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THE GREAT BURRO DERBY
John O'Reilly
December 18, 1961
When the male citizens of the small, sunbaked town of Beatty, Nev. shaved off their beards after the recent World's Championship Wild Burro Race, the faces underneath the festive hair bore expressions of mixed dismay and determination. The dismay came from the now-evident fact that the committee had made some horrible mistakes in planning the great burro race. Regardless, the 385 residents of Beatty, who all worked hard on the race, are determined to stage the affair again next year, and every year, until Beatty is known as the burro-racing capital of the world.
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December 18, 1961

The Great Burro Derby

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When the male citizens of the small, sunbaked town of Beatty, Nev. shaved off their beards after the recent World's Championship Wild Burro Race, the faces underneath the festive hair bore expressions of mixed dismay and determination. The dismay came from the now-evident fact that the committee had made some horrible mistakes in planning the great burro race. Regardless, the 385 residents of Beatty, who all worked hard on the race, are determined to stage the affair again next year, and every year, until Beatty is known as the burro-racing capital of the world.

Despite the mistakes, the first running of the annual burro race did bring the town some publicity. It did not focus the eyes of the world on Beatty, but the race was talked up a fair bit over in Las Vegas; it also got brief notice in newspapers as far as the West Coast and, although reception is bad in these mountains, some said they heard it on the radio.

The biggest mistake that Beatty made was in laying out a course that took the three-day race away from town instead of into or around it. Each day the dust-covered parade of wranglers, burros and spectators moved farther from the town that it was supposed to publicize. On the last day a throng of 4,000 whooped it up at the finish line, but the finish line was over in Death Valley National Monument, 46 miles from Beatty. The crowd spent money freely on beer, pop, sandwiches and chuck-wagon dinners in the town of Stovepipe Wells but, meanwhile, back in Beatty things were deader than the old Bullfrog Mine. Restaurants were empty, bartenders were idle, slot machines were silent and pale-faced dealers played solitaire at the blackjack tables.

"By god, we never thought of that," said a committee member in stunned retrospect.

Nor did any member of the committee dream that a squad of trained burro racers—young, strong athletes—from Apple Valley, Calif. would make off with almost all the prize money. That is what happened. Donnie Wilson, a 23-year-old stripling from Apple Valley, won a total of $875, including first prize of $750 and several day monies. Second and third places also went to the Apple Valley invaders. It was the old case of trained youth in triumph over the raucous and the picturesque.

A clean sweep such as Apple Valley made in the burro race would be enough to stop any ordinary town, but not Beatty. The town hasn't had much reason to keep living for 50 or 60 years, but somehow it refuses to die. When the diggings failed, other mining towns of the region collapsed into ghost towns. Only six miles away from Beatty arc the ruins of Rhyolite, where 10,000 inhabitants carried on during the boom. Ballarat, Panamint City, Chloride and others went the same way, but not Beatty. The railroads that served the gold towns are gone, so Beatty can now make the dubious boast that it is farther from a railroad than any other town in the country.

Enter the Lions

One setback followed another, but the people of Beatty still held on. They went to ghost towns and hauled back entire buildings. Even the town hall in Beatty was filched from deserted Rhyolite. Despite all this, Beatty was beginning to look a little ghostly around the edges. Then, three years ago, the formation of the Beatty Lions Club fanned a waning community spirit into a bright flame of public endeavor. The club grew rapidly and, with 40 members, last year was the No. 1 Lions Club in its district, winning a trophy for attendance at meetings and other things of importance to Lions.

Nestled serenely between Death Valley and the Nevada Proving Grounds of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Beatty seems to have most of the things a town needs. There are bars featuring slot machines, three gas stations, a general store and a couple of fluorspar mines out in the hills. Business and social life center around the Exchange Club, a combination coffee shop, bar and gambling casino. There is ample water in the town, if anybody decides to drink some, although the surrounding mountains are as barren as any in the Great American Desert.

But the eager Lions of Beatty were not satisfied that their town, after all these years, was merely alive. They wanted to do something big, something to prove that Beatty could do more than stand still. The great burro race was a natural choice.

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