Sunday, December 06, 2009


Someplace in the high mountains,in that almost uninhabited hundred miles between Hiko and Warm Springs,Nevada, lay the ghost of an old mining camp named Tempiute. I only knew that it had been first settled about 1863.
Road maps show a community named Tempiute in this region, and I had no trouble finding the turnoff. According to the map, the road made a large semicircle,crossed the summit of the mountains, passed through Tempiute and intersected the highway seven miles beyond.
From the outset,however, I had my suspicions. The gravel road was in perfect condition, and it has been my experience that century-old roads on the desert show their age by deep ruts,washboard corrugations and occasional washouts from flash floods. Since there was absolutely no traffic in sight,I kept going in the hope of finding something worth my while.
In a broad canyon,just beyond the mountain summit, I found my ghost. Alas, it was the wrong specter. The only building of any importance in sight was an echoing wooden warehouse, gutted within and half stripped of its unpainted siding. Scattered over the floor of the office in this building were hundreds of mining payroll sheets and ore shipment manifests. This totally abandoned camp was not 100 years old,nor even half that. The papers were dated between 1950 and 1954, and the name was "The Black Hawk Mining Company". (I later found that this was the well-known Lincoln Mine, and the Black Hawk was a leaser.)
Like so many other old camps, I reasoned, Tempiute had been revived in modern times. I simply had to believe that somewhere around I would discover the original 100 year old camp.
For several hours I roamed the area in my jeep, grinding up the dry washes and canyons until they ended in steep cliffs. I located the huge loading chutes of this modern Tempiute, several clusters of ten to twenty-year old miner's cabins, dumps of automobile bodies and modern cans and bottles, but no evidence that this camp had been occupied since about 1940.
Reluctantly, I rolled down the mountain empty handed, and hardly knowing what to do next. Suddenly, there opened up a broad vista of the desert floor 1500 feet below me. In that vast, shimmering valley, somewhere, lay the pavement that would carry me 70 miles north to Warm Springs where I could buy gasoline and maybe find a room for the night.
I took out my binoculars and for long moments studied the desert valley. No road was visible except the single dirt track I was on. Directly below, however, I made out a cluster of buildings that were too far to identify. Maybe a lonely ranch? Another abandoned camp? Perhaps a filling station on the highway which I could not see? (Hopefully ?)
With the mountains well behind me, I intersected a good dirt road which would pass the little "ranch", as I called it in my mind, and in a few minutes I pulled in front of a neat, frame house with a pick-up truck parked in front.
Not until I came to a stop did I notice the man sitting in the cab of the truck, as though he had seen my dust approaching and was waiting to see what I wanted before going about some business of his own.
"Where is the highway?" I asked by a way of greeting. Here I handed him a small tablet through the open window of the truck, explaining that I was deaf.
"They moved it", he replied. (I could not be sure if he was teasing or in earnest.) Staring at my California license plates he added with a smile, " . . .probably to Los Angeles."
" I've got to find the road ! The map says it should be about here, but i don't see a sign of it."
My friend wave negligently at the distant haze as if to say it was out there some where. "What do you do?" he asked. "What is your work?"
I was a bit startled at the question, but told him I was an Aircraft Engineer on vacation, looking for old bottles and somehow managed to misplace Highway 93. His face registered surprise too, but with a welcoming gesture he asked me in for a cup of coffee. His pretty wife, although a little shy, was just as hospitable as her husband. While the coffee perked they showed me their collection of mineral specimens, arrow points, of couple of Carson City silver dollars and a fabulous chunk of ore which they assured me was "100 ounces of pure silver".
Wesley Koyen, as his name turned out to be, was a mining man with several claims in the mountains, a limestone cavern he had discovered and an ore crushing mill. From the window I could barely see the roof of their nearest neighbor some distance away, and beyond ---nothing--- except the flat desert rising gently to the mountains.
I asked Mrs. Koyen, " I'll bet you don't get many visitors out this way?"
She smiled shyly and shook her head, and as she stared across the flat, Nevada landscape a look of indescribable loneliness flitted across her face. I imagined that, for an instant, she was not seeing the sagebrush and purple mountains, but swift-moving waters and towering pines. Then quickly, she was the perfect hostess again, refilling my coffee cup and showing me snapshots of their cavern and 20-ton mill.
"I know where there is a big pile of old bottles, big blue and white ones," Wesley said suddenly. "At Tempiute. Not the Tempiute you just came through, but east of here. That was the Tempiute in 1874! But the bottles are all broken."
"Oh well", I said. "The saloon keeper probable smashed them before hauling them out, so they wouldn't be so bulky. I've seen modern bartenders do the same thing."
Wesley shook his head and a grim look crossed his face. "No! A boy went up there four years ago and deliberately smashed every one with a club. But why don't you go up there and take a look. You might find something he missed."
My watch said 5:30 p.m. and I mentally calculated the time it would take and whether I had enough gas. It was 65 to 70 miles to the next station.
"OK, I'll do it! I said. "Draw me a map so I can find it"
The directions were simply and easy to follow. "Take the road here three miles to the highway and turn left three or four miles till you come to the sign saying, Alamo 46 miles. Just beyond the sign is a big double culvert running under the road. Where the road forks, keep left and you can't miss it. It's three and four-tenths miles from the highway. I go up there all the time."
"Was it a big place?" I asked.
"Not very. There are just half a dozen old stone cabins now." On the sketch he had drawn, he indicated, McBernie's Saloon. Then he made an upside down horseshoe motion with the pencil to show that the bottles were on the other side of the hill, above the saloon.
"Come back tomorrow and I'll put you to work." Wesley grinned as I left. "We start up the mill at eight o'clock sharp."
After many goodbyes, I bumped down the track toward the highway, elated at the luck that had made me stop here.Although it was late , I had no particular schedule to keep, and Old Tempiute sounded like a real adventure.
