Bull Frogs In The Black Rock Desert Make A Thriving Nevada Business
Nevada State Journal October 10, 1943
by Eleanor M. Dobson
Frog-raising on the edge of Black Rock Desert! Incredible as it Sounds, that is what Mr. and Mrs. John Garrett are doing on their ranch fourteen miles east of Gerlach. Harvesting thousands of frogs a year they market many all over Nevada, numbers more of this Epicurean food are given away to their friends, and hundreds are used for their own table.
“Why, when I feed hungry hunters,” said Mrs. Garrett, who was as interested in their amphibian hobby as I was to hear about it, “I often cook one hundred frogs, and after dinner there will not be a taste of a frog left.”
My small son and I had come to spend the day with Mrs. Garrett, while our husbands went off into the hills. After a week together in southern Nevada Mr. Garrett and my husband were going to look at one more prospect not far from the Garrett place.
Black Rock Desert
We had turned off highway 40 a Wadsworth, past the busy and fertile- Indian reservation at Nixon, past Pyramid Lake, sapphire blue in the morning light, towards Gerlach, and beyond-over a road from, which the rocks pattered and struck continually against} the under side of the car, on which road incidentally we had had two blowouts! Three miles beyond Gerlach the car, after the struggle, had glided on to the surface of Black Rock Desert. It felt like velvet- simply velvet!’
“Smoother than pavement,” murmured my husband in pleased relief. “How far can we go on this dried up lake-bed,” he inquired eagerly. “We drive for eleven miles ” answered Mr. Garrett, ‘`but it extends for seventy.” ”Let’s stop and take a snapshot” I said. ‘I wish we had a moving picture camera. I always thought before that their color exaggerated Nature’s, but I never saw anything like this-the bright blue of the sky, the whiteness of the earth, the mountains surrounding. Why there are mirages,” I exclaimed, as we got out.
Many mirages “Yes,” said Mr. Garrett. “Mirages everywhere.” For in the distance at the edges of the lake-bed some parts of the land looked like islands, others like peninsulas stretching out into apparent blue water. Contours changed and beautified. We took a picture of the trail our car would follow, which seemed to run straight into massive “Dry Mountain” behind.
“Eleven miles farther up,” continued Mr. Garrett “The Winning of Barbara Worth” was filmed some years ago, with Ronald Coleman and Vilma Bankey in the leading roles. The cast camped out here several weeks. There was a flood in the play, and I had charge of the waterworks for it. It was done in miniature and enlarged in the picture. A Chinaman with a team was one of the characters to leave the town hastily when the flood came. In one rehearsal the team got restive and staged the best runaway you ever saw for miles along Black Rock Desert. That excitement wasn’t part of the movie however,” he laughed.
“Another strange thing he pointed out, “notice how objects are magnified. In the distance a weed looks like a bush, and uneven ground like a knoll. One day the movie actors all got their guns, saying that a bear was in sight, and when the animal came closer it turned out to be a badger!”
“How did you ever happen to settle near these barren sand dunes?” asked my husband. “Oh, I thought that water could be found here at shallow depth,” replied Mr. Garrett, who is a native Nevadan. “During eighteen years I have developed fourteen artesian welIs.”
It was hard to believe that water could be plentiful nearby, but we had turned off Black Rock Desert now, and soon passed a large pool from one of the wells as we entered the Garrett place.Mrs. Garrett, a bright little brown-eyed lady, their niece and family met us. and after tasty lunch in the cool airy house the two men went to examine the property in the hills.
Mrs. Garrett and her niece each took down from the wall a .22 rifle, ‘We are going out to shoot frogs. Do you want to come,” she said. Did we!They led us to the nearest pond. They have five, and they range in temperature from cool, almost cold, to very warm. This one was one hundred and fifty feet long, slightly narrower, and four feet deep.All over the pond the only evidence of frogs visible was part of their heads, and their large beady eyes showing above the surface, but with uncanny judgment Mrs. Garrett and her niece could tell which were the large frogs they, wanted. They aimed and always hit their target. Then Mrs. Garrett’s nephew waded In and collected the frogs in a gunny sack. After a shot all the frogs ducked, leaving behind them rings in the water. But in a moment their beady eyes popped above the surface again.”Frogs are the only product that need no outlay in this country,” said Mrs. Garrett. “They feed themselves, and they eat all the time,” she added laughing.
