NevadaGram #146 – Andy & the Snake, A Postcard from Shorty


THE NEW Harrah’s Hotel was one of four or five buildings that rose up out of Reno’s grimy brick downtown like bright porcelain teeth in a mouthful of rotting stumps. I had begun talking with the man beside me, a tall, stiff jointed cowpuncher, half beer-drunk and staring mildly about him out of china-blue eyes. He was headed back from his sister’s funeral in Salinas to the lonesome Monitor Valley ranch where he was working. While he waited for the bus that would take him the next leg of the way home, he passed the time by telling me about Andy and the snake.

Jiggs is where it happened; south of Elko about 35 miles in a little dimple at the base of the Ruby Mountains called Mound Valley. Jiggs has changed considerably since Andy ran the saloon there, but it is still about as far as you can get in this world from L.A.

Comstock Mining Inc. served Stop Work OrderOn August 12 the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection served a stop work order on Comstock Mining Inc. because the company had failed to install required air pollution control equipment. The crusher and the secondary crusher in American Flat were both affected by the Stop Order, which was lifted on August 24. What effect this has had on the company’s production for the third quarter won’t be known until it files its Q3 Report with the SEC.

As it is written, an environmental violation makes CMI’s Special Use Permit null and void.

This is not the first mistake the company has made, nor is it the only way the company threatens the health and welfare of its neighbors. Indeed, CMI has been a constant source of stress and irritation to Storey County and its residents since the day it came out into the light and announced its plans.

What does Storey County have to show for it besides all the hubbub? Some golden promises, suitable for framing is what. Farces are supposed to be funny. This one is ugly and depressing.

Back in the 1860s and ’70s when Mound Valley was first settled, the road from Elko to Eureka was swarming with wagons hauling ore north from the Eureka mines and south again hauling goods and provisions from the railhead at Elko. The little settlement that grew up around the stagecoach station and freighting depot was called Dry Creek at first, then Mound Valley, then Hylton and then Skelton, and finally Jiggs after the comic strip character. At the height of its development the place had a block-long business street and maybe 20 or 30 houses; the slight slur of wickedness that attached to its name back before the turn of the 20th century came from holding dances on Sunday.

The Eureka & Palisade Railroad was built through the next valley west to connect the Eureka mines with the main line of the S.P. and the wagon traffic stopped. Nothing much happened in the little place after that except the inevitable withering away. When Andy came there it was only the post office and the saloon.

Andy was a Spaniard, a Basque from one of the Pyrenees mountain provinces that have furnished sheepherders to the western rangelands of the United States since the 1870s.

No one now remembers exactly how or when Andy came to Nevada, but it’s a safe bet he was working with one of the big bands of sheep that still move with the seasons between the mountains and valleys along the state’s southeastern border. He turned up in Ely, moved to Elko for six years after that, and then he took over the saloon at Jiggs.

He was a short, stocky, homely man, unruly, hard drinking and absolutely hopeless with business. His bookkeeping was jumbled and his credit had long lapsed with the Elko wholesalers. When he needed stock he had to co cash in hand to get it. If there was any cash left over after loading the liquor, he’d leave everything where it stood and go off on a spree. Two or three days later, when his money was gone, he’d stumble back to where he’d left his supplies.

First Train to Winnemucca

When the first through train, with four carloads of notables, arrived on May 11, 1869, the town put on a celebration suitable to the occasion — firing guns, blowing horns and whistles, ringing bells, driving souvenir spikes, and drinking champagne — the usual drink of early Nevada when it wanted to show it could spend with kings. From then on, the one regular town spree came on the day the Central Pacific pay-car came though. That night the more peacefully inclined Winnemuccans would resignedly give up all thoughts of sleep as choruses mounted in the favorite: “Oh, for a home in a big saloon, on the banks of some raging canal.” Black eyes and broken noses often identified the celebrants on the morning after.”
— from “Nevada: A Guide to the Silver State” by the W.P.A Writers’ Project, 1940.

As often as not the liquor had been stolen while he was off drinking, and Andy would have to go back out to Jiggs empty-handed and sweat it out until he got a few dollars ahead. When one of the valley’s ranchers came in for a drink Andy was out of, he’d explain what had happened with a mixture of sheepishness and outrage and the cowman would laugh and take whatever Andy had on hand.

The fact is, the men out in Mound Valley thought Andy was a pretty good old boy. If he had a high-spirited crowd

on a payday, he’d put in a call to one of the houses in Elko and have a couple of girls brought out. That was probably Andy’s best stroke as an entrepreneur — that and the fact that any man in the valley had good credit with Andy. The men out there who remember Andy will tell you he’d give a fellow the shirt off his back. Oh, yes, the women will sniff, if you didn’t care how clean it was.

It’s true that he only changed his clothes when it was convenient, and he didn’t shave every day, and his floor was likely to be gummy with spilled liquor. The women out there didn’t care for Andy at all but he didn’t mind. He had come out to the farthest edge of things to be left alone to run his place the way he wanted, and if he made enough to get along he was satisfied.

And he was generous. Drifters, the untethered men who chanced along the lo