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It does not get anymore wild western then experiencing Austin Nevada which resides in the most centralized region of the silver state of NV besides the fact that the Pony Express ran through here which brought in an interest from many early settlers who utilized it. Although life has slowed down quite considerably this semi ghost town offers some of the finest churches, court house and preserved structures found in the wild west. For me this was a four year trip in the making it was not about the paranormal or making some major discovery but more about sharing this wonderful historic gem that resides on the loneliest road in American known as Hwy. 50 aka Lincoln Highway. My first exploration of Austin was memorable as I drove into town with the blood moon hovering over my moon roof as I explored the dark alleys of Austin before sunup!

When it comes to the city of Austin Nevada your literally dead center in the middle of Shoshone Country and we know that based on the petroglyphs found in the area found on caves and rocks. An fine example of this would be the rock art found up at the Toquima Cave which date back to thousands of years ago and the Hickison Petroglyph Site. For us Austin is just a stop over to many other great locations in the area that we are doing projects at therefore will be able to cross promote and link them eventually all together. This is a very ancient area but its also full of nature being nestled in one of the largest mountain ranges in Nevada which boast some of the tallest peaks. It is not uncommon to see deer running through the streets of Austin or some other form of wildlife as the area is kind of like an oasis all in the heart of central Nevada. But due to it being so remote their was very little in between and most pioneers would have to rest at various stations along the way to rests, get a hot meal and water down there horses like Middlegate Station which is along the route into Austin.

It all started in 1862 when a William Talcott discovered very rich silver ore in Pony Canyon on an outcrop which is just a narrow past leading through the central Nevada's Toiyabe Mountains. It was actually an accident as his Pony Express horse accidentally kicked up a piece of quartz crystal which contained both gold and silver while Talcott was gathering lumber in the canyon belowJu. Talcott was temporarily staying at a stage stop known as Jacobsville six miles to the west on the Reese River some say in fact he was a Pony Express Rider just passing through this area. As most of you are aware before the boom towns came you had Pony Express, Overland and Stage stops. Many miners would traverse the state staying at each stage station in search of staking a claim. Talbott had the ore sent to Virginia City for assay then staked a claim at the very location he found this ore. Very soon many miners heard about this great find and it sparked a silver rush as many prospectors began to journey to the Pony Canyon area.

In 1862 many newcomers came to the area and Clifton was found which was a mining camp just below the new claims. Just as Austin was built above it both only separated by not even a mile which is why you will see both boom towns/mining camps in this addition because they really neighbors. One newcomer who came to the area was a David Buel who help plat Clifton then eventually Austin. That same year legislators created Lander County in December of 1862. Not sure how the town had gotten its name some say it was named after David Buels partner Alvah Austin or named after Austin Texas as David idolized Stephen Austin a hero. At the time many of the early pioneers who came to this 6,605' mountain town had no idea the trials and tribulations that came with braving this frontier. One can clearly see the hundreds of victims who had succumb to death in the Austin Cemeteries that reside at the bottom of Pony Canyon where Clifton resides just below Austin.

Technically speaking most of the credit for the rich discovery was given to Clifton which is this flat opening to the mouth of the canyon. If you really pay close attention to our galleries you can see different tiers found in Austin just as you can see the mill and town site below taken from Stokes Castle in Austin and the Austin Cemeteries. They called the mining district the Reese River mining district in Clifton. As a matter in fact Clifton boasted restaurants, stores, hotels, assay office, flour mill, stamp mills,  recorder's office, justice of the peace, hay yard, lumber yard, saloons, Post Office and a Wells Fargo Office. Clifton was a place of wide streets at the mouth of the canyon was rather flat more spacious however Austin was offering free lots to merchants if they helped build a road to the Reese River Valley below. It had about 500 residents and in 1862 for a short time its population was at least 50 to 100 residents more then Austin but that would not last long.

