Chapter 7, Part 1: The Gunslinger
Mining attracted some colorful characters to Nevada, and one was the gunman, Jack Longstreet. He drifted into the northern Arizona Territory in 1880, but not much is known about him prior to that point in his life. Except that he came from Kentucky, by way of Texas, which accounted for his soft, southern drawl. And he was born in the mid-1830s, probably 1834. And his full name was Andrew Jackson Longstreet.
He stood nearly six feet tall, was large of build, and carried a piece on his hip; a long-barreled Colt .44 with five notches scratched on it. And he was reputed to be quick and accurate with that revolver.
He was educated also, as evident by the fact that he could read and write. This was uncommon for men of the West, at that time.
He always kept his hair long and straggly, hanging over his ears. That was to hide the fact that he had a missing ear. Back in his days of youth, he ran with a band of cattle rustlers in Texas. One day they were caught by some local vigilantes, who strung them all up except Jack. They spared the boy, due to his young age. But to teach him a lesson about the evils of cattle rustling, they cut off one of his ears. Jack kept his hair long, thereafter.
In 1880, at about the age of 46, Longstreet tried his hand at mining, in Northern Arizona. He also took a liking to the local Southern Paiute Indians, learned their language, and made one of them his wife. This was at a time when there was much prejudice against Indians, but Longstreet didn’t give a damn. And nobody dared cross him. By the time he took this wife, Jack was widely recognized as a tough and dangerous gunslinger, and was reputed to have killed several men.
Two years later, he drifted on up to Moapa, Nevada, about 50 miles northeast of present-day Las Vegas. There he opened a saloon and drug store. But Jack had itchy feet. Or maybe he was trying to stay ahead of the law. In 1888 he ventured up to Beatty, Nevada, just north of the Amargosa Valley.
Then in 1889, he picked up stakes and moved again, about 60 miles northwest, to the silver mining boom town of Sylvania. Sylvania straddled the California and Nevada border. And here, in this future ghost town, he found trouble of the Old West style.
In spite of his rough-hewn physical exterior, Jack Longstreet usually behaved like a Southern gentleman, with very courtly, perhaps overly courtly, hospitable mannerisms. And he carried within his inner constitution, a strong moral code. But he was also short-tempered and never a man to back down from a fight. Especially if he thought someone was being cheated.
He frequently mingled with the Paiute Indians, and spoke their tongue, and so it must have been from them that he learned of a great injustice perpetrated upon the red man. It seems the foreman of the Sylvania Mine employed Paiutes, but was paying them in the mine’s own scrip, which was nearly worthless.
So the quick-tempered Longstreet took it upon himself to rectify this unfortunate situation.
He kidnapped the foreman, and under threat of lead poisoning, or perhaps a lynching, he forced the rogue to write checks of value to his employees, drawn on a local bank. The local Paiutes were properly paid, and Jack became their hero.
But the local law wasn’t so impressed, so Jack thought it best to leave Sylvania and mosey back down to the Amargosa Valley. At that time, the Amargosa Valley was a hideout for all sorts of outlaws, desperadoes, and ne’er-do-wells on the lam. Lawmen kind of avoided the place, as it was dangerous for them. And few lawmen had the guts to take on Longstreet.
This is the latest installation of my series, The Amazing Amargosa. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 7, Part 2: The Claim Jumpers . Click here to read the previous installation. Click here, to start at the beginning.