Rules & Regulations of the Mining Camp
Comstock Justice
excerpted from
The Big Bonanza

by Dan DeQuille
of the Territorial Enterprise

Dan DeQuille

The Rules & Regulations of the Mining Camp

Although occupying the western portion of the Utah Territory, the laws under which the people of the Comstock range were at this time living were of their own making. At a meeting held by the miners of Gold Hill, June 11, 1859, the following preamble and "rules & regulations" were unanimously adopted:

Section 1. Any person who shall wilfully and with malice aforethought take the life of any person, shall, upon being duly convicted thereof, suffer the penalty of death by hanging.

Section 2. Any person who shall wilfully wound another, shall upon conviction thereof, suffer such penalty as the jury may determine.

Section 3. Any person found guilty of robbery or theft, shall upon conviction be punished with stripes or banishment, as the jury may determine.

Section 4. Any person found guilty of assault and battery, or exhibiting deadly weapons, shall upon conviction, be fined or banished as the jury may determine.

Section 5. No Banking games, under any consideration shall be allowed in this district under the penalty of final banishment from the District.

At the present day (1876) all manner of gambling games are allowed by the state laws and are licensed by the state and cities. In the original documents, preserved in the old Gold Hill book of records, there are given several additional sections, but as they relate to matters not of general interest to the reader, I have omitted them. One of these provides that "No Chinaman shall hold a claim in this District."

As may be seen, the laws of the first settlers were few and to the point; they were for use, not for ornament or the puzzling of the common understanding. In each settlement were in force some such "rules & regulations" as these. The man who broke one of the rules was sure to suffer a strict inforcement of the "regulation."

Comstock Justice

On August 1859, two thieves, who gave the names of George Ruspas and David Reise, stole a yoke of cattle in Chinatown (now Dayton), and, driving them to Washoe Valley, offered them for sale at a price so low that they were at once suspected of having stolen the animals. They were arrested, and, it having been proven that the cattle had been stolen from a ranch of Mr. Campbell near Dayton, the sentence of the jury was that they have their left ear cut off and that they be banished the country.

The trial was held under a big pine tree near the Western shore of Washoe Lake at the base of the Sierra Nevadas. Jim Sturtevant, and old resident of Washoe Valley, was appointed executioner. He drew out a big knife, ran his thumb along the blade, and not finding its edge just to his mind, gave it a few rakes across a rock. He then walked up to Reise and, taking a firm hold on the upper part of the organ designated by the jury, shaved it off, close up, at a single slash.

As he approached Ruspas, the face of that gentleman was observed to wear a cunning smile. He seemed very much amused about something. The executioner, however, meant business, and tossing Reise's ear over to the jury, who sat at the root of the pine, he went after that of Ruspas, whose eyes were following every motion made and whose face wore the expression of that of a man about to or do a good thing.

Sturtevant pulled aside the fellow's hair, which he wore hanging down about his shoulders and lo! there was no left ear, it having been parted with on some previous and similar occasion.

Here was a fix for the executioner! His instructions were to cut off fellow's left ear, but there was no left ear upon which to operate.

The prisoner now looked him in the face and laughed aloud. The joke was so good that he could no longer restrain himself.

Sturtevant appealed to the jury for instructions. The jury were enjoying the scene not a little and, being in a good humor said they would reconsider their sentence; that rather than anyone should be disappointed, the executioner might take off the prisoner's right ear, if he had one.

The smile faded out of the countenance of Ruspas as he felt Sturtevant's fingers securing a firm hold on the top of his right ear. An instant after, Sturtevant gave a vigorous slash and then tossed Ruspas's ear over to the jury, saying as he did so that they now had a pair of ears that were "rights and lefts" and therefore properly mated.

This little ceremony over, the pair of thieves were directed to take the road leading over the Sierras to the beautiful "Golden state." They went, not as Adam and Eve left paradise, "dropping some natural tears," but as a pair of twin lambs are seen to depart when in the spring time the farmer has whacked off their two luxurant tails -- went dropping blood.

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Bridget E. Smith, editor & publisher

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