Jack Harpster


Since 1983, John Townley, Barbara and Myrick Land, Alicia Barber and now Jack Harpster have produced fine histories of Reno. Harpster’s latest book, The Genesis of Reno, tells its tale around the pivot points of the first Truckee River bridge and the first hotel. It is for sale at Sundance Books and Music.

There have been several good histories of the city relatively recently, and for a long time we went along without any at all.

I used quite a few of these for research, the past books, but the pickings [earlier] are slim, quite often, you know. That was one of the reasons I decided to write this particular book. But I didn’t want to do something that had already been done a number of times before, so that’s why I focused in on the bridge and the Riverside Hotel, because those were the first two occupied sites. And I thought if I told both histories and weaved the history of the city in with it, it’ll make somewhat of a different viewpoint. … Probably the best historian around is Guy Rocha. Guy had often said, “Somebody should write more about W.C. Fuller, who was here before Myron Lake was.” And he always believed that Fuller should be recognized as the founder of Reno, as opposed to Myron Lake. I even looked up the word founder in a number of dictionaries and it always said, you know, something about the person who initiates something or gets something started. Well, that really fills Fuller’s bill. So, you know, I wanted to see what I could find that had been written before [about Fuller], and very little had been written before, and quite a bit of it was wrong. The dates when Fuller sold [his property] were wrong. I had never found anything in [earlier writings about the fact that the winter of, I think it was ’62-’63, they had an ARk storm [atmospheric river 1,000, or megastorm] and it wiped out [this area]. … It’s a 1,000-year flood, and they had one in 1863, and no one had ever talked about that before. They did say that the bridge had washed out. No one said anything about the hotel, but I figured a storm that big and the hotel sitting right at the edge of the river, and it was just a log and board hotel. It had to be gone, too. And I was able to get a lot of background material on Fuller. It was there for anyone who wanted to look at it before, but no one seemed to. … Studying Myron Lake, he was such a scoundrel, you know. I really had to dig deep to find that bit about the Mexican-American War [Genesis reports that Lake’s purported military service “was a lie”], and I loved every minute of it, I’ll tell you—finding out he was not only a cheapskate and a really mean guy and everything but he was a cheater on the war, too. I think it’s common, Dennis, among writers of history that you love to find something that (A) others have gotten wrong or (B) others have never even touched before.

Do we appreciate our history as much as we should?

You know, I don’t think we do, no. We’ve got the [Reno] sesquicentennial coming up, of course, next year. There were two or three of us—Guy Clifton was one, myself, one or two other historians … but about six months before the one-year prior to the sesquicentennial, we started on the city and county and various committees and everything else, saying, “Folks, we have a sesquicentennial coming up. Did you know that? Shouldn’t you be starting now? Shouldn’t something be done about this?” And it really took a lot of prodding before they put a committee together and something started happening and everything. … How many opportunities do you have to celebrate 150 years? They did a bang-up job, I thought, you know, when we had Nevada’s sesquicentennial.