Category Archives: palisade

Eureka & Palisade RR

The E&P was completed in 1875 serving the booming mining camps of Mineral Hill, Eureka and Hamilton. Millions of dollars in ore were shipped north to Palisade and transferred to the mainline, returning with machinery and supplies for the town and mines, declining mining addend Eureka in the late 1800’s started the fall of the E&P in the first three decades of the 1900s. The E&P survived floods, fire & economic decline both in Palisades and Eureka. In 1938, with Palisade already a ghost town, the E&P made it’s last run.

During the 1870s Palisade rivaled Elko and Carlin as a departure point on the Central Pacific for wagon, freight and stage lines to Mineral Hill, Eureka and Hamilton.

In October, 1875, with completion of Eureka and Palisade Railroad, Palisade became the Northern Terminus and operating headquarters for this little ninety-mile narrow gage line stretching southward to Eureka between 1875 and 1930. The town was the principal transfer and shipping point on the central pacific.

At its peak, the town boasted a population of 300. It was a self-contained community, and railroading was it’s main business. There were passenger and freight station, and siding on both the southern pacific and western pacific railroads, and a large ore transfer sock between the narrow gage and standard gage lines, all “Eureka and Palisade” (Eureka-Nevada after 1912) railroad headquarters facilities were situated here.

After the little narrow gage line ran its last train in September, 1938 Palisade went into a long decline, the post office was finally closed in 1962.

When the Eureka mines began to play out after 1885, the town began to decline.

The town of Palisade came into being in 1868 and served as a stop on the new transcontinental railroad, the Central Pacific. The station quickly became prominent as the shipping point for supplies to mining districts in the eastern portion of Nevada. The town grew in importance in 1874 when the Eureka and Palisade Railroad was begun. The town became the headquarters for the railroad and its 4 locomotives, 58 freight cars, and 3 gaudy yellow passenger coaches. By 1878, more than 31 million pounds of base bullion had been shipped by the railroad.

Cattle Drives from Pine Valley would gather cattle at stockyards in Palisade to be loaded onto cattle cars of the Southern Pacific. Sheep drives in the winter would send them to California for winter feeding.

Several fraternal organizations made their homes in Palisade. The International Order of Odd Fellows and Masons constructed beautiful lodges in the town. Churches and a schoolhouse were built. The railroad built a large shop where freight cars were manufactured employing many of Palisade’s residents. By 1882, the town had settled down to a consistent population of 250. When Eureka declined, Palisade declined. As Eureka’s mines slowed down, the Eureka and Palisade Railroad runs became more and more infrequent. A series of disastrous floods struck the town in 1910, wiping out many businesses and damaging the railroads. In 1915, the town still had a population of 242, but within a few years the figure had dropped to less than 150. When the Eureka-Nevada Railroad pulled up its rails in 1938, the end of Palisades was in sight. The post office closed in 1961 and Palisade became a ghost town for good.


Easterners bound for the Wild West on the Central Pacific Railroad in didn’t mind the empty stretches of desert scenery, since there was a good chance they might see a real-life shootout once they stopped at the infamous town of Palisade, Nevada.  Big-city newspapers picked up the local papers’ horrifying stories of bloodshed in Palisade, and their blazing editorials called it the toughest town west of Chicago.

It all started when passengers alighting from the train nearly got their heads blown off during a street brawl between two gunfighters. As the shots rang out, the passengers screamed and ran for cover. For the next three years, fascinated and appalled travelers continued to witness bank robberies, battles with Indians, and shootouts in Palisade. East coast press demanded that something be done.

Nothing was done, and the carnage continued.  The truth was that the 300 residents of the town staged all of it. All one-thousand different acts.  Even the local army troops and Shoshone Indians were in on the joke, and no one gave away the sham for three years. With just a few gallons of beef blood, buried mattresses, and a lot of blank rifle cartridges, the citizens put on quite a show.  In reality, the town was so peaceful that it never bothered to elect a sheriff.

The local newspapers in Virginia City helped come up with story lines for a stunt coordinator to rehearse and act out with townfolk.  These journalists,looking for a creative outlet, narrate the series.  One of those reporters was named Samuel Langhorne Clemens whose brother was the acting Governor of the State.

In the 1860s-70s, Palisade, Nevada, was known the length and breadth of the combined lines of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads as being the toughest town west of Chicago.

