History: The shootout at Hurd’s Saloon

“There’s liable to be a funeral soon,” shouted a citizen.

“Teeter and Reed are having a time down the street,” exclaimed another.

“Teeter had better keep away and let up on him.”

These words were heard up and down Truckee’s Front Street on a cold November evening in 1891. Jacob Teeter, for many years Constable of Truckee and eastern Nevada County, was about to make his first – and last – mistake as a lawman.

Hurd’s Saloon

William H. Hurd came to Truckee after working in the mining area of the Rough and Ready. He opened the Capitol Saloon and restaurant in 1868. After a fire destroyed the wood building (most of Truckee has burned down one time or another), he replaced it with a two story brick structure in 1870 which is today known as the Capitol Building, the first and oldest brick building in Truckee. The Capitol Saloon was the site of the famous gunfight between two Truckee constables, Jacob Teeter and James Reed.

The Need for Lawmen

Between 1869 and 1890, the town of Truckee had grown rapidly. The demand for lumber for the mines in Virginia City and the growing city of Reno had exploded, bringing thousands of men to the area. The boom also brought lawlessness to the new town. Teeter grew up in New Jersey and migrated west, eventually making his home in Truckee, where he married and settled down. No sooner had the first ramshackle building appeared in Truckee when in October 1868, Jacob Teeter, (or “Jake,” as he was called) gained a hard reputation as a lawman.

Teeter’s appointment as the first town Constable (at the young age of twenty-six) included the rough and tumble town of Truckee.

Photo courtesy Truckee-Donner Historical Society
Between 1869 and 1890, the town of Truckee had grown rapidly. The demand for lumber for the mines in Virginia City and the growing city of Reno had exploded, bringing thousands of men to the area. The boom also brought lawlessness to the new town.
Photo courtesy Truckee-Donner Historical Society
Teeter was buried in Truckee’s cemetery where a large tombstone marks his grave.
Photo courtesy Truckee-Donner Historical Society

Fighting for the Job of Constable

During the many years that Teeter served as Constable, James Reed served on and off as his deputy. The two men competed for the more prestigious elected office of town Constable, with Teeter winning most of the time. Although they cooperated together as lawmen, their friendly rivalry began to evolve into an open conflict. Many of Reed’s friends belonged to the “601” vigilante group, whose aim was to run anyone they deemed to be “undesirable” out of town. It was widely believed that Reed himself was a member, and this didn’t sit well with Jake.

Teeter disapproved of anyone who sought to take the law into his own hands and the Teeter-Reed feud grew. Teeter was again elected constable in 1890 but he began to feel he was losing community support. Reed and Teeter had once again run against each other again for Constable, but this time it was a bitter fight. Following the election, the two men rarely spoke to each other. During the year following the election, Jake began to spend more time at Hurd’s Saloon drinking with his friends. (Hurd’s Saloon was located in the Capitol Building in the space currently occupied by Dressed at 10072 Donner Pass Road). Teeter openly stated to anyone who would listen that the “601” were nothing but a bunch of murderers and cowards. Perhaps it was his intention that would be overheard by Reed’s friends.

Rivalry Takes on New Level

On the evening of Nov. 6, 1891, at 5 p.m., Teeter went into Hurd’s for a whisky. While drinking alone at the handsome old bar, the front door opened and Reed and several of his friends walked in, passing Jake, and sat down at a table in the rear of the saloon. An argument between the two ensued but Teeter’s friends intervened, took Teeter’s gun and convinced him to just go home.

Teeter promptly turned and stomped out of the saloon but felt that he had been humiliated in public and, worse yet, he had surrendered his firearm. Jake promptly headed for home and re-armed himself, grabbing two more guns. By this time, Reed had already returned to his table to finish his supper in the company of his friends. Meanwhile, Teeter fortified himself at another bar and then quietly returned to Hurd’s Saloon and saw a friend, George Cannon, standing by the wood stove. Jake strode casually toward Cannon and spoke briefly with Cannon, while watching Reed and his friends. Several quiet minutes passed before Reed and his friends stood up and began to walk from the rear of the saloon. Reed was the last in his group, which walked past the bar toward the front door. Saying nothing Teeter advanced toward Reed and fired first. The two shots went wide as everyone else in the saloon either dropped to the sawdust covered floor, crawled under tables or tried to hide behind posts. Quickly Reed drew his pistol and fired four times. When the smoke cleared, Teeter had fallen heavily to the floor next to the billiard table. Witnesses rose and stood in shocked silence. Reed examined himself, expecting to find a wound, but probably due to the effects of the whiskey, Teeter’s aim had been worse than bad. Finally, someone shouted, “Jake’s hurt badly — go fetch Doc.”

It should be noted that Teeter was not known for using pistols very often (which may explain why his two shots missed). Teeter preferred an axe handle to keep the peace in Truckee over a pistol. Axe handles, as everyone knows, are quicker to reload and do not misfire. According to family members, Teeter also had arthritis which is a handicap in pistolry but not generally in the wielding of an axe handles. At 10:30 a.m. the next morning Jake Teeter died.

The Aftermath

James Reed surrendered himself to Deputy Constable Long, but was not locked up. A coroner’s inquest was held the following day. Truckee’s famous attorney, C.F. McGlashan, represented Reed. After all the evidence had been examined and witnesses questioned, the verdict was read: “We the jury find that Jacob Teeter came to his death from wounds inflicted by a pistol held in the hands of James Reed, and that in our opinion he acted in self-defense.” Teeter was buried in Truckee’s cemetery where a large tombstone marks his grave. Most of Truckee’s citizens attended the funeral, except for James Reed. On March 27, 1905, a story appeared in the Truckee Republican. The headline read, “Pioneer James Reed Dies of Old Age.” The article stated that Reed had been living the lonely life of a hermit in a small cabin in Truckee for over thirteen years. He apparently felt remorse, and his life had been a burden since the day he shot and killed Jake Teeter. Once a handsome and popular man, Reed’s friends gradually abandoned him. His hair had turned gray and his beard had grown long. He died from old age, self-neglect and loneliness. James Reed is also buried in Truckee’s cemetery, but in an obscure, unmarked grave. While the incident remains a tragic event in Truckee’s history, Jacob Teeter’s life had been full of adventure and he is still remembered as the town’s earliest and bravest lawman.

Source: Truckee-Donner Historical Society


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