November 29, 2005
Nevada's Online State News Journal
242 THE HISTORY OF NEVADA
THE LAWLESS ELEMENT.
BY SAM P. DAVIS.
[From The History of Nevada, edited by Sam P. Davis, vol. I (1912)]
Incidental with every newly settled country are the men who defy the law and who pose as "man eaters" and "gun fighters." Nevada was not without this most undesirable element and, for a time, they held a reign of terror over the community. In the grand scramble for wealth in this new region the robbing of the Wells-Fargo stages became a recognized industry of that section. The long distances between stations opened a most inviting field for the enterprise and daring of highwaymen. And if a stage was held up it was generally for the bullion it was carrying. The passengers were seldom molested. The stage drivers didn't consider the fighting of robbers any part of their duty. And when masked men stepped out from behind a boulder in the desert, or a clump of sagebrush at a sharp turn of the road and called out "hands up," as they covered the driver with their shotguns, the hands went up and the subsequent sharp command to "throw down the box" was readily complied with. These preliminaries being settled, the stage drove on, leaving the road agents to demolish the box and divide the plunder. The Wells-Fargo Company finally had to accompany their stages, when carrying bullion with "messengers" who were armed to the teeth and paid a liberal stipend to battle with the enemy,
These men liked fighting and generally gave a good account of themselves when they came to close quarters with the bandits of the desert. Hume was the most feared of all the Wells-Fargo men. He never lost a fight with the road agents and many of them fell before his unerring aim. He was alert and courageous and his superb gun-play won him the admiration even of the men whose lives he was after.
A few of the early Nevada road agents were of the depraved and vicious class, but the majority of them were good citizens until accident
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steered them on a wrong course. They were good neighbors, pleasant acquaintances, and associated on an equal footing with the leading men of their respective communities until the prison door closed suddenly on them and interrupted the friendly intercourse. Jack Davis, the most notorious of them all, might have been mistaken for a studious professor or a clergyman of remarkable placidity and meekness; and the judges, lawyers and bankers of the Comstock, when sitting down to a stiff game of poker, welcomed no one more warmly to a seat with them than they did him.
With but two or three exceptions, all the old Nevada highwaymen have been engaged in reputable occupations—ranching, mining, teaming, or whatever it might be. But want of success or dislike for hard labor rendered the treasure-laden stages seductive objects of contemplation to them, as undoubtedly they were to thousands of others who remained innocent, solely through lack of nerve, not from any saving grace.
The general community hated the Wells-Fargo Company because of its extortions and only laughed when its stages were robbed. For a highwayman to request an express company or any other corporation to surrender a portion of its winnings would appear, in their judgment, like a mere wrangle among robbers over the division of a common spoil, in whose acquisition the only difference is that the corporate robber has the advantage of operating under the law. From the time the stages began carrying their immense loads of bullion and bringing large shipments of coin in return, stage robbery became one of the most lively and profitable industries in Nevada. The week that went by without one or more coaches being held up produced a feeling of dull times generally, and was sure to be followed by a depression in the tenderloin district. But the energetic road agents seldom let the community settle into a gloom of that kind. From the Placerville, Henness, Dutch Flat, Overland, Esmeralda, or some other route, news of a robbery could be depended upon nearly every day. Most of the depredations, however, were committed near the large towns, to which the highwaymen would return and mingle with the crowd before the plundered stage arrived, or before the news of the occurrence was brought back, if it were a departing coach.
There was little or no indiscriminate waylaying. The robbers would ascertain what particular stage offered a fat prize and then go for it.
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They had spies hanging about the express offices, confederates in the service of the stage companies, and employed various other means to obtain this information. A stable-boy has been seen to swing his lantern after the departure of the stage, and within five miles that coach would be stopped and robbed, Poor Baldy Green, one of the old-time drivers, was held up so often that he was finally discharged, either from a superstitious belief in his bad luck or a suspicion of his fidelity.
For a number of years there were few arrests and no convictions. There was never any doubt about the identity of the bolder operators, but the difficulty was to obtain proof of their guilt. The trial of Jack Harris, Al Waterman, Mose Haines, Pitcher and Love, in 1865, for the robbery of a stage near Silver City, was the first notable arraignment of our knights of the road. The result was not very satisfactory to the authorities. Harris, the leader, was acquitted ; Haines escaped by turning State's evidence ; Waterman was sentenced to fifteen years in the penitentiary, and the others to shorter terms.
Meantime the stages were robbed as regularly as ever. It was evident that more skillful men were devoting themselves to the duty. In 1866 two stages, both crowded with passengers, were stopped together at the top of the Geiger grade by seven highwaymen and the express boxes and the passengers' pockets rifled alike. The robbers extemporized a fete champetre for the despoiled, generously regaling them with delicacies and champagne discovered in the boot of one of the coaches. Rugs were spread for the ladies and the affair was conducted throughout in the elegant and courteous style of old-time highwaymen. The duration of the entertainment and the free and easy way in which the robbers mingled with their guests, left little doubt in the mind of many of the passengers as to the identity of the highwaymen, though they were masked.
Jack Davis had long been suspected of directing the principal operations on the road. No conclusive evidence could be found against him, however. To all appearances he was a substantial and prosperous millman. Together with Cockerill, Squires and some others, he had taken a lease on a quartz mill near Flowery, in Six-Mile Canyon, about three miles from Virginia City, and seemed to be running it profitably. No one could discover from what source he obtained paying-rock, nevertheless the mill kept turning out a steady stream of bullion. The fact was, as it afterwards came out, there never was any paying rock. The mill had
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been hired simply to facilitate the remelting and marketing of the bullion secured by systematic stage robbery.
