Newspaper column: Give books about Nevada and by Nevadans

With Christmas rapidly approaching you may be casting about for suggestions for what to give that special Nevada friend or family member. What could be better than books about Nevada or by Nevadans? The choices are as varied as the Nevada landscape and its denizens.

Doubly apropos this holiday season is Patricia Cafferata’s “Christmas in Nevada,” a collection of seasonal anecdotes from across the state and across the years.

Cafferata — a former state legislator, state treasurer, district attorney in three counties and daughter of Barbara Vucanovich, the first woman from Nevada to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives — has penned and collected short takes that capture the spirit of giving and community pride. They start with the budding traditions established in mining towns during the territorial days of the 1860s and progress chronologically up the huge modern celebrations.

The small and tall tales from the early days include such scenes as the Virginia City butcher who in 1863 advertised his Christmas wares by parading 184 turkeys down the frozen dirt street to his shop; the huge Christmas fest in the Magnolia Hotel in Winnemucca in 1870 that included fish, oysters, chicken, green vegetables, tea and coffee, liquor and cigars; the “nevergreen” Christmas trees cobbled from scraps of wood in the Tonopah mining camp miles from any real pine trees; the mother in Silver Peak who started making mincemeat in November and preserved it for the holiday by storing it in the cellar draped in brandy-soaked cloths; the Christmas in White Pine County in 1907 during which three miners were trapped inside a collapsed copper mine for 45 days before being rescued and feted with a holiday banquet; and one family’s custom Christmas card tradition that has lasted more than 50 years.

Modern depictions include the Christmas festivities at Opportunity Village in Las Vegas, which helps those with intellectual and developmental disabilities develop life skills and find employment opportunities. It started in 1981 with the Magic Forest of lighted Christmas trees, raising about $3,000, but growing in recent years into a major holiday theme park attended by about 10,000 people and raising $1.5 million. Also mentioned are the “12 Days of Christmas” in Elko, the Santa Pub Crawl in Reno and the Santa Run in Las Vegas that have grown from modest beginnings to huge crowds.

Just out earlier this year is native Nevadan and decades-long newspaper columnist John L. Smith’s “The Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice.” The biography introduces you to Joe Neal, the first African America to serve in the Nevada state Senate. It traces his rise from impoverished Madison Parish, La., through his three decades in the state Senate until he earned a place in the Senate’s Hall of Fame.

Smith uses countless sources as well as his own considerable knowledge of the man and the times — both as a journalist and through his parents’ civil rights and union activism — to paint a detailed portrait of the scrappy Neal, who fought for the things he believed in.

For those who seek to experience Nevada and the region for themselves there is the latest edition of Deborah Wall’s “Base Camp Las Vegas,” a guide to 101 hikes in the region. Packed with photos, the book tells one how to get there, when to go, how to prepare, what to expect and what to avoid. It is a must for the explorer.

Another book published this year, if not about Nevada, is a piece of historic fiction by decades-long Nevada journalist A.D. Hopkins, “The Boys Who Woke Up Early.” Hopkins has penned a fictional account from his boyhood home in western Virginia during the Eisenhower era, looking at the seamy side of life through the eyes of high school boys.

Yes, the boys might’ve awakened early on occasion, but what they “woke up” was rural Early County and Jubal Early High School, named for a Confederate general. The book is laced with homespun conspiracies, displays of chivalry, dirty tricks, righteous revenge and conflicts that frequently result in gunplay, fisticuffs and the strategic use of ax handles and baseball bats. The plot is compelling and the dialog authentic.

For a cornucopia of books about Nevada and the West, turn to Range magazine’s website where you will find books and calendars depicting the ranching and farming lifestyle and attitudes. Among my favorites are the two “Brushstrokes & Balladeers,” coffee table books featuring Western-themed paintings and cowboy poets, including Elko County native Waddie Mitchell.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: How to save the West from devastating wildfires

As we enter another wildfire season — and each one seems to be more devastating than the previous one — the question lingers: Why?

