Friday, June 30, 2006
"July 4th in Nevada" (from Harolds Club of Reno 1947)
Nevada Mining camps used to celebrate the Glorious Fourth with and enthusiasm and originality which always more than made up for any lack of professional smoothness. A glance back 40 to 80 years ago this week reveals a great deal of fun and hilarious good time had by all Independence Day.
July Fourth dawned with every mining camp and cow town in the State heavily draped in red, white, and blue bunting. Gasoline buggies and earlier carriages and wagons were all smothered with elaborate decorations. Kids paraded variously as “Uncle Sam” or “The Goddess of Liberty” and firecrackers popped in every direction. It was a great day.
Most mining camps, around the turn of the century, staged fights between ornery Jackasses. Many were held in the center of town, to the tune of heavy betting. Burro races were held for boys and girls of various age groups, with prizes from
$10.00 on up. Of course horse races were a fixture from the very earliest days and accompanied by feverish betting.
No July Fourth was complete without muckers contests and competing drill teams. Champion muckers and drillers came from miles around and competition was terrific. A few of these contests are still held today, but they are found largely in isolated mining camps where a lively local interest in mining skills persists.
Many mining camp celebrations featured a championship baseball game between local mill and mining teams, with special talent smuggled into town for the Big Day. And a high point on most programs for decades in Nevada was the July Fourth Squaw Race! These were usually held down the main street, with a sack of silver dollars waiting at the finish line for the winner. Jim Butler in Tonopah was seen to augment this race with showers of silver dollars tossed exclusively to Indian children, (to the great chagrin of their white playmates).
Boxing matches were regular events, and the July Fourth fight card and match-making would dominate mining camp conversation for months before “The Day”. And no Independence Day Program was complete without “The Orator of the Day” (usually a prominent attorney) followed by a huge dove of sage hen stew and barbeque. Volunteer Fire Departments usually held races with carts or pumpers, joining the rest of the town that night at the Grand Fourth of July Ball which inevitably climaxed every Independence Day Program. The biggest day of the year in Nevada ever since has continued to be the Glorious Fourth.