For many decades, a seventy-foot-tall cottonwood tree, known by travelers and locals alike as the Shoe Tree, could be found at a dusty roadside pull-off, just beyond the old Pony Express stop at Middlegate Station. It was on the north side of U.S. Highway 50, approximately sixty miles east of Fallon. Shoe trees are scattered throughout the West and are the subject of local folklore, but none stood more majestically than this one on Highway 50.
As with other trees of this sort, shoes adorned this giant—individually and in pairs—along most of its branches, limbs, and crooks. And, like most attractions on the back roads of Nevada, folklore surrounds this local landmark. One version tells of a couple, on their way to be married, stopping to rest under the shade of the tree's branches. The couple reclined, took off their shoes, and passed a few minutes in light conversation, as lovers sometimes do. However, as the story goes, a disagreement ensued and the conversation became heated. In a huff, the young woman is said to have jumped up, grabbed her boyfriend's shoes, and tossed them into the branches of the tree. She then drove off, into the sunset, leaving her fiancé barefoot and in her dust.
For years, many travelers and passersby, each for their own personal reasons, added their contributions of shoes to the tree. Promoted as a local tourist attraction by some, a controversy swirled around this stately monarch. Desert activist groups and some longtime ranchers believed that the shoes were merely litter, damaging and defacing the old tree, and they wanted them removed. These controversies were laid to rest, though, when vandals cut down the Shoe Tree on December 30, 2010. This devastating event has touched the lives of countless individuals who remember the tree as more than just a quirky roadside attraction.