According to The New York Times, The Washington Post and National Geographic it is unquestionably due to climate change.

Pay no heed to the fact that prior to 1980 less than 25,000 acres of wildfires occurred each year in Nevada. In each of the past two years, more than 1 million acres have burned. Coincidentally, since 1980 the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service have made massive cuts in the number of cattle and sheep allowed to graze federal land. The number of sheep has fallen 80 percent and the number of cattle has been cut in half.

This past week’s issue of Executive Intelligence Review magazine asks the question: “What Is Causing Massive Wildfires In the U.S. West: The Environment — Or Environmentalism?”

The article focuses on the largest fire in Nevada history — the July 2018 Martin Fire, which burned nearly half a million acres in Northeast Nevada and devastated the Ninety-Six Ranch, which has been run by the Stock and Stewart families for 155 years. The article includes an extensive interview with rancher Kris Stewart, who has been lobbying the federal land agencies and the president to allow historic levels of grazing to prevent such wildfires.

Stewart told the magazine’s editor the vegetative fuel levels on the rangeland that burned in the Martin Fire had been allowed to reach 1,000 percent of normal by the BLM’s own estimates, and, despite this, she said the ranch was denied permission for additional grazing time.

In the 1960s, she reported, “the modern environmental movement began to inform range management studies and policy, and environmental lawsuits caused a shift in grazing policies. Once considered engaged partners, ranchers were viewed as the enemy …”

This was political, not scientific. Stewart noted that range biologists such as Allan Savory have concluded that livestock grazing disturbs the soil in a healthy manner, “allowing rain and snow water, seeds and fertilizer to be absorbed throughout the soil. They obviously also deposit some of those seeds as well as a completely natural and healthy fertilizer to the soil.”

In the 2015 summer edition of Range magazine, under the headline “Cows can save the world,” Savory stated, “Over millions of years such grasslands — soil life, plants, grazing animals and their predators — developed together in an amazing symbiotic relationship. The grasses needed animals grazing, trampling, dunging and urinating just as much as the animals needed plants.”

Newspaper column: Give books about Nevada and by Nevadans

With Christmas rapidly approaching some of you may still be confounded by the question of just what to give that Nevada friend or family member. May we be so bold as to suggest a gift that endures — books about Nevada or by Nevadans. The choices are as varied as Nevada’s people and its landscapes. 

These can be found in your local bookstore and online from several book retailers in hardback, paperback and electronic versions.

A book that will open the reader to the wonders of Nevada and the Southwest is Deborah Wall’s expanded 2nd edition of “Base Camp Las Vegas,” a guide to 101 hikes in the region. Packed with photos, the book tells one how to get there, when to go, how to prepare, what to expect and what to avoid. It is a must for the explorer.

Just in time for holiday giving, Range magazine has published another of its gorgeous coffee table books — “The Magnificent American West,” which features colorful, award-winning photographs along with the wit and witticisms of Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain.

At rangemagazine.com one can also find several other books about Nevada and the Western lifestyle, including collections of cowboy poetry and art such as “Brushstrokes & Balladeers” and “Reflections of the West,” which include poems by Nevadan Waddie Mitchell.

Of course, no Nevadan’s library is complete without a copy of Twain’s “Roughing It,” which recounts his sojourn in Nevada during the Civil War and his misadventures in newspapering as a reporter and briefly as an editor. He claimed his editorials prompted no less than six invitations to duel. 

To learn more about the truth-stretching Twain, one could pick up a copy of Andrew Hoffman’s biography, “Inventing Mark Twain,” which relates how Sam Clemens really came by his nom de plume.

“People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger,” writes Hoffman.

From the same era comes Twain’s editor’s reminiscences about “The Big Bonanza” — Dan de Quille’s foray into the goings-on during the days of the Comstock Lode.

In a similar vein comes Robert Laxalt’s “Sweet Promised Land,” which reflects on Nevada’s formative years and his father’s visit to his native Basque homeland. 

 Sally Denton’s “Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World” recounts the engineering feat that produced the landscape altering Hoover Dam.

