I can’t separate this place, Carson City, Nevada, from what I know of the nature of my family past and present. All of my personal relationships were with my dad and two of his older brothers. Sure, I met my grandmother once or twice. She was nearing 80 and living in San Francisco. I possess a single, vivid memory, at around age six, of screeching, bright blue parakeets darting at my head while an austere old lady glared at me. That left me with Uncle John, Uncle Charley, and my dad and their stories of growing up in Carson with their uncles. How interested is a young girl in family history?
School, the space program, President Kennedy, horses, and television all held a more immediate interest. By the time I was twenty three years old, all of my heroes would be gone. There was no one left to ask for more details. All of my Savage side cousins were a generation older than me and lived nowhere near Carson City. Now, however, my cousin Dick Savage and the internet provide me with answers to some of the questions I never got to ask.
Gen NV 1:
What about Carson City in the Utah Territory enticed the young Irish farmer from County Kerry to settle there? In 1861, my 22 year-old great-grandfather, James Savage, reached Eagle Valley having continued westward after pushing cattle on a wagon train to Utah lead by Joseph Young. He met his wife, Elizabeth McManus, after her journey here via the Isthmus of Panama. With her monetary resources they purchased the Savage family home ranch on the southwest side of town.
Carson City, soon to be capital of the new state of Nevada, occupied the center of a high-mountain desert valley. Kings Canyon, Coombs Canyon, and Ash Canyon creeks meandered down from the pines. Manzanita and sage brush studded mountains lie west of this young town, brazen enough to call herself “city.” Mule deer grazed the meadows that bejeweled these creeks along with cattle and sheep brought overland by the pioneers. Springs, both cold and hot, dotted the valley bringing the surprising croak of bull frogs and the sharp stab of sulfur scented air.
Energy and excitement permeated the atmosphere. Gold and silver discovered in the nearby Comstock Lode caused industry to boom.
The fledgling Virginia and Truckee Railroad (V&T) grew around Carson City, as a hub for the railroad shops and as a major intersection. A spur ran south, through a sea of sage brush flowing down into a broad, fertile valley to the town of Gardnerville. Another spur ran east, laboring through the narrow Carson River canyon and up into the Virginia Range to service the mines in Silver City and Virginia City.
Grand buildings such as the State Capitol, the Federal Building, the Mint, and Warm Springs Hotel developed apace with the population that grew from a mere seven hundred in 1860 to a pre-1960 peak of four thousand in 1880.
Through bustle, boom and decline, Carson City depended upon her alter ego agricultural side. Many families, including mine, had “home” farms or ranches. While cultivated for home use, in a good growing year, the abundance from gardens and orchards stocked the local markets. Many farmers and ranchers grew grains and livestock to feed this growing corner of Nevada. Abundant wild game and fish lived in Eagle Valley and the nearby lakes of Tahoe and Washoe. The Pine Nut Mountains offered deer, wild fowl, and rabbit.
James and Elizabeth McManus Savage bore five sons and three daughters, raising six to adulthood. The eldest died during a scarlet fever outbreak in 1868 and another passed in 1914. Of the six surviving children, all 3 sons continued to reside in Carson City while the girls married and scattered in California. One, Elizabeth Ann, married Charles Allen Grover (of Grover Hot Springs).
Showing that my great-grandfather involved himself in the myriad facets of the natural and industrial sides of Carson City, his obituary in the Morning Appeal of October, 26, 1900 stated:
“At age 64, Mr. Savage was one of the pioneer residents of Western Nevada. He located on the home ranch in the early sixties. At different times he was interested in the wood business and made and lost a fortune during the palmy days.”
Gen NV 2:
One son, John remained single his entire life and continued the home ranch operation on S. Minnesota Street. Another son, James, established a career spanning 53 years with the V&T rising up from a brakeman to a fireman and finally to an engineer. His father’s entrepreneurship infected their youngest brother, my grandfather, Richard Savage. Census records show his occupation as a teamster, a saloon proprietor, and a city constable living with his family on E.
5th St. While moving into the mechanized age of the automobile, this native Nevadan maintained a love of the land and all western Nevada had to offer imbuing 2 of his five offspring with the same.
Richard and his wife Ruby McCrimmon Savage raised a daughter and 4 sons in Carson City in the first two decades of the twentieth century. In an uncommon turn for an early 1900 American family, Richard and Ruby divorced around 1922. My grandfather, Richard, died in 1932 when my father, Bill, was sixteen years old.
Gen NV 3:
Taking the cloak of patriarch, my Uncle John established a flourishing business that evolved from a fuel yard supplying pine nut wood, and Liberty coal to a booming construction business dealing in road construction and repair with heavy equipment and the requisite materials of asphalt and concrete. He also served as an Ormsby County Commissioner.
My father, William (Bill), ended up in the Army in WWII. He wrote letters lamenting his absence from his Pine Nut Mountains and Carson City. Brothers Richard and Charlie moved to Oregon and California respectively. The eldest and only sister, Cleo Savage Payne, lived in Sacramento with her family. In 1950, at the age of 36, my father, got married, to my mother, Bea, the sister, from New York, of his good friends Wilbur and Lottie Gordon. In 1953, they adopted me.
Gen NV 4:
For a brief 20 years, I grew up safe in the love and overwhelming sense of being right where you belong generated by the guiding presence of my father and his brothers. All things Carson City made up my world. From the derelict V&T round house behind the bowling alley, to my Uncle John’s construction yard where my father worked, north of town at Carson and Bath. From our house on 4th St., right in the middle of all my schools and our church, to Buzzy Anderson’s ranch on Stewart St., next to the Highway Department, where I stabled my horse. The description of Eagle Valley in the 1800s applied to my childhood years. Of course, buildings and businesses come and go, but downtown was surrounded by the Anderson, Winters, Long, Yoost, Lompa, Darling, Hartoonian, and Rabe ranches. Many folks from these clan were and still are contemporaries and friends of my family. Dad introduced me to the same Pine Nut Mountains that my great-grandfather hunted, that my grandfather and great-uncles roamed and that my father loved to ride and see the mustangs. Uncle John, so generous and gregarious, Uncle Charlie, always there to help with anything, and my dad, honest, quick to laugh and steadfast, passed away before the next generation arrived.
Gen NV Now:
My daughters, Heather and Holly, Gen NV 5, both live here and love a lot of the same things – horses, the history of our town and our state, and our family. I am lucky to have the opportunity to be a grandparent that my father and grandfather never had. My chance comes with Rylan and Bryar, Gen NV 6.
Dad, Uncle John and Uncle Charlie would be proud of these generations of the Savage family still here in Carson City, Nevada. How I wish that my girls and grandkids possessed in-person knowledge of their gentle Savage greats and grands.