On April 5, 1933, during the Great Depression, men between the ages of 18-25 enrolled in the newly formed Civilian Conservation Corps. These young men and war veterans left their cities and rural homes for an opportunity to find work during a time when money and jobs were scarce. Under the direction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, these men worked long, hard but honest hours doing outdoor work in forests, parks and fields.
Six months after the founding of the CCC, Company 1915 arrived in Hawthorne, and those who could be spared from setting up the camp went directly to work.
These fresh-faced boys, barely men, were taught how to lay out and build roads and trails under the guidance of Superintendent Albert Curtis in the hardest conditions the land in Mineral County could throw at them. They learned how to handle dynamite, which was used a ton a mile in road construction.
They built up their muscles by using compressors and jack hammers, learned to operate tractors and trail builders and maintenance skills by repairing and caring for the equipment. This company would have a few minor accidents as the guidance given by Curtis was taken to heart.
Their first job was a daunting task. To build a road up Cottonwood Canyon to Mount Grant. These men worked under every condition, but still built a road up the steep mountain, which at the time, was one of three roads built at such an elevation. Another was Pike’s Peak in Colorado.
They didn’t stop at Cottonwood Canyon. An even more difficult road building job was when they connected the Cory Canyon Road at the Laphan Divide-Cottonwood roads. These roads were crucial. The town of Hawthorne and the then Naval Depot’s watershed depended on these men to make the road passable in order for the growing town to get fresh drinking water.
Company 1915 didn’t stop at building roads; they also worked on projects throughout the area. They covered ammunition dumps, built drift fences, constructed the Hawthorne 12-acre airport and built the Marines an excellent rifle range, while at the same time, gaining independence during a turmoil economic time, gaining skills and improving the future of themselves and families.
One of the biggest undertakings the company took on was the building of Cat Creek Dam. Knowing water is a viable commodity in the desert, these men saw the uncontrolled use and abuse from being overgrazed and where deep-rooted sage was replaced with shallow rooted grasses and willows. The CCC men laid approximately 40,000 feet of pipe to carry the water from the back areas. They also built a dam to contain the water.
Mother Nature threw everything she had at them. The skies opened up causing a flash flood of sorts on the newly stripped area. Tons of mud, rock and debris would be swept into the new dam. These men took the flood with a grain of salt, clean up the mess left behind and continue forward.
They built roads into areas where sheep herders, cattlemen, hunters and lightning started fires. Before the CCC came, these were left to burn out on their own because of the lack of roads and manpower.
The CCC men built roads, patrolled for fire protection and reclaimed lost meadow land by plugging gullies with rock barriers and planting willows and other species in order to check for water loss and to rebuild the watersheds to their original storage capacity.
The winter of 1936-37 was brutal for anyone who lived in Central Nevada. Heavy snow and severe cold began to take its toll on residents. Company 1915 played an important part in search and rescue mission caused by these winter furies. On Feb. 2, 1937, after an extremely heavy snowfall that isolated the nearby town of Rawhide, with a population of only 16 people, and the tungsten mine at Dead Horse Wells, where six men were working and snowed in, a rescue party was sent to carry food and supplies to those in Rawhide and Dead Horse Wells via Schurz. The convoys arrived to extremely fortunate and hungry residents.
Two days later, on Feb. 4, after another heavy snow blanketed the area, it was reported that three men had started from Brucite to Luning on foot for supplies. One man turned back and one arrived at Luning two days later. A rescue crew of CCC men from Company 1915 found the lost man.
His remains were brought back to town.
As if these men had not had enough, on Feb. 7 they found yet another desperate man walking in heavy snow from the Ashby Mine (about 15 miles outside of Hawthorne) to report a man ill with pneumonia. A CCC rescue party equipped with a tractor, trailer and ambulance plowed their way to the mine and returned with the gravely ill man who was immediately taken to the county hospital for treatments to save his life.
Looking through the names of these men, many long standing Mineral County names stand out. Not only were these men pioneers during a time when the country was bleak, through hard work and dedication they helped to form Mineral County into what it is today with back breaking work.
The Civilian Conservation Corps Company 1915 may be long gone, but their diligence to provide Mineral County with roads, water and infrastructure lives on in the chronicles of our history.