A Midnight Adventure in Nevada
Major Ben C. Truman
For a long time "Baldy Greene " was the
favorite stage-driver upon the overland route between Virginia City and
remarkable specimen of a modern Jehu was a thoroughbred in every
particular. He was called Baldy on account of his caput, which was
singularly bare, and he rejoiced in the name. He once drove
from Virginia City to Austin, 185 miles, in nineteen hours. He let himself
out some seventeen or eighteen years ago upon Mr. Colfax and party, and
upon one occasion drove them forty-five miles in three hours and a half.
As a judge of the ambrosial decoction known as punch, Baldy was a success.
The son of Nimshi never found himself in
greater ecstasies of glory than has Baldy upon a fine spring morning, with
his six-horse team of grays, and a gang of good fellows to draw, and a
start from Virginia City promptly on time.
I was one of nine
persons who took passage with Baldy Greene, in the month of May, 1867,
from Virginia City to Austin. We arrived at a place called Big Ned's,
seventy-five miles from Virginia, about three o'clock in the
afternoon, almost an hour and a half ahead of time. I shall never
forget Big Ned -- poor fellow! He’s dead now; his own benzene was too
much for him. Big Ned was postmaster, sheriff, restaurant-keeper,
Indian trader, real estate dealer, lawyer, and justice of the peace.
We arrived just in
time to see him officiate in his capacity of justice of the peace. Ah
Ching and Hong Sam, two young Celestials, were to be married in "Melican
" style. Baldy Greene was invited to act as master of the ceremonies,
a position which he at once cordially accepted. The intention of the
almond-eyed groom was to have been married upon the Saturday
following; but Baldy advised him that the certificate was only good
for one day, and, as it cost "fifteen dolla," Ah Ching thought it best
to go on with the ceremony. I may add that the purchase of the
certificate was owing to the fact that "John " was not posted in the "Melican
" custom, and had employed counsel to get it for him. A couple of
Shoshone Indians stood up with the Celestials, to impart additional
mock solemnity to the ceremony. Big Ned, immediately after titillating
his thorax with a glass of torch-light-procession whisky, said,
addressing himself to the groom:
"Wilt thou take this
woman to be thy wedded wife, and to -- "
"Yes; me take-ee him,
me keep-ee him, me – "
"Well, take-ee him,
and be gone! " roared Big Ned, in the very agony of indignation. John
was then persuaded that all those who officiated in the ceremony
should kiss the bride, during which he remarked "Melican man no good;
him too much-ee good look-ee."
The ceremony concluded with
chop-sticks, rice, and "China blandy."
I have stated that Big Ned was sheriff.
He at that time had two prisoners in charge. Glancing about the
premises, and discovering no proper place of incarceration, and
learning that the aforesaid sheriff made it a rule of his daily
routine never to go to bed sober, I asked him what he did with his
prisoners at night. "Oh." he replied, "I just give them a couple of
drinks each of my whisky, and they can't get away."
hour before sunset, crack went the whip and away we rolled across the
akali plains, and up into a deep cañon. The splendor of a mountain sunset
in the very wilds of
some delightful writer, is almost without comparison. The lingering sun
floods all the west with fire, and hangs with golden fringe each passing
cloud, and sheds a scarlet hue on all the varied outlines of mountain,
hill, and butte. The gathering twilight, spreading her veil over the
desert below, shuts from view all minor objects, and long before the
expiring day is gone, one can only trace in the east the dark forms of its
mountain outlines, and the darker gorges of the cañons beneath. Then
follows the magnificence of a moonlight night in these corrugated
hills and mountains, the effect of light and shade upon a clear,
cloudless evening being incomparably beautiful. On the crests of the
mountains, thousands of feet in the air, the dark tops of whose trees
seem tangled in a braid of light, rolls a silver flood, while below
all is inky night.
the bottom of the deep cañons the gurgling stream meanders its rocky bed
'twixt mingled light and shade. The spectacle in the woods, where from
tree to tree run girandoles of icicles -- sparkling gems of winter's
casket -- beggars description. Their branches look like the arms of a
constellated luster, and by moonlight transmit a wilderness of dancing
colors from the faucets of their prisms. Every shadow seems sentient,
reaching out as if with instinct to touch the margin of the moonlight's
silver line. There is something impressive in the silence of the night.
