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Part IV:  History of the Brown/Damonte Ranch

Peleg Brown Family and Ranch History

The Brown Brothers, Joshua and Peleg (1836-1878), first settled in Nevada north of the "Brown Ranch" in 1857.  Peleg purchased the "Brown Ranch" in 1858 and constructed the present buildings in 1864.  This early ranch consisted of 620 acres, of which approximately 20 acres became rights-of-way for the Virginia & Truckee Railroad and U.S. Highway 395.  Peleg Brown and Ervin Crane, his neighbor to the south, are credited with introducing alfalfa to the area.  The ranch was operated by Peleg Brown until his death in 1878.  His wife, Elizabeth Gill Brown (1835-1918), ran the ranch until her death in 1918.  The ranch stayed in the family until it was sold to Louis Damonte in 1940 by the estate of Peleg and Elizabeth Brown's daughter, Laura Wilcox.

Born to Pardon and Sarah Sanford Brown of Middletown, Rhode Island, on July 14, 1836, Peleg Brown, was one of six children:  Joshua, Peleg, James, George, Pardon Jr., and Lydia.  Brothers Joshua and Peleg Brown arrived in the Truckee Meadows in September 1857 having left their home in Rhode Island in January 1857 (Pardon Brown Family Letters, Letter written by Peleg Brown, 16 Sep 1857, Nevada Historical Society).  They first traveled south to Kentucky where they purchased stock to drive west.  Their route took them across the plains, past Fort Laramie, around the Great Salt Lake, and finally along the Humboldt and Truckee Rivers.  Joshua and Peleg arrived in Nevada with 170 of the original 211 head of cattle (Letter written by Peleg Brown, 21 Apr and 23 Sep, 1867).

Above:  Camp on the Truckee River, 1867.

The Mormons, who had settled the Truckee Meadows and Washoe Valley (at that time part of the Utah Territory) were being recalled by Brigham Young during the fall of 1857.  Joshua C. Brown bought three land claims, approximately 1,000 acres, for $250.00 from the Mormons who were returning to Salt Lake.  One claim was located in Washoe Valley, the other two in the Truckee Meadows (Letter written by Peleg Brown, 23 Sep, 1867).  The Washoe Valley claim was later jumped, as were many others that year in Washoe Valley.  During the summer of 1858, Peleg Brown traded this claim to the claim-jumper for one plow.  (Letter written by Peleg Brown, 22 Oct 1868).  One of the Truckee Meadows claims had improvements -- a stone house.  (Letter written by Peleg Brown 10 Oct,1867).  This claim became known in Territorial records as the Stone House Ranch and was sold in November 1859 to G. H. Beach.  (This ranch once stood north of the current Brown/Damonte Ranch and its field stone house is widely cited as the first stone house in the Truckee Meadows.) (Townley, John M.  Tough Little Town on the Truckee.  History of Reno Series, Volume I.  Reno, NV:  Great Basin Studies Center, 1983, p. 41)

 The Stone House Ranch served as headquarters for the Brown brothers during 1857 and 1858.  Joshua left the Truckee Meadows in late September 1858 for Rhode Island and returned to the Truckee Meadows the following year with his family and more cattle.  Peleg stayed to establish the ranch, and with the aid of hired help, produced butter for profit and kept the heard alive through the first winter.  Peleg, in a letter to his mother, described the stone house as being 20 feet by 18 feet with two doors and two windows, one room and one story.  He mentions adding an upper story.  Later, Peleg writes of building a new house in front of the stone house, this one to be 12 feet by 28 feet with two rooms.  The stone house was then used for milk storage.  He describes the location of the Stone house as follows "[It] stood on the west side of a mound from the top of which the whole valley could be seen; and being four miles from the Truckee [River]."  He also mentions having an Indian Camp about one mile away.  (Letters written by Peleg Brown, 18 Jan and 16 Feb, 1858). 

Above: Steamboat Springs, 1867.

In Peleg's letters to his parents, he states, "I would like to settle here if there was some sort of society."  (Letters written by Peleg Brown, 15 Feb, 1858).  The winter of 1857-1858 was lonely for him without family.  Peleg's one neighbor in the immediate area of the Truckee Meadows during the winter of 1857-1858 was Louis P. Drexler.    (Letter written by Peleg Brown, 29 Apr 1858).  

