James Stark Oral History

Dublin Core


James Stark Oral History


James Stark Oral History


Churchill County Museum Association


Churchill County Museum Association


March 13, 1998


Analog Cassette Tape, .Doc File, MP3 Audio



Oral History Item Type Metadata


Anita Erguiaga


James Moore Stark


2350 Indian Lakes Road, Fallon, NV


Churchill County Oral History Project

an interview with


Fallon, Nevada

conducted by


March 13, 1998

This interview was transcribed by Glenda Price; edited by Norma Morgan; final by Pat Roden; index by Gracie Viera; supervised by Myrl Nygren, Director of the Oral History Project, Churchill County Museum.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewer and interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Churchill County Museum or any of its employees.


James Stark and his wife live in a bright cheerful double-wide mobile home with large windows facing south to get the sunshine.

Mr. Stark appears to have an excellent memory so he can tell many stories about growing up in Dixie Valley. He and his brothers were real cowboys and lived a lifestyle that most of us only know about from reading books.

He is particularly proud of his banking and banking related work which spanned a period of sixty years. This was accomplished with only a high school diploma to go on. He also thinks highly of his time spent in the U.S. Maritime service and refers to that as his world cruise.

An interesting point that did not get on the tape was that his was a premature birth and he weighed less than five pounds. There was no hospital and he was kept in a shoe box in the oven of the kitchen stove where the fire was kept burning all the time.

He now has macular degeneration and because of that he has only peripheral vision, but he doesn't complain about it. He is a natural story teller making this a most pleasant interview.

Interview with James Stark

ERQUIAGA: This is Anita Erguiaga of the Churchill County Museum Oral History Program. Today is March 13, 1998, and I am interviewing James Moore Stark at his home 2350 Indian Lakes Road. First of all I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I know it will be of interest to everybody. First I would like to find out your full name and your date of birth and your place of birth.

STARK:  James Moore Stark. I was born in 1916, December 15, in Wonder, Nevada. I don't know if you're familiar with Wonder. It's an old mining town east of here about thirty-five miles.

ERQUIAGA: How did you happen to be born in Wonder?

STARK:  I'll go back to my folks. Dad and Mother met in Topeka, Kansas, in the university going to school there, and they got married. Dad wanted to come West, so they came West. They came to Sacramento [California], and Dad got a job there on the steamboats on the Sacramento River as an engineer. He worked there a couple of years, and then he saw in the paper an ad that homestead land was available in Nevada. His dream was a ranch, so he says, "Well, I'm going to Nevada," so they had a yard sale that we would call it now. Sold all of their furniture and whatever they did have. Had a 1912 Buick, I think. They came over the mountain to Fallon, and he heard that there was work in Wonder. It was going strong at that time. There was about twelve hundred people there, so he got a job as an assayer. He knew something about mining. The job was an assayer in the town of Wonder, and while he was there, he explored the area. That's just the head of Dixie Valley, so he went down in Dixie Valley and homesteaded 320 acres. Started a homestead and kept working in the mine. At that time there were Ed and Bain. That was about 1914. 1916, I arrived. Not particularly wanted at that time, but cherished later. (laughing) So that's how they got to Nevada and began my life

ERQUIAGA: I'd like to get your dad's full name.

STARK:  It's Clyde Banus Stark, Senior.

ERQUIAGA: And where was he from?

STARK:  He was from Jacksboro, Texas.

ERQUIAGA: Let me take a minute here and see if you’re coming through. You don’t talk real loud [tape cuts] How about your mother? Where was she from, and what was her maiden name?

STARK:  Her maiden name was [Lillie Ellen] Hall, and she was the thirteenth child, the last child. She had eleven sisters and a brother. Born outside of Topeka [Kansas] on a small farm. She and Dad met at the university.

ERQUIAGA: When was it that they were going to the university?

STARK:  That would have been in the early 1900s, probably in 1910, in there.

ERQUIAGA: Was it rather unusual for women, particularly, to go to the university at that time?

STARK:  Yes, I imagine it was, and having such a large family. Her brother was her main help on that. He was gone and married by the time she was born. So she was the baby, and I guess he took interest in her to see that she got it. She evidently had a bent for teaching, and she got her degree there. Dad even had a teaching degree back there, also. So teaching was in the family.

ERQUIAGA: You said Dad?

STARK:  Yes. C.B. Stark. So they got married, and Dad had the idea that the further young married people got away from any in-laws, why, the better chance their marriage would have. He wanted to go West anyway because he wanted to get a ranch eventually, so they left. A long ways from home.

ERQUIAGA: Yes, it was.

STARK:  When I look back on it, for somebody to just pull up stakes like that, and, especially, after they were established in Sacramento, and he had a pretty good job, just to take up with two children and an old car and come over the mountain to Nevada was quite an undertaking with no prospects. He had no idea what he was going to do when he got here, and he got a job at mine.

ERQUIAGA: And so they lived in Wonder?

STARK:  Yes.

ERQUIAGA: I see. He hadn't ever done any farming before he came here?

STARK:  No. His dad owned a store. A merchandise store. He worked in there. His dad was also a part-time lawyer. He didn't have any agriculture experience other than he went to agricultural college, and he had that in mind all the time, so when he came to Nevada he didn't know what alkali was. He didn't know too much about farming, but he learned.

ERQUIAGA: Out there, I guess! Out in Dixie you say they homesteaded, what did that involve? Down here you got water right when you homesteaded, but what did they get out there for water?