The newest addition to the list of books by Nevadans, if not necessarily about Nevada, is so new it will not be available in print until March, but one may order it now and put a printout of the book cover under the tree. Longtime Nevada writer, editor, investigative journalist, essayist and shirt-tail historian A.D. Hopkins has penned a fictional account from his boyhood home in western Virginia during the Eisenhower era called, “The Boys Who Woke Up Early.” It looks at the seamy side of life through the eyes of high school boys.

Longtime Nevada editorialist and columnist Vin Suprynowicz also has added fiction to his list of books. The latest is a science fiction, libertarian-leaning tale called “The Miskatonic Manuscript,” a follow-up to his “The Testament of James.” His non-fiction collections of essays include “Send in the Waco Killers” and “The Ballad of Carl Drega.”

For a look at how Nevada corporations edged out the mob to take over the gaming racket, there is longtime newspaper columnist John L. Smith’s “Sharks in the Desert.” One might also peruse his books about gambling execs Steve Wynn and Bob Stupak and mob attorney-turned Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman.

We also recommend Colorado-based writer David Philipps attempt to answer the question about what to do about the West’s burgeoning wild horse population in his book “Wild Horse Country.” The book sweeps across a span of time and landscape as vast as the range of the wild horse, delving into views and suggestions from horse-huggers and horse-disparagers alike, turning more than a few colorful similes and metaphors along the journey.

To span the human history of Nevada, there is prolific Nevada chronicler Stanley Paher’s retrospect on the state’s first 150 years with “Nevadans: Spirit of the Silver State,” which takes the reader from the earliest explorers and emigrants through the mining and ranching eras to modern times.

May your friends and family appreciate you and your gifts.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Judicial bias depends on the party involved

Bias, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Earlier this year a three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a decision by Reno federal Judge Robert Clive Jones involving water rights in the Walker River Basin and ordered him removed from the case, saying he was biased against the federal government’s attorneys.

“We reluctantly conclude that reassignment is appropriate here because we believe (1) that Judge Jones would have substantial difficulty putting out of his mind previously expressed views about the federal government and its attorneys, and (2) that reassignment will preserve the appearance of justice,” wrote Judge A. Wallace Tashima, noting that in two previous cases the 9th Circuit had said Jones “harbored animus toward the federal agencies” and that “the judge’s bias and prejudgment are a matter of public record …”

In the Walker River case the previous evidence of bias was based on the fact Jones had stated, “[E]ven though the government in many cases didn’t have the right to insist upon a permit … nevertheless, the government in many cases has insisted upon it. … I don’t like and never have liked the BLM’s or Forest Service’s arrogant presumption that they could assess to people for … trespass, their own travel costs, office costs, sitting in their big chair already paid for by the American taxpayer.”

Sounds like a factual assessment rather than bias.

The other case in which bias was alleged involved the Hage family ranch near Tonopah in which Jones accused government officials of entering into “a literal, intentional conspiracy to deprive the Hages not only of their permits but also of their vested water rights. This behavior shocks the conscience …”

He ruled the government had interfered in the case by urging others to apply for the Hages’ grazing permits, by applying themselves for the Hages’ water rights and by issuing trespass notices against witnesses soon after they had testified.

Now, if one wants to consider bias, perhaps one should review the federal judge’s behavior in the trial of some of the defendants in the 2014 Bundy ranch standoff, in which federal agents attempted to confiscate Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy’s cattle for trespassing on federal land without a permit. The agents backed down when confronted by armed protesters.

Federal Judge Gloria Navarro granted the prosecution’s sweeping call for limits on defense evidence — including arguments that the defendants felt justified to show up and protest the confiscation of Bundy’s cattle because of abusive use of force by law enforcement and that they were simply exercising their First and Second Amendment rights.

Navarro noted in her ruling, “The Court also rejected Defendants’ proposed instructions on the First and Second Amendment because they are not legally cognizable defenses, or in other words, the law does not recognize these Amendments as legal defenses to the crimes charged.”

