D. Zapata 2021, Eureka County Cultural Overview, Extension, University of Nevada, Reno

Eureka County Cultural

Eureka County, located in central Nevada, is a high desert, mining and agricultural community surrounded by mountain ranges, farmland, and natural resources like clean air, wildlife, gold, silver, and several other base minerals, oil, and gas.

A growing county, Eureka is home to citizens actively engaged in community involvement. Between the highly ranked school district, the libraries, the senior centers, the historic Opera House, and the participation in community organizations like the Eureka Lions Club, Eureka 4-H, and Future Farmers of America, Eureka finds itself a county of self-reliance and interconnectivity. In addition to rural stability, Eureka County maintains a transparent online presence. Eureka employment opportunities are routinely posted online, alongside updates from the County Commission newsletter Plain Talk. A huge tell in transparency came during the COVID-19 pandemic, when up-to-date relevant community resources continued to be relayed throughout 2020 on the county’s website.

Altogether, Eureka with its three towns exemplifies rural life. Population may be sparse and spread out, but a shared history, pride, and reliance unites the county. Energy is produced near Beowawe along Highway 80. The town of Eureka is the largest population area and is also the county seat. It is located on Highway 50 at the southern edge of the county. Here, decisions are made, and out in central Nevada, it would be hard to top such a town’s nickname: “The Friendliest Town on the Loneliest Road in America.”

Landscape, Climate, and the Outdoors

Eureka County is situated in the high desert and Basin Range topography of Nevada. There is a variety of valley basins and mountain ranges where ranches, farms, mine sites and open range sagebrush and pinion pine/juniper communities dominate the landscape. The area around the town of Eureka is made up of trees and mountains, while other stretches of the county sport long flats of sagebrush with views to mountain ranges like Diamond Peak (whose summit of 10,631 feet is the county’s highest point). The majority of Eureka’s land being federally owned, is primarily used for “livestock grazing, mining, geothermal energy production, and outdoor recreation.”1 The Roberts Wilderness Study Area, near Roberts Creek Mountain, as well as the Simpsons Park Mountains have been the sources of studies to determine Eureka’s mineral resources and Nevada’s geological map2. These studies have revealed trace amounts of gold and silver in some portions of Eureka, with high resource potential of these minerals elsewhere in the county. At the same time, the current strength of Eureka’s mining industry is proven every day: the Gold Bar Project in 2018 estimated almost 500,000 ounces of gold in the Gold Bar mine3, and there are 1.5 million ounces of minerals out of the Carlin Trend each year4.

Temperatures are moderate to mild in Eureka. The average July high is around 88 degrees, making Eureka one of the cooler places in Nevada. Eureka lies in a seven to eight-inch precipitation zone. Online weather reports read the January low being around 15 degrees, but this belies the fact that Eureka County experiences colder winters. There have been month-long stretches of below -40 degrees, and the 90-110 day growing season changes the local agriculture. For example, tomatoes cannot be grown except in greenhouses, and the hay tests high in protein because of the cool nights.

In terms of parks and recreation, there are not many major designated areas or places of interest within Eureka County but the major source of recreational activity resides in the open ranges and mountains where hunting, fishing, hiking and sightseeing opportunities abound. There are numerous historical and natural attractions in Eureka county within a few hours’ drive. Cave Lake and the Ward Charcoal Ovens lie southeast of Eureka in White Pine County, while the Rubies and South Fork Recreation Area lie closer and to the west in Elko County. There are rodeo arenas and ball fields in Crescent Valley and in the town of Eureka, on top of several parks, a playground, and RV Parks.

History

The history of Eureka County is available through archived books, scholarly articles, online portals at libraries and directly from the county, and finally, oral histories. This last source, oral histories, are the backbone to every community. Whether captured by scholars or, as is more common, retold through generations of families and lifelong community members, oral histories provide first-hand accounts of what it means to be a citizen in a county such as Eureka. Examples of Eureka oral histories range from the interviews conducted by the Nevada Women’s History Project, to the 1909 letters from Richard FitzGerald in Eureka to his wife in Boston5 and Pine Valley Puzzle written by local rancher Floyd Slagowski.

