We don't know exactly when people began settling in Ragtown, but it was a natural spot for people to gather and rest after crossing the 40-mile desert. Even early on, there was some semblance of civilization.
The following amusing sketch of the courtship and marriage of Mr. McQuig, the founder of the famous city of Ragtown, is from the Placerville Herald. Ragtown is the name of a city in Utah Territory, upon the north bank of the Carson River, about thirty miles from the sink of the same, and is the point upon the Carson where the immigrants from the plans, immediately, on crossing the great desert, arrives at good grass and water. The city, this season, consists of one clapboard house, five cloth houses, a log cabin, and a number of willow shanties. These are all used as trading or eating houses; and among the occupants id Mr. James McQuig. Now, Mr. McQuig needed a wife, and like all sensible men, wanted one. Among the immigrants from the plains this season, was one Miss Phillips. Now, Mr. McQuig, all at once, loved Miss Phillips, because she was comely and full of good nature. Whereupon the said Quig proposed to Miss Phillips, that she should tarry and become his wife, and inasmuch as she had no scruples of mind in the matter, acceded to his request. But now an obstacle presented itself. There was no minister of the gospel, no justice of the peace, judge, or civil magistrate in all the land, that could legally do the splicing. But this in no wise discomforted said Quig, who, in person, immediately called a meeting, of the citizens of Ragtown, and all the travelers within its gates, who proceeded to the election of an "Alcalde," an officer that, in a Mexican province, would answer to that of a civil magistrate in any human country. The said Alcalde then, by the virtue of the powers delegated to him by the sovereign people, united the happy pair. and in an hour after, the Alcalde's powers had returned to the people again, and his loud "whoa-haw" to six yoke of oxen rang through the valley of the Carson.
-The Shasta Courier, September 3, 1853
On leaving Salt Lake City , the trail was on the east shore of Salt Lake to the north end of the lake, then southwest to the twenty-eight mile desert in Nevada. At the east side of the desert they made ample provision for their stock and crossed without serious inconvenience, leaving only a few cattle on the desert and they were brought out the next day after the train of emigrants had reached Ragtown, which at this time was a trading post. Two young men had been sent by Mr. Kimbal after the cattle and when coming up to Ragtown from their camp, which had been made a half mile away, they saw a young man with an ox and heard him trying to sell him to the owner of the trading post. The young man told the storekeeper not to buy the ox as he belonged to his boss. The one who had been caught in the act of trying to sell something that did not belong to him turned on his accuser and, pulling out his gun, shot him, killing him instantly. This tragedy caused quite an excitement in the camps of the emigrants and Ragtown, but the man was never punished for his crime. The death of this young man was a sad incident and one that caused great sorrow among the emigrants, with whom he was intimately associated. At this time and place, an event of unusual interest occurred to Mr. Bryan and his family. Their supply of bacon was exhausted. One of his fellow emigrants had told him he would let him have bacon, but when he went after it, another of the party said, "We have none to spare." "All right," he said, "I will try the trading post." When he went into the store he asked the proprietor if he had any bacon to sell. "I have none to sell," he replied. "But," said the man, in a casual manner, "where are you from?" He told him he was from Kentucky, 24 and looking at his would-be customer more closely, he said, "Yes, you are Wm. Bryan." “Yes, and you are Sol Perrin," was the reply. This meeting, though accidental, was a happy one. Mr. Perrin had married Miss Rosette Stowers, a cousin of Mr. Bryan's, and the year before they had come west with Mr. Bryan's brothers. Nothing would do but the Bryan family must come and spend the night with them. Mrs. Bryan said she put on her best clothes, dressed her children in their visiting attire and went from their camp to spend the night with relatives, who lived in a sure enough house, made out of tent canvas at the bottom and brush thrown over the top. That was an auspicious night, an oasis in the desert of their pilgrimage, and needless to say, when they started the next day they had bacon enough to last them the remainder of their journey. And now, after a few days' rest near Ragtown, our emigrant train broke camp and started into the foothills and across the great Sierra Nevada Mountains.