Navarro later declared a mistrial because prosecutors failed to disclose evidence of that “abusive force,” which was barred from being presented as evidence.

Then there is the federal judge who heard the trial of Cliven Bundy’s sons Ammon and Ryan and others for the 41-day armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon to protest the lengthy sentences assessed two ranchers for letting backfires burn a few acres of federal land.

After they were acquitted, Utah lawyer and rancher Todd Macfarlane reported in the spring issue of Range magazine that the judge in the case, Anna Brown, once was quoted as saying, “The federal government has so many resources at its disposal, and is so meticulous in its work, that I would never expect to see a criminal defendant acquitted in my court.”

Macfarlane described the judge’s treatment of the prosecution and defense in the trial as grossly disparate.

“What I have learned since then is that this is not unique to the Bundy cases. According to a growing body of evidence, federal judges have become so accustomed to favoring the prosecution that they no longer seem to recognize what they’re doing,” he wrote.

No one raised so much as an eyebrow over the behavior of Navarro and Brown in their cases, but Judge Jones gets slapped down — not so much for showing bias, but for which party he allegedly showed bias.

One person’s bias is another’s hard-earned experience.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Malheur standoff (AP pix)

Newspaper column: Give the gift of knowledge about Nevada and the West

Christmas is coming and you’re still scratching your head over just what to get for that special Nevada friend or family member. How about a gift that will keep giving for years to come — a book, specifically a book about Nevada and/or the West?

A couple of the newest additions to this narrow genre are David Philipps’ “Wild Horse Country” and Range magazine’s “The Good, the Bad and the Bovine.”

Philipps explores the history of the wild horse in the West with a number of stops along the way in Nevada. He also addresses the issue of feral horse overpopulation and delves into the various options for solving the problem. It is thought provoking and informative.

In November, Range published a collection of articles and photos from its archive of thorough coverage of the people, places and issues touching on ranching and farming on the rangeland of the West. Titles include: “Don’t Fence ’Em In,” “The Ultimate Recycler,” “It’s in the Breeding,” “Cow Pie” and “A Ranger’s Reflection” — dispatches from the empty quarter.

Range boasts of the book, “The hardcover coffee-table edition is a not only a photographic tribute featuring works by some of the best ranch and wildlife photographers in the country, but there are some meaty stories penned by prize-winning writers.”

The magazine also has available on its website other books from recent years. Two of my favorites are “Brushstrokes & Balladeers” and “Reflections of the West.” Both are coffee-table quality books packed with insightful poetry about life on the range and eye-popping paintings that stand up to favorable comparison to Remington and Russell. The wink-and-a-smirk doggerel of Elko’s Waddie Mitchell is worth the cover price alone.

Then there are the books from the dawn of the state’s history that should be on every Nevadan’s bookshelf. These include’s Mark Twain’s “Roughing It,” of course, about his sojourn in Nevada during the Civil War and his misadventures in newspapering as a reporter and briefly as an editor. He claimed his editorials prompted no less than six invitations to duel.

From the same era comes Twain’s editor’s reminiscences about “The Big Bonanza” — Dan de Quille’s foray into the goings-on during the days of the Comstock Lode.

To learn more about the truth stretching Twain, one could pick up a copy of Andrew Hoffman’s biography, “Inventing Mark Twain.” My personal favorite insight is Hoffman’s busting the myth that Sam Clemens took his pseudonym from his steamboat days.

“People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger,” writes Hoffman.”

For insight into the people who invented modern day Nevada, there are books such as Dallas Morning News reporter Doug Swanson’s “Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker.” The book takes the reader from Benion’s humble beginnings in Pilot Grove, Texas, to dangerous Deep Ellum in Dallas, until he drifted and grifted — and reportedly killed — into downtown Las Vegas.

Former Las Vegas newspaper columnist John L. Smith writes about a number of Nevada notables in “Sharks in the Desert,” covers the rise of casino owner Steve Wynn in “Running Scared” and tells of the mob lawyer-turned-Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman in “Of Rats and Men.”

