Nevada Public Radio Listen Live

"BBC's World Service"
Facebook Twitter Follow Nevada Public Radio

Support Nevada Public Radio
March 08, 2013
Podcasts

NEVADA YESTERDAYS: The Dickersons

Listen

From efforts at prison reform to supporting boxing matches, one Nevada governor left a lot to talk about after his time in office:

You can name a lot of important Nevada families who have helped shape the state.  Today, we want to talk about one of them.  Recently, George Dickerson celebrated his ninetieth birthday.  And his family is truly part of the fabric of Nevada life.

In 1908, Governor John Sparks died.  His lieutenant governor became acting governor.  Denver Dickerson was only 36.  He would be, by far, the youngest chief executive in Nevada’s history.  He had been mining in Idaho and decided to return to California.  He stopped in Cherry Creek, Nevada, and fell in love with a local teacher, Una Reilly, who came from the mining town of Hamilton.  He bought an Ely newspaper and went into politics.  He served as White Pine County clerk and then recorder.  In 1906, the Democrat was elected lieutenant governor.  The Dickersons became the first family to live in the governor’s mansion in Carson City.  Their daughter June is the only child ever born in that building.

Una ReillyDickerson governed the state in the heart of the progressive era.  He shared the political ideology of the time.  He advocated new regulatory commissions and agencies.  Some leading Nevadans weren’t thrilled with that.  He backed reforms for prisons and mental hospitals.  Fight of the centuryHe also supported holding boxing matches in the state at a time when some opposed them as immoral, and even sparred a bit with Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries before their historic fight in 1910.

But Dickerson’s tenure would be brief.  In 1910, he sought a term of his own.  He faced Republican Tasker Oddie, who had been involved in the beginning of the Tonopah-Goldfield boom.    He beat Dickerson.  But Dickerson later became state prison warden while Oddie was governor, and kept the job for several years.  He became federal superintendent of prisons, then returned to the state prison post in Nevada.  He oversaw the first execution in America by gas chamber, then considered a more humane approach to the death penalty than firing squad.  But Dickerson died at age fifty-three in 1925, leaving his wife and eight children.

Una Dickerson became a law librarian in Reno.  Her children went on to some remarkable achievements in their own right.  Harvey became a three-term attorney general of Nevada and a candidate for governor.  He was a Pat McCarran supporter and at the center of things in the state Democratic party for decades.  Denver was assembly speaker, held a federal diplomatic post, and became a newspaperman.  As an editor and a political commentator whose column was called Salmagundi, he stirred things up.  George, the youngest child, has had a distinguished career.  He was elected Clark County district attorney in 1954 after winning a primary against a fine candidate named Oscar Bryan … my father.  He went on to chair the state Gaming Commission.  And just to show what a small world it is … before becoming district attorney, George had been a deputy district attorney along with John Mowbray to Roger D. Foley.  Later, U.S. District Judge Foley had a couple of law clerks … John Mowbray, Junior, and Robert Dickerson, George and his wife Doree’s son.  Their daughter Diane was involved in a major local advertising agency and with the chamber of commerce.

All of which proves that when you talk about Nevada families, the Dickersons have more than a century of evidence for their importance.

See discussion rules.

Archives

Apr 18, 2014 | Metro Battles the Corruption and the Mob
Efforts to drive organized crime out of Las Vegas, left one former Metro officer, Kent Clifford, with some controversies of his own.

Mar 21, 2014 | Natalie Rittenhouse
Family connections run deep for some pioneer families of Southern Nevada. Perhaps they aren't too well known these days. They should be. They are among the important pioneer families of southern Nevada.

Mar 7, 2014 | Test Ban
Strange as it may seem now, there was a time when detonating a nuclear bomb was healthy for Nevada's image.

Feb 21, 2014 | Green Felt Jungle
The pen is mightier than the roulette table? Some books over the years have tested that notion. Fifty years ago, a book about Las Vegas became a best-seller. But not everyone was happy with what the book had to say about the influence of organized crime on Las Vegas casinos.

Jan 16, 2014 | Martin Luther King, Jr.
Fifty years have gone by since Martin Luther King, Jr. made his way to Las Vegas, in a visit that had an impact. Local leaders had won the right to patronize once segregated casinos, but they hoped King would reinvigorate the local movement.

Jan 3, 2014 | Treaty of Ruby Valley
A treaty that was signed in the territory of Nevada 150 years ago is still raising questions. The Western Shoshone tribe has been offered tens of millions of dollars by the US government, but they say no thanks. In 1974, sisters Mary and Carrie Dann of Beowawe, became symbols of the tribes resistance.

Dec 5, 2013 | Lon Simmons
We take a look at how a legendary sports-broadcaster forged a path from Las Vegas to Candlestick Park. Switching from pitcher to broadcaster turned out to be a home run decision for Lon Simmons. Here's Senator Richard Bryan with Nevada Yesterdays.

Nov 20, 2013 | JFK and Las Vegas Connections
Elements of John F. Kennedy's ties to Las Vegas have been mixed in with the puzzle-pieces surrounding his death. Las Vegas and Nevada were part of the orbit of the Kennedys, their allies, and their enemies. Senator Richard Bryan connects the dots on Nevada Yesterdays.

Sep 20, 2013 | Constitution
How about the great State of Washoe or Esmeralda? When residents of this territory considered statehood 150 years ago, it took more than one attempt to get them to agree on a name and on how much to tax the lucrative gold and silver mines.

Sep 1, 2013 | Sawyer v. Sinatra
It was around Labor Day 50 years ago, that Nevada's little black book caused some friction for Frank Sinatra. A mobster who was in the black book was seen in the Cal-Neva Lodge in Lake Tahoe and Sinatra was part owner...

Aug 2, 2013 | Dorothy Gallagher
Dorothy Gallagher never gave up on access to higher education for people living in rural areas.

Jul 12, 2013 | A Big Fight
Some boxing matches in Las Vegas have carried more weight than just a heavyweight title.

Jun 14, 2013 | Tarkanian, Part II
UNLV's Runnin' Rebels were coached by a man who was thought to be something of a rebel himself.

Jun 7, 2013 | Tarkanian, Part I
To make it into the Basketball hall of fame, Jerry Tarkanian must have done something right.

May 23, 2013 | The 17th Part II
There was a time in Nevada when your ballot would not have included contenders for the U.S. Senate.

May 17, 2013 | The 17th
The means for putting U.S. Senators in office used to come with plenty of controversy.

May 3, 2013 | Frank Wright
Nevada has a colorful past. And getting the facts straight about events that helped shape the Silver state was important to Frank Wright.

Mar 29, 2013 | Mark Twain
When two brothers set out for Nevada about 150 years ago, little did they know that one of them would become a literary legend. Senator Richard Bryan has the story...

Mar 8, 2013 | The Dickersons
You'll have to go back a century to look at the career of one Nevadan who helped shape the state.

Feb 22, 2013 | William R. Wilkerson, part 2
You might not normally hear 'Nevada' and 'Communism' mentioned in the same sentence. But there was a time when it wouldn't have been unusual.

© 2013 NEVADA PUBLIC RADIO   
Web hosting facilities provided by Switch.