VIOLENCE ON THE ELKO ROAD - AN EVENT IN THE LIFE OF A FORMER PONY EXPRESS RIDER
James Irwin's Lonely Grave in Huntington Valley, White Pine County, Nevada
by Michael C. Bunker, all rights reserved November 16, 1999.
|The site of stage coach driver James Irwin's grave in Huntington Valley, NV. Irwin was about 33 years of age when he was shot and murdered by James Gilson in August of 1869. Photos courtesy of Mike Bunker. Click on photo to enlarge.|
Early in the summer of 1995 I stopped at El Dorado Store on US Highway 50 and met the owner Mr. Julian Goicoechea for the first time. Julian had a very interesting story to relate that was originally told to him by either Albert or Thomas Moore, some of the pioneers of Newark Valley. As best as I can recall the story went like this - “During the early days, a Pony Express rider and a stage driver (or teamster) were feuding over the same woman. One of them was killed during the fight and is buried on the hill east of Jacobs Well Station. After this tragic event the woman returned to the area and decorated the grave for about thirty years.” The remainder of the story was uncertain; the names of the feuding parties could not be recalled, and what happened to the heart-broken lady is unknown.
What had started my conversation with Julian was when I mentioned the archeological excavations that were to begin at Jacobs Well Station on the Pony Express Trail. During our conversation Julian and I couldn't reach agreement about the location of Jacobs Well. He had lived in Newark Valley, Nevada for much of his life, had owned Buck's Station, Warm Springs and other ranches in the Valley, and was familiar with the area. He insisted that Jacobs Well was located near the eastern Elko to Hamilton Stage Road, several miles from the station that I had discovered in the summer of 1992.
Upon first hearing this story I was somewhat skeptical, but being an optimistic pessimist I didn't entirely discount it. Later I saw a report about a site that was thought to be Jacobs Well Station, which had been found in the 1970s by Don Cain, a wildlife biologist for the Bureau of Land Management. Don had taken several photographs of the site, but due to the lack of accurate maps the reported location was incorrect. After some searching in May 1996 using the earlier photos, I relocated the “other” Jacobs Well Station near the intersection of the Elko Road and Pony Express Trail. The station ruin had several fragments of old telegraph insulators, and some distance away was a solitary grave located on a hill. The grave overlooked the Pony Express Trail and Huntington Valley to the north, and during that spring time when the valley was green it appeared as a splendid spot to spend eternity. There was a dressed granite base stone at the grave, with a carved slot that once held an upright marble tombstone. Alas, there was evidence the grave had been visited by vandals - the marble monument had been destroyed, such as would be the case if it was shot with a high power gun. Only white marble fragments of the tombstone were scattered around the area, and not even so much as a single letter could be found on the fragments. Two big questions remained - what was this station's name, and whose lonely grave was this?
After locating the station and grave I visited several times with Mr. and Mrs. Goicoechea, in hopes that more details might be recalled. The same general story was related to me at least once during those visits, but additional information couldn't be provided by those kind folks.
MORE OF THE STORY - THE TALE BECOMES HISTORY
While researching another subject in old newspaper files, I stumbled across accounts of an early violent event in White Pine County. On the evening of the 29th of August in 1869 a well-known stage driver was shot by another man during an affray in the bar at Warm Springs Station on the Elko road in Newark Valley. One newspaper account stated the problem started over a woman, and due to an interest by both men threats had been spoken. Another possible cause of ill feelings was the stage driver reportedly had accused the other man of being involved in recent stage robberies near Pancake Mountain.
It was reported that angry words were muttered in the bar-room, when the stage driver fired his gun first and the only lamp in the room was extinguished by the blast. A series of gun shots followed in the darkened bar room and the stage driver received a mortal wound near his jaw. The survivor of the affray surrendered later to the authorities and was incarcerated at Hamilton while investigations took place, but was eventually discharged because the evidence pointed to self-defense.
Who were they? The survivor was James Gilson, who with his brother Samuel, were both riders for the Pony Express. After the Pony Express ceased operations James and Samuel settled near Austin, then in 1866 they moved to the area that is currently known as Newark Valley. In 1869 another brother John W. Gilson was the proprietor of Warm Springs Station, and a sister, Mrs. Lowe worked at that station. James was involved in the livestock business, and was reported to own the oldest G brand for cattle in Lander County. The Gilson brothers apparently were influential people in these early days. On maps prepared in the 1860s Newark Valley was shown as Gilson Valley, and the stream from Warm Springs was named Gilson' s Run. In the spring of 1869 the shortest stage and freight road between Elko and Hamilton was constructed by Gilson and was known as the Gilson Toll Road or Gilson Turnpike. James also was the proprietor of Gibson's Station, a stage stop located about fifteen miles south of Warm Springs.
The loser in the battle was James Irwin, a stage driver for William C. "Hill" Beachey' s company. According to a report in the Elko Independent newspaper he was about 33 years old and was a native of Ashland County, Ohio. After the shooting Irwin was taken north on the stage to Telegraph Station in Huntington Valley where he died five or six hours later, early in the morning on August 30th. He was buried near Telegraph Station, and it was reported that Hill Beachey planned to mark the grave with a fancy tombstone.