Davis and some of his gang were arrested for the Geiger grade stage robbery; but no one could swear positively to their identity and they were discharged.
The building of the Central Pacific and the Virginia & Truckee Railroad was a severe blow to these industrious millmen; it threatened their business with ruin. Thereafter all the treasure was carried by train, with the exception of unimportant shipments to and from outlying districts. It was a discouraging outlook for an established industry. But the genius and daring of Davis rose to the occasion. He planned and executed the first train robbery on record.
On the morning of November 1, 1870, news was flashed throughout the civilized world that the Overland Express train that had left San Francisco the previous morning, carrying gold to the miners at Virginia City, had been "held up" and robbed near Verdi, a station about ten miles west of Reno, and that over $40,000 had been taken from the Wells-Fargo strong box by masked men heavily armed. This being the first train robbery in the world, it almost took the public breath away, and for a while caused great excitement and much newspaper comment on two continents.
Every enemy of law and order was vociferous in the praise of the boldness and nerve of the perpetrators of the robbery, and Nevada acquired the dubious credit of being the first in the Union that could produce a set of outlaws daring enough to stop and rob an express train.
Immediately large rewards were offered by the authorities of Washoe County, by the State of Nevada, by the then Central Pacific Railroad and by the Wells-Fargo Express Company, for the apprehension of the robbers, these rewards aggregating $30,000.
Among other prominent leaders of this class were "Farmer" Peel, Sam Brown and Printiss. For a time, on the Comstock, it was a common saying that there was a "man for breakfast" every morning.
Of all the desperadoes that ever scourged the Comstock, Sam Brown excepted, no one ever attained the distinction of Farmer Peel. He came to Virginia from Salt Lake, with a record of five murders. Within a year or two he had added as many more to his score, and his comparative youth and vigor promised an abundant continuance of the harvest.
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Farmer Peel was a singular character. With his blonde beard and pleasant features, his appearance was decidedly prepossessing. When sober, he was as mild and agreeable a gentleman as one could wish to meet; but when in liquor he was a demon. But, drunk or sober, his instinct was to kill. Not that he was quarrelsome, but he bore the invidious title of "Chief," and had to be always ready to defend it ; and he was careful that no one should ever get the drop on him. Thus, when El Dorado Johnny, a silly little Irishman and fresh-comer, with pretensions as a bad man, walked into Pat Lynch's saloon one morning and casually inquired if there were any "chiefs" about --
"You probably intend that remark for me," said Farmer Peel, who was standing at the bar.
"Anyone can take it up that likes," replied Johnny,
"Very well ; we'll settle it right now," rejoined Peel, "Come into the street."
Poor, guileless Johnny went out into the street as proposed, but Peel stopped at the doorway, and, as Johnny turned to look for him, fired a shot that dropped him dead in his tracks.
Peel was never punished for any of his Virginia City killings ; in fact, he was never even arrested. They were confined to a class which the authorities probably considered better dead than alive; at any rate, the police did not appear anxious to meddle with him. But one day he got drunk and behaved so outrageously that there was a unanimous demand for his arrest, which was finally accomplished, though with difficulty, by a lot of officers and a posse of citizens, He was taken before Police Judge Davenport, who sentenced him to a fine of $100 or twenty days in the city jail. Peel said he hadn't the money with him to pay the fine, but that if the judge would let him go on his own recognizance he would get it and settle up. Judge Davenport, who was a mild man with an excessively long beard, of which he was very proud, readily consented, Peel simply went out and ginned up afresh. In about half an hour he returned to the court, which was still in session, and walking up to Davenport, said :
"Judge, I've come to settle that fine."
"Very good of you, Mr. Peel," replied the judge, stroking his beard with complacency at the subdued manner of the desperado. Thereupon, quick as a flash, Peel seized Davenport by his long chin whiskers with
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both hands and pounded his head against the wall till he was almost dead. Half a dozen officers were in the room, but they made no attempt to arrest the ruffian. They knew him too well to tackle him while in that mood. When he had "wooled" the judge to his heart's content, he walked calmly out of the courtroom, and that was the last of the affair so far as the authorities were concerned. The fine was considered settled.
Of the many desperate characters who terrorized the State in the early days was Sam Brown. He was simply a human brute of the reptilian order. Big, slouchy and slow of movement, except when he made one of his fatal springs, he impressed one as a huge Saurian lying in wait for his prey. His hair was coarse and tawny and his sandy whiskers so long that he kept them tied under his chin. He was absolutely repulsive and loathsome. No one ever had to be told of his character, as his looks constantly expressed it. He began his career of bloodshed in Nevada in 1860, when he carved a man to pieces with a knife. There had been no trouble between them. He saw his man, picked a quarrel with him and glutted his thirst for blood by stabbing him again and again. When he had finished his work, he wrapped the blanket of a card table about him and fell asleep on the floor alongside the mutilated corpse.
He shot men down without the slightest provocation and no peace officer was anxious to arrest him. With half a dozen wanton killings as his death score he swaggered about the saloons of the State vain of the fact that every one gave him a wide berth. Hearing that a man was being tried for murder at Genoa, he remarked that he would go up and clear him with his testimony and that he would make the court accept it. When he entered the court room next day his appearance caused consternation to the judge, jury and spectators. Some of the latter jumped out of windows and others got down behind the benches, expecting him to begin shooting up the place merely for the fun of it. The only intrepid man in the court was Senator William M. Stewart, who was assisting the District Attorney in prosecuting the case.
He saw the effect of Brown's presence and before Brown could pull a weapon Stewart covered him with two Colt's revolvers and ordered him to throw up his hands. Brown, paralyzed with fear, obeyed, and Stewart ordered him to the witness stand and he was sworn.