All nature sinks to rest the moon, madonna of her sweet repose, sails off
the coast of night, and all is still save when the wood, swayed by the
timid breeze, seems whispering back in plaintive answer to the bubbling
I shall never forget the
beautiful sunset upon this particular evening. In the dim distance were
the grand old Sierra
mountains, lifting their imperishable snow-capped heads to the kissing
heavens, which were brilliantly beaming through dissolving clusters of
kaleidoscopic clouds. The great orb was just dipping behind their summits,
upon which the glittering objects of ice and snow seemed like silver
fantoccini. The thin, gauzy clouds assumed the most exquisite changes of
shapes and colors. First they looked like a vast arc of liquid fire, and
then broke into ragged and fantastic transformations with thrice the
colors of the rainbow. The slanting rays of the great planet streaked
everything with the glitter of gold; fragmentary sections of fleecy clouds
darted off in a thousand infinitesimal directions, diffused with misty
blue, and purple- edged, and floated off into the thin darkness which was
spreading its network of night. The picture below was not without its
effect. Seemingly at the base of the detached ranges, and dotting the
landscape wherever the eye might wander, were the sinks of the Carson and
the Humboldt, looking like miniature lakes of burnished silver as they
twinkled in the rays of the parting sun.
I have often been struck
with the strange and unexpected characters to be met with while traveling
over these long stage routes upon the Pacific Coast. At a well-known
station, called Big Meadows, at which place we arrived about ten o'clock,
I encountered one of the pleasantest adventures of my life. Anxious to
stretch my legs, and enjoy a near approach to a sparkling fire which sent
its light through the chinks of the cabin, inviting the weary traveler to
its comforting influence, I entered the premises and seated myself upon a
stool near the hearth. Glancing at the interior, I discovered a table
near, covered well with books. Opening one, I found Caesar's Commentaries.
Surprised to find such a book in such a place, so far removed from
academic shades, I hastily turned to the fly leaf, and found there, in a
neat running hand, the name of the owner. Looking further at the
collection, I discovered the works of the immortal Shakespeare, the Life
of Franklin, Milton's Paradise Lost, and a copy of Tom Moore; and last,
but first in importance, a Bible!
It at once occurred to me that these books had been
left by some weary pilgrim desirous of lessening his burdens in his
Occidental wanderings; and I was beginning to speculate upon his history,
when the hostler, who was quite a youth, entered and announced that the
stage was nearly ready. Resolved upon the penetration of this delightful
mystery this treasure in the wilds of the great interior desert I asked
the young man who was the owner of the books. He modestly said "They
belong to me;" and in reply to my rapid questions, he informed me that he
was a graduate of a college in Indiana; that, seeking his fortune, he had
come to the far West, met disappointment, as thousands had before him; and
that, nothing better offering, and determined to earn his own living and
to keep his misfortunes from the ears of his parents, he had accepted the
humble place of hostler to the stage line. He was cheerful, hopeful; and
the keen glance of his gray eyes, the eloquent compression of his finely
chiseled lips, gave all the assurance that success with him was only a
matter of time.
What a charming lesson
for the curled darlings of languishing ease, raised and existing in luxury
and idleness, without a thought beyond the glittering fashions and follies
of the day. Here was manhood, stern courage, calm determination to conquer
fate and a destiny a future full of moment to society, and of renown for
its possessor. It will not surprise me to meet this boy hereafter in an
exalted position. Of such stern stuff are most of our great men made; and
from such humble positions have risen many of the noted men of the Pacific
But to the adventure of
the night: As I have remarked above, there were nine of us; seven inside,
and two with the driver. Upon the front seat was a Frenchman, named
Lamoreux, and Ashley, Ex-Member of Congress from
the middle seat were two army officers and a German. The back seat was
occupied by myself and a man named Siebler, one of the discoverers of the
Belmont mines, the largest of which had just been sold to a New York
company for a million of dollars, Horace H. Day and others having been the
purchasers. Like Comstock, who once owned the great lode which perpetuates
his name, and which has yielded hundreds of millions of dollars, Siebler,
was a poor prospector, and parted with his share of the claim for less
than a song. The discovery of this section, ninety miles from Austin, was
made by four men -- Siebler, Billman, Straight and Smith -- in October,
1865. Immediately, the four persons named above located their claims,
according to law, and subsequently took possession of what is now known as
the Highbridge lode.
