Rhyolite, Nevada – Little More Than a Memory

Building Ruins in Rhyolite, Nevada by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Building Ruins in Rhyolite, Nevada by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

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Frank "Shorty" Harris

Frank “Shorty” Harris

Rhyolite, Nevada began when Frank “Shorty” Harris and Ernest L. Cross discovered gold on August 4, 1904. Calling their claim Bullfrog, it was located few miles south of where Rhyolite would soon sprout up. When they took their samples to nearby Goldfield it was assessed at $665/ton. Shorty described it as “… the quartz was just full of free gold… it was the original bullfrog rock… this banner is a crackerjack”  Word spread quickly and the gold rush was on.

Hundreds of men began flooding the area and several mining camps popped up called, Bullfrog, Amargosa, Jumpertown, Leadfield, Gold Center, and dozens more. Shorty Harris would say of the area:

“The district is going to be the banner camp of Nevada. I say so once and I’ll say it again.”

Stagecoach at the Southern Hotel in Rhyolite, Nevada.

Stagecoach at the Southern Hotel in Rhyolite, Nevada.

Soon, several men by the names of A.G. Cushman, Percy Stanley, C.H. Elliot, and Frank J. Busch began promoting the townsite of Rhyolite, named for the silica-rich ore that most of the gold was being found in. By November, the town was staked and lots were offered for sale for $50 each in February 1905. One of the first buildings constructed was the two-story Southern Hotel. Water was a rare commodity in the area and was carted in at a cost of $2 to $5 a barrel.

Just months later in April, H.D. and L.D. Porter crossed Death Valley bringing along supplies from their store at Randsburg. By that time the rush to Rhyolite was so great that the Porters had to pay $1,200 for their lot. Constructing a story and a half stone building, they quickly became the district’s leading merchants. In no time at all, there were over 2000 claims covering a 30-mile area surrounding the Bullfrog Mining District. The most promising was the Montgomery-Shoshone mine, which prompted everyone to move to the Rhyolite townsite. The town immediately boomed with buildings springing up everywhere, including saloons, restaurants and boarding houses.

Porter General Store in Rhyolite, Nevada by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Porter General Store in Rhyolite, Nevada by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Along with the gold miners, several sharp businessmen also moved into town — making money from the real estate boom and selling speculative stock shares in Rhyolite ventures coast-to-coast. In the end, they would all be worthless.

By the spring of 1905, there were three stage lines bringing supplies to Rhyolite. The first auto stage — The Tonopah and Goldfield Auto Company also became active in 1905. By May, Rhyolite boasted some 1,500 people and several buildings of concrete and stone. In the same month, the first issue of Rhyolite Herald was published by Earle R. Clemens and the first post office was opened in a ten-by-twelve foot tent on Golden Street.

Though a stage line brought mail from Goldfield, the service was irregular in the beginning. The first postmaster was a woman named Anna B. Moore who was just 18, her husband Joe was her assistant. By June, Rhyolite had an efficient water system, so residents no longer had to pay for the high cost of water to be carted into town.

All that's left of the Rhyolite school by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

All that’s left of the Rhyolite school by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Like many mining camps, Rhyolite was sometimes prone to violence, with its rugged men and abundant liquor flowing from its many saloons. Though Rhyolite never had a reputation such as many mining camps of the Old West days of the late 1800s, the settlement suffered its first killing in October 1905 over a dispute in Wandell’s Saloon.

When Rhyolite held its first town meeting it was decided that a school needed to be established, which was completed in 1906 with an enrollment of approximately 90 children. By May, there were nearly 250 children in the school.

Hastily built, the schoolhouse was blown down in September 1906 by heavy winds and school was then held in the county hospital building. In the fall of 1906, $420,000 was approved by the city for a new school; however, the new concrete structure wouldn’t be opened until January 1909.

Rhyolite, Nevada and the Bullfrog Hills, 1909. 

Rhyolite, Nevada and the Bullfrog Hills, 1909.

1906 was a busy year for Rhyolite, which by then, had an abundance of water and three water companies. The Countess Morajeski opened the Alaska Glacier Ice Cream Parlor to the delight of the local residents. Ernest L. Cross, one of the original prospectors finding gold in the area sold his share of the Bullfrog claim for $125,000 and bought a ranch near San Diego, California, living there until he died in 1958. Shorty Harris would continue prospecting the desert for the rest of his life.

On May 18, 1906, another killing occurred in Rhyolite when a man named Steve O’Brien stabbed his wife with a miner’s candlestick. When a town deputy sheriff and the judge showed up, the crazed O’Brien stabbed the judge. In retaliation, the deputy shot and killed O’Brien.

Months later, on October 26, 1906, two men named Tom J. Malone and Jack Maher had a dispute over money and soon Malone lay mortally wounded in the street from Maher’s lethal gun. Malone held on for almost a day but died the next night in the hospital. Mayer was arrested and tried but in the end, he was let go due to a finding of self-defense.

Rhyolite Jail

Rhyolite Jail by Dave Alexander.

As in most mining camps, there was a red-light district doing a booming business, drawing women from as far away as San Francisco. A protest was soon lodged with the Board of Trade, the town’s only local government at the time. The town authorities decided that the red light district must be segregated from the rest of the town and boundaries were drawn. Amargosa Street, between Broadway and Colorado Streets, was the north and south boundary, while the alley between Main and Amargosa was the western boundary. Prostitutes were not allowed to cross the lines, including going to any saloons outside of the prescribed limits; however, they could go as far east as they wanted. The town also had an active social life including baseball games, dances, whist parties, tennis, a symphony, Sunday school picnics, basketball games, Saturday night variety shows at the opera house and pool tournaments.

At this time, Rhyolite did not yet have a jail and the lawmen had to transport the offenders to a jail in Bullfrog. At a cost of $15 a day to rent the horse rig, the town began to see the need for building its own jail.

 

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