"Now, Mr. Brown," said Stewart calmly, "you have bragged that you would come in here and swear this defendant free and make the court
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accept your testimony. I am here to tell you that if you attempt any of your gun play here or give any false testimony I will blow your fool brains out." Stewart kept him covered with his weapon while he examined him and made him admit that he knew nothing of the case whatever. Stewart, still covering him with his weapon, made him admit that the defendant had a bad reputation and really succeeded in making a fairly good State witness out of him. When charged by the defendant's attorney with "intimidating the witness," Stewart insisted that he was merely preventing the witness from intimidating other people and then asked the witness if he felt that he was in any way being intimidated. Brown, who had bullied the entire State for years, was loath to admit that he was being "intimidated," and finally extricated himself from his dilemma by stating to Stewart that he was under indictment in Plumas County, California, for an assault with a deadly weapon and, needing an attorney, retained Stewart as his counsel. Rising from the witness chair he proffered Stewart $500 as a retainer, which Stewart accepted, and Brown asked the court to adjourn while he treated every one in sight. It being late in the afternoon the court adjourned and Brown, apparently in good humor, treated everybody and, mounting his horse, rode away. He had not gone far before he reached the residence of Henry Vansickle, a German rancher, who also kept a sort of wayside inn about three miles from Genoa.
"Hello, Van," was his cheery call to Vansickle. "How are you feeling?" "Tip-top," was the rejoinder. "Guess you are feeling too well and I guess I'll take a shot at you just for luck." Pulling his revolver he proceeded to pump lead at Vansickle, laughing as he did so. Vansickle sprang for his seat and after two shots had been fired, which missed him, he got inside his door and, passing quickly to the rear of his house, armed himself with a double-barreled shotgun loaded with buckshot and, saddling a horse, rapidly reached a spot where he knew Brown would have to pass. Meanwhile Brown, oblivious of danger, and supposing that Vansickle was quaking with fear in his house, rode on his way, in company with a man named Henderson.
Suddenly, at a turn of the road, the men were confronted by Vansickle. He ordered Henderson to get out of the way and give him a chance at Brown and a moment later he discharged both barrels at Brown, who fell wounded from his horse. It was at long range and the wounds
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were not serious, for Brown remounted and returned the fire with his pistol and, putting spurs to his horse, rode away as fast as possible. Vansickle followed with his empty fowling piece to William Cosser's house where Brown took refuge.
By this time several persons had followed Vansickle and, knowing that he had but two charges, brought him fresh ammunition. Vansickle watched the house after reloading and Brown finally came out and made another attempt to flee, with Vansickle in pursuit. The latter had the fleetest horse and soon overtook his man and emptied both barrels of his gun without effect, while Brown sent three wild shots in return, By this time Brown was in mortal terror and realized that he was up against a man who was determined to kill him,
He finally reached the residence of Mrs. Mott and, leaping from his horse, begged her to protect him. He got inside the house and Vansickle, who had loaded his gun, again waited for him to come out and renew the battle. But Brown, who had shot down so many inoffensive people who were making no defense, did not dare to face his Nemesis and made his way out of the rear of the house and stole away in the darkness. Vansickle prevailed upon a passer-by to enter the house and he soon returned stating that the bird had flown. Vansickle then rode on to Luther Old's hotel, expecting to find Brown, but he was not there and he waited for him. In about half an hour Brown's spurs were heard to jingle in the darkness and Vansickle knew that he was again within striking distance of his man. As Brown was dismounting from his horse Vansickle stepped up at short range and covered him. Brown, with a scream of terror, begged for his life.
"I've got you this time, Sam," was all Vansickle said and, discharging both barrels, blew everything of Brown's head off above the eyes. This was on the 6th of July, and on the 8th the coroner's jury brought in a verdict that Samuel Brown had come to his death from "a just dispensation of an all-wise Providence." Vansickle was fully exonerated and a wave of exultation passed over the State that a monster of murder and iniquity had been thus disposed of.
Another name that has gone down in the State history with a homicidal record is that of Thomas Peasley. While he was credited with killing two men in bloody street duels, the circumstances attending the
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tragedies should be taken into consideration and recited as doing some tardy justice to his memory. He was thirty-two years old when he came to the Comstock, just in the prime of a manhood endowed with more physical energy and vitality of temperament than falls to the lot of one in 10,000, Tall, but compactly built, powerful but quick as a leopard, he was a splendid specimen of manly strength and grace. His early training had made him redoubtable in the use of nature's weapons, while his later experience unfortunately rendered him equally expert with deadlier ones,
He established the old Sazarac saloon on C Street, near Union, which at once became headquarters for the firemen and a resort for political aspirants anxious to gain their support. He was successively foreman of the first hook-and-ladder company, and the first engine company formed in Virginia City, and upon the organization of the Fire Department was chosen chief engineer. He was sheriff from 1862 to 1864. At one session of the Territorial Legislature he was doorkeeper of the House, and he was sergeant-at-arms of the State Senate in 1865. But these modest preferments convey no adequate impression of his prominence in the community. For a number of years Tom Peasley was a more conspicuous figure than most of the men who have since won State or national reputations.
He was a man of better parts and instincts than his record shows. Aspiring, resolute, indomitable, a better schooling and start in life would certainly have made his name a familiar one in public affairs, whether in the field or forum, for he was born to be a leader in whatever situation circumstance might place him, There was the making of a Broderick in him, if not more. Missing leadership on a lofty plane, the spirit of mastery asserted itself on a lower level. To rule the rude and turbulent spirits with whom his lot was cast, it was necessary to be the roughest of the rough when occasion required, and he attained a distinction in that respect which gained him the pre-eminence he aimed at.
