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Shasta, Calif., Faces Crime During Gold Rush Days

Shasta, often referred to as “Old Shasta,” faced plenty of petty and violent crime in the 1850’s as it grew into one of the most important gold rush towns in Northern California.

Even Sheriff Nunnally fell victim. Nunnally reported he was robbed as he slept. He lost a very valuable gold watch, a gold pencil, a key to a pair of handcuffs and $80. The sheriff placed an ad in the local paper offering $100 for the return of his watch.

In another incident, violence erupted during a card game. James Nolan was dealing when he cheated Alex Murdock out of $40.  Murdock demanded his money back, Nolan refused and eased over to the bar where he slipped out a pistol.  Turning to Murdock, who also was armed, Nolan said, “You have a pistol.  Defend yourself.”  Nolan then fired and killed Murdock.  Others in the bar said the most notorious aspect of the shooting was how Nolan danced around, boasting that he’d managed to take down Murdock.

The trial was quick, the verdict unanimous: Nolan was executed and “died a most horrible death, struggling an unusual length of time while hanging.”

Source: Rocca, Al M. "One Tough Town." Images of America: Old Shasta. Charleston, Arcadia Publishing, 2005, pp. 101-02.

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Gail Fiorini-Jenner is a writer and teacher. Her first novel "Across the Sweet Grass Hills", won the 2002 WILLA Literary Award. She co-authored four histories with Arcadia Publishing: Western Siskiyou County: Gold & Dreams, Images of the State of Jefferson, The State of Jefferson: Then & Now, which placed in the 2008 Next Generation Awards for Nonfiction and Postcards from the State of Jefferson.