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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It Wasn’t Always Called Jubilee Ranch

The iconic old barn on Foothill Road has “Jubilee Ranch” emblazoned on the side. If you’re like me, you’ve driven by it hundreds of times. And if you’re also like me, every time you’ve gone by, you wished you knew its tale! So, who built this great old barn, and when? And what’s the backstory to the name “Jubilee”? We did a bit of digging — here’s the story!

Peter & Lillies Van Sickle

Yes, it turns out, it’s an old-old ranch — one of the very first ranch claims in Carson Valley. Some sources suggest this ranch was originally owned by settler John Cary in the early 1850s. Sometime after Cary, the property was acquired by soon-to-be Senator J.W. Haines and was known as the “Old Haines Ranch.” And around 1857 (even before the Comstock Lode boomed), Haines sold the ranch to Peter Van Sickle.

Peter’s older (and better-known) brother, Henry Van Sickle.

Born in New Jersey, Peter was the younger brother of Henry Van Sickle. And Henry, as you’ll recall, was the early pioneer who ran the famous “Van Sickle Station” hotel and stage stop just up the road.

Peter, like his brother, was considered a “thrifty Dutchman” and he, like Henry, was skilled as a blacksmith. In addition to this prosperous hay and dairy ranch (620 acres of it, by 1881!), Peter also operated a blacksmith shop in Genoa at the northwest corner of Main and Nixon Street. Peter and his wife, Lillies, lived in a small house near the church just up the street from his blacksmith shop.

By 1892, Peter had leased his Genoa blacksmith shop to W.J. Armstrong.

Peter eventually grew tired the blacksmith trade; in 1888 he placed an ad in the paper, trying to sell his shop and other holdings. It seems he wasn’t successful at finding a buyer, however; in 1892, his Genoa blacksmith shop had been leased out to W.J. Armstrong, another blacksmith.

This was Henry’s barn, which boasted windows.

As for the giant barn at his ranch south of town, Peter is said to have built the current structure about 1900. It’s a giant indeed: some 65 x 100 feet in size. Built using a  “peg-and-groove” technique, Peter’s barn resembles that of his brother Henry Van Sickle’s barn up the street. Unlike Henry’s barn, however, Peter’s lacks windows.

Henry’s red barn, slightly farther north, is tucked into the hillside.

The lower floor of the Jubilee barn was once used for dairy cows, and loose hay was stored in its 13,000-sq.ft. second-floor loft. Although today the Jubilee Ranch barn is all on a single level, some say it originally was built into the hillside (a style called “bank-a-hill”), so hay could be loaded into the hayloft without requiring a hoist. (To us it seems more likely that this actually describes Henry Van Sickle’s red barn slightly farther to the north, however, which clearly follows the descending contour of the hillside).

In addition to his dairy ranch, Peter Van Sickle also engaged in the meat business, and by 1883 was running two meat wagons to supply local demand. Not all Peter Van Sickle’s customers were happy ones, however. Alpine mining mogul Lewis Chalmers wrote him a snippy letter in 1879, complaining: “The beef you are now sending me is not of the same quality as you sent me at first, and not such as I intend to pay for.”

Leander Hawkins, too, had unhappy memories of working for Van Sickle as his first job at the tender age of 10. When Leander finally requested the heifer that had been promised to him after a full year’s work, Van Sickle reportedly refused to pay him.

Still, Van Sickle evidently had a generous side as well. In 1895, Peter and his wife adopted a little two-year-old boy whose mother had died. They renamed him Oscar Van Sickle and Oscar became part of the family, along with the other four Van Sickle children.

Peter Van Sickle and his family are buried in the Mottsville Cemetery

Peter Van Sickle died in 1908, at the age of 77. He and Lillies had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary the previous year. Adopted son Oscar continued to run the Peter Van Sickle Ranch until 1927, when it was sold to Thomas Summers, becoming known as the “Summers Ranch.”

In 1951,  young entrepreneur named Ted Bacon bought the ranch. At the time, Summers was using the ranch to raise pigs. Rather than rename it after himself as the “Bacon Ranch” (a humorous name for a hog farm), Ted decided to name it after a memory from a recent trip he had taken to England, when a “jubilee” had been held to celebrate the crowning of the queen. Bacon decided to rename his property the “Jubilee Ranch.” It was, he said, a “happy name.”

And there you have it — the fascinating story of this historic ranch, and the way it got its “Jubilee” name!

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Genoa’s Hanging Tree

You may have heard the tale about Adam Uber’s famous curse — uttered just before an angry Genoa mob hung him. But did you know the hanging tree is still there?

It sits on the south side of Genoa Lane, just east of Genoa (and a convenient distance from the old-time jail!)

The hanging tree is still there, on Genoa Lane. Some say the actual limb where Uber met his end was later cut off by remorseful townsfolk. (Photo courtesy Judy Wickwire)

The year was 1897, and the crime began with Uber swilling Red Eye — and ended with a gunshot. Hans Anderson was dead. And Uber didn’t even remember what happened when he finally sobered up in the Genoa Jail.

Anderson had been well-liked; Uber was not. And a group of locals decided swift justice was the finest flavor. They rushed the jail, demanded the jailer’s key, and whisked Uber off for a hasty meeting with the hangman’s rope.

But Uber got off a few choice last words before dropping into the Great Hereafter: he cursed those who did the foul deed “unto seven generations.”

And, according to local legend, Uber’s curse ultimately came true. Some of mob died sudden, violent deaths; some committed suicide; but all of them met an unhappy end. Family members, too, reportedly suffered.

Adam Uber met his end here — some say his restless ghost is still around.

They’re all gone now, of course; 1897 was a long time ago. But locals say Uber’s ghost can still be seen “hanging around” from time to time — either here at the tree, or at the old brick Courthouse which once held his cell.

If you decide to pay a visit to the scene of this long-ago murder, consider making a stop at the old Genoa Cemetery as well. Uber is buried there somewhere, in an unmarked grave.

Just west of the Hanging Tree stands a cottonwood with an amazing burl. (Photo courtesy of Judy Wickwire)