Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Grand Old Man of Gold Butte - Art Coleman & Bill Garrett

Orville Perkins is well known for capturing much of early Southern Nevada life with his entertaining and skilled writings. In his book Hookey Beans and Willows he writes of the Grand old Men of Gold Butte capturing a timeless snapshot of the good ol' days at Gold Butte.

Orville and his stories are cited in many different histories of Clark County. His stories and depictions of early life Southern Nevada are an invaluable resource of information, exciting for any reader from the casual to the academic. His descriptive narratives are the reason that many of the histories and legends of this area still exist today. I highly recommend that you track his book down, Hookey Beans and Willows, and purchase a copy for yourself. A copy may be found at the Old Logandale School.
Grand Old Man of Gold Butte
With the passing of Bill Garrett and Art Coleman, an era came to a close. It had been slowly developing for a long time. The two old men were the only link that held the past to the present at Gold Butte.

Art Coleman had been a long time prospector in Nevada. He first saw this area in 1907 during the Copper City boom and was quite impressed with the general area. Art, being young and restless had worked in many camps in Nevada. Robert E. Lee told of seeing Art in early January of 1910 in Caliente, waiting to go to Goodsprings to look for a job. Because of the big flood he was stranded. Art not wanting to waste anymore time in a flood drenched town decided to walk to Ely, the only way to get there. He and a pardner walked the one hundred and thirty miles in the dead of winter. This must have been quite a fete as hardly anyone lived north of Pioche till you reached the Ely area.

With the coming of prohibition many old prospectors turned to bootlegging, they knew most of the old camps and springs to set up operations. In the early twenties Art ran the Moapa Bar, but tiring of looking over his shoulder for probi agents, decided to go to the Gold Butte area and homestead. He settled in the Jumbo Basin to do a little dry farming and prospecting and if things to too tough, he could always do some bootlegging. The farming operations were never a real success but prospecting was good. Art set up dry washing operation in the most likely washes. One time with the aid of Bob Fleming, they did some slice mining. By saving the water, they could run it thru several times. They did recover some gold and a few of the choice nuggets he kept for display, having fun sometimes with the unwary. He was one of a disappearing breed. Here, at Gold Butte, he teamed up with Bill Garrett who had moved into the now abandoned house shipped in by Johnnie Nelson’s mother from White Hills. The house was dismantled and hauled to Kingman where it was shipped in sections by rail to St. Thomas. Johnnie hauled it to Gold Butte and reassembled it. Quite a comfortable home.

Bill Garrett, raised in Texas, wasn’t one to talk much about the past. He was the sort of fellow that one did not pry too much into his past. In some of his more mellow moods he told of as a boy he and another youth pulled a holdup, in the melee that followed a man was shot. The boys ran and bill wound up in Canada. While in Canada, Bill fell in with an old man who taught him how to build a still. This was to come in handy in later years. Drifting back to the States he began to follow rodeos and eventually, became a world champ cowboy. He told of being in St. Louis in 1904 for the world fair. A rodeo was part of the fair, and Bill entered the saddle bronc riding event. On the first day he got a very rough horse and just as the gun went off, ending the ride, this cinch broke. Bill, saddle and all, made a beautiful loop landing straddle of a pole fench with Bill still in the saddle. It was the hit of the rodeo, they wanted him to do it everyday, little realizing it could not happen that way again in a hundred years.

The next fifteen years found Bill working on ranches and following rodeos. Bill became quite the rodeo star. While working in the Unitah County area of Utah, he got involved with a girl, her former boyfriend went looking for Bill, he found him in Vernal. Bill had been warned the man was looking for him in the shoot-out that followed the man lay dead. Bill was arrested and stood trial in Vernal but freed on a self-defense plea. Bill knew it was time to move on, so he next showed up in Gold Butte, working for George Hartman as a cowhand.

For server years the Lord had been good to Southern Nevada, the rains had been plentiful and stickmen were increasing their herds, the future looked the mid nineteen twenties that had all changed, a prolonged drought had set in and few were the cow outfits that would survive. Hartman was one that would fail, even with the men going without pay to keep things together. Big Swapp had nine hundred dollars coming and at thirty a month, that’s a long time without a payday. Bryant and Roxton Whitmore, Bill Garrett and others had back pay they could not get. Some took a few cows for pay, and Bill did this and moved into the abandoned White Hills house which was to be his home for the next forty years.

The Gold Butte house became a popular place, most people going out that way stopped at Bills. He sometimes made a little whiskey which did a lot for the house’s social success. Smoke coming from in back of the big rock some hundred yards back of the house would be a sure sign that a new batch was in the works.

The thirties came and with it the great depression, repeal of the Volstead Act and if that wasn’t enough, the Taylor Grazing Act. One by one Bill sold off his cattle to live. He had a prize horse running on the range, a light sorrel stallion with flax mane and tail. This horse was Bill’s pride and joy. A rancher from Willows, California, saw him from a distance and made a good offer so he was also sold. Bill was getting a little age on himself by this time, he wasn’t quite what he used to be, so had to get Elwood Perkins to catch Sun Flower, the pride of the Gold Butte range.

Art managed by accident to create more excitement than they could handle. One day while prospecting down below the Butte, he pulled off the road to turn around, his old model A backfired and set a grass fire that nearly got him before he could speed away. The smoke could be seen for a couple of days from as far away as Overton.

In their later years, they both got a county pension, still the Gold Butte house always had an open door. Throughout the years, hundreds had enjoyed their hospitality. Art was the older of the pair and passed away first, he was buried there at Butte. A couple of years later, Bill followed and was laid by his old friend. Stones were bought for the pair by their many friends. Those that pass and pause long enough can see that here lies the last of this breed of men.

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