Nevada Characters


A popular stop on a scenic drive around Lake Tahoe is Logan Shoals Vista Point, near historic Glenbrook on Nevada’s beautiful east shore. This overlook is easily accessible by a short stroll off Highway 50, where locals, tourists and wedding photographers appreciate the stunning views. The shoals below were formed by sediment-loading from nearby Logan Creek, but the history behind the family name ascribed to this location is not well-known.

Interpretive plaques at Logan Shoals Vista Point rightly inform visitors about the Washoe Indians who summered at Lake Tahoe for thousands of years. Over millennia the tribe had respected the bounty of the land and water and treated it as such with minimal impact on the region. Starting in 1860, however, the Tahoe Sierra was ravaged in less than 50 years; exploited by gold seekers, timber barons, commercial fishing enterprises and resort entrepreneurs that also privatized much of the property in the second half of the 19th century. But who was Logan?

This story is about Tom Logan, a frontier Nevada lawman, but it was his parents, Carson Valley ranchers Robert and Mary Logan, who established the Logan House hotel at Lake Tahoe in the summer of 1864. The couple bought the choice square-mile parcel with timber and lake frontage in July 1863 for $1,500 — a relatively high price at the time. But with the new Bigler Toll Road passing right by his hostelry, Robert figured he’d make the money back in no time. They opened Logan House in the summer of 1864, just months before Nevada became a state in time to support Abraham Lincoln’s re-election.

Logan House was one of the first commercial teamster and tourist accommodations built at Lake Tahoe, but ultimately the business went bust and the Logan family moved to southern Nevada. I couldn’t find an image of the old hotel, but this is a view from the porch. Note that the building was much closer to the water than the Vista Point.

Thomas W. Logan was born in Franktown, Utah Territory, in 1861, the oldest of seven children. Franktown was an early settlement in Washoe Valley, southwest of present-day Reno. Mary Logan suffered from frail health and died at age 38, six months after giving birth. Robert Logan hired 23-year-old Hannah Hamblin to cook, clean and help raise the kids. Tom was 21 now, and he quickly fell in love with his attractive Mormon caretaker. They married and over the next 20 years had 8 children.

In 1898, at age 37, Tom Logan was sworn in as sheriff of Nye County, Nevada. Tom was a big man at 6’ 4” but well-educated by his father in matters of law and justice and no brute. Nye County is huge; more than 18,000 square miles. It took Sheriff – Tax Assessor Logan 8 days to cross it by horse and buggy. In this photo Big Tom is standing third from left.

In 1900, silver was discovered and Tonopah sprung up as “Queen of the Silver Camps.” Crime in Sheriff Logan’s district went from 22 criminal cases in 1901 to nearly 1,000 in 1904. To acquire more money for their children’s education but against wife Hannah’s moral principles, Tom bought a saloon. Famed gambler/lawman Wyatt Earp also owned a saloon in Tonopah at this time.

In 1902, Logan lost his law badge by 6 votes to miner James Cushing, but Tom was re-elected again in 1905. In early April 1906, Sheriff Logan paid a visit to prostitute May Biggs at a brothel. The two were apparently in a relationship. The following morning, an argument broke out between May and an unwanted loitering customer who attacked her. Dressed in only a nightshirt and unarmed, Logan pursued the culprit to the street where the lawman was shot 5 times without warning. Logan died 2 hours later.

Logan’s death while patronizing a brothel stained his honorable reputation, but the city held a massive funeral for the beloved lawman, complete with marching bands, fire trucks and crowds of mourners. Despite many eyewitness accounts of the brazen killing, the well-known murderer with a long rap sheet was acquitted in what was called “The McCarran Miracle,” named for his defense attorney and future four-term Nevada Senator Pat McCarran’s unwarranted and ferocious attack on Logan’s reputation.

In 2011, more than a century after the killing of Sheriff Tom Logan, the current sheriff of Nye County awarded Logan the department’s Purple Heart and Medal of Valor, thus vindicating and validating his years of distinguished service for the state of Nevada. And the Logan family name is no longer tarnished by a corrupt verdict from so long ago.