His excess of animal spirits, his exultation in his giant strength, an occasional indulgence in the cup that overcheers, a quick temper—and more than all these, perhaps, the consciousness that something unusual and daring was expected of him—led him to the commission of acts deeply regretted and most humbly apologized for afterwards. To knock a friend down with a playful slap upon the back was not an unusual form
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of salutation with him, and to break in a door instead of unlatching it only denoted the feeling of particular intimacy on his part.
Among the many foolish youths who affected tough airs and sought fellowship with the man-slayers, was a tall, wax-faced, loose-jointed young fellow who passed through a brief career in Virginia City and on into eternity with no other appellation ever heard than that of Sugar-foot Jack. If search was not made for his birth register the angels probably call him by that name yet, for that was the only one made use of in the credentials he took with him. His was a singular case of false pretense. He hadn't a single qualification for a desperado, except the silly ambition to be considered one. In reality he was a nerveless, inoffensive boy—a veritable lamb in wolf's clothing—but all the same, he paid the penalty of his disguise.
At a free-and-easy masquerade, late in 1863, Peasley knocked Sugar-foot Jack down, in one of his excesses of rough playfulness. The affront was too gross to be tamely borne by one who was posing as a terror ; but the poor fellow lacked the courage to resent it on the spot. He left the ballroom with muttered threats, and proclaimed his bloody purpose about town, until some of Peasley's friends hastened to inform him that Sugar-foot Jack had armed himself and was laying for him. It was the same kindly officiousness that has led to so many unfortunate results. The counter-hunt was immediately begun. Sugar-foot was discovered hiding behind an awning-post, an inferred position of vantage and defense, but the poor devil was really cringing there in fright. Peasley drew his pistol and riddled the unarmed craven with bullets, and the aspiring boy won the crown at last by dying with his boots on.
The most exciting murder case in the history of Nevada—one that divided the community into factions and came near precipitating a general conflict—occurred the first year after the organization of the Territory. For thrilling interest and romance the story of the crime, conviction and escape of Bill Mayfield is without parallel in the annals of the State.
In 1859-'60, John L. Blackburn was Deputy United States Marshal for that portion of Utah known as Carson County, and when it was organized into Nevada Territory in 1861 he was elected sheriff of Ormsby County. He was a tall, full-bearded, handsome man, with the air of a Southerner, though a native of Illinois. His popularity at the start is to be inferred from his success as an office-seeker, but to accept
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his official station as a true indication of his character would lead one widely astray. Whatever may have been his qualifications for office at the beginning, by the summer of 1861 he had entirely impaired them by dissipation and the unbridled license given to his temper, so that instead of being regarded as a bulwark of the law and a conservator of the peace, he was looked upon as about the most dangerous man in the Territory, and without exception the most reckless law-breaker.
A single example will depict his nature. He arrested a man for some minor offense out at one of the stations on the old emigrant road and brought him to Carson City. Instead of going directly to the jail he entered Bill Rice's saloon to refresh himself after the dusty ride. The prisoner was very drunk and insisted on singing in a boisterous manner. Blackburn cautioned him a number of times to be silent. The poor, irresponsible fellow paid no attention to the warning, but kept up the noise until Blackburn, in an access of fury, pulled his pistol and shot him dead, remarking that he guessed the son-of-a-gun would be quiet now. The body lay stretched immediately in front of the bar. To show his coolness and indifference, Blackburn asked the bystanders up to drink, and without a sign of agitation pleasantly clinked glasses with them over the corpse of his victim.
With the inevitable tendency that has marked the downward career of all desperate men, Blackburn had grown to thirst for blood every time he was in liquor, an occurrence daily becoming more frequent with him, as if the two fatal thirsts reacted upon each other. He didn't confine his attacks to dangerous or disreputable characters. He assaulted some of the most prominent and esteemed citizens, whose escape from his onsets was almost miraculous. A feeling of insecurity and terror pervaded the community. No one could rest assured that his own life would not be sought next. In short, things had come to a pitch where most of the leading citizens felt that the man who should kill Blackburn would be doing a public service.
At this stage of affairs, sometime in November, 1861, Henry Plummer —the arch fiend in the hideous demonarchy of those days, who afterward organized and, while sheriff, directed the operations of the most notorious band of road agents and murderers that ever terrorized the mining regions, and who was hanged by the vigilance committee at Bannock, Montana, in 1864—came to Carson City, He was already a murderer
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and fugitive from justice in California. A requisition had preceded him, and the Nevada authorities were on the alert.
Plummer found an old acquaintance and friend in William H. Mayfield, a professional gambler, who hid him in his cabin until preparations were made for more safely secreting him in the loft of Jack Harris's house by cutting through the lining of the ceiling and placing a bed, provisions and other necessaries, together with the fugitive himself, upon the girders, and then closing and concealing the aperture.
Sheriff Blackburn had a warrant for the arrest of Plummer. Suspecting Mayfield of harboring a fugitive, he searched his cabin, but too late; the culprit had been transferred to the loft. Mayfield frankly told the sheriff, however, that Plummer had been there, but had gone away. The thought of having been foiled rankled in Blackburn's breast, and when as was customary with him now he proceeded to get drunk, it was the uppermost thing in his mind. Meeting Mayfield, he accused him of still concealing Plummer. Mayfield succeeded in avoiding him at the time, but later in the evening they met in the St. Nicholas saloon, when Blackburn renewed his charges more aggressively.
"I will arrest Plummer," said he, "and no one can prevent it. I can arrest anybody. I can arrest you, Bill Mayfield, if I wish to."
