GUNFIGHT IN TRUCKEE:
THE TEETER – REED DUEL
By: Guy H. Coates
“There’s liable to be a funeral soon,” shouted a citizen. “Teeter and Reed are having a time down the street,” exclaimed another. “Teeter had better keep away and let up on him.”
These words were heard up and down Truckee’s Front Street on a cold November evening in 1891.
Jacob Teeter, for many years, Constable of Meadow Lake Township, was about to make his first – and last – mistake as a lawman.
Jacob Teeter, or “Jake,” as he was called, grew up in New Jersey and migrated west, eventually making his home in Truckee, where he married and settled down. He owned two homes, one in town and another at Donner Lake where he rented boats and held a summer job as a fishing guide.
Between 1870 and 1890, the town had grown rapidly. The demand for lumber for the mines in Virginia City and the growing city of Reno had exploded, bringing thousands of men to the area.
The boom also brought lawlessness to the new town, resulting in Teeter’s appointment as town constable at the young age of twenty-six. His responsibilities included the rough and tumble town of Truckee and the entire eastern end of Nevada County.
No sooner had the first ramshackle building appeared in Truckee when, in October 1868, Teeter gained a hard reputation as a lawman when he captured an outlaw named William Luney who was known well in the area as “having a as having a hard reputation.” However, Luney proved to be no match for Constable Teeter who single-handedly disarmed him and brought him before Justice Sykes after Luney had assaulted a citizen.
In December of that same year, Teeter arrested a man named Breading in the nearby settlement of Boca after Breading had murdered a man named Luther Leachman. The two men had gotten into a dispute over a twenty-five dollar fee for carpentry work. Breading stabbed Leachman in the chest and fled. Teeter quickly tracked him down and brought him before Justice Sykes.
Teeter became best known following his single-handed arrest of Joseph Tiereny in July 1873 after Tierney had stabbed a man to death in El Dorado County. Teeter received a message that Tierney had a half-brother who resided in Russell Valley, just north of Truckee, that he might be headed that way. Teeter set out alone for Russell Valley. On the way, he encountered a surprised Tierney. Before Tierney could resist, Teeter drew his revolver and arrested him.
During the many years that Teeter served as Constable, James Reed served on and off as his deputy. The two men competed for the more prestigious elected office of town constable, with Teeter winning most of the time. Although they cooperated together as lawmen, their friendly rivalry began to evolve into an open conflict.
Reed was tough man whose reputation swelled following an incident when he was attacked by a man wielding a large Bowie knife. Reed, who was unarmed at the time, defended himself by picking up a large rock, striking the on the head as he lunged at Reed, killing the man instantly.
Many of Reed’s friends belonged to the “601” vigilante group, whose aim it was to run anyone they deemed to be “undesirable” out of town. It was widely believed that Reed himself was a member, and this didn’t set well with Jake.
The town itself was widely divided over the Chinese issue. An anti-Chinese group known as the “Caucasian League” sought to rid the town of lower paid Chinese workers, many of who decided to make Truckee their home after helping build the transcontinental railroad. Reed was not only a member of this group, but one of its leaders.
Teeter disapproved of anyone who sought to take the law into his own hands and the Teeter-Reed feud grew. On June 21, 1876, Reed was implicated in a widely reported incident, which became known as the “Trout Creek Outrage,” a racist act intended to serve notice on the Chinese to leave town.
One evening, a group of self-appointed vigilantes set fire to the bunkhouse of a group of Chinese workers who had been hired by Joseph Gray to cut lumber. At approximately one o’clock in the morning, a mob of angry white men, led by Reed, set the bunkhouse ablaze while the workers were sleeping inside.
As the terrified workers fled, the mob fired on them with revolvers, rifles, and a shotgun, wounding many of them. One man, Ah Ling, was killed by a shotgun blast. James Reed owned the shotgun, which was loaded with a deadly wire load.
Reed and six others were subsequently arrested and a highly publicized trial followed. Reed and his friends were ultimately acquitted because of “lack of evidence.” Teeter felt that the town he had grown to love had lost all respect for law and order.
Teeter was again elected constable in 1890 but began to feel he was losing community support. Reed and Teeter had once again ran against each other again for constable, but this time it was a bitter fight. Following the election, the two men rarely spoke to each other.
During the months following the election, Jake began to spend more time at Hurd’s saloon drinking with his friends. ( Hurd’s Saloon was located in the Capitol Building in the space currently occupied by The Pharmacy.) Teeter openly stated to anyone who would listen that the 601 were nothing but a bunch of murderers and cowards. Perhaps it was his intention that would be overheard Reed’s friends.
