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The Infamous “Spring Chicken” of Truckee

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On Sunday, April 13, 1873, The Daily Alta Newspaper reported “that Carrie Pryor has acquired an unenviable reputation in Truckee… She is a dangerous woman and it is high time this community were rid of her presence.” This wasn’t the first time Pryor had been written up in a newspaper — her name was splattered across police logs from Virginia City to Truckee.

Truckee has always drawn a crowd of freewheeling and independent people. As the town began to establish itself in the Wild West, the list of characters who showed up grew. Among them, during this period, there stand a few outliers — people with the same wild spirit, but one big difference — they were women, not men.

1870s Truckee was a rough town, filled with men in the logging industry. What better way to entertain them than with saloons all along Front Street (now Donner Pass Road in downtown Truckee), and running perpendicular behind it was Jibboom Street, the red-light district. The rowdy town had little place for women, but among the brave who held their own was Carrie Smith Pryor, known to most as “Spring Chicken.” She perplexed lawmen and vigilantes alike with her unbreakable spirit and propensity for getting into trouble. Pryor made her living working on Jibboom Street as a “lady of the night,” but her exploits did not stop there; she had a reputation for stirring up trouble in town.   

“She has frequently been arrested and brought before our Justice Courts, but has hitherto managed to get off without any serious punishment,” wrote a reporter for The Daily Alta Newspaper in 1873. In one particularly telling example of Pryor’s wiliness she enlisted the help of a man by the name of George Pryor to barge in on a fellow lady of the night, Belle Butler. The duo proceeded to overturn Butler’s entire room. The following day, Pryor ran across Lotta Morton, a friend of Butler’s, who had Pryor’s name on her short list. Pryor threw a haymaker at Morton’s face and the women started to fistfight. Butler then turned the corner with her shotgun aimed at Pryor, and fired. Butler screamed as she realized she’d missed her intended target, Pryor, and instead hit her friend Morton. The wounded Morton was taken to the doctor and Butler served 18 months in jail. As for the Spring Chicken? She got off scot-free. In fact, she won a husband from the whole event, because after such effective assistance, she deemed George Pryor worthy to marry and took his last name.   

Pryor did spend some time in jail, mainly in Virginia City, but her stays did not hinder her fearless attitude toward the law. She was one of the only people in Truckee to publicly threaten the so-called 601 vigilante group. The watchdogs had banded together because of mistrust in the constable and law enforcement, and formed as a way for select members of the community to control Truckee. Their name stood for “6 feet under, 0 trials, 1 rope,” a brutal description of their tactics. Members wore masks to protect their identities. In some cases, the group left signed notes for people they wanted out of town, indicating the deadline to be the next train leaving Truckee. Most of the time the targeted person would hop on the train, knowing what would ensue if they did not. No one dared come looking for the group — except for Carrie Pryor.

In 1874, Pryor challenged the 601 to find her at Hayward’s place, which sat on the alley behind Front Street. She threatened to be waiting with 40 other men ready for a fight, according to Joanne Meschery in Truckee: An Illustrated History of the Town and Its Surroundings. The vigilantes arrived at said time to Hayward’s establishment, demanding to know where Carrie Pryor and her band of men were waiting. They split up and began searching the premise. The befuddled proprietor waved his finger, signaling to the room at the end of the hall. The vigilantes immediately opened fire on the back room, only to hear screams not from Pryor, but their own comrade. The well-known editor of the local newspaper, The Truckee Republican, D.B. Frink was shot dead from his own men’s bullets. A shock to the 601 men, it is not recorded what exactly happened in the aftermath of the shooting. Carrie Pryor, who was upstairs, left the building unharmed.

While Pryor’s moral compass may have been questionable, she left her mark on early Truckee. She broke rules and pushed boundaries not only as a female but as an outlaw in Truckee. Her nickname Spring Chicken remains somewhat of a mystery, it seems like “Sly Fox” might have been a more apropos moniker.

 
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October 12, 2017