Charles Evans

Charles Evans rose fast in Nevada politics, and fell just as quickly. Born Charles Robley Evans in Breckenridge, Illinois on August 9, 1866, he was in the Manhattan, Nevada, mining boom by 1905, reportedly running a saloon and gambling house.

From there he went to Goldfield in 1908, the same year Nevada Democrats made this relative newcomer a delegate to the national convention. Evans later operated a grocery store in Luning. In 1918 he ran for Nevada's only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, winning the Democratic primary easily. After the filing period closed, his election was regarded as so certain that in August, three months before the general election and one month before the primary, the Reno Evening Gazette was calling him "Congressman Evans" and asking him to do the kind of chores representatives do, like checking on a mail contract. In a year when the Democrats swept every state and federal office statewide, Evans beat Republican and Socialist candidates to win the election, having only reportedly spent $1,682 on the campaign.

Once in office, Evans followed the normal path of a Nevada representative by promoting mining, tapping local youths for military academies, and distributing free federal homestead maps. He retained the private secretary of his predecessor, Edwin Roberts, to run the office.

Evans supported a plan to lower the rim of Lake Tahoe a foot to prevent water being sent to Pyramid Lake (conservationists then considered it wastage to allow water to run its natural course), to enhance flood control, and create more shoreline and thus room for 1,000 more homes. He added an amendment to a federal land leasing measure, giving Nevada oil leaseholders preferred rights to land they were working. While Evans was protective of business, he also had a populist streak, once proposing a $10,000 limit on corporate salaries and a limit on corporate incomes of twenty percent above invested capital.

At a time when few people flew, Evans made national news by taking an airship ride from Washington to New York. The next time he traveled to Reno (by train), he was asked if he had flown in.

Evans also cultivated Southern Nevada when it was little noticed in state politics, and talked up the south to the north. "Southern Nevada is looking more prosperous now than it has in many years," he told a Reno reporter during his first campaign. "Mining activity and agriculture are in full blast in the various sections devoted to them."

Then in April 1919, it was mining that brought Evans back to Nevada. "There's a mining boom right in my back yard and I couldn't stay away," he said.

But Evans faced criticism in his own state. In an era when railroad exploitation of local communities was still a sore point, Evans was criticized for failing to speak against a bill stripping state railroad commissioners of their authority to regulate local rates. More important, critics attacked him for not backing President Woodrow Wilson more strongly, especially on the League of Nations.

Soon the public service commission chair, a regent and a former Ely mayor were talking about running against Evans in the primary, and Democratic figures were talking about how to keep more than one anti-Evans Democrat from running so that the vote against him would not be split.

Ultimately, regent Walter Pratt and former Nevada attorney general Richard Stoddard filed against Evans in the primary. Evans won, but he was wounded going into the general election in a Republican year. He showed no sign of working with other party leaders. At one point, U.S. Senator Charles Henderson, who was also running in 1920, sent a message asking Evans to join him on the campaign trail. Evans declined. In the end, Evans lost to Republican Samuel Arentz in a four person race that also included a Socialist and an independent.

Evans remained in the District of Columbia after his loss. By 1925 he was running Do Breuil Court, an apartment house in Miami, Florida. He never returned to Nevada except possibly for visits and, in 1929, for a divorce in Las Vegas from his wife Alice, whom he had married in Goldfield in 1910. The grounds were desertion, which he said had happened in Miami in February 1926.

In 1934, Evans took a job as a tour guide in the Capitol building, a job he held for fourteen years until his retirement in 1948. He died in Kearney, Nebraska, where he reportedly had family, on November 30, 1954.

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