By: James S. Reed, 2013
Dog Ear Publishing, 205 p., paperbackLadies and Gentleman, we have a new champion – Jim Reed.
Reed, who has just published a historical account of the Convict Lake story – The Fatal Affair in Monte Diablo Canyon – has written, in The Sheet’s estimation, the best book by a local author (at least in the past decade).
The book broadens the story of the shootout between escaped convicts from Carson City and the local posse which pursued them, giving the reader a local, regional and even national historical perspective of what was happening at the time.
Along the way, you learn about the first-ever train robbery in the United States, who Lee Vining was and how he died, the derivation of the pen name Mark Twain and more.
Jim Reed knows a lot, and he imparts that knowledge in a very entertaining way – even more impressive when you consider that he’s entirely self-taught. He’s not the product of book groups and workshops; just hard toil and trial and error.
“I didn’t know how to write a book when I started,” he said. “I sounded too much like an attorney.”
Sheet: What was the inspiration for the book?
Reed: When I read the plaque out at Convict Lake, that’s when I got interested … and as it turns out, the plaque is wrong. It’s off by a week.”
The plaque says the shootout took place on Sept. 17, 1871. The actual date was Sept. 24.
In the shootout, Robert Morrison, a well-respected young man who owned a mercantile store in Benton, was killed along with an Indian guide named “Mono Jim.”
“Most people don’t realize that the convicts won the gun battle because they had superior firepower,” says Reed.
Morrison, who subsequently had the mountain above Convict Lake named for him, had been due to get married within the week.
Tragically, Mt. Morrison would not be named after Morrison if his gun hadn’t jammed – the ultimate ‘oh, s$#t’ moment. The convict he had targeted took advantage of the reprieve, shooting Morrison twice at point-blank range.
The men responsible for the two killings were part of a group of 29 men who had made a prison break from Carson City a week earlier.
Of the 29 men, 26 were ultimately caught and returned to prison, the two involved in the Convict Lake shootings were caught near Bishop and hanged, and one man, as Reed is fond of saying, “disappeared into history.”
Reed, a partner in the local law firm of Liebersbach, Mohun, Carney and Reed, grew up in Eastern n White Pine County near what is now Great Basin National Park
Reed says when he asked his father how the family ended up way out there in the 1850’s, Dad joked, “Well, that’s where they stopped chasing us.”
In the book’s author section, it notes that “Reed graduated from the University of California’s Hastings College of Law before serving as chief counsel of the California Legislature’s Assembly Judiciary Committee, where he helped write the state’s iconic environmental quality act.”
While he is primarily a self-taught writer, all writers have their influences and the two writers Reed mentioned as his favorites are Bill Bryson and Simon Winchester.
In particular, Reed lauded Winchester’s “Atlantic: A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories” and Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything.”
Reed will sign copies of his book this Saturday, March 15 from 2-4 p.m. at the Booky Joint in Mammoth. He has limited copies of his first printing (125) left and plans to order 500 more.
He had two publishers interested in the book, but ultimately decided to do it himself once he learned there would be a two-year wait.
The paperback version sells for $15.95
As for the next project, Reed says, “I’m looking at writing something about John C. Fremont and Mark Twain, as it pertains to Mono County, the Eastern Sierra and Western Nevada.”