Carrie Ellen Willis Wilson
At a glance:
Born: January 26, 1868, Crystal Peak, Washoe County, Nevada
Described as a people person, one who “possessed an acute mind and wide sympathies”, Carrie Willis was active in community and state activities, serving as Lyon County School Board Trustee, district president of the Women’s Federated Clubs of Nevada, member of the University of Nevada Board of Visitors, and the Nevada State Historical Society. She was the mother of five children, three of whom did not survive past their teens. In spite of these tragic losses, she maintained a positive lifestyle, raising her children, supporting her husband in his various activities, and enjoying one of her passions, that of prospecting and collecting mineral specimens in the Nevada mountains and desert.
She began her life shortly after Nevada had become a state in a small lumber and mining town, Crystal Peak. This tiny, short-lived western Nevada town, located north of, and preceding Verdi, peaked in 1868 – the same year that Carrie was born to Francis M. Willis, a pioneer Nevada missionary and Emma Margaret Steele Willis, a remarkable woman who married in her early teens, bore nine children, and assisted her husband in his missionary work in California and Nevada.
Carrie’s family eventually moved to Antelope Valley, California where her father was instrumental in building churches in Yerington, Nevada and Antelope Valley and Independence, California. Carrie received her education in public schools and graduated from the Douglas Seminary in Genoa, Nevada. Following graduation from the University of the Pacific, then located in San Jose, California, her first teaching assignment was at Pine Grove, Nevada, a mining camp situated 20 miles south of Yerington. Here she met and married, at age 19, Joseph Isaac Wilson, a well-known banker, farmer, and businessman of Yerington who had come to Mason Valley in 1863 as a child. Their first child and only daughter, Genevieve, was born in Pine Grove.
Nordyke was their next home, one mile west of Yerington. It boasted the Wilson Brothers Flour Mill and a quartz mill. Four of her five children were born in Nordyke. It also was the headquarters of J. I. Wilson’s ranch. The family lived there until 1918 when their residence burned and they moved to Yerington. During those years native Paiute women helped with the laundry for her large family which included a younger sister, Blanche, who had come to live with them after their mother passed away. Blanche was close in age to Genevieve. Sadly, two sons, Zenas David and Donald Plummer, died in their late teens. Her youngest son, Francis Marion, twin brother of Donald, lived for only one month.
Both of her two surviving children, daughter Genevieve and son Joseph Willis, lived to marry and raise their families. Genevieve graduated from the College of the Pacific, became a teacher, married Clarence Chapin, and raised two daughters, Suzette and Patricia. Joseph Willis graduated from the University of Nevada. His career included being the county extension agent in Lyon, Pershing, and Humboldt Counties. From 1925 until his death he was in charge of the Farm Bureau Extension work at Elko. He and his wife Elaine Harris had one daughter, Yvonne Tennyson Wilson.
Joseph Isaac, Carrie’s husband, was engaged in gold mining at Pine Grove. The Pine Grove mining area had been discovered by Joseph’s uncle in 1866. The pioneer Wilson family, who had come from the state of Missouri, settled in Mason Valley in 1863. Picturesque Wilson Canyon in Lyon County, between Smith and Mason Valleys, was named for their family.
Carrie became extremely interested in the study of geology and mineralogy and enjoyed exploring and prospecting in the mountains of western Nevada. She was quoted as saying in regard to her passion for exploring, “I love to wander out among the mountains and listen to the voice of Nature, as she unfolds herself to me, teaching me her lessons.” Another report from the Churchill County Eagle opined, “So broad was her knowledge, so sure was her ground when she discussed these subjects, that the minister in his remarks at her funeral stated that he had found so much pleasure in listening to her descriptions of the various ores, mineral and geological specimens from Nevada hills, that he never found the courage to tell her he had studied geology during his college life, realizing that her knowledge was so far superior to his.” Her collection of mineral specimens was remarkable.
She died at age 57 in San Francisco. Hundreds of people attended her funeral in Yerington. One friend wrote in the Churchill County Eagle article about her life, “Mrs. Wilson possessed that happy disposition that enabled her to make friends easily and retain them. She possessed a wonderful cooperative mind which enabled her to make her talent of unusual service in every walk of life.”
Her husband lived until 1954. She leaves a number of descendants in Nevada and California.
Researched by Russell Chapin Pearce, her great-grandson and Yvonne Wilson Isola, her granddaughter, and written by Kay Sanders. January 2008
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