By Bob Difley
In Pioche, southeastern Nevada’s richest mining town in the 1870s, in order to rise to the top of the pecking order — or the food chain if you prefer to think of it that way — you had to have either a fast gun or an abundance of wealth. Pioche was so isolated that supplies had to be hauled over the grueling desert from a railhead 275 miles away. The nearest population settlement — and the only law enforcement — was 400 miles to the west.
In 1870-71, Pioche claimed almost 60 percent of all the killings for the entire state of Nevada. There were more than six dozen graves on Boot Hill from violent deaths before the first death occurred from natural causes. Employment prospects were good if you were a hired gun. The rich and the mine owners would make good use of your services. You can see for yourself as you stroll Boot Hill reading the gravestones.
The million-dollar courthouse, one of Nevada’s most famous landmarks, was built in 1872 with bricks brought around Cape Horn. Now home to government offices and a museum, you can relive the past by joining the jury (there is one empty seat that you can fill for that period photograph) in a trial reenactment. The electric mannequin judge bangs his gavel and the conglomeration of jurors listen in rapt attention to the prosecutor’s oration.
Step inside the two-foot thick walls of the jail that once held some of the West’s most feared desperadoes.
The historical experience of Pioche is 175 miles north of Las Vegas on US 93. Cathedral Gorge State Park, ten miles south, has 22 sites, each with a table, grill and shade ramada. Electric hookups are also available. Sites cannot be reserved. Water and flush restrooms with showers are open year-round. Facilities adjacent to the campground offer large shade ramadas, grills, picnic tables and water. There are two handicapped-accessible campsites at the group area that also have a restroom with flush toilets and showers. Camping is limited to 14 days in a 30-day period. There is also plenty of open desert boondocking surrounding Pioche.