On the evening of November 6, 1891, at 5pm, Teeter went into Hurd’s for a whisky. While drinking alone at the handsome old bar, the front door opened and Reed and several of his friends walked in, passing Jake, and sat down at a table in the rear of the saloon.
From the bar, Teeter’s voice rambled, addressing no one in particular: “I ain’t no ____ of a ____ and I never beat a man’s brains out with a rock.”
Upon hearing this, Reed spoke up, “Are you addressing me?”
Teeter turned slowly from the bar and with a cold stare replied, “You can take it if you want to.”
Reed rose slowly from his chair and retorted, “See here Jake, I don’t want any trouble with you, but you’ve been harassing me long enough. I don’t want to hear any more of it and you’ve got to quit!”
Reed approached Teeter and the two men began to argue, the words growing more heated, until, in a rage, Teeter drew his revolver. Reed grabbed Teeter’s weapon, and the two men scuffled. “I don’t intend to be killed,” shouted Reed, at which time Teeter finally handed his gun over to R.W. Dixon, a mutual friend.
Teeter promptly turned and stomped out of the saloon, but felt that he had been humiliated in public and, worse yet, he had surrendered his firearm. Jake promptly headed for home and re-armed himself.
Meanwhile, at Hurd’s saloon, a friend of Reed’s turned to him and said, “You’d better get your revolver, Jake’s apt to arm himself again and come back.” Reed went out the back door to his residence on Jibboom Street, where he boldly strapped on his holster and six shooter.
At 5:15 pm, a witness standing outside the bar, W.H. Prouty, saw Teeter striding down Front Street carrying a pistol, headed directly to Hurd’s. As he approached the front door, Teeter examined his gun and put it in his holster.
By this time, Reed had already returned to his table to finish his supper in the company of Johnny Bourdette, Eddie Martin and R.W. Dixon.
Teeter quietly entered the saloon and saw a friend, George Cannon, standing by the wood stove. Jake strode casually toward Cannon and spoke briefly with Cannon, while watching Reed and his friends.
Several quiet minutes passed before Reed and his friends stood up and began to walk from the rear of the saloon. Reed was the last in his group, which walked past the bar toward the front door.
A witness, John Durand, said later: “As Reed came out of the dining room, Teeter advanced toward him. Saying nothing, he leveled his pistol and fired.” Unbelievably, the first shot missed Reed, but passed through the hat of a bystander has he dived for cover.
Two other shots went wild, as everyone else in the saloon either dropped to the sawdust covered floor, crawled under tables or tried to hide behind posts.
Quicker than it can be said, Reed drew his pistol and fired four times – so quickly that some witnesses believed they only heard two or three rounds. Others later said they heard a dozen. However, four bullets struck Jacob Teeter.
When the smoke cleared, Teeter had fallen heavily to the floor next to the billiard table. Witnesses rose and stood in shocked silence.
Reed examined himself, expecting to find a wound, but probably due to the effects of the whiskey, Teeter’s aim had been worse than bad. Finally, someone shouted, “Jake’s hurt badly- go fetch Doc.”
Doctor’s Curless and Curdy hurried to Teeter’s home, where bystanders had carried the wounded constable. Throughout the night, Teeter remained unconscious, while the doctors did what they could to alleviate the pain, but as the night wore on, Teeter Faded. At 10:30 am, on Saturday, November 7, 1891, Jake Teeter died.
James Reed surrendered himself to Deputy Constable Long, but was not locked up. A coroner’s inquest was held the following day. Truckee’s famous attorney, C.F. McGlashan, represented Reed.
After all the evidence had been examined and witnesses questioned, the verdict was read: “We the jury find that Jacob Teeter came to his death from wounds inflicted by a pistol held in the hands of James Reed, and that in our opinion he acted in self defense.”
The eight- man jury and coroner signed the verdict. James Reed was released.
Teeter was buried in Truckee’s cemetery where a large tombstone marks his grave. Most of Truckee’s citizens attended the funeral, except for James Reed.
On March 27, 1905, a story appeared in the Truckee Republican. The headline read, “Pioneer James Reed Dies of Old Age.” The article stated that Reed had been living the lonely life of a hermit in a small cabin in Truckee for over thirteen years. He apparently felt remorse, and his life had been a burden since the day he shot and killed Jake Teeter.
Once handsome and popular, it turned out that Reed’s friends gradually abandoned him. His hair had turned gray and his beard had grown long. He died from old age, self-neglect and loneliness. James Reed is also buried in Truckee’s cemetery, but in an obscure, unmarked grave.
While the incident remains a tragic event in Truckee’s history, Jacob Teeter is still remembered as the town’s earliest and bravest lawman.