Men came and violated her one night more than a hundred years ago. The fear is still there. Once in awhile, she still walks the streets of Washington, D.C., and, occasionally, she still gets invited in — but only to be used again.
The old lady has little left to give them. The once-voluptuous resources are long gone. But the big boys never understood. She wasn’t like them. She was headstrong and independent, never easy to understand, and just wanted to be left alone. She’s still that way.
The old girl is all that’s left of a shotgun wedding perpetrated in 1864. Late one night, they scissored off some of Arizona and patched it onto a few odd sections they stole from Utah. They trussed young Nevada up in this ill-fitting girdle to make her presentable back east.
But it didn’t feel right. It didn’t look right. She had never worn a corset before. She couldn’t breathe bound up that way. It didn’t feel free.
She was delivered up to Washington in order to form a more perfect Union and to provide a convenient dowry of two northern-voting U.S. senators.
She protested breathlessly, screaming that she had already given enough to the Union cause, financing with her family jewels a civil war that was no fight of hers. She pleaded to be left alone. The corset was already beginning to chafe.
But the wedding between the old man in the striped pants and the kicking girl in the red dress took place on Oct. 31, 1864 — Halloween.
The marriage of convenience did not go well. She was abandoned. They didn’t leave her with much — just a lot of arid space and a few petered-out pockets of low grade ore for men to take advantage of whenever market conditions were right.
Life was hard. She was forced to use everything God had given her just to stay alive. When the Great Depression came around, she had nothing left.
Starvation stared her in the face. Her children cried out for help.
What to do?
She couldn’t sell any land — the husband in the striped pants who abandoned her still owned most of that. Nothing of value was left in her pockets. But she had children to feed.
What to do?
The red dress.
She had kept it all these years since the wedding. Even wore it once or twice when the occasion warranted.
She would put on her red dress. People might notice her again. She could go back in style. She knew how attractive a red dress could look.
Maybe strangers would come calling to see her and even spend some money.
That would help her children.
It was worth a gamble.
She put on the red dress and hit the streets.
Note to readers:
I composed the above 500-word history of Nevada as prologue to a 1983 book which has been rewriting itself ever since. “The Lady in the Red Dress” first appeared in the Tribune on Nov. 4, 1990, and occasionally on Nevada Day weekends since then. The tale is best told when read aloud, preferably with a fire going.
The question she asks today: Does dear Nevada have anything left to exploit or will we continue selling our future into indentured servitude?
More on that as the new year regresses while the grandchildren of the red dress pursue redress.
Be well. Raise hell.
Andrew Barbano is a 42-year Nevadan and editor of NevadaLabor.com. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.