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Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter XLIX

Roughing It

Chapter XLIX

An extract or two from the newspapers of the day will furnish a
photograph that can need no embellishment:

     FATAL SHOOTING AFFRAY.--An affray occurred, last evening, in a
     billiard saloon on C street, between Deputy Marshal Jack Williams
     and Wm. Brown, which resulted in the immediate death of the latter.
     There had been some difficulty between the parties for several

     An inquest was immediately held, and the following testimony

     Officer GEO. BIRDSALL, sworn, says:--I was told Wm. Brown was drunk
     and was looking for Jack Williams; so soon as I heard that I started
     for the parties to prevent a collision; went into the billiard
     saloon; saw Billy Brown running around, saying if anybody had
     anything against him to show cause; he was talking in a boisterous
     manner, and officer Perry took him to the other end of the room to
     talk to him; Brown came back to me; remarked to me that he thought
     he was as good as anybody, and knew how to take care of himself; he
     passed by me and went to the bar; don't know whether he drank or
     not; Williams was at the end of the billiard-table, next to the
     stairway; Brown, after going to the bar, came back and said he was
     as good as any man in the world; he had then walked out to the end
     of the first billiard-table from the bar; I moved closer to them,
     supposing there would be a fight; as Brown drew his pistol I caught
     hold of it; he had fired one shot at Williams; don't know the effect
     of it; caught hold of him with one hand, and took hold of the pistol
     and turned it up; think he fired once after I caught hold of the
     pistol; I wrenched the pistol from him; walked to the end of the
     billiard-table and told a party that I had Brown's pistol, and to
     stop shooting; I think four shots were fired in all; after walking
     out, Mr. Foster remarked that Brown was shot dead.

Oh, there was no excitement about it--he merely "remarked" the small

Four months later the following item appeared in the same paper (the
Enterprise). In this item the name of one of the city officers above
referred to (Deputy Marshal Jack Williams) occurs again:

     ROBBERY AND DESPERATE AFFRAY.--On Tuesday night, a German named
     Charles Hurtzal, engineer in a mill at Silver City, came to this
     place, and visited the hurdy-gurdy house on B street. The music,
     dancing and Teutonic maidens awakened memories of Faderland until
     our German friend was carried away with rapture. He evidently had
     money, and was spending if freely. Late in the evening Jack
     Williams and Andy Blessington invited him down stairs to take a cup
     of coffee. Williams proposed a game of cards and went up stairs to
     procure a deck, but not finding any returned. On the stairway he
     met the German, and drawing his pistol knocked him down and rifled
     his pockets of some seventy dollars. Hurtzal dared give no alarm,
     as he was told, with a pistol at his head, if he made any noise or
     exposed them, they would blow his brains out. So effectually was he
     frightened that he made no complaint, until his friends forced him.
     Yesterday a warrant was issued, but the culprits had disappeared.

This efficient city officer, Jack Williams, had the common reputation of
being a burglar, a highwayman and a desperado. It was said that he had
several times drawn his revolver and levied money contributions on
citizens at dead of night in the public streets of Virginia.

Five months after the above item appeared, Williams was assassinated
while sitting at a card table one night; a gun was thrust through the
crack of the door and Williams dropped from his chair riddled with balls.
It was said, at the time, that Williams had been for some time aware that
a party of his own sort (desperadoes) had sworn away his life; and it was
generally believed among the people that Williams's friends and enemies
would make the assassination memorable--and useful, too--by a wholesale
destruction of each other.

It did not so happen, but still, times were not dull during the next
twenty-four hours, for within that time a woman was killed by a pistol
shot, a man was brained with a slung shot, and a man named Reeder was
also disposed of permanently. Some matters in the Enterprise account of
the killing of Reeder are worth nothing--especially the accommodating
complaisance of a Virginia justice of the peace. The italics in the
following narrative are mine:

