Stage Robberies -Wells Fargo’s Finest (Part 2)

It was June 15, 1893 on a remote stretch of road outside Jackson, California. Mike Tovey was again riding shotgun as security guard for Wells Fargo, this time aboard the stage headed from Ione into Jackson. Mike had been shot once before in his dangerous career; no doubt his eyes were always scanning the countryside for possible trouble.

Over six feet tall, burly Wells Fargo guard Mike Tovey was known for his gentle humor and lack of fear.

But as the stage crested Morrow Grade that fateful day, the vista was open — not the sort of territory where a concealed highwayman would be expected. And that’s exactly when a man clad in blue coveralls stepped out from behind a small clump of buckeye bushes — and, without warning, fired directly at the stage.

Tovey toppled forward. A bullet had ripped its way through his heart. Fearless Mike Tovey, “one of the strongest, biggest and most cheerful shotgun messengers in the employ of the Wells Fargo Express company that ever rode through the lonely mountain passes of the Sierras,” was dead.

Milton Sharp was a prison escapee. But was he Tovey’s killer?

Suspicion promptly centered on Milton Sharp, of course — Tovey had been instrumental in sending Sharp to Nevada State Prison for a series of Bodie stage robberies in 1880. After several failed attempts to escape Sharp had finally successfully broken out of prison in 1889, and had been running from the law for four years before Tovey was shot. Rumor was that Sharp had sent threatening letters to Tovey — or at least someone had, using Sharp’s name.

The hunt for Milton Sharp was on. He was soon captured in Red Bluff, California by a sharp-eyed police officer who recognized his “wanted” picture.

But somehow the sweet-talking bandit managed to convince authorities he wasn’t the one responsible for Tovey’s killing. And although he still had a sentence to serve for his original stage robberies, Sharp had by now served nearly half his original twenty-year sentence. He managed to talk Wells Fargo into recommending a pardon for this earlier crime, claiming he’d become “rehabilitated” during his years on the run. Sharp won a formal pardon in 1894 and was released. For the rest of his life he remained on the right side of the law — or so they say, anyway.

So . . .  Sharp wasn’t convicted of Tovey’s murder. Instead, a petty criminal named Bill Evans confessed to the crime. Well, he offered up a confession to it. Modern lawyers would cringe to hear that he did so without benefit of having a lawyer present. Evans would later say he’d been drugged and set up by an over-eager sheriff and a cooperating stool pigeon.

So who shot Wells Fargo guard Mike Tovey?

Even the press expected a “not guilty” verdict when Evans finally came to trial, due to the large volume of what the newspapermen carefully termed “conflicting evidence.” None other than Wells Fargo’s own detective was convinced that Evans was not guilty.

It took two criminal trials. But three hours into deliberations following the second trial, a jury finally voted to convict. Evans was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison — for a murder he may or may not have committed.

So did Evans really shoot Tovey? Or did Sharp, Tovey’s long-time enemy, not only exact revenge for sending him to prison but also get away with murder?

And one other mystery: whatever happened to Milton Sharp’s robbery loot? Treasure-hunters are convinced that Sharp and his partner must have buried a good bit of their treasure. Estimates of how much was taken during the pair’s estimated 20 stage robberies vary. Some say it came to $6,000 (in 1880 dollars); others claim it could have been even more.

Small portions of the loot were said to have been found in 1910 by a pair of treasure-hunting brothers named Hess. Wouldn’t we all love to know where the rest might still be hiding.

P.S. We hope you’ll pay a visit to Mike Tovey’s grave if you’re ever at the Jackson City Cemetery. It’s close to Zacharius Kirkwood’s tall monument which has a ball on top. 

Mike Tovey’s grave at Jackson City Cemetery.

 

(If you missed Part 1 of this story — the robbery of the Bodie stage that sent Sharp to prison — just click  here.)

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(More) Best Sierra History Books!

After our recent round-up of Sierra history books (you can find it here), we realized we’d left off a number of our own favorites — and we’ve also gotten some more great suggestions from readers!

So check out this additional list for more fascinating Sierra history reads — and be sure to let us know if you have a favorite book to mention for next time!

A Road from El Dorado, by Will Bagley (ed.). The  real-life trail diary of former Mormon Battalion member Ephraim Green, this is the true, day-by-day account of the pioneering Mormons who blazed what soon became known as the Mormon-Emigrant Trail over the Sierras in 1848 as they made their way eastward from California back to Salt Lake. If you’re not familiar with Will Bagley, here’s the Wikipedia summary about him.

Frontiersman Abner Blackburn’s Narrative, by Will Bagley (ed.) Another important work by noted historian Will Bagley, this is the story of Abner Blackburn, one of the original founders of Mormon Station in 1850 (the trading post which became Genoa). Blackburn’s adventurous life included multiple trips over the Sierra and discovering gold in Gold Canyon.