"You can arrest me if you have a warrant for my arrest," replied Mayfield, "but you can't without."
"I tell you I can arrest you or any one else," rejoined Blackburn, "and d— you, I'll arrest you anyhow."
Blackburn made a movement as if to draw a weapon, but John D. Winters and other friends caught hold of him and tried to force him from -the room, He broke away from them, however, and made for Mayfield again. Like a flash the latter plunged a bowie-knife into his assailant's breast, repeating the thrust half a dozen times as the wounded man tried to close with him. Blackburn fell to the floor and died within ten minutes,
In the confusion Mayfield escaped from the saloon. He lay hidden all that night in a hogpen. The next day friends provided for his concealment in more savory quarters, but a large reward being offered for his arrest a few days afterward, some one revealed his hiding place and he was taken into custody.
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Political feeling ran very high at that time, Blackburn was a Unionist, Mayfield a Secessionist. It looked for a while as if the case was going to resolve itself into a purely partisan question, and a conflict appeared imminent. In expectation of an attempt at rescue, Governor Nye made a requisition on the commandant at Fort Churchill for a military force, and fifty soldiers were sent to guard the prisoner.
The trial was brought on with the least possible delay. John R. McConnell, the distinguished Secessionist who had just been defeated for Governor of California, and Jonas Seely, as pronounced a Unionist, were counsel for the defense. It was claimed by them and by Mayfield's friends that he was not given a fair trial, inasmuch as there was not a single Democrat on the jury. Fairly or not, he was convicted and sentenced to be hanged February 28, 1862.
There were men of both parties, however, who felt no political interest in the case, but only thankfulness for Blackburn's death and a grateful desire to save his slayer, whom they regarded as a benefactor. They immediately set about devising ways to effect Mayfield's release. A pardon was out of the question, and in the existing state of public feeling there was scarcely more hope in a motion for a new trial, or in an appeal to the Supreme Court. But an effort was made, and by means notoriously effective in influencing some of the Supreme Judges in those days, two of them were induced to order a stay of proceedings in Mayfield's sentence until his case could be brought before the court en banc. This order rendered the time of execution a matter of extreme uncertainty, and the authorities were easily persuaded under the circumstances to dispense with the military guard and transfer the condemned man to the Territorial prison for safe keeping.
Uncle Abe Curry was warden of the prison, as good and kind-hearted a man as ever lived, and a prominent and public-spirited citizen moreover. What wonder, then, if he shared the feeling of other good citizens to an extent that rendered him careless about keeping strict watch over one they believed to have done a public service, and who was not one of his prisoners anyhow ? Mayfield was furnished with tools for cutting off his irons, which he proceeded to do just cautiously enough not to attract the attention of some uninitiated guards.
About 9 o'clock on the evening of the 15th of March, 1862, he crept out of the prison and by prearrangement met a friend who delivered to
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him $1,000 in money and the fleetest horse in the Territory, and who told the fugitive at the same time to strike for the wilds of Idaho, as nothing could save him if he fell into the clutches of the authorities again.
Mayfield subsequently sent back an account of his escape to the Enterprise. He took to himself all the credit for it, and pictured himself to be a very Jack Sheppard at prison-breaking. One passage, however, had a touch of vivid description and humor in it that indicated Nevada might have developed another Mark Twain had the aspirant not gone wrong.
"The guard," wrote Mayfield, "was walking back and forth in the ward room, while old man Curry was sitting playing poker with some of the work hands about ten feet from my cell. I got down on my knees, and, watching the old man's eyes, started for the door. As I got to it I saw the old man raising the hand that had just been dealt to him, and, as his eyes were directed toward me, I thought I would wait until he got a big hand, for, being an old gambler myself, I knew it would always excite an unsophisticated gambler to have a high hand dealt to him. A few minutes afterward a big Irishman who was playing in the game got a big hand, queens and sevens, before the draw. He bet 'twenty beans.' The old man saw it, and they took one card each, The old man drew a king, making him a king full ; the Irishman drew a queen, making him a queen full. They bet and bet until they had about 200 beans in the pot. All this time I was fixing to go, and I came to the conclusion that if I couldn't go out on that hand I never could, and so I went."
Mayfield made good use of his first few hours of liberty, getting as far as Peavine valley and well within the boundaries of California. But there he hesitated and finally discontinued his flight. Every mile was separating him further from a Carson City girl with whom he was madly infatuated. A fierce conflict was raging in his breast; but his love for the woman proved stronger than his love for life and liberty, and he deliberately turned and rode back to Huffaker's, in the Truckee Meadows, whence he could communicate with his sweetheart, and remained there a couple of weeks. His whereabouts became a matter of public notoriety. Friends and well-wishers urged him to renew his flight, but in vain,
Sheriff Gasherie of Ormsby county, who had been elected soon after Blackburn's death and who naturally disliked to show ingratitude to the man who had made a vacancy for him, at length notified the friends and
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well-wishers that popular clamor compelled him to take cognizance of Mayfield's presence at Huffaker's. He informed them of the time of his intended visit, and word was sent to the fugitive to make himself scarce before the Sheriff and his posse should appear,
Mayfield had become so indifferent that he paid no attention to the warning until the officers arrived, Then Mrs. Huffaker hastily concealed him behind some dresses hanging against the wall. The hiding was merely of the ostrich kind, his feet and legs being plainly discernible at a glance. But the officers searched the house from cellar to garret without success. Sheriff Gasherie tersely explained the dilemma to one of the well-wishers in this way :
"I couldn't find him, though I could see him all the time."
The vain search at last abandoned, and the Sheriff and his officers returned to Carson City and reported that the rumor of Mayfield's presence at Huffakers' was untrue and never had the slightest foundation.
