John Daly (outlaw)

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John Daly (1839 – February 1864) was an American Old West outlaw and leader of the "Daly Gang". Daly and his gang were known for terrorizing townspeople with the violent treatment of those who resisted their thievery. A citizen posse would catch and hang Daly near Aurora, Nevada after a brutal murder.

Outlaw life, hanging[edit]

John Daly, by most accounts, was born in New York and wound up in California by way of Canada. He was said by the Esmerelda Star to be a handsome man. In late 1862, at somewhere around 23 years of age, with a string of dead men reportedly in his past (a rumored 4 to 10 in Sacramento, California alone), Daly rode into Aurora, Nevada to make his living off of the gold rush, one way or another. The Pond Mining Company hired him and associates John McDowell, alias Three Fingered Jack, Italian Jim, William Buckley, Jim Sears, and many others to protect its interests. The Pond was fighting with the Real Del Monte Mining Company over claims to Last Chance Hill. Both companies hired gunmen to intimidate the other side and to keep witnesses from testifying against their companies in court. Within three years some twenty-seven of citizens had to their death by the hand of violence.

In the fall of 1863, Daly and several of his men became deputy city marshals of Aurora. At this point one murder followed another. Honest merchants were shaken down by dishonest lawmen. In 1864 the Esmeralda Star is quoted with saying "No sooner had the Marshal been sworn in than the worst villains that ever infested a civilized community were appointed policemen, and with but few exceptions they were composed of as hard a set if criminals ever went unhung."

In April, 1863, Daly Gang member Jim Sears had seen a horse tied in front of Mayberry's, near Hoy's Station, on the banks of the West Walker; mounted the animal and rode away. The owner, a German named Louis Wedertz, was much distressed by the loss of his horse, and followed down the road to Jack Wright's Station, now Wellington, and asked assistance of W. R. Johnson, who was keeping the place. Mr. Johnson directed John A. Rogers, one of his men, to mount and pursue the robber and bring the horse back. Away flew Rogers in hot pursuit, leaving a dense trail of dust behind him. The thief was overtaken at Sweetwater, and being called upon three times to stop, and refusing to comply, was shot dead. The horse was returned to the happy German, and both Johnson and Rogers were commended for their activity in recovering the stolen property, the fate of the robber being considered a deserved one.

The balance of the band determined to kill Johnson for the part he took in this affair, and laid their plans to accomplish this secretly. They sought to induce him to go to Adobe Meadows, where they owned a ranch, and keep a station there, intending to kill him, where there would be none to witness the act. They so far prevailed upon him that he was in Aurora on the first day of February, 1864, with the intention of going with them to view the place on the following day. Their intentions were discovered by one of Johnson's friends, who told him that if he went with them to Adobe Meadows he would certainly be killed, and advised him to tell the conspirators that he had received a letter from his wife that necessitated his return home in the morning, and that he would go with them some other time. Johnson did as he was advised, and retired to bed. The conspirators were satisfied that their victim had discovered their intentions, and determined to kill him that night. They went to the place where he was sleeping, aroused him, and coaxed him down to a saloon, where the balance of the night was spent. Between four and five o'clock in the morning Johnson started for his lodgings, and was met on Antelope Street by four men, and shot. Such a senseless murder enraged the town. Dailey, James Masterson, and John McDowell were arrested by the authorities, and lodged in jail, while Sheriff Francis, with an eager posse, started in pursuit of William Buckley, who had fled. The prisoners were given a preliminary examination before Justice Moore, at the old police station, during which an altercation occurred between one of the Dailey crowd, named Vance, and a citizen by the name of Watkins, resulting in the shooting of Vance in the groin. Gang member and gunman Pliney Gardner was also captured, along with "Irish Tom" Carberry and others, but deemed to have played no part in the murder, and were banished from the territory. No witnesses could be found to testify against them or court officials to try their case for fear of retribution. Around 600 men met at Armory Hall and formed the "Citizens Safety Committee" in response. The vigilantes took matters into their own hands, marching to the jail and demanding custody of the prisoners.

For several days saloons had been required to close their doors at 9 o'clock in the evening, and on the ninth, the day set for the execution, business of all kinds was suspended. People for miles around came flocking into town, and on that day no less than 5,000 were gathered here, the majority of them being in sympathy with the proceedings. The town was very quiet, guards patrolled the streets, and everything was still and orderly, and when Governor Nye telegraphed to Samuel Youngs, one of the County Commissioners, that there must be no violence, that gentleman sent the following reply: "All quiet and orderly. Four men will be hung in half an hour." At noon the vigilante companies formed in a hollow square about the scaffold, being under the command of Colonel Palmer, who received his orders from the executive committee in Armory Hall. The four doomed men were escorted to the scaffold, while guards upon the outside of the square kept the crowd at a distance. The execution could be witnessed to great advantage from a number of places in town, and at each one of these was assembled a crowd of eager spectators. Daly reportedly took a swig of whiskey while McDowell professed the innocence of Masterson and Buckley, but at half-past 1 o'clock a little cannon that stood beside the gallows was fired, the rope was cut, and the four men disappeared through the trap-door and were soon hanging lifeless, a terrible example of the vengeance of an outraged community.

This action so angered Governor James W. Nye that two days later he headed for Aurora with a Provost Marshal Van Bokkelen and United States Marshal Wasson and was going to call out the troops from Fort Churchill to put down the vigilantes. After the Marshal looked into the facts no action was taken against the "Citizen Safety Committee" and things were quiet at last.

Daly had two houses and two or three lots in town at time of his hanging on February 9, 1864, including a cabin on the west side of Court St. south of Pine.


  • Sifakis, Carl. Encyclopedia of American Crime, New York, Facts on File Inc., 1982
  • McGrath, Roger D. Gunfighters, Highwaymen, and Vigilantes: Violence on the Frontier., University of California Press, Mar 23, 1987
  • Thompson & West. History of Nevada 1881, With Illustrations And Biographical Sketches Of Its Prominent Men And Pioneers, pp. 401–425]