STARK:  You had to dig a well and file on it with the state, and that was your source of water. Each well that you dug was certified. He, also, found out that if you filed on a spring in Nevada, or you couldn't find a spring, if you dug a well, you automatically received range rights for cattle in a three-mile radius of each filing of water. So, where he couldn't find a spring up through Dixie Valley, he dug a well, and he tied up about forty miles of range right from Dixie Valley clear past Highway 50 south of Frenchman Station. I don't know if you're familiar with the old Frenchman Station or not.


STARK:  He had two wells there that he dug. One out across the flat and one right at the station. Then he filed on this 320 acres. Of course, had to have it surveyed. After they started really in earnest, they had to live on the land and develop forty acres and produce some sort of crop. They had, I think, five years to do that in to prove up on the filing. That was the old Homestead Act, so they did that. As I said, he didn't know what alkali was so he had some failures of planting at first. He found he had to leach the land out, flood it and reservoir during the winter time and leach it out and then he could get a crop started. But, it was still quite a struggle down there where the artesian water was. In later years, Ed took a desert land entry about three miles south of the old homestead, and he had much better ranching facilities there, ground.

ERQUIAGA: Better ground.

STARK:  Much better ground. Not the alkali, but he had to pump because the water table was about sixty feet, and then he had to go down probably another hundred or two hundred feet to get quantity.

ERQUIAGA: How did your dad decide which ground he should take out there? Did he have a choice of anything he wanted?

STARK:  Just about. If they liked the area, then they got the surveying in there done so that they could get a legal description and go from there. There's quite a bit to it, and it took a lot of time and a lot of perseverance. He used to walk from Wonder which was twenty miles down to the homestead and work down there a few days and then go back to Wonder and make some more money so he could go down to Dixie on the homestead.

ERQUIAGA: I remember hearing that story about him walking--we used to dig out at Wonder--that he would walk down to Dixie, and I've always remembered that even though I didn't know him. How did he get--by working at Wonder, I s'pose--how did he get machinery and start with his cattle?

STARK:  Machinery was almost non-existent. There was so much handwork done in those days. He got a team of horses. He bought two horses from an Indian. These horses had a 31 brand on the left shoulder. He found out the brand was not registered, so he had that brand registered, and that was the family brand, 31. And those two horses and a wagon, and then, of course, he got a plow and possibly a disc and a Fresno and such tools as that. They weren't too expensive. Not like your $75,000 tractors and so forth today. A team of horses and a lot of shovel work, and that was it. When you put hay up, you had an old dump rake. Then you shocked the hay and took a wagon out and pitched it on a wagon loose and hauled it up and made a stack of the hay. It was all handwork. I remember it well. People wouldn't think of doing that nowadays, and very few women would go out that far away from civilization, so to speak.

ERQUIAGA: With small children.

STARK:  Yeah, with small children. Some people used to say, well, Dixie Valley was not the end of the world but you could see it from there. (laughing)

ERQUIAGA: (laughing) I see.

STARK:  I thought that was real pioneering, and it was. My mother got her teaching certificate renewed, and she taught us three boys at the home there one year. In Nevada it took five children to start a school which had been started out there by a Mrs. Morgan, and then three children could hold a school after once it was established. Most of those people did move out of the area. A lot of them did, and there was only us three boys.

ERQUIAGA: Was this in Wonder?

STARK:  No, this was down in the homestead.

ERQUIAGA: In Dixie. You were living in Wonder at the time you were born, so then when did you move down to the homestead?

STARK:  Oh, probably when I was about two, a couple of years later.

ERQUIAGA: Oh, and then it was after that that she got her license.

STARK:  Yes. In fact, the year that she taught, before that they had to come in here to school, but she taught this one year, and I was in the fourth grade. Ed was in the seventh, and Bane was a freshman in high school, so she had a high school student and two grade school students, and she received a hundred dollars a month for six months. That was it, and we had one room in the house set up.

ERQUIAGA: And who supplied the books and paper?

STARK:  The county.

ERQUIAGA: Oh, I see.

STARK:  And the county superintendent which I can't remember his name now, came out there once a year or once every six months or whenever he could, I guess, just to inspect the school and see that things were being done as should be. Then the next year we moved into Stillwater.

ERQUIAGA: What year would that be?

STARK:  About 1921, 1922, the late twenties. We had 240 acres there, and that's where we lived for several years there. That's when Mother taught all over the valley here. Lone Tree and Harmon and she even taught one year in Hazen.

ERQUIAGA: She drove out there each day?

STARK:  Well, at that time Dad had a friend from college, Howard Mason--I don't know if you ever know of the Masons or the Mason Ranch in Hazen.


STARK:  They were buddies in school, and Dad went up there, and Howard wanted a partner. He wasn't much of a rancher. He had a small orchard up there and a small ranch, so they got a little dairy started there, he and Dad, and Mother taught school in Hazen. I was about seven years old, then, so that would have been 1923 that we were there. That didn't last but a year or so, and then we came back to, that's about the time we came back and got the ranch in Stillwater. In Hazen is where I learned what dynamite caps were.

ERQUIAGA: Oh. Can you tell us about that?

STARK:  I found a box of dynamite caps in an old garage there on the Mason Ranch, and they were bright copper shells. I don't know if you've ever seen a dynamite cap. They're about three or four inches long, and they're bright, shiny copper, and they're filled with explosive powder. I didn't know what they were, but I thought they'd make a great whistle. You know, like you whistle into an empty 30-30 shell or something, but I had to get that powder out of there, so that's where the danger arrived. I was out in the field with Dad and the boys, and we were shocking hay. I say shocking hay, you had a pitch fork. After it was in a windrow with a buck rake, why you turned it over into shocks so that they could be picked up and put on the wagon. I had a little short handled pitchfork, and I decided I could probably pick that powder out of that cartridge with a pitchfork tong. Luckily, I didn't have much power up there doing it, so I put the dynamite cap in the ground and poked it hard with the pitchfork to get this powder loose. Well, it went off. It went off by my leg on this side, and I thought I was shot. I ran across the field, and I said, "Dad, I've been shot. Why don't I die?" and that was my concept. (laughing) So I learned about dynamite caps the hard way.

