Winnemucca has never laid claim to
being the oldest settlement in the
state, but its location has been more or
less continuously occupied since about
1830 when beaver trappers like Peter
Ogden established a camp here on what
they called Mary's River.
later, when westward bound wagon trains
began using the Humboldt Trail, the trading
post on the southern bank of the river at
Graveley Ford came to be called
Frenchman's Ford, and by 1863 when it
was renamed for the last time, in honor of
the principal Paiute chief of the region, a
rough settlement had grown up along the
The Martin Hotel on Melarky Street is one of Nevada's best-known Basque Restaurants.
In twenty years more the transcontinental railroad had been built along the hillside
to the south and a rival townsite was established upslope from the old village at the
river's edge. For years, until they grew together around US 40, there was friction
between the railroad-dominated Upper Town and Lower Town, where the farmers
and ranchers carried the weight.
Despite its split personality in those early years, Winnemucca prospered as a
shipping point and commercial center, and in 1872 the bustling young town had
wrestled the county seat away from failing Unionville beyond the Humboldt
Mountains. Brick buildings graced Winnemucca's streets in the middle 1870s as its
population grew to 1600 people. At the end of the decade, though, a historian has
noted that the little city "in consequence of being situated on a line of extensive travel,
where persons of all nations come in contact, has an extensive record of homicides."
Winnemucca in the 1930s.
The most exciting single moment in Winnemucca's mostly calm (except for the homicides) past fell just short of bloodshed, but it has been a source of controversy since the 19th day of September, 1900, when, as the story goes, Butch Cassidy and the Hole in the Wall Gang rode into town, put a knife to First National Bank president George Nixon's throat, and made him open the safe.
Butch and the boys got clean away, galloping out of town in a hail of bullets with $2,000 in gold coin. Later on, the story tells us, he added insult to injury by sending the bank a photograph of himself and the boys in fancy new suits, stiff collars and derby hats. With it was a mocking thank-you note expressing appreciation for all the Winnemucca money they were spending for their fun. It's a great story, a delicious story, and it has been told many times in many variations. In fact I have told it myself, in an earlier edition of this very book.
The Wild Bunch in their ill-gotten finery. That's Butch seated at right, Sundance seated at left).
But perhaps it is not a true story. In fact, Butch Cassidy didn't send that famous photograph, and the evidence is not clear that he was ever in Winnemucca in his life.
The great robbery took place of course. Butch Cassidy may have known about it may even have planned it, or made arrangements for it. It is almost certain that Elzy Lay and some other of his larcenous friends in the Wild Bunch were involved -- that knife to the throat was something Harvey Logan (Kid Curry) would do. But it's not clear that Butch himself was there that thrilling day.
The photograph was actually found by an alert detective in a photographer's display window at Fort Worth, Texas. The Pinkerton Detective Agency sent it to Winnemucca for banker George Nixon to identify. After studying the photo of the six dapper dudes in new suits and neckties, he wrote back: "While I am satisfied that Cassidy was interested in the robbery, he was not one of the men who entered the bank."
Butch Cassidy still casts his shadow here.
So, if he didn't enter the bank, according to an eye-witness with a vital reason to notice . . . was he there at all?
Plenty of people say he was, including Charles Kelly, author of a definitive history of Cassidy's career, and that's good enough for Winnemucca. Butch Cassidy has been absorbed into municipal history, and Butch Cassidy Days is a big celebration in the Winnemucca calendar, attended by thousands and enjoyed by all.
Winnemucca is placid, green, open and friendly. Its quiet neighborhoods are
slowly spreading away from the railroad tracks, and the main street,
Winnemucca Boulevard, once upon a time it was U.S. 40— has become a
bright strip of businesses catering to travelers, with new street lights extending from
the cemetery at the west end of town. Motels, restaurants and auto services are
available here in abundance. The Griddle is a favorite breakfast stop, open at 6 am
and crowded by 6:15. The Model T, Red Lion, and the Winners Inn provide classic
24-hour casino ambience (as well as all the games, food, drink and overnight lodging).
The Chamber of Commerce information desk is in the East Hall of the convention
center at the corner of Bridge street, which also contains The Buckaroo Hall of Fame
and the Western Heritage Museum.
Winnemucca thrives by serving travelers on I-80
North across the river by Pioneer Park the Historical Society Museum occupies a
former Episcopal Church and a new brick building constructed to house and to exhibit
the collection of the North Central Nevada Historical Society. This includes the
Clarence Stoker Automobile Collection and antiquities collected from the Lovelock
Caves, as well as mining and ranching memorabilia characteristic of the region. Here
resides the only Nevada tribute to Edna Purviance: the silk dress she wore in one of
her pictures is pinned like a butterfly in a glass case.
The Humboldt Museum is across the River alongside US 95.
These quaint cottage-ettes at Scott's Shady Court Motel are among Winnemucca's many lodgings choices.
Outdoors, you can enjoy
Pioneer Park, overlooking the
cemetery in which many early
settlers, presumably including the
homicide victims, were planted.
The view of the Humboldt gives
an opportunity to consider the
pioneer experience: they crossed
the river with their wagons here.
Look back across the river to
the south and you'll see the
Winnemucca Hotel, built in 1863
in the original riverbank
settlement. Basque meals are
served here family style, and the back-bar is a fine example of the genre. The other
traditional Basque restaurant is in the Martin Hotel (pictured above) up on Railroad Street beside the
tracks. Across the street is what was the C.P. Hoskins flour and grain warehouse.
This was Upper Town, and the locus of commercial activity from 1869 until US 40
brought the 20th century (in the form of automobile traffic) through the center of town.
Bridge Street offers the "Mile of Monuments" walking tour, a history of
Winnemucca in bronze tablets placed in such locations as the Sweet Sixteen School,
the Frenchman's Canal, the Chinese Joss House and the bank building at the corner of
Fourth Street where the celebrated stick-up took place. The Humboldt County Court
House in the next block was built in 1919 to replace its 1872 predecessor, which
burned. Designed in what's called the Thomas Jefferson style of neo-classical
architecture by Frederic DeLongchamps of Reno, the building is open to visitors, its
cool marble interior vastly inviting on a hot summer's day. The 9-hole Golf Course is
uphill from the railroad tracks, and there are lighted tennis courts, two swimming
pools, and two parks and picnic facilities in town.
The Winnemucca Hotel is reknowned for Basque boardinghouse-style meals