William Brewer and a member of his survey party.

Such a Landscape, by William Henry Brewer. We included Brewer’s familiar Up and Down California in our earlier list, and a reader urged us to include this title as well. Such a Landscape is the story of early survey expeditions through the Sierra, including the weather they encountered, equipment they brought, and how they mapped the landscape and measured peaks, back in the day. These “aggressively healthy” adventurers made impressive climbs, in impressive time. A coffee-table-style book filled with pictures, and a great companion to some of John Muir’s writings. For the fascinating backstory on Brewer himself (did you know he’d just lost his wife and son shortly before his 1860 exploring adventures began?), here’s the Wikipedia thumbnail.

The Humboldt, by Dale L. Morgan. Two extremely knowledgeable history friends both raved about this book, and Kirkus Reviews called it “colorful, adventurous, exciting reading.” Debuting in 1943 as part of a book series called “Rivers of America,” this volume’s reach extends far beyond the Humboldt itself to include the history of Carson Valley — an early and important historical work.

The California Trail, by George R. Stewart. First published in 1964 in Great Britain, this engagingly-written narrative details America’s  cross-continent migrations from 1841 through 1859, ending with a final chapter humorously titled “End of the Trail.” Great research is layered with unusual trail lore and beautifully-executed illustrations and maps. Among the line drawings are illustrations comparing three different styles of emigrant wagons, and detailing a trick for crossing a deep river with oxen. An excellent index at the back makes this a great find for history lovers and researchers.

John A. Snowshoe Thompson: Pioneer Mail Carrier of the Sierra, by Frank Tortorich. The most recent release by one of our very favorite Sierra historians, the inimitable Frank Tortorich. This is the seminal work on the heroic “mailman of the Sierras,” John (Snowshoe) Thompson. A great read, and the most complete work we’ve seen on this legendary figure. As you may know, Frank has also written Gold Rush Trail: A Guide to the Carson River Route of the Emigrant Trail, a long-time favorite for enthusiasts eager to find — and walk — the Emigrant Trail for themselves.

Hetch Hetchy and Its Dam Railroad, by Ted Wurm. A reader kindly suggested this well-illustrated book; it’s the fascinating story of the railway built by San Francisco to support the building of the O’Shaughnessy Dam (an improvement for the city’s water supply). In operation between 1917 to 1949 (when it finally was dismantled), this 68-mile railroad not only transported goods and supplies for the dam but also brought passengers out on sleeper-car excursions to view the construction, eat at the project bunkhouse, and enjoy the forest. Great photos make this an especially fun read.

Hope you enjoy, and let us know your favorite Sierra read!

Stage Robberies and Wells Fargo’s Finest (Part 1)

Did stage robberies still occur as late as 1893? Just ask poor Mike Tovey; he died in one.

The silent grave of Mike Tovey, in Jackson City Cemetery, who died in a stage robbery on June 15, 1893. This headstone was erected in his memory by his employer, Wells Fargo & Co.

The headstone of Mike Tovey stands its silent vigil in the Jackson City Cemetery. It was erected by his employer, Wells Fargo & Co., which evidently felt a bit guilty about Tovey’s death.

Our story begins back in 1880, when Tovey had been hired to guard the Bodie and Carson Stage. That stage, it seems, was in dire need of guarding, having risen high on the “frequent flyer” list for stage robbers. The coach was first robbed on June 4, 1880. Three months later, it was robbed again. Eventually the line accrued what may be a world’s record: six separate stages robbed in under four months, and perhaps as many as 20 robberies throughout the region! The whole robbery thing became, as one news article put it, “monotonous.”

Victims reported two robbers worked the hold-ups in tandem. One robber, it was reported, was a true gentleman… well-dressed and unfailingly polite to the unfortunates riding the stage. The other robber — well, not so much. Victims described his voice as gruff and his manner as frightening.

Handsome Wells Fargo guard “Mike” Tovey had wavy hair and a full beard. Born Feb 4, 1842 in Canada, his real first name was Martin.

Wells Fargo assigned one of its best guards to the job: Mike Tovey. Tovey came well-equipped for stage protection. A giant of a man, he stood over six feet tall, was described simply as big, and had a reputation for being fearless.

Sure enough, on September 5, 1880, while Tovey was on stage-protection duty, two men stepped out to hold up the Bodie and Carson Stage yet again, this time about seven miles from Aurora. Tobey managed to shoot one of the would-be robbers, taking a return bullet in the arm himself.

As Tovey was being whisked off to a nearby farmhouse to have his bullet wound attended to, a second Wells Fargo guard scoured the nearby sagebrush for traces of the remaining bandit. But even as pursuers were beating the bushes to look for him, “the robber doubled on his tracks, returned to the stage, and carried off the treasure box” — with its $700 inside. Talk about a cool customer!

