Sally Springmeyer Zanjani comes by her interest in Nevada history naturally. The Springmeyers of Carson Valley are a well known early Nevada family. Her father was U.S. attorney for Nevada during alcohol prohibition, described by one historian as an “annoyance to the Republican bosses” of the state. Sally herself has made history—her book on a 1907 murder case, coauthored with Guy Louis Rocha, resulted in posthumous pardons for two Nevada labor leaders. The subject of one of her biographies, Sarah Winnemucca, is one of two Nevadans honored in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Zanjani was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame in 2000.
You have a new book out, Devils Will Reign/How Nevada Began. Why did the story of how Nevada started need to be told again?
Well, because it hasn’t been told in quite this way before, I don’t think. I don’t think there’s been sufficient attention to the early prospectors on the Comstock and new materials were available now that weren’t available before, especially the Grosh letters. [These were letters written by two miners who discovered the Comstock lode that were recently acquired by the Nevada Historical Society. (See “Letter perfect,” April 10)
What did you think of the Grosh letters?
I thought they were a remarkable acquisition because they’re the only ones that tell us what it was like to be a prospector on the future Comstock while it was happening [in the 1850s]. Other people have talked or written about it, but those reminiscences were much later, and this [the Grosh letters] was white hot from the scene of the event. Of course, one can’t help but be saddened by the tragedy of the Grosh brothers. [Ethan and Hosea Grosh both died before realizing any earnings from their find.] … They were clearly not your ordinary image of the sourdough. They were educated, articulate, thought a good deal about politics, didn’t approve of the Mormons at all.
You worked on the Sarah Winnemucca statuary project. Why Sarah?
That’s a big question. … She was so remarkable, so brave, so willing to take on anything, no matter what the odds against her, and she was really one of the most outstanding women in American history.
Does the fact that she was controversial even within tribal circles add to her appeal?
I don’t think it adds to it, really. Guy Rocha has pointed out there were bad rivalries even among her own people, and that was kind of expected, that she would be controversial. … Public figures are nearly always controversial, you know.
One of your books is A Mine of Her Own/Women Prospectors in the American West 1850-1950. What made you interested in that subject?
Well, when I was writing my history of Goldfield, Goldfield/The Last Gold Rush on the Western Frontier, I came across a few women prospectors, and I was surprised. Like most of the world, I had not known that women did this in that time period. And I thought, ‘Well, this should be a fast and easy book.’ Just a few women prospectors, not too much research to be done, but to my surprise, by the time I finished I’d found 80 and I think that was only the tip of the iceberg. No book is ever as fast and easy as you think it might be.