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Mining the Past: Using Arrastras as Evidence of Mexican Mining Activity in Early Nevada
AuthorCanon, Chelsea R.
AdvisorStarrs, Paul F.
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Why are Mexican miners absent from Nevada’s historical record? Legends of lost Spanish mines abound, and Hispanic place names dapple the state, but the stories of Hispanic miners themselves are missing from Nevada histories. This is partly because the best evidence for their presence exists not in archives or libraries, but on the landscape, in the form of the arrastras they left behind. Arrastras are a Hispanic mining technology, small-scale milling and amalgamating machines built to extract just such mineral wealth as the Nevada desert contained. Best used on high-grade and free-milling ore, by a small and mobile mining population, arrastras were never well documented and were rarely paired with an official claim. This study investigates the region’s Mexican past through an exploration of its early mining geography, with a focus on Nye County and an emphasis on arrastras as evidence of the presence and activities of these miners. Using artifacts like arrastras as evidence can be fraught with challenges, both of simple location and of interpretation. To address this, a GIS prospecting model using fuzzy logic was built to focus field searches for arrastras, and a thorough literature review undertaken. Five arrastras were located, and evidence from archives and mining histories was used to help place each arrastra in its possible local and regional context. A balance was maintained between archive and artifact, and it is this study’s position that archival content can be understood as an artifact of its own. History is often perceived to be the true story of the past, but we forget that a true story is not necessarily a whole story. There are arrastras in Nye County, and they are absent from the written record. Careful consideration of these artifacts in conjunction with existing written records strongly suggests Mexican mining presence in the region in the years before Nevada’s 1864 statehood.