Code of the West

Code of the West
An Elko Shooting in 1877

      It was right out of the movies. The setting is R.H. Bernard's Corner Saloon in Elko on January 16, 1877. A local nymph du pave, Mollie Costello, was there talking to bartender Robert Crozier. He began making disparaging remarks about Mollie. Their argument became loud. Bob bellowed more insulting declarations about Mollie's morals. 
      Charles Davis, also known as Montana Charlie, was sitting across the room and took offense at the insults hurled at the woman. Crozier had broken one of the Codes of the West. He said terrible things about a woman. Her lowly status in life did not enter into the situation - she was a member of the fairer sex. Besides, Mollie and Charlie were lovers.
      Standing, Charlie said, "You have said about enough."
      A sneering Crozier replied, "Maybe you want some of it, too."
      Davis snapped, "Only my respect for gray hair prevented me from putting a head on you before this."
      Crozier walked to the bar, poured himself a stiff one and slugged it down. He turned with a pistol in his hand and asked Davis if he was heeled. That's western talk for armed. Before Montana Charlie could reply, Crozier fired. He walked toward the wounded man who retreated to the rear of the pool room where he seized a bystander and kept the frightened man between himself and Crozier. The shooter fired again and Charlie dropped to the floor dead. The second shot was wild leaving a gouge in the pool table. It is possible that this, too, was an infraction of the Code - don't damage the billiards table.
      The first bullet had done the fatal damage. Another Code of the West was violated. One does not gun down an unarmed man.
      An autopsy revealed that the initial round had gone through Charlie's left arm between the elbow and shoulder. Striking his third and fourth ribs without penetrating, the slug broke the seventh rib and continued through the lower lobe of his left lung before passing through the left side of his heart and across the spinal column.
      A coroner's jury was told by one Charlie's friends that his real name was Charles Silverstein, age 22, a native of Sacramento, California.. The jury ruled that Silverstein was shot dead by Robert Cozier.
      Cozier's attorney, knowing his client would be convicted of first degree murder in the tough district court in Elko, was able to get the trial moved to Winnemucca. He thought a jury there would be more lenient.
      On May 3, the case went to the jury. They worked all night. Early in the morning, on the seventh vote, they convicted Robert Cozier of first degree murder. So much for belief that the Winnemucca court was soft on criminals.
      In August, Cozier appealed his conviction to the Nevada Supreme Court. He was turned down. Then, he sent a petition to the State Board of Pardons to have his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment. No luck there either.
      On November 3, 1877 Cozier was hanged by the Humboldt County Sheriff in Winnemucca.

Howard Hickson

Sources: Elko Weekly Independent, January 21, 1877. A Sagebrush Saga, Lester W. Mills, 1956.

©Copyright 2003 by Howard Hickson.

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