Wells Fargo, of course, was now more eager than ever to track down the villain — not to mention recover the money. Trained investigators were put on the task. These helpfully observed that the dead robber (the one Tovey had shot) had been wearing a peculiar “mask made of red morocco leather.” A clue worthy of a Sherlock Holmes himself!

Unfortunately, the dead robber’s body got buried before investigators ever thought to check the dead man’s pockets… but when they did think of it, they belatedly had the body exhumed again. Sure enough, there in the dead robber’s pockets was important evidence: a bank passbook noting the man’s name, a recent deposit of $1,000, and an address at a Minna Street rooming house in San Francisco.

The dead robber could now be officially identified as W.C. “Bill” Jones, aka Frank Dow. A felon who’d already served time at San Quentin, Jones (Dow) had been known for his heavy drinking, large beard, and  scary-sounding voice.

Aided by the helpful address, Wells Fargo’s investigator now had no difficulty tracking the dead man to his room in San Francisco. Detectives descended on the boarding house and the room was searched (apparently without bothering with the nicety of a search warrant). Lo and behold, a gold watch, ring, and other jewelry taken during the June stage robbery were found. Adding to the evidence: swatches of morocco leather turned up, similar to the dead robber’s mask.

The man suspected of being the gentleman bandit who robbed the stage — and wounded Tovey — was a debonnaire character named Milton A. Sharp.

Jones’ fellow robber — the one who coolly made off with the cash box — was arrested at the same boarding house when he showed up a few hours later to “recover his valise.” Or at least, the authorities assumed it was the second robber. As soon as the valise-owner entered the house he was taken to the floor by deputies, a pair of pistols leveled at his head, and his belongings searched.

His name, he told them, was Milton Anthony Sharp. Newspaper accounts made Sharp sound as if he had just stepped out of a novel:  he was “remarkably fine-looking,” with “jet-black hair, swarthy complexion,” a goatee and black mustache, not to mention “eyes that shine so brightly that it is impossible to distinguish their color.” A few lady readers may have swooned.

Sharp had the bad luck when arrested to be carrying an astronomical $2,400 in cash, along with other valuables. Naturally, he claimed he had come by it all honestly while working as a miner. But like his roommate, the dead robber, Sharp also had made a bank deposit on the very same day in the very same bank, and listed Minna Street as his address.

Sharp was hauled off for trial at Aurora, where he was convicted of five counts of robbery, and sent to cool his heels in State Prison for twenty years. There the gentleman bandit was described by his fellow prisoners as the “chief aristocrat in their midst,” or at least so the Pioche Record proclaimed in December, 1880.

But Sharp had a few tricks up his sleeve: he managed to escape incarceration not once but twice! While awaiting trial he tunneled his way out of the Aurora jail, taking off with a 15-pound ball-and-chain still attached, later found smashed against a rock. Sharp was quickly recaptured and sent off to state prison, but nine years later, managed to escape there, too.

Four years after his second escape, Sharp was still running from the law when someone shot Wells Fargo guard Mike Tovey for a second time, as he guarded the stage headed for Jackson. This time, the wound to Tovey proved instantly fatal.

Was the murderer Sharp? Tune in for the rest of the story in Part 2!

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Hidden Treasure Near Double Springs? (Part 3)

It was 1863 when a lone highwayman stepped out to stop the stage near Double Springs, Nevada. Whether it was sheer luck or courtesy of an inside scoop, the robber hit payday: the heavily-laden coach was carrying some $17,000 in gold coin on its route between Aurora and Carson.

Naturally, the robber couldn’t get too far hauling all that gold! But like all good criminals, he’d thought ahead:  he brought along a shovel.
And somewhere in the flats not far from Double Spring, the robber dug a hole and buried his loot.

The authorities, of course, were hard on the robber’s heels. Before long, he found himself cooling those heels in Nevada’s state prison. There the bandit finally died. And although he kept his secret almost to the end, on his death-bed he finally described the spot where he’d buried all that loot he couldn’t take with him into the next life.

Mountain House was a way station just north of today’s Holbrook Junction. A rest stop with tables and a group of tall trees still mark the spot where this way station once stood, on the west side of Highway 395 .

According to the robber, the spot where his loot was buried was near a small cabin south of Double Spring, roughly a mile and a half north of another old way station called Mountain House. Many looked for the treasure through the years, but none have yet found it — and not for lack of trying! “The ground in the vicinity looks like an artichoke patch deserted by a drove of swine,” the Genoa Weekly Courier observed in 1891.

In 1891, Genoa resident Henry Rice “saw” the spot where the treasure was hiding in a dream. Dragging along friend William Parsons and several young ladies for company, he eagerly rushed out to identify the spot. The prospectors’ hopes were soon dashed when they discovered that there were, sadly, “a hundred places that looked just like the one revealed in [Rice’s] dream.” By way of consolation they continued on to Walker River, where they settled for the ‘treasure’ of a grand picnic lunch.

