Tom Peasley

Another name that has gone down in the State history with a homicidal record is that of Thomas Peasley. While he was credited with killing two men in bloody street duels, the circumstances attending the tragedies should be taken into consideration and recited as doing some tardy justice to his memory. He was thirty-two years old when he came to the Comstock, just in the prime of a manhood endowed with more physical energy and vitality of temperament than falls to the lot of one in 10,000, Tall, but compactly built, powerful but quick as a leopard, he was a splendid specimen of manly strength and grace. His early training had made him redoubtable in the use of nature’s weapons, while his later experience unfortunately rendered him equally expert with deadlier ones,

He established the old Sazarac saloon on C Street, near Union, which at once became headquarters for the firemen and a resort for political aspirants anxious to gain their support. He was successively foreman of the first hook-and-ladder company, and the first engine company formed in Virginia City, and upon the organization of the Fire Department was chosen chief engineer. He was sheriff from 1862 to 1864. At one session of the Territorial Legislature he was doorkeeper of the House, and he was sergeant-at-arms of the State Senate in 1865. But these modest preferments convey no adequate impression of his prominence in the community. For a number of years Tom Peasley was a more conspicuous figure than most of the men who have since won State or national reputations.

He was a man of better parts and instincts than his record shows. Aspiring, resolute, indomitable, a better schooling and start in life would certainly have made his name a familiar one in public affairs, whether in the field or forum, for he was born to be a leader in whatever situation circumstance might place him, There was the making of a Broderick in him, if not more. Missing leadership on a lofty plane, the spirit of mastery asserted itself on a lower level. To rule the rude and turbulent spirits with whom his lot was cast, it was necessary to be the roughest of the rough when occasion required, and he attained a distinction in that respect which gained him the pre-eminence he aimed at.

His excess of animal spirits, his exultation in his giant strength, an occasional indulgence in the cup that overcheers, a quick temper—and more than all these, perhaps, the consciousness that something unusual and daring was expected of him—led him to the commission of acts deeply regretted and most humbly apologized for afterwards. To knock a friend down with a playful slap upon the back was not an unusual form of salutation with him, and to break in a door instead of unlatching it only denoted the feeling of particular intimacy on his part.

Among the many foolish youths who affected tough airs and sought fellowship with the man-slayers, was a tall, wax-faced, loose-jointed young fellow who passed through a brief career in Virginia City and on into eternity with no other appellation ever heard than that of Sugar-foot Jack. If search was not made for his birth register the angels probably call him by that name yet, for that was the only one made use of in the credentials he took with him. His was a singular case of false pretense. He hadn’t a single qualification for a desperado, except the silly ambition to be considered one. In reality he was a nerveless, inoffensive boy—a veritable lamb in wolf’s clothing—but all the same, he paid the penalty of his disguise.

At a free-and-easy masquerade, late in 1863, Peasley knocked Sugar-foot Jack down, in one of his excesses of rough playfulness. The affront was too gross to be tamely borne by one who was posing as a terror ; but the poor fellow lacked the courage to resent it on the spot. He left the ballroom with muttered threats, and proclaimed his bloody purpose about town, until some of Peasley’s friends hastened to inform him that Sugar-foot Jack had armed himself and was laying for him. It was the same kindly officiousness that has led to so many unfortunate results. The counter-hunt was immediately begun. Sugar-foot was discovered hiding behind an awning-post, an inferred position of vantage and defense, but the poor devil was really cringing there in fright. Peasley drew his pistol and riddled the unarmed craven with bullets, and the aspiring boy won the crown at last by dying with his boots on.