-The lure of the past, the present and future; historical and descriptive observations and impressions of the past, present and future. By George W. Bryan, 1911
We were unable to get any trace of the balance of our company, and determined, late in the afternoon of the second day after my arrival, to start for Carson river, 45 miles distant I packed my pony and we started at 5 o'clock p. m., and made the distance, by constant walking, in 13 hours, arriving at "Ragtown," two or three miles before reaching Carson river, at 8 o'clock in the morning. The last 15 miles of the road was a loose, yielding sand. This had been a most disastrous piece of road to those who had preceded us. The sand was of sufficient depth to cover the wagon fellies as the jaded and worn-out animals labored under the stimulant of the brad and lash to draw their burdens."It was the last straw that broke the camel's back.” The last 10 miles we could walk almost the entire distance upon the bodies of dead and dying animals, horses, mules and oxen, by the score, still attached to the wagons, lying in and along the roadside, in harness and yoke. Drivers, with women and children, had abandoned all to seek water and save their own lives. The stock with sufficient strength left to travel in some instances were detached from wagons and urged along, loose, before them. The ground was strewn with guns, ox chains and every kind of thing that had been abandoned. And to this day that sandy plain is covered with the bleached bones of the faithful beasts that perished on that fatal desert. By exercising due care and caution, l passed over the ground in safety with my train in 1853, with all the evidences of the terrible losses in '49 and '50 still visible. "Ragtown" was so named from a party of Californians who came over the mountains with a pack train of provisions to supply "hard-up" emigrants, as a money making scheme. This was the first "white man's town" (except the Mormon city) upon which we had had an opportunity to feast our eyes and cheer our drooping souls since leaving the frontier settlements of Iowa five months before. A number of tents had been erected to be used as a store, sleeping and cooking rooms. I could not answer for Moody, for he was always both hungry and dry--with a big D--but for myself, I "squandered" four bits for thin soup, served in a tin cup, and $1 each for two biscuits. (It was the best place for catching suckers that I have ever seen. As we were uncertain whether our company was in the rear or in advance of us, Mr. Moody decided to remain at Ragtown for a few days, still hoping to join them, and more especially as he could secure a "job" as "second cook" in making beef soup and biscuit. By economy and small purchases I had managed to preserve a portion of my provisions, which I left with Moody in the event of the "boys" putting in an appearance, reserving a small portion to last me over the mountains. I only remained a couple of hours at Ragtown, when I pushed on to the river where better feed and water could be obtained.
-Eldorado; or, California as seen by a pioneer, 1850-1900. By D. A. Shaw
Up the road a piece was another station called Willow Town."
At the point where we struck the river, we found about half a dozen cloth houses, occupied by gamblers, grog shops, and eating houses-- the place had been christened "Ragtown." We found our friends four miles further up the river, at a place called "Willow Town." This place is occupied by traders and grocers.
-Alton Daily Courier, September 17, 1853
In 1854, A. L. Kenyon established a trading post on his ranch at Ragtown,
on the path of the California Trail. He dug a well 11 miles to the north,
and is credited with saving the lives of many immigrants coming across
the Forty Mile Desert. This would place the well, presumably, on or near
the California trail somewhere near the Soda Lakes. Temporary pole
and canvas dwellings and stores were thrown up on this site in the late
1850's to take advantage of emigrant traffic.
At the limit of the "Humboldt Desert," a distance of 40 miles west of the Sink, is the village of Ragtown, the resort of a few traders. The ground in the vicinity is covered with the skeletons of oxen, killed by drinking the poisonous water.
-Deseret News, March 12, 1856
In 1861 Ragtown became a
station on the Overland Mail and Stage route. Sam Clemens- better known
as Mark Twain- passed through in that year. The rival Community of Centerville
sprung up one and a half miles to the north, boasting of a hotel and a
May 5. Drove 6 miles to Ragtown. In the early days of the immigration across the plains this was quite a noted place, had several hundred inhabitances- composed of thieves gamblers and traders, all assembled here to rob the poor immigrant. 'Tis here that the road leaves the desert so well known as the forty-mile desert, forty miles of sand ankle deep. From the sink of the Humboldt to Carson rivers waters and beautiful meadows. What a change in a few years! Then a perfect hurra town, now only one inhabitant-- Asa Kenyon,-- a regular Robinson Crusoe, as far as being monarch of all her surveys is concerned, and as ready to rob a pilgrim or 49'er party as any of his predecessors were. Came up with the balance of our party; we now number 23.
May6. Remained in camp all day repairing saddles and getting ready for an early start tomorrow. Elected J.B. Winters Captain, he being the largest cattle owner present. All hands jubilant that they are going to have a good time, but they don't know the country.-- hell is an ice house to some of the places they'll see before the week passes.
