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Complete Nevada Traveler

Guide to

Situated in Mason Valley on the Walker River, Yerington began its existence as a small trading post and whiskey store called Pizen Switch. It is the Lyon County seat and a model of calm and serenity.

Yerington, Nevada
Calendar of Annual Events

Cow Country Cutting

Sponsored by Casino West775-463-2481

Mother's Day Madness

Nevada Women's Team Roping775-463-4841

Spring Fling Car Show

including Sock Hop, Poker Run, crafts and food.775-463-2245

Portuguese Celebration
Dance Parade, Mass, Sopa lunch and Auction775-463-2763

Pizen Switch Round-Up
Community picnic and potluck775-463-2245

Back Alley Fights

Professional Boxing in an outdoor ring on Main Street775-463-2481

Lyon County Fair & Rodeo

Nevada-style Rodeo and Fair775-463-2245

Spirit of Wovoka Days Pow Wow
Celebration of the originator of the Ghost Dance775-463-2350

Sundae in the Park

Art, quilts, crafts and food from the local area775-463-3066

A brief History & Description of
Yerington, Nevada


David W. Toll

Coming to Yerington is like taking a day off. It's a half hour away from the nearest east-west and north-south highways, and getting here is like taking a Sunday drive to a home town you never had. Drive in from the north through Wabuska, down the cottonwood-bowered two-lane highway, with family farms (including the magnificent Masini ranch house on the west side of the road) spread out across the valley on both sides. Or come in through Wellington and Smith from the south and traverse the rich pasturelands of the Smith and Mason Valleys.

Situated in Mason Valley on the Walker River, Yerington began its existence as a small trading post and whiskey store called Pizen Switch, a reflection on the poor quality of the whiskey. When the tiny settlement had grown to hamlet size, municipal pride demanded a more genteel handle and the citizens agreed on Greenfield.

A few years later, in the 1870s, townspeople gambled that renaming their modest burg in his honor would be the decisive enticement for H.M. Yerington to extend a branch line of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad their way. Greenfield became Yerington, but H.M. did not extend the railroad. A railroad finally did materialize in Yerington, but not until the second decade of the 20th century when copper deposits worked briefly in the 1860s were brought back into production. Smelters were built and the Nevada Copper Belt Railroad extended from the mines west of town around the Singatse Range to connect with the Southern Pacific at Wabuska. In the 1920s the district produced copper valued at several millions, but production dwindled after the end of the decade.

After the outbreak of World War II the Anaconda Mining Co. bought control of the major mines, but decided against bringing them into large-scale production because of the long lag time required. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, however, Anaconda brought the mines into production under government contract.

The company built 255 houses on a hillside west of town, creating a rather prim company town called Weed Heights in honor of the mine manager. Digging began in 1952 and two years later the big shovels uncovered the ore. The mining revival came too late to save the N.C.R.R., however, which had torn up its tracks and expired in 1947.

In 1978 copper mining ceased again, and Weed Heights became a sudden ghost town. Bright turquoise-colored water began seeping into the great pit, slowly rising to provide a home for bass and trout.

Now the mine has been developed as an industrial site and an RV park, with campsites around the lip of the spectacular pit and on the benches down deep inside it. Tricycles have appeared on the patchy lawns in front of some of the Weed Heights houses again and the community is coming back to life.

In the Indian Colony there is a monument to Yerington's only famous native, the Paiute prophet Wovoka. He was a major figure during the final downfall of the Indian nations; his Ghost Dance movement led to the slaughter at Wounded Knee. His vision of the return of the buffalo, and of the Native American lifeways, was an attractive prophecy to a people whose culture was melting inexorably away, and it was fervently believed and spread through the Indian world. The granite monument that sketches his life stands within sight of the fields where his wickiup was a common sight before his death in 1932.

Most of Wovoka's memorabilia is at the Badlands Museum in North Dakota, but the Lyon County Museum at 215 S. Main displays an interesting variety of frontier relics, from dolls to shooting irons, and including a case devoted to Chinese antiquities found in the area. The museum also includes some standing structures: a one-room eight-grade school house where generations of ranch children were educated, and a 19th century grocery store, stocked and with cash register at the ready. The museum is open week-ends, but on weekdays you can stop in at the Information Center next door and they'll call a volunteer to come over and give your party the tour.

Yerington boasts the largest trap shooting range in central Nevada, the golf course is open all year, and a weeks-long summer softball tournament attracts teams from all around Nevada and the West. But one of Yerington's principal attractions is subtler: the unhurried, friendly way people here go about their business. I have watched a man spend ten minutes getting down a single block, amiably passing the time of day with four different neighbors.

For the best view of Yerington and its green valley setting, find a friendly native and ask the way to the dump. Pass the cemetery (after a visit, perhaps) and climb the lumpy hill that rises behind it. No need to go all the way to the dump, unless you've accumulated some travel debris; you'll see a convenient pull-off near the top of the hill where you can park and enjoy a picnic lunch overlooking the little paradise spread below.

Despite its small-town lifestyle, Yerington's Casino West offers the traditional enjoyments of dice, cards and video slot machines, and a variety of food and lodging is available. Joe Dini's Lucky Club is another Yerington tradition, along with the historical footnote that Jack Dempsey helped lay the tile floor during his Nevada roustabout years.

And if you are traveling with boys (of any age), stop in at the Yerington Tire Shop on north Main Street and take in the miniature wind-up automobiles made in Germany by Schuco. These are the creme de la creme of toy cars, the fastest clockwork drive models in the world. Some are made with working gearshifts, differential and/or rack and pinion steering. Some, like the 1917 Model T Coupe, with mainspring wound, brake lever set and clutch released, will stand and "idle," rattling and shaking on their miniature suspensions. They're all brand new, but some are now out of production and quite rare -- toys that any grown-up would be proud to own.

The Great Yerington Sack Race

Yerington intermittently hosts what must be the most grueling single competition staged anywhere in the west. It doesn't appear in the list of annual events because it isn't held every year -- contestants can't be found that often. It's the World Championship Sack Race, and it dates back more than 80 years when a young farm hand named Harry Warren made local history.

Harry was working as a ranch hand near Wabuska. He and some other men were loading a wagon with 120-lb. grain sacks, and in the process they got to talking about how far a man could carry one of the sacks without having to put it down and rest. Harry made the outrageous claim that he could carry one all the way to Yerington, about ten miles away.

When his fellow workers challenged his wild statement, Harry said, "Oh, I can do it all right. But you'll have to make it worth my while."

So some of the biggest and strongest men in the valley experimented with carrying the heavy sacks, and none of them made it more than a quarter mile. Harry's challenge spread around the valleys, and a fund of $1,500 was accumulated to call Harry's bluff.

On the day of the great event Harry heaved the sack up onto his shoulders and started off rapidly toward Yerington at a rapid walk. To the utter astonishment of every witness, Harry made the ten miles to Yerington in about two hours, stopping to rest only once, and never slowing his relentless pace. One of the amazed backers of the bet was a local bee keeper. "The bees never stung me," he said ruefully, "but Harry Warren sure did."

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