University of Nevada Oral History Program Collection


Always Bet On the Butcher   Link to catalog record
Always Bet on the Butcher: Warren Nelson and Casino Gaming is a fascinating look behind the scenes of the casino gambling business as described by Warren Nelson. In 1936 Nelson established the first modern keno game in Reno at the Palace Club, where he worked as a pit boss for several years before joining the Marines in 1942. He continued his involvement with gaming while in the service, dealing cards in an illegal joint in California during his off-duty hours. When the war was over, Nelson was hired by Bill Harrah to manage his new club in Reno. The two soon clashed over operating philosophy, and Nelson left to work in several other casinos before becoming a partner in the Club Cal-Neva in 1962. The Cal-Neva developed into one of the most successful operations in Nevada, and in 1989 Nelson was inducted into the Casino Gaming Hall of Fame. In Always Bet on the Butcher, Nelson talks freely about his experiences, from the early days when casinos used violence or the threat of it to protect themselves from hustlers, to the present-day casinos with corporate management. Of special interest are twenty-one pages of photos and an appended glossary of terms -- jargon used by gamblers and professionals in the industry. This book is a notable eyewitness account of the evolution of casino gaming in this country from a unique, insider's perspective.

A Candle in the Night   Link to catalog record
In 1967 a small Basque studies program was established within the social sciences division of the University of Nevada's Desert Research Institute. As originally conceived, the program's purpose was to study the Basques (who were historically the foremost sheep tenders in the American West) as a key human element in the Great Basin ecosystem. At the time, no one imagined that such a modest, narrowly focused little undertaking could grow to become today's Center for Basque Studies, the leading research and educational institute of its kind outside the European Basque homeland. A Candle in the Night chronicles the history of the Center for Basque Studies, as remembered by many of those who were most important in its foundation and development. While the center has achieved great things and has much of which to be proud, the road to success was not uniformly smooth. A Candle in the Night gives the reader the kind of multi-faceted understanding of issues and personalities that is often missing from official institutional histories.

Every Light Was On   Link to catalog record
William Fisk (Bill) Harrah was the most influential figure in the history of casino gaming in Nevada, and one of the least accessible. A revealing book from the UNOHP puts his life and career in perspective. Every Light Was On is the story of Harrah and his clubs as told by twenty former employees and two women who were among his six wives. From a slow start operating a little bingo parlor in a downtown Reno alley, Harrah went on to build hugely successful hotel-casinos in Reno and at Lake Tahoe that were glittering examples for the industry, replete with gourmet restaurants, lavish accommodations for guests, and the very finest in service and hospitality. Every Light Was On ranges widely and deeply, covering most important aspects of Bill Harrah's life and the operations of his hotel-casinos, from the 1940s through the purchase of the company by Holiday Inns in 1980. It is both an exploration of a singular personality and a detailed account of how Harrah's Clubs became the standard by which all other gaming properties were judged.

Famiglia e Cucina    Link to catalog record
Celebrations and activities with friends and family seem, to a large extent, to serve as the glue binding together the Italian-American community in northwestern Nevada, and food and the social events surrounding it are important cultural markers for even third- and fourth-generation Italians. In many cases, long after members of a family may have stopped speaking Italian, that family's traditional dishes are still being prepared. In recognition of the importance of this culinary aspect of community life, the University of Nevada Oral History Program conducted a series of interviews on foodways, gathering recipes in the process. The resulting book, Famiglia e Cucina, is more than a collection of recipes from some of the area's many Italian-American families. It includes stories and memories about family history, the cultural importance of food, and time-honored traditions. Part oral history, part cookbook, Famiglia e Cucina weaves together recipes and remembrances for a fascinating view of a vibrant and longstanding community with roots reaching back to the nineteenth century. Chroniclers and recipe donors include: Bonaldo "Burt" Bonaldi, Marian Capurro Durkee, Judy Matley Edwards, Joe Frugoli, Julia Gonfiantini Glandville, Christopher Gonfiantini, Glen Gonfiantini, Nello Gonfiantini Jr., Nello Gonfiantini III, Al and Dorothy Lazzarone, Teresa Quilici Manfredi, Madaline Brackett McKillip, Daryl Pelizzari, Inez Casale Stempeck, Giovanna Tanvi, Victor Teglia, Elmer and Esther Vacchina, Lorri Galletti Vanwoert, Nancy Laiolo Winters, George Yori, and Virginia Pucci Zorio.

A Family Affair    Link to catalog record
From World War II to the early 1960s, Harolds Club was the largest casino in Nevada and probably the most widely known in the world. A Family Affair is the story of Harolds and the remarkable family that owned it. It is also a revealing chronicle of the gaming industry's colorful, vigorous, and sometimes outrageous youth. A semi-itinerant family of carnival game concessionaires named Smith founded Harolds Club in Reno in 1935, starting in a rented "hole-in-the-wall" storefront two doors from the First National Bank. No casino owners were ever more idiosyncratic in their approach to the business than the Smiths. Pappy, the patriarch of the family, and his sons, Harold and Raymond A., were capable of audacious strokes of genius in advancing the fortunes of their club, but they also broke every accepted rule of business and management, doing many things that should have led to the ruin of their enterprise, but somehow did not. They quickly became the most successful operators in Nevada. In popular memory, the Smiths and their club have come to exemplify "the good old days" of the gaming industry, when personal connections mattered more than experience and credentials, gaming regulations were weak and poorly enforced, and the bottom line wasn't everything. Former employees remember Harolds Club almost as if it were one big extended family and they were all part of it. It was so much fun to work at the club that many people actually looked forward to going in every day. One longtime employee even went so far as to liken working there to being on "a paid vacation".

Fighting Back   Link to catalog record
Fighting Back: A Life in the Struggle for Civil Rights is James B. McMillan's memoir of a life spent fighting racial discrimination in its many forms. His story is personal, but it represents the experiences of thousands of other African-Americans who demanded equality under the law. Born in Mississippi, McMillan and his mother moved north when he was five years old. He later attended the University of Detroit on an athletic scholarship, earned a degree in dentistry from Meharry Medical College, and served as an officer in the segregated U.S. Army. In 1955, McMillan moved his family to Las Vegas. He liked the city from the start, but he encountered the same type of racial discrimination there that he had lived with all of his life. He would not tolerate it, and within a year of his arrival he was attacking segregation in Las Vegas so vehemently that he was elected president of the local NAACP branch. Under his leadership the branch soon took direct action to end overt segregation on the Las Vegas Strip, something which they accomplished in 1960. McMillan's recollections do not end with the desegregation of the Strip, however. Fighting Back also includes discussions of bussing, the Black Muslims, interracial marriage, and current civil rights controversies. Through the experiences of James McMillan, Fighting Back addresses some of the most important issues in race relations in the twentieth century.

The Free Life of a Ranger    Link to catalog record
Archie Murchie's action-packed career in the U. S. Forest Service began in 1929, when rangers routinely spent much of their time in the saddle, and ended in 1965, as they were becoming increasingly desk bound. Back in print in a revised second edition, The Free Life of a Ranger is Murchie's oral history memoir of the Forest Service in its youth. It is also, indirectly, a thoughtful discourse on man's ongoing efforts to control and exploit nature in the Intermountain West. Murchie was an outstanding ranger -- conscientious, well informed, resourceful in managing his districts, and physically tough. His story is a vivid account that covers a variety of subjects, including (among others) fire fighting, restoration of environment, mustang hunts, and efforts to stop prohibited uses of Forest lands.

