Boom Town Messengers

 

Murder in Goldfield

 

In 1905, after six years in the work force, and one business venture abandoned, Jim Casey, only 17 years old, left Seattle to return to Nevada to seek his fortune. Just three years before Casey and his partner wound up in Nevada, a massive gold strike had surfaced in a place called Goldfield and a major boom town was under way.

In 1902, an Indian named Tom Fisherman brought a gold sample into Tonopah, a two-year-old silver mining town in west-central Nevada. Curious about the origin of the Indian’s gold, two unsuccessful native-Nevadan prospectors, Henry Stimler and William Marsh, followed the Indian to his strike.

It was south from Tonopah, across a desert valley floor covered with sagebrush to the next rocky rise called Columbia Mountain about 30 miles away. This area of Nevada is high plateau with broad valleys shimmering with silver grey sagebrush, broken occasionally with rocky hills. Void of trees, the hills and mountains are a colorful spectacle, some resembling multi-hued ice cream sundaes: chocolate, French vanilla, strawberry, black raspberry, peach, and mango. 

That entire Columbia Mountain area looked promising to the opportunists Stimler and Marsh, so in December 1902 they staked out a claim in a nearby “gold field.” It was 26 miles south of Tonopah and while they named their mine the “Sandstorm,” it became widely known as “gold field.”

Initial assay samples indicated that the ore was rich, almost pure gold. It didn’t take long for word to get out to all the miners and prospectors in the west, many of whom had been following one strike after another. “This was the big one,” they realized, and they stampeded to the area.

Within a year, Stimlers and Marsh’s “Goldfield” had become the largest city in Nevada, and it remained so until 1940. Very quickly it became the most important town between the Pacific coast and the Rocky Mountains. A railroad from Tonopah opened for business on September 12, 1905 and at its high point Goldfield could boast of three railroads, two mining stock exchanges, four schools, five banks, and several newspapers. By 1907, when the courthouse opened, the Goldfield population was over 20,000. (That courthouse is still in use today and visitors sense a step back in time as the architecture, doors, lamps, fixtures, and even office furniture are all vintage turn-of-the-century furnishings.)

Goldfield’s mines produced more than $86 million and it was one of the busiest and brightest mining cities in the west, its mines yielding $10,000 and more each day. Goldfield was also known for some fierce labor disputes that ended up with federal troops restoring order in December 1907.

 

Deputy Sheriff Virgil Earp

By 1905, Goldfield was already famous and thriving. The deputy sheriff was Virgil Earp of the O.K. Corral fame. He died in Goldfield of pneumonia on October 19, 1905, just a couple months after Jim Casey and his partner arrived in town. 

Virgil’s more famous brother, Wyatt Earp, also came to Goldfield in 1904 and worked briefly for Tex Rickard, owner of the Northern Saloon, where he was in charge of gaming.

The town was so wide open that a later Goldfield deputy sheriff in 1907 and 1908 who called himself “Thomas Bliss” was uncovered as a former murderer and outlaw member of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch gang actually named C.L. “Gunplay” Maxwell. 

 “Bliss” fled town, was captured, and an irate Sheriff W.A. (Bob) Ingalls jailed him in Goldfield awaiting trial. Someone met his bail and the former deputy sheriff forfeited and was never seen in Goldfield again. “Bliss” was later shot to death in Utah following a Wells Fargo stagecoach robbery. 

Sheriff Ingalls was a fearless teetotaler who paradoxically owned the Palace Saloon. This is the Goldfield that awaited a couple of teenagers who sought their fortune.

The youngsters were unsuccessful in staking a claim on their own as most of the promising locations were taken. Besides, a couple of kids stood little chance against grizzled, independent-minded miners in vying for space. They tried working for established miners but that defeated their purpose of “hitting it big” so that didn’t last long. 

Following in the footsteps of his father, the entrepreneurial Jim Casey realized that there was money to be made in a booming mining town. While they had no luck finding gold, they decided to do what they knew best, which was to open a messenger service.

Casey looked up an old-time Nevada friend of his father’s who took the young men to meet Sheriff Ingalls. Once the sheriff realized what the boys wanted, he smiled and said simply, “Glad to have you men in Goldfield.” It was an important meeting because after that, doors began to open for them.

Goldfield by late 1905 already had 600 telephones, an incredible number considering the infancy of the technology. However, they were all connected through one switchboard. To help handle this load and send and receive messages, a new Telephone-Telegraph office was under construction at 206 Ramsey Avenue, just two doors from Columbia Street, the town’s main north-south street.

Jim’s and his partner’s timing was good because the manager of the exchange needed someone to deliver messages that kept coming in. He told the youths that if they would agree to deliver all the messages, he would pay them $50 a month and give them a corner of the office to run their own messenger service.

It was a good deal for both and soon the boys had a lock on the messenger and errand market in the burgeoning town of Goldfield. People calling the Telephone-Telegraph office requesting a messenger would find Jim or his partner there on a bicycle within minutes.

Jim recalled, “…the two of us doing all the work ourselves. With some interruptions and some changes in the partnership, and with exciting experiences at times, the venture continued for over a year.”

One of the changes was the addition of a third partner, a John Moritz, a young Minnesotan who also went to Nevada to seek his fortune. The three young men delivered messages to the merchants, miners, saloonkeepers, gamblers, and louts. The town was booming, and so was their messenger service.

 

The Gans/Nelson fight

The town was of such prominence, early boosters were anxious to attract further prominence and generate new investment capital. So they staged a major championship prize fight with a $30,000 purse, largest ever at the time.