ERQUIAGA: Do you suppose if it hadn't been in the ground, it might have worse?

STARK:  If I'd hand held that at the time that went off, I would have lost a hand. No doubt about it, so I was really lucky. So, then, in the Stillwater ranch is where we did our first ranching. We still had the homestead in Dixie Valley, but because of schooling and Mother teaching here, why, we made this headquarters here. Dad bought cattle, and we had the range rights already established in Dixie Valley and, also, in the next range east of the Stillwater Range which is the Clan Alpine Range. Eventually, we ran from five hundred to a thousand head of cattle between Dixie Valley and Frenchman's Station and that whole mountain range east of this range. The beef steers and any cattle for sale were brought into the ranch here at Stillwater, and later we bought what we called the old Harmon Ranch which the Navy took over here where Stark Lane is.

ERQUIAGA: Where was the ranch in Stillwater? Is it there now?

STARK: I don't know who lives there now. There's a road down there named after Ed, Triple E Ranch. Because he had two children, Eddie and Elaine, and himself, Ed, there were the three E's, so they called it the Triple E Lane. It was right on the perimeter of Stillwater down there, and I don't think anybody lives there. It's been abandoned, I think. But the ranch itself is still being farmed and probably incorporated with others.

ERQUIAGA: And so this other ranch, you said you moved from there to…?

STARK: To Harmon District.

ERQUIAGA: And where?

STARK: You know where Stark Lane is there?


STARK: Stark Lane was named after Dad, really, and right off Stark Lane there is where the Navy bought us out.

ERQUIAGA: Oh, I see.

STARK: And then Bane went to Idaho and purchased a ranch up there. We still had the Stillwater ranch, too, so Ed ran that and the Dixie ranch. He learned to fly and got an airplane and used to commute back and forth to Dixie and took care of the ranch. I graduated from Fallon high school in 1934, and I spent a lot of cowboying time in Dixie Valley and Frenchman's Station with cattle all the time. We broke all our own horses.

STARK: I guess when I was about fourteen I decided I was going to be a real cowboy and rope myself a mustang which was quite an experience, so I went up in the mountains. There was a lot of mustangs out there in those years. You could see a hundred in a day if you wanted to. I found a bunch that had just been in to water. I came up below them. I had a good saddle horse, and they took off up the canyon, and I was able to go right through the bunch. I picked out a young two-year old stud colt. I built too large a loop. He got one front leg through it, so I had him by the shoulders. Normally, if you want to rope a mustang, you roped him around the neck, and he choked down. When he fell down, you jumped off and tied his front feet. Well, you couldn't choke a horse down if you had one leg through it, so I rassled with him and finally got him on a steep side hill. He went down with his feet uphill. I tied hard and fast, got down, used my belt to tie his feet together with, took the rope off his head and made a squaw bridle out of it, got back on my horse, taught him to lead, brought him home. It was ten miles from home I guess. So, I thought I was a pretty good cowboy at fourteen to rope a horse, tie him up, and bring him home. Later, when I left the ranch, I took him to Reno and sold him to a bartender down there for his wife. He was a good horse.

ERQUIAGA: Is that how you got all of your horses? You said you broke them all?

STARK: Yeah, we had a lot of mustangs, and then we got some better blood horses. We had one small bunch of horses that ran outside all the time, so we had our own horses coming along plus any mustangs we happened to catch that we wanted. But, they were so small, not nearly the horse that we wanted. However, the one that I caught, too, brought him back and fed him well, he grew to be a little over a thousand pounds which was pretty good for a mustang. He was a nice horse, so that brings me then to 1937 when I decided I didn't want to be a cowboy anymore.

ERQUIAGA: I'd like to go back a little here. Were you born at home in Wonder, or was there a hospital there?

STARK: No. I was born at home, but there was a doctor who came out from Fallon. I can't remember what his name was. Probably well known. If you talk to someone there in the museum ask who the doctor was at that time. There was a one doctor, period, in Fallon then. He traveled around and was well liked.

ERQUIAGA: What kind of work did your dad do in Wonder?

STARK: He was an assayer.

ERQUIAGA: Had he studied something for that?

STARK: He'd evidently had some knowledge because it is a pretty meticulous job in the office there assaying ore to see what the contents are and how rich it is and so forth. He took engineering in college, and he probably took some mining.

ERQUIAGA: How long did he work at that?

STARK: He worked there from probably about 1912 or 1913 until about 1916. Between 1916 and 1917 we moved down to Dixie Valley and never went back to Wonder.

ERQUIAGA: So, you were very small.

STARK: Yes, I was practically just a baby when we went to Dixie Valley.

ERQUIAGA: Did you know your grandparents at all?

STARK: Grandpa Stark came to visit us, and I really don't remember him. The only relatives I remember out there were Dad's brothers. He had five brothers and a sister, and most of them came to California after he came West. They settled around Sacramento and that area, and they used to come up to visit us.

ERQUIAGA: When you lived in Dixie Valley, how were things for your mother? Was there any electricity out there?

STARK: No phones, no electricity, no plumbing. We did have an artesian well within fifty feet of the house, and that was the main water for the house itself, plus it was used for irrigation purposes.

ERQUIAGA: Did she cook with a wood burning stove?

STARK: Oh, yes.

ERQUIAGA: Do you remember whether she made bread?

STARK: Oh, definitely.   

ERQUIAGA: Did she have a garden out there?     