To learn more about Tom Logan, read Jackie Boor’s 2014 book “Logan: The Honorable Life and Scandalous Death of a Western Lawman.”

Looking west from Logan Shoals is this view of Cave Rock, an eroded volcanic throat from eons ago. Highway 50 has tunnels bored right through the geologic remnant. Cave Rock has its own fascinating history – see Tahoe Nugget 282.

View of Mt. Tallac and Desolation Wilderness from Cave Rock.

Classic Tahoe scenery from Logan Shoals Vista Point. Note the distant “cross of Mt. Tallac” under the tree branch. The cross forms each spring as the winter snowpack melts away.


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Nevada Characters



It’s been 50 years since Frank Sinatra was forced out of his ownership of the North Shore’s Cal-Neva Casino in late 1963, but that wasn’t the legendary crooner’s only problem in his troubled years at Lake Tahoe. Old Blue Eyes’ questionable relationships with criminals, politicians, and celebrities made for some rough sailing during his reign at Tahoe.

Frank Sinatra was a major partner at the Cal-Neva Lodge from 1960 to 1963. The casino, which straddles the California-Nevada state line, is currently closed for major renovations.

Sinatra’s troublesome history at Lake Tahoe started in 1951 with an intense argument with his lover, Hollywood sex siren Ava Gardner. Both were on extended residencies in Reno, Nevada, to process divorces from their respective spouses so they could marry each other. Sinatra and Gardner spent Labor Day Weekend at the Cal-Neva drinking and gambling.

By all accounts Sinatra loved Ava Gardner passionately, but their relationship was a volatile one.

While enjoying a boat ride in Crystal Bay, Gardner revealed that she had had a recent affair with a co-star and Sinatra flew into a rage. His business manager who was driving the boat became so upset he ran the boat aground near the Cal-Neva pier, tearing a hole in the hull and sinking the boat. That night Sinatra was so despondent that he ingested an overdose of sleeping pills, but his valet called a physician who quite possibly saved Sinatra’s life.

In late July 1962, actor and Rat Pack member Peter Lawford, along with his wife Patricia Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy’s sister, invited Marilyn Monroe to party with them at the Cal-Neva Lodge. Monroe had been an occasional lover of Sinatra’s and he used his private plane to fly her from Southern California to Tahoe. During the 1960 filming of “The Misfits” in western Nevada, Monroe had frequently visited Sinatra at Lake Tahoe and the couple’s romance had blossomed.

Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra enjoying dinner together at the Cal-Neva.

Although the events of what actually happened at the Cal-Neva that July weekend are confusing and controversial (Monroe did meet with performer Dean Martin as well as her ex-husband, baseball great Joe DiMaggio), it would be the sex goddess’ last visit to Big Blue.

Some accounts claim that Peter Lawford had told Monroe privately that her romantic relationships with the Kennedy brothers (President JFK and U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy) had been terminated.

Marilyn Monroe in better times with the Kennedy brothers.

A week later Monroe was found dead in Los Angeles at the age of 36, a tragedy the coroner ruled as suicide but under mysterious circumstances. A half century later rumors persist that Monroe was killed because she had threatened to expose her sexual liaisons with the two Kennedy brothers. Stories about a sexual tryst between Marilyn Monroe and JFK at the Cal-Neva are unfounded.

Rumors of  JFK and Marilyn Monroe “hooking up” at the Cal-Neva are false, but during his campaign for president, Kennedy flew into Reno and drove by himself to Squaw Valley on January 31 just a couple of weeks before the start of the 1960 Winter Olympics. This photo depicts JFK chatting with German-American ski champion Willy Schaeffler and his son Jimmy. (JFK’s opponent, Vice President Richard Nixon, officially opened the Games on Feb. 18.)

In August 1963 Nevada’s Gaming Control Board accused Sinatra of allowing known mobster Sam Giancana to stay at one of the Cal-Neva cottages.

Cal-Neva cottage that gangster Giancana stayed as Sinatra’s guest.