Peleg was appointed a delegate from the Truckee Meadows to make laws in Carson Valley in 1858.  (Letter written by Peleg Brown, 18 Apr 1858).   Peleg Brown purchased the first piece of the property now known as the Brown Ranch in 1858 for $6.56 and 12 heifers.  (Letter written by Peleg Brown, 28 Jul 1858).  He wrote to his parents and said "I'd rather have it than any ranch this side of the mountain." And described the ranch as being three miles south of Joshua's Stone House Ranch.  (Letter written by Peleg Brown, 28 Jul 1858).  Peleg stated in a letter dated April 15, 1859, that his ranch had 139 head of cattle, five oxen, five bulls, and five horses.  He told his father that he enclosed five acres of garden to plant corn and potatoes.  (Letter written by Peleg Brown, 15 Apr 1859).  In June of that same year, he lists the vegetables he has as radishes, lettuce, melon, green peas, new potatoes, beets, carrots and corn. (Letter written by Peleg Brown,  24 Jun 1859). 

Peleg wintered alone waiting for Joshua and family to arrive; they finally arrived in October 1859.  (Letter written by Peleg Brown,  8 Oct 1859).  It was too late for Peleg to return east that year.  Peleg, his brother Joshua, and Joshua's family wintered in the Steamboat Valley. 

Peleg left for Rhode Island in the fall of 1860.  He and his brother Pardon, Jr. returned to the West in February 1861.  They sailed from New York on the Steamship "Champion", rode the railroad across the Isthmus of Panama, and sailed to San Francisco on the Steamship "Contest".  They crossed the Sierra Nevadas via the Placerville route and arrived in the Truckee Meadows in late April.  (Letters written by Peleg Brown,  27 Feb, 10 Mar and 23 Apr 1861 and letters written by Pardon, Jr., 7 Mar and 10 Mar, 1861).  Peleg and Pardon, Jr. joined Joshua in the work on the ranch.  The ranch had milk cows (some rented out by the month), hens, and cattle.  They grew fruit and vegetables and produced pounds of butter and some cheese.  (Letter written by Peleg Brown,  12 May 1861).

In January 1863, Peleg Brown married Elizabeth Gill in Washoe City.  Elizabeth was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and came west in 1861 with her sister and brother-in-law.  The Browns began improving their ranch.  In 1864, Peleg built a three-story residence; in 1865, he built a barn.  Peleg used lumber from his wood ranch but contracted out the actual construction.  According to his letters, Peleg spent $4,000 on the construction of the house, which was 44 feet by 30 feet on the main floor and 20 feet by 20 feet on the two upper levels.  There were 20-foot-high porches on the north and east sides.  The house had 14 bedrooms upstairs and the following rooms downstairs:  sitting room, parlor, dining room, kitchen, pantry, and two bedrooms.  He described the house as having a "hard finish" and claimed it was one of the best in the county.  (Letters written by Peleg Brown, 3 Mar and 4 Mar 1866.)  Peleg spent $840 to have a barn built in 1865 and spent $2,400 on the Truckee Ditch. (Letter written by Peleg Brown, 4 Mar 1866.)

Above:  Peleg Brown's house, 1907.

Peleg described the plan for the ditch in a letter he wrote on January 12, 1865:

The plan that wee now design to opperate oppon that each man should build his perportion hisself    that is with his own laybor      my portion will bee one and half miles    the dimensions of the ditch are as follows    7 feet wide on top    fifteen inch deep and five feet wide in the bottom and the dirt to bea thrown on the lower side ....  I think the most work can bea don with plough and scrapers .... to build my part of the ditch is not going to cost very much money. (Letter written by Peleg Brown, 12 Jan 1865.)

The Brown Ranch headquarters was oriented to the east, facing the Reno-Virginia Road.  The site selection for the ranch headquarters, more than likely was determined by the road's location since at the time of construction the possibility of a railway, the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, had not been discussed.  This property, like the Stone House Ranch, had the distinction of being the last place to water, feed, and rest before reaching the mines.  During the early years, the Browns operated a way station for travelers.  The second floor in the house was divided into 14 small bedrooms for this purpose.  The floor plan remained this way until 1955 when the second generation of Damontes to live in the house remodeled the second floor.  Peleg Brown wrote to his parents on March 31, 1866 about his boarding business:

Wee now have four steady boarders and some trancen cusomers which has not amounted to much this last winter     prospect of it beaing better this season than it ever has been on this road as the railroad will be done this spring to Dutchflat      most of the freight will cross the mountains this way  (Letter written by Peleg Brown, 31 Mar 1866.)

