'The Curse of the Hanging Tree'

Cowboys bellied up to the bar as loose women sashayed around the room in the first act of the four-act play "The Curse of the Hanging Tree" presented by the Douglas County Historical Society Friday and Saturday nights in Genoa.

One can only wonder what motorists thought as they drove by a lynching mob, with bandana-clad faces and torches, stringing up their victim in front of the Genoa Court House Museum on those windy nights. My guess is they put the pedal to the metal.

"The Curse" is a historical account of a curse brought upon the people responsible for the hanging of Adam Uber, a murderer. The year was 1897, when Uber shot Hans Anderson in a saloon in Millerville, a town located between the towns of Gardnerville and Minden. For the play's purposes, the bar was located inside Genoa Town Hall.

This play was worth seeing just for historical significance alone (where else can you see a hanging?). I hope the historical society feels the same way and brings it back next year. The play had been performed several times over the years - the last time in 1997. Due to difficulties, the society shelved it for several years, then decided to bring it back this year.

The play was improvisational, with the actors left to their own devices to create the character and lines and come up with a costume. Some chose to just come as they were, although most dressed up, including the prosecuting and defense attorneys who were played by none other than Douglas County's deputy district attorney and Douglas County district attorney-elect Mark Jackson and local criminal defense attorney Nathan Tod Young, respectively.

So, tennis shoes mixed with period costumes, which could have somewhat upset the authenticity; but one could say it added to the casual feel, and with the good acting nobody seemed to mind.

One of the actors in a T-shirt and shorts was a drunk who sat on the side of the road taking swigs off his gin bottle before entering the Genoa Community Church where the second act took place.

"Who was the drunk in the church?" asked William Kaufmann, of Gardnerville, who attended with his wife, Ginger Kaufmann.

While staggering toward the Genoa Court House Museum courtroom for Act 3, the drunk said, "You can't find out my name. I'm in hiding," before admitting he is Keith Ford, a local chiropractor.

"I only do interviews after the performance, when I'm unconscious," said Ford, swaying.

Ginger Kaufmann said she never laughed so hard.

In the courtroom, Jackson's brother, Scott Jackson, was the third witness called to the stand. Scott Jackson is the captain of the Department of Public Safety, Nevada Highway Patrol.

"I had no idea," he said, while standing in front of the museum, following the show. By the looks of his glares and comments to his brother and their wives, he had obviously been taken off guard when called to the stand.

In the courtroom, the two attorneys sparred against each other, much as they would do in an actual courtroom.

"During the first (performance Friday night) I was catching myself really wanting to object to things," said Mark Jackson. "Up there in this setting you really have to break out of what you normally do in a courtroom. "

The first witness was Flossie the Floozy (Jenny Fulstone Hemsath), who proceeded to sit on the judge's lap (Kelly Chase, a local attorney and candidate for justice court judge). The second witness was Dr. Eliza Cook (Sue Smith), the first woman doctor in the State of Nevada, who examined the victim after the shooting.

"You tried to treat him and he didn't survive the treatment, did he?" asked Young. "How many patients survive your treatment?"

The climax came with vigilantes waiting outside as the mob brought out Uber who was "hanged" on a tree in front of the museum. The murderer's horse walked out from beneath him (both actors - Douglas County Commissioner Kelly Kite and Craig Ferris - were wearing a safety harness).

All actors were volunteers for this fundraiser for the two county museums, the Genoa Court House and the Carson Valley Museum & Cultural Center.

According to Laurie Hickey of the Douglas County Historical Society, over the five weekend shows the society made around $4,500 and was sold out every performance.

Another surprising perk was that ancestors of people involved in the historical hanging attended performances for the first time. The Frey family, descendants of the man who drove the wagon out from under Uber, traveled from Fallon to see the play. Relatives of Sheriff Brockliss, who live in Kansas but were in Nevada for another function and heard about the play, attended as well. And an ancestor of the victim, Hans Anderson, attended too. All of them said they really enjoyed the play and actually told of details about the event that hadn't been heard before, according to Hickey.

After the hanging, Lloyd Higuera, program producer of Douglas County Community Access TV Channel 26/19, read the following curse to the crowd:

The Curse

Those who had taken Adam Uber's life did not go unpunished. Each member of the lynching party suffered some sort of personal tragedy from which the legend grew.

One mob member moved to Lovelock soon after the lynching. On the ranch they had a pump which was operated by a horse walking in a circle. His youngest daughter got tangled in the gears of the pump and was crushed to death before his eyes.

Another man's son was shot to death in Goldfield, along with two others. After this happened the father went insane and walked the floors constantly repeating how they had kicked, beat, and abused Uber before hanging him. Still another man was said to have moved to San Jose where he soon thereafter blew off his own head with a shotgun.

Another received his punishment when late one night a ghostly image appeared in the road and caused his horse to rear. The rider fell and was dragged until he lost his leg directly beneath the tree from which Uber had been hung. From that time on anyone who had to return home late at night across the valley took the long way around to avoid going by the hanging tree.

Two other men who had worked at the sawmill went crazy within a month after the lynching and suddenly died for unknown reasons two months later.

Another man who was said to be a member of the mob was preparing some ham and bacon one day when his child fell accidentally into the boiling vat of water and fat. Another child in the same family was run over by a hay wagon later in the same year.

Before Adam Uber was hanged he put a curse upon the mob which was to follow them up to their seventh generation.

It is still a belief by some of the older Carson Valley residents that the curse is still upon descendants of the lynch mob and the Valley itself.

The curse is said to have hit every family involved in one way or another. Who is to say this has no credence? Surely all of these incidents are not just mere occurrences.


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