There wasn't much to do in Tuscarora during the winter except drink, gamble, and try to stay warm. The camp would get its spectacular fame from silver but that was later. In 1870, gold was being panned in nearby streams in the spring and early summer when melting snow water was flowing. The rest of year found most of the miners and prospectors in other places marking time until the water flowed again at Tuscarora.
On a cold winter night, many of the winter residents were either watching or participating in a poker game. A big fire in the stone fireplace was warming the saloon. As the night progressed, small piles of gold flakes and nuggets in front of the players moved from place to place with no one being a big winner. Finally, there was a big pot. Betting went higher and higher. Everyone was intensely concentrating on the game and didn't notice one of the spectators quietly leave the building.
He picked up several empty assay sacks from a pile on the ground. climbed onto the roof and stuffed the bags down the fireplace chimney. Sliding off the roof, he went back into the saloon. No one had noticed his absence.
Smoke began billowing from the fire place. At first, no one noticed, especially the players who were intent on the poker game as the pot climbed higher and higher. Soon violent coughing and burning eyes were too much to endure and everyone broke for the door to escape. In the confusing and mass exodus, the culprit who had stuffed the bags in the chimney rushed by the table and scooped up all the gold.
A couple of the men realized what had happened. They climbed onto the roof and removed the bags from the chimney. When the smoke had mostly dissipated, the crowd returned and discovered the gold had been purloined from the table.
Enraged, the players talked of lynching, not gambling. Men looked at one another with suspicion, knowing that someone in the room was a thief. There was no way of identifying who did it. Naturally, the game and evening came to a screeching halt and they all grumbled and swore their way back to their tents, caves and shacks...except one happy and now richer miner. The crime was never solved.
Source: Pioneer Nevada - Volume Two, published by Harolds Club, 1956. Photograph of Tuscarora miners from the Northeastern Nevada Museum Archives, Elko.
by Howard Hickson