Shortly after, Siebler sold out his claim to his
companions for $200 in currency; and in a few months thereafter, Smith,
Billman and Straight sold out their entire interest to the Combination
Company for $40,000. Prior to this transfer, Straight, who was the deputy
recorder at the time, attempted to defraud his companions and get the
whole interest into his own hands. He therefore destroyed the records
establishing the true ownership, and in some other book recorded the claim
as belonging entirely to himself. The forgery was so apparent that
Straight was immediately arrested and taken to Austin. Here, he confessed
the deed he had committed, and was allowed to escape the law, and
subsequently received $10,000 as his share of the pay. Mortified at the
discovery of the base attempt on his part to commit a stupendous swindle,
Straight shortly afterward departed for the East, and has not since been
heard of. Smith and Billman also went East to spend their money. Siebler,
who sold out for $200, snored soundly by my side. Once he essayed a song,
and might have kept up his dismal serenade, possibly for some minutes, had
I not hit upon the novel method of falling heavily against him at the
first chuck-hole, which jammed all of his infernal melody out of him, and
closed him up for several hours.
While half a dozen
desperate highwaymen, each armed with a couple of six-shooters, and
completely masked, were awaiting the arrival of the stage at a proposed
place of action, the majority of the party inside were journeying in
dreamland. I dreamed I was comfortably at home, until the exclamations,
"Halt. Stop that stage!" "Throw out those express boxes!" caught my ears,
and I then well knew that, instead of being in San Francisco, I was out on
one of the great deserts of
at the mercy of the knights of the road.
We were all awake in an
instant. We knew the cause of alarm; we knew we were in the hands of the
"road agents" some of us had been there before.
"Driver! " ejaculated the
robber-in-chief, a tall, well-masked fellow, "mind you, take good care of
that team, and don't move an inch until I give you orders."
"All right," said Baldy;
and, addressing himself to his off leader "Be-have yourself, Clara;
be-have yourself; tut, tut, tut. Clara! be-have yourself; these gentlemen
won't hurt you, darling (in a low voice) but they'll make it uncomfortable
for my passengers.
"For God's sake, can't
you keep those horses quiet ? "roared the leader of the gang; " Now, you
man up there with the driver, throw down those express boxes and be very
lively about it, too! "
The man threw down the
express boxes as if he had been an adept in the business.
"No. 2! " shouted the
chief to one of his accomplices, "you watch the horses; No. 3, go round to
the other door; No. 4, stand here with me; Nos. 5 and 6, cover the rear.
Get down here, you two men on the outside. No. 2, search them for arms.
Hold up your hands, gentlemen, and let this fellow see if you've got any
weapons about you. We will not hurt you; but we do not propose to take any
chance of getting our own brains blown out for a few paltry twenty dollar
A few seconds covered
this whole performance, so far. The rascals surprised us round a curve,
and in the twinkling of an eye we were surrounded, and a dozen
six-shooters were leveled at our heads. The outsiders were unarmed, and
taken to the rear of the stage, and placed one behind the other. Then
Ashley, who understood the situation perfectly well, was ordered out. He
had parted with his last ducat the night before at the intellectual game
of "pitch seven-up " and was a picture of composure. Then the poor
Frenchman, who hesitated in his movements, was jerked out and placed in
the rear of Ashley. I was the last passenger called for. I was searched
for arms, and taken to the rear, and placed behind Siebler.
The moon looked down upon
a party of nine gentlemen, with their hands up in the air, covered well by
cocked revolvers, and willing to go peaceably home.
