1860s reports reveal Wild West ruckus
August 2, 2004
By Gordon RichardsTruckee’s Wild West Ruckus, which starts this weekend, features the Railroad Regulators “601.” The Regulators are dedicated to reenacting the Old West atmosphere that gave Truckee and many western towns in the 19th century their character. Truckee was definitely a rough-and-tough town loaded with violence and crime of all kinds. While the Regulators of today are considered entertainment, in May of 1869, the local citizens of Truckee were hoping for a quieter future.Truckee was a magnet for crime due to an abundance of jobs, mostly in the timber and railroad industries. Jobs led to ample money, consumption of vast quantities of alcohol, and, in the end, waves of lawlessness that led to vigilante justice. Even with local constables, such as Jake Teeter, Jake Cross, James Reed and other early lawmen doing their best, crime was rampant at times.
The Sierra Sun runs a weekly log of police reports in the Truckee area. Taking that format back to May of 1869, the Truckee Tribune newspaper crime log would show us what was going on in the wild days of Truckee’s past. Here are just a few entries:May 1 – Johnny Morton, well known around town, died from injuries last Tuesday. He had been accidentally shot in the ankle during the attempted bank robbery of Burkhalter & Co. bank. It was reported that Morton had been robbed and shot in the ankle on Second Street later that evening, but he confessed to being part of the bank robbery attempt. Morton was arrested on suspicion of attempted robbery. Dr. Jones treated Morton, but his injuries were serious, the bones of his foot and ankle having been crushed. Dr. Jones amputated Morton’s ankle and foot last Monday, but due to his years of hard drinking, his body could not handle the surgery and he succumbed. Morton was 29 years old and a native of Scotland.May 8 – Last Sunday a Chinaman, who had been employed by Charles Nuce of the Truckee House at Crystal Peak, near Verdi, was accused of raping Nuce’s 6-year-old girl. Nuce made the Chinaman own up to the crime, then took the man to the Truckee River, where he shot him and threw him in the river. The Chinaman crawled out on the bank, then Nuce hit him with a rock and threw back in to float downstream. Public opinion is that Nuce did only his duty.May 8 – Officer Hanks arrested 18 Chinese men who were charged with cutting wood that belonged to Elle Ellen of the Truckee Sawmill. They appeared before Justice King, who held them under $1,000 bonds to appear in court on Friday.
May 13 – Hell hath poured forth her minions upon us and the cities have selected their most infernal and desperate villains and sent them forth to a congress of thieves to our town, to commit their most hellish deeds and daring robberies. Scarcely a night passes but someone is robbed or a house broken into and plundered. The utmost surveillance upon the part of our worthy officers hold crime in check, so long as they are watching. We now fill 12 out of 16 cells in the county jail, and if justice were done to a large number of men in our community, twice as many cells would be occupied, and five gallows as well.May 13 – Everyday for some time past, Indians are seen in a beastly state of intoxication upon our streets. Some wretch continues to supply them with liquor. There is a law that prohibits sale of intoxicating alcohol to Indians.May 13 – An attempt was made by a whelp in this town, who is well known, to blackmail Frank Pauson out of $200. In doing this he has disgraced himself, but he has always been too lazy to earn a respectable living anyway.May 15 – On Thursday night some individuals who have no fear of the law, and who would not “beware of the dog” entered the cellar of the Truckee Hotel, and removed wines, cigars, and other supplies. The value was over $700, and three men men have been arrested in connection with the crime.May 15 – On Thursday night as Jake Cross was going to his home on Piety Hill he was assaulted with a club by a ruffian in the rear of the Truckee Lodging House. The fellow dealt Cross a severe blow upon the chin, but Cross grappled with the villain and drove him off. Had Jake been armed it is very probable that there would have been a job for the undertaker.
May 15 – On Thursday night somebody stole a revolver from J.S. Lord. If there is any city in California that can show a stronger record for thievery than Truckee, we want to know about it.May 22 – Burglary and robbery seem to be the order of the day, though during the past few days our thieves have been rather quiet; this is no fault of theirs we venture to say, but rather vigilance that has kept them down. As soon as our people get over their scare a little and the officers eyes are off them, it will break out again in all its former boldness. It is only the watchfulness of the people that has left many of them unhung. If there is an escaped convict or a murderer at large those in search had better visit Truckee as we have about all of them here.May 29 – The man who has been in the calaboose for the last ten days, on a charge of being a participant in the robbery of Campbell’s Truckee Hotel cellar, broke out of jail on Wednesday night by digging his way out through the door with a chisel, which was given him by someone on the outside. The other prisoner, who was in on a charge of petty larceny, crawled out through the hole and went up town and got a drink and then returned to his cell; he thought that the free board was too good a thing to be missed.Gordon Richards is the research historian for the Truckee Donner Historical Society. Comments, story ideas, guest articles, and history information are always welcome. Please visit the Truckee Donner Historical Society web site at truckeehistory.tripod.com. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You may leave a message at 582-0893.