In 1866 Sarah E. Brown commented in a letter "You asked if the stage folks ate here   they do and have lots of passengers most of the time." (Letter written by Sarah E. Brown, 24 Nov 1866.)  In 1870 Peleg's mother wrote the following about a visit to see her son:

We found Peleg and family all well     he seems to have a plenty to doe     he has 7 borders by the week more or less     Trancient ones some night he has from 60 to 80 horses to feed with the stage horses     the blacksmith have moved there stock up hear from the foot of the grade.  they bord hear      I cannot say that I like the climet hear vary much       it is vary dry hear      yesterday Peleg took Father and myself over his big meadow as Joshua used to call it.    some parts vary dry and others parts wet.  he thinks the prospects of quite a good croop of hay      it does not look much lik our croops at home to me     I may like it better after a while     the water is vary poor     if I wash in the water it makes my face sore    it is just about the same as sun burnt,  they have a Chinaman Cook and a girl to wait on the Table....Pelegs house for this plaice is very good    well calculated for borders has 3 large barnes besides sheds and other buildings. (Letter written by Sarah Brown, 30 Mar 1870.)

The Virginia Road, at one time known as the Brown Toll Road, left the valley floor southeast of Brown's and ascended the Virginia Mountains along the route (now known as Toll Road) called Geiger Grade.  Pardon Brown, Jr. describes the trip from Brown's to Virginia City in a letter to his mother dated October 13, 1861:

well in going from here thair for the first 4 miles the country is level and covered with sage brush then for a while we go into a canion with the mountains on both sides      these are covered with ceaders and Pines    here is whair the most of the wood that is used in the city is got from    then for a while the rode is up the side of a mountain     after we get to the top we have a level road some time and then we go down a steep pitch   than their is grade along the side of the mountain to the city along on this grade a person can loock down hundreds of feet into the valley below. (Letter written by Pardon Brown, Jr. 13 Oct 1861.)

Above:  Virginia City, 1967.

In 1866, Peleg bought out Joshua's interest in the property and Joshua moved his family to Surprise Valley, California.  Peleg purchased four separate pieces of property after 1857, the property being recorded from 1865 to 1877.  Peleg preempted 160 acres in Section 16, Township 18N, Range 20E which was recorded on December 4, 1865; this property became known as the Wood Ranch and was located in Cox Canyon.  He purchased 160 acres in Section 21, Township 18N, Range 20E for $1,500 from Eliza Valvende who had preempted the property in 1864; Peleg had this land recorded in 1877.  Eliza Valvende, referred to as the "old woman" in the Pardon Family Letters, resided on the property.  Peleg purchased the third parcel of land for $800 from Julia Lafamboise through her lawyer, William S. Chapman.  Julia's title to the land was from a half-breed Dakota or Sioux Certificate.  The land was located in Section 21, Township 18N, Range 20E;  Peleg had it recorded on December 4, 1865.  Peleg purchased the fourth property for $800 from James Darland of California, 120 acres located in Sections 17 and 20, T18N, R20E.  These four pieces formed his 620-acre ranch.

The Virginia & Truckee Railroad, a short line, connected the Comstock with Carson City and Reno carrying products from Reno and the Truckee Meadows to the Comstock and ore from the Comstock to the Carson River mills.  The V&T passed behind the Brown Ranch headquarters.  Surveying of the right-of-way was completed in 1868.  Construction of the rail line on the ranch was completed in 1871, although the line ended at Steamboat Springs until 1872.  A hay siding was constructed on the railroad within the boundaries of the Ranch and named "Brown Station."  Brown Station allowed the ranchers in the immediate area to load produce and livestock to ship south to Carson City and Virginia City as well as north to the Central Pacific Railroad.  Peleg Brown had wood camps on the west side of the valley and shipped wood from this station until 1881 when the Wood Ranch was closed. ("The Last Run," Reno Weekly Gazette, March 17, 1881, 6:6)  In 1866, Peleg Brown contracted for a road to be built six miles west towards the wood camps.  He speculated that he could bring 6000 cords of wood to be shipped that year.  (Letter written by Peleg Brown, 31Mar 1866.)

