Interview with Joni Eastley of Nye County Press

The Nevada Review: Tell us about yourself and your background.

Joni Eastley: I am in my third term as a Nye County Commissioner.  My career in public service will expire at the end of 2012—term limits are going to get me.  I am not a native of Nevada; I am a native of Ohio.  I moved here in 1984.  My husband accepted a position with, well, it was Tentacle Minerals then, in Manhattan as an administrative services manager.  So I went from living in a suburb of Cleveland to Manhattan, which to me was essentially like being dropped on another planet.

NVR: How did that transition work?

JE: Not very well at first.  I was shocked at where we were going to live.  I had owned my own home in northern Ohio and went from living in a three-bedroom, two-bath house in the suburbs to a living in what was considered to be one of the best places, if not the best place in town, which was essentially a miner’s shack with a boxcar and caboose hooked onto it.

NVR: But over the years you grew more accustomed.

JE: Oh yes.  In fact, we lived in Manhattan for five years and then Tentacle Minerals, the Manhattan mine, was purchased by Round Mountain Gold Corporation and my husband was transferred to Round Mountain.  We ended up moving to the Hadley subdivision as it was being constructed.  And I really have to say, I missed Manhattan.

NVR: What did you miss about Manhattan?

JE: We lived up Pipe Springs Road, which is just a road going through a canyon.  If you follow that road to its end, it will lead to Tonopah.  It was being able to see deer in the canyon, and the wildlife, and it was so quiet living up there.  I missed that.  I didn’t have the stresses and the fears that I had living in the city.  And I appreciated that, and I grew to appreciate and love being able to raise my kids in that kind of environment.

NVR: How do you transition from being dropped on another planet to being one of the community leaders?

JE: Well, I was raised in a very strong Christian family.  One of the things that I learned very early on from Sunday school was that you bloom where you are planted.  And that is the best way to be happy, and to have a life that will serve you and will serve others.  So, becoming part of the community was a big thing for me.

NVR: As a County Commissioner you have overseen the birth and the rise of the Nye County Press.  Can you give us some background on that?

JE: Well, actually I didn’t really oversee the birth and the rise of it.  Nye County Press was created long before I was on the Commission.  What I like to think is that I was a part of it resurrection.  It laid dormant for
a number of years.  And then several years ago Dr. McCracken called me and asked if I would like to resurrect the Nye County History Program.  Of course I was interested in that.  So he came to Tonopah and we sat down and had a meeting and talked about some of the things that we could do together.  And I threw a few more things on the list and we went from there.

NVR: You say that “of course” you were interested in that.  What was your great interest in resurrecting it?

JE: Because I love history, and because I love preservation.  And I love historic preservation.  Of course, historic preservation is much more than just securing buildings.  It is also about preserving people’s stories, and preserving a way of life, and for me, it was preserving history, no matter what form that history came in.

NVR: What kind of works had the press put out before it was revitalized by you and Dr. McCracken?

JE: Before it was revitalized it had produced history books on, I think, most of the communities in Nye County.  Amargosa Valley, of course Tonopah, there was a Round Mountain History, the Railroad Valley history was another one that was very popular.  And I just built from there: we determined which communities did not have histories yet and we concentrated on those.  We recently released a history on the Big Smoky Valley, and one on Manhattan.  We have in the works right now a book on Tybo.  I don’t know that a book on Tybo has ever been done.  That’s another thing that I was looking for: we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, but to tell stories that had not been told previously.

NVR: Is there anyone else out there doing what you are doing?

JE: No, not to my knowledge.

NVR: In the last few years, the project seems to have really come to fruition with these beautiful volumes, to include the most recent, if I am not mistaken, the release of Ms. Lucile Berg’s book.  Can you tell us about how that came about?

JE: Yes.  Well, that was Bob McCracken’s idea.  Bob ran across, in his collection, a Xerox copy of Lucile Berg’s thesis, which is a history of the Central Nevada region.

NVR: She was studying at the University of Nevada for that thesis.

