By Matt Starman

In the 1880’s the area we now know as Reno, Nevada was still very much desolate and unpopulated. In fact, in 1880 Reno had a population of only 1,302 people. It was this new settlement in Nevada that would become the origination point of what would become the Nevada-California-Oregon Railroad. The development and building of this railroad was truly the epidemy of the wild west; up to and including a good old fashioned shootout. The shootout that occurred at the stockholders meeting of what was then the Nevada & Oregon Railroad would be one of the major highlights in the development of the railroad.

Colonel Thomas Moore of Elizabeth, New Jersey was hired by John Davis to lead the construction of The Nevada & Oregon Railroad. He arrived in Nevada in April of 1880. He met with local businessman over the course of 3 days discussing potential routes for the new railroad. The original intent had been to build south. However, by this time the Carson & Colorado railroad was already under construction building towards the Owens Valley in California and the proposed Nevada & Arizona Railroad was planning to build a railroad in the same area as the Nevada & Oregon.

After finally settling on the final destination of the railroad, upon Moore’s recommendation, The Nevada & Oregon Railroad Company was incorporated on June 1, 1880. From the beginning the relationship between Colonel Moore and the railroad’s board of directors was always strenuous. There were multiple disagreements on all matters of the railroad direction and construction. Even the people in Reno doubted Moore’s ability. They felt he would never actually build the railroad. Yet, construction did actually begin, building north from Reno.

On April 25, 1881, the railroad was reorganized as the “Nevada & Oregon Railroad”, officially dropping the word “The” from the formal company name. The board of directors all met this same day and deeded all the rights to the new company. Construction continued at a steady pace out of Nevada and into California. However, Moore was always looking for ways to cut costs. So much so that there were frequent delays of workers being paid and supplies arriving to the rail head. During this time the relationship between the Board of Directors and Colonel Moore became even more tense. None of the financial advances made by the directors had been repaid yet and to make matters worse none of the money Moore had received had been properly accounted for.

Colonel Moore at this time controlled the majority of the company’s stock. But because the company had no official by-laws specifying the terms of the directors, Moore was not able to make any decisions regarding the board. Technically the directors could remain on the board indefinitely, unless they were removed by the stockholders. Colonel Moore called for a special stockholder meeting to be held on September 27, 1881. The sole intention of this meeting was to remove the current board of directors and replace them with individuals more suited to Colonel Moore’s liking.

The board of directors caught wind of Colonel Moore’s special meeting and they called a special meeting of their own set for September 25, 1881; two days before Moore’s. On the day of the meeting the railroad’s secretary, Squire Scoville, just happened to be absent. Disregarding this unusual abnormality, the board hired a local locksmith to open the company’s safe. When the safe was finally unlocked, the board was shocked to find the safe completely bare. It appeared not everyone was against Mr. Moore. Scoville, acting on behalf of the Colonel, took the company’s books prior to the meeting and fled to San Francisco. That didn’t stop the directors from taking some sort of action that day. Being in the majority during the meeting they issued themselves 50,000 shares of company stock; while Moore retained only a measly 5,000 shares. This completely turned over the balance of power to the board.

Colonel Moore however would not stand for this. He immediately filed an injunction from the Nevada Courts prohibiting the board from voting or transferring stock at a special meeting. Judge Wheeler, who was on the side of the board, in turn obtained an order from the Federal Courts thereby modifying the original injunction, which than allowed the stock to be voted upon.

The day of Moore’s stockholders meeting, a number of railroad workers also showed up to the company office. Allegedly they had showed up to collect their paychecks, but in reality, they were there to provide some physical support for Colonel Moore. When Judge Wheeler and his party showed up, Moore informed them that they were no longer stockholders and recommended that they leave the office. After some arguing back and forth, things began to get physical. When attempts were made to physically remove James McMecham from the premises, gunshots began to ring out. Daniel Balch and the formally absent company secretary Squire Scoville were hit. Scoville did not recover from his wounds and died six days after the incident. He left behind a widow and two young children. Mr. Balch recovered from his injuries and in an interesting turn of events, became the railroad’s president several weeks later. For a period of time there were actually 2 different board of directors for the railroad. Nonetheless, in time, Moore’s board would eventually regain full control.

News of this shootout spread far and wide and people travelled from Virginia City and Carson City to Reno to learn more about the incident. The examination of the event continued for the next 10 days and was documented fully by the Reno Gazette. Each party dutifully proclaimed their innocence in the matter. When each man who had possessed a gun that day was questioned about why they felt the need to bring a firearm to business meeting, each recalled that they thought it would be a good idea to bring a gun with them “just in case”. Even more odd than each man’s generic response to their role in this event that 8 bullets were located after the shooting, but only 3 empty gun chambers.

A grand jury in Reno contemplated the testimony given, but after 3 days they made the decision to adjourn. The jury cited that there was not sufficient evidence to make a conviction of whomever may be the guilty party. Wheeler and Moore continued to battle each other in both Nevada and New York state courts over the next several years. Wheeler and his crew stated that Colonel Moore had not lived up to his end of the contract. Even accusing Moore of taking $12,000 of company funds for his personal use. Fighting back, Moore filed a counter lawsuit in the amount of $500,000 (Approximately $14.6 Million in 2023 dollars) claiming defamation of character by Wheeler.

The original order that permitted the voting of stock was vacated in November of 1881. This in turn endorsed the election of Moore’s directors. The lawsuit was carried on and in the end a man by the name of Judge Sabin made a ruling that the issue of the Nevada & Oregon Railroad stock was fraudulent and therefore void in its entirety. The judge’s reaction was reported in the papers as “The case was the most outrageous that ever came under his notice. There is no shadow of right of decency in it. He characterized the offers of the interested parties to sell out for large sums of money as utterly corrupt and such as no honest man would think of”.