The vote was simple — to elect Truckee’s next town constable — but the politics turned deadly.

The role of town constable wasn’t easy back in the late 1800s. Truckee’s reputation as a town was fraught with poker-playing gun-toting transients. The Truckee jail was built in 1875 out of a necessity to create order, and elected officials put it to use.

Of the Truckee lawmen, Arthur Andrus was first town constable, elected by the Nevada County Board of Supervisors in 1867. Andrus lasted only a few months before turning the position over to Jacob Teeter. The patrolling area was the Meadow Lake Township, which included the town of Truckee and the entire eastern end of Nevada County, according to Guy Coates of the Truckee Donner Historical Society. This large swath of unsettled wilderness mixed with the bursting town of Truckee made the area every lawman’s nightmare.

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Teeter was appointed constable at age 26, a job that combined the full power of a policeman with judicial functions as well. He earned the respect of the town after tracking down and jailing a couple of well-known bandits. Teeter had his quirks: He never carried a firearm although he knew how to use them, and instead carried a pickaxe around as his main weapon, according to the historical book Fire & Ice. Teeter would often remark that his pick never once “misfired” on him.

Although well liked, Teeter’s election to town constable was not uncontested. For many years, a man named James Reed served alongside Teeter as night watchman and then later as deputy sheriff. The two men respected each other, but when their beliefs about the town started to split, respect turned into bitterness. The men vied for the position of constable, and the town vote would flip-flop between them. In most elections Teeter won, but Reed did get the promotion from 1884 to 1886, while Teeter served as his deputy.  

Reed was just the type of hardened man for the job of lawman, hailing from Northern Ohio before settling in Truckee. Teeter and Reed were constantly on the ballot in a power struggle for leadership of the town.

The 601 Boys and the Beginning of the End

Lumber mills in Truckee were running full bore at this time and people were flooding in. The lawmen did their best to patrol the town and the downtown ruckus, but a vigilante group called the “601” formed to take crime matters into their own hands. 601 stood for “6 feet under, 0 trials, 1 rope,” leaving no confusion on their manner of administering justice. The vigilantes threw their support behind Reed, who was believed to be a member of the group, and Teeter was infuriated. Teeter disagreed with the tactics of the group and it was the final straw between the two men. Reed and Teeter were forced to coexist as constable and deputy for a full year.

Elections came again in 1890, and at this point Teeter and Reed were barely speaking. The whole town was acutely aware of the two men’s grievances with one another. Teeter won the election and immediately fired Reed from his position of deputy constable and night watchman, according to Showdown at Truckee.

On Nov. 6, 1892, feeling like the law and order of the town was slipping away from him, Teeter cracked. After drinking whiskey at Hurd’s Saloon for the better part of the evening, Reed and Teeter exchanged some heated words and tensions ran high. Teeter left the bar in a rage and went home where he proceeded to arm himself, not with his pickaxe, but with two pistols. He re-entered the bar and immediately fired off a bullet right at Reed’s head. For being a lawman, and being familiar with a firearm, it is baffling that Teeter missed his mark. The bullet ricocheted into a bystander’s hat who was ducking for cover.

Without missing a beat, Reed fired his gun four times and three of the bullets hit their intended target. Local doctors at the scene raced Teeter home to try and repair the damage but he died the next day. Reed walked away without a scrape. An eight-man jury found Reed not guilty on the basis of self-defense and he went on to serve as a lawman for six more years. Teeter was buried in the Truckee Cemetery at a very well attended funeral. According to the Tahoe Donner Historical Society, although the men had their differences, it is said that Reed felt great remorse for shooting a fellow lawman for the rest of his life, which eventually drove him to become a hermit. He died alone in his cabin and was then buried in an unmarked grave in Truckee Cemetery.

To hear from our local candidates this election season see here.

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  • Abby Stevens

    Abby Stevens, like many folks before her moved from the east coast to Tahoe with plans to only stay for a season. Now, after two years, she has happily settled in, trading the Green Mountains for the Sierra Nevada. She is happy to join the Moonshine team as the office administrator.

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