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The Pursel Family in Nevada

Heritage is an estate that passes from an ancestor to a descendant—a birthright. This is the story of the Pursel family in Nevada—my family, my great grandparents—my ancestors of whom I am very proud.

Henry Pursel was born in Uniontown, PA in 1829, and his wife Harriet Pursel was born in Fayette, Ohio in 1837. Nothing is known of their meeting or of how they arrived in Iowa.

On April 1, 1863, a train of 40 wagons left Des Moines, Iowa, to make the long trip West. With this train were Henry and Harriet Pursel with their three little daughters, Rosa, age 4, Alice, 2 and Margaret, only six weeks old. Morris Pursel, Henry’s brother, and Billy and Racheal Stinson, Harriet’s brother and sister, travelled with them.

One well-remembered story of the trek was about a bear that walked with the train all one day, turning up a stream at sundown to go his way alone. Fear of Indians prevented them from firing to kill the bear, and probably, because it caused do trouble, they felt better letting it live.

Close to one stage coach station where they planned to camp, the scouts came on the body of a man, scalped and his heart cut out. As they approached they found all the horses stolen and the other attendant mutilated in a similar way. They learned later that the Indians thought if they ate the heart of their enemies it would make them brave.

As the train crossed the desert, probably close to the Humboldt River, from the remembered description, eight Indians came to the train asking for ammunition, but were chased off without any shooting. Later, soldiers came and the Indians were all killed with the exception of one woman, from whom they hoped to learn the location of the tribe. The Indians had been raiding and doing a great deal of killing and looting but had run out of ammunition and as a desperate act had tried to frighten the pioneers into giving them more arms.

On July 1, 1863, three months to the day from leaving Iowa, the train arrived in Carson. Mrs. Pursel, blind from the glare of the sun and from watching for Indians, and weak from the three-months ordeal, never had good eyesight afterward because of the strain. She remembered Carson as a wild town with at least one killing every day. One man who brought wood from the hills to be sold was killed for his money he carried. He had outsmarted the robbers and hidden the money in his shoe. They didn’t get the money but he lost his life.

In 1864, the Henry Pursel family moved to Smith Valley and took up land to farm. They settled near the Walker River on land now belonging to Norman Brown. Harriet had brought three hens and one rooster from Carson and raised 40 chickens that summer.

She was the first white woman to settle in the valley and their son Samuel was the first white child to be born there, in July 1865. A woman from a passing wagon train helped when Sam was born but when another son, Melvin, was born in April 1868, she stood the ordeal alone.

Once when the men were away several Indians crossed the river. They appeared friendly but Harriet took no chances and pushed the children behind her inside the cabin and stood in the doorway. The Indians wanted to know how many men she had so she held up both hands to show on her fingers—the Indians said, “White woman tell heap lie”, but rode away without harming her.

The family moved to Mason Valley in 1868 where they farmed and resided the rest of their lives. The land they settled was then in Esmeralda County. There was only one tree in they valley and the property was called the Lone Tree Ranch. The Pursel family traveled by wagon to the Carson River to bring slips of cottonwood trees to start groves for shade and wood.

Four more children were born to this family in Mason Valley: a son, William, in 1870; three daughters, May (my grandmother) in 1873, Lura in 1877, and Grace in 1880.

When the boys were still quite young, Henry broke his ankle very badly while hauling wood and was always crippled afterward. The boys did all the heavy farming after that and took up land close around to be near when needed. Harriet’s brother Billy Stinson had owned most of the adjoining land and gave it to the nephews for caring for him after he had lost his eyesight.

Racheal Stinson who had come with the wagon train remained in Carson and later married Morris Pursel.

From an article by Phyllis (Stallard) Matheus, October 1972 Vol. 1 Number 3 (Reproduced from the Mason Valley News, Yerington, Nevada, published Friday Oct. 16, 1964)

The article includes more genealogical information and pictures of family members.

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