Press "Enter" to skip to content

Mendocino Outlaws: Shootout at Nimshew

The posses chasing the Mendocino Outlaws rode, walked, and sometimes crawled over a thousand miles in pursuit of the killers of two men east of Mendocino on October 15, 1879. After crossing the Sacramento River at Tehama, the two main posses under Sheriff Jim Moore and Deputy Doc Standley split into separate pursuing parties. The travels of the two groups in the next week provided a glimpse into the attempted thoroughness of their search efforts: East to the town of Vina, a return trip to Tehama, followed by a turn north up that waterway to Blossom's ranch, then east to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, along those foothills for at least fifteen miles, back to Tehama, checked for traces of the criminals at the edge of Thomes Creek, southeast to Newville, near Stony Creek, up that stream to Bear Valley, east to Willows and Colusa, then south to Williams.

At this point all of the Mendocino County posses ran out of cash and provisions. Doc Standley telegraphed a message to businessman Eugene Brown in Mendocino, stating that he would continue the pursuit if funds could be procured to pay for basic expenses. Brown replied that the citizens of Mendocino City had already expended $750 toward the search and no more money could be raised.

By various means all the posses returned to their home county. Meanwhile, the fugitive killers, John Billings, Harrison Brown, and George Gaunce had found refuge in Butte County. Brown's half-sister and brother-in-law took them in temporarily at the small town of Nimshew then showed the wanted men to an empty cabin in the woods not far from town.

Back in Ukiah, Doc Standley and Sheriff Moore procured $200 from the county coffers and without notice headed south. Moore made his way to Oakland to find additional information about Gaunce. Standley traveled to the prison at San Quentin in an attempt to ascertain details on Billings and Brown that might give a hint as to the direction they could have gone. A day later, Sheriff-elect Donohoe set out on a journey to Nevada to warn law enforcement in that state about the fugitives and possibly intercept the outlaws. 

Both Standley and Moore learned that Brown's relatives lived near Oroville. They made haste to that locale only to learn that the Strikers now resided in Nimshew. They traveled on to Chico, rode a stagecoach to Helltown, then walked seven miles to Nimshew, finishing the journey in the dark. The lawmen spent the next two days asking questions at nearby mines, on the streets of Nimshew, and in a saloon they heard that Mr. Striker's oldest son had recounted details about his father's recent purchase of a Winchester rifle. 

No one in Nimshew seemed willing to physically step forward to aid Moore and Standley in locating the killers until they met seventeen-year-old Clarence White. The officers knew his uncle Adam from Ukiah. Along with his willingness to assist, young Clarence appeared capable with a revolver.

Moore and Standley returned to Chico, where they barely settled before an informant told them that the Striker boy had been seen riding to a cabin in Butte Canyon a mile or so outside of Nimshew. The boy carried a sack that bulged with provisions, a loaf of bread plainly visible. 

A stage driver not only provided transportation for the two lawmen back to Nimshew but loaned them extra firearms. Early on December 5th, in a pouring rain, Clarence White joined Standley, Moore, and the stage driver on a walk through the dark from Nimshew to the suspect cabin. White proved so anxious to join in the manhunt that he walked eight miles round trip to retrieve a Winchester of his own.

The four man posse slogged down a ridgeback to within shouting distance of the cabin in question. It rested on a bench overlooking a steep canyon. White and the stage driver circled around to take up positions slightly above the rear door of the log cabin. Standley and Moore edged along on their bellies to within thirty yards of the front door, disguised by only a few trees. Dawn seeped light on the soggy clearing surrounding the cabin's entrance. In the dim glow of that first light George Gaunce emerged through the front door. He picked up an ax and commenced to split wood on a chopping block.  

Gaunce cleaved a chunk of pine then looked around at the sound of something, or someone, moving near the rear corner of the hideout. White readied his rifle. Standley called out to Gaunce to raise his hands. Gaunce let the ax slip to the ground and, for a second, it appeared he might surrender. Then he raced to the front door. A round from Doc's Winchester chased him inside. Moore's shotgun peppered the doorway with buckshot. 

The cabin's wall proved little more than paper thin. Standley's Winchester passed through it eight more times. Moore emptied his heavy Wesson revolver into the cabin as well. White discharged at least one round, but the stage driver apparently left his post covering the rear door. Gaunce and Brown raced out the back and scrambled into thick brush. 

Clarence White fired after them to no avail. The young man wheeled about to find Billings staggered at the open rear door by the gunfire of Standley and Moore. The wounded outlaw tried to raise his revolver then hobbled, with his pants torn open at one knee, toward a boulder that might provide cover. A round from White's gun dropped him before he reached it. The bloodiest of all the Mendocino Outlaws, who had robbed and murdered from Montana to Idaho, into Oregon and California, finally lay dead in the morning mud.

White hollered, “We got one.” In a calmer tone he added that the other two had escaped.

Moore took Billings' body to a brief inquest in Nimshew. Standley and Clarence White set out into the hills after Harrison Brown. Standley recognized the fugitive's boot print and surmised that he might be injured because his strides were of unequal lengths. The tracks led the posse men two miles or more into ever steeper and rockier terrain, so they circled back to pick up the trail of Gaunce's escape route.

(The hunt for the last of the Mendocino Outlaws continues.)


  1. Tony S June 21, 2021

    “The hunt for the last of the Mendocino Outlaws continues.”

    Seeing as this happened in 1879, I reckon they’re dead.

  2. Jim Armstrong June 21, 2021

    Well, Clarence White is off to a heck of a start.
    I hope there will be some follow-up on his future in the trade.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *