All Hell Breaks Loose
Guard Ed Langlois was relaxing on his day off when he heard screams coming from the prison yard. Muffled sounds of pop, pop, pop came to him as well. He stepped into his quarters where he grabbed his rifle and six shooter. He filled his pockets with cartridges. He stepped out of his quarters and ran into the yard. He was known as a brave man and his actions over the next 15 minutes would attest to that reputation. Another off duty guard, F.M. Isaacs saw Langlois in the fight. Not having his own weapon and knowing it would be very dangerous to try and get it, he, ran up behind him and took Ed’s rifle so he could join the fight. He backed off about 30 paces from the guard room window. Inside he saw several prisoners trying to break out. He did not recognize any of them. He saw two standing on the front porch of the prison shooting at anything that did not look like a convict. He could not tell who it was because it was nearly dark. He fought bravely this hour. His shots were very effective. Close by, Langlois, after reloading and firing several times, ran out of bullets. For some reason he grabbed a club and ran into the midst of the fleeing convicts.
Nearby, Matt Pixley and his wife were finishing their supper at the Warm Springs Hotel. Although adjacent to the Nevada State Prison, the hotel was in a very peaceful setting. So they were naturally astounded to hear a tremendous commotion in the courtyard, along with terrible, frightening screams. Pixley told his wife to lock herself in their bedroom. He’d go see what was happening. He quickly peered through the window and was amazed to see convicts scurrying about the courtyard with the Warden’s daughter, Jennie, in the middle of it all. He immediately realized an escape attempt was underway. Running across his living room, he grabbed two pistols from the bureau drawer. “Damn,” he thought, “why don’t I keep these loaded.” He emptied a box of cartridges on the table and quickly loaded each one. He headed towards the front door knowing he had to rescue Jennie. He was a very brave man. His timing could not have been worse.
He exited the door and stood on the porch trying to determine his next move. Still inside the prison, Charles Jones shattered a window with his rifle barrel. In the fading light he saw a man with two pistols in his hand on the Warm Springs Hotel porch.
“That just won’t do,” Charlie thought. He raised his weapon and sighted on Pixley.
Thomas Flynn had already exited the prison and likewise saw someone on the hotel porch with pistols in hand. He also realized this threat to himself and the others. He made sure a cartridge was in the chamber and sighted in on Pixely as well. Two shots rang out. A bullet caught Pixley just below the left eye, knocking him back into the hotel wall killing him instantly. No one ever knew for sure whether Jones or Flynn fired the fatal shot. It really didn’t matter; a brave young man lay dead on the hotel steps. It was reported that the grief displayed by his young wife at seeing his lifeless body was “heart rending.” Jones chambered another round. Flynn reloaded. The peaceful early evening surrounding the prison had been entirely disrupted.
Off duty guards dropped what they were doing and came to join the fight. The Warm Springs Hotel bartender, Burgesser, heard the gunshots. He headed to the window to see what was going on. He was sickened by the sight of Pixley dead on the porch. He grabbed the double barrel shotgun along with a box of shells from beneath the bar and entered the fight. Matt had been his friend. He was immediately grazed in each ear by two errant shots. He fought on. A third shot tore into the crotch of his pantaloons, ripping away the whole seat of his pants as well as his drawers. Drafty, but undaunted, he continued to battle back.
Convict Ed Goyette didn’t know what to do. Did he take advantage of this turmoil and slip out? Or did he lay low and stay here? In the midst of this thought he saw the Warden’s daughter Jennie. The little girl was holding her hands over her face as if to shelter her from all that was happening. Bullets were flying everywhere. Fate took over. Goyette ran to the child and swept her up in his arms and carried her to a safe place. Gunfire in the yard was brutal. Burgesser saw Isaacs go down. He knew the man would not survive in the open. He rushed over to the fallen guard to render assistance. Goyette also saw Isaacs’ situation was extremely dangerous. He worked his way over to help the bartender drag the wounded man to cover.
Johnny Newhouse, another guard, heard all the noise and was happy to join in the gun battle with no regard for his own safety. With a pistol in each hand, he was really having a great time. He took a bead on a striped figure trying to escape across the yard. Newhouse rose up to fire again and was hit both in the upper back and the back of the head. The force of the slugs knocked him off his feet. On the ground and losing consciousness, he was no longer a threat to the escapees. Hanging around outside the prison, Joseph Parasich, another guard, could not help but hear the gun fire erupting and the screaming coming from inside.
