TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a three-part series. Visit www.tahoedailytribune.com to read the first installment, click here.
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.
The nearby resort community of Tahoe City managed to avoid the chaos, but Truckee’s saloons and back alleys were rife with transient toughs and increasing vigilantism. The frequent 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.
TEETER TAKES OVER
Truckee’s first constable was Arthur Andrus, appointed in 1867 by the Nevada County Board of Supervisors. Andrus served less than a year before 26-year-old Jacob “Jake” Teeter took over as constable of Meadow Lake Township, which included the eastern portion of Nevada County and the town of Truckee. Officer Teeter would hold the position of constable or deputy sheriff for nearly 24 years until his death in a gunfight with another Truckee lawman in 1891.
Hailing from New Jersey, Teeter arrived in Truckee when it was still called Gray’s Toll Station and Coburn’s Station. Teeter and his wife Margaret owned a home near Truckee’s commercial district, where they lived and ultimately raised their five children. The family also had a house on Donner Lake where they rented boats during the summer tourist season. With the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad in the late 1860s, the town of Truckee went through an economic boom as a logging and railroad center. By April 1868, when the small mountain community officially changed its name to Truckee, there were more than 170 buildings, 25 of them being saloons. At the 1870 census, the town had 1,675 full time residents.
The logging and railroad industries provided jobs for thousands of men, but along with the transient workers came increased lawlessness and street violence. Truckee’s saloons, poker parlors and red light district behind Commercial Row on Jibboom Street lured unsavory characters of all stripes.
Despite the daily threat from armed criminals prowling Truckee’s streets and outskirts, Constable Teeter usually wielded a wooden pick ax handle instead of a gun, saying that it was quicker to use and less likely to misfire. He wasn’t afraid to confront the bad actors who drifted in and out of town, but he was considered fair and even-handed in his adjudication of justice.
His sound judgment came into play with the first murder he encountered.
In 1868 Charles Hamilton was found dead on the road leading to the Truckee Cemetery, Teeter arrested a Chinese railroad employee after finding him in possession of Hamilton’s watch. Chinese were regularly persecuted at the time, but the level-headed lawman considered the evidence insufficient to hold Central Pacific laborer Ah Niew for trial. Teeter’s restrained action was validated seven years later when he found out that the infamous Sierra outlaw “Tarantula Bill” was responsible for the dastardly deed.
Jake Teeter’s often courageous confrontations with criminals are the stuff of legend. In September 1877, he encountered a trio of men suspected of robbing a town merchant.
Searching behind the Truckee sawmill Teeter was able to surprise the three robbers while they were dividing up the stolen loot. One of the gang pulled a pistol on the officer, but Teeter quickly hit him in the head with his three-foot long club. Dazed and bleeding the crook managed to get to his feet, still holding his gun. Teeter’s next blow, however, was more persuasive as the man fell to the ground unresponsive, losing the revolver in the process. Teeter calmly picked up the gun, stuck it in his waistband, and ordered the other two accomplices to surrender. The incident was witnessed by a crowd of locals who cheered Teeter on as he marched his prisoners off to the Truckee jail.
Despite Officer Teeter’s popularity among most of the townspeople, there was an element of the community that found him troublesome. Truckee’s local vigilante movement, known as the “601,” preferred to deal with miscreants in their own fashion. That usually meant escorting undesirables out to the so-called “Hooligan Rocks” where they would painfully tar and feather the criminals and then force them out of town with the threat of a hanging if they returned.
The 601 membership was secret, but it included many of Truckee’s upstanding citizens and leading businessmen who wore masks to hide their identity during these extralegal activities. There were times when the 601 vigilantes broke into the jail to fulfill their version of justice, but when Jake Teeter was on duty, there was no abduction of prisoners by anyone. The constable’s strong adherence to lawful justice would lead to one of Truckee’s most sensational gun fights.
Stay tuned for Part 3.
Thanks to Truckee-based researchers and writers Guy Coates, Ed McMills and Gordon Richards for their work building the foundation to this story.
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.
Jake Teeter’s often courageous confrontations with criminals are the stuff of legend.