Sally Denton reveals the company and the men who built Hoover Dam in her thoroughly researched book “The Profiteers” about the Bechtel Corporation.

Denton and Roger Morris also penned a book titled “The Money and the Power” about the making of Las Vegas since World War II, offering insightful peeks into the likes of gangsters Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, politician Pat McCarran and newspaper publisher Hank Greenspun.

For those who would like to climb out of the armchair and go visit on foot some of the gorgeous landscapes in Nevada and neighboring states, there is travel writer Deborah Wall’s “Base Camp Las Vegas,” which details how to get to and how to explore 101 hiking trails — from Arches to Zion National Parks, from Death Valley to the Ruby Mountains.

Many of these are available in local bookstores. All can be found online with the aid of a search engine.

And finally a blatant plug. If you’d like to keep your Nevada friends and family informed in the future, you can always give a subscription to this newspaper.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Hage ranchers again plan Supreme Court appeal

It is like fighting the Hydra, cut off one head and two grow back.

But the federal government is no myth. It is immortal. It has the power to print money and hire an army of attorneys whose job security depends on ceaseless litigation with no risk to themselves or their livelihoods.

The first generation of Hage family ranchers has died off while fighting in the courts for their rights, but the current generation vows to press on to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1978, E. Wayne Hage bought the Pine Creek Ranch near Tonopah. It included 7,000 acres of private land and grazing permits for 752,000 acres of federal public land, as well as water rights. The very next year he clashed with the Forest Service when it agreed to a plan to stock elk on Table Mountain.

Hage complained that the elk would drink his water and eat his grass.

According to court records, the relationship between the rancher and federal land agents deteriorated from there.

“In 1983, Plaintiffs received 40 letters from the Forest Service charging them with various violations,” wrote U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Loren Smith in 2008. “In the same year, the Forest Service paid 70 visits to Plaintiffs. Following the 40 letters and 70 visits, the Forest Service filed 22 charges against Plaintiffs. Many of these complaints cited issues of fence maintenance, some of them extremely minor infractions. (One was a loose staple in a fence post.) In addition, the Forest Service insisted that Plaintiffs maintain their 1866 Act ditches with nothing other than hand tools.”

Judge Smith — citing the Fifth Amendment prohibition against “taking” private property without just compensation — awarded the Hage estate $4,220,431.20, plus interest and attorney’s fees and costs. The total has long since topped $14 million, but the Hages have not seen a dime as various appeals courts have ducked and remanded and dismissed.

Though turned down once by the Supreme Court, Hage’s son Wayne N. Hage and daughter Ramona Hage Morrison say they plan to appeal one of their cases to the high court.

The latest litigation setback came in January when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out a Nevada federal judge’s ruling in their favor. In a 104-page opinion Judge Robert Jones accused government officials of entering into “a literal, intentional conspiracy to deprive the Hages not only of their permits but also of their vested water rights. This behavior shocks the conscience …”

The appeals court accused Judge Jones of being biased against the federal land agents and took him off the case, even though Judge Smith had reached similar conclusions about the conduct of the federal agents, calling their behavior harassment and hostility.

“First, Plaintiffs had a significant investment-backed expectation in the ditches, as these were the primary means for conveyance of water for irrigating the Ranch. The ditches were rights purchased along with the Ranch,” Judge Smith wrote. “Second, Plaintiffs offered ample evidence that the Forest Service had engaged in harassment towards Plaintiffs, enough to suggest that the implementation of the hand tools requirement was based solely on hostility to Plaintiffs. Third, the economic impact of this regulation was considerable; it would have been economically impractical for Plaintiffs to hire enough men with hand tools to perform any sort of substantial work clearing the ditches.”

Judge Smith ruled the Hage ranch had a right to access its vested water rights, but the 9th Circuit basically ruled the ranch had no right to let cattle graze while getting to that water.

According to a Hage family press release posted by Range magazine, the family sees the conflict in rulings as something the Supreme Court needs to resolve.