The folly and perversity of Mayfield began to weary his partisans, and they told him plainly that unless he left the Territory they would abandon him to his fate. This threat succeeded in awakening him to a sense of his danger, and at last he made his way through Humboldt county to the Salmon river region in Idaho.
His reprieve, however, was scarcely worth the trouble and expense by which it had been secured. The following year at Placerville, Idaho, he got into a difficulty with a man named Evans over a game of cards. Mayfield drew his revolver, but Evans exclaimed :
"'I'm not heeled.'
"'Then go and heel yourself,' said Mayfield, 'and be ready the next time we meet. One of us must die.'
"The next day Mayfield and two friends were walking along the street and came to a muddy place they had to cross in single file upon a plank. As Mayfield was in the center of the crossing, Evans, who had carefully obeyed the injunction to 'heel' himself, and was lying concealed in a cabin close by, poured two charges of buckshot into his adversary's body, and within an hour Bill Mayfield, who came so near involving Nevada Territory in a bloody strife, was beyond the reach of human justice or mercy."
"Peasley was not held for the murder, the threats and actions of his silly victim making it a plausible case of self-defense. But his own
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conscience did not acquit him as readily. From that time he was a changed man in most respects. The old boisterousness gave place to a restrained and gentle manner, and there was a noticeable unbending and softening in his whole nature.
"He withdrew from the saloon business and engaged in theatrical management. In 1865 he was sergeant-at-arms of the State Senate. While holding the position an incident occurred that led to his death a year later.
"Standing at a bar with a party of friends, one night, some one nearby made a remark which Peasley construed as an insult, whereupon he turned angrily and knocked down an innocent bystander whom he mistook for the offender. Being convinced of his mistake, he apologized to the young man he had assaulted and offered to make any other reparation within his power. But young Barnhart, the aggrieved party, received the conciliatory offer in a churlish spirit, nursing a resentment that nothing but blood could appease.
"During the following summer, while both were at Glenbrook Lake Tahoe, Barnhart sent a challenge to his aggressor to fight him with pistols. Peasley declined to accept it, alleging his disinclination to add further harm to the injury he so sincerely regretted. This did not satisfy Barnhart. It seems only to have begotten a delusion that Peasley was afraid to fight him, and to have made him bloodthirstier than ever.
"The following winter Peasley visited Carson City, to meet his old friends in the Legislature. While he and Ned Ingham were playing billiards in a saloon the earlier part of the night, they noticed Barnhart and two companions come in and drink at the bar several times, but as he said nothing nor made any demonstration they paid little attention to his actions. About 2 o'clock in the morning he went to his hotel, the Ormsby House, and sat down by the stove to finish his cigar. J. C. Lewis, the veteran editor, John A. Benham, an attaché of the Legislature, and some others were sitting around the stove also. Presently Barnhart and his two companions came in, but went out after drinking at the bar, They returned in a few minutes, and Barnhart approached Peasley and asked:
"'Why didn't you fight me last summer at the Glenbrook House?'
"'I don't know,' was the hesitating reply. 'Are you always on the fight ?'
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"'Yes,' replied Barnhart, with a vile epithet, at the same time pulling his pistol.
"'You don't mean to murder me, do you?' exclaimed Peasley.
"The answer was two bullets fired in quick succession into the region of his heart, As he started to rise, Barnhart caught him by the shoulder and beat him over the head with the barrel of the pistol, breaking his skull, Peasley, in his helplessness, called out :
"'Don't let him murder me! What are you all doing?'
"Barnhart broke his pistol by the repeated blows, the barrel falling to the floor, Editor Lewis wrenched the stock from his hands, saying:
"'There, that will do; you've shot and beaten him enough.'
"By this time Peasley had staggered to his feet and drawn his pistol. Seeing the action, Barnhart made a rush for an adjoining cardroom, shouting:
"'Don't let him shoot me!'
"Peasley pursued him, fired once through the glazed door as it closed behind the fugitive, then threw it open and aimed a deadly shot at his cowering antagonist. Before he could fire again, he suddenly reeled.
"'My God, I'm shot through and through !' he exclaimed, and tell full length upon the floor.
"It was thought he was dead, but signaling Ned Ingham to come close to him he requested that his brother Andy be sent for. He also inquired about Barnhart, and smiled grimly when told that he was dead.
"Then came the final injunction, that his boots be taken off. And thus Tom Peasley went out of the world fearlessly and bare-footed.
On one occasion a man was shot between the eyes in a billiard saloon in Virginia City, meeting his death about four in the morning.
He fell half under the billiard table and his body was not taken in charge by the coroner until nearly noon. The games went on however as if nothing had happened and the players in making their shots were obliged at times to stand with one foot each side of the dead body.
Jack Williams began his career in 1861. He was town watchman at the time and one night went into the Washoe Saloon to warm up.
Suddenly Billy Brown, a gambler, came in under the influence of liquor and seeing Williams pulled his gun and told him to draw.
Williams dodged under a billiard table and Brown fired, the ball
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striking the bed of the table and glancing upward. Williams then sent a ball through the other's breast killing him instantly.
As the body lay upon the floor a little boy came in and throwing himself upon it sobbed, and cried as he begged "poor Billy" to speak to him. Over and over he kissed the responseless form as Williams stood by with tears rolling down his cheeks. Williams gave himself up to the Sheriff and was exonerated.
This started him on his career as a gun man and he took part in many bloody encounters until he died with his boots on two years later with sixteen buckshot in his chest. A man of unquestioned veracity told me that he overheard two men in an adjoining room disputing as to which of the two should kill him, each claiming the right. They finally shook dice and the winner ten minutes later went out and "got his man."