 By 1863 it seemed that more miners and pioneers of the west flocked to Austin then they did Clifton. I believe by 1863 the town had about 10,000 residents and by 1864 about 6,000 of them could vote.  Due to Austin's rapid growth this prompted the territory's legislature to move the county seat from Jacobsville to the newly developed silver mining camp.  This also led to intense competition between the camp in Clifton and the newly formed one of Austin. When Austin won the county seat in 1863 it led to Clifton being vacated leaving behind some empty wood buildings and its monolithic mill which closed in 1867. Clifton became a ghost town while Austin continued to thrive just a short walk deeper into the canyon above. Also let us not forget that a new road would be complete although this road went above Clifton it never went to it rather it went straight up into downtown Austin in the heart of Pony Canyon. 

Although it would seem as if Clifton was nearly done in for in the 1860's however by 1880 it was chosen to be the terminus for the Nevada Central Railroad which was complete and connected to some of the mines around Austin and the Southern Pacific Railroad in Battle Mountain. It was to expensive to use the toll road between Clifton and Austin even though they were separated by a few hundred feet. Therefore a local banker and the superintendent of the Manhattan Mine named Alan A. Curtis had wanted to change this politically. So they constructed a narrow gauge series of tracks right of way from the Nevada Central yard in Clifton to connect with Austin near the old Lander Country Courthouse in 1881. It would be very short lived as the Austin rails would only operate till about 1889 as the reduction in ore extracted from the local mines caused its closure. Despite the closure of the short gauge line the Nevada Central Railroad continued to operate around Clifton till about the 1930's serving the local ranches. Two concrete turntables can be seen in a field below the most prominent landmark in Clifton built by Ansom Stokes in 1894 which is a 40-stamp mill which still stands today. As of current where the Nevada Central Railway yard resides today is currently a rodeo arena which can be seen below in our photos and videos.  You can also connect Ansom Stokes to his castle on the hill which can be seen as your entering the city limits of Austin.

When Austin's growth boomed in 1863 a lumber mill was built and along with four hundred homes. The lots on Main Street sold for about $8,000 in gold which were being bought up in days. Its first newspaper arrived during that same year called the Reese River Reveille and today it is still being printed.
Supposedly its also one of the oldest continuously published newspapers in Nevada. Fred Hart was its first reporter and he had used a certain Mark Twain style to his editorials. The newspaper helped with Austin's growth as with each new opening of a mine it enticed outsiders. You needed to have a newspaper to boast about the towns achievements and happenings such press meant that the world could know about Austin and Austin could provide something to the world. Believe it or not by 1865 Austin was Nevada's second largest city today nearly only 25% of it remains everything else has been lost due to the elements, time, fires and floods.

 Some of the structures in Austin were built from brick and adobe to minimize the damage of a fire. As most of you are aware some boom towns burned to the ground and that is why today they are ghost towns because they were never rebuilt. However this is not the case with Austin as its like stepping into a time capsule and you feel as if you are living in the 1800's. The town boasted schools, stores, hotels, saloons, brothels, banks, Wells Fargo office, churches and many mines. Today it is a living ghost town its also known for its mineral shops some of the highest grades of turquoise can be found here from some of the mines in the region. Many of the structures are renovated or restored while others are dilapidated. If you explore hill sides you may find a stone cabin foundation or an old miners cabin. This was a large town and it even boasted a hospital which today is a residence like most of the old establishments found in town.. Austin offered a little something extra to those who decided to make there lives here in the 1800's such as prosperity. T
he town boasted many monolithic rock walls another feat of man or should we say the local Masons who built most of the structures found in town. Austin was growing at a surprisingly rate just as you had the Gold Rush in California the town of Austin was a focal point of the Silver Rush!

Austin had its fair share of issues as fire was not as big as a threat as major flash floods although they did occur. Two floods ring a bell in Austin's history one that occurred in 1868 and 1874 which turned it into a mud bath. The streets would become rivers houses and business were always being destroyed in such storms. Cloudbursts in Pony Canyon would funnel into the town therefore since the bottom of the canyon was Main Street it also during every major storm was a river. One of those storms was so terrible that in the 1880's one of the steam engines on the narrow gauge and its coal car were flipped over. The storms led to a decline in the town but that was not the main contributor it was the fact that mines eventually became exhausted. When the mines were exhausted towns went bust which is a very common factor in many of the ghost towns our team explores today.