Others, too, would try their hand at finding the robber’s loot through the years. One local named George Dale was said to have “dug up a good-sized ranch in the vain effort.” Charley Holbrook was so convinced his divining rod had pinpointed the loot that he dug a 28-foot deep shaft before finally concluding that he must be in the wrong spot.

All of which is, presumably, good news for modern-day treasure-seekers!  That is, if you believe the old legend, the lost stagecoach gold must still be there somewhere not far from Double Springs.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Reminder: It’s not 1891 anymore! Please don’t trespass or go digging unless you get permission from the property owner first! 

(In case you happened to miss Part 1 and Part 2 of this story about Double Springs, just click these links to read them!)

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The Story of Double Springs (Part 2)

Whatever became of James C. Dean?

No, not that James Dean. We’re talking 1864. As we saw in Part 1, the person who murdered Fannie Dean at Double Springs Ranch that year wasn’t much of a mystery — at least as far as the neighbors were concerned. Fannie’s husband, station-keeper James C. Dean, was quickly whisked into custody by the authorities. But proof was another matter.

Early map showing Double Springs at lower right.

As the suspect pointed out, the Station was on a well-traveled road; riff-raff came and went. It could have been anyone who stuffed poor Fannie Dean’s head into a bucket of water!

With no definitive evidence to tie him to the murder, Dean was eventually released. Might there have been other reasons for Dean’s get-out-of-jail-free card, as well?  It’s hard to know, 150 years later. But our guess is that Fannie’s demise occurred after her husband had become Mammoth district Justice of the Peace — if only because a murder suspect wouldn’t normally be anyone’s top pick for an open judicial post. As a local notable, was Dean able to perhaps pull a string or two?

However it happened, Dean was once again a free man. But local minds hung onto their suspicions. It was an opportune time for Dean to (as they say in the Westerns) get out of Dodge. And get out he did.

Not long after Fannie’s death, Dean ran for Justice of the Peace in the nearby Walker River precinct, winning the election in November 1865. That same October and November Dean was advertising his Double Spring Station for sale in the Douglas Banner, and he soon found a buyer: rancher P.L. Sprague (Sprague, in turn, would sell the Double Spring ranch to T.B. Rickey in 1883 and move to Sheridan).

So, whatever became of the James C. Dean once he left Double Springs? Traces of his trail are few and far between, but we did manage to pick up a few breadcrumbs.

Dean turns up in Hamilton, White Pine County, Nevada, in April, 1869, marrying a second wife, Theresa Dirks. Theresa was a savvy divorcee with a mind of her own — and, perhaps more appealing to Dean, property of her own. Theresa owned real estate in San Francisco and Hamilton City, Nevada, plus a boardinghouse and home in Virginia City (at 90 South D Street and 91 South C Street respectively).

Theresa may have had her doubts about Dean from the get-go: she took the precaution of recording a formal marriage contract. In it, Dean officially consented to Theresa maintaining control of her property, acknowledging it had been “acquired by her own unaided industry.” (In case you’re wondering about her earlier history, Theresa was married initially to Leonard Dirks in San Francisco. She was an early arrival at Virginia City, showing up in 1860 among the throngs at the first Christmas Ball in Storey County, along with her daughter, Leonora.)

But her second husband, Dean, wasn’t cut out to be marriage material it seems. He and Theresa were divorced in February, 1872, just three quick years after their wedding. Theresa may not have been the steadiest marriage partner either; she remarried yet again on June 3, 1872, just a few months after divorcing Dean — her third marriage.

Was Dean something of a smooth-talker, blessed with the gift of gab? We may never know for sure. But in his early life, he was a lawyer, if that tells you anything. Yet another suggestion that his tongue may have been well-oiled comes from Dean’s later profession: by 1873, he was operating an auction business in Pioche.

Dean ran an “Auction and Commission” business in Pioche, which he sold in 1874.

In 1880, Dean shows up in Eureka, Nevada, again working as an auctioneer. He’s listed as single, and is sharing a house with E.H. Dean, the same ne’er-do-well relative whose accountings were found somewhat less than satisfactory when he served as Lyon County’s treasurer.

Theresa Dirks and her daughter, Leonora, are buried at Virginia City.

Dean’s ex-wife, Theresa, and her third husband Robert Charles (a banker) were back in Virginia City by this time, residing in her house at 91 South C Street. Theresa died that same year (1880) and is buried under her first husband’s name (Dirks) at the Silver Terrace Cemetery, along with her daughter, Leonora.

As for Dean — unfortunately, it’s a common enough last name that it hasn’t been easy to track his remaining years. Nevertheless we did turn up a “James Calhoun Dean” who moved from the west coast back to Michigan about 1908. This James C. Dean died March 10, 1910 in Plymouth, Michigan from cancer of the head and “general senility.”

