HOWARD HICKSON'S HISTORIES
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The Devil Made Him Do It
 
Hiram Chase was a woodchopper for the Central Pacific Railroad in the early days of Elko. He also consumed a prodigious quantity of red-eye, white lightning, or whatever you want to call it. In other words, Hiram was a boozer. 

On a cold December night in 1872 he was sitting in front of a raging fire in his shack near the Humboldt River. Hiram was seriously pursuing oblivion from a bottle. In his alcoholic fuzz he noticed a stranger seated beside him. 

In a quiet voice the man commanded Hiram to put his hands into the fire. Chase dipped his hands in melted bacon grease, put both hands into the flames and held them there until the pain was unbearable. He repeated the process several times until all his fingers and portions of both hands were consumed. 

Turning to seek approval from the stranger, Hiram discovered he was alone. By now, intense pain had crashed through the alcoholic barrier to his brain. Screaming, he ran to a neighbor's house and begged his friend to shoot him. Instead, he was taken to the county  hospital where both arms were amputated below the elbows. 

That should end the story - alcoholic woodcutter burns off hands, loses part of both arms, and either becomes a pitiful beggar or commits suicide to end a useless and hopeless life. 

Not so with Hiram. After leaving the hospital, he peddled candy and peanuts from a discarded wood crate on the streets. In time, he acquired a store and an excellent reputation in town. At his place of business, the Live and Let Live Grocery on Commercial Street between Fifth and Sixth streets, he carried a large stock of groceries, shoes, overalls, tools, and just about anything else needed by ranchers. He never refused credit to anyone and always gave a stick of candy to any child fortunate enough to come into his place of business. 

He fashioned special tools to fit  his stumps which allowed him to make change, write, carry boxes, and drive his delivery wagon. 

On April 15, 1905 he died a quiet death. Hiram's funeral was the largest ever held in Elko up to that time. A long cortege followed the horse-drawn hearse up the hill to the cemetery for graveside services. 
 Immediately behind the dead wagon was Chase's delivery rig. It was noticed by all the mourners because he had attended every funeral in town, always driving his wagon at the end of the processions. On that sad day the rig and horse, so familiar on the streets of Elko, held the place of honor. 

Hiram Chase left an estate valued at $32,488.64 - a very tidy sum in those days. 

29 March 1998

1998 by Howard Hickson. If any portion or all of this article is used or quoted proper credit must be given to the authors.

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