Permitting Giancana, a notorious Chicago hoodlum of national repute, to stay at his casino led Nevada’s Gaming Commission to threaten Sinatra with revocation of his gaming licenses in the Silver State. Sinatra countered with his own threats of retribution, but the evidence was overwhelming and the “Chairman of the Board” surrendered his licenses in October 1963.


Frank Sinatra’s close relationship with mobster Sam Giancana sank his hopes to operate Nevada casinos.

Sinatra’s personal and business life had its ups and downs, but that autumn 50 years ago there was more trouble brewing. Less than a month after Sinatra lost control of his Nevada casinos his personal friend President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas, on November 22.  

The shock of the Kennedy assassination still lay heavy on Sinatra when on December 9 he received word that his son Frank Jr. had been kidnapped from Harrah’s Lodge at South Lake Tahoe. Sinatra Jr., an aspiring singer, and John Foss, a trumpet player in the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, were eating dinner when two parka-clad gunmen barged into their room.

Snatching Sinatra, Jr. in 1963 made national news, albeit one with a typo in this headline.

They blindfolded the 19-year-old Sinatra, threw an overcoat over his shoulders and forced him into a white Chevrolet Impala. Once Foss worked himself free of his bonds he called the police. Officers from the nearby Zephyr Cove substation arrived within minutes while FBI agents from Reno quickly swarmed into the Tahoe Basin.   

Sinatra, Sr. was at home in Palm Springs, California, when word arrived of his son’s abduction. A snowstorm had shut down the South Lake Tahoe airport so he flew to Reno. After a failed attempt to drive to Tahoe over storm-swept Spooner Summit, Sinatra set up headquarters at Reno’s Mapes Hotel. Roadblocks were thrown up on every highway in the region, but the criminals somehow managed to slip through the dragnet.

South Lake Tahoe casino district.

Sinatra had publicly offered one million dollars for the safe return of his son. Inexplicably, the kidnappers asked for only $200,000 in unmarked bills, which an FBI agent delivered to a location in West Los Angeles. Two hours later, Frank, Jr. was released by his captors. He had been held for 54 hours, but was unhurt. When the good news swept the nation, a still grieving Robert Kennedy called to congratulate the Sinatra family.

On Dec. 12, one day after his son’s safe return, Frank Sr. celebrated his 48th birthday at his Las Vegas casino, the Sands, telling friends that “Getting Frankie back is the best birthday present I could ever have.”





Nevada Characters



Fate had been kind to William J. Thorington. Although a short attention span had hindered his formal education in New York, young Bill was smart enough to join the thousands of Forty-Niners rushing to the California gold strike.

Thorington trekked overland during the summer of 1850, traversed the rugged Sierra Nevada at Carson Pass and then headed for the gold diggings. After three years placer mining in the Sierra foothills, Bill Thorington bought a fine farm for only $600 in the fertile Carson Valley near Genoa, Utah Territory.

Nevada Territory was split off Utah Territory and incorporated in March 1861. The region gained statehood in 1864 when President Lincoln needed more electoral votes for re-election. It’s motto is the “Battle Born State” because it achieved statehood during the Civil War.

By 1855, a financial windfall from a short-term loan had netted him the prosperous Eagle Ranch and ownership of the Clear Creek Canyon toll road to Lake Tahoe. The industrious Thorington also planted Nevada’s first fruit trees and dug the first irrigation ditches in the Carson Valley.

Big and burly, with mirthful eyes and curly black hair, Thorington earned the Lucky Bill moniker from his legendary skill as Nevada’s first professional gambler. He excelled at shell and card games.

Gambling has always been a tradition in Nevada, going back to the early mining days of the 1850s.

Over the years Lucky Bill helped many friends and road-weary travelers, as well as strangers fleeing from justice. Historian H.H. Bancroft noted that Thorington was “Benevolent in the sense of Robin Hood; he robbed those that had money or property, and good-naturedly gave of his easily gotten gains a small portion to those who had not, when they appealed to his sympathies—a trait which often distinguishes the gambler.”

Bill was also a devout Mormon and suspected of practicing plural marriage, an issue that generated suspicion and animosity among the increasing number of anti-Mormon residents in the region.

