Major William Ormsby

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William Ormsby

Major William Matthew Ormsby was one of the earliest residents of Eagle Valley. He showed confidence in Abe Curry's vision for the future of Carson City by not only buying land right downtown, but by building and operating Carson's first hotel, the Ormsby House.

Major Ormsby was killed in May 1860 during the Paiute Indian War.


The Major was born in Pennsylvania and married into a well-placed Southern family. His title of "Major" probably came from being in a state militia. In 1849 he travelled west to California as part of the Gold Rush. After trying his hand at several ventures and failing most of them, he found his way to Genoa in 1857, working as an agent for the Pioneer Stage line. Ormsby came to the Eastern Slope around the same time the Mormons were leaving it, and the Major hoped to take advantage of this power vacuum. He set about trying to create a new territory in the area, but in Genoa he found more enemies than friends. In particular he ran afoul of a local gambler named Lucky Bill Thorington, but in 1858 Lucky Bill was accused of murder and hanged by a group of vigilantes from Honey Lake. Ormsby claimed no involvement.

Major Ormsby did manage to make friends with several of the Indian tribes of the area, most notably the Paiutes that lived to the north by Pyramid Lake. He became particular friends with Captain Truckee, who was the father of Chief Winnemucca of the Paiutes. In 1858 Truckee brought his granddaughter Sarah Winnemucca to live with the Ormsbys and be educated in the ways of the whites. Ormsby taught her well, and she became fluent in English, later writing a book about her life in Nevada.

Soon after Lucky Bill's hanging, Abraham Curry and his partners came to the area looking to establish themselves. Land in Genoa was too expensive, so they traveled on to the Eagle Valley, where they eventually started a town known as Carson City. Major Ormsby, not desiring to have any more to do with Genoa, followed them soon after and took possession of a large piece of land right to the southwest of the central plaza. Here in 1859, at the corner of Carson and Second Streets, the Major started building a hotel. This hotel was named the Ormsby House, and in early 1860 it was open for business, or what little business there was available in the small town at the time. Ormsby also got back into his plans for developing a new territory, by now called Nevada, and this time centered around Carson City as the capital. This territory was created in 1861, but the Major didn't live to see it.


In May of 1860, a way station out by what is today Lake Lahontan was raided by Indians. The raid was done in retaliation for the kidnapping of two young squaws by the residents of the station, and a band of warriors descended on the place, rescuing the girls and killing everyone else inside. The brother of one of the killed men soon came upon the scene, and in a panic set out for Carson City with news of the massacre. This event triggered what was later called the Paiute Indian War.

Not knowing about the kidnapping, the few settlers of the Eastern Slope thought they had an Indian uprising on their hands. People from Carson City, Genoa, and Virginia City banded together, 105 members in all, and set out to investigate. Major Ormsby was their leader, mainly because he was friendly with some of the Paiute tribes. He couldn't believe his friends had done this; he probably thought it was a renegade band. They went first to the site of the massacre, then headed north to Pyramid Lake, where they heard a large encampment of Paiutes was gathering. But they never made it to the lake. On the banks of the Truckee River, north of Wadsworth, they were ambushed by a large group of Paiute warriors. The group was under the command of Numaga, who was the cousin of Sarah Winnemucca. Chaos ensued, and many of the vigilantes, who were miners and storekeepers and had no military experience, broke ranks and ran. Major Ormsby tried to keep order, but he was knocked off his horse by an arrow and didn't survive. In all, only 29 of the party managed to make it back to Virginia City. The Major never got to follow through with the rest of his plans for Carson City. He was buried in Carson City's Pioneer Cemetery, but later exhumed by his family and taken out of state.

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