They Tried to Lynch Him
Halleck, Nevada - 1888

Old time gambler William Haseltine sat on a hill overlooking Halleck. He did it frequently. Enjoyed watching the valley and its activities. He could see south all the way to now closed Fort Halleck at the foot of the Ruby Mountains. Poplar trees marked the quadrangle, now leafless in November. Below him, looking like a little creek, the weary Humboldt River slowly eased by town.

As he put it, “It’s a fair spot to rest a man’s bones.”

It was slow around town. Uncle Billy, as everyone called him, looked down at the twenty or so buildings around the McCain hotel and the railroad depot. He saw Gus Richards, one of the Glaser Ranch hands, ride up, tie his horse to the hotel hitching rail, and disappear into the bar. Uncle Billy surmised that Gus might be looking for a game of poker. The gambler stood, dusted himself off, and walked down to the hotel.

As Haseltine pushed open the saloon door, Richards said, “How about a little game?”

In his pocket Gus had his summer pay. He planned to take the old geezer for enough gold to spend the winter in Elko in comfort. But it didn’t work out that way. Uncle Billy, with decades of gambling experience, soon had all of Gus’ money. The gambler casually flipped a coin to Richards commenting that a chap has to eat.

Through his anger, Gus had decided to beat the heck out of Uncle Billy who was 40 years his senior and smaller. Gus was ready to pounce when Ed Kelly, the McCain ranch foreman, walked in. Richards stood and stormed out, slamming the door.

Ed said, “Better look twice behind you for a while. That hombre’s a grudge holder.”

After dark, Billy headed for his room at the McCain’s house. As he stepped on the landing outside his quarters, everything went black. When he regained consciousness, the gambler was in a world of hurt. A huge bump on his head, bleeding profusely, hurt like the dickens. The doctor who attended him found a couple of broken ribs and lots of bruises. The old codger was lucky to be alive. It goes without saying that his pockets were now empty.

The Elko Independent editor railed at the brutal beating and robbing of the old man. He demanded that the “wretch may be arrested and brought to speedy justice.” He added that if the thug had been caught leaving town that the citizens of Halleck would have saved the county the expense of a trial.

Gus Richards had been hiding about three miles from Deeth (east from Halleck). He gave up. Deeth Constable McAdams put Richards on the train going to the county seat in Elko. When the train pulled into Halleck, Gus saw a new gallows on the depot platform, a rope dangling from the high beam. He turned white when five armed men entered the coach and demanded the prisoner.
McAdams defied them, saying, “If you take him, it’ll be over my dead body. I’ll plug the first man that lays a hand on him.”

Disappointed, the lynchers, guns now holstered, backed off the train to stand by the empty gallows. Gus, white faced and frightened, knowing he had barely escaped death, made it to Elko for his trial.

Sore loser Richards had his trial in January 1889. Indictments of robbery and assault with intent to kill were dismissed. There wasn’t enough evidence. Gus didn’t get off though. The jury convicted him of burglary for ransacking Billy’s room in the McCain house. The judge gave him ten years in the State Prison at Carson City.

Uncle Billy didn’t physically do well after the beating. In fact, he died before Gus even finished his prison term. In September 1893, the old gambler passed away. Ed Kelly and a couple of friends from Halleck dug a grave for the white-bearded gambler. They buried him on the little knoll where he sat and contemplated Halleck and the valley.

As the gambler said, “It’s a fair spot to rest a man’s bones.”

Source - Aged in Sage by Jean S. McElrath, 1964, privately published. She died October 7, 1967 in Elko, Nevada. Long bedridden with sickness, she interviewed, researched, and wrote from her bed in Wells, Nevada. Her stories are delightful valuable moments frozen in time. That is why I have, 44 years later, rewritten one of her historical accounts so that her memory can be renewed. Published after her death, McElrath’s other book, Aged in Sage, was compiled in 1971, by her friends: Agnes Hinds, Odetta McGargill, and Jerry DiGrazia. Both publications should be in all private Nevada libraries.

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