Gaming Regulation and Gaming Law in Nevada   Link to catalog record
Robert D. Faiss is the head of the gaming law division of the prestigious firm of Lionel Sawyer & Collins. He is largely responsible for the development of gaming law as a specialty, and he is particularly well qualified to comment on how regulation of the casino industry has evolved over the years. His memoir, Gaming Regulation and Gaming Law in Nevada, is an eloquent, eyewitness account of crucial events and moments in the history of legalized gaming in Nevada. In his more than three decades as an attorney, Bob Faiss has represented well-known gaming clients and dealt with regulatory boards and legislative bodies, and he has been involved with a number of notable cases as a result. In the 1970s, he served as gaming counsel to the Del Webb Corporation in their defense against a takeover of the company by Frank Sinatra and his lawyer, Milton Rudin. He has also been heavily involved in international gaming law. In 1983, he won approval for Hilton Hotels Corporation to be the first gaming licensee approved by the Nevada gaming control agencies to be involved in gaming operation in a foreign jurisdiction (Queensland, Australia) and in 1985 he won Nevada licensing for Carma Limited of Canada, which was the first foreign public company to be licensed to own or operate a casino in the state. Faiss continues to represent a wide range of clients around the globe, including in Nevada, Canada, Europe, Australia, Asia, and the Middle East, and he has advised foreign governments in the creation of gaming control systems.

Gaming Regulation in Nevada   Link to catalog record
In 2006, the University of Nevada Oral History Program (UNOHP) released Guy W. Farmer's oral history, Gaming Regulation in Nevada: The Second Sawyer Administration. Farmer was employed by the state in the early days of the regulatory effort, and in this book, he shares many of his recollections of those times. In 1963, Guy Farmer was appointed as public information officer for the Nevada Gaming Commission and Gaming Control Board. At the time of his appointment, the board had only been in existence for about eight years, and the commission for four. One of the notable occurrences during Farmer's time in that position was that he was asked by the board chairman, Ed Olsen, to listen in on a phone call that Frank Sinatra had made to Olsen regarding Sinatra's licensing at Lake Tahoe's Cal-Neva Club. The call, reportedly laden with expletives and threats by Sinatra, has become infamous in gaming circles. While Farmer went on to an illustrious career as a diplomat and later as a journalist with the Nevada Appeal, this oral history focuses on his time in gaming regulation.

Hang Tough! Grant Sawyer   Link to catalog record
Grant Sawyer served two turbulent terms as Nevada's governor from 1959 to 1966. Sawyer was an advocate of progressive change. By the late fifties he had come so far from his start in the conservative political machine of Senator Patrick McCarran that many powerful Nevadans considered his policies on education, the environment, and civil rights to be dangerously radical. When he demanded meaningful regulatory control over casino gaming and took decisive action to purge the industry of its mob connections, the establishment's resistance stiffened. Eventually, Sawyer's positions brought him into open conflict with special interests and led to a collision with the justice department of the federal government, but he never backed down. Hang Tough! is fifty years of state and national politics as remembered by an insider who was never reluctant to speak his mind. Recalling years of trying to get casino gaming under control (including the bizarre events leading to the revocation of Frank Sinatra's gaming license), Sawyer reveals an incongruous link between gaming regulation and the emergence of civil rights in Nevada. The book also explores various environmental resource issues that have shaped Nevada and the American West since the Second World War

Let's Get Going!    Link to catalog record
Let's Get Going! is the story of Art Smith, a railroad machinist's son born in 1922 who became the top banker in Nevada. His father worked for the Southern Pacific, and the family lived in the railroad town of Sparks. When he graduated from high school, Smith worked for the railroad himself before taking a job as a clerk in the local branch of the First National Bank. After serving as a naval aviator during World War II, he returned to banking and eventually rose to head banks in Las Vegas and later in Reno. When he retired in 1984, Smith was chairman and CEO of First Interstate Bank of Nevada, by far the largest bank in the state. Art Smith's career spanned four decades of unprecedented population growth and economic expansion which transformed Nevada from a frontier state to a booming, urbanized tourist destination. From bank robberies to nuclear testing to the financing of the gaming industry, Let's Get Going! is filled with behind-the-scenes information about a turbulent period in Nevada history. It is an insider's look at many of the events, people, and phenomena that shaped the Nevada of today.

