My grandmother was born in Overton, Nevada in 1891. Named Hazel Margaret Logan, she rarely mentioned her father other than to say he had been a sheriff in Nevada and was shot to death in 1906. The fourth of Sheriff Thomas Logan’s eight children, she was 14 at the time. When Hazel married a miner from Maine in 1914, they boarded a train for Oregon that very day. She never returned to Nevada except to attend her mother’s funeral in 1942. My grandmother died in 1974. We’ll never know how much she knew about her father’s death, his killer, or the controversial murder trial that set him free.
One of Hazel’s daughters, Bethany, was my mother and the seventh of eleven siblings who grew to adulthood conveying a variety of scenarios under which they thought their grandfather had been killed: He was ambushed escorting a prisoner to jail; he was struck by an errant bullet when a gunfight broke out between warring miners; he was shot in the back by a highwayman who had wrestled away his gun; or he had been summoned to the aid of a woman fending off a disorderly gambler with a short fuse and a fully-loaded pistol.
Raised in northern California, I was unfamiliar with any of these narratives until 1985 when, at the age of 33, I attended my first Logan Family reunion in Belmont, Nevada. What I knew then about our history wouldn’t fill the back of a postcard, and I was anxious to learn more. About 30 aunts, uncles, and cousins, many of whom were meeting for the first time, set up camp within the gritty folds of the high desert ghost town of Belmont, about 50 miles northeast of Tonopah, the Nye County seat. Some were in motor homes, others in travel trailers, and a few, like me, my mother, and two-year-old son, roughed it in tents. An uncle constructed a makeshift outhouse and gravity shower. The weather was scorching hot but breezy, meals were potluck classics, the music country, the yarns enthralling, and the favorite watering hole, Dirty Dick’s Saloon, stayed open late. Also invited to the reunion was the nephew of my great-grandfather’s killer, who added his version of what happened that blood-soaked morning at the Jewel—making it impossible for me to know what to believe.
One afternoon, I wandered a short distance from camp into the undulating expanse of parched and twisted sagebrush. A furnace-born wind rushed up from the valley, sweeping away the sounds and trappings of modern days, coaxing into view hazy images of long ago—when the same moaning gusts and incessant whipping currents tormented those seeking fortune from the land or, even more promising, from another man’s pocket.
What secrets had time packed into the dusty crevices of the past about Sheriff Thomas Walter Logan? Born in 1861 in Franktown, Nevada, he distinguished himself as a husband, father, cowboy, rancher, businessman, and public servant. Was it possible that he was to blame for his demise, or was there something more sinister lurking in the shadows? If so, should I search for answers or leave this recalcitrant mystery undisturbed? Even his long-suffering wife Hannah had made known to inquisitive family members that it was best to “let the dead stay dead.”
But what about his voice?
What might Tom Logan have to say about his final hours? What would he want his family to know? What unfinished business might he have left behind? As his beating heart slowly surrendered to eternal silence and his fondest hopes and dreams drained away with his blood, the excruciating pain he suffered was likely due as much to burning regret as it was to the bullet holes in his flesh?
Should I retreat or move closer?
To be sure, in that summer of 1985 at the Logan family reunion, there floated in that warm, beseeching wind an undeniable, distant whisper nudging me to “keep looking.” Beyond mortal curiosity, I was driven by an indescribable longing to know more about my roots and the context of the lives that contributed to my being. Never did I imagine all I would find and the profound impact of those discoveries on me, other Logan descendants, and Nevada history.
The results of my long search for insight and answers are now contained in a newly released book titled: “LOGAN: The Honorable Life and Scandalous Death of a Western Lawman.” Highly praised by Nevada historians such as Guy Rocha and Michael Fischer, the book is dedicated to the families and descendents of fallen peace officers. Like many others who lived, and toiled, and died during Nevada’s early days, the Logan family embodied all that was intoxicating and perilous about the Battle Born state—where life was profoundly subject to the luck of the draw and one man’s legacy could be altered in an instant by the flash of gunfire.