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The Complete Nevada Traveler by David W. Toll
Battle Mountain Travel Info
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Battle Mountain

Battle Mountain in Lander County NV
Battle Mountain is the seat of Lander County and the trading center for a wide region of ranches and mines. Food, lodging and all services are available for travelers.


The Nevada
Travel Network
Description and History of
Battle Mountain
by David W. Toll
The Owl Club in Battle Mountain
These business houses have been welcoming visitors to Battle Mountain for more than a century now.
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The origin of the town's colorful name is uncertain, as it is situated on the valley floor and no battle is known to have occurred nearby.
Welcome to Battle Mountain Nevada
Welcome to Battle Mountain
Photo by Max Winthrop
Livestock and agriculture have long been the basis for Battle Mountain's economy, and Battle Mountain has managed a rather staid existence since 1870 when the population of Argenta deserted their little mining settlement and re-established themselves at Battle Mountain Station on the Central Pacific Railroad. On the 4th of July, 1870, just months after its founding, Nevada's first Womens' Sufferage Convention was held here.

The settlement depended for its prosperity on the railroad, and on the mines that blossomed and wilted along the slopes and side canyons of the Reese River Valley all the way to Austin, 90 miles to the south. Galena, Jersey City and Lewis were three of Nevada's most prominent mining camps in the 1870s, all of them served by the railroad at Battle Mountain, as was Pittsburgh in the 1880s and Dean in the 1890s. After the turn of the century the mines at Hilltop, Bannock, McCoy and Betty O'Neal all shipped by way of Battle Mountain.

 W.J. Forbes, a famous Nevada newspaperman of the l9th century
Battle Mountain was the last stop for W.J. Forbes, a famous Nevada newspaperman of the l9th century. He was remembered by Carson City journalist Sam Davis: "Pioneers still laugh about his quips and fancies. Writing under his pen-name Semblins he discoursed on every subject known to man, and his shafts so often hit the mark that he became popular with all classes of readers."

Forbes edited and published a dozen newspapers in California and Nevada, and in 1873 started the short-lived The New Endowment in Salt Lake City. "Returning to Nevada," Davis wrote, "he started Measure for Measure at Battle Mountain. It was a wonderful paper, but it did not pay, and a friend found him on the morning of October 30, 1875, lying stiff and cold across his shabby bed. He had fought a fight against all odds all his life, was one of the brightest geniuses the coast had ever seen, but he lacked the faculty of making and saving money and lived in communities where his mental brightness was more envied than appreciated."

Nevada Central Railroad photo - Battle Mountain, Nevada The Nevada Central RR connected the silver mines at Austin with the main transcontinental line at Battle Mountain.
Photo courtesy Gold Hill NEWS archive
In 1880 the Nevada Central Railroad was completed through the length of the Reese River Valley to the south, connecting Austin with the transcontinental line, and in the following year a short line was built to the mines at Lewis. One of the Nevada Central's officials was James H. Ledlie, a former Union officer in the Civil War whom Ulysses S. Grant called the greatest coward of the war. A siding near the southern end of the route through Reese River Valley was named for him, and Ledlie was a familiar visitor to the railroad.

Grant's scorn dated from the ghastly Battle of the Crater, a slaughter that ensued when a troop of Pennsylvania coal miners dug a tunnel beneath the Confederate lines protecting Fredericksburg, packed it with explosives, and blew it up. Ledlie was to have led his soldiers in the charge through the resulting crater, but instead got drunk in his dugout and refused to come out. The troops attacked without him and were shot down like deer as they struggled across the great hole. Interestingly, Ledlie was in Battle Mountain the day in 1879 that Grant came to town on his triumphal western speaking tour. No doubt he made sure to stay out of sight.

But the BM&L lasted less than a year, and the Nevada Central was only profitable as long as the mines at Austin were operating at full capacity. By the middle 1930s most of the mines that generated traffic at Battle Mountain had shut down and boarded up, and the NCRR had passed into receivership for the last time.

Old town photo of Battle Mountain, Nevada
Battle Mountain before the freeway.
Photo courtesy Gold Hill NEWS archive
Battle Mountain's 30 year snooze by the side of US 40 ended abruptly in 1967 when the Duval Company invested more than $20 million in the development of large copper ore bodies in the mountains to the south. All at once Battle Mountain became a boomtown in its own right: the schools overflowed, the sewer system burst its seams, the municipal wells began pumping sand and the cost of policing the town doubled.

Things have quieted down in the years since. Duval gave up on copper and sold the mine, which then produced gold for a time before closing down altogether, leaving Battle Mountain in slow times again.

Which is how things stood when an article appeared in the Washington Post Magazine in the autumn of 2001, naming Battle Mountain the Armpit of America. The homely little burg had been minding its own business, and out of nowhere it had been blindsided, mugged in the national press as the nation's least attractive community.

Once the shock had passed, Battle Mountaineers began to recognize they'd been floored by the unfamiliar knock of opportunity. Within two weeks, Armpit t-shirts were available at the drug store, and, despite some mixed feelings, a "Festival in the Pit" was held in June. The Chamber of Commerce sent a blanket invitation to any community that has been considered an armpit: free booths at the festival if they'll just show up and man them. The Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce chartered a bus to bring members to Battle Mountain to see what they've got that Bakersfield doesn't.

Some other small Nevada communities which breathed huge sighs of relief when Battle Mountain was named the national armpit were soon envious of the attention the town received. Battle Mountain has been featured on CNN, "Good Morning America" and the BBC, and the phone in the Chamber of Commerce office never stopped ringing. More recently though, the local folks have tired of making light of the armpit designation and have taken down the billboards on I-80 urging travelers to make a "pit stop" in Battle Mountain, instead promoting the easy access to Nevada's back country.
Battle Mountain may be a pain in the eye, but if you like the friendly small town life this could be the armpit for you. A recent flurry of real estate sales on Commercial Row suggests a modest rennaissance is under way. For the traveler there are motels, restaurants, even shopping.

Battle Mountain, Nevada - bicycle speed trials
Speeding toward Battle Mountain
Photo by Max Winthrop
And, surprisingly in this slow-paced community, there is speed. In September Battle Mountain hosts bike races on the same straight, flat stretch of highway south of town. Not the bike you rode as a kid, though. These are streamlined kevlar pods designed purely for speed, and the event is known as the 'World Human Powered Speed Challenge'. In 2002 Sam Whittingham pedaled his two-wheeler at 81 mph over a 200 meter distance here to establish himself as "the fastest man alive".

There is an Olympic sized swimming pool next to the Elquist Memorial Park on Nevada Route 305, which continues south to Austin. And, there is a lovely scenic view at the dump about three miles toward Austin. Come at sunup or sundown and park with your back to town. In the winter you're likely to see Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles and several species of hawks.


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