Joe ran across to the Warm Springs Hotel. He searched around for a weapon. He located a revolver and a box of cartridges. He quickly loaded it. He stuck more bullets in his pockets. He ducked out the hotel and entered the yard with his gun blazing. He could see the results of his fire taking place. Suddenly he was sickened by the sound of a ball hitting him in the groin. The bullet traveled some distance in fleshy tissue and lodged between the femur bone and nearby artery. Luckily it didn’t severe the artery. His wound was very bad. He writhed in agony near the prison door.
Langlois, the brave Frenchman, along with Burgesser were the only deterrents remaining. Neither had any ammunition left. Langlois had been grazed by so many balls that his clothing had been cut to shreds. Realizing their fight was futile, they entered the prison to see what assistant they could render there.
Jones, the barrel of his Henry rifle hot to the touch, rested the gun on his shoulder. Behind him, Morton and Black noticed the absence of gunfire. It was apparent to these murderous men that there was no one left to stop them from simply walking out. Many of the other prisoners had no stomach for the killing and fighting that had been taking place. They had kept safe in the cover of the prison until seeing it was prudent to leave. They now realized that there was no one left to stop them from walking right out and into the darkness.
Jones managed to remove his irons. As he shuffled along outside the prison, he casually glanced down at Pixley. He smiled for a moment. “Better him than me!” Charlie saw Newhouse and Isaacs badly wounded. He didn’t like seeing these men in their present condition. Another prisoner, Pruitt, watching from across the yard, saw Jones walking over to Newhouse. He couldn’t believe it when Jones pointed the muzzle of the rifle at the wounded man’s head. With his finger on the hammer, he moved it back so it was ready to fire. Pruitt wanted to yell or something, he was simply in shock that a man would do such a thing. Jones was about to put Newhouse out of his misery. To Pruitt’s relief, another convict grabbed the barrel and moved it away from the man’s head.
“That man fought bravely. If his wounds kill him, that’s one thing, but to shoot him like a dog is wrong. Besides, you might need the ammunition later today or tomorrow.”
Prone on the ground Newhouse barely understands what had just transpired. Fate has stepped in and neither he nor Isaacs would be assassinated tonight. Pruitt shook his head.
Nearly twenty-five men smiled wearily as they trudged away from that horrible place. Soon several men in small groups or by themselves split off from the main party. They would find their own way. The main body of men turned to the right so they would reach the Carson River. When the party reached the water, it had thinned considerably. At Clifford’s suggestion the group rose up and headed south up the river. It was around 9:30 pm when they approached the cabin at what was called the Mexican Dam. It was quiet, but the escapes were very weary. Clifford and Jones huddled together for a moment.
Then Clifford stood up. “I need three men to go up and see who’s at the cabin.”
“I’m game,” said Burke
“Me too,” Flynn said.
“I’m with ya,” said Squires.
“Give me a whistle when the coast is clear.”
The three men went ahead to make sure it was safe for the rest of them. Seeing a light in the cabin, these scouts quietly crept toward the cabin. Suddenly a dog barked a warning. The men froze. The cabin door swung open and a tall man peered outside. The hound continued his barking.
“Quit that barkin dog,” yelled the figure in the doorway. The big hound, his tail waggin away, stopped as commanded to do so by his master. The man walked outside. The scouts saw he was unarmed.
“Anyone out here,” inquired the man?
“Good evening there partner, no need to be concerned, we don’t mean you any harm,” Burke called to the man.
A shrill whistle brought the other men to the cabin. It was home to a blacksmith that made his living tending to the needs of the local ranchers and teamsters in the region. Six of the convicts had not yet been able to get out of their chains.
“Obviously, we’re in a lot of trouble,” said Clifford. “Some of these men need to get their irons off. I need you to get that done.”
“I reckon I can get that done,” said the big man. “Follow me on down to the shop.”
The blacksmith was followed to his shop by the six men still shackled. Some of the others sat and rested. A couple entered the cabin to see what they might be able to use. At the shop the big fella gathered up his chisel and a small sledge hammer. He pointed to his anvil.
“Here,” he said to young Roberts, the first man in line, “put you wrist up there.”
The boy nervously followed his instruction. The blacksmith turned a chain link to the position he wanted. His huge muscles bulged and a single swing of the hammer split the chain link. The boy pulled his arm free and rubbed his sore wrist. He was pleased.