“When did you begin to raise them?” I asked thoroughly interested.Started 8 Years Ago Eight years ago we started with five pairs of Nufond Giant Bull Frogs, imported from Louisiana, and now look at them. Each frog lays up to 10,000 eggs. In two to three months’ time the tail of the tadpole has disappeared, other physical changes have taken place; they have acquired their back and front legs and graduated into real frogs. In two years they are ready to eat. When they are really tasty they weigh from a quarter to half a pound. The large ones sell for $4.00 a dozen, and the largest one we have ever caught was twenty two and a half inches long.”
“Do you ship them far away,” I asked. “No,” she answered. “We are content to market in Nevada. The American Frog Canning Company of Louisiana requested us to supply them with our entire output for canning, but we sell to our own customers, and, of course, as everyone considers frogs a delicacy, we give away hundreds of them to our friends.”
“You have collected quite a number in the gunny sack now,” I said, seeing how quickly it was filling up. “I suppose these are for the family.”
“These are a couple of dinners for your family,” smiled Mrs. Garrett cordially, “and for some other old friends living in Fallon also. We can go up to the house and clean them now.”
On the way back we passed by the warmest pond. Water was gushing out of the artesian pipe in a full endless stream. “This is where the frogs congregate in cold winter weather,” explained my hostess. “When they get chilly, they hop up here to keep warm.” Another artesian pipe was near the back door. I couldn’t help saying that I was worried to see all this warm water running away, and felt continually in the back of my mind that somewhere a hot water tank must be getting cold!
Near the water pipe Mrs. Garrett’s nephew and the others expertly cleaned the catch. First the heads were cut off, then their vivid green coats slit down the back and drawn off with the long slow pull of a tight glove.
“Don’t think that you can use only the back legs,” said Mrs. Garrett,” the body and front legs, though having much less meat, are just as delicious.”
The prime purpose in life of frogs, I realized now, was to eat! Their large sac-shaped tongue especially made for the purpose of catching their prey, is attached in front and free behind, so that it can be flopped out some distance to reach the victim they intend to swallow. With a hole at the bottom they suck their prey right through it, down a short gullet. and into the stomach.
What a feast those frogs had had. There are bass in the ponds, also started eight years ago, from a meager three the Garretts caught one windy day in Walker lake. Now they number thousands With four and five inch bass those’ frogs had regaled themselves. Also It was a case of “frog eat frog” for they will be cannibals if they feel like it: these frogs had felt like it and as well they had consumed beetles, flies, mosquitoes and other insects.
Soon, however, they were cleaned and filing a large enamel pan, and had been placed on the ice.
“I am certainly eager to prepare them for tomorrow’s dinner, but I must do those frogs justice. How do you usually cook them?” I asked Mrs. Garrett.
“Well,” she said, “we enjoy them; rolled in flour and fried in deep fat, or cooked very slowly and thoroughly in a Dutch oven, and their tender white meat will be like chicken.”
Later in the afternoon, as the color was deepening in the mountains, and the sun lowering in the sky, Mrs. Garrett fed the hogs and chickens, and suggested a dip in the swimming pool. My small son and I speedily agreed. No gasping as you entered that water. A comfortable, relaxing temperature. The pool is sixty feet long, four feet deep, and the water, running in at one end and out at the other is continually changing. You felt as if you could stay in for half a day. But we didn’t, because after that refreshment we were to see Mrs. Garrett’s collection of arrowheads.
“I found them all around here,” she said. “I like nothing better than to take my lunch, and go out hunting arrowheads. After a rain is n good time to find them. The sand has been displaced and uncovers them. ‘How do you know where to search,?” I inquired.
“Oh, there will be chips scattered around. I’ll show you a place, afterwards.” And later she did, where beside a greasewood bush’ lay scores of small chips of obsidian. “One wonders how many years ago, or hundreds of years, j those arrowheads were made,” she said. Over two hundred arrowheads were in her collection, different colors and sizes. Obsidian, pink stone, grey stone, black stone, and others clear as crystal. The last ones we held ‘up to the light and watched it touch their hundred facets.
We looked at them when we came in again after dark, until the lights of the car were seen approaching. and our mining husbands returned. Then after an eventful day, and bearing our precious amphibian bundle, we left the hospitable Garrett home, setting out for Fallon, the rabbits hopping across the desert road, and the bright moon coming up over the hill.
* OCR-scanned from a badly wrinkled xerox copy of an old copy of original paper. Therefore, photos excluded and any spelling, grammatical or transcriptional error are exclusively my own. -lml
Thanks to Bubblegique , Wizzard, Zona, and Bill Carson for helping keep this story archived. –ME