The mines in Austin did extract at least $50 million in gold and silver ore through its history. I believe that the peak in Austin's mining history was from the 1860's to the early 1870's. The last really productive year was in 1872 when about $250,000 was extracted from the mines. Although that may not seem like allot this would be in today's times over a million dollars in gold and silver ore.  The Manhattan Silver Mining Company opened in 1865 and began purchasing many of the claims in the area. When you stand at the mill site of the Manhattan just look around you will see quite a few dump piles that the Manhattan worked over the years. In 1872 many miners pushed for Unionization who worked for the Manhattan as they wanted to receive the wages that the miners of the Comstock Lode made which was standard minimum wage of four dollars per day. It was not very successful which may have been another contributing factor why so many miners left Austin to move onto other mining towns that offered higher wages.  The Manhattan disbanded in 1887 and today very little of it remains but what is left is some of the earliest mining that transpired in Austin.

One of the oldest hotels in Nevada is found in Austin known as The International Hotel which was first built in Virginia City in 1859 it also is said to be haunted by a resident ghost who goes by the name of Tommy. It was eventually moved 180 miles to downtown Main. St in Austin then reconstructed here. Sections of the original building were loaded onto wagons then made the trek to Pony Canyon. The International serves meals and drinks but no rooms for rent as in the ole days. I heard that they have some really awesome pizza do not know because I had brought our own food when we went hiking around Austin. The Lander County Courthouse is one of the only remaining Greek Revival built in 1871 is the last of its kind and does not look much different then when trials were held here. Back in the early 1880's a man murdered a local rancher was imprisoned here only to be later lynched from the balcony that overhangs the front door. So many of us visit these ghost towns taking photos in front of these historic sites and little do we know the entire history behind them such as with this incident I did not find this out till after our exploration in Austin.

Another great prestigious structure found within Austin is Stokes Castle built in 1896 and finished in 1897 which is an exact replica of an Italian  tower outside Rome and was built out of hand hewn native Granite. It had three stories and the huge stones were raised with a hand winch then held into position with clay mortar designed to look medieval. The castle had three floors each with a fireplace, plate glass view windows and balconies on the second and third floors. Their was also a terrace on the roof which was the observation deck. The castle had its own plumbing and was furnished with the finest. It was built by Ansom Phelps Stokes who was a railroad magnate, mine owner, investor and a very prominent resident. Stokes also built one of the largest mills in the region which still stands today in Clifton and had 40 stamps that could be heard for miles. He mainly built the castle for his sons particularly J.G. Phelps who only stayed here from June to July of 1897. I am not sure why the Stokes family put so much money into this tower only to abandon it in few weeks time.

The 1st story of the castle was the kitchen and dining room. The 2nd story was the living room or as some refer to it the den or great room it also had the towers only bathroom. The third story had two bedrooms which led to the look out which was on the roof which had curtains surrounding it. I was lucky enough to have the owner unlock the gate and let me go inside the tower. Years of elements and wood rot have led to the castle being no more then a mere shell of its former glory. The tower overlooked one of the Stokes Mines below this allowed the brothers to keep tabs on the miners employed by them. They could watch the miners to see if they were stealing or if they were not working there shifts. Its ashamed that after a month of occupation the tower was completely just abandoned and left to the elements. I was told that the tower never was built on a foundation and the owner told me due to the massive cloudbursts that pound the canyon that the main cause for its disrepair would be heavy rains. I heard a rumor that the brothers buried some gold and silver in a chest near the castle. Till this day nobody has found it or even can validate if this legend is true.

When the transcontinental railroad was completed the spur that ran off of it known as the Nevada Central Railroad which passed through came a bit to late as the boom was almost over. Major Silver production in Austin just about ended in 1887 people were leaving. Today when you look at Austin see further below only a quarter of the incorporated community exist. In or around 1910 another short boom occurred and in the 1950's uranium was mined in the area which was low quality. Mining still continues even today believe it or not but it is nothing close or in comparison to its boom town days. Allot of shops make jewelry with minerals mined in the area and some say its the Turquoise Mecca. As most of you are aware the Shoshone were known for its turquoise jewelry which they traded with other tribes. Its very abundant in these mountains so there has been a shift from silver and gold mining in the region.  Despite Austin's downfall due to its centralized location it provided a network of commerce, finance and communication with other towns in the region such as Belmont, Eureka, Tuscarora, Hamilton and many other locations.

