The notion of Jim Butler at a craft fair seems odd, but it was indicative of the wide variety of events and activities that were part of the 50th Jim Butler Days over Memorial Day weekend in Tonopah.
Seven-year-old Blake Barker played the role of Jim Butler, marching down Main Street accompanied by his mule, played by his dog, Annie.
“I just thought it would be adorable for him and his dog to be Butler and his donkey,” said Blake’s mom, Tianna Novak. “The dog’s outfit kept falling off, but we tried. Bad mule.”
Blake admitted to being a little nervous but said he had fun and would do it again if asked.
“My mom told me about the Jim Butler parade, and she got me in it,” Blake said. “All I had to do was carry the pick axe.”
Novak’s daughter, Alayna, now 14, had a role in the parade seven years ago.
“She was one of the suffragettes,” Novak said. “It’s cute. They both did it when they were 7.”
Among the older participants in the parade was the Mizpah Hotel’s most famous resident, The Lady in Red.
“I’ve done it quite a number of years,” said Andria Williams Moss, dressed in a deep red period dress. “I’ve always dressed up as The Lady in Red, even when the Mizpah was closed.”
Even if she didn’t look good in costume, Moss would be a good choice to portray Tonopah’s legendary spirit.
“My late husband used to bartend at the Mizpah,” she said. “He worked the midnight until 8 a.m. shift, and he said up and down the stairs drove him crazy with the footsteps.”
Blake didn’t go right home after portraying Jim Butler. A few hours after the parade, author Jackie Boor happily showed off a picture of the youngster holding one of the largest of the painted rocks she brought to the craft fair at Tonopah Convention Center.
“I developed a new hobby during COVID because I was housebound,” said Boor, an Oregon native who lives in Crescent City, California. “I had gone to the beach in my hometown in Northern California and collected these rocks and started painting them for fun and relaxation. They were calming, and they were nice handy gifts to give to people. A lot of my friends have painted rocks now, and people who were ill get painted rocks.”
While the rocks are new, Boor is no stranger to Tonopah or Jim Butler Days, having visited each year since publishing her book about her great-grandfather, Thomas Logan, a three-term Nye County sheriff who was killed in 1906 in Manhattan.
“He was a very popular sheriff, and his killer went on to be acquitted,” Boor said. “In our family that was a big mystery. I later discovered that the killer was represented by Pat McCarran, who had just passed the bar. He was less than honest in how he represented the killer, which I later found out from his daughter, Sister Margaret McCarran, who told me she knew he had paid witnesses and fabricated evidence.”
Boor had copies for sale, but she gladly told the story to anyone who stopped by her table. She has held book signings each year, not just in Tonopah but around Nevada and even in Washington, D.C., where she was recognized during Police Officers Memorial Week at the Smithsonian in 2015.
“The book was published in 2014, and I’ve been coming here telling the story,” she said, noting Jim Butler was the Nye County district attorney when Logan became sheriff. “I thought it would only take a few years and maybe people would be tired of the story, but everywhere I go it’s still popular with local people as well as people traveling through who want to know more about Nevada history.”
But now, in addition to a heaping helping of history — and a display of memorabilia including a 1905 dog license (Logan was the first sheriff to license dogs) and a token from Logan’s saloon, located where the Jim Butler Inn & Suites now stands — there was a colorful display of painted rocks, including the one that caught the eye of Blake Barker.
“I come every year to share the story of my great-grandfather Tom Logan, and this year I thought I’d bring a hobby along for the craft fair,” she said.
Also bringing along a hobby was Kathryn Ralli, who had a dazzling lineup of homemade jewelry available near Boor’s display.
“I’ve been making jewelry for a long time,” Ralli said, her accent betraying her London birth, although home is Fish Lake Valley. “I would say 20 years or more. Pendulums, I’ve been making them longer.”
Indeed, a bright variety of pendulums were swinging behind the earrings.
