Saturday, October 04, 2008

Bodie Ghost Town Gunfight: Nixon vs. McDonald

Halloweener #1

In Oct. 2006 I spent some time going over some unusual, mysterious, and spooky folklore to celebrate the month of Halloween. I skipped last year, but I wanted to do some blogs for this year. I hope, if everything works out, to get a few more done this month.

In this first one there is nothing really spooky or scary about it at all, but it is the story about a gravesite so I thought this would be a good one to start off on. First off, a special treat. No trick on this one though since it was way before my time. Here is a picture taken around 1956 of Bodie Ghost Town's cemetery from the family archives:
Now to our story. The following is taken from Roger McGrath's Gunfighters, Highwaymen, & Vigilantes (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), pgs. 218-219:

"The Early morning hours of Thursday, 13 June 1878, found Patrick Gallagher's Shamrock saloon crowded with men. Some stood at the bar drinking Irish whiskey, others were at the chop counter eating fried steaks, while several huddled around the gambling tables playing faro. Alex Nixon, the popular and powerfully built thirty-one-year-old, Irish-born president of the Bodie Miner's Union, treated the men at the bar to a round of drinks. When they had finished, Tom McDonald offered to buy the next round. But he found himself out of pocket change and asked the bartender, T.C. O'Brien, to lend him a dollar. Nixon objected and handed McDonald the dollar himself. The action offended McDonald. Heated words were exchanged, and then, when McDonald said he was the better man, Nixon unleashed a vicious blow that caught McDonald under the right eye and sent him tumbling to the floor.

Terrence Brodigan, a deputy constable and son of one of the discoverers of the Bodie's gold, grabbed Nixon from behind and tried to restrain him. The union president wheeled about and said, 'Do you want any of it? Don't throw your hand behind you, for I am heeled. But I don't want any trouble with you for you are a constable.' By now McDonald had gotten to his feet and was leaning against the bar. He said to Nixon, 'It's pretty hard for a man to be knocked down, get a black eye and cut face for nothing.' 'You're a son of a b---h for letting me do it, even if I do weigh twenty pounds more than you,' replied Nixon.

The dark-complexioned, thirty-five-year-old McDonald was over six feet tall and no small man himself. Nevertheless, he stepped back, drew a revolver, and asked Nixon, 'Will you give me even chances?' 'Yes, by God,' answered Nixon.

O'Brien, now out from behind the bar, seized McDonald by the arm, and officer Brodigan caught hold of Nixon. But Nixon struggled free and drew a revolver from his hip pocket. At the same time McDonald pulled his arm out of O'Brien's grasp. Both men opened fire. Nixon's first shot missed McDonald by inches, but McDonald's hit Nixon in the side. 'My God, boys, I'm shot. Run for a doctor,' exclaimed the big miner as he staggered back and fell to the floor. As he lay there with blood running out of a hole in his side, he fired two more shots at McDonald. They missed. One of the bullets was found the next day embedded in a head of cabbage in the restaurant next door. McDonald returned the fire. The rounds tore holes in the wooden planks of the Shamrock's floor but left Nixon untouched. It hardly mattered. Less than two hours later Nixon died from the effects of McDonald's first shot.
On Friday, hundreds of Bodieites, including John Nixon, the brother of the deceased, viewed Nixon's body as it lay in a coffin in the Miners' Union Hall. Late in the afternoon, a funeral procession, said to be the 'largest turnout ever seen in Bodie,' made its way from the union hall to the cemetery. With F.K. Bechtel, a prominent mine owner and judge, conducting the gravesite service, Alex Nixon was laid to rest, some six thousand miles from his native Country Tyrone. Tom McDonald, meanwhile, was arrested, charged with murder, and lodged in jail. On Thursday afternoon, he appeared before D.V. Goodson, justice of the peace. But the justice decided it was 'impracticable to examine him at this time' and had him transferred to the county jail at Bridgeport for 'safe keeping.' Finally, on 24 June, McDonald appeared in justice court again. This time he was remanded to the custody of the sheriff to await action of the grand jury. His bail was set at $2,500. He remained in jail at Bridgeport another four days before a group of friends raised the money and bailed him out. When the grand jury met two months later, the jurors declined to indict McDonald, and the charge against him was dropped."
You may want to double click the above picture to see the inscription as a bigger picture.
I have something special planned for the ghost town of Bodie in the next few months. There are going to be a bunch of blogs I do on it near the end of the year so stay tuned for that.

A few links:

Bodie in the California State Park Site