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The first thing most people hear about Pioche usually concerns its rough-and-tumble roots. From the start, this town was one of the wildest settlements on the frontier. It is said that 72 men met a violent death before a single person died of natural causes. In the 1870s, the newspaper even congratulated residents when the town went 60 days without a murder.


The discovery of rich deposits of silver ore in 1864 began to put a Nevada community on the map. But it wasn’t until 1870, that it became known as Pioche. It was that year that F. L. A. Pioche began mining operations in earnest—for that effort, the community was affixed with his name.


By 1872, more than $5 million in ore was extracted from the Pioche mines.


The town had began with a small population of 250 residents, but when the news of huge silver deposits spread, Pioche soon swelled to about 10,000 souls. Many undesirables—claim jumpers, card sharps, and soiled doves—flooded the area. Their main forte was to separate miners from their money.

Sometime during the peak of Pioche’s boom, Athe Meeks, returning from delivering a load of timbers to a mine, was suddenly startled by two men with weapons drawn. The pair rushed out in front and forced Meeks’ mules to a stop. The highwaymen ordered him to show his hands, but he would have none of it; instead he pulled his six-shooter and shot Al Miller, one of the would-be robbers, dead. The second desperado, known as Little Frank, fired a wild shot at Meeks. He returned the favor, and his shot hit its target—Little Frank was found a little way down the road, also dead.


Although most times it was the bandits who came out on top, this was just one of the scenarios that played out between robbers, cattle rustlers and horse thieves, and those delivering their goods to customers in Pioche.

Many of the peddlers carrying their ware to Pioche were Mormons from Utah. Newly formed Nevada had financial wealth from gold and silver holdings, but lacked for almost everything else. Utah had an abundance of produce, meat products, and a sundry of other items needed in nearby Pioche, so what could be better?


However, no matter how promising this idyllic financial position appeared, the Mormon peddlers from Utah crossed into Nevada en route to Pioche under threat of being waylaid by robbers.


The freighters and coach drivers were often unaware of thieves concealed among a clump of trees, until they jumped out with guns in hand. But those who made it through the gauntlet to Pioche found success. Pioche had the most ravenous appetite for goods of all the Nevada mining camps inside the reach of southern Utah.


And as such, it drew purveyors of myriad supplies from the Utah counties of Beaver, Iron, Millard, and Washington. It was a daily spectacle of wheeled conveyances coming to town: immense freight wagons with long processions of freight animals were seen unloading goods at the various stores, and stagecoaches carrying payrolls lined the main street.

Pioche became the perfect place for road agents who knew when traders’ wagons were empty, their pockets full of proceeds, and they were setting off for home. The criminals were also somehow privy as to when a stagecoach was heading into town, with treasure boxes full of gold coin.


One of those skulking the route was Charles A. “Jack” Harris. Harris’ specialty was robbing Wells Fargo & Company stages. The stagecoaches carried large payrolls of hard currency with which to pay employees of the mines and other businesses. Harris had his repertoire down to a science; he would come out of the shadows without warning and ambush a stage en route to Pioche. After ordering the stage to stop, he sent them on their way unharmed, minus the payroll. It was all so smooth a transfer he rarely needed a gun. Armed with the highwayman’s description, the Wells Fargo station agent was sure the culprit was Harris.


Recognizing they could not catch him in the act, Wells Fargo came up with the solution to deter these robberies. Offer Harris a payment, paid weekly—the stipulation being he be present at the Wells Fargo Office as each stage arrived. Those payments would be cheaper than losing the contents of each strongbox hijacked.


Harris agreed—he appeared at the office just before the stage rolled into town. But the robberies still continued. Harris had discovered a short cut back to Pioche after he held up the stage.

The city had 72 saloons, 32 brothels, two theaters, two breweries, two gravity-fed water systems with street mains and fire plugs, two fire companies, and a livery stable maintaining 300 horses. By the early 1870s, Pioche had become one of the largest and most important silver mining towns in Nevada.


Crime and murder ran so rampant that Boot Hill cemetery was established to entomb these scoundrels and immortalize this Old West legend. It includes “Murderer’s Row,” a section of the cemetery set apart from the others, containing the graves of over 100 murderers.

Many are unmarked, adding to the mystique of this rugged community, while many others include some fascinating grave markers describing their crime and cause of death. One inscription read, “Morgan Courtney: Feared by some, respected by few, detested by others. Shot in the back five times from ambush,” while another read, “John B. Lynch: Shot during dispute over a dog.”


As with many mining communities, Pioche’s life span was short lived - by 1886, the boom ended, leaving Pioche nearly empty, a mere shadow of itself. By 1900 it nearly became a ghost town.


Pioche earned its reputation as the "most lawless camp" in the old west—rivaling even Tombstone in Arizona.

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