“It is only the Ninth Circuit three-judge panel, after a 45 minute hearing, which determined that they are better arbiters of the truth than the two judges from two separate federal courts who actually saw the evidence and heard witnesses testify over a combined period of 43 trial days,” the press release states. “The Ninth Circuit panel, in reaching their desired outcome in U.S. v. Hage has managed to significantly diminish western water law and the laws governing rights of ways for roads, ditches and canals across federally administered lands, leaving the Hages no choice but to seek relief at the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The Hages are asking for donations to help defray the cost of continued litigation.

Wayne Hage in 1997 AP photo.

A version of this column appeared a year ago in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Give a gift that warms the heart and fills the head

Christmas is coming and you’re still scratching your head over just what to get for that special Nevada friend or family member. May I be so bold as to suggest a gift that will keep giving long after the wrapping paper and ribbons are moldering in the landfill — a book, more specifically a book about Nevada or written by a Nevadan.

The first suggestion is an absolutely gorgeous coffee table book from our friends at Range magazine published just in time for Christmas. “Reflections of the West: Cowboy painters and poets” is the sequel to last year’s highly acclaimed and award-winning “Brushstrokes & Balladeers: Painters and poets of the American West.”

“Reflections” is a 160-page, slick paper stock book packed with some of the finest cowboy poems and breathtaking paintings that capture the spirit of the West, the open range, wildlife and the cowboy lifestyle.

The poems range from the humorous to the philosophical to the poignant from some of the best in the business, including Waddie Mitchell and Badger Clark and dozens of others.

The paintings include ones that capture scenes so detailed that you have to look twice to make sure they are not photographs, such as those by Tim Cox. Others are more evocative and capture people and landscape and wildlife in mid-action with broad brushstrokes and whimsical colors, such as those by William Matthews. Then there are the splashes of primary colors used by cover artist Don Weller to capture cowboy life at work and play.

You may order this and other such books at Range magazine’s website, and while you are there grab a few copies of the “2016 Real Buckaroo Calendar” for stocking stuffers.

Now for something completely different, but also published just in time for Christmas, comes the second installment of what we hope will be many of the strange adventures of Matthew Hunter, antique book dealer, and his pistol-packing companion Chantal Stevens from the creative and slightly warped mind of long-time Nevada libertarian philosopher and writer Vin Suprynowicz, who spent a couple of decades penning newspaper columns and editorials for the Las Vegas newspaper.

“The Miskatonic Manuscript” novel picks up where last year’s “The Testament of James” left off. The book dares to imagine a world in which New England horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s work was as much science as it was fiction and in which someone is actually fighting back in the War on Drugs. Think of it as Carlos Castaneda meets Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.G. Wells.

As in “Testament” the characters are quirky, literate and irreverent, engaging in dialogue that weaves in libertarian and free market ideals, dropping names like Hayek and Rothbard from the lips of a savvy chauffeur.

The humor can be subtle, such as when in the middle of an otherworldly scene wrought with imminent danger from prehistoric beasts in another dimension Chantal sarcastically asks Matthew if he has seen any armed gorillas on horseback, to which the inveterate book dealer replies, “No, that was ‘Planet of the Apes,’ Pierre Boule, a six-hundred-dollar first edition if the orange print on the jacket spine isn’t faded too badly.”

Vin managed to snag for the dust jacket an illustration from Boris Vallejo, who has made a career of depicting well-muscled, scantily clad heroines for fantasy and science fiction novels. This one, shall we say, befits the genre.

On page 214 he mentions the opera house in Eureka, so that makes it a Nevada book, right?

 The hardback will be available for order by the end of this week from AbeBooks.com. An eBook version is available for download at Amazon and other online sources.

Rounding out the holiday shopping cart are uplifting books by two Nevadans about fellow Nevadans and others with fascinating stories.

Long-time Las Vegas newspaper columnist John L. Smith offers “Vegas Voices: Conversations with Great Las Vegas Characters,” a collection of interviews with diverse characters — wise guys to cops, dealers to showgirls, educators to musicians.

