215 South Main St. Yerington, Nevada
Yerington runs along the Walker River in an area where agriculture has turned the desert landscape lush. Coming west on Hwy 95, all of that green seems shockingly vivid next to the sage and rabbitbrush. This town bears the marks of homesteaders, farmers and miners having worked the land.
Turning onto Main Street, there are the familiar small casinos that appear in every Nevada town. At the south end of Main Street is the Lyon County Museum, adjacent to a parking lot mural of what has become the dominant storyline of the West: horses, trails, trains, tribes and a vast expanse of open land. When the museum first opened in 1978, it was housed entirely in a repurposed church. Over the last 30 years, the museum has added on an annex and relocated numerous historical buildings to their lot. All of these buildings create collections within collections that seem to actively breathe the town’s motto: “Preserving Our History While Planning Our Future.”
Throughout the museum, exhibits feature the stories of local folk heroes and the type of people history would do a disservice to forget. One doesn’t demean the other but rather together they elevate the conversation of the value/impact of an individual on a community. In the E.L. Wiegand Building, there are a series of life-sized dioramas, each one dense with stories that seem to soften the line between history and legend. In one diorama is Wovoka, a Northern Paiute prophet and leader that spread the Ghost Dance religion. Next to him is Harry Warren
Despite having “the largest bee and honey business in Nevada” Warren is most remembered for carrying a 120-pound sack of wheat the ten miles from Wabuska to Yerington. His feat in 1910 won him a purse of $1500 and sparked the tradition of Yerington’s Great American Sack Races. Outside of the museum, information about Harry Warren is scarce and so the bulk of his recognition lies in that exhibit. While history is quick to acknowledge large sweeping gestures, often times the quieter ones get forgotten. That quietness is made up of the stories and legends that form the fabric of a town.
In an adjacent diorama, these hazy borders between legend and history are present in the naming of Yerington. The town was initially called Pizen Switch for a particularly questionable saloon that would refill their low whiskey barrels with chewing tobacco and water (poison switch). As the account goes, eventually “municipal pride demanded a more genteel handle and the citizens agreed on Greenfield”. The change to Yerington happened in 1894 supposedly in an effort to sway Nevada businessman Henry Marvin Yerington to route the Carson and Colorado Railway through the town. The goal of flattery failed, but the name remained.
In another of the outbuildings, the Thompson Building, one finds an outpouring of artifacts honoring one woman: Dr. Mary Fulstone. While so much of the West is attributed to men, it’s rare to see a celebration and recognition of women in that history. Mary Hill Fulstone was a physician in Lyon County from the early to mid-1900’s. By the end of her 60+ year career, she was the longest practicing physician in the state. Over the course of her life, in addition to breaking down gender, race and class barriers, she delivered over 5,000 babies. She aided in the births of multiple generations becoming a thread that tied families to neighborhoods to communities. Thinking about those large and small individuals that shape a town, Dr. Fulstone was literally both of those, ushering in the coming of new generations while helping to lay the passing ones to rest.