A Liberal Conscience   Link to catalog record
A Liberal Conscience is the witty, highly informative memoir of one of the most revered figures in Nevada's Democratic Party. An eyewitness account by an influential player, it is studded with stories that reveal the multiple dimensions of state politics and politicians. Born in 1925, Ralph Denton is descended from early settlers of Caliente, a little railroad town in southeastern Nevada. As a teenager, Denton punched cattle, labored in mining, and kept a lid on his aspirations. Then he came under the patronage of Pat McCarran, a powerful U.S. Senator, and his life forever changed. Living in Washington, working for the Senate, and earning a law degree with McCarran's help, Denton became one of a select group of influential young Nevadans who were widely known as "McCarran's Boys." Pat McCarran died in 1954, but the Boys continued for decades to be important players in Nevada politics and government. Ironically, given McCarran's often extreme conservative tendencies, several of the Boys proved to be somewhat liberal, Denton chief among them. Denton was also outspoken and uncompromising in his beliefs, and his idealism would lead to narrow defeats in two Congressional campaigns. Although Ralph Denton couldn't get himself elected (except for one term as DA of Esmeralda County), he was a whiz at helping others, from Grant Sawyer to John F. Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, and Jerry Brown. His memoir includes fascinating stories that illustrate the interface of law, government, gaming interests, and the forces of development in Las Vegas.

My Father's Son   Link to catalog record
In its location on the margin of Reno's casino core, and in its history of unorthodox but aggressive operation, the Sands Regency Hotel Casino is a reflection of the personalities of the two Petes who built and ran it, Cladianos Sr. and Jr. My Father's Son: AGaming Memoir is Pete Jr.'s candid memoir of the father he adored, the enterprise they built together, and the social, economic, and governmental environments in which they operated. Casino gambling (or "gaming") became legal in Nevada in 1931. Initially, most operators came from other states, but there were some early homegrown entrepreneurs. Among them was Greek immigrant Pete Cladianos Sr., who started a slot machine route at the beginning of the Great Depression. Over the next thirty years, he and his family built a business empire that included bars, motels, hotels, and even a mercantile business. They all had one lucrative feature in common-slot machines. But what Pete Sr. really wanted was a full-blown casino of his own. Pete Jr. had a turbulent youth, but eventually straightened out, became his father's closest collaborator, and, in the 1960s, took on responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the family enterprises. Through clever (but legal) manipulation of a city ordinance, they were finally able to establish a casino, the Sands, outside Renoss restrictive "red line."

Not Like a River   Link to catalog record
Readers of this book will gain insight into the exceptional scope of Professor Elmer Rusco's work and contributions, as well as the reasons for his extraordinary, lifelong commitment to advancing the cause of social justice. Few Nevadans have dedicated so much time and effort to progressive organizations. Each such association, and the causes they champion, owes a great deal to this man from Kansas who chose to spend more than four decades in Nevada. In Rusco's care, these associations included involvement with organizations committed to the environment (Friends of Rancho San Rafael and Friends of Pyramid Lake), religion (the Unitarian Universalists), civil rights (the ACLU Nevada and the Northern Nevada Black Cultural Awareness Society), political reform (Common Cause), legal aid (Washoe Legal Services), direct help for the poor (Community Services Agency and Habitat for Humanity), and much more. Equal in importance to his volunteer contributions was his academic career, much of which was spent in the Political Science Department at the University of Nevada, Reno. In this oral history, he outlines the roots of his activism and research interests and discusses his remarkable life. The publication of this book was generously supported with gifts from the Friends of Pyramid Lake, Jean and Bob Myles, Don and Catherine Fowler, and JoAnne Peden.

Playing the Cards That are Dealt   Link to catalog record
Derived from oral history interviews with the late Mead Dixon, this authoritative narrative provides previously unrecorded information about the gaming industry. Topics include boardroom maneuvering, cheating scams, "creative" financing, power plays among partners, and intense rivalries between casinos. Among the featured characters are Bill Harrah, the Houssels family, Donald Trump, Warren "Doc" Bayley, Jimmy Contratto, Jake Kozloff, Bob Maheu, and Si Redd. Dixon's career gave him an extraordinary perspective on gaming. Admitted to the Nevada bar in 1949, he became counsel to casinos and to groups launching gaming operations in Las Vegas, Reno, and Lake Tahoe. By 1957 he was the principal attorney for William F. Harrah and Harrah's Clubs, and by the late 1960s he was on the board of directors of Harrah's, the Showboat, and the Tropicana. Following Bill Harrah's death, Dixon was elected chairman of the Harrah's board, where he engineered the 1980 merger of Harrah's with Holiday Inns. Upon his retirement from Holiday, he returned to the Showboat board of directors and guided that company's successful expansion into Atlantic City. Playing the Cards That Are Dealt explores four decades of casino gaming history in the United States through the career of one of the industry's most prominent figures

