The Wabuska Mangler: A Vintage Nevada Hoax

Filed under: Media Pranks, Pranksters, The History of Pranks

As Nevada turns 150, columnist Barry Smith celebrates a tradition of Silver State media malarkey.

“Nevada Newspapers Couldn’t Resist a Good Hoax”
By Barry Smith
Reno Gazette-Journal
October 5, 2014

shapeimage_3Nevada’s upcoming 150th birthday and National Newspaper Week make for a good opportunity to remind residents of one of this state’s seldom-celebrated contributions to journalism:

The hoax. The lie. Tall tales.

Mark Twain, of course, is our best-known example of a myth maker. But he’s not alone in the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame among Silver State journalists who didn’t let facts get in the way of a good story.

The pinnacle, as far as newspapers go, would be the Wabuska Mangler.

You may have passed through Wabuska on your way from Weeks to Weed Heights without realizing this tiny hamlet once had a feisty newspaper called the Mangler.

Well, it didn’t.

The Wabuska Mangler was entirely made up by Sam Davis, who was editor of The Morning Appeal in Carson City from 1879 to 1898, as a way to get outrageous opinions into the Appeal by attributing them to somebody else.

The Mangler was a “wicked little sheet,” Davis wrote, and its editor “a disgrace to journalism.”

One of Davis’s more far-reaching hoaxes was of a horse cart invented by a local blacksmith. It featured a belly-band four feet wide beneath the horse, which enabled the driver to turn a crank and raise the horse off the ground. That way, at the top of a hill, both cart and horse could coast to the bottom.

The story, fed by follow-ups in the Appeal including an illustration, spread around the country until fellow editors called his bluff.

“Of all the liars on the face of the earth,” wrote a St. Louis journalist, “we believe the Nevada newspaper liar is the most prodigious outside of Missouri.”

Jake Highton, who devotes a chapter to hoaxes in his history of Nevada journalism, recounts many more fanciful stories from the pages of 19th-century newspapers. Read the rest of the story here.