Captain Winters may know what he is going to do, but d-nd if I believe he understands the cattle business, we will be off in 10 minutes.
May 8. Accomplished nothing.
May 9. worse than yesterday.
May 10. a repetition of the 9th.
May 11. camped at Hot Springs between sink of Humboldt River and Truckee.
May 12. Only one horse left in camp-balance gone to hunt cold water. One man gone to hunt horses; boys beginning to find that the sun can shine hot . One small wagon for 22 men to crawl under to get in shade,.-no tents, no "willows-no sticks to stretch a blanket over, not even sage brush-hot, hotter, d hot , "Oh, Laz'rus, put your finger into the cup and let one drop of cold water fall upon my parched tongue, "-nar a drop; man returned with horses, reckon every man will sleep with rope in his hand.
-The Diary of Joe F. Triplett, 1862
Ragtown Reminded Mark Twain of an anecdote
On the western verge of the Desert we halted a moment at Ragtown. It consisted of one log house and is not set down on the map. This reminds me of a circumstance. Just after we left Julesburg, on the Platte, I was sitting with the driver, and he said:
"I can tell you a most laughable thing indeed, if you would like to listen to it. Horace Greeley went over this road once. When he was leaving Carson City he told the driver, Hank Monk, that he had an engagement to lecture at Placerville and was very anxious to go through quick. Hank Monk cracked his whip and started off at an awful pace. The coach bounced up and down in such a terrific way that it jolted the buttons all off of Horace's coat, and finally shot his head clean through the roof of the stage, and then he yelled at Hank Monk and begged him to go easier--said he warn't in as much of a hurry as he was awhile ago. But Hank Monk said, 'Keep your seat, Horace, and I'll get you there on time'--and you bet you he did, too, what was left of him!"
A day or two after that we picked up a Denver man at the cross roads, and he told us a good deal about the country and the Gregory Diggings. He seemed a very entertaining person and a man well posted in the affairs of Colorado. By and by he remarked:
"I can tell you a most laughable thing indeed, if you would like to listen to it. Horace Greeley went over this road once. When he was leaving Carson City he told the driver, Hank Monk, that he had an engagement to lecture at Placerville and was very anxious to go through quick. Hank Monk cracked his whip and started off at an awful pace. The coach bounced up and down in such a terrific way that it jolted the buttons all off of Horace's coat, and finally shot his head clean through the roof of the stage, and then he yelled at Hank Monk and begged him to go easier--said he warn't in as much of a hurry as he was awhile ago. But Hank Monk said, 'Keep your seat, Horace, and I'll get you there on time!'--and you bet you he did, too, what was left of him!"
At Fort Bridger, some days after this, we took on board a cavalry sergeant, a very proper and soldierly person indeed. From no other man during the whole journey, did we gather such a store of concise and well- arranged military information. It was surprising to find in the desolate wilds of our country a man so thoroughly acquainted with everything useful to know in his line of life, and yet of such inferior rank and unpretentious bearing. For as much as three hours we listened to him with unabated interest. Finally he got upon the subject of trans- continental travel, and presently said:
"I can tell you a very laughable thing indeed, if you would like to listen to it. Horace Greeley went over this road once. When he was leaving Carson City he told the driver, Hank Monk, that he had an engagement to lecture at Placerville and was very anxious to go through quick. Hank Monk cracked his whip and started off at an awful pace. The coach bounced up and down in such a terrific way that it jolted the buttons all off of Horace's coat, and finally shot his head clean through the roof of the stage, and then he yelled at Hank Monk and begged him to go easier--said he warn't in as much of a hurry as he was awhile ago. But Hank Monk said, 'Keep your seat, Horace, and I'll get you there on time!'--and you bet you he did, too, what was left of him!"
