The 70-foot cottonwood tree along U.S. 50 in Middlegate was cut down late last week, the Lahontan Valley News reported Tuesday.
“There are a lot of angry people,” bartender Travis Anderton told the newspaper. “That helps out business. People come out to see the shoe tree.”
Anderton learned of the vandalism from customers who stopped at Old Middlegate Station, a combination bar-restaurant-gas station about 50 miles east of Fallon.
“I am curious why someone wants to do that,” Anderton said.
The tree along what has been called the loneliest road in America has been an attraction for decades. Sneakers, cowboy boots, high heels, flip-flops, sandals, clogs — even fishing waders and roller skates — hung in tangled clumps from its branches.
Some people removed footwear rather than adding it. Snowshoes and a pair of skis weren’t there for long.
The Churchill County sheriff’s office was investigating the vandalism.
Anderton’s grandmother, Fredda Stevenson, is planning a Feb. 13 memorial at the site.
In a 1999 interview with The Associated Press, Stevenson, who owns Old Middlegate Station, said she was tending bar when the first shoes were tossed into the tree in the 1980s by a groom who got into a quarrel with his bride while camping in the shade of the cottonwood.
“They got married in Reno, and she lost a lot of their money gambling and he was angry,” Stevenson recalled. “So she was going to walk home, and he said, you do and you’ll have to go barefoot and threw her shoes into the tree.”
The man drove to the bar and talked for hours with Stevenson, who told him to go back and apologize.
A year later, the couple stopped by to show off their first child, whose first pair of shoes also were lobbed onto the tree, Stevenson said.