Death certificate for James Calhoun Dean, who died in 1910.
Just possibly James C. Dean of Double Springs.

If “our” J.C. Dean is the same man, this would be a picture of the infamous Double Springs proprietor himself!

There are definite similarities besides the common middle initial: both men were born in New York; their birth years roughly match; and James Calhoun Dean had been out west before returning to Michigan. For now, at least, we’ll leave the possibility that this is our Double Springs Dean in the “good guess” category.

But the best part of the Double Springs story is yet to come in Part 3 — a stagecoach robbery . . . and a buried treasure!

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The Story of Double Springs (Part 1)

Today there’s little to mark the site of Double Springs, Nevada, roughly a dozen miles south of Gardnerville on Highway 395. All that’s left is just a historical plaque plus remnants of an old fence line and cattle trough. But a century-and-a-half ago, Double Springs was not only well-known — it was notorious!

An early hotel here beside the toll road to Aurora and Bodie offered travelers meals, beds, and pasture. A fluke of climate or simple bad luck, Double Springs was also the site of several early murders. And, because all good tales include a treasure story, there’s also a hidden treasure legend involving Double Springs!

The pair of springs for which Double Springs was named made this a valued spot for Native Americans back in the early-early days. Round dances were held here in both spring and fall, with prayers for the health of the pinenut trees and celebrations for abundant harvests. These huge events sometimes included up to 500 Native Americans, and pinenut harvests could last as long as six weeks. The site’s earliest recorded name, “Round Tent Ranch,” may have reflected these Native American celebrations.

This may be the same James C. Dean who once owned Double Springs station.

In 1861, rancher S.D. Fairchild claimed 320 acres here, erecting a hotel, stable, and barn. H.W. Bagley owned the property briefly, then sold it to James C. Dean about 1863. And here our tale takes a turn for the murderous!

Dean was a colorful if slightly shady character who popped up in various incarnations in early Douglas County history. He and a partner bought a house and town lot in Genoa as early as August, 1860. A year later, in 1861, Dean was appointed Justice of the Peace for Genoa by Governor Nye. Although ostensibly a lawyer, Dean swiftly made waves for failing to carry out the duties of his new post. Just one month after Dean’s appointment, an appeals court was forced to order Dean to do his duty; he reportedly stubbornly refused to file in papers appealing one of his decisions, and had similarly refused to send up a transcript for the higher court to consider. (The higher court was not amused.)

Despite this brouhaha, Dean’s Genoa home became the site where the very first meeting of the Douglas County Commissioners was convened just after Christmas, December 28, 1861. Dean also was honored by being elected to serve in the Nevada Territorial Legislature’s House of Representatives in September, 1863, as a proud member of the Union Party.

By late 1863 Dean had moved south to Double Springs in Nevada Territory’s Mammoth Precinct, a district that stretched from Teasdale bridge on the East Carson to the southernmost edge of the county. Here he was operating his own “1st Class” Hotel and serving as a retail dealer in liquor. But Dean continued to keep an eye out for political plums. In early 1864 he penned a pleading letter to Gov. James Nye, confessing a desire to become a military man and offering to assemble a cavalry company of “burly mountain boys” if the governor would accommodate him with a commission to do so. (The governor apparently didn’t take him up on this kind offer.)

Edwin Dean (possibly a cousin or younger brother of James) also briefly held elected office in early Nevada. Ed Dean became Lyon County Treasurer in September, 1864, only to resign in disgrace a little over a year later when his books disclosed a $2,484 shortfall.

1881 map showing Double Springs at the intersection of two roads. (Nevada Division of State Lands & UNR’s DeLaMare Library).

Dean’s Hotel was conveniently located at the junction of the cross-valley Olds Toll Road and the north/south Bryon’s Toll Road. Travelers to Bodie or Aurora could feed their horses on hay grown at the ranch, grab a meal, or spend the night at the hotel. Dean was appointed to fill a vacancy for Justice of the Peace for the Mammoth Precinct on December 5, 1864, with a member of the Olds family making the motion for Dean’s appointment.

The historical marker at Double Springs. Many later accounts suggest Dean was the murderer, though it appears he was never convicted of the crime.

Sometime around 1864, however, Dean’s wife, Fannie, came to a tragic end at the Double Springs station. A passing teamster found the house suspiciously quiet and, upon investigating, discovered Fannie’s lifeless body. She had been severely beaten and her head then “jammed into a bucket of water.” Dean was arrested by the local sheriff, but denied the murder. Dean’s hotel was only about two miles from Slinkard’s, and transients and travelers came and went on the road by the station. As Dean pointed out, it could have been anyone who murdered Fannie Dean. Neighbors “were not satisfied with the story told,” as the Record Courier later put it. But given the lack of evidence on which to hold him, Dean was finally released. Nevertheless, the story persisted for years that Dean himself had committed the murder.

