February 7, 1999 - 1:27 am
Updated February 7, 1999 - 9:50 pm
It is impossible to discern, through the haze of time, bigotry and conjecture, whether the man known as Queho was a murderous scoundrel or a scapegoat.
He was indeed a killer. So were many men of the 19th century. There was such a thing in those days as “justifiable homicide,” a doctrine that has become largely obsolete in the modern legal system.
But Queho was an Indian. And he killed white people. There was nothing justifiable about that in a time and place where white men made the rules.
Of his alleged crimes, much is known. Of the man, virtually nothing, except what was reported by the press of the day.
His tribal affiliation is uncertain. He may have been Mojave, Cocopah, Chemehuevi, Paiute or none of those. He was reputed to have been born sometime around 1880 on Cottonwood Island, the illegitimate son of a Mexican miner and a local Indian girl.
By Queho’s time, most of the precious springs adjacent to the Colorado River Basin had been claimed by white men, who made what arable land as existed their own. Scarce game dwindled as the white population grew, and the native peoples were driven to white settlements, mines and ranches to beg or work for whatever the new masters of their lands offered.
Queho is known to have taken odd jobs around the Eldorado Canyon mines. He also gathered driftwood along the Colorado and sold it to the miners. At some point, he broke his leg or his foot. With no access to even rudimentary medical care, the fracture healed unevenly, giving him a characteristic limp, which is supposed to have been detectable from his footprints in the dirt.
The first man he killed was his half brother, Avote, who had gone on a berserk, murderous rampage. In such cases, the Indians were expected to produce a culprit or a corpse. The alternative was to face a general campaign of retaliation by the whites.
Queho and another Indian named Jim White were sent after Avote. Orville Perkins, a Moapa Valley old-timer, wrote of the episode in his book of historical anecdotes, “Hooky Beans and Willows.” He said it was traditional among the Indians that when one of their own committed a capital crime, the culprit’s brother had to execute him. This, he said, was why Queho was sent after Avote.
It is also likely, however, that Queho was sent because he knew the labyrinthine canyons and washes of the lower Colorado better than white men did. They would later learn, to their astonishment and frustration, just how well.
Queho and Jim White found Avote on Cottonwood Island, now covered by Lake Mohave, just as the latter was about to flee. Queho performed the execution. In retelling the incident in a 1966 story in the Nevadan, Ray Chesson wrote, “Stalking Avote on the island, Queho and White let the killer pass them in the wash. They shot him from behind, which as Queho said, seemed the most sensible way to do the job.” Rather than try to drag the body through the swift water and up the canyon, Queho simply cut off his hand, which was minus one finger, Avote’s most distinguishing characteristic.
“They returned to Eldorado … and at that particular moment, Queho was a hero. Before too long, he would be called something quite different.
“Just how many people Queho killed, and under what circumstances, will probably never be known. During the course of his career, he was accused of practically every murder committed in the vicinity of Eldorado Canyon. … His story has been hammered and mauled and shaped by writers across the entire spread of America, and Lord only knows where some of them got their material,” said Chesson, whose story was as questionable as any of those he criticized.
Queho seems to have left his riverside homeland briefly around 1910 to have a look at all the goings-on in the new town of Las Vegas. There was some decent scavenging to be had, but the prosperity that all the white folks talked about didn’t touch the local Indians, with whom Queho stayed. He is supposed to have become embroiled in a feud over the killing of a medicine man, and was thought to have killed a Paiute named Bismarck. There is no record of either homicide, but Queho left town for the Colorado River country before the end of 1910. In the opinion of The Las Vegas Age of Jan. 14, 1911, it was his exposure to the wickedness of Las Vegas that corrupted him.
“Queho … was born in Edorado Canyon and lived there an inoffensive red man until he spent a few months in contact with civilization and bad whiskey last year,” it said.
He found employment with J.M. Woodworth, who set him to work cutting trees on Timber Mountain in the McCullough Mountain range near Searchlight. Somehow, Woodworth angered Queho, who is supposed to have reacted by fatally bashing in Woodworth’s skull with a chunk of cedar.
Harry Reid, in his 1998 book, “Searchlight, The Camp that Didn’t Fail,” devoted an entire chapter to Queho, which he called “The Renegade Indian.” He said that his grandparents, John and Harriet Reid, were traveling to their mine by wagon in October 1910, when they encountered an Indian galloping a horse in their direction, carrying a .30-30 Winchester saddle rifle. They recognized him as an acquaintance, Queho, and stopped briefly to exchange greetings, then went on their respective ways.
“Later, the Reids and everyone else in the area learned that Queho had been hurrying down from Timber Mountain,” Reid wrote.
Shortly thereafter, an elderly night watchman at the Gold Bug Mine, across the river in Arizona, was found dead of a bullet wound to the head. All of his food and his badge were missing.
From Pioche to Searchlight, the word was out; a renegade savage was on the loose. They knew who it was by his distinctive footprints. Posses were assembled, trackers hired, newspapers demanded Queho’s head on a pike. Every lead was pursued. Queho eluded them all.