JE: Yes, she was.  It was her master’s thesis.  He was in Tonopah.  He has a really fun and unusual way of calling in the morning from his home in Las Vegas and he’ll say I have some great ideas.  Can I come up to Tonopah and we’ll sit and have lunch and talk about them.  So that’s really where this happened.  We were having lunch and he asked me what I would think about printing her thesis.  Well, I had seen it previously.  I had seen a dog-eared copy many years ago when I worked at Round Mountain Gold.  I immediately thought: this is going to be a winner.  So, I said, yes, let’s do this one.  And it was a matter of finding some of her relatives who are all, for the most part, still in Round Mountain.  And Bob kind of took it from there.

NVR: What was it about this volume in particular that was so attractive to Bob, and then you, and then the press?  What made you bite on this one?

JE: I believed that, because it was another one of those stories that needed to be told, and those stories are told best by the people who lived them.  Lucile lived this story.

NVR: Tell us about that story.

JE: Dr. McCracken and I both were just so struck by how she was really not a woman of her time.  She was more, if you want to use the term “liberated.”  I like the word independent.  She was independent.  She lived her life independently.  She thought independently.  The customs and values of women raised in her generation were that you completed some basic schooling, you found yourself a husband, and then you raised a bunch of kids.  Well that wasn’t good enough for her.  That wasn’t her dream for her life.  She wasn’t interested in doing that.  She took, which I thought was a huge step for someone having been raised in a community like Round Mountain, essentially a mining camp, to have gone to school and gotten not only a degree, but also an advanced degree.  She flew her own plane, flew it everywhere, and lived where she wanted to live, worked where she wanted to work.  Getting married wasn’t good enough for her, although she did have boyfriends, and she admitted that.  By God, she wasn’t going to have kids because she didn’t like them.  And how did she know she didn’t like them?  Because she was a teacher.  She had gotten her degree in education and came back to Round Mountain and taught at the Round Mountain school.  I thought that was pretty forward thinking for a woman of her time.

NVR: She is clearly a remarkable woman.  And it is a beautiful book as well.  What kind of stories does she tell?  Is it popular history or scholarly history?

JE: It’s scholarly history.  She cites her references within her thesis.  But the other part that I liked is that this book was a tribute to her father and her mother.  She admitted in the book that she had gotten a lot of information from her dad, who was a big lover of history.  He shared that love with Lucile, and I believe that is what her incentive was for going to UNR and getting her advanced degree in history.

NVR: Now you had a chance to present her with this book.

JE: Yes, Dr. McCracken and I drove to Sacramento and we presented the book to her at the nursing home that she was living in at the time.  I’m sorry to report that she passed away in her sleep recently at
a Christian Scientist nursing home in Sacramento.  But the staff there was very excited about the fact that her thesis had been published.  So they arranged a small gathering of other folks at the nursing home, and staff members, and we were able to present the book to her.  And I know that during the months that it took for us to produce this, she was asking her caregivers about the book on almost a daily basis.  So
I was really honored and humbled to be able to be there and to give this book to her and to know that I had something to do with that.  It’s something that I will always treasure.  It was definitely a highlight of my political service.

NVR: Did she say anything to you and Dr. McCracken when you were there?

JE: Well, by that time she had already started failing.  She really didn’t talk to us at all.  But I watched her and I noticed that she had her hands on the book in her lap.  I will always believe that she hung on long enough to see her book published.

NVR: And that is just the latest book, the latest in a long series of books that Dr. McCracken has done.  What are some of the other books that are available to the public?

JE: One of the most recent hardcovers that we did is on the Manse Ranch in Pahrump.  We were fortunate enough to find descendants of the Joseph Yount family who really started the Manse Ranch in, oh,
I want to say the 1860s.  He was able to obtain a lot of photographs that a lot of people had never really seen before.  I think that the Pahrump Valley really got its start from those pioneers, the Joseph Yount family.  We were able to tell their story and show a lot of their photographs, which give a completely different story about the Pahrump Valley than is being told now.  I think the story now is one of, I guess you can almost compare it to a gold camp, a boom and bust thing, except that the Pahrump boom came through construction and housing.  They were affected by everything that was going on in Las Vegas because they
were so close, and now that is kind of on the decline.  This book, the Manse Ranch book, is really a wonderful tribute to Pahrump and its agricultural heritage and agricultural roots, which is personally something I really wish they could get back to.

NVR: The project also supports some oral histories in the area.

JE: Yes, oral histories are very important.  I think it is part of building a strong foundation for historic preservation.  Again, the oral histories had been started long before I came on board.  I simply picked up the ball and had a whole new list of folks that I wanted to talk to.