Whether or not a woman was involved in this violent incident remains unknown, perhaps because in those more chivalrous times a woman's name and honor was protected. Or it could be as the writer for The Daily Inland Empire newspaper inferred, that a woman being at the bottom of a feud, was one of the common rumors afloat concerning any violent incident. Since other parts of the story related by Mr. Goicoechea match historical accounts, it could indeed be true this lonely grave was decorated for many years by a forlorn lover.
Tuesday, 8/31/1869 DIE 3-2
at the Warm Springs, on the
Elko Road--- James Irwin, a Well
Known Stage Driver, Shot and
Killed by James Gilson, Proprietor
of Gibson's Station.
James Irwin, a well known stage driver, for some time in the employ of Hill Beachey, both here and in Idaho, was shot and mortally wounded at the Warm Springs on the Elko road, forty miles north of this city, on Sunday evening last, by James Gilson, proprietor of Gibson's Station. Full particulars have not yet reached this city, and the following is about all we have been able to glean in relation to the affair: At the usual hour on Sunday, Irwin drove one of Beachey' s stages out of this city. Arriving at Gibson's Station, Gilson came out and asked the privilege of riding down to the Warm Springs, fifteen miles. His request was granted, and the two together occupied the driver's seat. On the way, as the account has it, angry words were passed between them, but the exact nature of the quarrel, or what gave rise to it, no one as yet seems to know. Some say, however, that an old feud existed between the parties, and that there was, as usual, a woman at the bottom of it. Of course, we cannot vouch for the truth of this, and give it only as one of the many rumors afloat connected with the tragic affair. On reaching the Warm Springs station, and while the horses were being changed, the two entered the bar-room, where more harsh language was indulged in, and soon the shooting commenced. Irwin, according to such meager accounts as have reached us, fired the first shot, but without effect. Gilson immediately returned the fire, the ball taking effect in Irwin's neck. Outside parties interfering, the affair was quickly ended. Irwin was not killed instantly, but being placed on the stage was sent down to the Telegraph Station, where it is reported he died a few hours later. Gilson came into this city yesterday morning by stage, and giving himself up to the officers, was locked up in the Station-house. He appears especially reticent about the whole matter, and gives but a very imperfect account as to the immediate cause of the difficulty. Parties have been dispatched by the authorities to the scene of the tragedy, and we will probably be able to give full particulars tomorrow.
Wednesday, 9/1/1869 DIE 3-1
MORE ABOUT THE HOMICIDE -- In the absence of positive information concerning the late homicide at the Warm Springs, on the Elko road, there are still a thousand rumors current in this city relative to the affair. One is -- and about the correctness of this there can be little doubt -- that Irwin had received warning on one or more occasions through anonymous letters to quit the road, or failing in which, he was certain to be murdered. We believe some of the authorities were similarly cautioned concerning his safety, by a dispatch from Jacobs' Wells, some weeks ago. It is said that about the time of the late robbery of Wells, Fargo & Co.'s stage, on Pancake Mountain, Irwin expressed himself pretty freely in regard to certain parties on the road, and for that reason incurred their lasting and bitter enmity. Whether any of these matters were in any manner connected with the killing, we cannot say, but, certain it is, that there was much ill feeling toward Irwin in certain quarters along the road. We now hear that that [sic] Irwin lived five hours after receiving the fatal wound. None of the authorities have gone out yet to investigate the affair, but some of them will probably go to-day. Meantime, Gilson is still in custody, and will have an examination next Monday. The above facts we give as related to us by reliable parties, not wishing, however, to prejudice the claims of any one.
Saturday, 9/4/1869 WPN 3-3
THE HOMICIDE AT WARM SPRINGS STATION. -- The Elko Independent has the following in addition to our account of the killing of James Irwin last Sunday night:
Soon after Gilson and Irwin went into the house, several shots were fired in rapid succession, and when the passengers got out and entered the house, they found Irwin on the floor, bleeding profusely from a wound in the head, which proved fatal in a short time. After the shooting, Gilson left the house declaring that he would not be arrested, and no attempt was made to secure him. Irwin was put on the stage and brought to the next station, where he lingered until Monday morning, at 3 o'clock, when he expired. It seems he was hit but once, the ball striking the forward part of the jaw on the left side, and ranging back and into the lower part of the skull. There seems to be some mystery about the whole transaction, not yet explained, but which will doubtless come to light upon the trial of the case. It seems to be the opinion of persons connected with the stage line, that it was a premeditated, deliberated and cold-blooded murder, committed to seal Irwin's lips in regard to certain matters which would not stand the light of legal investigation. It is said that Gilson had threatened to take the life of Irwin several times before, on account of his having furnished certain information to the stage companies running between here and White Pine, that a plot was on foot to rob them, in which Gilson was concerned. Others state that some ill feeling existed from other causes. There was no one present in the house to witness the shooting except the sister of Gilson, and her son, who state that Irwin fired the first shot; but all other accounts agree that he was unarmed.
James Irwin was a native of Ashland County, Ohio, and was about thirty-three years of age at the time of his death. He had been in the employ of Hill Beachey for about four years, and was a steady and trustworthy man. He was buried near Telegraph Station, and we understand that it is Hill Beachey' s intention to mark the grave with a handsome tombstone.
et. al. Research conducted by Mike Bunker, Ely, Nevada
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