All of the large metropolitan dailies, especially those in San Francisco, carried stories of the massacres that took place in Palisade, and editorials were written deploring the needless waste of life and entreating the local government to clean up their town. This the local government could not do, for they, and every man, woman, and child in the town, plus several dozen Shoshone Indians, were responsible for all the massacres that took place.

Palisade was a railroad town which served as watering spot on the Humboldt River for the thirsty tanks of the dehydrated engines of the Central Pacific Railroad. In time, some corrals were built and a loading dock for cattle was erected as the ranchers in Elko County found that it was the most logical spot from which to ship their cattle and sheep. But as a town it grew slowly and, apparently, would never amount to anything but a watering stop.

Suddenly the big news came to Palisade. It was to become a railroad terminus. Ore had been discovered in Eureka, and a railroad called the Eureka and Palisade Railroad was going to be built which would handle all of the ore shipments, transient supplies, and passenger service from the Central Pacific line to the interior of Nevada.

Palisade boomed! From a few families and railroad employees, the population expanded to 290 people. It had added three new saloons, a dry goods store, two grocery stores, and a sporting house to the main street. Since the trains were stopping longer, a new depot and cafe had been built for the convenience of all the passengers who would now be stopping in Palisade.

And stop they did.

Scores and scores–Easterners bound for the West, the mighty, untamed, and glorious West. Each and every one of them ready, willing, and able to believe anything and everything. Wildly impossible stories? It was a cinch to hold a dude’s interest with the most outrageous one. Salt mines? They were sold every day to the gullible travelers. It got to the point where if something didn’t happen, they were actually disappointed, for the story of Custer’s Last Stand was still finding newspaper space, and stories of the fast guns were available in every paper and penny dreadful for sale. The Easterner wanted to see these things in person–and the town of Palisade, upon the suggestion of one of the Central Pacific’s conductors, decided that they should see, and experience, some of the impossibly wild things they had heard and read about.

Thus a week later, the first of the massacres at Palisade was staged, and even though the nearest theater was Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City, and Hollywood was just something to make you sneeze, the acting impressed the audience almost beyond belief.

Frank West, a cowboy from one of the ranches up north, was a tall, well-built redhead. He looked like a hero and he got the “good guy” role, while the part of the villain was acted out by the town dandy, who also happened to be the resident agent and cattle buyer for an outfit back east. His name was Alvin Kittleby, but nobody called him anything but Dandy. He was an immensely popular man. A good family man and a churchgoer, his villainous looks won him the role of bad guy.

They didn’t even bother to rehearse, but played it strictly by ear. Frank was lounging near the corrals one day when the noon train shuddered to a stop. As soon as most of the passengers had disembarked, Dandy rounded the corner of the depot and began walking toward the saloon across the dusty main street. Frank stepped quickly away from the corral and yelled loud enough to be heard for 5 mi., let alone the 60 ft. separating him from Dandy: “There ya are, ya low-down polecat. Ah bin waitin’ fer ya. Ah’m goin’ to kill ya b’cause of what ya did ta mah sister.” He paused for a brief moment, then continued in heartrending tones, “Mah pore, pore little sister.”

The passengers, who had stopped abruptly as the import of Frank’s words hit them, all looked around for a tall, dishonored, redheaded beauty. When they failed to find one, they turned their attention back to the two men.

Dandy had frozen in his tracks and was eyeing West with an apparently panic-stricken look on his face.

The crowd watched in excited fascination as West leisurely drew his gun, cocked it, took careful aim, and fired. The bullet, of course, sped harmlessly over Dandy’s head, but Dandy screamed as though in mortal agony and fell to the ground, where he kicked and rolled for a moment, then gave a heartrending sigh and went limp.

For a brief moment the only sound in the warm stillness was the hiss of steam from the engine; then pandemonium broke loose. Women screamed and fainted, and men scattered in all directions as they frantically sought cover.

Several of the townspeople rushed forward, picked up the limp body that was lying in the dust, and carried it into the nearest saloon. Others took the gun away from West and began dragging him, kicking and fighting, down the street, presumably to the jail.

It was over in a second, but to the passengers it seemed like hours, and 10 minutes later, when the train pulled out, there wasn’t a head to be seen in the windows of the coaches. The caboose had scarcely left the station when the town began laughing, and they didn’t stop laughing for three years.

Over 1,000 acts were put on by the Palisade Thespian Players, and at one time or another, every person in town participated, some of them several times in one day.