One of the main reasons I visited Austin is to see its churches which are some of the oldest and best preserved in the wild west.  St. Augustine's Catholic Church on the western edge of town was built in 1866 of native brick and stone. The first mass was held here in 1866 at Midnight on Christmas eve conducted by Father Monteverde its first pastor. He charged $1 admission to limit the number attending. As the Catholic population in Austin is very high one can blatantly see this by visiting the Austin Cemeteries Catholic Cemetery just down the road. The Methodist Church on the north side of Austin was also built in 1866 financed for its construction with donated stocks that derived from the Methodist Mining Company. This church was known for its lectures and entertaining events which led to various local benefits. Emma Wixom attended Sunday School here who later became a world famous opera star where she one day returned to conduct a benefit concert in this church.  The final church known as St. Georges Episcopal Church found on the eastern edge of town came to be in 1878 and was consecrated by Reverend Blackiston who first held an Easter Service in 1877 to raise pledges and funding for this church. The funds would go towards the construction, retaining wall, bell, pipe organ and a twenty dollar gold piece from every employee of a local mine. The organ that resides in the church had to be transported via ship around the horn and then by wagon from San Francisco.  All three churches today stand proud and tall within downtown Austin even at night you cannot miss the steeples that are lit up peering through the darkness.

Today the churches are still in use but they serve different missions and purposes then they did during the boom town days. The Methodist Church is now the local community center. While St. Augustine's Catholic Church has been purchased to be used as a cultural center for Central Nevada. The Episcopal Church which is considered to be one of the prettiest western frontier churches still standing is still in regular use and services are held here on Sundays. At one time these churches held services for the deceased regularly especially when a diphtheria epidemic struck the town in 1893 striking down many of the children. Other outbreaks did occur such as Spanish Flu and Yellow Fever as well. Most of the time it was either the elderly or the children who had fallen first. But for periods of time it was not uncommon to see lambs and cherubs on many of the tombstones found in the Austin Graveyards.

Now that I have given you an extensive history of Austin and some of its more prominent landmarks id like to talk about the good, bad and the lawless surrounding some of the towns most notable incidents. Just like any wild western town Austin had its fair share of lawlessness. Its been proven that Austin is haunted and it could be the ghosts of the criminals who were lynched or it might be someone who met a tragic fate in one of the local mines. Death was very common whether that was illness, elements or some bizarre accident. Their is really not an area downtown someone has not fallen to death. We as humans tend to overlook these locations focusing on how historic or great some of these preserved structures are. But little do most of us know men were hung in front of the court house and people at times were killed in the streets. The west was wild and frontier justice was just a knock away so let me share with you some of these stories which give Austin its true character.

Rufe Anderson was a bully growing up in Austin when he was 21 years old his father was a boarding house keeper. His mother went to collect back rent from  a Noble T. Slocum along with Rufe to collect. I guess by that time Slocum was living in a shack that was falling apart  but agreed to pay his dues only if he could get a reduction since he had done some work at the boarding house.  I guess Rufe snapped pulled out his gun shot the man twice kicking him on the ground before Slocums friends had him hauled off to jail.  He would be taken to the gallows October 30th 1868 just a day before Nevada's fourth birthday in case you want to compare significant timeline dates. The trap door opened up Anderson landed on his feet due to the noose not being secured to the gallows. They picked him back up walked him up the 13 steps securing the rope and he fell through the trap. This time the noose slipped right off his neck and once again he landed on the ground. The third time the sheriff intervened tying him to a chair carried up the 13 steps and finally hung. It took a total of three times to hang Anderson to get it right.

Another bizarre incident involved a man who was from Illinois who went by the name of William Cornell. One night around 1863 just as Austin became a town he went nuts wielding an axe. It started when his partner struck his head through Cornell's tent flat and that is when he was hacked. From his partner being hacked Cornell ran across the street to a saloon swinging his axe at the patrons who were ducking. One of the patrons fired a shot but it missed him scaring him off as he had ran towards Clifton below trying to hack anyone in his path. The locals banded together to help the victims but also to track as to where the axe wielding man took off to. Not one person was killed but quite a few residents were mutilated from axe injuries. The next day Cornell's body was found a mile west of Clifton which is a vast desert expanse and river valley. His throat was slashed deeply and there was an axe wound to the back of his head. Some of the locals thought his injuries were self inflicted but in theory such injuries sustained point in another direction. Did the locals take justice into there hands and finally catch up with his ax wielding psychopath?

