California Militia and National Guard Unit Histories
Nevada Rifles
Assigned to: Fourth Division, Second Brigade
Location: Nevada City, Nevada County
Organized: February 13, 1858
Mustered Out: March 3, 1863
Unit papers on file at the California State Archives:
b. Bonds 1 document (1858)
c. Correspondence (Unclassified letters) 15 documents (1858-1863)
d. Election Returns 1 document (1861)
e. Exempt Certificates, Applications for none
f. Muster Rolls, Monthly returns 2 documents (1858)
g. Oaths Qualifications none
h. Orders none
i. Receipts, invoices 4 documents (1858-1859)
j. Requisitions 1 document (n.d.)
k. Resignations 1 document (1858)
l. Target Practice Reports none
m. Other none
8. Miscellaneous:
Commanding Officers
Henry Meredith, Captain; Commissioned February 18, 1858 (Resigned March 11, 1858)
Rufus Shoemaker, Captain; Commissioned March 30, 1858
Phil Moore, First Lieutenant; Commissioned February 18, 1858

William P. Harrington, Captain; Elected February 28, 1861; Commissioned July 6, 1861
T. W. Sigourney, First Lieutenant; Elected February 28, 1861; Commissioned July 6, 1861

Nevada County was another of the first districts settled by the pioneers in the rush to California for her gleaming mineral deposits. Nevada, a Spanish word, signifies "snow-covered", alluding to the snow covered mountains of Nevada County, which have yielded many fortunes to those energetic miners who so diligently worked the diggings in this locality. One of the first mountain settlements was Nevada City. This pleasing designation was carried still further along when a group of leading business and professional residents organized a volunteer militia company and so named this company the Nevada Rifles. When the new military organization was perfected, the members proceeded to elect officers, at which time the following were placed in command: Henry Meredith, Captain; Phil Moore, First Lieutenant; George Story, Second Lieutenant; and Jerome Moore, Third Lieutenant, J. B. Van Hagen, H. B. Thompson, W. P. Harrington, and Henry Knerr were elected Sergeants, and H. H. Pearson, John O'Brien, A. C. Niles and N. P. Brown were elected Corporals. John Anderson was elected Drummer and Thomas Marsh, Fifer.

In a letter to J. B. Van Hagen, Orderly Sergeant, dated March 11, 1858, Captain Meredith requests that his resignation as Captain be communicated to the Nevada Rifles, and at the same time declared himself still on service call for any future occasion. This request was made to Governor Jno. B. Weller in a letter by Stilwell Slusher, Secretary of the Nevada Rifles, also the information that Rufus Shoemaker, Esquire had been elected to fill the position of Captaincy. This letter requested the Governor to commission Rufus Shoemaker as the Captain.

Under the date of March 1, 1861, H. B. Thompson, as Secretary, records a new list of officers and privates. William P. Harrington, Captain and T. W. Sigourney, First Lieutenant, and other officers were elected February 28, 1861. August 12, 1862, Adjutant General W. C. Kibbe wrote to T. W. Sigourney stating that in July 1861, commissions were issued in accordance with the election, but these commissions had not been taken out. Then on September 12, 1862 the Adjutant-General wrote to Niles Searles, (one of the bondsmen) requesting his help in obtaining a response from the officers. Mr. Searles (September 13, 1862) replies that he has applied to Captain Harrington and learns that some of the arms were lost in the Washoe Wars, and the remainder are in the hands of the Nevada Cadets who were about to apply to the Adjutant-General for permission to retain the arms.

The situation that confronted the Nevada Rifles at this time was unique in its character. The Secessionists had a majority control of the organization and to offset their having full possession of the arms, the last election was held with Captain Harrington being placed in command. The Secretary had run away with all the papers, including the commissions which necessitated Captain Harrington relying on his memory to check up on the arms.

A few months after assuming command of the company, Captain Shoemaker received information that it might be possible the Governor would requisition the Nevada Rifles to go into the northern part of the State for the purpose of aiding the settlers against the hostile Indians. (1) This was received as glorious news by the members of the company, and the bare prospect of their professional services being required by the State caused them to burnish up their weapons and nerve themselves for an encounter with the savage foe. The company could be depended upon, almost to a man.

The Nevada Rifles were called upon for the second time to assist in the suppression of Indian hostilities. When the Pah-ute Indians turned savage and killed many white settlers, also destroying their homes, the cries of the two survivors did not go unanswered. Men, money and ammunition were forthcoming almost before the leaders of the various community gatherings had finished telling of the depredations of the hostiles. (2) Several units of the militia together with two companies of Sacramento soldiers hurried to the scene of disaster in the Carson and Washoe Valleys. The Nevada Rifles was one of the volunteer Guards who rushed to the aid of the pioneers in an effort to check the Indian depredations. Henry Meredith, who had formerly been Captain of the Rifles, was one of several citizens killed in this skirmish. (3)

Although the newly settled country was enjoying much gaiety and good fellowship among its pioneers through the mining and spending of the golden treasure stored in the depths of the earth, various communities experienced many tribulations other than Indian troubles. The fever of gold was too much for some human natures, and it caused men to go so far as to "forget God's Law" and commit devilish deeds, while under its influence. There were times when the State Militia had to be called upon to preserve law and order for the settlers, and such a time was then at hand. M. C. Bohin had committed a crime for which it had been decreed that he pay with his own life for the offense. (4) At that time the Nevada Rifles was called upon to maintain order when the execution was carried out at Downieville on the twenty-fifth of February, 1858. This execution was witnessed by twenty-five hundred people.

There is no date for Muster Out other than a letter written by Adjutant-General Kibbe on March 3,1863, to the Honorable Niles Searles and Bondsmen, in which the order is given to return the arms, accoutrements, and appendages issued, thereby canceling their bond. Another letter written by Charles Marsh, August 20, 1863, stated the company had collected all the arms possible and forwarded them to the Adjutant General's Office but on January 14, 1864, these arms were turned over to the new organization, the Nevada Light Guard.


(1) San Francisco Daily Herald, September 24, 1858, page 2, column 2.
(2) Sacramento Union, May 14, 1860, page 2, column 2, 3, 5, 6.
(3) Taken from letter dated May 20, 1860, Nevada City, California, on Washoe Indian War, State Archives, State Capitol.
(4) Sacramento Union, February 27, 1858, page 2, column 5.
This history was written in 1940 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in conjunction with the office of the Adjutant General and the California State Library
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Updated 8 February 2016