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A Fernley eatery pays homage to the region’s Native American past.
Photo: Matthew B. Brown (all)
A small blue plaque sits inconspicuously on a wall near the hostess stand at Mary & Moe’s Wigwam Restaurant, Casino, and Indian Museum in Fernley. It’s safe to assume few people have noticed it, considering it must vie for attention with such curios as Paiute cradleboards, prehistoric spear points, and the vibrantly colored beadwork of buckskin dresses.
The sign’s understated location and stature belie its significance. Awarded to the Wigwam by the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe in 1995, the plaque commemorates the restaurant’s commitment to Native American cultural preservation. “I’ve been collecting arrowheads since I was five years old,” former owner Moe Royels says.
His lifelong passion for Indian relics has done more than garner praise from the Pyramid Lake Paiutes, it has made the Wigwam a renowned roadside attraction. “People from all over the world come in to look [at the artifacts],” says Royels, who is part Assiniboine and Sioux.
Royels’ late wife Mary opened the restaurant as the Dainty Cone with her first husband in 1961. Royels wed Mary and joined her business in 1964, the same year the completion of Interstate 80 through Fernley forced the diversion of highway traffic away from town. Despite this turn of fortune, the ice cream cone and burger stand did well, according to Royels, allowing the couple to expand several times. Today, the Wigwam is about 11,000 square feet and includes a small casino and bar.
The Wigwam acquired its name—wigwam refers to the domed dwellings historically built by many American Indian tribes—in the 1970s, according to Royels. Clutching to the coattails of the popular Reno diner, Les Lerude’s Wigwam Coffee Shop at the corner of Sierra and 2nd Streets, Royels adopted the moniker following the closing of Lerude’s restaurant. With the apple pie and brandy sauce recipes that put Reno’s Wigwam on the map, and his own popular, ever-expanding collection of Indian artifacts, Royels’ business soared.
While name recognition and pie have helped the Wigwam, there is no mistaking that the artifacts deserve a lot of the credit for the restaurant’s success. Walls and display cases throughout the property are home to tule duck decoys, cradleboards, moccasins, buckskin dresses, hundreds of arrowheads and spear points, baskets, bows and arrows, a reproduction of a prehistoric spear thrower called an atlatl, and countless more artifacts. And Royels says the pieces on display in the restaurant are just a fraction of his collection, much of which is in storage.
Many of the pieces in the collection are relics from Nevada’s early generations of Paiutes, Shoshone, and Washoe. Most local artifacts were collected during desert excursions since the late 1940s, when Royels father moved the family to Nevada to accept jobs as a school principal in Goldfield and later Wadsworth. “Nevada’s really good [for finding artifacts] because every time the wind blows, the sand blows,” Royels says. “It either covers [artifacts] or uncovers them, and you can go back to the same place year after year.”
Other pieces in Royels’ collection were purchased from other collectors and native artists from around the country, such as a pair of heavy moose hide and beaver fur mukluk boots from Alaska whose intricate beadwork took nine months to complete, according to Royels.
Although Royels sold his share of the business in 2005, the collection remains a fixture at the Wigwam, much like Royels himself, who can be found many days in the restaurant reliving the old days with former employees and long-time patrons. “I missed the people when I sold out,” he says. “So I still come down here to [chat] with folks.”
Mary & Moe’s Wigwam Restaurant, Casino, and Indian Museum
225 W. Main St., Fernley