In the second half of the 19th century, the rough and tumble town of Truckee endured many years of shoot outs, bar brawls and frequent street fights.
Truckee’s saloons and back alleys were rife with transient toughs and increasing vigilantism. The violence that marred Truckee’s reputation in its earliest decades required lawmen with nerves of steel and strong will. Men like that were hard to come by, but early Truckee residents were protected by some of the best in the West.
LIST OF LUMINARIES
The list of Truckee’s earliest constables includes such luminaries as Jacob Teeter, Jake Cross and James Reed. These men were dedicated to duty and often went beyond the call to safeguard the Truckee community against criminal violence.
The role of Constable was an elected position and over the years Teeter and Reed often ran against each other for the office. By all accounts the men had a seemingly professional relationship, but underneath there was tension simmering between them. An incident in 1876 also shed light on an important philosophical difference between Teeter and Reed.
It was widely believed Reed was an active member of the infamous “601” vigilante organization and the Caucasian League. Backed by many of Truckee’s citizens, the “601” was against Central Pacific Railroad employing thousands of low wage Chinese laborers and their foreign culture. The “601” members believed the main problem was bad immigration law.
The men in this self-appointed group were often leading citizens and businessmen who kept their identities secret as they preferred to act outside the law. That usually meant threatening Chinese residents and transient railroad employees with violence if they didn’t leave town. The same treatment went for any other character deemed undesirable by the “601,” but much of the focus was against the Chinese presence. Those who failed to heed the threats were beaten and sometimes tarred and feathered near Hooligan Rocks just west of town.
Teeter, however, was strongly against the illegal actions of the “601” and actively protected jailed prisoners and others at risk from vigilantes. On June 21, 1876, members of the “601” set fire to a wooden bunkhouse while Chinese laborers were asleep inside. As the terrified workmen fled the smoke and flames, the “601” were waiting for them with a barrage of gunfire. Nearly every Chinese man, all employed as a lumber cutters for Truckee pioneer Joseph Gray, was injured in the hail of bullets. One worker, Ah Ling, was killed by a shotgun owned by James Reed. Teeter arrested Reed and six others in the so-called “Trout Creek Outrage,” but they were all acquitted for lack of evidence. The encounter put Reed and the “601” on notice that Teeter wouldn’t back down.
It is believed their political feud grew more personal during the 1890 campaign for Constable, which Teeter won by a narrow margin. The animosity led the two men to stop speaking to one another, no small feat for two well-known lawmen in a little railroad town like Truckee. One year after the election, Reed and Teeter suddenly ran into each other in Hurd’s Saloon, located in the Capitol Building on Truckee’s Commercial Row.
It was a chilly evening on Nov. 6, 1891, and Teeter had been drinking at the bar when Reed walked through the door with some friends. Teeter said something to the new arrivals. Heated words were exchanged before a scuffle broke out between Teeter and Reed. Before they were separated, Deputy Sheriff Reed had disarmed the town constable. Enraged, Teeter went home to re-arm himself, returning to the saloon with two loaded pistols.
Reed had spent the time wisely and was now packing his own six-shooter. Both lawmen were known for their handgun skills. When Teeter returned to the saloon he approached the bar and advanced on Reed without a word. At a distance of 10 feet, he fired at Reed, but amazingly missed. Maybe it was the whiskey Teeter had been drinking that night that corrupted his aim, but Reed didn’t hesitate and he quickly pumped four slugs into his adversary at close range. Critically injured, Jake Teeter was cared for by Truckee’s two physicians, but died at 10:30 the following morning.
James Reed turned himself in to Deputy Constable C.W. Long, but he wasn’t jailed. He retained Truckee’s leading attorney Charles McGlashan as his representation. The following day, the coroner’s inquest determined that Reed had shot Teeter in self defense and the eight-man jury and the coroner signed off on his release. The killing spawned several theories as to the possible motive for Jacob Teeter’s death, but ultimately the town of Truckee lost a loyal, honorable Constable and professional lawman. His grave at the Truckee Cemetery is marked by a large tombstone.
Thanks to Truckee-based researchers and writers Guy Coates, Ed McMills and Gordon Richards for their work building the foundation to this story. Check out the Old Truckee Jail museum on Jibboom Street for the current exhibit on Jake Teeter and Truckee law enforcement.
Tahoe historian Mark McLaughlin is a nationally published author and professional speaker. His award-winning books are available at stores or at www.thestormking.com. Mark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out Marks blog: www.tahoenuggets.com.