Fight promoter was Northern Saloon owner Tex Rickard, who would go on to become a famous boxing promoter. The bout was for the Lightweight Championship of the World and was between Joe Gans (1874-1910), the first native-born black American to win a world title, and Oscar Matthew “Battling” Nelson (1882-1954), a tough Dane who twice held the world lightweight title.

A ring was set up outside and many thousands packed the streets of Goldfield that Labor Day, September 3, 1906, while many more awaited the outcome around the world. Much of America at the time would have automatically rooted for the white man, even though he was a foreigner. Despite the prejudice of the era, the black American Gans still had plenty of fans in this section of the west where worth was something one earned.    

The marathon fight went 42 rounds (to this day still in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest world title fight) and was finally stopped when Nelson was disqualified for a “vicious foul.” While Gans fought a clean fight, his opponent apparently did not. According to The Goldfield Review on September 6, 1906, “the Dane fought …”exceedingly nasty and dirty.” The article also reported that after the bout Nelson “even refused to shake hands.” Against a disagreeable foreigner like that, it was easier for fight fans and the media to accept the black American. 

The fight filled the town with euphoria, excitement and outsiders. According to Goldfield: Boom Town of Nevada by Stanley W. Paher, “Goldfield cribs that week were busy, as were the dance halls.”

As Casey family members indicate that Jim was later a big fight fan, it is surmised that he somehow figured a way to see the big event, even if it meant crawling under the fence.

Jim later told his nephew Paul Casey that the night of the fight there was a call for a messenger to go to a hotel. Jim went, knocked on the door, and was stunned to see Joe Gans personally answer the door. He invited Jim in and said, “Here kid, have this message sent by telegraph.” Jim said he wished he kept the note Gans had given him. It read, “The dog quit in the 42nd round.”   

And through this excitement, three young messengers were running and riding their bicycles all over town to deliver their errands.

One of them, John Moritz, was not so lucky. He ran into one of the town’s disreputable characters with his bicycle one Saturday night. Later that night, during the wee morning hours, the villain shot John to death at the doorway of the Northern Saloon.          

The following item, with the misspelled “Moritz” is directly from The Goldfield Review (published every Thursday) on September 20, 1906: 

 

    Messenger Boy’s Murder

    Willful and Deliberate

    Because John Moritx, a messenger boy, run into him last Saturday evening with his bike, John Thompson, a Cherokee half breed and a crap dealer, at 3 o’clock the following morning, shot and killed the young messenger boy willfully and deliberately. The first shot was fired when the boy was running away and the second while he lay on the platform with a bullet hole through him. Thompson would have been lynched had a deputy sheriff not taken him out of town.

    Kind hearted telephone girls took the matter in hand Monday and raised a purse of $503.20. After paying the expense necessary to take the remains back to his St. Paul, Minn. home, where his widow mother lives, there remained $130, which was sent to her.

    A coroners jury found Thompson guilty of willful and deliberate murder, and he is being detained on that charge.

 

          The cold-blooded murder of one of their own left the other two stricken. They decided that Goldfield was not for them, so they disbanded their business and left town. As Jim said, “Leaving Goldfield, I returned to Seattle without gold, or even silver.”

          Jim Casey was in the west’s most exciting town during its most thrilling few years. He celebrated his 18th birthday there and had a lifetime of experiences by then. He learned how to keep a business alive during some very uncertain times. He learned that the service he and his partners rendered was all they had to offer, and they performed their duties to the best of their ability, always with honesty and a sense of fair play.

Jim Casey’s presence didn’t change the town, anymore than any other person named “Casey” did at the time.

In 1906 there was a Casey & Solomon Real Estate company in Goldfield. During those boom years they regularly advertised, “Wanted: Houses for Rent. If you have Real Estate for Sale, List it With Us.”

There was also a Casey Flats, four miles south of Goldfield, named after a miner whose first name was Casey.

 

The messenger identified

Today, however, several of the townspeople are aware that the Jim Casey who was “their” young messenger was the same Jim Casey who founded United Parcel Service.   

One of the oldest photos extant of Jim Casey was taken in front of that new Telephone-Telegraph building on Ramsey Ave. It shows a few prosperous-looking businessmen and one, physically slight youth. Jim Casey, a small teenager, is standing in the doorway of the office, hands behind his back, looking like a page boy, complete with a striped pillbox cap, and a coat with brass buttons up the front. 

The Goldfield Historical Society is aware of the Jim Casey connection and features the telegraph building photo in its 2004 calendar. The October 2004 photo caption even states:  The young man on the right is Jim Casey who later went on to be the founding father of UPS

Despite the promising and flamboyant genesis, eventually the mines around Goldfield petered out, and while there is still some mining in the area to this day, it is very minimal. Then Mother Nature kicked the town while it was down, as a flash flood in 1913 destroyed Goldfield, and then in 1923 a fire leveled 54 square blocks.

Spared were some of the downtown historic buildings, including the 1906 Telephone-Telegraph office at 206 Ramsey Avenue. It has been preserved by its owner Jon Aurich as a mini-museum from the era, including that photo on the wall showing Jim Casey in his messenger uniform. Goldfield remembers James E. Casey.

Leaving town, Jim was still badly shaken by the murder of his partner. Little did he know that he would lose another partner to murder 25 years later.

By the time he arrived back in Seattle, the teenager Jim Casey had weathered experiences most people only read about. It was early 1907 and the determined youth was about to launch yet another business.

He had already built two businesses, both of them around the telephone, one of the many new innovations of the era. Later called the Industrial Revolution, the turn of the century was an exiting time for American business, where automobiles, typewriters, machines, and modern factories were replacing horses, hand ledgers, and crafts shops.

The telephone was about the most penetrating and far-reaching of those changes—and Jim Casey had already been convinced of its importance. This young, yet weathered pioneer of the old west was still determined to succeed.    


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