“Local lawmen, who viewed Queho as little more than an ignorant savage, thought catching him would be child’s play,” wrote Reid. “They couldn’t have been more wrong.”
One afternoon, a local miner came into a clearing near Timber Mountain and there, seated on a rock, his .30-30 rifle across his lap, was the “ignorant savage” himself. Fred Pine, who had known Queho in Las Vegas, greeted him in his most amiable tone of voice. Queho responded in kind, no animosity in his voice. So they did lunch. Pine dug out a bag of sandwiches, and passed some of them to Queho. When he had finished, Queho told Pine that he, too, wanted to share his lunch, and produced a dried rodent of some sort. Pine gracefully declined. After about a half-hour, he decided to try and make an exit. He said good-bye and walked away, expecting to be felled at any moment. He wasn’t.
“I guess he just wasn’t in a killing mood that day,” Pine later recalled.
If the newspapers were to be believed, he got into a “killing mood” again in 1913, when a 100-year-old blind Indian known as Canyon Charlie was found dead, a pickax wound in his head.
In recalling the crime, the Las Vegas Evening Review-Journal of 1938 waxed sensational:
“Charlie’s meager supply of food was gone; mute testimony of the terrifying fact that this ghost-like maniac would kill for anything — or nothing — since he might easily have stolen the old man’s belongings without resorting to murder.” The fact is, this crime probably wasn’t Queho’s. The elder in question, Canyon Charlie, was his friend and confidant.
Within the next two months, two more miners who were working claims at Jenny Springs on the Arizona side of the river, were found dead, shot in the back. Their provisions and personal items were taken. Shortly after that, an Indian woman was found dead, still clutching a bundle of the wood she had been gathering. She hadn’t been robbed. Queho got the blame. He was also accused of slaying one James Patterson, who turned up some days later unhurt, though Reid says that during the course of the search for Patterson, another man had been found murdered. Queho got credit for his demise, too.
As Queho hysteria grew, large rewards were offered for the villain’s capture, eventually reaching $2,000. And the Searchlight Bulletin reminded its readers of the principle that guided most European/American Indian relations in the 19th century.
“A good Indian is a dead Indian,” it thundered.
Between 1915 and 1919, Queho kept his head down. Even so, anytime a prospector disappeared in the desert, or a miner spent too long at the bar and fell asleep, and his wife began to panic, the demonic name of Queho was invoked.
He was the bogeyman. Child won’t behave? Tell him Queho will get him if he isn’t good.
On a cold January day in 1919, two prospectors named Hancock and Taylor set out from their camp near St. Thomas on the Muddy River, upstream from Eldorado Canyon. They left behind a third man, Brown, who was ill. Two days later, a neighbor stopped by the camp and found Brown hysterical with fear. His partners were gone, and he was unable to go search for them. A posse was rounded up in St. Thomas, and it set off downstream. It was a short trip. Hancock and Taylor were found four miles away, both shot in the back. Taylor’s head had been smashed in with an ax handle. Nothing was missing but their shoes. Queho was, of course the prime suspect.
About a week later, Maud Douglas, the wife of an Eldorado Canyon miner, woke up to hear some peculiar noises coming from the larder at the rear of the couple’s cabin. She rose to investigate. She may have seen the figure of her killer, or the blinding flash as he fired his shotgun at close range and filled her chest with buckshot.
It was Queho, everyone decided, doing his winter grocery shopping. On the floor, canned goods and cornmeal were piled, evidently left behind by the fleeing killer. Reid believes that Queho was indeed the killer, but points out that there is room for doubt.
Maud Douglas had two children of her own, and responsibility for two others, Bertha and Leo Kennedy. The boy was but 4 years old at the time of the murder, but he later stated that Arvin Douglas, Maud’s husband, had killed her. Bertha said that she had awakened Maud Douglas and asked for a glass of water, and that was the reason she was in the kitchen at the time. Still, authorities had all the evidence they needed — Queho’s footprints at the crime scene.
It was an atrocity that truly motivated Southern Nevada. Sheriff Sam Gay ordered Deputy Frank Wait to round up a posse, hire the best trackers and once and for all kill or capture Queho. The party included several Indians. The posse tracked him north to Las Vegas Wash, to Callville, and on to Muddy Mountain, where they lost his trail in a snowstorm. Wait picked up more men in Moapa Valley, including five Indians, and the group split into two parties, one going in each direction, encircling the mountain. They found the remains of two freshly killed desert bighorn sheep, but not their man, whose trail eventually led back to Las Vegas Wash.
At Black Canyon (current site of Hoover Dam) Wait awoke one morning and saw a blazing fire in the distance. He counted his posse and discovered that two of the Indians were gone. They were signaling Queho. When they returned, Wait sent them packing.
By this time the exhausted and demoralized posse had dwindled to three men. Wait caught influenza and had to return to Las Vegas. It was the end of that phase of The Hunt for Red Queho. But he remained a very wanted man.