     MORE CUTTING AND SHOOTING.--The devil seems to have again broken
     loose in our town. Pistols and guns explode and knives gleam in our
     streets as in early times. When there has been a long season of
     quiet, people are slow to wet their hands in blood; but once blood
     is spilled, cutting and shooting come easy. Night before last Jack
     Williams was assassinated, and yesterday forenoon we had more bloody
     work, growing out of the killing of Williams, and on the same street
     in which he met his death. It appears that Tom Reeder, a friend of
     Williams, and George Gumbert were talking, at the meat market of the
     latter, about the killing of Williams the previous night, when
     Reeder said it was a most cowardly act to shoot a man in such a way,
     giving him "no show." Gumbert said that Williams had "as good a
     show as he gave Billy Brown," meaning the man killed by Williams
     last March. Reeder said it was a d---d lie, that Williams had no
     show at all. At this, Gumbert drew a knife and stabbed Reeder,
     cutting him in two places in the back. One stroke of the knife cut
     into the sleeve of Reeder's coat and passed downward in a slanting
     direction through his clothing, and entered his body at the small of
     the back; another blow struck more squarely, and made a much more
     dangerous wound. Gumbert gave himself up to the officers of
     justice, and was shortly after discharged by Justice Atwill, on his
     own recognizance, to appear for trial at six o'clock in the evening.
     In the meantime Reeder had been taken into the office of Dr. Owens,
     where his wounds were properly dressed. One of his wounds was
     considered quite dangerous, and it was thought by many that it would
     prove fatal. But being considerably under the influence of liquor,
     Reeder did not feel his wounds as he otherwise would, and he got up
     and went into the street. He went to the meat market and renewed
     his quarrel with Gumbert, threatening his life. Friends tried to
     interfere to put a stop to the quarrel and get the parties away from
     each other. In the Fashion Saloon Reeder made threats against the
     life of Gumbert, saying he would kill him, and it is said that he
     requested the officers not to arrest Gumbert, as he intended to kill
     him. After these threats Gumbert went off and procured a double-
     barreled shot gun, loaded with buck-shot or revolver balls, and went
     after Reeder. Two or three persons were assisting him along the
     street, trying to get him home, and had him just in front of the
     store of Klopstock & Harris, when Gumbert came across toward him
     from the opposite side of the street with his gun. He came up
     within about ten or fifteen feet of Reeder, and called out to those
     with him to "look out! get out of the way!" and they had only time
     to heed the warning, when he fired. Reeder was at the time
     attempting to screen himself behind a large cask, which stood
     against the awning post of Klopstock & Harris's store, but some of
     the balls took effect in the lower part of his breast, and he reeled
     around forward and fell in front of the cask. Gumbert then raised
     his gun and fired the second barrel, which missed Reeder and entered
     the ground. At the time that this occurred, there were a great many
     persons on the street in the vicinity, and a number of them called
     out to Gumbert, when they saw him raise his gun, to "hold on," and
     "don't shoot!" The cutting took place about ten o'clock and the
     shooting about twelve. After the shooting the street was instantly
     crowded with the inhabitants of that part of the town, some
     appearing much excited and laughing--declaring that it looked like
     the "good old times of '60." Marshal Perry and officer Birdsall
     were near when the shooting occurred, and Gumbert was immediately
     arrested and his gun taken from him, when he was marched off to
     jail. Many persons who were attracted to the spot where this bloody
     work had just taken place, looked bewildered and seemed to be asking
     themselves what was to happen next, appearing in doubt as to whether
     the killing mania had reached its climax, or whether we were to turn
     in and have a grand killing spell, shooting whoever might have given
     us offence. It was whispered around that it was not all over yet--
     five or six more were to be killed before night. Reeder was taken
     to the Virginia City Hotel, and doctors called in to examine his
     wounds. They found that two or three balls had entered his right
     side; one of them appeared to have passed through the substance of
     the lungs, while another passed into the liver. Two balls were also
     found to have struck one of his legs. As some of the balls struck
     the cask, the wounds in Reeder's leg were probably from these,
     glancing downwards, though they might have been caused by the second
     shot fired. After being shot, Reeder said when he got on his feet--
     smiling as he spoke--"It will take better shooting than that to kill
     me." The doctors consider it almost impossible for him to recover,
     but as he has an excellent constitution he may survive,
     notwithstanding the number and dangerous character of the wounds he
     has received. The town appears to be perfectly quiet at present, as
     though the late stormy times had cleared our moral atmosphere; but
     who can tell in what quarter clouds are lowering or plots ripening?

Reeder--or at least what was left of him--survived his wounds two days!
Nothing was ever done with Gumbert.

Trial by jury is the palladium of our liberties. I do not know what a
palladium is, having never seen a palladium, but it is a good thing no
doubt at any rate. Not less than a hundred men have been murdered in
Nevada--perhaps I would be within bounds if I said three hundred--and as
far as I can learn, only two persons have suffered the death penalty
there. However, four or five who had no money and no political influence
have been punished by imprisonment--one languished in prison as much as
eight months, I think. However, I do not desire to be extravagant--it
may have been less.

However, one prophecy was verified, at any rate. It was asserted by the
desperadoes that one of their brethren (Joe McGee, a special policeman)
was known to be the conspirator chosen by lot to assassinate Williams;
and they also asserted that doom had been pronounced against McGee, and
that he would be assassinated in exactly the same manner that had been
adopted for the destruction of Williams--a prophecy which came true a
year later. After twelve months of distress (for McGee saw a fancied
assassin in every man that approached him), he made the last of many
efforts to get out of the country unwatched. He went to Carson and sat
down in a saloon to wait for the stage--it would leave at four in the
morning. But as the night waned and the crowd thinned, he grew uneasy,
and told the bar-keeper that assassins were on his track. The bar-keeper
told him to stay in the middle of the room, then, and not go near the
door, or the window by the stove. But a fatal fascination seduced him to
the neighborhood of the stove every now and then, and repeatedly the bar-
keeper brought him back to the middle of the room and warned him to
remain there. But he could not. At three in the morning he again
returned to the stove and sat down by a stranger. Before the bar-keeper
could get to him with another warning whisper, some one outside fired
through the window and riddled McGee's breast with slugs, killing him
almost instantly. By the same discharge the stranger at McGee's side
also received attentions which proved fatal in the course of two or three

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Index Index

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
Chapter XXXVI
Chapter XXXVII
Chapter XXXIX
Chapter XL
Chapter XLI
Chapter XLII
Chapter XLIII
Chapter XLIV
Chapter XLV
Chapter XLVI
Chapter XLVII
Chapter XLVIII
Chapter XLIX
Chapter L
Chapter LI
Chapter LII
Chapter LIII
Chapter LIV
Chapter LV
Chapter LVI
Chapter LVII
Chapter LVIII
Chapter LIX
Chapter LX
Chapter LXI
Chapter LXII
Chapter LXIII
Chapter LXIV
Chapter LXV
Chapter LXVI
Chapter LXVII
Chapter LXVIII
Chapter LXIX
Chapter LXX
Chapter LXXI
Chapter LXXII
Chapter LXXIII
Chapter LXXIV
Chapter LXXV
Chapter LXXVI
Chapter LXXVII
Chapter LXXIX

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