The first permanent settlement in Nevada was established in the Carson Valley in the spring of 1851 by Colonel John Reese, a Mormon who planned to open a trading post on the overland trail. Shortly after the Mormons built Mormon Station, later named Genoa, the first town in Nevada. By 1850 the trans-Sierra route near Donner Pass had been eclipsed by the more popular Carson trail just south of Lake Tahoe. 

Lucky Bill’s reckless risk-taking eventually led to his downfall. In the spring of 1858, William Edwards, a newcomer to the Carson Valley, asked Thorington if he could live at Eagle Ranch for a while. Lucky Bill was unaware that his unassuming guest had just murdered a man in Merced County, California, and was fleeing the hangman’s noose.

After lying low for several weeks, Edwards drifted north to Honey Lake in eastern California. A few days later, Edwards and two accomplices killed Honey Lake rancher, Harry Gordier, for his money and small herd of cattle. When Gordier’s body was found tied up in a sack, floating in the Susan River, community vigilantes took the law into their own hands. The outraged citizens of Honey Lake wrongly hung an innocent man named Snow for the killing, but they soon began to suspect Edwards.

View across Jack’s Valley north of Genoa. Job’s Peak in the distance is located along the eastern front of the Carson Range. A mountain range, river and nearby valley are named after Christopher “Kit” Carson, who came through the region with John Frémont during the winter of 1844. 

Edwards stole a fleet-footed horse and galloped back to Thorington’s ranch. Claiming innocence, he explained to Bill that there had been “trouble back at Honey Lake” and he wanted to sell the valuable steed to escape to South America. Always a champion of the underdog, Lucky Bill agreed to hide Edwards and sell the stolen horse. However, both men underestimated the determination of the Honey Lake mob. Two vigilantes, William Elliott and John Gilpin, pursued Edwards to the Carson Valley where they convinced Edwards and Lucky Bill to sell them the stolen horse. Edwards also told the vigilantes of his escape plans.

This steaming, geothermally-heated creek feeds David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort established in 1862. Nevada has 312 hot springs, the most of any state. 

On June 14, 1858, Lucky Bill was arrested. A quick search of the ranch failed to turn up Edwards. Despite threats of death, Thorington refused to help the authorities locate Edwards, but Bill’s 12-year-old son Jerome was persuaded to reveal the killer’s hideout. Both Edwards and Lucky Bill were taken into custody.

A citizen’s trial took place three days later. Mr. Elliott acted as sheriff, John Cary as judge and eighteen jurors were convened. On the stand Edwards acknowledged his own guilt and swore that Lucky Bill was innocent. William Edwards was condemned to death and ordered hung at the scene of the murder in Honey Lake Valley. Wasting no time, Edwards was escorted back to Honey Lake and by early the following week he was swinging from a hemp rope. (Ironically, Edwards’ two accomplices in the Honey Lake murder were only fined $1,000 each and ordered to leave the territory.)

Mormon Station State Park. Mormon leader Brigham Young sent Orson Hyde to Mormon Station in 1854 to survey a town site, determine the California boundary, and set up a government. Hyde changed the name to Genoa, allegedly in honor of Christopher Columbus’ birthplace in Italy. The name is pronounced “Jen-o-ah” in Nevada. Some might consider it ironic that the Silver State, today renowned for gambing and prostitution, was founded by Latter Day Saints.

Everyone agreed that Thorington was only guilty of aiding an escaping criminal, but vengeance was in the air. The jury ruled Bill Thorington an accessory to murder after the fact and sentenced him to die. The verdict was no surprise to the residents of Carson City since the hanging scaffold was built before the testimony ended. Bill’s luck had finally run out.

Frontier justice was often swift and permanent.

Two days after the trial, William Thorington was hanged at his farm at Clear Creek. The vigilantes placed him on a wagon with a noose around his neck. At 4 p.m., the crack of a whip startled the horses and ended Bill’s life. With a gambler’s resignation to fate, Lucky Bill faced death singing his favorite song, “The Last Rose of Summer.”

Lonely Nevada gravesite.