ASH MEADOWS NATIONAL WILDIFE REFUGE
ATHA OWENS YOUNG
Virgil and Darlene Pederson
Ash Meadows national Wildlife Refuge Volunteers
The picture was taken in Las Vegas in December, 1934.
It was loaned by Atha Owens Young.
It shows Robert (Bob) Owens, age 33 and wife, Esther, age 26
Jim, age 9 and David, age 7
Atha, age 3
[Reproduction without signature or logo of letter in Oral History]
United States Department of the Interior
FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE
With the advent of Ash Meadows as a National Wildlife Refuge, an attempt is being made to document the late past and the early past of Ash Meadow's existence - the farms, the mines, the peoples, and even briefly, some of the geological history.
In line with the traditions of Oral History, the interviews are reproduced exactly as given and are the facts as the interviewees saw them. No attempt has been made to verify any part of the interviews.
Ash Meadows volunteers, Virgil and Darlene Pederson, are conducting the Oral History interviews and typing, editing and annotating them. Annotation is used for clarification and is indicated by [--].
Other sources may also be used for information prior to the present time.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service would like to thank everyone for their efforts and cooperation on this project. It is greatly appreciated and the reward will be a greater appreciation and understanding of Ash Meadows.
[Signature of Mr. Hopson was here]
Thanks to Colleen Beck and Don Hendricks for editorial work on the manuscript, to Evelyn Faulkner and Crystal Chang for their work on preparing the final manuscript, Harold Drollinger and Barbara Holz for reviewing the final manuscript, and to the Desert Research Institute for its assistance with the preparation of this oral history.
VP: This is Virgil and Darlene Pederson interviewing Atha Owens Young on October 22, 1999, in Pahrump, Nevada. Where were you born and what was the name on your birth certificate?
AY: I was born in Las Vegas. My father Robert Owens, Bob Owens, had grazing land and a ranch near Ash Meadows. Actually, it was based at Mt. Stirling but it runs almost all the way to Cactus Spring, the county line, on that side. It goes over the mountains. It starts in the outskirts. My dad put in the first cattle guard out here years and years ago. That was a drift fence cattle guard to keep cattle from coming down 'cause storms would cause them to come down. I was a ranching family. We had that ranch and part of our range was Dry Lake, but they now call it Crystal. We call it Dry Lake. That was part of our range for our horses and cattle, whatever we chose to run there. Basically, we mostly ran horses there, consequently our range just bordered...in fact our border was Ash Meadows. Consequently, due to the fact that we had not fences, livestock (cattle or horses) didn't know that they were supposed to stay on one side or the other, so in the process of retrieving them we had to go in there and ride and gather. We called it gathering. The closest corral place was at Bob Tubb's place. Judy Trenary's dad and he would always let us use his corrals to get our cattle together and other things like this.
VP: How long ago was it you were active in Ash Meadows?
AY: You just want me to tell my age. Long time ago. I'm 58 and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I've been going there since I could get on a horse, about one, I think. Sometimes I rode behind my mother, who always rode the slowest horse in the bunch, the baby-sitter, and naturally, eventually, I became more adept as I got older and had more ability.
VP: When did you leave Ash Meadows and why?
AY: Because when our ranch started out it was under the Taylor Grazing Act. We had a 99 year lease. We owned 40 acres up on Mt. Stirling outright - that's called the base camp. But then the BLM came in. Well...see, we used to run to where Mercury, Nevada is now. That was part of our range. All right, the government came in and said, "No, we need that. We're going to put a military base in here." Because of the lack of water down there, it was sketchy. Dad said, "That's okay." They said, "You take that side of the mountain and we'll take Mercury." Dad said, "Okay, no problem." All of this was unfenced at this time. Not a gate or a fence to be seen anywhere. It was about 396,000 acres, I think. I don't know if that included Sheep Mountain. We had Sheep Mountain and [another place], I can't think of the name of it now. I want to call it Wood but it's not that, it's a place over in Clark County. We had that, too. We ran horses and cattle in both places. So anyway, to get back to your specific question, [it was] because of the perimeter and eventually due to the influx of people moving in who wither liked to gut-shoot animals just to see them jump, or cattle and horse rustlers. They're through Crystal now. We just called it Dry Lake which is on the border of Ash Meadows. It just wasn't monetarily feasible to put too many head in, so gradually, we took the horses and cattle out of there.
VP: Have you followed the development in Ash Meadows over the years and maintained some connection with the land or the people?
