Text by Don Buck
Photos by Steve Knight
Massacre Ranch was part of the Miller and Lux Pacific Land & Livestock Company holdings until liquidated in the mid-1920′ s. Martin Lartirigoyen bought the ranch and ran it as a sheep operation in the 1930’s and then leased it to John Laxague from Surprise Valley. Later, Lartirigoyen’s son-in-Iaw, Bob Bunyard, operated the sheep ranch until he ran into financial trouble in the early 1990’s. At that point, Bunyard’s son, Mickey Bunyard, took over management of the ranch. In a complex multi-party arrangement with the Bureau of Land Management in Cedarville and Las Vegas, the American Land Conservancy, and the Bunyard family that included land exchange and sale of property, the BLM acquired Massacre Ranch in 1995. Part of the arrangement included retiring the ranch’s domestic sheep grazing permit, which paved the way for the reintroduction of bighorn sheep into High Rock Canyon during the winter of 1995/96.
The Legend of an Emigrant Massacre
The origin of the name for the creek, ranch, valley aI)d a shallow alkali lake- “Massacre”-has some interesting twists and turns. The earliest reference to this name (as Massacre Valley) came in Thompson and West’s History of Nevada published in 1881. But there was no explanation for the name, which suggests that by then “massacre” was in current usage as a place-name. In the 1930’s several accounts appeared in print which matter-of-factly stated that in 1850 Indians attacked a large emigrant wagon train. In the running fight that saved the wagon train, 40 emigrant men were killed and buried in a common, unmarked grave. The published stories describing this “massacre” had no substantiating evidence, just the legend passed on from one writer to the next.
In 1977 Thomas Layton, an anthropology professor, published an article in the Nevada Historical Society Quarterly that convincingly disproved any emigrant “massacre” of that magnitude occurred in 1850 or any other year in this part of northwestern Nevada. None of the emigrant diary accounts on the Applegate Trail in Nevada for 1850, or later, mention an Indian attack on such a large scale or any emigrant deaths of this number. Surely, had a massacre of this magnitude occurred, it would have been sensational enough to be reported and recorded. But there is no mention in any contemporary records. Also, as Layton pointed out, organized, large-scale attacks on emigrant trains were not characteristic of Indian warfare in this region. Marauding Indian bands did attack isolated prospectors, ranchers, and stage stations in the 1860’s, but nothing like the “massacre” attributed to 1850. Rumors of massacres and murders have a life of their own, and once repeated they spread and are long remembered.
Two Rock Features at Massacre Ranch
The mass burial site in the massacre legend has led some writers to speculate that the two large groups of rocks a quarter-mile northeast of the Massacre Ranch buildings might have been the common grave where the 40 emigrant bodies were buried. On close inspection, especially of the larger rock group that measures 8 ft by 13 ft, the lower rocks appear to be well placed foundations for some kind of structure. They are not typical-Iooking emigrant graves, although they could have been excavated by later “grave robbers.”
Also, in some of the published accounts of the so-called “massacre,” the dead were buried in a common and unmarked grave where every precaution was taken to conceal the location so Indians would not disinter and desecrate the bodies. Clearly, these two rock groups are very visible.
Upon seeing these rock formations for the first time, Mike Bilbo, a BLM specialist and student of western military history, said they were foundations for military tents, the larger one for officers. This site at later Massacre Ranch may have been the location of a temporary U.S. military supply encampment, known as Camp Black, that moved about in 1865 supporting troops on Indian campaigns. Such a temporary camp could account for these two unique rock features.
BLM SURVEY AT MASSACRE RANCH
SEPT. 29, 2007
Volunteers from Trails West & OCTA:
Mike & Lorena Aguilar (Dayton, NV)
Jim Allison & Joyce Everett (Loomis, CA)
Dick Brock (Sacramento, CA)
Don Buck (Sunnyvale, CA)
Chuck Dodd (Alturas, CA)
Dave Hollecker, Reno, NV)
Gordon Jackson (Reno, NV)
Steve Knight (Carson City, NV)
Rod Latimer (Susanville, CA)
Alison Portello (Winters, CA)
John Schwede (Red Bluff, CA)
From BLM Winnemucca Field Office:
From BLM Cedarville Field Office: