De Quille’s ‘Traveling Stones,” Then and Now

One of the most famous stories ever crafted by Territorial Enterprise reporter Dan De Quille involves the Pahranagat Valley in eastern Nevada, about 75 miles northeast of Las Vegas on U.S. 93.

In the 1867 story, De Quille writes about having met a man from the Pahranagat Valley who showed him “a half dozen pebbles that were almost perfectly round,” saying that the rocks were “rolling stones,” which, when spread out, would gravitate together “like a bunch of eggs in a nest.”

De Quille described how the man would set the stones on a floor or table in a circle, and the rocks would start moving toward each other. He speculated that the stones probably rolled together because they were lodestone or magnetic iron ore.

De Quille received thousands of letters asking about the pebbles and a reported $10-thousand offer from P.T. Barnum.

In response to one 1871 inquiry, he wrote, “We have none of said rolling stones in this city at present but would refer our Colorado speculator to Mark Twain, who probably still has on hand fifteen or twenty bushels of assorted sizes.”

DeQuille finally revealed in a short 1879 article that he had made the story up.

“We are now growing old, and we want peace. We desire to throw up the sponge and acknowledge the corn; therefore we solemnly affirm that we never heard of any such diabolical cobbles as the traveling stones of Pahranagat — though we still think there ought to be something of the kind somewhere in the world.”

People refused to believe his retraction and thought he was lying, so he could keep the rocks for himself. But what De Quille did not know was that some 200 miles away in Death Valley, rocks do travel.

While no one has seen it happen, they leave tracks hundreds of feet long, and one 700-pound rock disappeared altogether in May 1994.