Peak Back: Mamie Mathiesen Brenton Brown

Freida's Files Mamie brown

Frieda’s Files are a collection of historical short stories about Carson Valley by Frieda Cordes Godecke, published in The Record-Courier. Reproduced here with permission from the Cordes Cousins, and their book “Frieda’s Files”.

October 20, 1977 Mamie Mathiesen Brenton Brown

Probably one of the most colorful and yet one of the kindest, most generous and dearly beloved women of Carson Valley’s past was Mamie Mathiesen.

Mamie was born in Germany and came to America as a small child. She and her husband Andrew Mathiesen and several small children came to Carson Valley around the turn of the century and made their home in Gardnerville. There they purchased a few acres of ground near the site of the present Village Motel, on the south end of town. On the property was a small house that became the family home. 

Life wasn’t easy, and as the family increased, it became more and more difficult to make ends meet. They had a cow, a few chickens, and several horses. 

When Andrew became ill with the much dreaded diphtheria and passed away, Mamie had full responsibility of the small children. She tried desperately to keep her brood together. She did housework and laundry for meager pay, milked her cow, and tended her small flock of chickens. When she found this was not enough to keep body and soul together, she hit upon an idea that she hoped would solve the problem.

Mamie decided to manufacture soda pop, bottle it, and peddle it around town and in the Valley. Her recipe was a deep, dark secret, but it met with the approval of all who tasted the concoction; and, most of all, the children loved it. When she had finished a batch, she hitched her little black mare Dolly to the buckboard and loaded it with her small children and cartons of bottles filled with pop. She traveled from town to town and from farm to farm, selling her pop at five cents a bottle. 

Bottle collectors today would be proud to have Mamie’s pop bottle on their shelves. The cork was held in place by a wire clamp which had to be released by a sharp tap against a hard surface. This would cause the cork to fly from a bottle, and if one wasn’t careful, most of the pop would fly out with it. When a group of children had produced their nickels, Mamie lined them up one by one and uncorked their bottles, always with this caution, “Get your mouth ready; here it comes”!

Even the soda pop venture did not adequately supply the needs of the family, and finally the day came when Mamie was forced to place her children in the Orphan’s Home in Carson City.

By no means did Mamie sit down and take it easy. She worked hard toward the day when she could have her children with her again. She cooked and baked and cleaned and made her soda pop. When her mare’s colt was old enough for work, she broke it for riding and driving. The two made a fine buckboard team for Mamie’s trips to Virginia City, Wabuska, and Yerington.

By this time, she had added another sideline. She became saleslady for Raleigh Products, traveling through the Valley and nearby towns. These trips often forced her to be on the road after dark, but Mamie was absolutely without fear. As a precaution, however, she never traveled anywhere without her 32 Colt resting on the seat beside her. 

FriedasFiles Mamie Mathiesen Brenton Brown

Photo courtesy of Sybil Dunagan, granddaughter of Mamie.

Mamie’s mare Dolly was easily recognizable anywhere. Her tongue hung constantly from the side of her mouth as though she was very tired. Such was not the case, however. One day Mamie met up with a young man, much younger than she, who said his fast horse could beat her mare in a race any day. This was paramount to waving a red flag where Mamie was concerned. She would show this young whipper-snapper a thing or two! So off they went in their buckboards down the dusty road. Who came in first? Mamie and her Dolly. The young whipper-snapper was none other than August Schacht, a present day resident of Gardnerville. [This article was written in 1977].

Life became a little easier when she married Eben Brenton. Soon after their marriage, they made it possible to bring Mamie’s children home from the orphanage. Ed and Mamie also had two daughters of their own; one of whom, Sybil, later became the wife of Julian Larrouy. Sybil, like her mother, was a kind, generous person and true friend always. 

Eben and Mamie operated the Centerville saloon for some time, and the family lived in a small house nearby. While living in Centerville, Mamie found time to do what she most liked to do-help those who were in need. It was not unusual for her to cook a substantial meal of beans, meat, and potatoes for … needy families in the Valley. She was the first to bring a loaf of her good homemade bread to a bereaved family and to stay to help in any way she could. 

Mamie regarded every person in Carson Valley, young or old, as her friend. It was only natural, then, that she never failed to be present at all funerals, regardless of race, color or creed. 

When Ebon Brenton passed away, Mamie made a home for her children and provided for them as best she could. 

When the Clear Creek Highway was built in 1927, she was the cook who supplied three daily meals for the 25 to 30 men employed on the project. 

She loved to hunt and fish and could catch a mess of trout when no one else got so much as a nibble. She loved horses and broke them for riding and driving for herself and others. 

In her later years she married Charles Brown, and together they ran a rooming house in what was at one time the Carson Valley Hospital. 

Mamie passed away on New Year’s Eve in 1949. The funeral was held at the Methodist Church in Gardnerville. Proof of the many friends she had was evidenced by the crowd of several hundred who came to pay their last respects. That day there were two feet of snow on the ground, and the temperature was 20 degrees below zero.