In the summer of 1869, Italian immigrants in Eureka, Nevada decided to go on strike to protest low wages. Local tensions escalated the situation to the point of violence, and, on August 18, 1879, five protesting Italian immigrants were killed.

In the 1870s, Eureka was the second largest mining town in Nevada. Eureka produced primarily charcoal, and many flocked there as new smelters increased labor demands. As was the case in many other booming western mining towns, immigrants made up a large portion of the population. Italians were by far the largest immigrant group in Eureka. Racial and cultural prejudice against Italians that was prevalent throughout the United States was mirrored in Eureka and other western mining towns. As a result, they were paid less than half of what the average miner made. On July 6, 1879, a large group of mainly Italian coal burners gathered at a local saloon to unionize. They formed the Eureka Charcoal Burners Protective Association with the goal of increasing wages. Since Italians made up the majority of Eureka’s cheap labor force, the group's resulting labor strike halted charcoal production. 

With a dwindling charcoal supply, tensions in town grew. Eventually, Sheriff Matthew Kyle began arresting some of the strike’s ringleaders. Further, because he did not want to involve state militia, he created a “fighting posse” to go to the charcoal camps and arrest the strike leaders.  They did so over the next month, but on August 18, 1879, the posse turned violent.

The posse of about 20 men set out for Fish Creek, where a large group of strikers was rumored to be camped.  Despite being extremely outnumbered by the striking laborers, deputies attempted to arrest the strike leader. When strikers resisted and the posse was unable to make their arrest, tempers flared. Marshall Rich, one of the head deputies, started insulting the Italian leader, who pulled out his gun and fired at Rich. The posse then opened fire on the mostly unarmed coal burners. Five Italians were killed in the massacre, six were seriously injured, and fourteen were sent to prison. Those who died were all Italian and included: Giovanni Pedroni, Marcellus Locatelli, Todoro Zesta, Pompeo Pattini, and Anotonio Canonica.  

Other accounts of the massacre vary, with some placing all of the blame on the posse and others claiming that the Italians were seeking violence. Regardless, the posse ceased making arrests after this and no one in the posse was charged. The strike eventually ended, and tensions between the Italians and other groups lessened in the following years.

Images

Ore Shutes in Eureka
Ore Shutes in Eureka Some of the ore chutes in Eureka, which were used to transport ore from the mines into town. Source: “Ore Shutes Eureka, Nevada- NARA.” Timothy H. O’Sullvan. 1871. Via Wikimedia Commons. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/13/ORE_SHUTES_EUREKA%2C_NEVADA_-_NARA_-_524115.jpg/800px-ORE_SHUTES_EUREKA%2C_NEVADA_-_NARA_-_524115.jpg.
Eureka Smelter
Eureka Smelter A large industrial smelter in Eureka. Eureka grew to be one of the biggest mining towns in the Intermountain West, which can be seen from the size of this smelter. Source: “Eureka Consolidated Smelter.” Ca. 1880. Via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eureka_Consolidated_smelter_ca1880.jpg.
Mine in 2008
Mine in 2008 One of the biggest lead-silver mines in Eureka. Source:

“The Historic Richmond Mine, One of the Two Major Lead-Silver Mines in Eureka.” Jerry Willis. June 2008. Via Wikimedia Commons. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eureka,_Nevada#/media/File:Richmond_Mine-Eureka_NV.jpg

Fish Creek
Fish Creek A modern photo of the area near Fish Creek, where the massacre likely occurred. Source:

“Fish Creek HMA.” Courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management. https://www.blm.gov/programs/wild-horse-and-burro/herd-management/herd-management-areas/nevada/fish-creek-hma.

Eureka in the 1870s
Eureka in the 1870s An overhead view of Eureka from the 1870s. Source:

“Eureka, Nevada.” 1879. UNRS-P0487-2.tif; Collection 7116. Used by permission, University of Nevada, Reno Online Digital Collections. https://unr.dgicloud.com/islandora/object/spphotoscollection%3A7116.

Miners in Eureka
Miners in Eureka A group of miners in Eureka coming off shift, many of whom were Italian or Italian American. Source:

“Eureka, Nevada, Miners Coming Off Shift.” 1870. UNRS-P1746-1.tif; Collection 7117. Used by permission, University of Nevada, Reno Online Digital Collections. https://unr.dgicloud.com/islandora/object/spphotoscollection%3A7117.

Location

Metadata

Sydney Wilson, Brigham Young University , “Fish Creek Massacre,” Intermountain Histories, accessed February 24, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/727.