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Rah, Humboldt!: Nevada’s oldest county is brimming over with culture and history

Editor’s Note: Nevada 150 is a yearlong series highlighting the people, places and things that make up the history of the state.

Nevada’s Humboldt County should not be confused with the marijuana-loving Humboldt County in Northern California.

The county is in the northwestern part of the state, bordered by Idaho and nestled between Elko and Washoe counties and sitting directly atop Pershing County, which was once a part of Humboldt.

It is also the oldest county in Nevada.

“There’s a lot of cool places up in this area,”said Michelle J. Hammond Urain, marketing and sales coordinator for the Winnemucca Convention and Visitors Authority. “If you get off the beaten path, there is stuff.”

The county, noted for mining, agriculture and hunting, especially hunting chukar, a game bird, is rich in culture, history and resources.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and it’s a good place,” Urain said. “I have a family, and it’s a good place to raise a family.”

Winnemucca is the county seat.

“We’re the friendliest place on the map,” Winnemucca Mayor Di An Putnam said. “Every community can say it … but our ruralness, our Basque heritage, the mining, agriculture …it all goes together in what makes Winnemucca.”

Many locals are immigrants from Basque country in Spain, near the French border, or descendants of immigrants. There are restaurants and architecture that reflect the heritage.

The Martin Hotel, a Basque restaurant, is a must-see for visitors to Winnemucca, garnering a place on the state historic site list.

Humboldt County is also home to the Humboldt River, the longest river in the continental United States that starts and ends within the boundaries of one state, according to the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

The history of the county is laid out on display in the Humboldt Museum, which has moldings of bones belonging to a giant prehistoric Columbian mammoth found only a few miles from Winnemucca.

Winnemucca used to be known as French Ford because it is where people would cross the river. Today it is also known as the Great Crossroads and “The Muc.”

“The majority of people (in Humboldt County) really live around the hub of Winnemucca,” Putnam said. “Humboldt County is just an excellent place to be. I grew up here, so my roots are long.”

When visiting Winnemucca, it is hard to miss the influence of Butch Cassidy and his infamous Wild Bunch gang.

Cassidy is alleged to have visited Winnemucca but not for its friendly demeanor. Legend has it that he robbed the bank there, and though it has never been proved, he lives on in the city at casinos and bars that bear his name.

Farther north, wild horses roam across Bureau of Land Management federal land. Visitors to Deneo, on the Idaho border, have the opportunity to look for opals in the Sheldon Valley.

Paradise Valley, about 45 minutes north of Winnemucca and home to about 150 people, is one of the oldest cities in Humboldt County, close in age to Unionville in Pershing County, which used to be the county seat.

Longtime resident Kevin Kern said there were several centennial ranchers in the area.

The cities in the county rely on tourism but are prepared for slower times and economic hardships.

“If you drive around Winnemucca and really look at what we have, we’re really in exceptional shape. We’ve really prepared ourselves for the future and not just for today,” Putnam said. “We’re very well-positioned for the future of Winnemucca.”

Some of the events that draw people to the area include Run-A-Mucca, a motorcycle rally in which a motorcycle is set afire, an annual rodeo, a 1950s Fever Car Show, The Buckaroo Hall of Fame in the Chamber of Commerce, Shooting the West photography contest and pig wrestling, which raises more than $10,000 annually.

Nestled in the far north and separated from the bustling lights of Las Vegas or Reno, Humboldt County is worth the visit.

“The best thing about Nevada, and some people hate it, is wide-open spaces,” Urain said. “Sometimes that’s the beauty of Nevada. That’s its best- kept secret.”

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