STARK:  We had a garden there. Later Bane and his wife lived there, too. I think in Norma's history at the museum you'll get that part of that. Do you know that she has one?          

ERQUIAGA: I haven't seen hers, no.

STARK:  She has one of these. She's still alive.

ERQUIAGA: Yes, I know her. Did your mother ever come into Fallon from out there?

STARK: Oh, yes. They had to come in once in awhile for groceries and so forth.

ERQUIAGA: Did she drive a car?

STARK: Yes, she learned to drive a Model T Ford. That was quite a trip, seventy miles to town. A full day's trip. While Mother was teaching here, Dad and I batched out in Dixie Valley for a couple of years, too. Just he and I before I was old enough to go to school, and we used to come in on weekends to visit Mother and the two boys. That was a full day's trip.

ERQUIAGA: Why were you able to stay out there, and the other two boys had to stay in town?

STARK: They had to go to school, and I was about three years old. But that trip into town, there's one little funny little incident that I might tell you about that might be interesting. The Model T Ford gas tank was right up in front of you there, and it was gravity feed. They didn't pump the gas to the carburetor like they do nowadays. So, because with gravity feed when you're climbing a real steep hill, you had to have a pretty full gas tank otherwise you wouldn't get any gas to your carburetor. Well, there was one little summit this side of Frenchman's Station coming over there that was pretty steep, and if we didn't have enough gas, you had to turn your car around and back over this hill until you got over the top and then you turned around again and away you went. I always thought that was a lot of fun if we had to back over that hill.

ERQUIAGA: And your mother was very capable of doing it, I suppose.

STARK:  Well, she really didn't have to 'cause she was in here most of the time by then. [End of tape 1 Side]

ERQUIAGA: -Went to Reno, went to Fallon, I mean. I don’t know if you’d like to go on?

STARK: Yes, I'd like to tell about another person that was born in Wonder. Her name was Kitty Bonner. Maiden name was Kitty Spencer. Her parents were Rupert and Lorraine Spencer who owned Horse Creek. Horse Creek is between Wonder and Dixie Valley. Horse Creek is where Wonder got its drinking water. Was piped from Horse Creek to Wonder. I knew Kitty before she married George Bonner. She was a pretty gal and full of a lot of fun, and she used to have boyfriends. The cowboys used to think that Kitty was pretty nice, and they'd come to Dixie Valley to see Kitty more than they would Dixie Valley, but anyway old Bill Spencer was a mustanger and had this little ranch there. He got Kitty's boyfriends to do a lot of labor there. They'd haul hay from the hot springs up to his place for his horses and all kinds of things. It was always kind of a joke that if you wanted to see Kitty you'd better be prepared to work. Old George Bonner finally cut that out, and he got Kitty and married Kitty and took her to Austin. (laughing) I guess she was quite the mainstay in Austin as far as nursing and anything else that was needed. Quite a person.

ERQUIAGA: And how long did the Spencers stay there in Dixie?

STARK:  Bill Spencer was the greatest mustanger in the world. My dad used to say if you could open his head up, you'd see a bunch of little horses running around in there. He would – you wanna cut it off there? [tape cuts] To tell you more about Bill Spencer, He was a character. If you could have put him in the movies, he'd have been a hit. He was a short man and he had a horse he called Weasel. A long skinny horse, and he was a short man. Bill smoked nothing but Bull Durham. Bill would go out on his own and find a bunch of mustangs, and he would run them. Sometimes he'd get one, sometimes he wouldn't. Most of the time he wouldn't, but he'd come back by the ranch, and he wouldn't get off his horse. He'd just come up, and you'd go out and see old Bill. He'd put one leg over the horn and reach for his Bull Durham and roll a smoke, and he'd be talking. He never missed a sentence while he was rolling that cigarette. He'd sit there, roll that cigarette, tell you about his day's work that day, what he saw. He saw a nice bunch of horses, and he'd tell you about each one that he saw, how many miles he chased them, how they got away, and so forth. That happened many times, and I used to just love to listen to old Bill Spencer. I was about probably eight or ten or younger, and I wanted to go run horses with Bill Spencer, but my dad didn't think that was any way to make a living by running mustangs. My dad had the mail route out to Dixie Valley for years, too. He'd meet Bill way up in the Valley some place. Bill had been running horses, and he'd stop and talk to Bill. He'd say, "Bill, you better get in the pickup and ride back down to the ranch with me." "Yeah, okay." So, he'd pull the saddle off his horse and slap him on the rear end, get in the pickup. The horsed stand around there for a little while and then away he'd go. The next morning he'd be at home, also. It never failed.

ERQUIAGA: He didn't necessarily follow the pickup?

STARK: No, he didn't follow the pickup. He had his own way. He knew the country well. (laughing)

ERQUIAGA: (laughing) He had a shortcut.

STARK: Yeah, he had a shortcut. He had that horse trained to count. He'd take his hat off for him. All kinds of little tricks, and they were quite a pair, but Bill was a real light in my life. We traded a couple of cows one time for two or three horses. About the first good saddle horses we had came through old Bill Spencer. So, that's his story.

ERQUIAGA: Was there anyone else out there that you have any stories about?

STARK: I could tell you a story about old Bill Johnson. Bill Johnson was a bachelor, and he lived about only half a mile or three quarters of a mile from our homestead right adjoining it practically, and he turned out to be a good friend to Mother because Dad'd be gone lots, and he'd help her. Get wood for her and all kinds of things. I used to go up and visit him a lot. Mother was always a little concerned when I visited him because he wasn't too clean in his housekeeping. The chickens, you had to get them off the table and out first. Then he'd give me black coffee and beans, and Mother wasn't too happy with that, but she knew that I liked old Bill and he was a good old guy. He was really a friend of the family. Old Bill Johnson had a crooked neck mule. This mule's head was turned clear to the one side. He could only work on one side of a team because he couldn't see straight ahead. He had a crooked neck mule and an old white horse, and that was his team. If he couldn't catch them, he'd get so mad, he'd go out there and shoot them with a -shotgun or take a shot at them, and then maybe next week they'd quiet down and he'd catch them. That's the way Bill was. He always had a good garden, and he had a few sheep that he ran, and that was about his livelihood.