In the early 1930s, Clark County Sheriff Joe Keate was an ardent Queho-chaser. He had first been sent to Southern Nevada in quest of Queho while serving as a state policeman, and seems to have developed a grudging admiration for his quarry. Reid said he once remarked that Queho was “able to starve a coyote to death and still have plenty of strength to continue.” Keate had one close encounter with someone he believed to be Queho, when a bullet whistled past his ear one dark night. The shooter eluded him.
Queho was not without friends. His countrymen certainly assisted him, while at the same time unanimously declaring that he was long dead. And, despite his fugitive status, many whites helped him as well. Murl Emery, the legendary Colorado River boatman, who operated a ferry at Nelson’s landing in Eldorado Canyon for many years, never hid the fact that he saw Queho often, liked him, and wasn’t slow in lending him a hand.
“Why don’t you let the poor Indian rest?” he was once quoted as saying.
The hunt for the renegade Indian finally ended in February 1940. Charley Kenyon, along with brothers Art and Ed Schroeder, were prospecting along the Colorado about 10 miles below Hoover Dam. Charley and Ed were working the high sides of the steep canyon when they discovered what appeared to be a low stone wall. The spot was about 2,000 feet above the river and commanded a total view of the canyon. There was a trip wire, which was rigged to an alarm bell inside the cave on the other side of the wall. Inside the cave were the mummified remains of an American Indian male. He was in a fetal position, which suggested that he had died in pain. He had been bitten by a rattlesnake, which may have been the cause of death.
“Some of his old pursuers,” said Reid, “not wanting to acknowledge that they had been outsmarted, tried to say he had been dead since 1919.”
Not true. Blasting caps, dynamite and sheets of plywood, evidently stolen from the Hoover Dam job site, confirmed that the man had been active as late as the early 1930s. (He used the blasting caps to reload his own cartridges.) Also in the cave were the badge of the old night watchman from the Gold Bug Mine, a .30-30 Winchester saddle rifle, a repeating shotgun, a high-quality bow and a quiver of steel-tipped arrows, probably used for fishing. There were several pairs of eyeglasses, a clue that the Indian’s eyesight failed in his old age. There also were numerous pairs of shoes of various sizes, which were used to patch the pair on Queho’s feet.
But was the corpse actually that of Queho? Old timer “Uncle” Joe Perkins insisted that the man was actually an Indian named Long Hair Tom, who was a close friend of Queho’s. Tom, able to move among the white men and gather supplies, kept Queho supplied, and may have shared the cave with Queho — perhaps even died in it. However, Indians who had known Queho since youth told authorities that he had double rows of teeth, something he had in common with the cave corpse.
Wait, then Las Vegas chief of police, went to the cave, along with a party of 10 others, including Coroner A. J. Nelson, who held an inquest on the spot. The verdict was death by natural causes. Wait told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 1948 that before leaving the cave, he had picked up the corpse and “planted a resounding kick on its posterior,” then added that he had been waiting 20 years to do that.
Charley Kenyon and the Schroeder brothers were paid $300 by the Las Vegas Elks Lodge, a far cry from the $2,000 once offered for the dreaded outlaw.
“But,” added Ed Schroeder, “we did get a bonus of a can of coffee out of the affair. We found it in the cave with the body. It was good coffee. We took it back to camp and used it down to the very last grain.”
A squabble then erupted over who owned the remains. The option of simply burying them doesn’t seem to have been considered. Sheriff Gene Ward put the bones and artifacts in a display case in the county courthouse. Meanwhile, Wait sought out a man named Archie Kay of Moapa, who claimed to be Queho’s next of kin. For $25, he gave Wait a bill of sale for Queho’s remains and all artifacts found in the cave. The old lawman then presented the bill to the Boulder City justice of the peace, and demanded that Queho be released from county custody. The magistrate was evidently horrified at the entire notion, and refused to honor the bill. At the next election, a new justice of the peace was elected.
The bones and artifacts then came into the possession of the Las Vegas Elks, who produced what was then the city’s biggest public celebration, Helldorado. The Elks built a replica of Queho’s cave, and furnished it with what was left of him and his effects. The bones and plunder were later stolen from Helldorado Village. The bones were scattered in Bonanza Wash and later recovered, but the artifacts remain missing.
Roland Wiley, a former district attorney of Clark County, finally obtained a skeleton said to be that of Queho and respectfully interred it beside his Cathedral Canyon desert grotto near Pahrump.
To some, the story of Queho is no more than a tale of a brutish killer. To others, American Indians in particular, it is the story of a man who was abused, hounded for his entire life, then, in death, rendered into a cheap carnival attraction.
“Indians were granted no respect,” Reid wrote. “And they were harassed and discriminated against in increasingly offensive ways. It is no wonder that Queho’s fellow Indians helped him. Nor is it surprising that he became known among the few Indians of the area as someone who had stood up to the white man.”
Part I: The Early Years
Part II: Resort Rising
Part III: A City In Full