NevadaGram #92 – April 2009 Incident at Tonka Tunnel, Hollywood comes to Gold Point and Vice Versa

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The New York Times eats lamb testicles in Virginia City.
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History books will tell you that the first American soldier to shed his blood in World War I was a lieutenant in the medical corps, wounded by a shell burst on July 14, 1917 while serving with the British Army near Arras, France.

But the history books are wrong. Three months earlier, on April 12, and only days after Congress voted to enter the war, Cpl T.M. Murphy of the California National Guard was shot through the legs while defending the sacred soil of Elko County.

No, it's not Corporal Murphy, it's Buster Keaton in a WWI Army uniform.

No, it’s not Corporal Murphy, it’s Buster Keaton in a WWI Army uniform.

He and his comrades in arms had been called up to active duty immediately upon the declaration of war and assigned to protect bridges, tunnels, piers, power stations and other strategic points against the enemy. Corporal Murphy’s company was assigned to guard the Tonka Tunnel, 12 miles west of Elko on the main line of the Western Pacific Railroad. It was a duty characterized by freezing cold and numbing boredom, broken only by the roaring clamor of the trains rushing through and by the beauty of the star-splashed sky at night.

And so at ten minutes to midnight on the night of the 12th Cpl Murphy was supervising the changing of the guard at the east end of the tunnel when, as the Elko press reported the next day, “one of the soldiers happened to look toward the mouth of the tunnel, and saw a man dart suddenly inside the opening.”

photo courtesy Northeastern Nevada Museum

The little scatter of structures at Tonka Siding are gone now, but the Tonka Tunnel, far left center, is still there and quite visible from I-80 which now proceeds through a tunnel of its own. Cpl Murphy started into the tunnel from its western portal. No historical monument marks the spot though.

The startled soldier shouted the alarm and Murphy came running. Murphy unlimbered his rifle and, with two of his troopers, advanced into the inky blackness of the tunnel. Their crunching footsteps echoed through the long tube of tunnel as they advanced slowly, resolutely and blindly.

Sudden gunshots blazed in the darkness, deafening in the confines of the tunnel, and bullets tore through Murphy’s legs. With a cry he fell to the tracks while his soldiers returned the fire. For a long, furious moment bullets flew thick and fast through the tunnel, ricocheting madly off the tunnel walls and whining out into the night.

A hubbub of shouting erupted and Murphy’s men grabbed him up and staggered back the way they had come, struggling to avoid bumping his wounded legs against the rough tunnel walls as they went.

No saboteur emerged from either end of the tunnel, and with the guards on full alert at both closely watched portals, Lt. Weir, the commanding officer, made a smart decision: he called the Sheriff.

Actually, Elko County Sheriff Harris was a very good man to have on the scene in an emergency, and he arrived at the tunnel mouth at dawn to begin his investigation. When a box of dynamite was found nearby, it seemed certain that a saboteur had been caught in the act of trying to blow up the tunnel. By mid-morning half the town of Elko was out at the Tonka Tunnel under the impression that the attacker was still inside.

But a thorough search of the tunnel turned up no trace of any saboteur, just a handful of brass cartridges. When Sheriff Harris came back to town he was shaking his head. “The National Guardsmen did not seem inclined to talk,” he told the correspondent from the Reno Evening Gazette. “I was unable to secure a connected story from them.”

Furthermore, as the Gazette reported, “the dynamite that was found on top of the tunnel apparently was deposited several months ago . . . in a box that was weatherbeaten.”

By the next day the mystery had been cleared up. As Murphy and his men had tiptoed cautiously through the darkness, intent on catching any hint of the fugitive, the sentries at the other end heard them. Convinced that the saboteur was creeping toward them, they had opened fire and mowed down Corporal Murphy. When their fire was returned they snapped off more rounds. Thus the brief battle of the Tonka Tunnel.

The wounded Murphy was taken to Elko by train, and recuperated in the local hospital without incident. He was probably back on active duty before his troopers got over their embarrassment.

Photographers Trish and Deon Reynolds have opened the Eureka Gallery on Eureka's Main Street to exhibit and sell their own work and that of other area artists. The image above is a photograph that Deon took in nearby Diamond Valley, and the one below is Trish's photo of Lunar Lake, taken on their recent trip to Death Valley.

Photographers Trish and Deon Reynolds have opened the Eureka Gallery on Eureka’s Main Street to exhibit and sell their own work and that of other area artists. The image above is a photograph that Deon took in nearby Diamond Valley, and the one below is Trish’s photo of Lunar Lake, taken on their recent trip to Death Valley.

Three days later the countryside was still aflame with excitement over the shooting when a second and more mysterious incident occurred. As the Gazette correspondent reported, “The guards at the tunnel west of Elko were fired upon last night by three horsemen employing sniping tactics. They opened fire on the guards at intervals from 9 o’clock till 3 this morning. None of the guards was hit, and there was no damage done. The horsemen escaped around daybreak. . . .”

From then on it was All Quiet on the Northeastern Nevada Front. But you have to wonder who was doing the all-night sniping, and why.

Whoever it was, they can’t dull the luster on the buttons of Cpl T.M. Murphy, the first American casualty of World War One, shot by his buddies at the Battle of the Tonka Tunnel, Elko County, Nevada, USA, April 12, 1917.

Quick Notes from beyond the mountains: A new 15 unit campground is now open at Kershaw-Ryan State Park just outside of Caliente. The new facilities add to the park’s many amenities, including potable water, shade armadas, tables and grills, flush toilets, coin operated showers and an RV dump station. One of the new camp sites is designed to accommodate those with disabilities. The camping fee is $10 per night and camping is on a first-come, first-served basis . . . You’ll want to bookmark this terrific source of information about arts events around Nevada . . . The Red Lion Inn & Casino in Winnemucca is now the Winnemucca Inn . . .

The exciting and fast-moving State Championship Mining Competition begins at the Tonopah Historic Mining Park right after the Jim Butler Day Parade on Saturday morning, May 23. Winners will vie for the World Championship titles to be held in Carson City after the October 31st Nevada Day Parade. The Mining Park is on the hillside in back of the Mizpah Hotel, and is open free of charge during Jim Butler Weekend. Bring the whole family and make a weekend excursion into the past.

The exciting and fast-moving State Championship Mining Competition begins at the Tonopah Historic Mining Park right after the Jim Butler Day Parade on Saturday morning, May 23. Winners will vie for the World Championship titles to be held in Carson City after the October 31st Nevada Day Parade. The Mining Park is on the hillside in back of the Mizpah Hotel, and is open free of charge during Jim Butler Weekend. Bring the whole family and make a weekend excursion into the past.

On Saturday, April 25 at 7 pm and Sunday, April 26 at 2 pm Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City presents “Westward Ho”, a one-act, 90 minute theatrical musical performance chronicling the history of Western Music. The 27 song presentation takes the audience from the end of the Civil War to contemporary times. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door (age 16 and under and age 65 and over are $10). Call 775-847-0433 or 1-866-422-1956 toll free. Doors and bar open one hour early . . . Memorial Day Weekend (May 23, 24 and 25) brings out municipal events all over the map. Tuscarora(pop. 15, of whom 12 are artists) is hosting its biennial Memorial Day open studios with more than 20 artists at 12 locations around town, with cemetery tours, painting and pottery demonstrations, poetry readings, 10 – 4 each day;Tonopah has Jim Butler Days on its rip-roaring schedule; and Gold Point will be teeming with visitors at its annual Memorial Daze celebration. A .45 colt Henry Big Boy and a .22 Henry long rifle Golden Boy will be raffled, and there will be Dutch Oven and Chili Cook-offs. You can request an event flyer and/or cook-off entry form by e-mail. You can also enter at the last minute if you wish

Gold Point Goes to Hollywood

In October 2007 a Hollywood film crew came to Gold Point to film a psychological thriller titled “Blood River”. As Herb Robbins reports, “They filmed in the Post Office and the Saloon and all around outside. Red Dog Lil was in the film at the end of the movie. She even had a speaking part when she picked up one of the stars of the movie in a 1966 black mustang.

