weather icon Clear

Man’s delusions lead to rampage with an ax

The little, quiet, small town of Austin we know today was once a bustling midstate contemporary of Virginia City. About 165 miles east of Virginia City, it spawned many more mineral strikes than in the Comstock area.

Located at just about the geographic center of Nevada, it was once a major stop on the Pony Express-Overland Stage route, which U.S. Highway 50 follows closely today.

Many stories come from this place that once boasted a population of 10,000 and over 6,000 mining claims. But Austin had it problems, like any other mining community in Nevada.

The late author/historian Dan Ashbaugh, wrote, “Violent crime was a common occurrence in most of the early mining and caused little excitement.”

The well-published murder rate in Pioche between 1870 and 1873 of 73 deaths by gunfire before the first death by natural causes, is really not true, but it makes the tourists sit up and listen.

On July 18, 1863, just two weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg, Austin in the Nevada Territory had an incident with a crazy man that did cause quite a bit of excitement.

Ashbaugh and other historians note that William Cornell went on an ax-wielding rampage, severely wounded several people in Austin, ran off to Clifton and killed three people near there before he appears to have been killed in turn by person(s) unknown.

However, his actions likely had no relation to the recent news received by telegraph in Austin of the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg.

A man from Illinois, Cornell, for unknown reasons, after several weeks of showing signs of severe mental illness, went mad under the delusion that everyone was out to kill him. Ashbaugh noted he first went after his partner, William Meligan. He had poked his head in the tent the men shared about 9 p.m. that night and Cornell struck him with the ax, knocking him down, cutting his nose and forehead badly.

Then Cornell went across the street to Dunham’s saloon and began swinging his woodcutting ax at anyone near. He injured several there, and even smashed the chandelier. Ashbaugh notes someone fired a shot at Cornell, but missed.

Next he went after John Capron, who was passing by in the street, severing all the tendons above Capron’s left elbow. It is reported he then chased after a group of men and clobbering a man by the name of “Frenchy” from Dayton. He was severely injured with “a deep gash from the top of his scalp to the neck.” But Frenchy was “a tough ol’ cuss and managed to go to the nearest saloon, belt down a stiff drink, mount his horse and ride to Clifton that night to have his wounds dressed.”

In the meantime, Cornell went after three other men, inflicting severe wounds on E. Anderson, Charlie Ludlow and Billy Mills.

Running down the hill, Cornell attacked a local barber named Hammersmith, who had enough time to deflect the blow with his arm, but did suffer a hand cut and badly crushed bones.

And still Cornell was not finished. Now he turned the ax around and started going after whomever with the handle, knocking them almost senseless. Then he ran screaming and hollering into the dark toward Clifton.

A hastily formed armed posse went in pursuit of him, but Ashbaugh wrote, “they were so busy picking up the wounded they lost his trail in the darkness.”

The three deaths occurred later in-between Clifton and Austin.

The next morning, reports state, Cornell’s body was found about a half mile west of Clifton. “The back of his head had been caved in, his head nearly severed with the throat cut from ear to ear, and he had been stabbed in the heart five times.”

With no suspects, no one coming forward to say they had seen him after his fatal attacks near Clifton, it was assumed he must have tangled with somebody tougher who finished him off.

Historians note, “No one could inflict those kind of wounds upon themselves and survive.”

The Daily Alta California newspaper at the time reported, “We infer that some benefactor of mankind disposed of this desperate lunatic.”

(Adapted from a story by Dan Ashbaugh, 1963, and Daily Alta California, July 24, 1863)

Dave Maxwell is a Nevada news reporter with over 35 years in print and broadcast journalism, and greatly interested in early Nevada history. He can be reached at maxwellhe@yahoo.com.

Cool down your home with hot-weather tips

It’s that time of year again when triple digits fill the week’s weather forecast. We know with rising temperatures come rising utility bills (often accompanied by rising blood pressure, yikes).

A popular Eagle tradition

The annual Boulder City High School Grad Walk was held this past Friday.

May the Fourth Be With You (a day early)

LEFT: Sophomore Delaney Loeslein gets some assistance during the class challenge of Hungry, Hungry Hippo at Friday’s BCHS year-end assembly.

DIY could be more costly and risky than DIFM

Back in the days of my home-show appearances, attendees would often ask me the same kind of question—“Do you think I could renovate my own bathroom (kitchen, bedroom…)?” To which I would always answer, “Do you know how to replace a light switch?” That would always make them chuckle.

Therapy dogs make testing ‘stress free’ at King Elementary

Test anxiety is a common concern for teachers, parents, and students, especially this time of year for King students as they prepare to take the state test for the first time.

Statehouse daughter heads services to veterans

It’s not out of the ordinary for journalists to sometimes leave the profession and try something new. Especially when they feel a family connection urging them to enter into a divergent field of employment. That’s what happened to one local individual.

Howard turns passion into full-time job

For many self-published authors, the passion to put words on a page ends up being a hobby they do when everyday life frees up a few minutes here and there to do so.

BCHS gearing up for spring play

Spring is in the air and life is abuzz in the Boulder City High School Theatre Department. While residents all over town are packing their winter clothes and embarking on spring cleaning projects; students in the drama department are collaborating on their spring performance of “Yard Sale” by Tim Kelly.

Andrew Mitchell Elementary goes beyond 7 Habits

As a Leader In Me School, Mitchell Elementary frequently refers to the 7 Habits. As a matter of fact, each day at our morning ceremony, students and staff recite our mission statement, which refers specifically to the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.