Many variations of the original acts were presented, but the one which seemed to elicit the most shock and to cause the greatest panic was the one where a gang of bank robbers shot it out with the sheriff’s deputies. As soon as most of the gang and quite a few deputies were down, a few dozen Indians would come racing down the main street, firing their rifles in all directions, “killing” women and children along with the men. This whole action used up approximately 10 minutes and one gallon of beef blood from the slaughterhouse.

Editorials appeared exhorting the army to protect the citizens of Palisade against the Indian attacks, but since the army was in on the joke, they paid no attention, and consequently the travelers kept reporting “Indian massacres.” The whole railroad system was clued in on the joke too, as was practically every citizen within a 100-mi. radius. Not one of them gave the joke away; in fact they contributed ideas for the townspeople to use. Whatever props were needed were contributed by everybody, and even the blank cartridges, which were finally used by the thousands, were made by everyone.

This was the age of the “quaint,” a term that Will Wright, alias Dan DeQuille, of the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, had originated.

It was the age of the practical joke and entertainment at any cost. Palisade wasn’t the metropolitan center that Virginia City was, and it had no place for a traveling group of players to put on a show; besides, it was too small to warrant even a first glance, let alone a second. Therefore, the citizens had to provide their own amusement.

Their type of entertainment scared hell out of hundreds of people and created reams of newspaper copy, but it did no permanent damage. In other towns, more lawless than Palisade, wildcats were pitted against dogs in a cage and heads were pulled off chickens, with hundreds of dollars bet on the outcome. There were fights staged between two jackasses that had been kept without water for a couple of days. A bucket was put in the street, but it was only big enough for one jackass at a time. The fight for the water in the bucket was said to be spectacular. These forms of entertainment never found a place in Palisade.

Palisade’s brand of humor managed to gain for it a reputation as being one of the toughest towns in the West; certainly one of the meanest. But this only caused them to laugh even more, for at no time during these acts was there a crime committed in Palisade, and the town was so law-abiding that it didn’t even have a sheriff.

Conceit: The townsfolk hired a fight-choreographer from the Yiddish theatre in Boston to direct the increasingly extravagant scenes, to train the citizens on safety falls, to rehearse the sequences, and even to recruit other fall guys from nearby towns to join his show. 

The song “Massacres at Palisade,” written by George Russell, pays fitting tribute to the town. 

Here’s an excerpt:
When the train pulled in, the show would begin,
The fightin’, the shootin’, the robbin’, and the dyin’
And the passengers watched from the windows with fear
And the town laughed as the train pulled clear.

And everyone took part, it’s true,
The cowboys, the Indians, and the cavalry too,
And when the shooin’ was done, the battles won,
 The town of Palisade just hung up their guns.


A great part of the town’s wealth was tied to the railroads. Palisade was founded in 1868 as a station on the Central Pacific, which later became the Southern Pacific. There may have been a population of 300, with churches, lodges, businesses, and a residential district.

Land Speculation

New technologies such as the telegraph and the railroad improved communications and transportation and helped tie the disparate sections of the country together into an increasingly unified capitalistic market. Territory gained from the Texas annexation, the Mexican War, and Oregon settlement added vast tracts of land and resources to the United States.  Americans moved west, pulled by dreams of California gold, Nevada silver, or by new farms in the Pacific Northwest. Unregulated banking and gold and silver from western mines poured money into the economy and fueled the boom with easy credit. 

Americans tried to make a quick profit on everything from stocks and guano to slaves, and speculation became almost a national pastime. Towns sprang up across the West as settlers from both North and South moved in, lured by hopes for easy riches.

The hopes of Palisade’s boosters, businessmen, and speculators rested upon operating as a transit point for settlers heading to Salt Lake City. Early settlers had made quick profits as land prices doubled in a year or two. In Iowa, land speculators earned more than 20 percent annually for most of the decade; in some years they earned more than 60 percent.  Land speculating migrants expected to earn equally large profits, and increasing migration before the Civil War fueled this expectation. Many territories were filled with migrants pulled by dreams of instant riches and by a desire to secure the territories for Northern free labor.  In one month, it was not unheard of for one-thousand settlers to enter a boom town every day.

Adding to the frenzy of land speculation, town promotion, and dreams of easy profits that gripped the territory. Palisade’s promoters hoped to cash in on this boom. If the founders of Palisade could convince a railroad to pass by their town it would assure the success of their venture, since cheap transportation brought settlers and drove up land prices.

Dozens of new towns sprang up in Nevada Territory during the 1860s.  Both profits and ideology played key roles in motivating the promotion and settlement of these towns.