When we were eight hours out from Salt Lake City a Mormon preacher got in with us at a way station--a gentle, soft-spoken, kindly man, and one whom any stranger would warm to at first sight. I can never forget the pathos that was in his voice as he told, in simple language, the story of his people's wanderings and unpitied sufferings. No pulpit eloquence was ever so moving and so beautiful as this outcast's picture of the first Mormon pilgrimage across the plains, struggling sorrowfully onward to the land of its banishment and marking its desolate way with graves and watering it with tears. His words so wrought upon us that it was a relief to us all when the conversation drifted into a more cheerful channel and the natural features of the curious country we were in came under treatment. One matter after another was pleasantly discussed, and at length the stranger said:
"I can tell you a most laughable thing indeed, if you would like to listen to it. Horace Greeley went over this road once. When he was leaving Carson City he told the driver, Hank Monk, that he had an engagement to lecture in Placerville, and was very anxious to go through quick. Hank Monk cracked his whip and started off at an awful pace. The coach bounced up and down in such a terrific way that it jolted the buttons all off of Horace's coat, and finally shot his head clean through the roof of the stage, and then he yelled at Hank Monk and begged him to go easier--said he warn't in as much of a hurry as he was awhile ago. But Hank Monk said, 'Keep your seat, Horace, and I'll get you there on time!'--and you bet you bet you he did, too, what was left of him!"
Ten miles out of Ragtown we found a poor wanderer who had lain down to die. He had walked as long as he could, but his limbs had failed him at last. Hunger and fatigue had conquered him. It would have been inhuman to leave him there. We paid his fare to Carson and lifted him into the coach. It was some little time before he showed any very decided signs of life; but by dint of chafing him and pouring brandy between his lips we finally brought him to a languid consciousness. Then we fed him a little, and by and by he seemed to comprehend the situation and a grateful light softened his eye. We made his mail-sack bed as comfortable as possible, and constructed a pillow for him with our coats. He seemed very thankful. Then he looked up in our faces, and said in a feeble voice that had a tremble of honest emotion in it:
"Gentlemen, I know not who you are, but you have saved my life; and although I can never be able to repay you for it, I feel that I can at least make one hour of your long journey lighter. I take it you are strangers to this great thorough fare, but I am entirely familiar with it. In this connection I can tell you a most laughable thing indeed, if you would like to listen to it. Horace Greeley----"
I said, impressively:
"Suffering stranger, proceed at your peril. You see in me the melancholy wreck of a once stalwart and magnificent manhood. What has brought me to this? That thing which you are about to tell. Gradually but surely, that tiresome old anecdote has sapped my strength, undermined my constitution, withered my life. Pity my helplessness. Spare me only just this once, and tell me about young George Washington and his little hatchet for a change."
We were saved. But not so the invalid. In trying to retain the anecdote in his system he strained himself and died in our arms.
-Mark Twain, Roughing It
In 1862 Ragtown experienced a flood, which disturbed many of the emigrant
graves. In 1863 Ragtown became an important stop on the road to the Reese
River mining area, but with the arrival of the Central Pacific Railroad
its importance diminished somewhat. A post office finally opened in 1864,
only to close in 1867. The 1880 census lists A.L. Kenyon as "stock
raiser" and his wife Kate as "station keeper." It opened
again in 1884 until 1887, after which mail was sent to the St. Clair post
office. A farming community developed, and was known as Leeteville. Nevada
Post Offices claims that Leeteville post office was in operation
from 1895 until 1907, after which the mail went to Hazen.
We won't even go into the old story that Ragtown got its name from all
the clothes drying on the bushes. Everyone has heard it before. Suffice
to say, after crossing the forty mile desert and almost dying of thirst,
Ragtown looked mighty fine in them there days.
From Salt Wells, Nevada.— A correspondent of the Union writing from Salt Wells, Nevada, October 9th, gives this local intelligence :
Old Rag Town, on the Carson river, is picking up finely. Duffy of Virginia owns the Soda Lake within two miles of that, place and is running teams and shipping large quantities of soda, Lewis & Troop of California have erected borax works at Rag Town and are now manufacturing borax. Lewis is conducting the affairs of the manufacture and is making a grand success. His works are limited, but he has made two shipments and will make another in a few days. He told me a few days ago that he would be able to double his works in a few weeks from the proceeds of two months' labor. He is just in receipt of a large number of borax boxes from California, and has commenced filling them. He has a force of men now collecting the material from the marsh, and is doing most of the manufacturing himself. It is said that Lewis will do well in his undertaking, as it is thought he understands his business and is working a very rich material and is interested in an inexhaustible mine, one that collects upon the surface and is easily gathered, and says he has no tunnel to run, no shaft to sink or ledge to hunt, but has everything in sight.
- 1871 October 16
Sacramento Daily Union
Asa Kenyon passed away in 1884, mourned all over the West.