STARK: Another story about Bill Johnson was that Frenchman's Station was run by a French lady. I can't remember what her name was, but Bill took a shine to her. They got married. Well, she hadn't been down to Bill's homestead. He brought her down there, and she went in the house, and she thought he had a dirt floor. I think she dug up about two floors under that getting down to the base part of the house and got it cleaned up. It was only a week or two, and she washed Bill's blue jeans, his Levis, and that was the end of it. He kicked her out. He couldn't have a woman that was going to come in and wash his Levis. So, that was the end of the marriage. So she went back to running her station at Frenchman's. I had to tell you that story because I always thought that was pretty cute. Living in Dixie Valley was quite a deal for Mother because she didn't have running water. She had this artesian well, but she washed clothes outside. We'd build a fire under an old tub, a copper tublike, and she had a washboard and another tub for scrubbing. We used to go out and get greasewood stumps which were really hard wood. Made wonderful hot fire, and we'd take our little wagon out and get greasewood stumps and bring them in. That's what she heated her wash water with.

ERQUIAGA: Were there any trees around to give fire wood?

STARK:  We had fire wood that we hauled trees from the mountains for the stove, but she liked those greasewood stumps for her washing fire out there. It was a good way to get some land cleared, too. While we were clearing the land of the greasewood stumps, then Dad could get it into cultivation, so it was kind of a double . . .

ERQUIAGA: What kind of crops did he raise out there?

STARK:  Alfalfa mainly. And then we did have a good garden. While we were getting the greasewood stumps, there was an unhappy day for me. You had a grubbing hoe to dig these stumps out with. I was too little to handle the grubbing hoe, but I could reach and get the stumps and put them in the wagon. Bane was the one that was handling the grubbing hoe. I got too close one time, and he clipped the top of my head with the grubbing hoe and opened up a gash up there. We went running into the house, and I remember the cut didn't hurt too bad, but the iodine sure did. Straight iodine on it. But that was all part of getting the wash done.

ERQUIAGA: What did you do for entertainment?

STARK:  We had the first radio in Dixie Valley. It was a Crosley radio, cost a hundred dollars. We had to put up a long antenna wire, and it had three dials and earphones. You used the earphones and the three dials and you couldn't get anything in the daytime. Only at night. You would get Salt Lake. We'd tune that in, and then you could unplug the earphones and plug a speaker in, so that neighbors'd come over and want to listen to it or the family wanted to listen to it. So, we'd get it tuned in and then pull the plug and put the speaker on and then everybody could hear it. That was the first music in Dixie Valley. But in Dixie Valley the citizens that were there, there was usually somebody that was musical, and we had dances and potlucks and so forth at the school house. That was always a good entertainment as far as the kids were concerned. I kind of pity kids these days because we had some things that we played with and made that were ingenious. We had a wheel that we'd push with a stick, and we made obstacle courses. We'd get old buggy wheels and make things. We played cowboy and Indians and we made lots of guns with rubber bands that we'd shoot with. It brought out the imagination in us that we had to make our own toys. I've always been kind of proud of it. So, when they say there was no entertainment, why, I never suffered from lack of entertainment. Mother was a natural teacher, and Dad was, too, in a way. They taught us to play Five Hundred or cards. They taught us a lot of games, and we learned, and we had fun at the same time, and the family was close. People used to pity us way out there like that, and I could never see why because we had good times.

ERQUIAGA: Well, being as how you had grown up that way doing things at home, did you continue to do that when you moved into Fallon?

STARK:  To a certain extent. Of course, it was always easier to buy something. I felt that that was a good beginning to learn to do with what you had and not being able to say, "I want this, and I want that," because there wasn't anything there to want or to buy. We didn't have any money anyway. It was a good life, and we were taught to take care of ourselves. Having the two ranches and later three ranches, we were split up a lot. Then the cowboying out there at Frenchman's, we just had line camps and you'd have to be out there by yourself. I was out in Frenchman's Station with two horses, two cats, a dog, and a battery radio in wintertime, pumping water for the cattle. That was no big problem, but I finally got tired of it all. I said, "I think I like people a little more," so that's why I left in 1937 to work in the bank in Reno.

ERQUIAGA: That was after you graduated?

STARK:  Oh, yes. That was in 1937 I left.

ERQUIAGA: And when did you graduate?

STARK:  In 1934.

ERQUIAGA: You want to tell us about your banking career?

STARK:  Yes. I started in the First National Bank of Nevada on First and Virginia. That was the branch, and the main office was on Second and Virginia. I think they've changed that around so that the head office is where we used to be, which is no big deal, but I thought that was a pretty easy life. I boarded with a Branch family up near the University. The Branch family was from Fallon. They had a ranch here at one time, and they were nice people. Thirty dollars a month I paid them for board and room, and I think I only made sixty-five dollars a month at the bank, and I rode a bicycle back and forth to work.

ERQUIAGA: Oh, is that right!

STARK:  I worked there for five years. In 1942, the War was on, and I was interested in radio, so I went to Sacramento and got a job at McClellan Field repairing radios and working on radar equipment on planes as they came back from overseas and so forth. Then, also, went from there to Hamilton Field over in Marin County. Worked on radios over there during the War. Oh, I got married before all of that. I got married in Reno in about 1942. Married a girl by the name of Ruby Urich, and her mother was Angel Florio and later married my dad, so my mother-in-law was my stepmother which is a very unusual situation.