AY: Oh yes, we made good friends and acquaintances. Pete Peterson was the remarkable one. He was a great guy and he was easy for us to get along with because we were the same kind of people, you know. We knew the Tubbs and at one time, Ash Meadows was basically on known for having a brothel, which had a landing strip for airplanes. But those people were always really n ice there. Then eventually over the years that evolved...you know what I mean, from the process of going in there and getting our cattle out which strayed or horses which strayed. We were just like a big family and then physically I moved from Vegas to Pahrump in the 1960s, full time, to live here. I'd been coming in to Pahrump at the same time I'd been going out to Ash Meadows and everybody just knew everybody out here. We didn't have a specified riding club but a group of us, on occasion, would get together and ride from Pahrump to Ash Meadows, camp overnight, have dinner at the Lodge; the brothel was called the Lodge. They had very good food at several times. We called it the Lodge. We'd camp and ride our horses the next day. I don't know exactly where to tell you or what to tell you and except for seeing a couple nighties on occasion, worn by females, there was never anything. They had very good food and lots of us from Pahrump, we used to go over there on New Year's Eve. There might be three carloads, everybody packed into the cars. We'd go over there and that was where we partied, at Ash Meadows. And then we'd come home. Plus, because of my family we still had the other relationship. (And, I assume this microphone doesn't show my fingers whirling around but I talk with my hands.)
VP: You mentioned Merrill [Pete] Peterson. do you have any interesting stories to tell about him?
AY: Pete? Just one that I love. He was just a good guy. To my knowledge, he was as about as nice a guy as my dad. You know, I don't think anyone ever disliked the man. He had a good sense of humor. I like a good sense of humor and the main thing that sticks out in my mind is that I used to tease him. He got a little Volkswagen. I said, "Hey Pete, how in the heck you getting around in the Volkswagen instead of a horse?" He said, "I don't know, Atha. If I pack a shovel and my lunch, I'm overloaded." He just had a good sense of humor and he was a good guy to any and all as far as I know. For a while, I think, I couldn't tell you how many years, but I believe he was married to Norine Scruggs, what I call Norine Scruggs, for a short time. Do you want to hear gossip? Well, Norine was a kind of breed of her own cat, or cat of her own breed, or whatever you like and this was a funny story. Of course, you know, she used to stop at the place in Vegas; we had a place in Vegas where I lived and went to school. etc. Several times Dad had gone over to get strays and Pete would usually call and say, "Bob, you got strays over here. I think there's about three head of horses over here belong to you." Well on time, now this is the part you might want to cut out; but I think it's funny, but it's not. Norine had little sticky fingers. Well, for some reason, Pete, I believe, told my dad, "You better check Norine's place." Anyway, Norine was quite a character in her own right. But anyway, my dad, went down there to check to see about cattle and things that might be there and they went out around the corral and Norine was with him. He said, "Norine, those are my two calves." "Oh no, oh no! That cow had triplets." Dad said, "I'll be darned, did two of them have my brand on them?" Dad's brand was "R-O". It was in the winter and they were quite wooly and daddy knew the cows they were out of. He didn't know where they went but they were probably in somebody's freezer. I'm not saying it was Norine's, but in somebody's freezer. But anyway, these two calves were there. Norine, she's just throwing a fit, saying "Oh no, that cow had triplets!" Dad said, "Boy, heck of a cow!" Dad said, "Well, you can't see the brand on them. How about if I go home and get my horse clippers and come back." And by the time he got back there with the horse clippers, Norine had tried to hide them in a wash. "Oh, Dad said, "I guess they just needed to go to water so I guess they wandered down here." He went down then and found them and drove them back up to the corral. They had a little chute thing there to run cattle in and Dad said, "Do you have any electricity?" "Oh no, we can't get electricity out here." Dad said, "You know what? I just happen to have a portable generator." Well needless to say, out came the clippers, on went the generator, off went the hair, on went the brand. Two of them were branded out of our own. This made Dad mad. He said, 'Norine, you know, if you'd told me you needed them, I probably would have given them to you. But dammit, it makes me mad when you lie to me about stiff like that. You shouldn't have tried to lie to me. I wouldn't have pinned your leg to the wall." Okay!
VP: Any stories about the Tubb family?
AY: They were always good to us.
VP: Anyone else we haven't talked about?
