Desperate men were tamed by Constable Jake
August 8, 2005
In the early 1870’s Truckee was a place where desperate criminals congregated. The railroad brought most of them to town. The mountain outpost was lucky to find a good constable in Jake Cross. The Truckee Republican kept the local townspeople up to date on Cross’s adventures in law enforcement. In March of 1872, a desperate character named Jack Lapsley, got going on a drunken spree, and was caught by Officer Cross in the act of beating a drunk and defenseless man. Cross compelled Lapsley to desist from his crime by physical force, but didn’t arrest him. Lapsley was known in the region for his violence, at 26 he was tall, strong, sinewy, active, and a treacherous man to deal with. The previous year, he had been in a knife fight in Carson City, that resulted in serious injuries to both parties. He had been in and out of Truckee before and had boldly threatened Constable Cross and others with death.Shortly after the beating, Lapsley got into a disagreement with the bartender at Heymann’s saloon and threatened to kill the bartender. He went away mad, muttering at the bar crowd. A little while later, he returned to the crowded saloon with a revolver in his hand. Pointing the gun at the barkeep, he launched into a tirade of verbal abuse at the frightened man. As he was about to kill the bartender, Truckee meat market owner Joe Marzen, who also had been threatened by Lapsley, pulled his own six-shooter. Marzen rounded up the criminal and forced him out of the saloon. Lapsley disappeared into the night.Lapsley’s short freedom
An effort was made by the citizen’s and Constable Reed to arrest Lapsley without a warrant, but the man couldn’t be found. By the time an arrest warrant was issued by Justice Of The Peace Murray, he was well into Nevada. From his hangout near Carson City, Lapsley sent back word to Truckee that neither Cross nor any other Truckee lawman would bring him in. An extradition order was obtained from the Governor Booth of Nevada, but the warrant was returned for technical legal reasons. In mid-May Jack Lapsley suddenly appeared in Truckee, and defied the townspeople to arrest him. A warrant was immediately issued by Judge John Keiser, and handed to Constable Jake Cross. He searched town and found Lapsley in front of Keiser’s Hotel, right outside the Justice Of The Peace office.Lapsley refused to submit, and made a desperate fight of it. Cross was aided by his brother Issac Cross and Deputy Constable Henry Greeley, but it still took all three to subdue the wanted man. They hauled him into the hotel lobby kicking and screaming.While Jake Cross went get a pair of handcuffs and shackles from his adjoining office, Lapsley made another fight for freedom. The two men fought with Lapsley, but it took the return of Jake to decidedly secure him.Handcuffs and shackles were then the final insult that made Jack Lapsley realize that he had been bettered by Truckee lawmen.At his arraignment before Judge Murray the next day, Lapsley was held over for the grand jury on $1,500 bail. Since Lapsley was broke, and no one in Truckee cared a bit for the wild man, Cross took him down to Nevada City to the county jail. Though he made several feeble attempts to escape, he was safely delivered by the Truckee Constable.A diverse lawman
Cross continued on as both Truckee Constable, and at times as Nevada County Deputy Sheriff, and had such a good reputation for crime solving, he was appointed in 1874 a Deputy Sheriff for Eastern Placer County. This gave him a jurisdiction from near Verdi to Lake Tahoe to Emigrant Gap. Not only was he good at breaking up fights, but he also was a good detective. On more than one occasion, he tracked down wanted men in Reno and Sacramento and brought his suspects back with him. He laid in wait for outlaws known to be on the passenger trains, and caught these suspects from other jurisdictions as well. He commonly would escort Truckee suspects and convicted criminals to the Nevada County seat in Nevada City by himself. He never had a suspect get away from him on his trips below. In August of 1874, a typical incident showed that Cross was a detriment to criminal conduct in Truckee. John Rogers had been hanging around Truckee for a few months without any visible means of support. He had been under suspicion for several muggings and robberies, and was thought by Jake Cross to be a man with bad intentions. He was thought to be picking on drunk men in the middle of the night outside of the many saloons.Setting a trap Cross received a tip that Rogers intended to go through a drunk’s pockets one evening to raise his weekly paycheck. So that there would be no lack of temptation and opportunity on the part of Rogers to carry out his desires, Cross arranged a sober man to pose as a drunk. About ten o’clock the “sober drunk” stretched himself out on the sidewalk and began to do some loud snoring.Rogers came along as expected and found his supposed victim in the proper condition to be relieved of his valuables, if he had any. He first shook the snorer and called on him to get up so he could buy him a whiskey. Getting no response, the thief stuck his hands in the victim’s pockets, and pulled out his leather purse.
Hastily making an exit, he quickly discovered that the purse was empty, as Cross intended it to be. He returned and went through the man’s pockets more deliberately, finding a few silver dollars. As soon as he had secured the money, Rogers fled on the double and disappeared on Jibboom, or Back Street as it was known then.All this was quietly observed by Cross and a deputy. An immediate effort was made by Cross to locate the gloating criminal, and for a time it appeared he had gotten away. When the westbound passenger train was about to leave about 11:30 p.m., Rogers was observed waiting at the cars, and was seen running away. Cross and his deputy gave chase, and soon he was in the hands of the lawman.Rogers was sentenced the next day by Judge Keiser after making a full confession to the crime as well as others he had committed. Cross hauled him off to Nevada City to serve his time. He was no match for Jake Cross and the reputation of the mountain Constable grew a little larger. Truckee was soon to become a quieter town as the word got around the West that there no free lunch in Truckee anymore.For another of Jake Cross’s adventures, visit the Sierra Sun Archives, enter Gordon Richards under search and scroll to July 8, 2004. “Mustang – faster than a speeding bullet” is an account of Jake Cross and his arrest of a Chinese burglar.Gordon Richards is the research historian for the Truckee Donner Historical Society. Comments and history information are always welcome. Please visit the Truckee Donner Historical Society website athttp://truckeehistory.tripod.com. The e-mail address is email@example.com. You may leave a message at 530-582-0893. Past articles by Gordon Richards are available at sierrasun.com in the archives.