During the first few years homicides were so frequent that they ceased to attract much attention. No attempt was made to bring men to justice who shot down fellow beings with slight provocation, and sometimes none at all. They became so bold and shameless that there was a general feeling in the community that some stand must soon be made by the law-abiding element. It came when William Janes shot and killed P. H. Dowd in Gold Hill while they were quarreling over some business matter. Neither man was of any prominence in the community and in the ordinary course of events the affair would have been forgotten in a week, along with the other homicides of almost daily occurrence ; but by a singular chain of circumstances, the murder grew into a matter of great moment and the slayer became the most conspicuous figure in the public sight for the next two years.
Janes was tried within a month from the time he committed the crime, was speedily found guilty of murder in the first degree and was sentenced to be hanged the 2d of June following. The witness and sternness of the proceedings fairly took people's breath away. After the hundreds of wanton killings that had gone unpunished, there was to be a wholesome example of justice at last
But owing to a legal quibble in the wording of the death sentence Sheriff Howard refused to carry it out. An appeal was made to Governor Nye to help the Storey County authorities out of the muddle and he, good, easy old man, as the best way that suggested itself to him, commuted the sentence of Janes, whatever style or degree of hanging it
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might apply, to imprisonment for life in the Territorial penitentiary; but Janes was subsequently pardoned by Governor Nye.
The first judge to make his authority felt in Nevada was Judge Cradlebaugh. Buchanan appointed John Cradlebaugh in 1857 as one of the associate judges of Utah Territory with his seat at Provo. Buchanan was indebted to him for political services rendered during the campaign of 1856 when the judge canvassed the State of Ohio for his election.
During his official career Judge Cradlebaugh tried some of the most important mining cases in the State, where millions were involved, and there was never a suspicion of his integrity.
The first court room that he occupied was in Genoa, then the county seat of Carson County, Utah Territory. It was located in a hay loft over a livery stable. It was a dingy, ill ventilated, badly lighted place, where at times the atmosphere was redolent of the odors of the stable and often the proceedings of the court were interrupted with the profanity of the stablemen who were dealing with refractory horses downstairs. The loft was reached by a ladder and when the court room was full the ladder was pulled up by the bailiff as an intimation to outsiders that they need not attempt to obtrude.
Under the idea, however, that "for justice, all places a temple and all seasons summer" this old hay loft in Genoa became immortalized by Judge Cradlebaugh as the spot where a righteous judge and a courageous one dispensed the law to the best of his honest ability and where litigants felt sure of a square hearing.
THE PONY EXPRESS.
The gold discovery in California in 1848 led to a wonderful exodus to the Pacific Coast. The rush of American gold seekers swept across the plains in vast caravans and they crossed the region now embracing the State of Nevada without stopping to investigate mineral deposits which were fully as rich as the gold fields they were seeking further away, Within ten years the population of California had so increased that more rapid communication with the east was needed. The demand of the California miners was taken to Washington and Senator Gwinn, in 1859, induced the firm of Russell, Majors & Waddell to establish the "Pony
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Express." This firm already had a daily stage line between the Missouri River and Salt Lake, with stations every ten or twelve miles along the route. In less than sixty days Russell extended his route to the Pacific Coast, and started his riders on their long race across the continent.
One can scarcely comprehend the magnitude of this undertaking. To carry the mail from St. Joseph, Missouri, to San Francisco, 1,950 miles across the desert and mountain, required 500 selected horses, 190 stations, 200 men to take charge of them and nearly 100 skilled riders. The stations were sometimes 65 and even l00 miles apart. Prior to that the fastest time ever made on the Butterfield route was 21 days. But the Pony Express cut it to 18.
These riders were always ready at their stations for any emergency that might arise, as they were frequently called upon for double duty; at any moment they must be prepared to spring into the saddle and be off like a shot. The animals employed were magnificent specimens, selected for speed and endurance, most carefully fed and housed. On the road they were pushed to the utmost, spurred ten miles at the very limit of speed, they came into the next station flecked with foam, wet with perspiration. Nearly 2,000 miles must be covered in ten days or less. The rider was allowed but two minutes at a station to change mounts, yet it scarcely required more than two seconds. Almost before he touched the ground the man was off again, a dim speck down the trail.
Two hundred and fifty miles a day was the distance traveled and the rider could carry no surplus weight. His sole arms were a revolver and a knife ; his case of precious letters made into a bundle no larger than an ordinary writing tablet, The mail-bags were two pouches of leather, impervious to rain, sealed and strapped securely to the saddle both before and behind. They never contained over twenty pounds in weight, and inside, for better protection from possible exposure, the letters and the dispatches were wrapped in oil silk, and separately sealed. The pouches were not opened between river and coast,
These riders were paid from $100 to $125 a month and "found." The postage charged during the earlier months of the service was $5.00 per half ounce, but was later reduced to $1.00, at which sum it remained until the completion of the overland telegraph in October, 1861. Letters thus carried were written on the thinnest tissue paper ; papers destined for the coast were printed on the same thin paper, and had to be sent in letter
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envelopes at letter postage. A messenger has recorded that he remembered handling one letter which had on it twenty-five Pony Express stamps of $1.00 each, and twenty-five United States 10-cent stamps. It is safe to say that no mail was thus sent unless it was considered of great value. And the Pony Express had a proud record for safety, as well as efficiency. In all its career it lost but one mail. Another came very near doubling the list, as the rider was waylaid by Indians and scalped. But the pony broke away and came clattering into the next station, severely wounded, with the saddle-bags intact, leaving his rider dead in the desert. All the riding was not the same, as the distance to be covered, and the length between stations, was largely determined by the character of the country. Along some parts of the route the trail had to be covered at the astounding pace of 25 miles an hour.