ERQUIAGA: When did your mother die?

STARK:  My mother died in 1955, and then a year or so later, he married Angel.

ERQUIAGA: What happened to your mother?

STARK:  Heart attack. Mother had come to Fallon for a Business and Professional Women's meeting. They were staying in Carson City because Dad was in the Assembly. They rented a cottage, and Mother had driven here to Fallon to go to the BPW meeting, and then she drove back to Carson City. She came in the door, and she said to Dad that she couldn't get her breath. So she laid down on the couch and got worse, so he decided he'd better take her to the hospital. Well, she didn't even make it to the hospital. She died on the way.

ERQUIAGA: How old was she?

STARK:  Mom was about…. She must have been in her sixties. Let’s see, she was six years older than dad, dad was 26 when I was born, so she would have been 32 when I was born, so in 55… I would have been… I don’t remember the exact…

ERQUIAGA: How did your dad get involved in the political scene?

STARK:  Well, I don't know. He was in town twice a week because he had the mail route to Dixie Valley for years and also Broken Hills, so he was in and out of town. That mail route was very convenient for him because he could keep track of the different ranches and take supplies to Dixie Valley, and the government paid for it, you might say. He also took groceries to all the people out there in Dixie. They'd give him an order, and he'd drop it off at Kent's, and Kent's would fill it up, and the next mail day he'd take it out to people. Never charged them.

ERQUIAGA: How long was he in the Assembly?

STARK:  Just two terms, I think. He really wasn't a good politician. I don't why. Well, I do, too. He was a person that didn't have much finesse. It was either black or white. Mother was pretty much the same way. She was quite involved in Republican women's deals and through the Business Professional Women, too, so they were quite active, and he got into politics that way. He was a good friend of Virgil Getto's, too. Virgil was down there a lot. Many years. In fact, Pattie Getto is my niece.

ERQUIAGA: That would be his granddaughter?

STARK:  Yeah, that'd be Dad's granddaughter. Was Bain's daughter.

ERQUIAGA: You were talking about when you got married you were living in Reno at that time?

STARK:  I was living in Reno. I got married about 1941. Then we moved to Sacramento when I left the bank and got into the radio end of it. We went to Hamilton Field from McClellan, and then we came back to help Dad on the ranch here in Harmon. He couldn't get any ranch help The War.

ERQUIAGA: During the War there was a shortage of men.

STARK:  Yeah, so we came up here and helped him out for awhile. Then we went back to Berkeley, and I got a job in the bank in San Francisco Anglo Bank before it was Crocker-Anglo. I worked in the bank in San Francisco and commuted to Berkeley. We had a house in Berkeley.

ERQUIAGA: Did you go to college?


ERQUIAGA: What did you study in high school that you were able to go out and get a job with the bank?

STARK:  I took a post-graduate with Stella Larson in typing and shorthand and so forth. Did you know Stella Larson?


STARK:  She was a good little teacher. A man came from Reno down to Stella's commercial class. Said he wanted two young fellows to work in the bank in Reno, and they chose Bill Boman and myself, and so I went to work there and Bill came here in Fallon to work. That's how he got started. So, then Ruby and I got divorced, and then I went back to banking. I worked in the First National Bank of San Jose, and then I met my present wife, Jean, in the bank there, and we were married. Then we had these two children. We didn't have any children before.

ERQUIAGA: What was Jean's full name?

STARK:  Jean Gerard was her maiden name, so we had two

children. She was just over forty, and I was almost forty, and we didn't expect any children. She had no children from her first marriage. I had no children, and we had these two girls. Susie and then Debbie.

ERQUIAGA: Susan lives right here beside you?

STARK:  She lives right here.

ERQUIAGA: What does she do here? Is her husband in the service?

STARK:  Yes, he's a major in the army, and he works in Carson.

ERQUIAGA: I don't think we got her last name.

STARK:  Susan Wohle. His name is Henry Wohle.

ERQUIAGA: And then your other daughter?

STARK:  Her name was Deborah Stark and is now Deborah Keeney, and they live in Jackson, California, down off [highway] 88. He is a mechanic and welder. Was working for Ford Motor Company down there, and they have two daughters. Susie has two daughters, and she's pregnant now. We don't know what we're going to get next trip.

ERQUIAGA: That's nice.

STARK:  Speaking of two daughters, it was interesting, my wife is from two daughters. She had a sister, and then we had two daughters, and my daughters had two daughters each until Susie is breaking the score now.

ERQUIAGA: And you come from a family of all boys.

STARK:  All boys, yeah.

ERQUIAGA: I keep getting you sidetracked here. Lets get back to the banking.

STARK:  I imagine this is going to be kind of mixed up, but you'll use . .

ERQUIAGA: That's because I keep asking you these things that are out of line, I think.

