ORIGINS AND HISTORY OF NIPTON
In the nineteenth century, two overland wagon trails crossed on the east slope of Ivanpah Valley. One east-west trail carried people and freight from the Colorado River to the silver mining town of Ivanpah. The other, a north-south trail went from the mining community of Goodsprings to Goffs, a station on the Santa Fe Railroad (the Southern Route). A discovery of gold at the turn of the 20th Century in the Crescent District drew attention to the crossroad which would become the town site and place name of Nipton.
An entrepreneur and gold seeker from western Pennsylvania, S.(Samuel) D. (“Dunc”) Karns, arrived in Ivanpah Valley late in the 19th Century attracted by the boom town in the Vanderbilt Gold District just up the valley from the E-W/N-S crossroad. It is thought that on January 1, 1900, Karns and some associates staked the earliest claim in the Crescent District, to be given the name Nippeno, later to be followed by adjacent claims Susquehana, Cumberland, Northhumberland, Pennsylvania, &Osceola: taken together to be known as the NIPPENO CONSOLIDATED MINE. The mining camp associated with the mine was known as NIPPENO CAMP which was located nearby the wagon crossroad. There is evidence that the name Nippeno derives from Native American tradition of the western Pennsylvania region.
Nevada Senator William Clark, a Montana copper baron, was determined to connect Salt Lake City to Los Angeles by rail. In 1885 he proposed building the railroad which his company completed in the winter of 1904/1905 which passed immediately by the crossroad and Nippeno Camp.
The San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake railroad brought new traffic to the little crossroads community. The whistle-stop on the railroad time tables was designated as “Nippeno Camp”. Passengers bringing freight and cattle from the neighboring region traveled to Nippeno Camp as it was the most accessible railhead for transit to the east-Salt Lake City and Chicago, and to the west-Los Angeles.
By 1910 the S.P., L.A., & S.L. line had been merged into Harriman’s Union Pacific Railroad System and the name of the crossroads community had been changed to Nipton. A stage coach line from Searchlight, Nevada was established to carry passengers and freight to Nipton and the railhead. Early records from the 1900 Census indicate an individual named Karns registered as a Mining Engineer in the Vanderbilt District. Post Office records for the period of 1907 – 1909 show a S.D. Karns as the Postmaster in Nipton. Voter records (1908) indicate that Karns was a registered voter in the Vanderbilt Precinct and worked as the storekeeper in Nipton. Obituaries in Pennsylvania papers indicated that Karns died in Nipton in 1909.
Harry Trehearne, a Cornish miner from England, immigrated to America and was naturalized in Las Vegas in 1913. Settling down in Nipton, he opened a general store and pursued the development of the community, which included restoring the Hotel Nipton and digging the first water well. He was also active in many local mine explorations and developments. Harry met Ella Mae and they married, establishing a family home in Nipton. They filed homestead papers with the Federal Government and on April 10, 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt completed the process, signing the homestead thus transferring the title of the land from the United States to Trehearne.
In 1940 while Harry Trehearne was returning to England for a visit, he was aboard the Athenia when it was torpedoed off the English coast. Trehearne survived and returned to Nipton.
On his return, Trehearne continued to develop the community of Nipton. He built a new General Store (now the Nipton Trading Post), the Town Hall and the Nippeno House. Other projects at the emerging town site also continued.
Clara Bow, the famed “IT Girl” of the Hollywood Silent Film era, moved to a cattle ranch about 16 miles from Nipton in the late 20’s. Her husband, Rex Bell, drove their cattle overland to Nipton for shipment by rail to the slaughter yards. Clara accompanied the cowboys to Nipton, where she picked up her fan mail from the post office, and visited with her friends Harry and Ella Trehearne. Clara, it is said, preferred Room # 3 in the Hotel Nipton for her stays. Today Room # 3 is called the Clara Bow Room. Clara and Rex often entertained the Hollywood crowd at Nipton and on their ranch. Trainloads of guests would arrive in Nipton for the overland auto ride to their Walking Box Ranch.
Harry Trehearne passed away in 1949 and Nipton passed into other hands. After a period of neglect, Nipton was purchased by the Gerald Freeman family in 1984. Much of Nipton has been restored since then. The Freeman’s first efforts included the restoration and renovation of Hotel Nipton and the promotion of it as a Bed and Breakfast Inn, and the reforming of the general store into the Nipton Trading Post as a gift and convenience store. Nipton Station, a recreational vehicle park, was developed to provide temporary living accommodations for workers in the local gold mines. A new future is being charted as a gateway community to Mojave National Preserve.
The new emphasis for Nipton is as a host location for cannabis tourism and a hub for art and nature educational workshops. This is a shift from its traditional role in mining, ranching and railroading.
Ella and Harry Trehearne in the rock garden in front of the Hotel Nipton.
The Nipton store is in the background.
Searchlight to Nipton Stage Coach
Clara Bow and Rex Bell