Fred Dressler: An Oral History

A Contribution to a Survey of Life in Carson Valley, From First Settlement Through the 1950s

Interviewee: Fred Dressler
Interviewed: 1984
Published: 1984
Interviewer: R. T. King
UNOHP Catalog #112

Carson Valley is a level plain eighteen miles in width lying along a thirty-mile stretch of the Carson River in west central Nevada. Bounded on the east by the Pine Nut Range and to the west by the towering Sierra Nevada, it is a sheltered, well-watered area hospitable to a broad range of plant and animal life. In 1898, the year of Fred Dressler’s birth, Carson Valley had been settled for less than fifty years and was inhabited by fewer than 1,500 people. Washoe Indians, who had roamed the area for thousands of years, still made seasonal use of the valley’s resources, and many of them lived part of each year on ranches where they worked as agricultural or domestic laborers. No railroads penetrated Carson Valley; there were no industries and the few communities were small and widely separated. An arcadian tranquility lay over the land.

While Carson Valley retained its essential pastoral quality, some significant economic and social changes occurred well into the twentieth century. The railroad came and withdrew; automotive technology transformed agriculture; careful water management permitted most of the valley to be placed under cultivation; Washoe Indians established (with federal assistance) their own community named after their benefactors, the Dressler family; and the population of the valley grew tenfold.

Fred Dressler is a descendant of some of Carson Valley’s earliest settlers, and he operates one of its oldest and most excellent powers of observation on several topics important to understanding the history of the area. Dressler’s pioneering grandparents passed on to him an impression of nineteenth century life in the valley, and he recalls that here. Agriculture and ranching receive a detailed treatment, and there is a discussion of some of the buildings, businesses and citizens of the southern valley of the early twentieth century. Of particular interest are recollections of Washoe ways and individual Washoe Indians. For over one hundred years the Dressler family employed Washoe on their ranch, and Washoe families resided on Dressler land well into the twentieth century.

When Fred Dressler recalls the events and places of his early life, he speaks from a past that is deeper than the dates suggest. Until the Great Depression and the social, political and technological changes that so quickly followed it, Carson Valley seemed almost fixed in time, an extension of nineteenth century rural Nevada. This oral history illuminates that period of historical foundation.

This introduction and oral history is reprinted with permission from the University of Nevada Oral History Archive, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Nevada, Reno.

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