike and the legend of Butler’s burro.


Because it makes an irresistible story line when it comes to promoting a town whose greatest boosters will be compelled to admit it is set just about smack in the middle of nowhere.

Thanks to Butler’s burro, Tonopah’s annual Jim Butler Days celebration is possible. Although the biggest part of the hoorah takes place over the Memorial Day weekend, the events were set to start Wednesday with the coronation of local kings and queens.

There are pancake breakfasts, street dances, mining demonstrations and competitions, music and even a stock car race at Tonphah Speedway. (That’s an actual place, not another name for U.S. 95.) For more information: 775-482-3558.

Bob Perchetti, whose family has been around Tonopah so long I heard its members took pictures with Butler’s burro, is chairman of this year’s 43rd annual event. As an aside, Perchetti also owns the Clown Motel.

He enthuses, “Tonopah’s always been the hub, the center of Nevada. Tonopah’s a place where we’ve always had good people. Must be something in the air, something in the water.”

And that’s because of its proximity to the former Nevada Test Site.

Although its history is tied to silver mining and nearby atomic testing, part of its future will be linked to the growth of renewable energy production, specifically solar farming, in the area.

Fact is, Tonopah is an ideal midway point for the transmission of such power, and as a county that’s larger than many states there’s no telling how bright its future can be.

Although most of the town’s many motels and its historic flagship hotel, the Mizpah, are sold out for Jim Butler Days, that doesn’t prevent a delightful day trip to enjoy the festivities. It’s well worth the drive to join the good people having a good time.

Although I’ve enjoyed it often, I am partial to the story about Butler and his inquisitive burro. Giving credit where it’s owed, Butler deserves a celebration — but save some praise for the burros among us.

With due respect to the desert bighorn sheep, a majestic creature to be sure, if given a choice I’d prefer the jackass as Nevada’s official state animal.

If not full time, then at least when the Legislature is in session.

Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Reach him at 383-0295 or at jsmith@reviewjournal.com.

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