OLDEST NEVADA PIONEER
The Founder of Ragtown Passes in His Checks.
Asa Kenyon, of Ragtown, in Churchill county, known to everybody in Nevada personally or by reputation, died at his home March 25th I ult., of apoplexy. Mr. Kenyon established a trading post at Ragtown in 1852, where, says the Reno Journal, he resided continuously until his death. His tent was pitched on the bank of the Carson river, at the Junction of the old emigrant road across the 40 mile desert. At his place the emigrants first found water after the long and tedious march across that desert. There being plenty grass along the river there were usually three or tour hundred emigrant tents and covered wagons at Kenyon's place during every summer and fall, and it was this ragged looking congregation that gave rise to the name of Ragtown. Kenyon made a vast deal of money trading with the emigrants, picking up abandoned stock, and often purchasing horses, wagons and other valuable property which the emigrants were unable to travel with for a song. Had he been a worshiper of money he might have died a millionaire, but being a noble, kind-hearted frontiersman, his home and his purse were ever open to friends or foes in distress. In later years he is said to have lost a great deal of money in speculations, yet he leaves his wife and three or four children in comfortable circumstances.
-The Butte Miner, April 3, 1884
Probably one reason Ragtown got its post office back in 1884 was the increased activity at nearby Soda Lake.
Still survives. It was the first town in Nevada having 500 inhabitants when there were only a few Chinese miners at Dayton, a stage station in Eagle Valley in charge of Major Ormsby., and Dutch Nick's place at Empire. It is now reduced to one family, that of Mrs. Catherine Kenyon, widow of Asa Kenyon, who opened a store there in 1854, and built a log building the next Spring. During the Reese River excitement, Leu Savage built a road down from Glendale on the Truckee. Mrs. Kenyon came out in 1859, saw the Indian wars, lived there ever since and has brought up quite a family. Lilian, one of her girls, is at Bishop's school. Ragtown now is a postoffice. A couple miles from Ragtown, in a basin with a high rim all around, seemingly an old crater, lies Soda Lake. It is half a mile across and the water is evaporated in vats on the shore to get
Which is dried in a furnace and shipped to Teal's Marsh where Yerington, Coy & Co. use it to mix with their product to make borate of lime. The big works are own by Griswold and Epperson and they make 500 tons a year. Smaller works on the lake are owned by Smith, D. Allen, and R. H. Lindsay who have materials on hand for putting up a flue furnace. Half a mile south is a small lake that has been worked for 20 years. The soda used to be blasted out in blocks and sent to works in Carson owned by Duffy and Doe that were burned down later. Now 300 tons a year are made by evaporation by A. R. Jeffreys who ships to San Francisco. It takes a year to make a crop. The lye is pumped into reservoirs made by banks across the basin and the hot summer makes it so thick that when cold winter weather comes it solidifies in a layer sometimes nearly a foot thick. It is cut into cakes with axes, dried under sheds and hauled by teams to Wadsworth. The river breaks up below Ragtown. The south branch runs through St. Clair and a slough to Stillwater, while the old river runs through J. P. Brown's and W. L. Pritchard's ranches to the lake, where it sinks. A barren desert lies between there and Hot Springs which ended the trip. -Reno Evening Gazette, December 22, 1885
Evidently the Chamber of Commerce decided, "No more 'Ragtown.' "
Mr. Leete went to Reno the other day to bring back his son-in-law, Frank Orr, who is thinking some of settling in the vicinity. Mr. Leete keeps a station and owns a ranch in Ragtown, but since his arrival there, it has been decided that the hideous name of "Ragtown" be buried forever and the place has been christened "Leeteville."
-Wadsworth Dispatch, December 1, 1894
Even as the 20th century rolled around, this locale was an oasis for travelers.
Nearly Died on the Desert.
A man of German descent left White Plains Friday morning for Carson Sink a distance of 35 miles on foot. He claims that he was informed that the distance was only seven miles and after traveling a day he became discouraged and lay down several times to die before be was in sight of civilization. He reached Leeteville Sunday morning but said if he had had two miles farther he would never had reached this point. When he came to the irrigation ditch he drank like a strong dumb brute until it made him sick. Mr. Leete discovered the man and gave him Liquor and water until he became alright.-- Wadsworth Dispatch
-Weekly Independent, May 16 1902