“A pair of earrings, generally, if I don’t make a mistake or something like that, takes about a half hour,” she said. “Each one is a favorite when I’m making it. None of them are the same; they’re all completely different. I do my best to make things I think are fun and different, and hopefully somebody else will like them, too.”
Ralli gets her materials from wholesalers, whether on the internet or in Los Angeles or Las Vegas. But despite the time put in, making jewelry is a side gig for her.
“It’s still a hobby. This is really my business,” she said, showing a rhinestone-studded fabric in the design of a transmission repair shop. “I make rhinestone logos. I get somebody’s business card, and I enlarge it to whatever size they like it. Then I put the rhinestones onto a piece of foil. Once I’ve done that, I put this on a heat press and it glues it onto a fabric.”
As the craft fair entered its final hour at the Convention Center, Tonopah Liquor Company was starting a whiskey tasting back on Main Street. Whiskey is big at TLC, which boasts a Whiskey 100 club of nine people who each have sampled 100 whiskeys.
“But we have a book full of people working on it,” said Marc Grigory, who owns TLC along with his wife Tiffani. “Hundreds in the book working on it. Someone could be gone for years, they come back and we’ll add it to the book.”
The Whiskey 100 Club is serious enough it will soon have its own hand-selected, single-barrel bourbon with its logo on the bottle. Produced by New Riff Distillery and priced at $100 per bottle, “we like it better than Jack Daniels,” said Dennis Donovan, who was uniquely qualified to be at the front door, waiting to pour for patrons interested in trying a whiskey flight.
“I was the first member of the club,” he said proudly, gesturing to the list of Whiskey 100 Club members on the wall across from the bar. “When Marc and Tiffani bought the bar they started adding whiskey to it, so when I started working here I started learning about all of the different brands so when people come in I can talk about the different whiskeys.”
Eager to listen was visitor Heather Searles, who said she drove from the Moapa area.
“Every time we come here, we have to stop here,” said Searles, who said she first visited Tonopah Liquor Company two years ago. As for whiskey? “I like the Jim Beam Devil’s Cut. It’s a little spicy, and I like that.”
Grigory said those with gentler palates can find something they like among TLC’s whiskey offerings.
“It’s an acquired taste, a specialty thing,” he said. “But we have some good introductory ones if you’re not into whiskey. We have flavored ones, which are a little sweeter. They seem to appeal to women and men just getting into whiskey.”
The tasting offered a variety of whiskey flights ranging from $15 to $25, enabling visitors to sample five whiskeys.
“Buying a shot of this is like $15, which could be a lot for you to do,” Donovan said, pointing to a bottle. “But for $25, you can taste five. That way you can try a little bit of a bunch of different whiskeys, find one that you like and then you can buy a whole shot of it at the bar.
“This is our way of trying to get people introduced into whiskey.”
But TLC brought more than whiskey to Jim Butler Days.
“Last year we had a street dance band, and there were three or four people out there listening and everybody else was in the bar,” Grigory said. “This year we moved all of our events out there. We had our bartenders race, stein holding contest, frozen T-shirts — we did it all in front of the stage hoping to keep everybody there, and they stayed, and they danced, and they screamed and had fun. They watched every single band, and that made me the happiest.”
A big fan of live music, Grigory was especially pleased that each of the five groups that performed Friday were based in Nevada, and two of them had a member who grew up in Tonopah.
“I do all of the music here, and we were able to get music from noon to midnight yesterday,” he said, estimating that up to 1,000 people were out there during the busiest part of the day between 7-10 p.m. “I couldn’t have asked for more yesterday. It was a perfect day.”
For Tonopah, it was close to a perfect weekend, and Grigory noticed something that should be music to the ears of the town’s boosters. For years, many of the people visiting TLC were driving from Reno to Las Vegas or vice versa, perhaps on their way to Lake Tahoe or points farther north. But that is changing.
“More than ever, I’m hearing, we’re just heading to Tonopah. We came to Tonopah to get out of town for a couple of days,” Grigory said. “To hear that so many times over the past few months is very nice.”
Jim Butler would be proud.