Tracking presidents in Nevada
On the day before the 1932 election, the unpopular president of the United States traveled across the nation by train, stopping in Elko to make his last national campaign radio broadcast. Then Herbert Hoover stopped in Carlin, where he stepped out on the platform to explain, in a husky voice, that he would be unable to speak because his voice was almost gone after the efforts of the campaign.
“Oh, raspberries,” came a voice from the crowd.
Hoover responded, “If that gentleman has an insult to deliver to the president of the United States, and if he will come here, I will take care of him.”
The crowd cheered—whether for the president or the heckler is not clear.
“It is a question of respect for the office, not the man,” Hoover said as he turned back into the train.
A pilot train preceded the presidential train, and on this occasion it was a wise precaution. After Carlin, the train crossed into Eureka County, where a guard surprised two men planting dynamite under a railroad bridge two miles east of Palisade. The guard was shot, and the men fled. With that threat removed, Hoover continued on to his California home.
Not many Nevadans know of that troubled presidential visit to their state. For that matter, not many Nevada historians are familiar with it—or with many other of the presidential stops in the state. In fact, no one has ever compiled an exhaustive list of all the presidential visits to Nevada.
State Archives administrator Guy Louis Rocha set out to create one last week after Ronald Reagan’s death, when he started getting several press requests for a list of Reagan’s visits to Nevada. When George W. Bush’s visit to Reno this week was announced, he got more requests, now for a list of all presidential visits to Northern Nevada.
Rocha started compiling a list for the north, but he quickly imposed a few limits. He would list only visits by sitting presidents to prevent the task from becoming unwieldy.
“There are all these permutations—presidents campaigning before they became president, when they were vice presidents, after they left the presidency. I had to cut it down.” He also ignored visits when presidents simply traveled through Nevada by rail without making any stops.
The confusion generated by those permutations is seen repeatedly. On Nov. 25, 2003, for instance, the Las Vegas Review-Journal ran a story on visits to Nevada of sitting presidents—but illustrated it with a photograph of Gerald Ford that was taken in Las Vegas before he became president.
So far, Rocha has confirmed 13 presidential visits to the north, though that does not represent 13 presidents because Reagan made multiple visits. The first name on the list is Rutherford Hayes, who visited Reno, Virginia City, Carson City and Glenbrook on Sept. 7, 1880. Then came visits by McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Johnson, Reagan, Bush the Elder, Clinton, and now Bush the Younger’s visit this week. This means the list begins and ends with chief executives who lost their elections and were appointed president by the Electoral College (in Bush’s case) or an electoral commission (in Hayes’ case).
Rocha says he’ll return to the task of compiling a statewide list later. It will be a useful list when finally completed because there have been many southern visits, such as John Kennedy’s only Nevada visit as president.
For that matter, there’s Herbert Hoover. After his disastrous pre-election trip across Northern Nevada in 1932, he returned to Washington by way of Las Vegas.