STARK:  Yeah. Good, okay you do that. Well, let's see, where are we now? I'm back in the bank. I became a bank manager in San Jose. I managed the Mayfair office there in San Jose, and then I got ill with ulcerative colitis. I had that for about twelve years. I had to get out of banking and the public, so Jean and I and the kids packed up, and we went to Dixie Valley with Ed for a year. I worked with him on the ranch out there. We'd been on vacation up in Idaho where Bane was and there was a chance to buy a little ranch up there for about 25,000 dollars. It looked awfully good, so we did that, and then we moved to Challis, Idaho. I took my wife and kids, and we went to Challis, Idaho, where Bane was, and we bought this little ranch above Challis about four miles on the Garden Creek. A beautiful place. I was working with the ranch with Bain, and then the county assessor committed suicide in Challis. So then there was an interim assessor appointed, and with my banking background, I thought, "Well, I think I'll run for assessor." Before I ran for that, the assessor that was in there needed an appraiser. All over the country they're re-appraising all the properties. It was quite a deal every place, so he hired me as an appraiser, so I went to school and became an appraiser. I was an appraiser there in Challis, and then this interim assessor wasn't too well liked with the ranchers because he was quite dictatorial. I ran against him when the election came up, and I won the election. I was assessor up there for about five years. The children, Susie and Debbie, were in school then, and we decided that we wanted to get them to a larger area to get more advantages, so there was a job in the paper in Reno for an appraiser, so I came down to Reno and applied for that and was hired by Peckham in Reno as commercial appraiser. I went from commercial appraiser to the senior agricultural appraiser. [End of tape 1]

STARK:  We reappraised most all the ranches between Carson City and the Oregon border. That was a very interesting job because I was out in my pickup most of the time on the ranches and appraising from aerial photos and worked for the ranchers themselves. I enjoyed doing that, and it was a well-paid job. I was getting to the point of retirement, so we wanted to go down to California in the mountains some place and get a home down there. I had gone to Forest Hill out of Auburn, and we liked that country real well. We bought a lot down there and started building a retirement home. We got that built, and then I left the assessor's office in Reno and went down there, but I also transferred to the assessor's office in Auburn just to keep a job. I was commercial and residential appraiser in Auburn until I retired. That was very interesting, too, because a lot was going on in that country down there. I got to do a lot of appraising of businesses as well as homes, so I had a good rounding between the bank and the appraising, so I decided that maybe I could retire and just sell some real estate, so I got my real estate license. I didn't turn out to be a very good real estate salesman because I was always afraid that people were getting over extended. Young couples would come in and want to buy something that seemed to me that was beyond their range. Of course, they'd just go some place else and buy it anyway, but I didn't feel right about selling them some of the things that they wanted. So, as I say, I was not a good real estate salesman. With a banking background, I was too strict on the credit end of it to just be a good salesman. That was the last job I had before I retired. And then we moved from Forest Hill to Stagecoach.

ERQUIAGA: Stagecoach, Nevada?

STARK:  Yes, right between here and Carson City. We lived there about five years, six years. Then we decided that it would be nice to be close to my daughter here in Fallon. I thought it'd be kinda nice to come back home to Fallon where my roots were. So, it was just sixty years, 1937 to 1997, but we came back to Fallon, and we got our manufactured home here on my daughter's property with a special-use permit. She's supposed to be taking care of us. I don't know. We're kind of taking care of her and the kids right now, but we'll get our turn. It has worked out real well. You wanted to go back to my service?

ERQUIAGA: Yes, we skipped right over that, and I didn't intend to.

STARK: In 1944, just about the end of the Second World War, I had had the radio experience, so I went to the Maritime Service, the Merchant Marine, and joined up with them. I wanted to go overseas, and they sent us to an island outside of Los Angeles. I went to boot camp in Los Angeles and took tests and, of course, had high aptitude there on radio, so they sent me back to New York, Staten Island. I went to radio school there and graduated as a warrant officer in the Maritime Service. I came back home to Berkeley where my wife was, and within a month I had signed up for a new merchant ship, a tanker, out of San Francisco. A brand-new ship came out, and we had forty thousand barrels of aviation gas, and we were headed for Japan right at the end of the War. They'd already taken the Navy gun crew off of the ship, so we had great quarters, great facilities. I was second radio operator. There were three radio operators on board that ship, and we went to Japan and went into the harbor there. They didn't have any facilities to get rid of our aviation gas. They didn't have any storage tanks left, so we laid in the harbor there for thirty days with nothing to do, so we went ashore a lot, the three of us radio men.

STARK: We were all warrant officers, and the MPs [Military Police] and the SPs [Shore Patrol] didn't have any jurisdiction over us, so we went about any place that we wanted in Japan. We climbed Fujiyama and went all over Japan and got out in the country. We had a great time, and the people were really nice. Finally, we got rid of our aviation gas, and we headed for Okinawa. We stopped there, but that was only a stopping place. We really didn't have much to do there, but they said we had to pick gas up in South America, so we went through the Panama Canal and picked up a load of aviation gas there and went to Amsterdam. We went through the Straits of Gibraltar and down a long canal in Amsterdam and unloaded gas there. Started back home, and we went through the Gulf of Mexico and landed on the U.S. shore, and we were flown back to San Francisco, and that was the end of my tour. It was so beautiful because about all we had to do was watch for mines. In sighting mines we had to stand watch twenty-four hours with the three of us. Going through the Panama Canal was a real experience. Okinawa was an experience. South America was an experience, and going down the canal in Amsterdam was an experience because here you are with this big tanker going down this little canal you could practically reach out and touch banks on either side. All the windmills and tulip fields were just gorgeous over there in Holland. The city of Amsterdam was so quaint. It had cobblestones.

ERQUIAGA: Did everybody wear wooden shoes?

STARK: Oh, yes. Lots of them did. So that was my world cruise and came back to San Francisco. That's when I got the job in the Anglo bank. Went back to banking.

ERQUIAGA: Tell me about this Merchant Marine. Is it part of the armed forces?

STARK: It's the U.S. Maritime Service, and they don't have the full benefits of like the Army and the Navy, but you're paid well. You're paid better. You don't have the restrictions. You can leave anytime you want to. It was very inviting because of the fact that we did have all the freedoms, and I wouldn't have gotten to see so much of Japan if we'd been in the armed services. And the War was over, so it was just a world cruise. We had the best of food, and we were at the captain's table all the time. You had linen table cloths and two entrees every time. Waiters, and it was all plush. We had our own forecastles. It was great. I enjoyed it.