As for origins, Eureka was established in 1873.6 The lands were derived from Elko, Lander, and White Pine counties. According to the archives at Western Mining History, almost ten years earlier in 1864, silver was discovered at Eureka, but was difficult to extract from the complex lead ores.7 Upon the invention of heating or cooking the ore it became possible to extract the gold in an economical fashion and charcoal ovens and industry became prevalent throughout central Nevada. Soon enough, there was a settlement, and then a founding of the town of Eureka.

Eureka’s initial mining boom peaked in $5 million being produced in 1878. Between the inflation calculators from Westegg and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is roughly $134 million in 2020 dollars. Shortly afterwards came the Charcoal Burners’ War, a conflict between mostly Italian immigrants and the mining/milling companies. The conflict climaxed in an eruption of violence with five Italians being killed. Western Mining History points to the changing economics that quelled the uprising. Prices ended up falling after a slump in mining and a drop in demand for charcoal, leading to the burners’ giving up their demand for better prices. For an in-depth look at the Charcoal Burners’ War, there is Silvio Manno’s 2016 book, Charcoal and Blood: Italian Immigrants in Eureka, Nevada, and the Fish Creek Massacre. In it, Manno takes a look at primary resources such as newspaper articles in order to give a comprehensive account of Eureka’s charcoal crisis. As the book’s description states, “readers interested in Nevada history, Italian-American history, frontier trade unionism, and mining in the West will find this book a unique examination of an incident that occurred almost a century and a half ago and that has, until now, been largely overlooked.” Two years after its publication, a 2018 review by Albin Cofone calls the book a “gem,” and states of it that it “is as much a narrative account about a forgotten chapter of Nevada history, as it is a reflective memoir, enriched by a new immigrant’s quest to understand his people’s past in a frontier land” (Pacific Historical Review, Winter 2018, 222). Many of the great rock buildings constructed throughout Nevada were made by Italian immigrants who, besides being charcoalers were often expert stone masons.

Since the mining boom, there have been occasional slumps in Eureka’s mining industry, but nevertheless a production of millions of dollars of ore each year. There have been certain revivals throughout the twentieth century, but nothing quite like the original mining boom. Arguably, as of 2020, there is an upward swing in mining. Perhaps what helps Eureka’s industries grow the most are their policies on permits, or, rather, the lack of policies. Eureka County requires no building permits, no building codes, and no zoning laws required when starting and building a business, making it easier and more economical for business owners to get going.8

Other critical sources of Eureka County history include:

  • Early history of Eureka County 1863-1890, Nevada by Frederick Wallace Reichman (1967)
  • Nevada’s Golden Giants: Goldstrike and Gold Quarry, Eureka County, Nevada by the Geological Society of Nevada (2016)
  • Eureka and its Resources: A Complete History of Eureka County, Nevada… by Lambert Molinelli (UNR 1982)
  • Under the Mountain by Molly Flagg Knudtsen (1982) – a collection of vignettes about life in central Nevada
  • Eureka Memories: A Series of Interviews with Fourteen Individuals and Families in Eureka, Nevada by Robert D. McCracken (1993)

Community

“Living in Eureka County is a wonderful experience. The community, the area, the schools: it’s just a good place to raise a family.9”

Eureka County has the surefire sign of a connected, active community: a great school district. According to Niche, an online school district ranking website, Eureka County ranks 4th of all school districts in Nevada.10 Moreover, according to SchoolDigger, another evaluation site, Eureka County ranks 2nd in the state, and that is including private and charter schools. 11 “Last year’s graduating class, every member of that class went to college. Every member.” 12

Every year the town of Eureka hosts the Eureka County Fair. There’s a Ranch Hand rodeo, family games, good food, exhibit halls, 4-H livestock and project exhibits with lots of family and community fun. Additionally, the Eureka Opera House hosts regular evening shows exhibiting a variety of western singers and artists, an annual fiddlers contest and paranormal event drawn to the unique historical events above and below ground in the and around the town of Eureka. There are also many major community events such as Basque picnics, chili cook-offs, Cowboy Poetry gatherings, etc. in nearby Elko or White Pine counties. Rural Nevadans are used to driving hundreds of miles for groceries and supplies and recreation, so once acclimated to the lifestyle, the sense of community expands beyond the town and county boundaries. Based on the county activity it is evident that Eureka is a community of solidarity: the involved school district and Sheriff’s Office, the love for outdoor recreation, and the many testimonials from citizens who have lived there for two, five, ten, thirty-plus years.