Former Las Vegas cop Randy Sutton gets in the act with “The Power of Legacy: Personal Heroes of America’s Most Inspiring People,” which looks at the differences certain people have made on our society and our future. Coming full circle, one of the people Sutton writes about is John L. Smith. You can obtain a copy of “Vegas Voices” by sending an email to jlnevadasmith@gmail.com.

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, the Lincoln County Record and the Sparks Tribune — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Want to save the planet? Let the cows out

Grant Gerber, champion of grazing. (photo submitted to Elko Daily Free Press)

Once again the sagacity of cowboy philosopher Will Rogers has been proved: “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”

Writing in the summer edition of Range magazine longtime ecologist Allan Savory notes that it is universally agreed that strict control on livestock grazing is needed to prevent turning our rangelands into barren deserts. But it ain’t so.

“In more than 60 years of research, neither I nor any collaborating scientists have found any evidence to support the idea that controlling livestock numbers prevents desertification,” writes Savory under the superlative headline, “Cows Can Save the World.”

In fact, Savory reports, complete removal of cattle accelerates desertification for two reasons. “First, most or all aboveground stems and leaves of perennial grasses die back every year,” according to Savory. “Unlike trees that also have leaf turnover, grasses cannot shed dead leaves and stems. Over millions of years such grasslands — soil life, plants, grazing animals and their predators — developed together in an amazing symbiotic relationship. The grasses needed animals grazing, trampling, dunging and urinating just as much as the animals needed plants.”

Land on left was grazed while that on right was not.

Land on left was grazed while that on right was not. (Range magazine photo by Andrea Malmberg)

The writer, who is originally from Rhodesia but now makes his home in New Mexico, notes that most Americans live on the coasts where there is enough moisture for grasses to rapidly oxidize, but in the more arid climes gradual oxidation doesn’t allow adequate sunlight to reach ground level if there is no grazing. This results in grasslands weakening and nature striving to fill the vacuum with taproots plants — weeds or forbs, shrubs and trees if rainfall is high enough.

While this may sound like heresy to federal land managers and those whose experience with grass in limited to a backyard turf, it is something many ranchers have been saying for years.

The late Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber often charged that federal agents are in thrall of the radical environmentalists, whose mantra is that the land should be returned to the pristine state before ranchers ruined it by trampling it with sheep and cattle.

But the truth is quite the opposite. It is those sheep and cattle that helped transform the Great Basin into a land hospitable for wildlife such as elk, deer and sage grouse.

Gerber, who died in October of a head injury after his horse stumbled during a protest ride to Washington on behalf of ranchers being forced off federal public land, was fond of quoting from the diary of fur trapper Peter Skene Ogden who crossed Nevada circa 1828: “There were times when we tasted no food, and we were unable to discover water for several days together; without wood, we keenly felt the cold; wanting grass, our horses were reduced to great weakness, so that many of them died, on whose emaciated carcases we were constrained to satisfy the intolerable cravings of our hunger, and as a last resource, to quench our thirst with their blood.”

Only after the sheep and cattle came and trampled the earth and fertilized it and ranchers improved access to water, the region blossomed, Gerber contends.

Gerber explained in an interview a couple of years ago that this was because: “Along the Humboldt River it began to get a little better because as these wagon trains would come through the cattle would plow up the soil with their hooves, the oxen and the horses and the sheep. They’d fertilize it and they would knock down the sage brush and grind it into soil. Just like you do with your garden. Every year the soil got a little bit better.”

This is also explained by Ruby Valley rancher Cliff Gardner, who in an article in the Elko Daily Free Press in November, noted that between 1846 and 1853 an estimated 165,000 people crossed the Great Basin en route to California. They brought with them nearly 1 million cattle, sheep and horses.

“Think of the impact these animals must have had on the environment along the Humboldt and elsewhere during that period,” Gardner recounts. “But did things deteriorate — was the grass abused and depleted? Not according to the logs and diaries that were kept. Almost to a person, it was indicated that grazing conditions were improving — that there was more grass and feed found then, than had been found earlier.”