AY: You know I can't remember the folks at the Lodge. You folks probably already know the history on that. Then it got sold as a hunting lodge. I guess that went for a little while, and then it go sold to one of the mining companies over there. But those people were always real nice. Like funny stories? In the process of us gathering cattle one time, to take to the Tubb's place to corral, we all, my dad, my husband, Chuck Connelly (who I was married to at one time) and myself, all went over there to gather, and we all went different directions. Well, I have this funny story or at least, it tickled me, anyway. My husband was riding a palomino gelding called Fire Prince, and my dad was riding a palomino stud called Chief, and I don't know what I was riding. I wasn't involved in the whole whatever it was. So...supposedly some of the cattle accidently headed past the Lodge and in the process there were several females out around sunbathing in various array of..., and this is the story Chuck told me. I was married to him at the time. Anyway, all the girls saw his horse and came running out there. "oh, can we pet your horse?" Can we ride your horse?" He claimed he got real flustered and said, "Oh, no. this horse isn't really that well broke but there'll be a guy along on a palomino stallion in a little while. He'll be right behind me and that horse is gentle enough for anybody to ride." And when he told me that story, I said, "My gosh, don't you know what ma would have thought about that, finding out about dad." You know, not that did anything and dad said, "As luck would have it, the cattle went one way and I went the other so I didn't have to go through that same area." I'm trying to think of other people. [The] Ishmaels, they were tied to Shoshone and Tecopa and some of them lived here part time. Some of my shirttail relations on my mother's side, Bradley, lived there in later years. I'm talking about the 1960's and before.
DP: Did you know the Carpenters?
AY: Yes. And also the Whites have also been friendly with my family. They lived on the edge of Crystal; we always called it Dry Lake. I wish I could tell you, I mean, basically, believe it or not, I was just a young person at that time, and believe or not, in our day, you did what you were told. I was told to go work this section for cattle and watch to see if there was any horses in there that were ours and that's what I went and did. By 1960, I was married. I didn't have to mind if I didn't want to, but that basically I went around to the different springs, and I can remember my dad [at] this one particular one, I know where it is; I can show it to you; I could take you to it. They've got it fenced off. It broke my heart when the fenced them off. That used to be the best swimming water, but there was this one pond over there that had a downdraft in it. You went swimming but you stayed out of the middle. I was trying to think of the names of some of the old timers over there. You need to talk to my dad and talk to Button [Harry]. Button Ford just lives right there; see where those trees are, right there.
DP: Yes, we know Button.
AY: Well, Harry. See, I have known him since I was a year old. His mom and dad and my mom and dad were friends. I really didn't know the wife that well because I was a kid and parents went in and had coffee and a piece of pie or something, and the kids were out harassing the animals or whatever.
In Wood Canyon is an old - I don't know whether Indians or whites built it - there used to be this little cabin, like about the size of an out...no, it was a little bigger than an outhouse.
I don't know what you guys want. I could tell you lots and my dad could tell you lots. As a matter of fact Button wanted to interview my dad for a book for something that goes into the library down here.
DP: All these will end up eventually in the library. We are doing oral histories for just about everything before the history is gone. It gives us more of a feel of what it was like.
AY: Like one day, I think that it is what they call it, the Stateline Bar, I went in for a hamburger. Norine was working in there and she always strutted around and told everybody how she owned every horse in the whole country. She always said, "I own this, I own that, blah, blah, blah." Anyway, she had just been bragging for 30 minutes on how she owned all the horses there. This guy came in, he was a tourist of some sort, and said, "I'm looking for somebody that owns these horses out here." Norine said. "Oh, that would be me, that would be me." He said. "Well, I just hit one and did about 15 thousand dollars damage to my car." Norine said, "You know what, I don't know who the hell owns the horses." When I lived in Vegas, she, Norine, was Fran List's friend, this lady who lived kitty-corner about three, four, five miles from us and she [Fran] used to come in there. we were acquainted with her. Norine was, I think, the first Helldorado Rodeo Queen. She was extremely attractive when she was young. I don't remember because I'm not that old. And I think that there is a book down there written by her at the library. It would be interesting to have her version. She claimed to be an animal lover. She had all these dogs which she kept in cages.
DP: We are particularly interested in non-governmental, non-official stuff and that's why these stories about individuals are just as important. For the other stuff, you can go somewhere and look in public records and find that. You don't find the good stories that you are able to tell us.
AY: You don't want those?
DP: Yes, that's what we do want.
AY: That's basically all that I know. I was just a kid, bumbling idiot, growing up. I wandered through, doing what I was told, to go over the section, check for cattle and horses here, go here, go there. And basically I did what I was told.
DP: But you knew the people personally and not....
AY: Yes, I'm trying to think of anybody else. In those days people were different. And I am very bad on dates and I am very bad on names, but anyplace you rode past or used to go by and say, "Is it okay if I ride on your property? I am checking for such and such. " Everybody owned a lot of land at that time. It wasn't 10 acres like this or so. It was big pieces of ground. And you asked permission and would go on the property, and they would say, "Sure, come in and have some pie and coffee." People were just people, good people. And if you got in a jam, everyone pitched in to help. We lived, even when I moved to Pahrump, we used to be 10, 12, 15 miles apart from each other, and now, look at this; this is like the Indianapolis Freeway. We used to take our tractor and drag people out of the mud down this road. Now it's pathetic. I don't like it all. If I had known then what I know now, I'd have moved so far back on this property that you would have to shoot me biscuits with a shotgun. I just don't know. "I'm not anti-progress," Stan Ford, Button's Dad told me. He said, "Atha," he shook his head, "I don't like it either, but you can't stop progress." And that was before power and water. I tell everybody I have been here. "How long you been here, Atha?" I say, "I have been here since B.E. before everything. And I was.