By the following year, October, 1865,  Dean was advertising his Double Springs property for sale. And it wasn’t cheap: for his house, barn, blacksmith shop and 600 acres of land, Dean wanted $1,500, half down and the balance in just six months. But he clearly was ready to move on; in November, 1865, he managed to get himself elected Justice of the Peace for the Walker River Precinct to the south.

Fannie’s death, as it turned out, would not be the end of “notorious” murders at Double Springs. In November, 1881, another body was discovered in a small cabin about three miles south of the old station. E.A. Doud, about 65 years old, had once been an Alpine County rancher and member of the Board of Supervisors. He’d sold his Alpine ranch about 1873, taking up residence in a 10’ x 12’ cabin not far from Double Springs. The body was discovered by a Washoe Indian seeking work who had approached the cabin. Looking in a window beside the door, he spied Doud on the floor, covered in a bloody blanket. An ax was near the body. The Indian alerted the innkeeper at Double Springs, who in turn notified the coroner. Although a generous $150 reward was posted in early 1882, no suspects were ever identified.

Dean had already moved on by then, selling his Double Springs property to rancher P.L. Sprague about 1865 and trudging off to new adventures — and that quirky tale (including what happened to Dean’s second wife) is next week’s story!

View from Double Springs toward the west.

As for the famous Double Springs Hotel itself, the building was torn down in the fall of 1887. Its lumber was hauled off to a mining settlement known as South Camp overlooking Smith Valley, where (as the Genoa Courier put it), it was used “to cover the mill and to build a mansion for the miners.”

Join us next week for Part 2 of this story — whatever became of James Dean? And in Part 3, the tale of a hidden treasure at Double Springs! 

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Old Hans of Jacks Valley, Nevada

Al Livington got a nasty surprise when he stopped by a saloon in Jacks Valley the morning of August 9, 1880: he discovered the proprietor face down on the floor, with a gunshot wound through the chest.

Old Hans owned a saloon at his house in the south end of Jacks Valley. (Illustration copyright K.Dustman)

Popularly known as “Old Hans,” the saloon owner’s true name was Christopher Johannes Hull. Robbery seemed to be the motive; a search disclosed Hans’s large silver pocket watch and about $100 were both missing.

It was a “murder most foul,” the Genoa Weekly Courier pronounced. Old Hans was a “pleasant, harmless old man,” as the Reno newspaper reported. About sixty years old and nearly crippled from years of hard labor, he was “inoffensive, generous, good-natured, and the friend of everyone,” as the Courier added.

Hans had been a miner in the early 1870s and, more recently, had worked at several stables in California and Nevada. Saving his earnings, he had purchased a saloon at the north end of Jacks Valley and, just three months before his death, sold that and moved to the little house where he was killed.

The remains of the Pony Saloon in Jacks Valley in 1937, showing the beautiful and remote general location. (Photo courtesy of Billie Rightmire).

In addition to the gunshot wound to his chest, Old Hans had been hit by a hard object at the base of his skull. Powder burns on his shirt showed the bullet had been fired at close range. The coroner’s jury ruled it a “death by gun shot and other wounds,” committed by person or persons unknown.

Hans’ house stood in a “lonesome part of the valley,” and no one had seen anything — or anyone — suspicious in previous days. But the community was incensed. Ormsby County posted a $500 reward to try to flush out the murderer.

Suspicions focused first on a local miscreant with the colorful nickname of “Buckskin Bob.” According to rumor, Buckskin Bob even confessed his involvement in Hans’s murder to a pal. Bob proved to have a solid alibi, however, and the “pal” was unable to be found.

Suspicion initially focused on a local thief named “Buckskin Bob.” (Illus. copyright KDustman)

By mid-October, however, Sheriff Williams and his tenacious investigators managed to track down Old Hans’s silver watch. The watch had been sold near Sacramento by another local ne’er-do-well named Harry Fowles (sometimes spelled Fowler).

Fowles, just 26 years old, had already spent a two-year stint in prison at Carson for burglary. And unlike Buckskin Bob, Fowles’ account of his whereabouts of August 8 did not “hang together,” as the Genoa paper smugly put it. Fowles was arrested at Rocklin, east of Sacramento, and hauled back to Genoa to face the music.

Harry Fowles had no good explanation for his whereabouts. (Illustration copyright KDustman)

After cooling his heels in the Genoa jail for several weeks awaiting trial, Fowles outsmarted his captors: on the afternoon of November 9, 1880, he escaped. The Genoa Weekly Courier described how Fowles managed to pull off his escape from a brick jail cell: “He made a hole in the wall between the Jailroom and a small bedroom adjoining the Sheriff’s office, crawled through and made his way out an unbarred window on the South side of the Court House.”

Just what the jailer was doing that same afternoon went unreported.