Then we have the Richard Jennings story of 1881 who was new to the area who was a miner  for about two weeks. Jennings and a man by the name of John A. Barrett had gotten into a war with words. I am not sure what the argument was over but I do know that in the west there was allot of hate towards other ethnic backgrounds. Some miners also felt like they were being low balled by some of the mine owners. Barrett offered to buy Jennings a drink which was generally a common truce here in the west. Sadly when Barrett turned his back to speak with another individual it was Jennings who pulled out his gun firing three shots into Barrett one that severed his spinal column where he fell to is death instantly. A night after the shooting some of the locals took up arms made their way to the jail holding its deputy at bay freeing Jennings leading him to the front door by a necktie made of rope. They strung him up and hung him for his crimes. Barrett was a reputable citizen of Austin the locals were the hand of justice. When Jenning's was hung right before he died he said "Oh my God boys, I guess I deserve this". Jennings left behind his wife and five children behind just another travesty that was part of Austin's history.

However one of the saddest stories that broke my heart in relation to Austin's dark history occurred in 1899 when a railroad laborer named William Del Grosso returned home to find his house had been broken into. Everything was turned over, moved or out of place as if it had been ransacked meanwhile hearing his 2 year old son crying in bed. He kept searching for his wife only to find his other son of 14 months old strangled in his bed. He then ran out the back door to find his wife Austina in the chicken house hanging from a rope with her head smashed in.  It did not take him long to figure out that maybe this was someone he knew as the night prior he had invited an Indian to share a meal with his family as the locals called him Indian Frank. Problem was is that Indian Frank had been in and out of jail as when he drank he became very violent. When the locals banded together they found Indian Frank as his father turned him over.  A day before he murdered the Del Grosso family he hit his father and had beaten a squaw in the tribe. I guess what had happened his that he returned to the Del Grosso home to pick up his pocket knife he left behind and his wife angered him so he went on a killing spree. He axed the wife then strung her up only to strangle the son. He even admitted that if he knew about the two year old he would have killed him also.

Indian Frank never denied the murders he told his tribe what he had done but during his first preliminary hearing he was found guilty in December of that year and set to hang. At the time tensions were still very high between the white man and the native Americans in the area. Friends of Indian Frank decided to get drunk and disorderly getting arrested on purpose. At the time the sheriff through them in jail with Indian Frank never searching them. Indian Franks friends smuggled in a deadly poison made from the roots of wild parsnips. Prior to his hanging Indian Frank became disoriented, sick, talking to himself and begin rambling. They said he had a high fever, convulsions and stomach pains from the poison. He would end up dying in jail and never made it to the gallows. Its just stories like these that show our audience that Austin was a place where there was lawlessness and frontier justice at its best!

Despite some of the dark times that transpired in Austin it was a place of many positive achievements and occurrences which today are still known by some of the local townsfolk. For example Lander County's first female sheriff was born in Austin. In 1919 George Crowell became very ill and died during that time period he was the local sheriff in Austin. Many of the locals applied but Crowell's widow circulated a petition to the country commission which led to the 42 year old widow being unanimously selected.  She was a very good sheriff arrested bank robbers and cattle rustlers. She also sometimes did undercover work pretending to be an old Indian woman to catch a storekeeper in the act of illegal selling alcohol to the natives.  She did her job very well and in turn also made local history.

Then you have the Emma Wixom story who was born in California but moved to Austin in 1864 shortly after the big boom. Little Emma attended Sunday School at the local Methodist Church which still stands today downtown. She lived in Austin till her mother died and then later her father sent her to Mills College in Oakland California. Wixom traveled to Europe to be an opera singer and used Emma Nevada as her stage name. When she was 21 years old in 1885 she was world famous and she returned to the very church she had Sunday School at to give one last final performance for the townsfolk. Supposedly this concert was a sell out as many who were attending were friends and locals Wixom grew up with despite the December cold the entire town wanted to see her. Emma Wixom would return to Europe after her concert where she married a doctor, sang at the coronation of Britain's King George and even served as Nevada's goodwhill ambassador. Emma would die in Liverpool England in 1940 but she will never be forgotten as the locals referred to her as The Soprano. If you wish to read a more in depth history in relation to Emma Wixom I have posted more below taken at the outdoor visitor center.