“We were invited to the premier in the Egyptian Theater on March 24th so we all went down. Red Dog Lil was even invited to walk down the Red Carpet, dressed in her fancy Saloon outfit, to have her picture taken by a mob of paparazzi and filmed and interviewed by other media. Sheriff Stone, of course, escorted her. Watch the trailer here.

. . .Winnemucca will host Run-A-Mucca 2009, “the West’s biggest little motorcycle rally” over Memorial Day weekend, with a show ‘n’ shine, bike games, poker runs and the famous burning bike spectacular to the weekends highlight: the raffling of a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Participants can purchase a “Run Package” that includes an official “Run” shirt, pin, one $1,000 poker run hand, one $400 poker stagger hand, one ticket to the event barbecue, free entry to the tattoo contest, bike show and bike games. More info: 800-962-2638 . . .Roadside America, a website that bills itself as “Your online guide to offbeat tourist attactions” has 84 such attractions located on its Nevada map. They range from the big cow outside the Longstreet Inn & Casino at Amargosa (#1) to Wendover Will in West Wendover (#84). Both of those curiosities have been moved to their present locations, by the way. Wendover Will originally stood about a mile to the east, right at the Utah border, and before the big cow moved to the country it was a landmark on the roof of the Holy Cow brewpub at the corner of Sahara and Las Vegas Boulevard in Las Vegas . . .

The The Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas (700 Twin Lakes Drive in Lorenzi Park) is exhibiting

Andrew Levering aboard the USS Nevada in the 1930s.

Andrew Levering aboard the USS Nevada in the 1930s.

recently acquired photographs and memorabilia from the battleship USS Nevada through April 30. The Nevada, the navy’s first “super dreadnought”, was commissioned in 1914, and served in both World War I and World War II. She was caught at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and was the only ship able to get underway during the attack, although severe damage caused her to be beached. Salvaged, drydocked and modernized, the Nevada served throughout WWII. In 1946 she was a target ship in atomic tests at Bikini Atoll, and was sunk during naval gunfire practice on July 31, 1948.

Yeoman Andrew Thomas Levering served as secretary to the Nevada’s captain before WWII. Levering’s son, Robert,

photo by John & Brendan Packer

Our wildflower correspondents, the father-son team of John & Brendan Packer, have sent their first batch of spring photos from Death Valley, including this brilliant specimen.

donated his late father’s documents and memorabilia to the museum. The museum is open daily 9 am – 5 pm; admission is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors 55 and over, free to children 17 and under . . . The Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority and the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce have teamed up to launch a new website featuring special offers from the resort communities in Las Vegas, Mesquite, Laughlin, Boulder City and Primm for Nevada residents.

Deals on show tickets, spa treatments, nightclub admission, restaurant offers, hotel discounts and more are offered to folks with a valid Nevada Driver’s License or ID card . . . Virginia City celebrates Cinco de Mayo on Saturday, May 2, with a Chili Cook-off. Cooking begins at 10:30 a.m. and tasting at noon in the Bucket of Blood Parking lot. A Mariachi Band will stroll the boardwalks of

Eureka will be gleaming with the annual Eureka “Show What Ya Brung” Car Show on May 15 and 16. Theshow is held in conjunction with the annual Hwy 50 Yard Sale and the Patrick Ball performance of “The Flame of Love: The Legend of Tristan and Iseult” at the Eureka Opera House.

the historic town from noon to 2 pm, with Pi–atas for the kids beginning at noon and continuing hourly until 4 pm in the Delta Saloon Parking lot on C Street . . . Get your fishing gear ready and head for Pioche. A Tagged Fishing Event will be held May 2 (7 am – 5 pm) and 3 (7 am – noon) in the reservoirs at Echo Canyon State Park and Spring Valley State Park east of Pioche. There are several tagged fish in each reservoir, with one of them worth $50,000 (not a typo). Registration has begun at the Eagle Valley Resort in Ursine, Nevada on a first-come, first-served basis and will continue up to the day of the event. The event is open to all ages, but only 500 participants are allowed. More information:775-962-5293 . . . The Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort is closed for the season . . .

Happy Highways,

David W. Toll

 

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