ERQUIAGA: You said the people in Japan were very nice. Now, this was after the War had ended.

STARK: That's right. They said that, none of them, people aren't like that. You got to talking to them. Lot of them could speak some English. For some cigarettes you could get a boy to go with you to interpret for you They said, "We didn't want the War. It was the Warlords, the high mucka-mucks." They were so friendly. They just couldn't do enough for us.

ERQUIAGA: That's interesting.

STARK:  It was a great trip. They had some beautiful hotels over there. It was something else. That's about it, and here we are.

ERQUIAGA: Well, after you came back to Fallon, that wasn't really very long ago, was it?

STARK:  No, we came back August of 1997, so it'd be two years next August.

ERQUIAGA: So you were retired when you came.

STARK:  Oh, yes.

ERQUIAGA: Do you have any land here?

STARK:  I have some land in the graveyard over here. (laughing)

ERQUIAGA: Oh. (laughing) But you're not involved in all the water ruckus.

STARK:  No, we're just sitting here on their land with a special-use permit. Works out real well.

ERQUIAGA: Do you see a lot of changes in Fallon?

STARK:  Oh, yes. It's really grown, but it's still country.

ERQUIAGA: In between 1937 until you retired, did you come back?

STARK:  Yes, I was back here in 1966 when Dad died That's when I was out with Ed in Dixie Valley for a year, so I was around Fallon there for that year, but that's the only time I was back.

ERQUIAGA: So, the growth was all new to you anyway.

STARK:  Yes. Fallon is still Fallon. It's certainly grown a lot. Looks like it's going to keep right on growing, but it's kind of a bedroom, I guess, in a way. I like Fallon.

ERQUIAGA: You're glad to get back?

STARK:  Yeah, back to the roots. The only thing I don't like is there's not too many people left my age. Most of them are gone.

ERQUIAGA: Were you ever politically involved like your father was?

STARK:  No. I didn't want any part of it. (laughing)

ERQUIAGA: Didn’t want any part of it. Was there somebody you especially admired when you were growing up? A teacher or a friend.

STARK:  Yes, George McCracken, the principal here at the high school. I admired him very much. Hattie Brown was a language teacher. Hattie Brown happened to be the sister to Virgil Getto’s first wife, she was a Brown. Howard Mason in Hazen, his wife was a sister to Hattie Brown. I don’t know if you ever met her. She taught French and Spanish in high school. I loved high school here. I thought they had a great high school, and I enjoyed my high school years and all the teachers there.

ERQUIAGA: What do you consider to be your most important achievement?

STARK:  Getting to be manager of the branch bank in San Jose was probably my highlight as far as achievement was concerned. The appraisal job in Reno was good, too, but I think the assistant vice president and manager of the bank in San Jose was probably the height. [High pitched voice, possibly a granddaughter. Tape cuts out]

STARK: I'll give you one more story about being a cowboy that was interesting. My two brothers and I were bringing a couple hundred head cattle from Dixie Valley to Fallon which was a three-day trip always over the mountain. It was three days and two nights is what it amounted to, and, of course, there were no corrals so if the cattle wanted to travel, you traveled. If they didn't want to travel, you bedded down. The interesting little tale that I wanted to tell you was coming up near Job's Peak, which you all know where it is, the old Job's trail we followed across there, the cattle didn't want to stay up. They wanted to go downhill more than uphill. I was working along just below them, and I had a little black horse I was riding, and he was rather touchy. I was leading the three pack horses tailed together behind me, and I was going along slapping my chaps at these cows underneath trying to keep them up on the trail, and I had kitchen matches in my pocket here. Well, everything happened at once. I was slapping my chaps here, and these matches went off. About the same time the lead rope got under this little black horse's tail, so he started bucking, and my pants were on fire. (laughing)

ERQUIAGA: Gosh. (laughing)

STARK:  (laughing) Bane said that (laughing) nobody could have been busier than I was. (laughing) I was trying to reach under and get these matches out. I was trying to get the pack horse ropes off, get rid of them. I was trying to stay on this horse, and he said if he had had a camera, it would have been priceless. That was probably my fastest and hottest ride I ever took as a cowboy. I just wanted to add that in. (laughing)

ERQUIAGA: (laughing) Were you a hunter while you were young?

STARK: Oh, yes. Hunting was something taken for granted when I was a boy. We didn't know what a game warden looked like. We never had a hunting license. We never shot anything we couldn't eat, and we did have venison and sagehen and grouse and cotton tails. As far as hunting just as a sport, we really didn't do much of that because we did it more as a necessity. I never really enjoyed killing deer because I thought they were such pretty animals, but it was a case where we needed meat, so we did that. Later years when I was working in the bank, I'd come up and go hunting with Ed and Bain, but I didn't enjoy it like a lot of people do because I just wasn't raised that way, I guess. It was not taken as a sport. It was taken as a necessity, and we never abused it, but we certainly didn't worry about what time of the year it was. If we could handle the meat, we never let it spoil. That was the extent of my hunting. Fishing, we didn't do too much of that. Some in Lahontan and some in Pyramid, but not too much. When we were in Challis, it was kind of the same thing. We had a little ranch up out of Challis, and we killed venison a time or two for our own use, and that was about the size of it. I never did go out for trophies or elk or anything like that.

ERQUIAGA: I think that that concludes our interview. We'll just finish it up here. Does that sound . . .

STARK:  That sounds fine, and thank you very much.

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Churchill County Museum Association, “James Stark Oral History,” Churchill County Museum Digital Archive: Fallon, Nevada, accessed October 20, 2021, https://ccmuseum.omeka.net/items/show/688.