Silver Peak   Link to catalog record
Silver Peak: Never A Ghost Town, is the story of a small mining community in west-central Nevada. As with many towns tied to mining, it has suffered the booms and busts that are inherent in the industry, but the difference with Silver Peak is that it has weathered them all and stood its ground in the desert. Approaches to studying history vary, and one of the most exciting aspects of this book is its use of sources: archaeological discoveries, archival records, and oral history interviews. This unique combination offers something more than a list of events, names, and dates. Information on Silver Peak's earliest history was drawn from newspapers, legal documents, letters, business files, and archaeological reports. More recent history, from the 1930s onward, really comes alive in the oral histories that were conducted for this project. Chroniclers recounted not only the serious business of mining and keeping a town afloat but also humorous stories about community life at the place they fondly referred to as "The Peak." This combination of sources provides a vast array of information on Silver Peak and addresses some of the following questions: Why did Silver Peak survive when other Nevada mining towns did not? What role was played by investors, individuals, families, and advances in technology? How was Silver Peak alike or different from other mining communities? The resulting story is told in this engaging look at a community that has met its challenges head on and has remained vibrant-and never a ghost town.


Sonny's Story   Link to catalog record
In popular myth, anyone can make it to the top in America, no matter how humble his or her origins. That may be true, but few have faced greater challenges along the way than did Rollan Melton. Sonny, as he was called when he was young, was born into a dysfunctional family in Boise, Idaho, at the beginning of the Great Depression. A child of divorce, young Sonny drifted for years from home to home, from town to town, living sometimes with his mother, sometimes with his father, and sometimes with relatives. When he dropped out of school in the ninth grade, a dim future seemed assured. In 1946 Sonny at last found himself in a stable situation, and his life began to change for the better. At Fallon High School, he was taken under wing by the school's football coach, who introduced him to the joys of athletic achievement, competitive sports, and teamwork. Sonny also found after-school employment as a printer's devil with the Fallon Standard, a weekly newspaper. He received a Harolds Club scholarship to the University of Nevada, where he majored in journalism and played football. Following a stint in the army, he became a sportswriter for a Reno newspaper. At the age of thirty-two, he was named the editor of the Reno Gazette-Journal; at thirty-five, he was the paper's publisher; and two years later he became the vice president of the Speidel newspaper group. He went on to become president of Speidel and a vice president and director of Gannett. In 1978, at the age of forty-seven, Melton resigned his vice presidency to return to Reno and to writing. His memoir is an unflinching examination that does not shrink from discussing the emotional pain and deprivation of his youth. It is also an American success story of almost mythic proportions.

Tap Dancing on Ice   Link to catalog record
Jack Douglass was born in Tonopah, Nevada, in 1910. Finding himself jobless during the Great Depression of the 1930s, he began placing jukeboxes, pinball, and slot machines in bars in central Nevada mining camps, slowly building a route that became the foundation for a long career in the gaming industry. After serving in World War II, Douglass returned to Nevada and greatly expanded his route, centering its operations in Reno. In the 1960s he got into the casino business, first at the Riverside and later as a partner in the Club Cal-Neva. Douglass went on to be a principal owner in other casinos in the state, and he earned a reputation for creative development of gaming properties. Tap Dancing on Ice: The Life and Times of a Nevada Gaming Pioneer is more than the story of one man's rise through Nevada's home-grown gaming industry. The book contains sketches of characters from the early days of gaming, and it is rich in anecdotes that reveal a little-known dimension of the industry's history. Through Douglass's life the reader is introduced to the small-scale, local, risk-taking and personal approach to gaming that prevailed in Nevada before the industry became dominated by corporations.

