The fight over the final resting place for some of Reno’s earliest citizens continues.
Sierra Memorial Gardens, which purchased Hillside Cemetery from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1996, announced plans to move 1,100 graves from one side of the 6-acre property to the other, and ultimately redevelop the vacated land, a move authorized by a 2001 Nevada law called the Cemetery Authority Act.
More than 1,400 are buried at Hillside, Reno’s oldest cemetery. We took a closer look at a few of their stories in the Reno Gazette-Journal archives.
Rhonda Strong (died 1884)
Buried just outside the potter’s field at the cemetery is Rhonda Cole Strong, a woman who had fled her husband in Battle Mountain along with her two children. Her husband, Simeon Strong, was able to track her down in Reno several months later, and Rhonda met a violent end — one that her husband attempted to cover up as an act of random violence.
“A Mrs. A. Cole, with two children, came to Reno about the middle of October, and registered at the Lake House,” noted the Feb. 10, 1885 edition of the Nevada State Journal. “After she had been there two or three days a rough-looking, gray headed man came there and was found by Mr. Dealy between 5 and 6 o’clock in the morning knocking loudly at her door.”
Simeon said his wife had requested money or a train ticket to return home to Battle Mountain, and he came to Reno to travel back with her, finding her at a “house of ill repute.” He said another man arrived at their room at around 4 a.m. and shot the couple. A Reno jury disagreed and sentenced Simeon to death; Simeon told a Gazette reporter following his conviction that he was innocent. “He denies directly that he killed his wife whom he continually protests he loved sincerely … He does not pretend the finding of his wife in bad company justified him in killing her.”
Prior to his execution, Simeon hanged himself in his jail cell.
Rep. George Cassidy (died 1892)
Cassidy served as Nevada’s eighth member of the U.S. House of Representatives for two terms, from 1881 to 1885. Until as recently as 1983, Nevada’s sparse population earned it only one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives (it now has four). Cassidy, a Democrat, topped Republican and accomplished author Rollin M. Daggett in the general election, prompting the Nevada Appeal to speculate: “While Daggett is in New York this winter he will finish his book. It is rumored that he will weave George Cassidy in as the heavy villain.”
Cassidy started out as a scribe himself, working as a reporter and editor for Nevada’s White Pine News and Inland News before becoming an owner of the Eureka Sentinel in Eureka, Nevada. Prior to his four-year stretch in the House, he was a member of the Nevada State Senate from 1872 to 1879.
Cassidy died in Reno on June 24, 1892, at age 56. The Nevada State Journal reported on his funeral: “The Reno Brass Band of fourteen pieces … headed the (funeral) procession, which was over half a mile long. Flags were at half mast on public buildings, and crowds lined the sidewalks as the cortege passed through the principal streets … all that is mortal of the big-hearted, whole-souled George Cassidy was laid to rest on a grassy slope overlooking the beautiful valley of the Truckee and town of Reno.”
Chief Johnson Sides (died 1903)
Sides worked as a peacemaker between various Native American tribes and the U.S. government, working for the U.S. Army. "Johnson Sides will be remembered as the United States Peacemaker, a title that was carved upon the star he proudly wore upon his breast" as part of his Army uniform, noted the Oct. 10, 1903 edition of the Nevada State Journal.
"Amid the falling of leaves and the moaning winds of an October day all that was mortal of Johnson Sides, the Piute peacemaker, was laid to eternal rest in "the white man's plot" in Hillside cemetery," the Reno Evening Gazette noted.
"Captain Natches Overton made a fine address in his native tongue ...
"We have all lost a brother who was ever working for our good. Johnson Sides was a good friend of the whites and he had good reason to be, as the people coming to his funeral shows. Johnson was a good man and that is the reason why the white people go to his funeral ... Always be very good and true to yourselves and you will be respected by everybody in the world."
George Wada (died 1914)
Reno café proprietor and artist George Wada was murdered Oct. 14, 1914, by hotel clerk Fred Wilson, just as he was preparing to return to his native Japan. Through his years working in Reno, Wada was thought to have saved a sum of $10,000 (about a quarter of a million in 2016 dollars).
From the Oct. 17, 1914, edition of the Nevada State Journal:
“Although Wada was well known in Reno, having been proprietor of the S. P. café on East Commercial Row for two years, and, prior to that an employee at the Riverside hotel and Palace bakery for several years, it was not generally known that he was a gifted artist, making the most of his money by the sale of water color drawings which found a ready vogue among the dealers in Japanese art in this country. Several specimens of his art are in possession of prominent Japanese in this city, and one especially valuable picture is hanging on the walls of the Japanese consulate in San Francisco. It had been his intention to devote his life entirely to painting when he returned to his native land …
“The burial ceremony, under the auspices of the local Japanese, will be held Sunday (Oct. 18) … (T)he hair will be removed from the scalp and sent as a symbol of the body to the family at home … the hair will be placed in a casket in Tokio and buried with the full ceremonies that would be accorded to the dead man were his body sent home intact.”
Wada was shot and killed while attempting to collect on a 50-cent bill (about $12 today).