The NEAP is an on-going project that greatly benefits from community input. The authors wish to express that If any information here on the county is inaccurate or any impertinent information is missing, an email may be sent to econdev@unr.edu with information, additions, or edits.


Sources Cited

  1. Eureka County Website, Economic Information
  2. “Mineral Resources of the Roberts Wilderness Study Area, Eureka County, Nevada”  by David A. Benjamin and Fredrick L. Johnson (1986)
    “Correlation and Description of Map Units for the Geologic Map…” by Edwin h. McKee and James E. Conrad (1993)
  3. Gold Bar Project Information, Eureka County
  4. A Little About Eureka County (Video from the Northeastern Nevada Regional Development Authority, timestamp for information at 1:26-1:43)
  5. Nevada Women’s History Project: Eureka County Interviews
    “Letters from Richard FitzGerald in Eureka, Nevada to his wife in Boston” Bryn Mawr College, 2018. (Available only with University Library Access)
  6. Eureka County Website, Historical Background
  7. Western Mining History: Eureka, Nevada
  8. See source 4
  9. See source 4 - video timestamp at: 3:44-3:54
  10. Niche: 2020 Best School Districts in Nevada
  11. SchoolDigger: Nevada School District Rankings
  12. See source 4 - video timestamp at 4:05-4:11

Other Sources Used

Learn more about the author(s)

 

Also of Interest:

 
Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park
Demographic Characteristics for Douglas County, Nevada
The project focuses on providing Nevada’s counties, state and federal agencies, and their partners with quantitative and qualitative baseline data and analyses to better understand the counties’ demographic, social, economic, fiscal, and environmental characteristics, trends, and...
B. Borden, L. Thomas, J. Lednicky, D. Zapata, L. Chichester 2021, Extension, University of Nevada, Reno
Ophir Canyon Ghost Town
Demographic Characteristics for Lander County, Nevada
The project focuses on providing Nevada’s counties, state and federal agencies, and their partners with quantitative and qualitative baseline data and analyses to better understand the counties’ demographic, social, economic, fiscal, and environmental characteristics, trends, and...
B. Borden, L. Thomas, J. Lednicky, D. Zapata 2021, Extension, University of Nevada, Reno
Hay Bales in a Field in Lyon County, NV
Demographic Characteristics for Lyon County, Nevada
The project focuses on providing Nevada’s counties, state and federal agencies, and their partners with quantitative and qualitative baseline data and analyses to better understand the counties’ demographic, social, economic, fiscal, and environmental characteristics, trends, and...
B. Borden, L. Thomas, J. Lednicky, D. Zapata, A. Ahmed 2021, Extension, University of Nevada, Reno
Mineral County Roadside Marker
Demographic Characteristics for Mineral County, Nevada
The project focuses on providing Nevada’s counties, state and federal agencies, and their partners with quantitative and qualitative baseline data and analyses to better understand the counties’ demographic, social, economic, fiscal, and environmental characteristics, trends, and...
B. Borden, L. Thomas, J. Lednicky, D. Zapata, S. Emm 2021, Extension, University of Nevada, Reno
Joe's Tavern in Hawthorne, Nevada
Economic Characteristics for Mineral County, Nevada
The project focuses on providing Nevada’s counties, state and federal agencies, and their partners with quantitative and qualitative baseline data and analyses to better understand the counties’ demographic, social, economic, fiscal, and environmental characteristics, trends, and...
B. Borden, L. Thomas, J. Lednicky, D. Zapata, S. Emm 2021, Extension, University of Nevada, Reno
 

Associated Programs

downtown eureka

Nevada Economic Assessment Project (NEAP) - Eureka County

NEAP aims to provide county, state and federal agencies, with quantitative and qualitative baseline data for Lincoln County

Thomas Harris speaking to group of Nevada Economic Assessment Project Stakeholders at an update meeting

Nevada Economic Assessment Project (NEAP)

The Nevada Economic Assessment Project focuses on providing Nevada’s counties, state and federal agencies, and their partners with quantitative and qualitative baseline data and analyses to better understand the counties’ demographic, social, economic, fiscal and environmental characteristics, trends and impacts. The data can be used for land use and project planning, grant writing and overall policy assessment.

 

Extension Director's Office | On the campus of University of Nevada, Reno