If it wasn't one darn thing, it was another. It's a wonder that Jarbidge has survived so long. Their problems were vastly different that most other mining camps in the West.
Easily the most inaccessible mining camp in Nevada, Jarbidge is in the Canyon of the Evil Giant. He was called Tsawhawbitts (Tuh saw haw bits) by the Shoshone. When he caught someone in his canyon he promptly picked them up, put them in a large basket, and took them to his camp, where he ate them.
When gold was discovered in the canyon in 1909 the camp should have been called Tsawhawbitts but some called it Jahabich (Jah hah bitch), which is close but no cigar. Then the garbled name Jarbidge was officially hung on the place and it stuck although there are those who say Jarbridge which is not correct. So, Jarbidge started out with a corrupted moniker. The name has no meaning.
Dave Bourne, the prospector who discovered gold in the canyon, just couldn't keep his mouth shut. He bragged that $27 million of gold were visible. Newspapers across the nation picked up the story causing a stampede of gold seekers to Jarbidge. In six weeks there were 1,500 people in town. Wall to wall miners in an extremely narrow canyon. It didn't last. Seeing the great exaggeration, enthusiasm quickly dwindled and so did the population. About three hundred people remained, roughly the same number who lived in the camp during its active life. There was talk that when Jarbidge's population reached 25,000 that a new county would be formed. As we all know, it is still part of Elko County and never came close to that number in population.
Jarbidge would have benefitted by having its own county. Getting in and out of the canyon to go to Elko for official business was often impossible, especially in the winter.
Problems immediately developed when someone wanted to build a house or business. Jarbidge was on Forest Service land and the local ranger had to issue special use permits. With more people moving in, the process was cumbersome and building owners didn't own the land. Citizens petitioned the Secretary of Agriculture who eliminated the town site from the national forest. Those who had already built were given first choice to purchase their lot.
This also solved an even greater problem in Jarbidge. While it was on Forest Service land, alcohol could not be bought. Finally, after several months of booze drought, the thirsty miners could buy some of the hair that bit the dog. After all, booze and miners were an integral part of the history of mining.
Jarbidge was, in 1919, the site of the last stage robbery in the nation. Stage, not stagecoach. In those days stages were wagons, mostly buckboards, that carried the mail and small shipments including bank deposits and other financial transactions. On the north edge of town a killer murdered the driver and took letters and cash. He was quickly apprehended and tried at the county seat. It was the first trial in the nation where palm prints were used as evidence. The cold blooded killer, Ben Kuhl, left a bloody palm print on one of the mail bags. Kuhl and his accomplice, Ed "Cutlip Swede" Beck, were sentenced to prison for their crime. The prosecutor who secured his conviction, Edward P. "Ted" Carville, was the governor 28 years later and signed Kuhl's pardon.
Jarbidge's remote location was its worst enemy. Winters were long and a severe snow storm would virtually seal in the community. In the winter of 1917 the people went without fresh supplies for several months. After suffering unemployment and hunger, help finally arrived from Twin Falls, Idaho.
In 1919, a moonshine operation in the basement of a bar blew sky high. Most of the business district was destroyed. Some of the buildings were never replaced but the town survived.
Remember, back in 1910, when the people were allowed to buy their lots? Many of them did not record their deeds in Elko or the district judge never issued the deeds. Up to the late 1960s, there was no official evidence of ownership to much of the property. Elko County's State Senator, Warren "Snowy" Monroe, was able to get a bill through the Nevada Legislature that allowed Jarbidge residents to get a proper title from the sitting district judge. It became law in 1969 and, hopefully, settled, once and for all, the question of land ownership.
A few years ago the townspeople had problems getting the Forest Service to deed over their cemetery but it was eventually done.
We will not even touch the controversy over ownership of a short road south of town and its repair. The whole nation probably has read about the situation involving Forest Service staff, county commissioners, environmental groups, several courts, and an organization of people who speak loudly and carry a huge shovel. The situation, sometimes near crisis, has been going on for several years with no end in sight.
After wresting more than ten million dollars of gold and silver from the canyon, the place today is one of the most beautiful old mining camps anywhere. There are lots of things to do in the summer - it's a fun place. Jarbidge is an adventure, worth the hundred or so miles one has to drive to get there. Watch out, though, old Tsawhawbitts might be waiting around the next bend.
Sources: Nevada's Northeast Frontier, 1969, Edna Patterson, Louise Ulph, Victor Goodwin; Aged in Sage, 1964, Jean McElrath; and "Jarbidge, Nevada," audiovisual script by Darel Jardine and Howard Hickson. Photograph of Jarbidge in 1911 from the files of the Northeastern Nevada Museum, Elko.
©Copyright 2004 by Howard Hickson.