Harrison Pass

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Elko County

When researching some of these historic sites, it can be hard to find the personal details about the actual people. The newspapers were often focused on the financial performance of the mines and mills. With Harrison, I found the opposite. I liked researching this one... Harrison Pass is surrounded by massive cattle ranching operations. The Ruby Valley sits to the east, and the Huntington and Mound Valleys sit to the west. Harrison was originally known for cattle ranching. Tungsten mining and milling would come later. Before ranching or mining occurred, this pass was used by John Fremont in 1845. It was later used by emigrants headed to California.

The early ranching years:

Thomas Harrison was born near Liverpool, England in 1833. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1861 with his wife Ellen Marie (Scott) and family. Ellen was born in England in 1837. Thomas worked briefly in the California mines before moving to Virginia City in 1862. In 1865, Harrison moved to Ruby Valley and established a ranching operation. Survey maps from 1870 and 1882 put Harrison's ranch a few miles south of the eastern side of Harrison Pass in the Ruby Valley. The Harrison's also lived less than a mile from Jacob Bressman (See the Bressman Cabin page). Harrison served as a South Ruby Valley poll inspector. In May of 1898, he badly cut his toe while attempting to remove a corn. Like most cattle ranchers, he put on his boots and proceeded to irrigate the crops. The toe became very painful. His son Robert took him to Elko for treatment. Dr. Hood unsuccessfully attempted to treat the injury. Blood poisoning and Gangrene eventually set in. Dr. Hood, with the assistance of his brother (also Dr. Hood from Battle Mountain) amputated his leg above the knee. This didn't stop the infection. He died on June 15, 1898, which was also his 65th birthday. The Elko Weekly Independent wrote the following in his memory: " Mr. Harrison was known and respected by a large circle of friends and acquaintances. He was a sterling citizen and by his death Elko County loses an honorable, upright man. An aged widow and one son, Robert H., survive him. To them the Independent extends the sympathy of this community in their sad bereavement..." Harrison was buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Elko. His son Robert would soon lose his 18-year-old daughter Ellen Marie in August of 1901. Ellen had previously attended the business college in Elko until she became sick. Ellen Marie was named after her grandmother and wife of Thomas Harrison. In December of 1901, Robert traveled to San Francisco for a medical procedure. While there, his wife Sarah, who had been in good health, grew sick. She died there on January 3, 1902. Robert and Sarah (Fjeld) married in 1880. Sarah was originally from Eureka, Utah. They had five children. Dean, Ellen, Mabel (Maybelle), Rose and Josephine. Ellen and Sarah are both buried near Thomas in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Elko. All three of those gravestones are included in the photos section. In 1903, Robert and the children moved to Salt Lake City. In 1904, he re-married Catherine Gardner of Secret Valley, Nevada. In 1910, they started a ranch near Cupertino, California. Robert died of pneumonia on December 20, 1916. He was buried in San Jose. Robert was born in Esten, England in 1858. Grandmother Ellen moved to Elko after the deaths of Ellen and Sarah in the early 1900's. She remained in Elko for many years before joining Robert in California. Ellen died in 1920 and is buried in San Jose with Robert. May they REST IN PEACE.

The later mining years:

Ore discoveries were first made in the late 1890's. Not much else was done for many years. A man named Robert Griffiths found rich ore in the area in 1909. In the Spring of 1912, a petition was submitted to build a better road over Harrison to connect the eastern and western Valleys. The road was completed on September 25, 1913. In 1916, the Campbell and Harrison Pass Mines were discovered. 1940 seems to be the year where the real excitement occurred. Tungsten was in high demand at that time and Harrison seemed to have an abundance. By September of 1940, mine developers George Ogilvie, Eddie Lane and Andrew Francis started the process of building a 25-ton mill at the Star Tungsten Mine (formerly the Harrison Pass mine). The mine already had 400 tons of 2% tungsten ore ready for processing. By 1941, certain ore grades were being treated on site. Other ore grades were being shipped to a smelter in Murray, Utah. In July of 1942, the Knowles Brothers (Francis, Ed, George and A.A.) signed a three-year lease on the mine. They had immediate plans to expand the mill to a 50-ton capacity. The Knowles Brothers were previously involved in trucking ore concentrates from Rio Tinto to Elko from 1935 to 1940. Immediate plans were made for the drilling and trenching of the property. Equipment was brought from the Cherry Creek District. Plans were halted when the mill burned down over the winter. By July of 1943, the mill had been rebuilt, but it was not yet operational. It still needed one piece of machinery that was proving hard to find. The mines were still in operation though and ore was being stockpiled. By July of 1944, there was a sharp decline in tungsten prices. The U.S. Government discontinued the bonus price that they were paying for tungsten. The Metal Reserves Company also discontinued its future purchases. Mining at this location was no longer profitable. The Star Tungsten Mine closed and the mill machinery was removed from the property.

Interesting events:

In December of 1912, two teamsters named Garfield Bardmass and Herbert Kibbey were hauling a load of lumber and explosive powder over the unfinished pass. While going down the steep grade, they lost control of the team. Both men jumped before the wagon overturned. The violent crash of a wagon filled with powder should have caused a massive explosive. Everyone was lucky that it didn't. Both men received only bruises and one horse had to be put down..... Harrison Pass was also the site of a manhunt. A man named Sammy Johnny from Ely was wanted on Grand Larceny charges. He was a notorious saddle thief. Johnny had been hiding out since the summer of 1939. In January of 1940, Johnny chased H.H. Dill, Bill Henderson and Jack Henderson out of "Dead Man's Gulch" in Ruby Valley at gunpoint. Law Enforcement Officers eventually caught up with him. They chased Johnny up into Harrison Pass and through the deep snow. He eventually surrendered. He was sentenced to a term of 2 to 14 years in the Nevada State Penitentiary. In June of 1940, Sammy Johnny escaped. He stole a horse in Yerington and eventually made his way back to the Ruby Valley. He was eventually captured at his wife's house in Ely after she tipped off the Sheriff..... In June of 1940, a prospector named W.P. Bowden was working the area near Toyn's Ranch on the western side. He discovered a very old fire-lock shotgun and a .22 rifle, along with an old wagon and a skull.

Post Office: None.

Last Trip/ Road Conditions: The photographs are from a combination of several trips. The most recent being in October of 2022. The road over the pass is pretty good when the weather is good. It is a beautiful drive, especially in the Fall. The snow can get very deep up there in the winter. If you plan winter travel, make sure that you and your vehicle are both capable and prepared.

Sources: Nevada Place Names- A Geographical Dictionary (By: Helen S. Carlson); Old Heart of Nevada- Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of Elko County (By: Shawn Hall); Findagrave (website); 1870 and 1882 U.S. Survey Maps; (Newspapers) Elko Daily Independent/ Elko Weekly Independent; Eureka Weekly Standard; The Silver State; Pioche Record; Las Vegas Review Journal; Las Vegas Age; San Jose Mercury Herald.