Through the Glass Ceiling   Link to catalog record
In 2000, an anonymous $10,000 donation was given to the Nevada Women's History Project (NWHP) to document the life history of former Nevada Lieutenant Governor Sue Wagner. The University of Nevada Oral History Program undertook the project, and interviews with Ms. Wagner were conducted by Victoria Ford beginning in July of 2000. The transcripts from those interviews form the basis for Sue Wagner's oral history, Through the Glass Ceiling: A Life in Nevada Politics The book chronicles Ms. Wagner's life, from her childhood in Maine through her political career in Nevada, which spanned several decades. She served in the Nevada Assembly from 1975-1980 and in the Nevada Senate from 1981-1989, and in 1990 she was elected as Nevada's first female lieutenant governor. Along with her political career, her oral history also documents her family life and the dual tragedies of her husband's fatal plane crash in 1980 and her own serious injuries resulting from a plane crash ten years later. Ms. Wagner is still active in state affairs, serving on the Nevada Gaming Commission and coordinating a University of Nevada, Reno, internship program with the state legislature. The publication of this book was generously supported with gifts from James and Loretta McCormick, Marilyn Melton, Maya Miller, and Tom and Joyce King.

War Stories   Link to catalog record
War Stories: Veterans Remember WWII is emotionally powerful oral history from twenty-one American veterans of World War II. Fifty years after Allied victory, these men and women remember the war as a personal experience. Their stories are about surviving combat, being wounded or captured, grieving the deaths of friends, and using wit and humor to cope with the extraordinary stress of military service during wartime. While some remarkable acts of heroism are described, the book generally depicts private heroism of the sort that does not win medals or public honors. Although told from personal perspectives, these stories address universal themes. Combined, they reveal the nature of a war that became the defining experience of a generation. Photographs from chroniclers' collections illustrate the stories.

We Were All Athletes   Link to catalog record
With the passage of Title IX in 1972, university athletics programs, like countless other programs nationwide, were mandated to level the playing field for men and women. While the results were not immediate, and some methods met with resistance, a spirit of change began to sweep through campuses everywhere, and Nevada was no exception. Here, through interviews conducted by the University of Nevada Oral History Program (UNOHP) in 2007-2008, former student athletes, coaches, university administrators and others vividly describe the struggles and successes of the women?s athletics program at the University of Nevada from the 1960s onward. From sleeping on the floors of their competitors? gymnasiums to celebrating national championships, these athletes show their indomitable spirit. Coaches share their deep passion for helping each team to reach its full potential, as well as ongoing frustration about budgets and resources. Administrators reveal the complexities of implementing sweeping programmatic changes, and loyal community members demonstrate their unwavering commitment to supporting and promoting the accomplishments of the young student athletes who simply want to compete. Through the years, as scholarships for women increase, facilities improve, and resources multiply, the road becomes smoother, although challenges remain. Woven together, these individual recollections create a richly evocative tapestry of voices, bringing to life the remarkable story of women?s athletics at the University of Nevada.


Reno Now and Then   Link to catalog record
Reno is one of few towns in Nevada that was never a boom-and-bust mining camp. Sitting astride the Truckee River and the main road from the northern California mining camps, in its early days it offered travelers crude shelter and a bridge across the river. With the coming of the first transcontinental railroad in 1868, it was also situated along a major cross-country route. Positioned in this manner, Reno became a thriving distribution center for ranching and mining, by way of the river, roads, and railroads. It retains some of that character today, but since the 1950s, its economy has been dominated by the casino gaming industry. Through fascinating historic photos and contemporary re-photography of selected locations, the authors of this book hope to illustrate the tension between growth and stability that characterizes Reno. It is the hope of the authors that Reno residents will remember fondly some of the scenes depicted, that newcomers will obtain a better understanding of the town they now call home, and that those who have not yet visited Reno will gain some insight into the community through these images.