Fish Creek War
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Richard Waller

I drove out of Eureka heading south past the Fish Creek Ranch on the trail of the charcoal war. The road after a few turns heads west to Fish Creek Canyon draining the east side of the Fish Creek Range. Fish Creek was dry as a bone. I found a series of Kilns and burn pits dating from the 1870s. At the first site there was a burn pit and a small stone structure. my guide book called it a small kiln, It didn't look like a kiln to me, it is much too small. It looks like a small hornos or beehive oven. My guess is  that it was for baking bread, not for making a small amount of charcoal. As I continued up the canyon I found on the right, a carbonari camp area. There is quite a bit of old charcoal on the ground here.

Juniper and Pinion Pines were cut by axe and sawn to four foot lengths, stuffed in holes dug about three feet into the ground, and about 6 by 6, then packed with rock and dirt, leaving a small hole to provide barely enough oxygen to maintain combustion. The wood was charred until it was ready, then dug out, packed into bushel bags, loaded on double trailered 14 mule teams and hauled into Eureka to provide fuel for the smelters.

The cutters were paid 27.5 cents a bushel for the charcoal. There were approximately 800 to 1,000 Carbonari in the hills in the vicinity of Eureka cutting trees and making charcoal. The mines consumed up to 16,000 bushels a day of charcoal. Every tree for 30 miles around Eureka was cut down leaving a desert of stumps where once had grown great forests.

This drive is a fascinating expedition into the heart of Nevada history. For several miles burn pits and ancient camps are scattered along the canyon. The carbonari obviously would move camp and their pits up the canyon as the timber line receded before their axes. I crept over the summit in my jeep, then down the far side, following the directions in a little guide book. I followed a faint track north into the hills to the actual site of the shootings.

I created a picture of the scene that terrible day in August of 1879:

The posse would have ridden on horseback out of Eureka early in the morning following the same route I had just driven, arriving many hours later to the most distant carbonari camp. They were tired, they were hot, probably a number of them had been drinking along the way. You could reasonably guess that they were by now angry, irritable and half drunk as they rode up the long slope in the August sun to the wood cutting area.

Picture the Italians:

How many were here? Perhaps around 100. Sitting, waiting, playing cards. On strike, not working. Some of the freight wagons that came out for charcoal weeks before had been tipped over or unloaded, and here comes a posse of Anglos riding up the hill. Hot, sticky, tired, irritable, half of them drunk. In front of them they see nothing but Italian scum, guinea's, wops, men, who for the most part, spoke no English, who had no education. They were skilled at what they did, but they were terribly underpaid, and they were literally starving to death.

These scum had shut down the most important mines in Nevada. You can imagine the anger of the posse members. The Italian's were defensive. The posse was telling them to get back to work, someone started shooting, screams, shouts, yells. When it was over, five Italian's were dead and six were wounded, one of the posse members had a slight scratch.

The men of the posse were charged with murder, charges were dismissed.

None of the Italians were prosecuted for anything either. The mine owners reduced the price of charcoal. The carbonari had no choice but to go back to work at 22 cents a bushel. I walked among the old trees at the cutting face, desiccated nearly petrified logs and stumps, still with axe marks from all those years ago littered the landscape, giving it an air of unfinished abandoned business. I can imagine the Italian's refusing to come back to this spot. Moving on, leaving their cuttings right here.

Below me to the west the slope was open, barren, only a few pines grew. Above me to the east, thick pinion and juniper forest. Here at the cutting face, axe scarred trees clearly mark the boundary. It is hard to imagine a tougher, more rugged, denser wood, than the pinion or the juniper, trunks half dead, dried out, dessicated by the desert winds, nearly hard as iron.

An unintentional, but enduring memorial to those who fell here:...

I arrived at late evening. As the sun set to the west, long shadows fell and the wind blew fiercely across the mountains. It is a haunting, perhaps a haunted spot, as far from anywhere of significance to civilized man, as can be found. Twelve wild horses escorted me up the track to this site. Perhaps they were the spirits of the Italian's who were shot, ambushed and killed at this spot on August 18, 1879.

Pompeo Pattini, age 35, Switzerland, Antonio Canonica, age 22, Switzerland, Giovanni Pedroni, age 22, Italy, Marcellius Locatelli, age 25, Italy, Teodoro Zesta, age 28, Italy.

An old seemingly petrified desiccated log lies here, still with the saw marks from all those years ago. Their memorial is not truly in the graveyard at Eureka, it is here, the rock hard dried and weathered pinion with axe marks still visible.

Of all the events in the labor struggles in America, some names are familiar to us. Joe Hill shot by the Utah firing squad. Sacco and Vanzetti put to death for a crime they didn't commit. The shootings at the Pullman strike in Chicago Yet out here in the west, unknown Italian laborers striking for better pay were massacred, five of them killed, six of them wounded. This story is not well or widely known, as it took place in an isolated mountainous area in the middle of the most isolated area of the country. 30 miles south of the town of Eureka, Nevada.

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