In 1872, a local newspaper described Peleg Brown as an early settler who has an "extensive area of natural meadow, which is watered mainly by Brown Creek." ("Washoe County," Nevada State Journal, 31 Aug 1872, 2:2)  The newspaper went on to say "Mr. Brown is an excellent farmer, and has carefully seeded his meadow to timothy and other tame grasses, with great success."  Besides raising crops, Peleg raised dairy cows and produced butter and some cheese as well as renting his milk cows out by the month.  In 1876, Peleg's ranch was described as a "well cultivated ranch within a mile of Steamboat Springs, ....much attention to blooded stock, but has lately disposed of most of it as the cost of feeding during the long winter consumed much of the profits.  ... meadow of 200 acres reclaimed 15 years ago.... ("Truckee Meadows," Daily Nevada State Journal, 13 Aug 1876, 2:2-3)

In addition to being a rancher, Peleg Brown served as a stockholder and one of the organizers of the Steamboat Canal Company which owned the Truckee and Steamboat Springs Irrigation Canal.  B.B. Norton, James Burke, Peter Dalton, A.M. Lamb, Peleg Brown, and J.L. Downs constructed the canal. (Washoe County Liens & Misc. Documents, Book B, 532-31.1.  Certification of location recorded 1/14/1878.)  This project consisted of a 34-mile canal which takes water from the Truckee River near Verdi to Steamboat Valley for irrigation purposes.  Thompson & West's History of Nevada describes the principal irrigating canals in Washoe County.  The following is the description of the "Steamboat Irrigating Canal" given in 1881:

The Steamboat Irrigating Canal is by far the largest work of its kind, being thirty-four miles in length, and costing over $50,000.  It was commenced in 1878, and was completed in the spring of 1880.  The ditch takes its water from the Truckee River, four miles above Verdi, runs parallel to the course of the stream several miles, then turns to the south and crosses the creek at Steamboat Springs; it then turns to the north and discharges into the creek, five miles below.  It was built and is owned by an incorporated company of farmers.  Mr. A.M. Lamb, who came to Galena Canon, at the town of Galena in 1863, and is now a resident of Huffaker, is President of the Company.  (Angel, Myron, ed. History of Nevada. Oakland, CA: Thompson and West, 1881; Berkeley, CA: Howell-North, 1958, p. 634)

By this time, Peleg Brown was a prominent citizen in the Truckee Meadows.  In 1867 and 1872 he served as a member of the Washoe County Grand Jury (Eastern Slope, 2 Nov 1867, 2:3, Nevada State Journal, 1 Jun 1872, 3:4)  and in 1868 as a delegate from Huffaker's to the Union Party State Convention (Eastern Slope, 4 Apr 1868, 3:1)  In 1870 and 1874 Brown was Inspector of Elections for Brown's Precinct. (Reno Crescent, 7 May 1870, 3:1, 21 Sep, 1872, 3:2, 16 Nov 1872, 3:3.  Reno Crescent, 16 Nov 1872, 3:1)  In 1872, Brown won a seat on the County Commission as a Republican candidate, beating George Alt. (Nevada State Journal, 7 Jun 1874, 3:1)  In 1874, Peleg Brown became a charter member of the Agricultural, Mining, and Mechanical Society in Reno. (Nevada State Journal, 7 Jun 1874, 3:1)  In 1875 he served as a juror for the United States Circuit Court (Nevada State Journal, 10 Oct 1875, 3:3) and in 1876 as a member of the United States Grand Jury in Carson City. (Nevada State Journal, 26 Apr 1876 3:2).  In 1876 he served as a Washoe County delegate to the State Republican Convention. (Nevada State Journal, 6 Aug 1876, 3:2)  In 1877, Peleg donated one acre of land to the county for construction of a school.  The original Brown School, a wood-frame structure, was built in 1878 and served the area until a modern brick structure replaced it during this (i.e., 20th) century. (Reed, Dorris B., Talk about the Brown Family, 1962)