Pioche Land Jumpers and the Death of Jack Harris

 

By William Daugherty in 1891

 

Pioche, Nevada

Pioche, Nevada

In 1872, the then flourishing town of Pioche suffered its second great loss from fire, which swept away the best part of its business houses, and many of its principal business men, as well as many families, were left out in the cold. The smoldering ruins were not done smoking on the following day, when a feature peculiar to mining towns developed in the night and on the next morning, found many lots in the burnt district occupied by jumpers — lawless men who hesitated in doing so, only long enough to choose the best location. They hastily erected tepees of rough boards crossed on a ridge pole, took possession and. took turns in standing guard with a Henry rifle and generally held the fort until they received a satisfactory offer to execute a quit claim deed.

They were only careful in conveying simply “all their right, title, and interest, together with the appurtenances” for they had regard for any instrument that left them liable. In the midst of this new calamity, the businessmen and citizens issued a call for a public meeting to devise measures for recovering their property and putting a stop to any further violation of their rights. The meeting was largely attended, so much so, that the hall could not accommodate the great crowd that clustered around the door and filled the street. It looked ominous to the law and order element, but at the appointed hour, one of the prime movers called the meeting to order, stated the object and announced that he was ready to receive and put a motion to the house on permanent organization.

Nominations for chairman were first in order and then the jumpers showed their hands by naming and electing, amid wild confusion, one of their own number, who took the chair amid a flourish of revolvers and wild yells of defiance. A motion to adjourn was at-once made and carried, and before the citizens fully realized the situation, they were hustled into the street, the lights were extinguished and that righteous movement was among the things of the dead, but not forgotten past. Of course, a great deal of hard feeling was engendered by this brilliant coup d’état, but wise counsels prevailed and adverse claims were settled by the payment of the prices asked by those who enjoyed possession, and bloodshed was avoided.

Among the jumpers was Jack Harris and Nick Rodriguez who had located a choice lot, the one on which was soon erected the building afterward occupied by Wells, Fargo & Co. Jack and his partner sold out for a satisfactory sum to the rightful owner of the lot and gave possession. Immediately after that, Jack Harris learned that he was charged with being a “hired fighter,” and then engaged in the profession, which he, denied most vigorously, claiming that he was a law and order man of the first water, and to make his assertions widely known he had published in the Pioche Record the following:

Notice:

This is to notify the public, all reports to the contrary notwithstanding, that I am not now under contract with any mining company or other parties. I am, however, open to engagement with responsible parties on the side of right and justice, if satisfactory inducements are offered.

(Signed:) Jack Harris.

Article in the Reno Evening Gazette, March 18, 1891

The Death Of Jack Harris

Early Pioche, Nevada

Early Pioche, Nevada

“While reading the sketch in the Reno Evening Gazette about Jack Harris and the jumpers in Pioche,” said Henry Morris, “I recalled the facts as given, for I was there at the time, and it also reminded me that Jack Harris was shot and killed while seated on the bootblack stand in front of my shop, just after I had shaved him.”

The circumstances attending his death illustrated his aggressive character, and that, as a close to his reckless career, he had at last simply run against the wrong man. In this case, it was a man of singular coolness and courage that had been tried at the risk of torture and death. His name was Muesdorfer, a Russian by birth and one of the earliest Nihilists. The facts became known before he left Pioche that he had attempted to take the life of the Czar, but was thwarted by some failure in the plans. He succeeded in making his escape, and landing in San Francisco made his way as far inland as he could. He came to Pioche, and being a skillful assayer, and possessed of scholarly attainments, he soon established himself in a profitable business and was generally esteemed for his gentlemanly character and unobtrusive manner. He was an accomplished linguist and spoke English in a faultless manner, with only a trifling accent that made conversation with him entertaining and not tiresome.

The shooting of Harris was provoked in the following manner: Harris stepped from the barber chair to the door to get his boots shined at the stand outside. Meusdorfer was seated there having his boots polished and was roughly accosted by Harris, who told him to step down and let him take the chair. Meusdorfer, quite surprised, said pleasantly: “Wait a minute; mine will soon be finished.” Harris replied that he would wait for no man, and struck him a violent blow in the face which knocked him out of the chair. Meusdorfer said nothing, but at once walked away. Harris took the seat just vacated and the bootblack commenced blacking his boots. Meusdorfer was not gone long, and when he returned, did so in so quiet a manner that it was scarcely noticed until a pistol shot rang out in the air, and Harris, falling forward, said “Oh!” with a stifled groan. He was then lifted from the chair and was dead before they could pull his boots off. The Coroner’s Jury exonerated Meusdorfer, no charge was preferred, and shortly after he left for Arizona.

Article in the Reno Evening Gazette, March 19, 1891

Articles By William Daugherty, 1891. Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated March, 2017.

About the Author: Written by William Daugherty, for the Reno Evening Gazette in 1891. The Reno Evening Gazette was first published on October 12, 1876 and continued for the next 107 years. In 1977, it was merged with the Nevada State Journal, and continues to exist today as the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Note: The article is not verbatim as spelling errors, minor grammatical changes, and editing have occurred for ease of the modern reader.

Also See:

Tales of the Overland Stage (Reno Evening Gazette)

Nevada Mining Tales (Reno Evening Gazette)

Pioneers on the Nevada Frontier (Reno Evening Gazette)

Violence on the Nevada Frontier (Reno Evening Gazette)

Historical Accounts of American History

Nevada Legends

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