Weather Window | Madness from Meadow Lake |

Weather Window | Madness from Meadow Lake

Sen. Murray D. Foley was killed by Alice Hartley in 1894.
Courtesy Nevada Historical Society |

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Gold fever was running hot among Sierra prospectors during the early 1860s and mining rushes swept the region.

Mineral strikes at Squaw and Martis valleys attracted nearly 3,000 people. Those operations went bust in 1863, but that mining excitement a century and a half ago established the first permanent settlers in the Tahoe City area.

When the Squaw Valley operations petered out, a gold discovery at Meadow Lake near Cisco, Calif. inspired a stampede of more get-rich-quick schemers. Henry H. Hartley had built a cabin at the isolated lake among the headwaters of the Yuba River in 1860 to improve his health.

For three years Hartley lived like a hermit. During winter he trapped mink, martin, fox and bear, and worked their pelts into valuable furs. In June 1863 Hartley discovered rock containing particles of gold. He quickly found partners and formed the Excelsior Mining Company. Word got out about their enterprise and by 1867 nearly 6,000 people had invaded the area.

More than 60 prominent Nevada citizens signed a petition demanding that instead of confinement, the State should have given Alice a gold medal for the deed.

There were 600 new buildings, including three large hotels and 90 saloons. Painted courtesans lounged in the bars, drinking whiskey and smoking cigars. A small steamer cruised the shallow waters of Meadow Lake, which miners boarded for Saturday night excursions to hurdy-gurdy houses at the upper end.


Legendary Nevada reporters Dan De Quille and Alf Doten published articles that inspired others to join the rush to riches, including attorney Orion Clemens and his brother Sam (Mark Twain). Despite the excitement, there was precious little money being made. The ore generated lucrative assays, but pockets of rich ore were rare and promising veins quickly pinched out. The town was quickly abandoned leaving Hartley to consolidate all the Meadow Lake claims into his own single holding.

In 1873 fire destroyed the dilapidated ghost town, but in 1891 a syndicate of investors offered to buy Hartley’s mining claim. Before the deal was finalized Hartley was allegedly fatally poisoned in Oct. 1892.

A year later Hartley’s estranged wife Alice arrived to claim her husband’s estate. Unfortunately, the worthless mining stocks and $1,500 left by Henry barely covered her debts. The couple had met in May 1886, and though nearly half his age, Alice married him a few months later.

Alice soon got tired of their isolated cabin life at Meadow Lake, however, and the marriage failed. After settling the estate, in Sept. 1893 Alice moved to Reno, Nev. and rented a tony apartment above the imposing Bank of Nevada where she offered art lessons and painted portraits. She joined Reno’s social elite and applied for the position of art teacher in the Reno schools.


Murray D. Foley, president of the Bank of Nevada and a Nevada State Senator, was smitten when he met 30-year-old Alice Hartley. Foley was married with physical features described as “six feet in height, broad shouldered, deep chested, and of herculean build.” Widow Hartley was attractive, well-educated and an entertaining conversationalist. Sen. Foley learned about Alice’s financial distress at Meadow Lake and offered to act as broker to sell the property.

On the evening of Jan. 30, 1894, Foley arrived unexpectedly at Alice’s apartment where she claimed that the senator secretly drugged her drink and bedded her. To protect herself, Alice changed the locks to her apartment. Despite her precautions she was again assaulted. When she became pregnant Foley insisted on an abortion, but the physician advised against it for health reasons.

In May, Alice had an attorney draw up a legal document acknowledging Foley’s paternity and establishing financial responsibility for her and the child. Foley agreed to the terms, but never signed the papers. During a violent argument in her apartment on July 26, when Foley grabbed a chair to throw at her, Alice shot him with a .38-caliber revolver. Mortally wounded, Foley stumbled down the stairs and died.

Eulogies avowed the murdered senator a good citizen, but afterwards newspapers acknowledged Foley’s womanizing. Foley’s own wife refused to hang black crepe on the family home before she left for San Francisco with her husband’s $250,000 estate. Alice Hartley’s murder trial lasted several days and was front-page news. The prosecution portrayed pregnant Alice as a “dangerous and intriguing woman” with a history of easy virtue. The all-male jury found her guilty of second-degree murder and the judge sentenced her to 11 years in Nevada State Prison as soon as the baby was born. Two months later she gave birth to a baby boy. After serving 18 months of her sentence, Alice and baby were released from prison, but tragically, the child died of scarlet fever seven weeks later.

Alice herself died in poverty in Denver on Dec. 28, 1907.

Through little fault of her own, Alice Hartley is remembered as the only person to kill a sitting Nevada state senator. She was sentenced to prison for murder, but more than 60 prominent Nevada citizens signed a petition demanding that instead of confinement, the State should have given Alice a gold medal for the deed.

Tahoe historian Mark McLaughlin is a nationally published author and professional speaker. His award-winning books are available at stores or at Mark can be reached at Check out his blog:

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