NVR: What kind of folks are you interviewing for this?

JE: We are interviewing a pretty broad spectrum of folks, but predominantly what I am interested in is I want to hear the stories that have been passed down through multi-generational families in the same communities so that those families in Beatty, or in the ranching communities outside of Beatty, or in Tonopah.  I want to get those stories told.

NVR: Is this funded by the county, or how is it funded?

JE: Actually, we fund the Nye County History Program from money that we got from Congress because Nye County is the site county for the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Repository.  There are certain ways that that money can be used, and one of the ways that the money can be used is for socio-economic impact, and nothing says socio-economic impact better than history, a history program that tells people the history of the people who populate the area of the repository and getting it in print.

NVR: So the county manages this.  Does Dr. McCracken choose what stories are covered?

JE: Yes, Dr. McCracken and I are in contact several times a week and we meet several times a month so that I can follow up on the status of any of the projects that he is involved in.

NVR: What would you suggest to other counties or local entities that are interested in doing what you have done.  It seems pretty bold.  No one else is doing what you are doing.

JE: Funding is always going to be a huge issue, and I don’t know what to tell them in that regard.  Depending on one’s point of view, I think that we are fortunate that the Yucca Mountain site is located in Nye County because of the funding that we have received because of that is there.  There are many people who say that there is no economic benefit to that project, but we have reaped a great deal of economic
benefit because the nuclear waste policy act mandates that certain payments be paid to Nye County.  We negotiate that level of payment, and that is how we have been able to fund a lot of our projects: road improvements, building buildings, and provided for the Nye County History Project.

NVR: What kind of outreach do you do?  How do you get the word out about what you are doing?

JE: I haven’t really concentrated on the marketing end.  We will be doing a website, and that is extremely important.  I was recently approached by someone from the Beatty community, and what she has proposed doing is scanning and digitizing all of our books and then making them available on Kindle, and as a link on our county website.  What I have done so far is I make sure all of the museums and libraries get copies of whatever books we are producing.  It was also important that museums and to a lesser extent, libraries, make money off of these books.  So what Nye County Press does is, we provide these books at no cost at the museums, and then we maintain their inventory so they can make money off of the books.

NVR: What kinds of projects are on deck for the future of the Nye County Press?

JE: We have a book, again, thinking that I want to do books that haven’t been done before because I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, we are getting ready to go to print on the United Cattle and Packing company, O.K. Reed’s ranch, which was probably the largest ranch in the state of Nevada that operated for almost a thirty- or thirty-five-year period.

NVR: Often people outside of Nevada identify our State by the marketing of our urban areas.  But this seems to be announcing the identity of the Nye County area.  Is that the aim of the Nye County Press?

JE: You know, I don’t want to make it sound this simple, but the main desire is preserving history.  And if we are able to do that by preserving history, that would thrill me, but my main goal was historic preservation.  A lot of elected officials or public servants think that their legacy will be a law that they passed or some other typical political thing.  But this is what I want my history to be—preserving the history of Nye County, its people, and its communities.  I’ve even spoken to the director of our nuclear waste project office to see if I can be involved in the history project even after I am gone from office.  I don’t just come up with ideas, I proofread every one of these books.  I assist with editing.  I want to continue playing a role in telling those stories.

NVR: They are beautiful volumes and some of them are quite substantial, so I can appreciate why you would be proud of making this a part of your legacy.

JE: Yes, I cannot say enough good things about Dr. McCracken.  Just a wonderful man to work with, he’s enthusiastic about any idea that is brought forward.  And as in any project like this, I cannot say enough good things about my colleagues.  No matter who it has been over the years, anyone who has been on the board, there has never been a question about a project that I have brought forward through the history project.  They have been enthusiastic supporters and ninety-nine percent of the time, when I have another item on the agenda to do another phase of the history project, it passes with no discussion.

NVR: Is there a story out there that you have been dying to do that you haven’t been able to do for one reason or another?

