Finding a man like Bryan Smalley in a tiny town like Goldfield, Nevada is like discovering a good Bordeaux wine in your teatotalling Aunt Hattie’s old cupboard.
When you first walk into the Hidden Treasures Trading Company, the quiet man behind the counter seems hardly there because your senses are assaulted by the hundreds of objects on the shelves. However, once you start asking questions about any item in the shop, Bryan Smalley steps up and his knowledge of history immerses you in the past of glass, miners’ carbide lamps, ball and chain or railroad tie date nails. He tells you that the ball and chain, circa mid-1800s, was used to transport prisoners who were barely able to lift the heavy iron ball and shuffle while hunched over the short chain which was manacled to their ankles. The railroad tie date nails, he says, are 1890s vintage and have a date on them, signifying when the wooden tie was installed so that the railroad workers could keep track of replacement schedules.
There are shelves of books with everything from Western novels to a biography on one of Nevada’s early neurosurgeons.
Smalley’s passion for collecting anything with a Central Nevada history was an after hour’s hobby during his 26 years as a Deputy Sheriff in Esmeralda County. The hobby grew into a part-time trading business by the year 2000 when the Trading Company first opened to the public and then became a full time occupation after his retirement in 2012.
Bryan Smalley tells the story of lawmen Virgil and Wyatt Earp like he knew them personally. Postcards and books with their history are sold in his store. Virgil Earp was a Goldfield resident. Wyatt was a U.S. Deputy Marshal living in Tonopah from 1902 while Virgil became a Deputy Sheriff in Goldfield in January of 1905. Both brothers had several careers as drifting law men, prospectors and gamblers quite apart from the well-known shoot out in Tombstone Arizona. Virgil suffered severe wounds in the shooting, but at 6’2”, even with one bad arm, he was said to be a soft spoken man with a hard core, a sheriff who bad guys avoided. He died in October 1905 caught by a pneumonia epidemic which hit Goldfield that year.
He says, “This place is part museum and part store. Goldfield’s history has been scattered all over the place. Some of us are bringing it back.” But it’s not just history for Smalley, “I’m trying to re-create what we had as kids, a place that has the coolest things.” He points to a fossil, said to be 180 million years old.
You can’t help noticing the huge buffalo head mounted on the wall, still peering at you with the inbred dignity of his kind, silently reminding you that he once ran with herds in the tens of thousands – that all things change.
As the story goes, Smalley’s friend called and said,
“I bought a buffalo head. Please buy it from me; if not my wife and daughter are going to kill me. They don’t want dead animals in the house.” Smalley continues, “He was my friend. I had to do it.”
Looking up at the buffalo, Smalley says, “He’s over a hundred years old. I call him, ‘The King.’ He’s not for sale; he’s part of my collection.”
Crime in Esmeralda County is minimal, most likely due to the fact that there are less than 3000 people in the whole county. Bryan Smalley says that over the years, they had occasional murders, kidnappings, assaults and robberies but, “We never had a bank robbery because there aren’t any banks.”(Locals drive 26 miles to Tonopah in bordering Nye County to do their banking.) He received a commendation from the FBI for his handling of one crime episode. He said, “Like police work anywhere, you have crime, you live with it and you deal with it.”
With a relaxed command presence, like all good cops, he’s more of a listener than a talker. Accompanied by a ready smile there’s a definite warmth about Bryan Smalley, but the hint of sadness in his eyes was no doubt etched there by a lawman’s hard won understanding of the frailty of human nature. He doesn’t offer an opinion unless you ask for one, and when he has something to say, you find yourself wanting to listen.
In a town with a population hovering between 200 and 300, Smalley knows just about everyone. At 58, he’s watched children grow into adulthood, seen some leave and some come back. Over the years as a Sheriff’s Deputy, he was a trusted adult called, “The Deputy,” by all the kids in Goldfield. Smalley’s wife of 27 years, Elva, says that Bryan considers local kids to be part of his family and that they still come to him with their problems. Elva and Bryan Smalley have three children and, “A bunch of grandchildren.”
Elva still looks great in jeans and her smile is accompanied by a charming sincerity. Now that the children are grown, she works part time at one of the hotels in Tonopah, cheerfully, claiming, “It gets me out of the house.” She brings to mind that old adage, “Behind every successful man, there’s a strong woman.”
Small town policing has its advantages. Smalley says, “When you know everybody, when somebody calls and says, ‘Hey this is Mitch,’ you know exactly where to go.”
He doesn’t drink or smoke, is a voracious reader, a Central Nevada historian and a true rock hound. He says, “I love rocks!” He is devoted to cutting and polishing rocks for everything from heavy rock blocks for the old 1907 High School, currently under reconstruction, to turquoise for earrings and rings. There are several buildings in the Hidden Treasures Trading Company compound, all of which Smalley built himself. The separate rock house is where Bryan Smalley, complete with diamond blade saws, tools and a multitude of rocks completes his masterpieces.
The rock store sign reads: Hidden Treasures Trading Company, rocks, gems, fossils and more.
Smalley also has a building devoted entirely to wood cutting, which includes carved solid wood doors, hand-carved signs and various other crafts. He spent many hours carving the “Musical Mules,” on the wood front of the stage in the local opera house.
He works 12 to 14 hours a day and says he doesn’t want a vacation, “I have to accomplish something to make the day worthwhile,” he says. “I start early and work on wood carving or polishing rocks for about 4 hours and then let people buy, sell or trade stuff for the rest of the day. I do it in little parts so it doesn’t get old. I enjoy it all.” Smalley also treks out from time to time to buy Goldfield and Central Nevada historical items and brings them back to the trading company.
Amongst his collection are four 1926 Dodges, right out of the “Roaring Twenties,” wooden wheel spokes and all, plunked around the property like pieces of art. The ghosts of flappers in short skirts and the sound of tinkling champagne glasses wander in the breeze, just beyond the corner of your mind.
You’ll find Bryan and Elva Smalley and Hidden Treasures Trading Company along with hundreds of unique treasures at 489 Bellevue Avenue in Goldfield, Nevada – about half-way between Las Vegas and Reno, 26 miles south of Tonopah on U.S. Hwy 95. Once you reach Goldfield, turn on Oasis Avenue and then go right on Bellevue. Phone: 775-485-3761.
Smalley’s Treasures June 2018. As published in Pahrump Life Magazine by Susannah Morgan