History written on walls of Dayton's old jail

Our little old historic jail has served longer than most people think.

Lyon County needed a jail early on in the 1860s. It bought heavy-duty, cast iron, mail-order jail cells and set them up in the rear of the firehouse (built in 1860s, but burned and rebuilt in 1875). There is another just like it in Coloma, Calif.

The jail cells got a lot of use throughout the years. On the walls are poignant stories written by some of the occupants. One story speaks of vigilante justice. It seems a man named James Linn got into an altercation with John Doyle, the owner of the local hurdy-gurdy house - it was Aug. 5, 1864.

The fight went out into the street, and Linn stabbed Doyle. Linn was taken to jail (then located in the basement of the Lyon County Courthouse that burned in 1909).

Well, it didn't take long for the community to form a vigilante group to take matters in its own hands. The crowd removed Linn from jail and hanged him. Then they stuffed his mouth full of dirt and returned him to jail, where the sheriff found him the next morning. The crime rate decreased.

In more modern days, Deputy Sheriff Chester Barton used the jail as a multipurpose unit. He had many people in and out of jail for different reasons.

One story his mother, Emma Nevada Barton Loftus, wrote in one of her diaries is about the incarceration of three young men who had stolen a car in Utah.

Chester caught and placed them in jail, where he fed them. They kept a table knife and used it to saw through the padlock's shank and escaped, but Chester always got his man and captured the teens in Reno. They were returned to Utah.

One evening, a young woman who was traveling across the country stopped in Dayton after driving 600 miles that day. The woman and her two children were too tired to go on, so Chester let her stay in jail overnight. He also fed the mom and kids.

Many of the town drunks spent the night in the jail to sober up. Chester didn't like men who abused their spouses, and they, too, landed in jail. One man spent the winter because he had no money or place to live. Chester found him odd jobs to get him on his feet.

The jail was in use through the 1950s and even into the 1960s. The Lyon County Jail was in Yerington, so when a prisoner had to be detained, it was in one the old cells.

The Dayton Museum is on Shady Lane and Logan Street in Old Town Dayton. It is open during the week at random hours and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays and 1-4 p.m. Sundays. Go to daytonnvhistory.org. Group tours are available. Call 246-5543, 246-0462 or 246-0441.

The Historical Society of Dayton Valley meets at noon on the third Wednesday of the month at the Dayton Valley Community Center. Visitors welcome.

• Ruby McFarland is a 17-year resident of Dayton, a board member of the Dayton Historical Society and a docent at the museum.


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