JE: Yes, I want to tell the story, and it’s almost like a taboo in some circles, but one of the stories that we have in the works is a history of prostitution in Nye County.  It’s just a dispassionate view.  I want to talk about how we got to the point of where we are.  Prostitution has been, even in modern days, one of those subjects where, yeah, well, in Nevada it’s there but you don’t really want to talk about it.  Well, I do want to talk about it.  I want to know why from its earliest beginnings why it was necessary.  Of course we know why it was necessary.  But I want to know how it got its start, how it took its hold, and how, at least in Nye County, how it became the legal industry that it is today.  I don’t want to talk about it in terms of pros or cons, but I want to look at the issues of the day as prostitution grew, and I want to look at it in terms of the law, what ordinances were passed, what people were talking about at the time as these laws came into effect, and just give a history of the concept.  Dr. McCracken, with the assistance of some of the folks at the Central Nevada Museum up in Tonopah, is going through all of the early day newspapers and taking out the articles that relate to early prostitution.  Prostitution was really tough in those days.  There were a lot of murders associated with it.  There were a lot of suicides.  They had their own ups and downs in that industry and we are going to tell those stories.  We aren’t only going to tell the personal stories of the women involved, but we are going to tell the stories about why prostitution legally needed to be what it was, where it is today.

NVR: There is no question that it is a unique Nevada institution.

JE: Yes it is, and I have no patience for do-gooders, but in this particular instance I would much prefer that they take all of that zeal and desire to save people and take it down to Las Vegas where there are women who are working the streets because they have a pimp, or drug habit they are trying to support, or kids they are trying to support.  Save those women.  Don’t save the women in a legal business who are there because they want to be there.

NVR: Most of the literature that comes to mind is either condemnatory or glamorizing.  It sounds like there is room right down the middle to just tell the story.

JE: That is exactly what we are aiming to do.

NVR: What do you see as far as the future goes?  You’ve spoken about the web content and the oral histories.  Is there a specific audience that you are trying to reach?

JE: Well, obviously, anyone who loves Nevada and people who love history, those are easy.  You are always going to reach those folks because they will seek out the material.  But really the folks that I want to reach are, and I am speaking specifically of Nye County, are those who do not know what a wonderful part of Nevada that they live in.  How some of these communities, and I’ll concentrate on Tonopah now because that is where I live, how if there was not a Tonopah, then I truly do not believe that there would be a Reno or Nevada that is as great as it is today, historically speaking.  You look at some of the folks who came from Tonopah and went on to do great things in the state.  Pat McCarran and Tasker Oddie and Key Pittman, those are all people who came from Tonopah and helped to build that community.  They are huge Nevada names and there are more.

NVR: I wonder how much traffic comes from urban Nevada into frontier Nevada, or even knows about the unique offerings of the different towns.

JE: Yeah, I have to tell you a story.  I was in Las Vegas a few years ago.  I was at a store there and making small talk with the cashier as she was checking out my purchases, and she said, well, are you from around here?  I said, no, I’m from Tonopah.  And she said, well, Tonopah, where is that?  I asked, where were you born?  And she said I was born right here in Las Vegas.  So I wouldn’t say that the knowledge of frontier Nevada is that good.  Can I tell you one more thing about the United Cattle and Packing book?  This book is going to be interesting from a number of different points of view.  Not only the mechanics of O.K. Reed operating a three million acre ranch, or even bigger.  But his personal story is very Shakespearian.  Here is a man who married a woman and they have four children, three daughters and a son.  Two of the daughters committed suicide.  His only son died when he was eleven of leukemia.  His wife subsequently divorced him for one of the cowboys on the ranch.  And he died alone and lonely.  The fact that you have that kind of personal fabric injected into the mechanics of everyday life is just fascinating.  It just struck me that no matter the period, people just really aren’t that different.  People really are the same no matter if you are talking people from the 1700s or people from the modern day.

NVR: Well, thank you very much for your time today, and for all you are doing for Nevada and its literature. ■

Joni Eastley is a twenty-eight-year resident of Nye County who is completing her third term as a Nye County Commissioner.  She currently serves as a member of the Tonopah Historic Mining Park Foundation board of directors, the Friends of the Belmont Courthouse, and Sen. Richard Bryan’s Preserve Nevada.  Joni is past president of the Nevada Association of Counties, and chairs both the Central Nevada Regional Water Authority and the BLM’s Southern Mohave District Resource Advisory Council.  She and her husband, Dennis, live in the 1906 Arthur Raycraft house in Tonopah, the restoration of which was featured on an episode of HGTV’s Restore America.

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