By Thomas Mitchell
White Pine County derives its name from the White Pine Mountains on which there are, of course, many white pines. It was created in 1869 from Lander County with its county seat first established in Hamilton, before being moved to Ely in 1887.
Though the White Pine mining district was created in 1865, it was two years later that mines on Treasure Hill were discovered.
Thompson and West’s “History of Nevada” (1881) recounts the discovery thusly:
“One night the blacksmith, (A.J.) Leathers, was sleeping in his shanty, probably not as peacefully as Abou Ben Adhem (an obscure reference to an obscure poem), when he was awakened by hearing a noise among his culinary utensils, and he observed in the darkness an Indian devouring his beans.
“’Who’s there ?’ asked Leathers.
“’Jim,’ replied the savage; and Leathers, whose toils and scanty fare had not made him peaceful or generous, arose, and with kicks and blows drove the dusky forager out into the darkness and the desert.
“A few days after, Jim again appeared, this time to make peace with Leathers, and as an offering gave him a piece of silver ore which the blacksmith melted in his forge, producing a button of silver, through which he punched a hole and made a ring that he wore for many years after. (Thomas) Murphy, learning the facts, engaged the Indian to show them the locality where he found the ore. This was agreed upon, and after preparations were made. Murphy, Leathers, (Edward) Marchand, and Jim — afterwards called “Napias Jim” — napias being the Indian term for silver — went in search of the locality. Snow had fallen, and the journey was one of great toil, hardship and risk of life. The Indian led them around the southern part of the main White Pine Mountain, via the valley in which Shermantown, was afterwards built, and by a great struggle through the snow to the summit of a bald and wind-driven peak, and there showed them ore in abundance. The mine was located, and named the ‘Hidden Treasure’; and surely it was a treasure to the energetic and hardy prospectors. During the winter a little work was done, and within a year the property thus found was sold for $250,000. Rich as this appeared on the surface the ore did not extend 100 feet in depth, and the mine proved of but little value.”
Another of White Pine County’s claims to historic fame is that the short-lived Pony Express route runs across it.
In 1855, Howard Egan established a route across what would later be White Pine County, according to Effie Mona Mack’s “A History of the State From the Earliest Times Though the Civil War.” A Capt. James Simpson later surveyed and mapped the 120-mile route, which become known as the Simpson-Egan Route. It passed through Spring Station, Antelope Springs, Spring Valley, Schell Creek, Egan Canyon, Butte Station, Mountain Springs, Ruby Valley and Jacob’s Well.
This was the route used by the Pony Express, which was only in operation for a short 19 months 2 weeks and 3 days — April 3, 1860, to November 20, 1861. This trail was later used by the Overland Mail and Telegraph Company from 1861 to 1869 using the old established Pony Express stations and the trail became known as the Overland Trail, according to the White Pine Historical and Archaeological Society.
While the naming of White Pine County is unambiguous and obvious, the same cannot be said of the town of Ely.
But Dan McDonald, writing in the 1912 version of “The History of Nevada,” says the most probable story is that it is named after John Ely, a native of Illinois, who died penniless in Montana after making and losing a fortune.
“Ely was a magnificent specimen of a frontiersman, standing six feet three inches in his stockings. During the time that the notorious Captain Slade was so feared in the West, Ely was his partner,” McDonald writes. “Together they amassed a fortune in Montana, but after Slade was hanged by the vigilantes, Ely migrated to Nevada. He bought several claims from William Raymond in Lincoln County. This transaction led to a partnership and resulted in the development of the famous Raymond and Ely mine in the Pioche District. They bought the property for $3,500. Ely gave his watch in part payment, and within sixty days the balance was forthcoming. The mine produced $20,000,000.”
Ely then moved to Salt Lake City and lived in luxury for a few years. He later moved to France and got involved in Guiana mines and lost his entire fortune.
“These actions cut Ely’s sensitive nature to the quick and he proceeded to drown his sorrows and disappointments in liquid tumult,” McDonald recounts delicately.
Ely had loaned $5,000 to A.J. Underhill so he could buy land at the Ely townsite. At the time the county seat was in Hamilton. Underhill decided to “honor his benefactor by christening the new seat of the county government Ely.”