On the Road to Find Jack Wilson

| May 6, 2011 | 0 Comments
Finding Jack Wilson Wovoka

The author finally finds Jack Wilson.

It took me 35 years to close the loop between a term paper that I had written as a high school senior and the grave of Jack Wilson.

That report was about the Ghost Dance, first practiced by the Northern Nevada Paiute Indians in 1889 in the Mason Valley, not far from Carson City. Its originator was a mystic called Wovoka, though his Christian name was Jack Wilson.

I’d long forgotten about the term paper and the Ghost Dance, which had started a religious movement across the western states among Native American tribes. One night, while mapping out motorcycle rides through Nevada, I came across a town called Schurz. Schurz, Nevada?

Decades had passed, but suddenly that high school assignment came rushing back to me. I remembered that Wilson was buried in Schurz, on the Walker River Indian Reservation in Mineral County. After some research, I planned to take a bike trip to the town of less than 1,000 souls, some 100 miles due east of Lake Tahoe. But something always came up: Spring turned to summer and summer to fall and soon riding season was over. With winter came a new resolve to get to Schurz and find Wilson’s final resting place.

Living at The Lake affords a motorcyclist the opportunity to discover the region’s unique beauty and topography in every direction. I have ridden all over California and Northern Nevada’s two-lane roads and have experienced places and met people in a way you can’t with a car, but this trip held something extra for me. Once again, I started thinking back to my youth and how this journey in the middle years of my life would somehow close the circle.

I met my friends Dale Smith and Donna McNeeley in Minden on a Sunday morning and we took off down Highway 395, heading east through Smith Valley, where Wilson had grown up. The ride through Nevada was beautiful: two-lane roads, few cars and a seemingly endless horizon. In my book, Nevada never gets a fair shake for its high desert beauty and open vistas. From a motorcycle, I have come to appreciate the state as never before.

Robert Pirsig, who wrote the cult favorite Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, said it best: “[On a cycle] you’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.” I enjoy Nevada’s open, uncluttered spaces and expanse that actually make you feel small, in light of the immense beauty of the land.

As we pulled into the Schurz cemetery, the colorful flowers and flags that marked each grave stood in contrast with the brown Nevada soil. It struck me as more festive than one might expect for such a place.

I looked to my left and there it was—a grave surrounded by steel fencing with a gateway arch and the name “Wovoka” across the top. It was clear this was intended to be a special, sacred space. The headstone made no mention of Jack Wilson.

Three and a half decades had passed between the term paper written by a kid and the middle-aged man that stood looking over this burial site. I started on the road to find Jack Wilson, but found Wovoka instead. That is as it should be. By Carl Ribaudo. TQ

Category: Best of Tahoe 2011, Outdoors, People

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