By Harold Fuller
The swarm of people who took Tonopah by storm during the turn of the century after valuable ore was discovered there, encountered many trials and tribulations, which have been well documented in our state history. An experience not so well noted, was the first death in Tonopah and the community’s response toward giving a gentleman named Weeks a suitable and decent funeral. Weeks had died from a type of pneumonia referred to here as the “Black Death”.
There were no undertaking parlors in the primitive new camp, but there was a man with limited experience along that line; a carpenter from Belmont, who undertook to lay the man out as best he could without the use of embalming fluids. He also made a pine box coffin and this man, Walter Hollis, then drove the wagon which carried the corpse. Mrs. Charlotte Nay, who ran a boarding house in Tonopah, recruited anyone who could carry a note to form a choir. Then it was discovered there was not a hymnal or bible in the whole camp, so they recalled enough from their memory, to construct a few songs and serious practice began. The choir included Tasker Oddie who later became our Governor and Senator.
Meanwhile, various committees had gone ahead with other details of the first funeral. The only buggy in Tonopah was pressed into service as a hearse with Hollis as driver along with two lady passengers because there was nowhere else to ride. The day was unusually hot and the condition of the corpse was almost more than Hollis and his passengers could handle. Most of the ladies and young children rode on the town water wagon. The mining camp population was heavily male and most of them marched behind the water wagon. Many of these men belonged to various fraternal organizations and they wore what fraternal regalia they could put together on such short notice.
The “first funeral” procession would down through town and out to the new graveyard below Tonopah. The burial was very well attended and an impressive presentation of both song and bible verse, from memory, were well received. This was Tonopah’s first funeral but it was just the beginning of more to come. The “Black Death” was upon them.