Dennis Cassinelli: Mysterious statue of Indian mother and child discovered in Carson Valley

Several years ago, I donated a sizable collection of Indian artifacts to the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center in Gardnerville. I had inherited some of the items in the collection from my Aunt Clare Perino. The remainder I had found when I was a boy on the ranch where I grew up on Glendale Road in Sparks. This area later became known as the Glendale Archaeological Site. This collection became the basis for my book, “Preserving Traces of the Great Basin Indians.”

The collection is now on display in the Washoe Gallery at the museum. When I was setting up the collection, I noticed a mysterious-looking statue of an Indian mother carrying a child on her back in a downstairs gallery at the museum. The artifact intrigued me, since I had never seen anything like it from Nevada before. I asked permission from the curator at that time if I could borrow it and bring it to Dr. Gene Hattori at the Nevada State Museum to see if he could provide more information about the statue.

When he saw the statue, Hattori remarked, “Metal tools.” With his experience, he could tell from the texture of the carving on the statue it had been carved with metal tools, rather than stone tools such as a prehistoric craftsman would’ve used.

The caption on the statue in the museum read, “Roy Jones, owner of the historic Jones Ranch on Foothill Road near Gardnerville, dug up this sandstone statue after hitting the object year after year with his plow blade. He finally dug a deep hole to remove what he thought was a boulder. Instead, the object turned out to be a crude statue depicting an Indian woman and her papoose. The statue was found among several metates and a large number of arrowheads, indicating a probable Indian camp.”

In subsequent correspondence with Gail Allen, curator at the Douglas County Historical Society, and Hattori, possibilities about the origin of the statue were discussed. The prehistoric Great Basin Indians weren’t known to have created but a few crude effigies of animals and small human figures. The comparatively large statue of the mother and child were of more modern origin, probably in the late 19th or early 20th century. We can speculate perhaps a Washoe or Paiute ranch worker on the Jones Ranch may have done the carving.

Italian and other stone workers were known to have done stone carving in Carson Valley and other areas of Nevada in those days.

We may never know who created the mysterious lady with a child on her back. The last time I visited the museum at the old schoolhouse in Gardnerville, the statue had been moved upstairs to the Washoe Gallery where people can see the artifact and contemplate her enigmatic origin.

I strongly urge all my readers to visit the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center to see these artifacts and enjoy the history of Douglas County.

This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted on his blog at All Dennis’ books sold through this publication will be at a 50 percent discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.


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