“Three-Fingered” Jack McDowell – Violent Outlaw

Aurora, Nevada

Aurora, Nevada

“Three-Fingered” Jack McDowell was an Irishman who worked as a soldier, prospector, and saloon operator before he turned into a violent outlaw.

Immigrating from Ireland to New York in the 1840s, McDowell fought in the Mexican-American War before joining the California Gold Rush. When gold and silver were discovered in Nevada, he moved there, first making his way around the Tuolumne County mining camps. He then moved on to Virginia City and followed the gold once again to Aurora, Nevada. In the 1860s, Aurora was a booming mining camp with its share of bandits and other unsavory men. McDowell was right at home, running a saloon in the camp. Hooking up with John Daly, a known gunslinger, the pair ran an unsavory saloon and operated the Daly Gang, which terrorized the Nevada goldfields between Aurora and Carson City. Using scare tactics known as “criminal vigilantism,” they lynched anyone who resisted.

The saloon quickly became known as a place where beatings, gunfights, mayhem, and murder were the norm. McDowell, Daly, and two other men named William Buckley and Jim Masterson bullied the town and cheated any card players that were foolish enough to frequent McDowell’s saloon. However, after the gang cut a man’s throat and threw him into Aurora’s dusty street, the fed-up citizens formed a vigilante group and attacked McDowell’s saloon on February 5, 1864. Dragging McDowell, Daly, Buckley, and Masterson from the saloon, they locked them up while quickly constructing gallows. A short time later, all four men were hanged outside Armory Hall in Aurora.

Aurora, Nevada, is now a ghost town located very near the California border in Mineral County.


© Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2021.

Also See:

Gunfighters of the Old West

Old West Photo Galleries

Outlaws on the Frontier

Time Line of the American West