“Thanks mister,” said Roberts.
“No problem son. All right, who’s next?”
In less than 20, the men were free. It was around midnight when the men rose up as a unit and slowly disappeared into the night. When the main body of men left the Mexican Dam, they all traveled down stream. About a half mile below the dam, they crossed the river. They moved away from the water and up a hill in an easterly direction. After awhile one man suggested splitting into smaller parties so it would be harder for a posse to track them. It was agreed that this was a good idea.
After awhile only 10 remained. This group was composed of Clifford, Parsons, Roth, Chapman, Burke, Jones, Morton, Black, Cockerell and Roberts. No one moved.
“All right,” said Jones, assuming command, “let’s get out of here.”
A few miles into the Pine Nut range, Morton stopped the party. He turned to Jones and loudly demanded to know when they would turn and head straight toward Bishop Creek. Jones had told him they would be able to get help from his friends there. Back in prison Charlie had shared letters with Lea from a Mrs. Hutchinson, who lived in Bishop Creek. Jones said that this lady and other friends he had there would help him once he got there. Jones looked around the group of men in the party.
He did not like the way Morton brought up the current topic of discussion. The last thing he wanted was for these men to know anything about what he had in mind. Realizing he has to answer Morton’s question, Jones purposely said he was pretty sure they were close to the turn off point. The “pretty sure” comment got the response he wanted from many of the men in the group.
“Hell”, Parsons said, “Bishop Creek’s a long ways off!”
“If you’re not sure, I’m not going that way,” added Roth.
Several others uttered an agreement.
“I don’t care who comes with me,” Jones sneered. “If most of you were dead or dying back there it wouldn’t bother me.”
Parsons and Roth looked at each other in utter amazement. Chapman mumbled something to Clifford.
“Lighten up Charlie,” said Lea. “We’re in this together.”
“I wasn’t talking about you Lea,” replied Jones. “I know I can count on you. You were blazing away back there. Others were too. But I don’t recall seeing any of them over there until the gun fire stopped.”
Parsons and Clifford took great offense at this comment. Roth was standing apart with Roberts. Clifford turned towards Charlie and said:
“Sorry ya feel that way Charlie. I got myself shot and Parsons was wounded too. I’m not sure you know what you’re talking about. But hey, no hard feelings. I wish you luck.”
With that said he turned and addressed the others.
“A friend of mine has a ranch, not too far away from here. We can be there in a couple days. It’s a hell of lot closer than Bishop Creek. Anyone that wants to come with me is welcome.”
“I’m with you Frank,” mumbled Roth.
“Me too,” said Parsons.
“Count me in,” Chapman said.
No one else said a word. With that Clifford started off into the darkness. Chapman, Parsons, Roberts and Roth turned and followed him.
The “Jones Gang” at this point included Morton, Cockerell, Black and Burke. After Roberts moved away with Clifford’s bunch, Cockerell yelled after him.
“Hey, Bedford, don’t go along with them. Charlie’s got a great plan. Get back here!”
Roberts heard him. Tilden Cockerell was a very good friend of Roberts’ dad Chat. Chat had a stage station in Long Valley near Susanville, California. He knew the boy looked forward to robbing stages. When just 17, he and Charles Beaver, who was even younger, stopped a coach. After demanding the driver throw down his shotgun, Beaver kept a shaky six shooter on the coach. Roberts dismounted to take whatever he could get from the passengers. As the heist was unfolding, the driver correctly read the characters behind the masks as completely inexperienced highway men.
While the outlaws were busy with their quarry, the driver slowly and carefully reached for the concealed Derringer located in his breast pocket. Fingering the tiny weapon, in one quick motion he drew, cocked and fired the weapon. The shot hit young Charles, knocking him off his mount. The gunfire spooked both horses. They ran off into the darkness. While the driver reloaded, Roberts fled the scene. His gravely wounded accomplice was left to die in the sagebrush or be captured. The horses had not run far. Roberts retrieved his mount about 50 yards from the coach. It was then he realized he had dropped the stolen loot. Stepping aboard his horse, he gathered up the reigns of his companion’s mount and went home. Beaver survived and turned in Roberts. He mulled over what Tilden had been saying. “Why not tie in with guys that seemed to have a plan.”
He turned around and walked with his mentor back to join the Jones’ gang.