State’s history rich with characters

Maybe there’s something in the water. Perhaps it’s the blistering heat of the summer sun, or the bone-numbing cold of the winter wind across the Great Basin.

Too hot in summer, too cold in winter. That’s the place for me. Home means Nevada.

Whatever the cause, and I’m not discounting Native American curses and test site radiation, Nevada history is festooned with colorful characters. Around Nevada Day, I can’t help thinking of them.

Here are a few that may surprise you:

Most readers are well-acquainted with the early writing of former Virginia City Territorial Enterprise reporter Mark Twain, who proved there’s definitely life after newspapering. And some readers are familiar with the humorous yarns and general reportage of the senior reporter on the Enterprise staff, Dan DeQuille, who sort of disproved there was life after newspapering.

But it’s a safe bet not many folks will remember the writing of Virginia City and Elko resident Thomas Detter, an African-American whose book “Nellie Brown: Or the Jealous Wife, With Other Sketches” was published in 1871. Although something short of a best-seller, the book includes Detter’s short essay, “Give the Negro a Chance,” which provides a reminder of the long struggle black Americans have endured in gaining equality.

Thanks to the efforts of Jackie Boor, the life and notorious death in 1906 of Nevada Sheriff Tom Logan has been saved from obscurity. Logan was shot responding to a call at the Jewel, a Manhattan brothel. Boor’s book, “Logan: The Honorable Life & Scandalous Death of a Western Lawman,” chronicles the sheriff’s life and clarifies his final hours, saving his reputation in the process.

Boor spent three decades sifting and researching Logan’s life and legend. If that sounds like she was on a personal mission, it should.

Tom Logan was Jackie Boor’s great-grandfather.

These days, Nevada brothel lord Dennis Hof has often been in the news because of the apparent drug overdose of former NBA player Lamar Odom at a Nye County whorehouse. Hof rates high on the Silver State’s colorful character scale, but he’d have a hard time topping another purveyor of female flesh: Searchlight’s Willie Martello.

Back before it was known as the hometown of a certain powerhouse U.S. senator, Searchlight was run by Martello, whose El Rey Club not only had the only swimming pool in town but also featured hot-and-cold running working girls. Martello’s story is told in “The King of Casinos: Willie Martello and the El Rey Club,” by Andy Martello with an assist from historian Mark Hall-Patton.

Nevada has long been a sucker’s paradise. Frankly, I consider that one of the state’s most endearing qualities. It just can’t help itself.

The story of Anson Phelps Stokes starts in New York City, where he would become known as a wealthy banker, merchant and real estate developer. From the look of that resume, Stokes had everything going for him. Until he came to Nevada.

What brought him to Austin, smack in the middle of the state, was the faulty promise of silver riches. He was so focused on staking his claims and making his important presence felt that in 1897 he ordered a three-story residence and office built of native rock. It must have been quite a site when its doors first opened.

Known as Stokes Castle, it remains an amazing site today.

For the record, it was occupied for about a month before being abandoned. It turns out Stokes was a much better judge of New York real estate than he was of Nevada silver.

But that’s life in the Silver State, where the characters have always been rich — if not always wise.

Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal that appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Contact him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295.

TOP NEWS
Add Event