It was past six O'clock when I located the "Alamo" sign and past the double culvert, turned to enter a dry wash leading into the hills. Snow-capped Mt. Tempiute, which had been in sight off and on all afternoon, was concealed behind the rugged peaks rising directly ahead. Soon I entered a narrow canyon and at a point where the steep slopes rose sharply on either side,the roofless, fallen piles of stone that had been the houses of Tempiute came into view.
I continued through town to the very end,where the road rose steeply to the ruins of an old ore loading chute.Against the massive, almost vertical mountain, it looked like a heap of match sticks which had tumbled from their box. Here I paused to lock in the front wheel drive. Shifting to compound low, I climbed all the way to the base of the chute, wondering at the determination of the hardy men who had driven their teams and wagons over that steep slope.
Turning around with some difficulty, I returned to the center of town. Very few tins were in evidence around the old cabins. Flash floods may have carried everything away. Suddenly my eye caught the glitter of two large bottles lying side by side,but when I picked them up I saw that their necks had been broken off cleanly. My eyes wandered slowly up the steep hillside-- there was another neck less bottle, and near the top three or four which had been which had been smashed to little pieces. My pulse leaped. Quickly I scrambled up the loose gravel , and just over the hill, spread under and around a small pinion pine,lay the pile of blue and white bottles that Wesley Koyen had described.
He had been only too right-- every one was in fragments. Some had only the neck broken off, some were simply "caved in" as from a blow from a club, and still others were shattered as if they had been thrown against a rock. They were big, blue beer bottles with a white film of opalization. The brand on the bottom was the monogram of the old C. Conrad Company of St. Louis,Missouri.
The C. Conrad Company had been absorbed by the Adolphus Buch Glass Manufacturing Company about 1871, and the Conrad initials had not been blown in the glass after that date, although it was carried on the printed label of the beer bottles until about 1920. If unbroken, these bottles would have been worth a lot of money!
Carefully I selected a half a dozen. Three had only small chips the size of a thumbnail broken from the lips. Three more were broken cleanly into four or five pieces, all of which I could gather up and cement together. Even damaged as they were, they were valuable to me. I had never even seen one before!
Down at the road again, beside the wreck of McBernie's Saloon, I found a brown A&D H C (Chambers) which had the letters straight across the bottom instead of in a circle arc. This was a new variant to me. Also, there was a smaller six-ounce brown beer that appeared to be much older-- possibly as early as 1865. The neck was small and in perfect proportion to the size of the bottle, but the applied lip portion was large-- the same size as is usually found on full quart bottles. The copper wire that held the cork in place was still hanging loosely about the neck.
Both of these bottles were in fragments. The vandal had been thorough. I took home all the pieces to reassemble at my leisure.
By the time I had stowed the fragments of the eight bottles it was very late in the evening. Hurriedly, without even pausing to take pictures, I hastened down the canyon and just as the sun dropped behind the mountains I reached the highway and began the long,lonely drive to Warm Springs, more tired by the moment. Darkness came swiftly and I had to stop and top off the gas tank from the jeep cans and put on a heavy coat.
About 9 0"clock a cluster of lights appeared far ahead, and ten minutes later I pulled into the single gas station in Warm Springs.
Climbing stiffly from the jeep, I staggered with fatigue as I inspected the motor. Hunched against the cold wind blowing down the valley, I ordered two quarts of oil. The radiator was o.k., but the jeep can mount on the left side was cracked, so I did not fill the can with gas. Better to carry an empty can than to loose both can and five gallons of gas.
After the attendant had serviced the jeep, I asked if could get something to eat inside.
"Sure," he said. "Anything you want. We can give you a bed, too." Across the street,then , I dimly made out an unlighted "Motel" sign. The meal served at one end of the bar was plain but filling-scalloped potatoes,green beans and a half-pound ground beef steak. Half a dozen local people were clustered around the end of the bar. It amused me that the cook-bartender, a roly-poly little man who looked like t.v. actor George Gobbel, was downing one drink himself for every one he served,and showing no signs of intoxication. I,too,joined the drinkers,and as the stimulating whisky warmed my throat my fatigue dropped away.
I explained my bottle-hunting expedition, and asked, "Where is Tybo?"
A miner in a hard hat answered that he worked at Tybo. "It is just seventeen miles from here and easy to find."
"What about Reveille?" He considered a moment. "Go about thirty miles back the way you came and turn right for six miles."
Both these items of information surprised me. From all I had read,Tybo should be a practically dead town with only one family living there. "Sure, I know Dick Brandt," my informant told me. " He still lives there at Tybo,but he is working his mine and there are many others living there too."
I had thought Reveille to be totally deserted,too, but these people talked as though the mines were all in production.
I decided to go to Tybo in the morning,and, depending on what I found,would either retrace my steps and see Reveille, or go on west to Tonopah and Goldfield.
In my motel room I turned up the thermostat,shaved for the first time in three days,and in a very short time was deep in sleep.

Written by my dad 1919-2005

He added a few foot-notes to this trip some time later. It is worth reading.

Westley Koyen, the friendly rancher I met near Tempiute, was apparently well known as a character in Nevada.
More than twenty years after the events described here I read an article by Richard Menzies in Nevada magazine for April 1988,whose quotation is reprinted here.
"The desert just sort of grows on you," declared Wesley Koyen, pioneer prospector and sole home-owner In Penoyer Valley near Hiko. Wes had become indigenous, as tough and resourceful as the legendary screwtail fish which,according to Koyen, inhabits the Playas of Southern Nevada and survive drought by auguring downward into the sand until it finds ground water."


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