FIRST RECORDS OF CARSON VALLEY, UTAH TERRITORY
One hundred fifty years ago, there were three small non-Indian settlements in what became Nevada. One group of settlers arrived in Carson Valley on June 6, 1851 from the Salt Lake area of Utah Territory. Lead by Col. John Reese the all-male party lost no time in erecting a trading post to serve travelers to California and clearing land for vegetables and other crops. Soon the post, known as Mormon or Reese's Station, included a blacksmith shop, saw mill, general store, hotel, and corral.
In October the Carson Valley settlers decided to stay when the U.S. Mail contractors George Chorpenning, Jr. and his partner Absolam Woodward established a mail station and drove eighty head of mules eastward from California with enough supplies to outfit their mail station for the winter. Reese and the other settlers were about to leave the valley and decided to stay the winter. The settlers met on November 12, 1851 and established a provisional government to protect their land claims and to maintain civil order. That is the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the first public record created in Nevada History.
At this meeting and subsequent gatherings on November 19 and 20, May 23, 1852, and May 21, 1853 the settlers adopted procedures for filing land claims and appointed officers to carry out those new regulations - a recorder, treasurer, justice of the peace, court of four, clerk of the court, sheriff, and permanent committee of seven (later five) persons to "exercise & enforce law according to the acknowledged rules of equity which govern all civilized communities."
Frank G. Barnard, who was elected Secretary, wrote the minutes of those first and subsequent meetings in a small, ruled notebook. He was followed by Recorder J.C. (James) Fain whose handwriting comprises most of the book. This "Publick Record" was used to record all legal transactions between November 12, 1851 and March 5, 1855. Recordings included land surveys, claims, mortgages, and sales; toll road licenses; applications for attachments; performance/payment bonds; and legal judgments. They document the settlement of the Carson Valley and ironically, the financial rise and fall of John Reese's Nevada undertaking in western Utah Territory.
The First Records of Carson Valley was transcribed literally as written, including misspellings, excessive capitalization, and nineteenth century abbreviations. It comprises eight-one numbered pages. Pages one-twelve are followed by a series of unnumbered pages (thirteen to thirty-seven, which the transcriber indicated in square brackets ). Pagination by J.C. Fain, Recorder, resumes with page twenty-five. Some blank pages were left by Fain but their numbering is inconsistent. Fain did an interesting thing following page fifty-four; he began page fifty-five by turning the book upside-down and backwards. He continued to page eight-one, which faces page fifty-four.
The First Records of Carson Valley was photocopied and published by the Nevada Historical Society in the Nevada Historical Society Quarterly (Summer-Fall 1966, Vol. IX, Numbers 2 & 3). An introduction by Effie Mona Mack was included. The First Records was indexed by Marion Ellison in her book, An Inventory & Index to the Records of Carson County, Utah & Nevada Territories, 1855-1861 (published by the Grace Dangberg Foundation, Inc., 1984). Ellison provided an excellent description of the state of record keeping in Nevada from 1851-1861, compiled a summary list of the transactions in the First Records, and indexed all names in that small register.
Four books are helpful in understanding events of 1851-1855. Perhaps the first publication of any of the content of the First Records was editor Myron Angel's, History of Nevada, 1881, with Illustrations (originally published by Thompson and West and reprinted in 1958 by Howell-North). Angel found the First Records in the hands of Mark Gaige of Carson City and used it for his account of the first government in Nevada. Robert W. Ellison's Territorial Lawmen of Nevada, Volume 1 (Hot Springs Mountain Press, 1999) is helpful in providing biographical information about many of the men whose names appear in the First Records. Ellison made extensive use of the First Records to document the legal affairs of Nevada's early law officials. C.W. Bayer's Profit, Plots & Lynching-Mormon Station, the Founding of Carson City and the Creation of Nevada Territory (neato stuff, 1995) describes events of this time in narrative form, complete with maps of claims recorded in the First Records. Last, Sally Zanjani's book Devils Will Reign: How Nevada Began (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2006) describes the farmers, miners, wanderers, and adventurers who came to Nevada and established the first government in what became the state of Nevada.
Susan E. Searcy
Nevada State Library and Archives