The happiest day of my life was when I burned down the outhouse. Our closest neighbor was Bob Ruud down here. I swear I don't care what time I needed to go to the restroom, I'd look up and down. He had some fields over across the way. We were the last people on the road at that time. I swear that if I needed to go to the restroom, I'd see Bob. All I had on the front of the outhouse was - it didn't have a door - it had an old burlap sack, which covered up everything, but I didn't want to be seen sneaking into it and sneaking out of it. The happiest day of my life was when I burned that sucker down and I had a bathtub in the house.
Out at the ranch we used rain water from the spring. We had a coffee can, punched holes in the bottom, and from the upper springs we'd run water down to the house. That's how we did it in the summertime. In the wintertime we had one of those great big old, I think that they call them the Mayan kettle or something, they were about yea -long and when you were a kid you could fit in it pretty good. I was a girl and I got first choice and my brothers had to use the same water I did. I had two brothers, and it was heated in an old water thing on the end of the wood cookstove.
DP: Was that Ash Meadows or here?
AY: What I'm talking about right now was the ranch, I call it the ranch, up here at Mt. Stirling [walking to the door and pointing north.]
We had a Georgia Buggy that was used at Hoover Dam, depending on what you choose to call it, and we donated that to the [Pahrump] Museum; it was like a wheelbarrow but it's different. I see that they got two of them, and one of them is ours, by ours, I mean my family. [My family also donated] that old colored truck, the one that they drilled the post holes to put in the power out here, when they first put power in Pahrump, that yellow one down there. Button can tell you a lot more stories because he was here.
Because of school and everything, I was only here during the summer, weekends and whatever, because I went to school in Las Vegas. as a matter of fact, I just had my 40th reunion two weeks ago. I couldn't believe it. It was the first one of my reunions I got to go to, it was a lot of fun. I got to see a lot of old friends and what have you.
DP: You covered a lot of distance yourself because in those days there were no easy roads to get from here to there.
AY: I was fifteen and a half years old when they had the road opening [State Highway 160]. You know where they had the road opening? Do you know what they had? Well, they had a show. Actually, there were cotton wagons in those days and I call them lowboys, they are big trailers that they haul behind the trucks. It was right there at the county line, which is right there by Digger Anderson's place. And we came out here, and they had a mock marriage. One of the Ward girls was supposed to be the wife, in other words, marrying the two counties.
They had a big watermelon bust and a barbecue and it was right down there on the line, right there, next to Digger Anderson's place. I was fifteen and a half, that was a big deal, because that was another way into Pahrump. Of course, this road wasn't paved through; it was still gravel then. You ought to talk to Bowman, too.
AY: Talk to Perry Bowman. If Digger was still alive, he just passed away last year, he could tell you stories. He had a good comical attitude towards me, you know. This guy was on the march at Bataan. I guess he weighed about 80 pounds when he got home. You know the story about Mr. Bowman, don't you?
DP: I don't know the name.
AY: We called him Old Man Bowman. You are missing some stories. And talk to Perry Bowman; I think that he is probably the last one alive, if he remembers. He has been quite ill lately, as I understand it. If you want to know about Pahrump, but he could tell you about Ash Meadows, too, I imagine.
DP: People seemed to have gone from one to the other, back and forth; hardly anybody ever stayed right where they were. It looks as if it had taken awhile to get from one place to the other.
AY: Yes, and the road to Shoshone was just the same as Johnnie road, washboardy son-of-a-gun. The only place to get water in between was at poor old Mat Kusick's place there at Johnnie Townsite, which is different from Johnnie Mine. He was the nicest guy. Like I said, I don't know what nationality he was, but he was a real nice man. He had a safe under this one house. Button has even got a picture of Matt Kusick's place right here on Johnnie. Of course, I know you are after Ash Meadows crap and things.
DP: He came through with a lot of stuff for Ash Meadows program. He had some pictures of the period; he had some old pictures of the Longstreet house before it was destroyed.
AY: A lot of that I didn't know because, as I said, I was raised in Vegas and we came out here to do work. We came to Ash Meadows to do work, to gather cows or horses; we knew where all the springs are, like Point-of-Rocks, and this one and that one. But they were landmarks to us. "You take the side on the other side of Point-of-Rocks and I'll take this side." So far and on that side. You gathered and you hoped that you got all together. But I do remember that we used to corral at Bob Tubb's.