Grazing has transformed Nevada. Do we wish to see it revert to a pristine but barren state devoid of wildlife and vegetation?

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, the Lincoln County Record and the Sparks Tribune — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Warm the heart, feed the brain with a gift of Nevada books

In case you are approaching wit’s end as Christmas Day looms around the bend, and you’ve still not come up with that unique gift for that unique Nevada friend or family member, may I be so bold as to suggest a gift that will give pleasure for years to come — a book about Nevada or by a Nevadan. The choices are as varied as the Nevada people and landscape.

A couple of books coincide with the state’s sesquicentennial.

Prolific Nevada chronicler Stanley Paher has penned his retrospect on the state’s first 150 years with “Nevadans: Spirit of the Silver State,” which takes the reader from the earliest explorers and emigrants through the mining and ranching eras to modern times.

In a similar vein, the hefty coffee table book “Nevada: 150 Years in the Silver State” weighs in with a wealth of information about Nevada locales written and photographed by dozens of well-known and highly skilled Nevadans.

Speaking of locales, UNLV history professor Eugene Moehring has recently published his “Reno, Las Vegas, and the Strip: A Tale of Three Cities,” which looks at the post-war development of Nevada’s largest metropolitan areas and their role reversal over the years.

Places are important but it is the people who made Nevada. Just out is a biography of one of the more colorful characters to call Nevada home after being run out of other places. “Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker” by Dallas Morning News writer Doug Swanson fills the bill, taking the reader from Benion’s humble beginnings in Pilot Grove, Texas, to dangerous Deep Ellum in Dallas, until he drifted and grifted — and reportedly killed — into downtown Las Vegas.

Of course, we must mention two new books by longtime Nevada columnist and author John L. Smith, whose Las Vegas Review-Journal columns for three decades have explored the characters who have created the modern Nevada. He is out with a new nonfiction collection of interviews with people whom he gives room to roam in their own voices, “Vegas Voices: Conversations with Great Las Vegas Characters” — gamblers, sheriffs, singers, dancers, members of the Black Book, musicians, cops, teachers and athletes. Some names you’ll recognize and others you’ll wish you did.

Then there is his collection of fictional short stories based on a rogues gallery of very real rogues whose names have been changed to protect the author. These “fictional” characters hang out in very real dives, bars and casinos in “Even a Street Dog.” I believe I’ve shared a drink with John in a few of those places.

The newest book is not about Nevada but is the latest fictional endeavor by longtime Nevada editorialist and columnist, Vin Suprynowicz, who spent two decades shaping the editorial pages of the Review-Journal. It is a mystery called “The Testament of James,” which may remind one of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.”

It opens with the manager of a rare book store in New England dead of mysterious circumstances and a rare book — the aforementioned “Testament of James,” the possibly real but possibly nonexistent gospel of Jesus’ younger brother — missing. It is chock full of tidbits, such as the fact Jesus was called the son of the father, which in Aramaic is “bar” for son of and “abbas” for father, thus Jesus Barabbas. So who was the crowd demanding be freed?

While the earlier books are largely available in bookstores and on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites, Vin’s book is available at AbeBooks.com, along with three other books he has penned. John Smith’s other books are also available online.

Also check out Range Magazine’s website for “Brushstrokes & Balladeers: Painters and poets of the American West,” a beautiful collection of 84 cowboy poems and 80 Western paintings from 29 artists. I leave mine lying about and read a couple of poems at random when the mood strikes.

Range also has “Go West: The Risk & The Reward,” which tells us that, though the earlier explorers called this a “country of starvation,” hardy people have been able to survivor and thrive. The gorgeous panoramic photographs alone make this book a valuable addition to your bookshelf.

Then, “The M Bar” is a collection of Old West tales from cowboy Harry Webb, as is “Call of the Cow Country,” both recounting true stories about cowboys, Indians and outlaws.

May you curl up with a good book and a good companion this Christmas.

This column appeared this week in The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News and the Elko Daily Free Press.