Curious Genoa citizens turned out in force to inspect Fowles’ route of escape. “Everybody who could get away from business immediately went to the jail,” the newspaper noted. “They looked in through the hole in the wall, and then they went in the jail and looked out through the hole, and went up town and knew all about it.”

 

Everyone in Genoa came out to inspect Fowles’ escape route. (Illustration copyright Kdustman)

Sightings of the escaped prisoner soon trickled in from far and wide. Four days after the daring afternoon escape, the Genoa paper reported: “So far, he has been seen at Walley’s Springs, Cradlebaugh’s Bridge, Jacks Valley, Silver Lake, Twelve Mile House, Holbrook’s, Desert Station, Woodford’s, Glenbrook, Small’s, Silver Mountain, Carson, Virginia, and in Roop County . . .”

Despite all these “sightings,” the paper had to admit that “no definite trace” of Fowles had yet been found.  It nevertheless confidently predicted that the escapee’s recapture was “only a matter of time.”

Recapture, however, was not meant to be. Harry Fowles had slipped out of sight for good, and his crime (if indeed he shot Old Hans) was properly punished only when he went to meet his Maker.

As for Old Hans, his body was “properly prepared” by kindly local citizens for burial in Genoa, where he was laid to rest on Tuesday, August 10, 1880. No headstone currently exists for this well-loved local gentleman. It’s likely Old Hans was given a pauper’s burial, with perhaps just a simple wooden cross to mark the location of his now-forgotten grave.

We hope this story will at least help keep his memory alive.

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Spring Is Around Here Somewhere

The official start to Spring is — oh, next week, according to my calendar. March 20, to be precise. For gardeners like my husband, planting hopes spring eternal and start to ramp up the day after Christmas.

But calendars lie.

Gardeners’ hopes spring eternal. These seeds are languishing in our garage already.

Right after that purported grand debut of Spring comes Easter, a warm-sounding holiday which falls appropriately enough on April Fool’s Day this year. No doubt to remind us here in the High Sierra that only fools start thinking “planting time” is truly here by then.

It’s followed a few weeks later by Earth Day, April 22, by which time we ought to be getting warm enough to throw a few seeds in the ground, shouldn’t we? Well, that’s followed by May 3, National Day of Prayer, a helpful occasion if you’re thinking of asking a bit of Divine Intervention on those planting plans, just in case.

But today, just three short days away from the Official Spring,  is — well . . . .

Our “view” of the Valley says it all.
A grand day for reading seed catalogs and dreaming.

So Many Mindens

This was the early commercial district of Minden about 1918, roughly a dozen years after its 1905 debut. Business was booming as you can see by the crush of cars, including that svelte roadster at right.

The upstart “Minden Creamery” (as it sometimes was casually called) was launched in 1908 at 1620 Water Street, and by mid-1914 had put its competitor, the older Carson Valley Creamery, out of business.

The Minden Butter Mfg. Co. Originally housed in a wooden structure, the Minden Butter Mfg. Co. erected this fine new brick building in 1916, designed by noted architect Frederick DeLongchamps. It included equipment for pasturizing. Another wing for eggs and cold-storage was added in 1927. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

The new butter facility actually had a longer and fancier formal name: officially, it was the “Minden Butter Manufacturing Company.” Principals in this new creamery business included H.F. Dangberg, Jr. — the same luminary behind the creation of Minden itself — William Dressler, Fritz Schacht, and Richard Fricke. With John Sattler as its first butter-maker, some said this new creamery produced the “finest butter in the West.”

This token is from “Minden Creamery” — but read on!

Privately-held when the organization first began, Minden Butter Mfg. eventually morphed into the Minden Co-Op Creamery in 1946. The creamery’s doors finally closed in 1961, however. Time stands still for no man, woman, or dairy!

But as for the “Minden Creamery” token shown above, helpful research by dedicated token collectors indicates that this came from a different creamery altogether — in Minden, Nebraska!

Historic marker for the Town of Minden.

What a fascinating coincidence: two creameries with similar names operating at roughly the same time, in two different widely-separated towns both called Minden!

All of which got us to pondering: just how many Mindens are there? The short answer: at least seven here in the United States alone!

There’s a southern Minden touting its location “in the piney woods of northwest Louisiana,” founded in 1836 by a lawyer who later ran off to California during the Gold Rush.

There’s rural Minden, Texas, named by a homesick former resident of the LouisianaMinden, who found himself in Texas about 1849 and affixed the name to a spot along an early stagecoach line.

A bit farther north, Minden, Iowa sprang up beside the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad and the imagination-tickling “Keg Creek.” Settled by German immigrants, this Minden is said to have been named for the former hometown of many of its “industrious settlers.”

Minden, New York, formed in 1798, similarly took its name from its namesake in Germany. This New York town once was touted as a “gateway to the west,” thanks to its prime location adjoining both a railroad and the Erie Canal. Today the town covers nearly 33,000 acres and is divided into six smaller hamlets, one charmingly named “Mindenville.”

