Yerington: A Town with Three Names


A ‘Love Your Parks Tour’ Mission Possible Story of Change
by Nancy J. Reid and Lisa D. Smith

In 1854, N. H. A. Mason, a Canadian known as “Hock,” was driving cattle to California from some Western States, by way of what is now known as the Mason Valley area in Nevada. Something caused the cattle to stampede and in the process of rounding them up, Hock and his two brothers were impressed with the grazing possibilities alongside the Walker River. Five years later Hock returned and settled by the river. By August 6, 1871 the Mason Valley Post Office was established, and the area was known as Mason Valley.

Popular folklore tells that there were two saloons in the area, and it was known that one of them served a concoction that was hardly whiskey at all. The saloon in question was a small willow-thatched hut, as portrayed above in this display at the Lyon County Museum in Yerington, NV. It was known as “The Switch.” The owner of the saloon only had one barrel of whiskey, and as the whisky level dropped, instead of purchasing more, he merely threw in plugs of chewing tobacco and water. The concoction became known as “poison” to the local patrons, but their accent made it sound like “Pizen.”

When cowboys ventured into the one-street town on weekends, they enjoyed racing their horses up and down the street. It is said, on one such weekend as a group of the men tired of this sport, one of them suggested, “Oh, let’s go to ‘The Switch’ and get us some “pizen.” Onlookers thought the remark was so funny, that the story was told and retold until the valley area became known as “Pizen Switch.”

As the town grew, the residents began to feel disgruntled with the name, feeling the town deserved a nicer name. They dropped the name “Pizen Switch” in favor of “Greenfield” as there were green fields on either side of the street, although the mailing address remained Mason Valley. On November 26, 1879, the town was formally rechristened “Greenfield.” According to the local newspaper, the Lyon County Times, about 20 or so people assisted in dedicating a new dance hall. Whiskey and hard cider flowed freely at the event, there were no fights, and music was supplied by a fiddle player and two banjo players. The responsible organization, known as the Committee of Vengeance, warned they would “murder and scalp any and every person who shall hereafter call it Pizen Switch.”

Henry Marvin Yerington, a businessman involved in mining and politics at the state level was the Nevada Executive Commissioner at the World’s Fair. He quickly moved his way up the political ladder and the residents of Greenfield hoped that he would be helpful in aiding their efforts to get the railroad extended into the valley area. It was known that Mr. Yerington inspected the Carson & Colorado Railroad in l893. By April 1, 1894, the residents of the town of Greenfield changed the town name to Yerington in hopes that this would influence Mr. Yerington, who was responsible for deciding the route of the railroad.

As the name change swept through the town, with local businesses and clubs changing their names, it became clear that the railroad was not coming to their town. Although this was disappointing, Yerington was a prominent man and reportedly, there is no other town of Yerington in the world.


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