Even in our hectic modern times, there are still small towns with an Americana flavor to celebrate Labor Day. Pioche, (pronounced Pee-oatch) Nevada is a unique experience. It’s a town nestled in the Southeastern mountains of Nevada. There’s no need for a vehicle once you reach town, because everything is within walking distance of any where you may be.
There are fascinating discoveries to be made and fun things to participate in, and nobody cares if you’re from out of town. They just want you to have a great time, and they do everything in their power to insure that you will. The whole town turns out with craft booths, parades, contests, a dog show, huge fireworks display, music, street dancing and fun. Pioche has adopted Labor Day as its own holiday, and that’s as it should be, since the town was built on the labor of miners.
The Meaning of the Word “Pioche.”
The word “Pioche” is a French term for pickax or pick-axe or mattock, which is quite appropriate since Pioche, Nevada has a history of mining dating back to 1868. However, the town was actually named for a Frenchman named Francois Louis Alfred Pioche, who opened a general merchandise store during the years of the California gold rush. Pioche and his partner Jules B. Bayerque, his banking partner, prospered and slowly turned to banking, storing gold for miners in their safe and using their extra money to lend to businessmen.
The Legendary Comstock Lode Silver Mine
After the Comstock Lode, a huge silver ore deposit, was discovered in Nevada in 1859, the state became the new mining mecca. Francois Pioche’s money helped to develop the mining industry there, and the county seat in Lincoln County, Nevada was named after its benefactor. Thus was the town of Pioche born.
Known For Being One of the Toughest Towns in the West
“Peaceful! Sure, if you stayed out of the way of the bullets.”
— Nevada Mineralologist, H. R. Whitehill, 1873
It was known to be one of the toughest towns in the west, worse than Tombstone, Dodge City or any of the other bad towns you’ve heard tales about. In 1873, the Nevada State Mineralogist, H. R. Whitehill, reported to the State Legislature: “About one-half of the community are thieves, scoundrels and murderers and then we have some of the best folks in the world, and I don’t know but our lives and property are just as safe as with you. You can go uptown and get shot very easily if you choose, or you can live peacefully. I will send you a paper with an account of the last fight…I was in hopes eight or ten would have been killed at least, as these fights are a pest in the community. Peaceful! Sure, if you stayed out of the way of the bullets.”
The town’s cemetery contains the first known “Murderers Row,” where over 100 murderers are buried, most of them unmarked. They were never buried in the same area as respectable townsfolk, heaven forbid!!
Pioche’s Boot Hill Among Other Things
Labor Day Celebration in Pioche
Today’s Pioche is a different story from back in those early days. I stay at my daughter’s summer home there, but hotels and motels are available if you plan to come for Labor Day. Reservations should be made extremely early, or made in Panaca, Alamo, or another of the small towns in the area. I’ve provided a link for the Pioche Overland Hotel and Saloon below. But don’t wait until the last minute or you may be disappointed.
The first thing that drew my attention in the Pioche Labor Day celebration was the Chicken Chuckin’ contest. No, no, not real chickens!…rubber ones, and you have to do it with a big shovel on which you place the rubber chicken. There’s a real art to chicken chuckin’ and believe me it’s not easy, but it’s a lot of fun!!
There’s more true laughter during this contest than I’ve heard in a long time. This whole scenario gets funnier by the minute, with kids of all ages trying to outdo each other chuckin’ that chicken the longest measure. The judges very seriously and carefully calculate and measure each entrants efforts and prizes are awarded in categories for children, women and men.
Live bands play at night for street dancing. Everyone dances, even those who don’t know how, because you feel free to do so. Nobody makes fun of anyone, everybody has a good time. It’s a time to relax and enjoy yourself. The parades are awesome for a little town, every one turns out and vies to be a part of the parade.
There’s a watermelon eating contest for the kids….but again, not your usual contest. Yes, they give ribbons for spitting seeds the furthest, for eating the most watermelon, but there’s also a ribbon for WEARING the most watermelon, which of course means you really have to get sloppy with all that juicy melon. Be prepared with wipes and fresh clothing for your little participants.
There’s a three-day softball tournament, a community breakfast, a golf tournament, a chili cook-off, daytime parade, and a nighttime parade among other activities. Plus a beautiful historic little town to discover.
The Dog Show
There’s also a dog show, but it’s not your usual kind…ribbons are given for lots of odd categories. Best tail, best ears, prettiest coat, fluffiest coat, best roll-over, best trick, best mutt, favorite tail, gorgeous eyes, or just about anything the judges have decided to award. These dogs are judged on individual merits, not on standards that somebody has decided are requirements.
Odd things happen in a Pioche Dog Show. Last year one of the dogs thanked a judge by urinating on his boot. The judge took it as a hazard of the job and did not take offense. Each winner’s owner receives a trophy for their dog, and what category the win is for is clearly noted on the trophy. My daughter is shown here with her dog Shikka, as they paraded for the judges. Shikka took the most beautiful tail award.
Nevada, 36th State Admitted to the Union
There are fascinating bits of history to be found in and around Pioche, Nevada. Mining, of course, is a big part of that history. But so are the people and the characters to find their way to the state, and into the history books. One of those people was Samuel Clemons, or as the pseudonym under which he wrote, Mark Twain. There were also outlaws, notably Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy. The Sundance Kid with their gang The Wild Bunch, visited Nevada and the small towns where they found an effective means of eluding the law. Since it was such rugged territory, few lawmakers elected to follow them there. Today, Pioche and rural Nevada are peaceful and quiet.
For more information on Pioche, Nevada
Old Aerial Tramway
If you go…don’t miss these points of interest… – in Pioche, and surrounding territory.
Stop in at the Lincoln County Historical Museum and browse through exhibits of some of the area’s earliest American Indian inhabitants, and other exhibits with a Chinese emphasis.
Visitors to the museum will also find a selection of mining tools and mineral specimens, antique furniture, vintage musical instruments.
Lincoln County Nevada Million Dollar Courthouse
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1978, visit the first Lincoln County courthouse, known as the “Million Dollar Courthouse,” due to its exorbitant cost over a number of years.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1984, Thompson’s Opera House has a storied history, now known as the Gem Theater.
The Comstock Lode, a huge deposit of silver ore, the working of which gave many miners a livelihood, and built many small Nevada towns.
Garnet Hill near Ely, Nevada, where you can dig for some of the deep red garnets found here. Bring a shovel and pickaxe (or pioche!)
Pioche’s “Million Dollar” Courthouse
Read about why the courthouse in Pioche is known as “the million dollar courthouse.”
Need a place to stay? How about the historic Overland Hotel and Saloon?
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