Perhaps one of the most famous stories that Austin is well known for is its "Sanitary sack of flour" which was a very unusual fundraiser. A simple sack of flour raised more then $275,000 dollars for a sanitary fund that would be given to hospitals for the injured during the civil war. For those that are not aware the Sanitary Commission was a precursor of the Red Cross at the time. Two locals Reuel Gridley who was a local grocery and ran a store made a election bet with a Dr. H.S. Herrick. Gridley was a democrat while Herrick was a republican. The bet was that the man supporting the losing candidate would have to carry a sack of flour through town at which time it would be auctioned. Unfortunately Gridley had lost the bet and had to carry the 50 pound sack of flour decorated with American flags from one end of town to the other. Its amazing how history ties into each other as young Emma Wixom was swinging along side a small band "John Brown's Body" following Gridley. Once auctioned then the proceeds could go towards the Sanitary Fund while the winner would return the sack only for it to be auctioned once again. Gridley took his sack of flour all over Nevada touting it through each town raising contributions as far as California to even the east coast.  Gridley died in 1870 and he died in poverty because everything he earned he donated. However on a positive note this event is what boosted Wixom's career who accompanied Gridley.

Their are allot of stories that are associated with Austin's boom town years. This town went through wind swept fires, three major floods, murderous axe men, mines going bust, multiple epidemics, lawlessness and desolation. Despite all those factors it somehow managed to survive all these years and is a true testament to its time. Despite the fact that today only about 200 residents live here and the country seat was shifted to Battle Mountain in the 1970's it is stories like the ones above that keep the wild west alive here. Rather then mining transpiring the roles have shifted to agriculture and ranching. But before major ranching transpired around Austin crops, livestock and beef had to be imported on in from ranching communities like Stillwater Nevada. A prime example of such ranching operations near Austin which would be one of the oldest ranches found in the area that operated up into the later 1900's known as the Hess Ranch which also probably provided the miners with beef, wool and food. Just on the other side of the Toiyaybe Mountains is another wonderful semi ghost town known as Kingston Nevada some refer to that location being Austin's sister community since Clifton was technically consumed by the growth of Austin in the 1860's.

If you ever wanted to know what it is like to be the focal point of desolation hike to the top of the Toiyabe Mountains above Austin and you will understand loneliness. Their are no supermarkets or amenities beyond the town below. For a 100 miles in every direction you can see sand storms, vast desert expanses, elevated forest at the tops of multiple mountain ranges and no sign of civilization in sight no matter how hard you try to seek it out for a 100 miles. Leaving the confinements of Austin may have met a certain death or doom for these early pioneers who braved an 
 unforeseen frontier. Water was not very abundant and stations were very far and a few between. During the Paiute Wars many of the stations were being raided and burned by indians. Many of the pioneers who came to Austin never left the Toiyabe Mountains if you were to tour the Austin Graveyards which total five different burial grounds one can see that death played a big part in the areas history. Many pioneers came here only for it to be there final resting spot. Like any wild western town you had the good, bad and the ugly. But you also had many success stories as miners struck it rich then eventually utilized monies received to invest in other towns across Nevada that were similar to Austin. Austin was one of Nevada's larger boom towns sure life is slowed down and perhaps only the ghosts of the dearly departed who wander its streets can unearth its hidden secrets of the past!

Copyright By
Lord Rick aka AngelOfThyNight
PGS Founder
Paranormal Investigator, Author, Talk Show Host & Producer

Special thanks goes out to the Cozy Blue Mountain Hotel  for giving our paranormal group a killer deal so that we could conduct our research in Austin. The owner was friendly and told us a few locations to check on out. The room was clean and we were given a double suite for Easter weekend 2015 at a reasonable rate. Would stay here again and plan too in the future rooms have fridge, microwave and direct TV!


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