The town that apparently isn’t
Beatty is, evidently, less of a town than a state of mind.
When locals tried in recent years to find the original borders of this 1,000-person desert dot, they discovered an unsettling fact: Beatty was apparently never officially formed with official boundaries and therefore might not really exist -- officially, at least.
Ever since, Nye County leaders have been flummoxed over what to do with the maybe-town about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas: Adopt the borders of one of Beatty’s tax districts? Draw town limits from scratch?
“When we went to the county,” said Harold “Bert” Bertram, the town advisory board member who started the historical scavenger hunt, “it was like, ‘Help us! We don’t exist!’ They didn’t know what we were talking about. We didn’t really know what we were talking about.”
Now, Nye County Manager Rick Osborne thinks county commissioners will have to put any new boundaries on the ballot. Maybe. Researching the proper course of action could take many months. “We want to fix this once and for all,” he said.
Amid all the head-scratching, though, one thing became clear: Beatty’s borders might be in dispute, but there’s little question as to its identity. Besides being the Gateway to Death Valley -- though Pahrump, Nev., and Baker, Calif., might have something to say about that -- the pit stop settled in 1904 is one scrappy desert rat.
The book “Nevada Place Names” says it took the moniker of rancher M.M. “Old Man” Beatty, who died from tumbling off a wagon. The folks at the Beatty Museum, a modest former Catholic church, say natural springs kept the town alive while the nearby gold-mining area of Rhyolite -- which had 10,000 souls, a post office, a bank, a school and three homes made entirely of bottles -- gave way to ghosts around 1916.
But Beatty kept persevering -- at various times as a railroad town, a mining town and a home to Nevada Test Site and Death Valley employees -- though the local phone directory was never much thicker than a child’s coloring book.
“We’ve always been a remote community in the middle of nowhere,” said Mary Revert, president of the museum and historical society, walking through a small display of Native American artifacts. She paused at a stuffed bear and wolf, which are non-Native but popular with kids. “You make do,” she said.
Townies call neighbors -- “Need anything?” -- before zipping 75 miles to Pahrump for groceries and prescription drugs. Back in Beatty, some feel safe leaving their homes unlocked and their car keys in the ignition overnight.
“Our brothel caught fire a few years ago and we raised funds,” said Revert, adding that Angel’s Ladies has a lovely vegetable garden. She shrugged off the quandary of Beatty’s undefined boundaries.
The Chamber of Commerce defines Beatty as a traveler’s refuge “Where Adventure Awaits You!”
Main Street anchors about 300 hotel rooms, a candy store, a store advertising a sale on “AMMO CANS!” and not one McDonald’s, which suits many residents just fine.
At the tiny Happy Burro bar, known for zesty chili, a white dog named Hooker, and a urinal with motorcycle handlebars, regulars were unsympathetic to Beatty’s bureaucratic plight.
“The last thing we want is a town! It starts bringing laws,” said Fred Siedentopf. (Beer: AmberBock. Age: “Well, I got 80 bottles of beer for my birthday.”)
“You seen Las Vegas? It used to be a nice place to live,” said Mac McCurdy, who sat next to Siedentopf. (Beer: Pabst Blue Ribbon. Age: “Older than he is.”)
Bartender Jen Detrick, 22, moved from Pasadena last year and is less of an absolutist. She happily spends days helping her grandparents, who own the Happy Burro, and raising her two small kids. She misses Starbucks, though. And drive-throughs.
“You stay in the house for a week,” she said, “and the rumor goes around that you died.”
The men laughed, but Siedentopf still disliked all this talk of municipalities. “I don’t want all the congestion, all the regulations,” he said. “California” -- the prime example, in this crowd, of government run amok -- “has gone to hell as far as I’m concerned.” He polished off his AmberBock.
But to the town board’s Bertram, defining Beatty is important in a number of ways. His search began, for one thing, as he and others tried to update Beatty’s portion of Nye County’s master plan.
But, after combing through more than a century’s worth of records, county researchers couldn’t find a single document showing that Beatty ever officially became an unincorporated town. In Nevada that legal status allows communities to provide services, such as police and fire, within their borders without becoming full-on cities.
(The researchers did find a petition from the 1940s whose 22 signatories didn’t want Beatty to be considered a town.)
There is precedent in Nevada for a place being not quite the place you think it is. The Las Vegas Strip? Not in Las Vegas.
Technically, it’s in unincorporated Clark County, or, more specifically, the town of Paradise.
The drunks, the neon, the taxis, the wallet-draining hotels -- all in Paradise. Another thing about Beatty: Few of its old-timers would call Las Vegas that.