Not to be left out of the mix: Minden, West Virginia, named (once again) for old Minden Germany; it’s said that the name was picked by an early West Virginia coal-mining official. Sadly, the spot today is a Superfund clean-up site, with nearly a third of residents said to suffer from some type of cancer. It was annexed into the neighboring city of Oak Hill in 2015, but remains on the books as a “census-designated place.”

Minden, Nevada’s welcoming sign.

And then there’s our creamery-twin Minden, Nebraska — home to the token that prompted this virtual journey. Originally a plot of empty land “without a single inhabitant or building,” this town of Minden was voted into existence in 1876 by nearby homesteaders, stripping county seat-hood from railroad-dominated Lowell to the north by their vigorous exercise of democracy.

Our very own Minden, Nevada got its name from H.F. Dangberg, Jr., who envisioned a well-ordered community surrounding a town square (today’s grassy Minden Park), and named it (of course) after the old German town near his father’s birthplace.

If these widely-scattered Mindens begin to sound like a road trip in the making, one couple has already blazed the way! Check out this great story from the Record-Courierabout Terri and Chuck Luettgerodt of Minden, Nevada, who set out in a Volkswagen van in 2017 to visit “every Minden they could.”

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Many thanks to noted Nevada historian and long-time token collector Michael Fischer and token experts Jack Haddock and Leroy Felch for their kind research and help in identifying the Nebraska “Minden Creamery” token, and their great suggestions and additions for this article!

#SierraHistory #CarsonValleyNV #whyCV

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The Secret Life of Eugene May (Part 2)

We left off last week with the secret Eugene A. May had kept for over 50 years: his real name was Henry Head! He’d left his family back in Illinois after an emotional dispute with his step-mother. His own family in Empire may not even have known the truth.

This was pretty Eldorado, possibly about the time of her first marriage. (Courtesy of Alpine County Historical Society)

After Hank’s death in 1900, his widow, Eldorado, found herself alone again. She now had buried her second husband.  Eldorado would eventually marry a third time: a judge in Washoe Valley named Lamb.

Hank May’s step-daughter, Jennie, was now a schoolteacher. She had attended the University of Nevada Normal School and her first teaching assignments were at the elementary schools at Galena, Pine Grove, and Mina Nevada.

About 1898, Jennie May took a job just over the California border, and began teaching at the little white schoolhouse in Markleeville. In her oral history, Jennie would recall arriving for this job aboard the local stage: a spring wagon with two horses. The following year, 1899 Jennie accepted a teaching position at Fredericksburg School. And, as other Fredericksburg teachers had done, she roomed with the Bruns family in their beautiful ranch house adjacent to the school.

Eldorado’s daughter, Jennie May, about the time of her marriage to Fred Bruns, Jr. (Courtesy of Alpine Co. Historical Society)

Schoolteachers were considered great marriage material. And sure enough, on December 28, 1904, Fred Bruns, Jr. wed young Jennie May in Carson City. Although she was no longer allowed to teach after her marriage, Jennie went on to become Alpine County’s longest-serving superintendent of schools (from 1916-1939). Jennie and Fred had four children together including Hubert, later a well-known Alpine rancher and supervisor.

Eldorado Lamb, Jennie’s mother, about the time she came to live with Jennie and Fred. (Courtesy Alpine Co. Historical Society)

Around 1923 Jennie’s mother, Eldorado, now a widow for the third time, came to live with Jennie and Fred. Eldorado died in 1924 of pneumonia at the age of 70, and is buried at the Fredericksburg Cemetery.

Fred Bruns, Jr. passed away in 1959. His wife Jennie — step-daughter of Eugene “Hank” May (aka Henry Head) and the little girl who grew up in Empire watching the old millworks turn — died in 1970. She was 92.

Eldorado Murphy Dunigan May Lamb — three times a widow — is buried at Fredericksburg Cemetery, California, near her daughter, Jennie May Bruns.
The grave of Jennie (Eugenia) and Fred Bruns at Fredericksburg Cemetery.

Jennie, Fred and Eldorado Lamb are all buried at Fredericksburg Cemetery.

So that’s the story of Hank May, who wasn’t really Hank May at all; his wife Eldorado, who lost three husbands; and little Jennie, who used to watch the millworks turn at Empire and grew up to become an important member of one of Alpine County’s most prominent ranching families!

Hank May’s grave at Empire still looks out over the site where the Mexican Mill once stood.

The grave of Eugene “Hank” May, aka Henry Head.

       Here are directions if you decide to pay him a visit: From Carson City, take Highway 50 East. Turn south (right) at Deer Run and in a short distance, turn right again on Sheep Drive. The road will curve around to Waste Management. Follow the cemetery signs and a rather unusual access road will take you up the hill (you will think you’re driving through private business property, but just follow the cemetery signs!)

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