Saturday, October 5, 2013

Vigilance Affairs at Carson Valley, Placerville Register,1858


A correspondent of the Placerville Register, writing from Genoa, Nevada, July 28th, [1858] says:

I told you in my last letter that we expected to have some sport the next day, in the way of proving the right of property, at the mouth of double barreled shotguns.

The respective parties met within three miles of each other, the anti-Vigilantes numbering 47 and the Vigilantes 30.

Early in the morning the Vigilantes sent a courier to the anti-Vigilantes to tell them that the Executive Committee was then in session, and that they would send another courier in the course of two hours, with proposals to settle all difficulties.

The courier came and said that the Committee had concluded to accept the money and give up the cattle, which was satisfactory.

The Vigilance Committee met again last Saturday, and made laws and elected officers. Their officers consist of two Judges, a Clerk, and a Sheriff.

Among the laws they passed is, that if any person is guilty of stealing any property to the value of $25, they are to be hung by the neck until they are dead; and that upon conviction of stealing a smaller amount, they are to be fined from $50 to $1,000, and banished from the Valley.

While this was going on, the anti-Vigilantes signed a petition to Governor Cumming, and sent it on, requesting him to extend his jurisdiction over, and re-organize the county of Carson.

--end of article.


The above article is published as it was in the Placerville Register and article reprinted in the Sacramento Union, August 2nd, 1858. This small article, from a newspaper of the time, really shows what Frontier Justice was all about in what was called the "Far West" of the United States where organized law was not always present.

It is interesting to note that a guilty verdict in Genoa resulted in either a hanging or banishment. It was very clear, very black and white, if you did the crime this is what will happen to you.

It's no wonder that crime was not really that big of an issue in the Old West -- at least relatively speaking if we consider the amount of people there were in those towns and mining camps at the time. A combination of having clear consequences to breaking the law and the carrying of firearms made the Old West much safer than the cities in the East.  

The above picture is part of the Carson Valley on the East side of the Sierra. One website on its history says, explorers and trappers made their way through this area before the area was settled.

Carson Valley is at a crossroads of sorts.  It sits at the transition between the Sierra Nevada range and the Great Basin, the West Coast of the Old Wild West, the high alpine and the high desert. The valley is guarded on the west by rugged 10,000-foot peaks, the same mountains that cradle Lake Tahoe. 

Northern Nevada’s most scenic valley is scattered with open space, golf courses, expansive farms and ranches, parks, shops and hotels.  The Carson Valley stretches from Genoa in the northwest through the towns of Gardnerville and Minden.  Topaz Lake is to its south.

Back in the Old West, the Sierra Nevada Mountains were a fearful barrier for travelers between Placerville, California on the west side and a small settlement on the east side called Leeteville. Before making the hard climb over the Sierra, travelers coming from the east would stop to rest and re-provision themselves at Leeteville, formerly referred to as "Ragtown", the name coming from laundry hanging on nearby bushes to dry.

For a time, this was the last settlement on the East side of the Sierra. The story of the disappearance of Leeteville is for another day.

In 1849, Brigham Young dispatched a party to the area that established a colony known simply as "Mormon Station" at the very foot of the Sierra.

In June of 1851, John Reese and his party built a trading post that the area began to attract settlers and became a permanent settlement. Reese and his men took up land claims extending from the Walley's Hot Springs marsh area south of Genoa into Jack's Valley on the north.

Known as "Mormon Station," after building a trading post, Reese built a house and sent for his family in New York. Later, Reese added a blacksmith shop and a large corral for livestock. The Overland Emigrant Trail passed down what is now Genoa's Main Street.

Reese's operation did very well and when the Mormons were called back to Salt Lake City in 1857, Reese decided to stay to protect his business and extensive land claims - but did return to Salt Lake City in 1859 after business reversals.

Orson Hyde, an elder in the Mormon Church, was sent to "Mormon Station", Utah Territory, to set up a government, survey the town into lots, and define the state line between California and Utah Territory. He renamed Mormon Station "Genoa" in 1855.

As the story goes, Hyde admired Christopher Columbus and so named the town site" Genoa" after Columbus's birth place of Genoa, Italy. Orson Hyde was the first probate Judge. Court matters were settled by Judge Hyde in the loft of Reese's trading post. Yes, the loft.

Believe it or not, entrance to the loft was gained by climbing a ladder on the outside of the building then climbing through a large window into the loft. This loft was also used as a type of hotel for those pioneers traveling by foot and wishing to stay the night.

Genoa became a commercial center during Territorial days and settled down to a quiet existence as the county seat and a trading center for Douglas County. As the population of Douglas County and Genoa grew, people of many nationalities settled in the area. Industrious Danish and German people recognized the Valley as a wonderful crop growing area.

They drained the swamp areas where ranches and farms began to produce hay, grains, and pastures for livestock. Barns were built with small blacksmith shops nearby to make the needed farm equipment, plows, seeders, mowers, etc. Orchards and vegetable gardens were planted.

This all took time but year after year improvements were made. Other nationalities were the Italians, English, Welsh and Irish. All these early pioneers contributed to the beautiful Valley as it is seen today.

The most significant event in the history of Genoa was probably the June 28th, 1910 fire. Two blocks of the business district and several homes burned that day. The fire was started by an inmate in the County Alms house (poor house) located in what was originally built as a hotel at the corner of Main and Nixon St. The poor man decided to burn a pan of sulfur under his bed to get rid of bed bugs. There was still some flame in the pan that set his straw mattress on fire and so most of the town.

The courthouse was a brick shell after the fire. The County Commissioners authorized repairs but a few years later, in 1916, the County Seat was moved eight miles south-east to Minden, Nevada. Of course, unfortunately for Genoa, many of the businesses that burned in the 1910 fire also set up shop in the growing communities of Gardnerville and Minden.

So why would I care to include this information to an old news article about a Vigilance Committee?

That area of Nevada is only about 2 hours from the area where I live. Today, those farms and ranches provide a great deal of quality hay and other agriculture for California. Genoa, Gardnerville, Miden, and the surrounding area supply prime hay for our cattle and horses here on the West side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The history that took place in California and Nevada are interesting parts of Old West history. Too bad it is that too often the Old West of our area is overlooked by "Old West" historians too often stuck on the "Old West" that took place back East  in the Mid-West instead of the Far-West.

Yes, back in their day, the folks back then called out here the "Far West" but I call it the "Real West."

Tom Correa
The American Cowboy Chronicles
Two favorite quotes:

"Let us speak courteously, deal fairly, and keep ourselves armed and ready."
- Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

“I won't be wronged. I won't be insulted. I won't be laid a-hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.”
― John Wayne, The Shootist, 1976

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