The first day of the start was the third of April, 1860, the time noon. At exactly the same hour the riders, one facing east, the other west, left Sacramento and St. Joseph, The first starter from California was Harry Roff, on a half-breed bronco.
The adventures of these Pony Express riders, the stories of their hardihood and marvelous horsemanship, are numberless. Perhaps the best known among them is that of William F. Cody ("Buffalo Bill"), who began in the service when a boy of fourteen.
As has been said, the schedule time between Missouri and Sacramento was established at ten days. Never once did the Pony Express fail to make it, and on many occasions the daring riders came in far ahead. Buchanan's last message was whisked across the 2,000 miles in eight days and a few hours ; the news of Lincoln's election covered the 665 miles to Denver in 2 days and 21 hours. But the record for such long distance riding was completely shattered when Lincoln's inaugural was borne by rider to rider to the coast in the marvelous space of but 7 days and 17 hours. It was a Pony Express rider who made the most wonderful straight-away ride ever made by man, but it was not performed in the course of duty. The rider was a Canadian, Francis Xavier Aubrey, and he rode on a bet that he could cover the distance between Santa Fe and Independence, 800 miles, in eight days. One thousand dollars was involved. In the whole distance he did not stop to rest, changing horses only every 100 miles, and he made it in 5 days and 13 hours. Aubrey has
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been described as of stocky build, light-hearted, genial, adventurous and absolutely fearless. He was later killed in Santa Fe.
The adobe forts were built at the sink on the Carson at Sand Springs, twenty miles east from Carson sink, another at Cold Springs, thirty-seven miles east of Sand Springs. One rider was a Mexican. He rode into Sand Springs one day, shot through and through by an Indian and died shortly after reaching the station.
It was just as wild work at the eastern end of the line, then an open country.
Bill Cody ("Buffalo Bill") was a boy then, and he rode between Red Butte on the Platte and Three Crossings on the Sweetwater. He had to cross the Platte and make fifteen miles an hour, regardless of delays or detours, to avoid Indians. Cody probably made the most remarkable ride on record. He rode without rest from Three Crossings to Red Butte, then, because a rider had been killed, he rode eighty-five miles further and back to Three Crossings, in all 322 miles, without rest, and made the trip on time.
Of course, the Pony Express never paid, but it was the means through which the firm who put it on got a great subsidy for running a great stage line across the continent. The nerve and the endurance needed to ride that express required men of the very highest kind. The desert was not dotted with homes as it is now. It was just a waste, and save the little puny stations established by the express company, there was not a house between Dayton and Camp Floyd. The Sioux were on the war path in the east; the Piutes in the west. Major Ormsby and Meredith and half of their command were killed in a fight with Winnemucca and his braves, and still those express boys, with one or two exceptions, rode through with safety, although sometimes it was a running fight with the Indians for miles before they reached a station. They had the advantage of having good horses that outstripped the Indian ponies. Bob Haslam ran into a band of thirty with war paint on, three or four miles from a station. He had a revolver and two cylinders loaded. He meant to sell his life as dearly as he could and rode full speed into the Indians. One of the Indians cried out, "You pretty good fellow, you go ahead,"
264 THE HISTORY OF NEVADA
and he went ahead, but he kept his eye on those Indians until out of range. They generally were not so considerate.
The Pony Express did a great work. It enabled the people in the east to see that the desert was not impassable. It brought the east and the west ten days nearer together, which was a great thing in 1860. A great many people who believed that the country was impossible for a railroad began to have visions of a time when, possibly, roads could be built everywhere except over the Sierras and over the Rockies. Nine years after that the road was completed all the way, but to understand what it meant one should see a profile of the old road drawn on a small scale. By it they will see that the road ran up and down hill all the way and that it was the gigantic work of the age to build it. Or, perhaps, it was the thought behind it that was the great thing. We see a man take a hodful of brick and mount to the sixth story of a building and we shudder at the thought of that work, but that man began by carrying the brick to the first story, then to the second and after that he grew indifferent to the height of the building. So when the charter was got for the Union Pacific and the old Central Pacific, and George Gorham went to Washington and moved the foothills down within twelve miles of Sacramento, where, the double subsidy would begin, the men who built the first mile found that they were not out a cent, but rather, that they had $10,000 in their pockets—a bonus. Then it was easy to build the second mile and they had $10,000 more, and so the road crept over the Sierras and crept up over the Rockies and finally came together at Promontory, west of Ogden, and it was a change of front for our country.
It went out to the world that a railroad had been built clear across the American continent and it was possible in a palace car to start from New York and to keep that car until the city by the Golden Gate was reached and then China was but twenty days away. It took away the terror of the desert. It moved the frontier back. It subdued the red man more than all the armies of the world could have subdued him, for they found they had an enemy there which was impervious to their arrows or their guns—"all wagon, no oxen," something that could outspeed their ponies, It made possible the settling up of the desert. It stopped the expense of
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Indian wars along that route, which had been costly for thirty years before, and the government would have made money really had it never received back what it advanced for the building of that road.
It taught another lesson. The old rule was never to build a railroad until enough trade was secured to make a promise of a fair interest on the money. When this road was built it was demonstrated that a railroad was the greatest pathfinder that ever went into the desert, because all along its lines settlements were started, and then the Nevada mines gave a revenue which was never dreamed of when the road was projected.
 TNO Editor's note: This is the way the story is told in Davis' text. This abrupt change of subject is apparently a continuation of the story of Peasley and "Sugar-foot Jack," which was interrupted at p. 251.