Mustang – faster than a speeding bullet
July 6, 2004
As many as 10,000 Chinese workers came to the Sierra Nevada to construct the Central Pacific Railroad. It is well documented how hard they worked at their jobs, before and after the completion of the railroad. Just as all groups of people have a few who have found dishonest ways to make a living, so did the Chinese. The Truckee Republican of March 1876 relates the story of Mustang.The name of Mustang was very appropriate, as he was a thoroughbred burglar. The only reason he wasn’t famous for his deeds was that he was Chinese. His given name appears as See Ah in earlier reports.His history as a burglar began when Truckee was founded. Certainly he wasn’t the only one taking other people’s property in the hectic, lawless early period of Truckee’s existence. Burglaries were quite common. On several occasions merchants thought he had stolen their items.The first incidents of Mustang’s career were not recorded, but by 1875 he was known by Truckee’s law enforcement circle for his breaking and entering. In 1875 he broke into the storehouse of the Truckee Lumber Company and hauled off a large number of sacks of rice. The rice was distributed around Truckee’s Chinatown, probably earning him a lot of good will in that population. The hole in the storehouse wall was repaired, but a short time later, it was broken into again. This time Mustang was caught, arrested, and stood trial. He was found not guilty at the time, but later evidence showed that he was guilty of the burglary.In the spring of 1875, the Central Pacific’s freight cars and depot suffered a string of burglaries. In May, Mustang was caught in the freight house with no escape possible. He was taken before the magistrate, and bound over for the grand jury. The night before he was scheduled to be taken to Nevada City, he escaped from the Truckee Jail.
At the time, Mustang was in Truckee’s old jail, located in a wooden house, in what is now Brickelltown. The old jail was in the back portion of the Owens residence, between the current Truckee River Sash & Door shop and the Blue Sky Home Center.Even though Mustang was locked in wrist irons, he started a fire on the wooden floor, burned a large hole in it, then stepped down and out into a basement. He then removed some boards and made his escape. Along with the damage, he made off with the irons.All of Truckee’s officers kept a sharp eye out for Mustang. He apparently left town and was thought to be as far east as Ogden, Utah. It was rumored that he was involved in a murder in addition to his prowess as a burglar. Mustang escapes, againOne night in September of 1875, Deputy Sheriff Jake Cross met Mustang face-to-face. When Cross found him, he put his hand on Mustang’s shoulder and told him to follow him. Mustang discussed the point a minute and followed. While being led back to jail, Mustang unexpectedly took off running. Cross was a fast runner himself. On Front street, just as he was about to capture Mustang, Cross fell into a hole that had been dug to repair water pipes in the street. Mustang ran across the railroad tracks, past Moody’s Truckee Hotel and headed for the Truckee River.When he caught up with Mustang again, Cross threatened to shoot, but Mustang never slowed. Cross almost emptied his revolver, but with no effect. When they were almost into the willows lining the river, Cross took careful, deadly aim and fired again. Even though he was only twenty feet ahead of his pursuer, Mustang disappeared into the river.
Forty men searched the area and down river, expecting to find a dead body, but found nothing. The river was wide and deep and flowing rapidly. All involved concluded that Cross had killed Mustang and that his body had washed downstream. Truckee’s businessmen and railroaders were satisfied.Nothing further was heard from Mustang, nor was his body found. In March of 1876, a fire and burglar proof brick building on Front Street was broken into through the roof. An informant then revealed to Constable Henry Greeley that the suspect was Mustang, and told him where he was hiding. He was found hiding under a bunk in a cabin near the Truckee River.Constable Greeley and Night Watchman Cal Linscott captured Mustang and began escorting him to the jail. Even with a law enforcement officer in front and another in back of him, Mustang made a break for freedom. This occurred on West River Street. Leaving his shoes behind, he took off towards the bridge across the Truckee River. Even barefoot, and on frozen ground, he evaded the two lawmen.Greeley and Linscott fired at Mustang numerous times, over the quarter mile that the chase occurred. Sometimes Greeley would shoot and fall down and Linscott would tumble over him. At other times both would shoot, and fall down and tumble over each other. They both had to stop and reload their six-shooters several times. The women and children on River Street were very scared and sought shelter. Mustang wasn’t scared and continued on.Even though shots continued, Mustang made it across the bridge and up the hill. When Linscott fired his last shot, Mustang went down, but from stumbling on a hole, not from a bullet. He wasn’t seen again that day.Mustang’s death a suicide?A day later, Mustang’s career came to an end. On March 15, Mustang’s fellow Chinese apparently felt that he was a threat to their community. They reported that he had committed suicide. When found in a Chinese section across the river, his throat was slashed, but he was still alive. He was treated by Dr. Curless, who judged the patient to be in no great danger.
Further investigation by Truckee lawmen led them to believe that his fellow Chinese criminals were afraid that he would testify against them and their crimes. A cover-up of his attempted murder was discovered. The weapon , a meat cleaver, was produced. He apparently was attacked in his sleep and then dragged outside. Many felt that with all of his escape efforts and with all of the bullets he eluded, suicide was unlikely.Meanwhile Mustang had been locked away in jail. This time he was in Truckee’s new stone jail, which had recently opened.One of the reasons the new jail had been built was because of Mustang’s earlier escape. In the new jail, he was closely guarded, not so much to prevent escaping but to protect him from other Chinese who wanted him silenced. That night he was found dead in the cell, probably from his injuries, but possibly from other Chinese wanting to complete the murder. Mustang was the first, but not the last person to die in the Truckee jail. He never rallied from his injuries. No one was ever arrested for his murder. No funeral was held for him in Chinatown.The Republican reported he was the shrewdest of burglars, and wicked enough to the very end. As a villain, he had few superiors, even among other races. He had a hard death in a cold, dark, lonesome stone jail. Even with his deeds, his death was a trifle too hard. The exploits of Mustang, also known as See Ah, did little to endear the Chinese to Truckee residents and businessmen.Gordon Richards is the research historian for the Truckee Donner Historical Society. Comments, story ideas, guest articles and history information are always welcome. 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.