Washoe history reflected on overpass
Although it’s one of Carson City’s newest structures, the Snyder Avenue bridge also serves as a reminder to the area’s oldest history. Before Snyder Avenue — or the state of Nevada, for that matter — even existed, that area was known as Rabbit Drive Creek, Washoe Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Darrel Cruz said.
That name is written in Washoe, Usewe Wat A, on the bridge — which opened June 27 and crosses over tribal land — alongside the Snyder Avenue designation in English.
“We at the Nevada Department of Transportation always work with nearby communities to make sure that our road infrastructure and landscape and aesthetics accurately and best reflect that community,” said Meg Ragonese, NDOT spokeswoman. “Nevada has so much heritage, culture and history, and we want to reflect that on our roadways to help bolster our local communities.”
The bridge takes motorists over the final portion of the freeway that will complete the bypass by reconnecting with Highway 395 South at Spooner Junction. It’s expected to be completed in 2016.
“In the case of the Snyder overpass, we were able to collaborate with the tribe on designs reflective of their heritage,” Ragonese said. “At their request, we had the opportunity to join the Snyder Avenue name on the bridge alongside the tribal name that best identifies the area.”
Tribal elder Jean McNicoll, also known as Yetta, said the area was a popular hunting site for the Washoe Tribe.
“You have to picture from Stewart all the way to Fairview, that was just sagebrush and bushes,” McNicoll said. “That’s where our people would gather rabbits.”
For the hunt, she said, each family would make a net. The tribe members would then connect the nets to make a trap. Half of them would start out at one end of the valley and drive the rabbits into the nets where hunters were waiting at the other end with clubs.
“They would bonk the rabbits on the head,” she said. “The rabbits were fast, so you had to be fast, too. A lot of them would get away. The lucky ones.”
She said hundreds of rabbits were harvested at a time. About 80 pelts, sometimes 120 or more, were needed to make a single blanket. Pelts also were used to make rope. Meat was eaten fresh as well as dried for the winter.
McNicoll learned to hunt and skin rabbits and make ropes and blankets from her grandfather Henry Moses Rupert, but many of those traditions have been lost.
“A lot of our people don’t remember these things. They don’t know about the old ways,” she said. “A lot of these things are just gone with the wind.”
Cruz said the name and Native American symbols help to preserve those traditions.
“It memorializes the true name and meaning of that place,” he said. “The Washoe people are still living right there. It brings history to life with that name.”