New Teacher in Town
Contact, Nevada (1933-1934)
In 1933, Marguerite Patterson
Evans wrote to her sister-in-law, Edna Patterson, that Contact consisted
of two general stores, a crude family hotel, two saloons, a post office,
ementary school building, and a high school occupying an old pool hall.
She noted there were four regular salaries in town: three teachers and
a highway maintenance man. Most of the 100 townspeople relied on welfare
to make ends meet. Marguerite was the newly appointed high school principal
When she arrived, poor times were haunting
the town and its residents. Stagnation and sluggishness had come to Contact
hand with the Great Depression.
Marguerite Patterson Evans - 1933
is some 15 miles south of the Idaho border and 50 miles north of Wells,
Nevada, on US Highway 93. Today, a few crumbling buildings, makeshift houses,
house trailers and a sparse number of people are all that is left of the
little mining camp that tenaciously lived through more busts than booms.
Although gold and silver were discovered in
the 1870s, nothing much happened in the way of unearthing riches except
during the district's two production peaks. The first was from 1916 to
1918 followed by another from 1942 to 1946. Both were during times when
the United States was at war and large amounts of copper were required
for the war efforts. For those who treasure statistics, Contact produced
742 ounces of gold, 58,713 ounces of silver, 3,343,845 pounds of copper,
324,233 pound of lead, and18,400 pounds of zinc for a total of $702,760.
Of Elko County's 34 mining districts, Contact ranked 12th in overall production.
The place even supported a weekly newspaper, The Contact Miner, for a time.
Living quarters in Contact, Nevada - 1933
Between start and stop mining operations, other
entrepreneurial activities occupied the local breadwinners. In 1979, an
article in the Los Angeles Times claims that the town was, during Prohibition,
the chief supplier of bootleg whiskey for Idaho.
At a town reunion that same year, Virgil Church,
a former resident said, "There were six major moonshine operations in Contact
from 1917 until the repeal of Prohibition in 1932. Those were just the
big outfits. I was a moonshiner. Hell, everybody in town was a moonshiner
making grain whiskey in their cellars. Dad rolled into town in 1912 in
a brand new Ford Motel T with Mom and 11 kids. He raised us in Contact
with money he made bootlegging."
John Detweiler added, "My father was justice
of the peace here for years. He was never a bootlegger or moonshiner. Said
he couldn't risk the chance, said they'd throw away the keys to the jailhouse
if the judge was ever arrested. But hell, he was the Number One supplier
of everything needed to make whiskey. Dad hauled in all the coal, barrels,
wheat and sugar to supply the moonshiners."
Detweiler said his father, the justice, had
the slot machine concession in town. "He would always take me with him
when he collected money from the slots at Hard Rock Tilly's sporting house
at the south end of town. As long as I was with him, Mother figured Dad
wouldn't get in any trouble there."
When Prohibition ended so did another
Contact boom. Life was again tough on the people. Marguerite came to town
after Prohibition ended and Contact residents were mostly destitute. Her
female students wore threadbare, patched dresses. She wrote: "I hung my
prize ribbons in my front room to impress my sewing class. I am at least
going to teach these girls how to handle a pattern and make simple dresses.
None of the families have enough money to buy patterns and material for
sewing so I went down to Elko to see what I could do for aid. I went to
the Red Cross and requested enough material for underwear and three dresses
for each girl. The girls are so thrilled that I have a difficult time sending
them home after school."
Marguerite wrestled with another problem.
Daisy, a local baker, couldn't pass her Wasserman test for syphilis. It
was common knowledge that Daisy was generous with her affections but Marguerite
decided she would have to do something more serious than eat Daisy's cooking
to be contaminated.
There was no doctor in town. In March1934,
Evans and the other teachers dealt with epidemics of measles, scarlet fever,
impetigo, streptococcus throat, and flu. Once, when she needed to take
the temperature of a little boy, she had to borrow a thermometer. She hiked
down to a local saloon for some 100-proof whiskey. The thermometer was
dipped in the booze and Marguerite hoped that few germs would survive the
In her last letter from Contact: "Entertainment
is in the Community Social Hall. The hall is the pride of the town with
walls covered with lurid murals of the Contact that might have been - according
to the dream of the men who raised money to build this substantial concrete
Years passed. Dreams died. Yet, there are
still people living in Contact. I guess it can't be called a ghost town
Marguerite Evans left Contact after
her first year there. In her long career she taught at Montello, Halleck,
White Pine High School in Ely, and was the librarian at Elko High School.
During World War II she was director of the Enlisted Men's Club at the
Army Air Force Base at Wendover, Utah, where the atomic bomb crews were
trained. She retired in the 1950s. Born in 1901, she died in Elko in 1985.
April 6, 2002
are courtesy of the Northeastern Nevada Museum, Elko.
Sources: "Letters from Contact" by Marguerite Patterson
Evans, Northeastern Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, Winter 1988 (88-1)
and a short article I wrote, "Contact, Nevada," in the same publication.
If you want to read more about her letters from Contact, Quarterlies
are available in the museum store of the Northeastern Nevada Museum, 1515
Idaho Street, Elko, Nevada 89801, (775) 738-3418. Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
©Copyright 2002 by Howard Hickson. Permission to
use is given but, if any portion or all of this article is quoted, proper
credit must be given.
[Back to Hickson's