"Now, gentlemen, I'll
relieve you of your loose change," urbanely remarked the captain of the
crowd; and down went his delicate hand into my breeches-pocket; and up
came seven twenty-dollar gold pieces. He went into all of my other
pockets, and examined me closely to see if I wore a belt. He also amused
himself by taking my watch and chain; and then passed to Siebler, whom he
denominated a poor cuss, adding, "Why, you haven't got the price of a
drink, have you ? Here, I'll lend you two-and-a-half, and you can pay it
back to your friend in the rear." Siebler never returned the aforesaid
In searching the two army
officers, several hundred dollars in currency was captured. Then came the
Dutchman's turn, who, upon the approach of the captain, left his place in
the line exclaiming, "Vat der teufel for dis peessiness? I don't
oondurstand dose dings."
"Do you understand that?" said No. 4, placing the muzzle of his pistol near the ear of the enraged Teuton, and snapping a cap.
"No!" he replied,
savagely; "mein Gott in Himmel, I don't oondustand dese toings;" at the
same time knocking the pistol aside with one hand, and quietly tucking a
handful of small gold into his boot-leg.
"That's played out, my
boy," said No. 1, who was keenly watching the operation; "take that
bullion out of your boot, or I'll leave you here for the crows."
Rather than be
transformed into food for unclean birds, Mr. Francis Seibler transferred
the deposit from his boot-leg to the capacious pocket of the captain.
Mr. Lamoreux, the
Frenchman, was next ransacked, and relieved of over $2,000, which he
carried in a belt, in $20 gold pieces. He saved more than that amount in
greenbacks, however, by cutting a hole in his pocket with his penknife,
and letting it and his paper money fall into his boot.
Not a dime was realized
from Mr. Ashley, notwithstanding the most careful manipulation of that
gentleman's pockets. His funds had gone, as Jim Fisk would have happily
remarked, "where the woodbine twineth."
The next gentleman saved
his money by putting it upon his hat, while Mr. Simons, the person who
threw out the Wells-Fargo express matter, quietly dropped a wallet
containing $10,000 in currency into the front boot of the stage.
The robbers then searched
the vehicle, but finding nothing that they deemed valuable, the captain
shouted "Get your seats, now, and be off, and be particularly careful not
to return!" In a few moments we were " all set," to use a stage expression,
and our journey to Austin was resumed.
These feats of
highwaymanship are of frequent occurrence upon the Pacific slope, even up
to the present time.
many long stage routes, over which travel some of the richest men of the
far West. The treasure boxes of Wells, Fargo & Co.'s express are the
principal incentive of these raids of banditti, however, while hundreds of
thousands of dollars in bars of gold and silver are transported from the
mines all over the Pacific States and Territories in this way.
While almost every
traveler goes armed in these sections of sparsely inhabited country, there
is hardly an exception to the general rule of yielding gracefully to the
demands of these "road agents." They always manage to take you unawares,
and as quick as thought, almost, you find yourself surrounded by half a
dozen desperadoes, more or less, your every action being dictated by a
six-shooter in close proximity to your head.
During the White Pine excitement hundreds of
thousands of dollars were forcibly taken from travelers and the express
companies. During the past twenty years stages from Salt Lake City to
Montana, have been successfully robbed scores of times; so, also,
has the stage from Placerville and
California, to Virginia
the Washoe silver mines. Fourteen years ago three stages were robbed
within four miles of Virginia City by ten masked men, nearly forty
passengers being relieved of their valuables. The
Los Angeles and San
Francisco stage was stopped twelve years ago by four highwaymen, only a
mile and a half from the former town. In this case the robbers were
afterward captured, and one of them, turning State's evidence, convicted
the other three, who were sent to the penitentiary for fifteen years.
Charlie Ames, the chief, when sentence was passed upon him, remarked to
the sheriff that he would like to play a game of "old sledge" with the
judge (Hon. A. J. King) whether he should make it thirty years or nothing.
Added March, 2008
About the Author:
Major Benjamin Cummings Truman was an American
journalist and author; including a role as a distinguished war
correspondent for the New York Times during the American Civil War.
A Midnight Adventure in Nevada
was included in Trumans book, Occidental Sketches, published by the
San Francisco News Co. in 1881.
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