Historical view lends new eye to Early Nevada lawmen
MINDEN – Looking back is a good way to see what’s coming, Bob Ellison of Johnson Lane believes.
The former law enforcement officer says that Nevada’s colorful past lends itself to a delightful historical outlook.
Ellison recently completed and published “Territorial Lawmen of Nevada: 1851-61.” This is the first of three books dealing with the state’s early law enforcement history.
“It’s like any occupation or profession. If you’re going to understand where it’s at today, it’s better to find out where it started,” Ellison says.
Most of Nevada during the time period discussed in Ellison’s record was in the Territory of Utah, under the jurisdiction of Utah, in Salt Lake City.
Ellison, who has spent the past twelve years researching and writing the book, said it was a time when the western part of the territory didn’t have much in common with the Mormon colonizers of Utah, despite their jurisdictional control.
“The whole purpose of the book is to create a baseline for the history of law enforcement in Nevada,” he says.
While it’s a thorough record, anyone who uses the 483-page book will be able to go to journals, election records, land claims and other archived documents to verify entries. The book is annotated with appendix and charts.
“I’ve spent a lot of time talking with Jeff Kintop (state archives manager) and Guy Rocha (assistant administrator for state archives and records) about this,” he says. “Now, we’ll leave it up to Guy to sort out where the myths lie.”
He said trying to discover the truth about these lawmen was difficult since many of the records were tucked away and simply forgotten.
“Every one of them was hard to track down, because these lawmen are people who people don’t remember,” Ellison says. “Their graves have been lost and the world has gone on and forgotten them.”
He says extensive travel to various locations in the West was needed to read and check facts.
“This is a heavily footnoted work,” he says. “It’s heavily documented to show people where to go, where to turn in the journals and where to find the information.”
As a former law officer and instructor for Peace Officers Standard and Training or POST, Ellison savored the historical law men.
“This whole volume came as a result of enjoying history and the work of policing and enjoying teaching,” he says.
For years a number of writers have dealt with John L. Blackburn, sheriff of Carson County, who was killed in 1861.
“It also brings together probably the most thorough story of William Byrnes, who was the first sheriff elected in this area. In November 1851, when the settlers created their only provisional government, Byrnes was named sheriff.”
Byrnes was sheriff in Mormon Station and the following spring was shot while giving a pistol exhibition in the Gold Hill area. He went to California to recover. His term of office was left open.
“He was quite a noted border man at the time,” Ellison says. “In 1853, he stayed over in California and became a California Ranger and hunted down Joaquim Murrietta, who was one of California’s most notorious bandits.”
Ellison himself served in Douglas County starting as a constable for the East Fork Township in 1969. He worked in local law enforcement and is currently working in private security. He taught law enforcement classes at POST until 1973.
“Over the year’s I taught a lot of academies and talked to a lot of law enforcement groups,” he says. “I’ve just enjoyed being able to share the history with all of them.”
Ellison said that volumes two and three are already in the works and will deal with lawmen who were in the area from 1861-64.
“There are a few people around the state who are working on more recent Nevada law enforcement history,” he says.
Ellison and his wife Marion have lived in Carson Valley for 30 years. They are the parents of five children, all of whom graduated from Douglas High School.