restricted access Epilogue
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250 The Land Answers during the 1890s. Behind A. J. was the Xint-hard Wgure of old Jasper Harrell .In1891JasperandA.J.soldtheHarrell&SonBankofVisaliatothe Producers Bank and A. J. devoted all his attention to the Wrm’s Nevada interests.26 In 1899 A. J. Harrell moved his wife and two children from Visalia to Palo Alto so he could be closer to San Francisco, the Wnancial and cultural center of California. Harrell’s inXuence on the Sparks-Harrell operation was apparent when California banker Jackson Graves visited the ranches in the mid1890s .A.J.’simprovementswereimmediatelyobvious.TheH-DRanch had eighteen hundred acres of irrigated meadow and alfalfa. The HubbardandVineyardRanchesbothhadsubstantialpolebuildingswith dirt roofs. At the Hubbard, three thousand acres of sagebrush had been convertedtoirrigatedWelds.Gravessawimmensestacksofhayatallthe ranches.Someofthestackshadbeencarriedoverfrompreviousseasons as insurance against another winter like 1889–90.27 Theyear1901markedtheendoftheintroductionandexpansionperiod for cattle in the sagebrush/grasslands. John Sparks sold his interest in the Sparks-Harrell ranches to A. J. Harrell. The April 4, 1901, issue of the Reno Evening Gazette, headlined “The Sparks Sale—Over a Million PaidforHisCattleandRanchProperty,”indicatedthatthedealhadbeen concluded in Salt Lake City Wve days prior to the announcement. John Sparks had sold to A. J. Harrell of Visalia, California, 20,000 head of range cattle along with half interest in 700,000 acres of land and a lease on 700,000 additional acres. Sparks refused to discuss the purchase price with reporters, but it was rumored that he received $500,000 in cashand12,000acresofTexascottonlandforhishalfinterestinSparksHarrell .TheSaltLakepapersquotedSparksassaying,“Iplantodevotesome attentiontoraisingcottononmylittle12,000acreTexasranch. ...Cotton isKingyouknow,andifIraiseenoughofit,Imaymakesomemoney—there is no telling.”28 The Wrm continued until 1908 as Sparks-Harrell.29 In a widely quoted interview published in Harper’s Weekly in 1902, Sparks stronglyimpliedthathewasstilltheowneroftheSparks-Harrellranches.30 Passing of the Old Guard 251 Although he told his interviewer that he had yielded to a tempting oVer ingivingupSparks-Harrell,thesalemaynothavebeenbychoice.Considering his later Wnancial problems, John Sparks probably was unable to pay his mortgage debts to the Harrells and lost his ranching empire by default.31 OnMay13,1901,JasperHarrelldied.A.J.Harrellinheritedsoleownershipof175 ,000acresinthecentralGreatBasinand30,000cattlethat ranged on 3 million acres.32 At its high point in the 1880s, this ranching empire had, by some reports, 150,000 head of cattle. This is one of the most striking statistics showing how overstocked the ranges were in the late 1800s. In 1901 brood cows were getting one-half their forage requirement from irrigated lands in the form of hay and crop aftermath. In the 1880s a reported Wve times as many cows were dependent on the range. While President Stubbs was busy selling university research at the National Stock Growers Association, there were other moves under way toenhancethewesternrangelandsaswell.SecretaryofAgricultureWilson announced in 1898 that the usda had sent Professor Niels Hansen fromBrookings,SouthDakota,toCentralAsiatocollectplantsforrevegetating semiarid areas in the West.33 Explorations were also being carried out closer to home. The usda sponsored a survey of the western range to try to determine the nature oftheresource.DavidGriYth,G.Vadey,F.Lamson-Scribner,A.Nelson, and G. Smith for the usda; F. H. Hillmand and P. B. Kennedy of the University of Nevada; and H. T. French of the University of Idaho began to describe the nature and extent of the grazing resource. In 1904 A. J. Harrell was experimenting with grasses from the RussiansteppeonhispropertiesinNevadainanattempttoWllthenicheleft open by the destruction of the native perennial grasses.34 The grass he was using was described as a “recent import from Russia.” Although it isunlikelyatthatearlydate,thegrassmayhavebeencrestedwheatgrass introducedbyProfessorHansen.Bythemiddleofthetwentiethcentury, 252 The Land Answers millions of acres of severely degraded sagebrush rangelands had been seeded to this species. Native shrubs, especially sagebrush, had partly preempted the environmentalpotentialreleasedbythedestructionoftheperennialgrasses . Thesagebrushcommunitiesbecamestark,shrub-dominatedlandscapes without suYcient understories to support anything but marginal livestock production. Most important, the sagebrush-dominated communities were extremely stable for the shrubs because there were not enough herbaceous understory plants to carry Wre through the shrub communities. The shrubs, however, did not have the ecological amplitude to Wll the potential of the communities; some resources remained unused. But biological near-vacuums do not last. One development was already in process. In the Red Desert of Wyominganewplantspecieshadbeendiscovered —aspiny,coarseherbthat uprootedwhenitwasmatureandtumbledacrossthelandscapespreadingseeds .KnownasRussianthistle,ithadbeenaccidentallyintroduced to South Dakota in the 1870s and was to become the Wrst of the alien annual weeds to invade the sagebrush/grasslands.35 WiththedeathofJasperHarrellsoonaftertheturnofthecentury,the days of the empire he founded were numbered. The remaining principalcharactersdidnotlastthedecade .JohnSparkshadaspectacularrise in Nevada politics and was twice elected governor after an unsuccessful race for the Senate. But the colorful promoter was himself caught in a fraudulent mining promotion and lost a great deal of money—both his...


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Subject Headings

  • Grazing -- Environmental aspects -- Great Basin -- History -- 19th century.
  • Great Basin -- History -- 19th century.
  • Beef cattle -- Great Basin -- History -- 19th century.
  • Ranch life -- Great Basin -- History -- 19th century.
  • Range ecology -- Great Basin -- History -- 19th century.
  • Sparks, John, 1843-1908.
  • Ranchers -- Great Basin -- Biography.
  • Harrell, Jasper, 1830-1901.
  • Ranchers -- Great Basin -- History -- 19th century.
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