By Bob McCracken – “Nye County History”
In my last column I discussed some observations of life in southern Nye County by Thomas W. Brooks, who wrote about the area in the late nineteenth century.
Brooks was a native of the state of Georgia and claimed to have served with the Confederacy in the Civil War and with General George Armstrong Custer on the western frontier, where he attained the rank of colonel.
He later went on to become a rather well-known and respected mining man in California, Arizona and Nevada. Between 1886 and 1893 he made several trips to southern Nevada and prepared articles for southern Californian newspapers about his travels.
At that time, of course, most of Nevada, including Nye County, remained very much a frontier. When in southern Nevada, the Manse Ranch was his welcoming refuge and headquarters.
In 1893, Brooks published a fascinating article describing an important gathering of Southern Paiute Indians in Pahrump Valley.
At that time, the Southern Paiute occupied a territory stretching from Blythe, Calif., to Ash Meadows in Nevada on the west, north to Cove Fort in Utah, east to the Henry Mountains in eastern Utah, south to Tuba City, Ariz., and west from there to Las Vegas.
Within their vast territory, the Southern Paiute were divided into 16 groups, with each group featuring a number of so-called camps. The Las Vegas group was one of the largest, occupying, in addition to Las Vegas and Pahrump valleys, Goodsprings, Ivanpah, Corn Creek, Indian Creek Valley, Ash Meadows, and Resting Springs.
Brooks first tells of an encounter in the early 1860s between the Southern Paiute in Pahrump Valley and a white man by the name of Captain John Moss, whom he describes as a “frontier adventurer.” It seems that Captain Moss developed a deep relationship with the Pahrump Valley Paiutes to the point where, as Brooks says, his name became “idolized by the whole tribe.”
Brooks says papers given the chief by Moss at that time were “as carefully preserved and as sacredly adhered to as are the translated parchments of Moses of old.”
In 1863, according to Brooks, a treaty was made by Capitan Moss between the American people and that group of Paiutes based not on “Christianity, love, fear, or the promise of reward, but upon a conviction of true justice to all men and expedient prosperity in all matters of interest to the Indian as well as to the white man.”
At a mass assemblage the next year, “Moss appointed a new ruler with no less power than a king.” His name was Tom Sa-cre-ti-e.
He “ruled” for a number of years, died of old age, and was succeeded by his brother, Tecopa, who, as high chief, Brooks says, was “an acknowledged honor to the tribe and a monument of justice.” In 1868 or 1869 a “perpetual peace treaty” between Tecopa and U.S. officers at Camp Cady on the Mohave River was signed.
Tecopa was very successful as a leader, instrumental, among other things, in putting an end to the reign of the “fearless desperado Hos-shutum,” horse shooter or horse killer, and furnished General Crook warriors to fight Apaches in Arizona.
Captain Moss, in the meantime, left the area and traveled to Colorado via Arizona. In Colorado, he was known to be in the big mining town of Leadville and in the San Juan Mountains, where he founded a town called Parrott City.
He moved to Denver, married an “estimable lady of Texas,” and eventually died.
Chief Tecopa was an old man in 1893 when he got word of Captain Moss’s passing. He was deeply saddened and sent runners “far and wide” with word to attend “a sacrifice or burnt offering.” Shoshones, once hostile to the Southern Paiute, were invited. Chief Tecopa’s home site was within the survey bounds of the giant Pahrump Ranch.
Indians assembled there from as far away as Utah, northern Nevada, San Bernardino, the Needles, Muddy, and El Dorado Canyon. Brooks was invited and provided with the same translator Captain Moss had used, Jim Ozphard.
The ceremony began on the 7th of August, 1893. Visitors assembled and greeted one another. All were happy. In the afternoon, Tecopa gave a long speech.
First he remembered important events that had occurred during his reign. He then took up the name of Captain John Moss.
Because the people had lived in observance of the fundamental principles and laws established by Moss and Tecopa’s agency, he said, the people had lived in peace and harmony with the white man.
They benefited economically and could earn 75 cents a day working, have their own cows and horses, clothes to wear and food to eat.
Tecopa pleaded with mothers and fathers to teach their children the name of Moss so it could be handed down for generations.
Tecopa noted that the “high chief,” President Grover Cleveland, had given other tribes horses, blankets, etc., and it was wrong to do so. Tecopa’s tribe, on the other hand, worked and thus earned a good living.
Tecopa’s people, he said, were industrious, honest, and just. On the second day, the program continued with dancing. It went on through the night until sunrise. The third day and night were devoted to rest and sleep.
The fourth day was devoted to social interaction, feasting, and gambling. That night, there was “grand vocal entertainment” that continued until dawn. The next day and night, the fifth, were once again devoted to sleep and rest.
In the meantime, “hundreds of valuable articles, consisting of baskets, trinkets, buckskins, and wearing apparel” had been hung on a rope stretched before Tecopa’s quarters. These gifts from attendees were on exhibit, intended for the “spiritual flame.”
On the sixth day, the 12th of August, “gambling is a leading feature of the day,” Brooks wrote. American games with cards were played and players “bet anything and everything they possess.” An “unusually jubilant spirit” was manifested that night. Boisterous acts of singing, dancing, and playing games were witnessed.
During this time, many animals had been lined up, “unconsciously waiting their end of life.” A great fire was prepared. The articles previously displayed were thrown on the fire as the new day approached.
Then the animals were led one by one before the fire, shot, then roasted in the flames. A gorgeous feast was taken and enjoyed by all.
Then on the new day, Brooks writes, “with a clear conscience at having discharged an important duty and accomplished a great good, by way of obedience to the highest power and expelling all ills and evil spirits from their midst, a fond departure is taken of their Chief Tecopa and they depart for their homes.”
Brooks concludes his description of this important affair in ironic terms. Tecopa, characterized as a “true friend of white men,” was now old and in poor health. Brooks tells us the chief, “without government provisions for the necessities of life,” lamented his poverty and “the ingratitude of a great nation to a poor Indian.”