I was in Reno, Nevada a few weeks ago and spent a day walking about the city. It was bitterly cold and windy and dark clouds threatened to bring more snow to the surrounding hills which were already covered in deep glistening drifts. In the main street flashing garish signs advertised gambling casinos and there was a banner that proclaimed “The biggest little city in the world.” One becomes a little bemused. I walked down a pavement and saw one building that housed a casino, a funeral parlour, a drug store, a coffee shop, a jeweller and a wedding chapel in that order. Above the gusts of wind I could hear the sound of gulls and the honking of geese, coupled with the wailing of police sirens and the long whole fabric of the Paiute Indian existence fell apart.
But not before they had inflicted a major defeat on the whites. In May 1860 a group of whites had been murdered at a place named Williams Station. Without bothering to determine the reason for the Indian attack, which was in retaliation for the stealing of squaws, white miners rode out for vengeance. Carson City, Silver City and Virginia City all sent volunteers and 105 men in four companies were marshalled under Major Ormsby. The men followed the Indian trail towards Pyramid Lake which today is a sanctuary for the pelicans that nest on an island.
The Paiutes knew the men were coming and they were prepared to meet them. As Ormsby’s men advanced a thin line of braves appeared ahead riding along a ridge just out of rifle range. Ormsby ordered a charge and knew within minutes he had been lured into an ambush. Paiutes rose from their hiding places and counter charged screaming and yelling, firing rifles and getting in close with tomahawks. Ormsby was thrown from his horse and an arrow in the chest killed him. His men panicked and shrewdly the Indians exploited the rout and the whites were slaughtered.
As we walked back to the radio station for my interview I remembered the words of a Red Indian named Crowfoot: “What is life. It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is a breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”