Zane Sharkey

Former Union Army Sharpshooter


When the Civil War broke out on April 12, 1861, Zane Sharkey was a dairy farm worker who had never traveled more than twenty miles from his hometown of Claremont, New Hampshire. Despite the fact that he was already in his late thirties when Hiram Berdan came to New Hampshire looking to recruit sharpshooters for a new regiment he was forming, Zane signed up. He was mustered in to Company E of the 1st United States Sharpshooters Regiment under Captain Amos Jones. His first action was at Lewinville, Virginia on September 27, 1861. Zane fought well and earned the nickname “The Shark” from other soldiers for the efficiency with which he killed the enemy. His reputation grew over the next few years in key battles such as South Mountain in September 1862, Chancellorsville in May 1863, and Gettysburg in July 1863.

But Zane Sharkey also earned a reputation of having a reckless sense of humor. On multiple occasions he spent time in a sweat box or riding a wooden horse for making an inappropriate joke within earshot of or even directly to an officer. More than a few fistfights were started by a crude wisecrack about a fellow soldier’s sister or a prank that he took too far. He spent most of the summer of 1864 in the federal stockade at Fort Delaware after one such fight escalated to a riot and thirty-six soldiers were injured. Eventually, the Army decided his disruptive behavior outweighed his crack marksmanship and on April 9, 1865 he was granted a dishonorable discharge and left the Union army.

After years away from home, the idea of returning to the small and sleepy town of Claremont did not appeal to Zane. Instead he accepted an offer from George and Henry Leisenring, two brothers he met in the Army, to come work for them. They came from a wealthy family in Pennsylvania that had made their money in coal. Wanting to strike out on their own, the brothers travelled to Leavenworth, Kansas after their (honorable) discharge and bought land they believed was rich in coal. They were in the process of starting their own mining company and told Zane there was work for him if he wanted it. While digging rocks out of a hole in the ground didn’t sound like much fun to Zane, the Leisenrings were willing to pay his way to Kansas. He decided that if he didn’t like what they were offering he’d just keep going west, maybe all the way to California.

Zane did end up spending a few years working for the Leisenrings, not as a miner but as a hired gun. He was part security guard, protecting the mine from saboteurs working for other mining companies, part deputy, keeping order in a mining camp full of miners whose only real past time was drinking, and part bounty hunter, tracking down and bringing back miners who tried to leave before their contract was up. He was good at his job, but his odd sense of humor eventually got him into trouble again. The miners had grown tired of watching the Leisenrings get rich on their backs while both paying and treating them poorly. After Ghost Rock was discovered in California in 1868 and started cutting into the price of coal, things got even worse as the Leisenring brothers tried to squeeze more out of the workers to offset their falling profits. In May 1871, Zane finally made one too many jokes at their expense and received a beating from some of the workers fed up with his antics. When the Leisenrings refused to punish his attackers (they figured he had earned his lumps), Zane packed his guns and gear and left Kansas in the middle of the night…on Henry Leisenring’s best horse, Strider. He hit the Sante Fe Trail and didn’t look back.

By July, Zane’s money ran out and he found himself in Elizabethtown, New Mexico. While asking around for work he might do to earn himself some more travel money, he saw a Wanted poster offering $3000 for a man named James Buckley, aka “Coal Oil Jimmy”, dead or alive. Later that day he saw the man himself in town strutting down main street like he owned the place. Zane learned that pretty much everyone in town knew he was an outlaw but no one had done anything about it yet. He scouted out several ambush points on the outskirts of town and then watched the man for a few weeks waiting for his opportunity. Eventually, he saw him heading out of town with three other men. Riding hard to get ahead of them, he set up at one of his ambush points and waited. He couldn’t believe his good fortune when the men stopped in the ideal spot for his ambush. When two of the men pulled guns on Buckley and the other man, he didn’t hesitate to shoot all four men down. He brought Buckley’s body back to town to collect the reward and left the other three to rot. Afterwards, Zane hung around Elizabethtown for over a year enjoying the fruits of both his reward and his status as a local hero (“the man who had taken down Coal Oil Jimmy”).

But eventually Zane’s drinking, womanizing, and, of course, humor began to wear away the good-will of the townsfolk and he decided it was time to move on. From Elizabethtown, Zane rode to Sante Fe where he decided he’d spent enough time on the trail and spent some of his reward money to buy a train ticket on the Dixie Rails line. He splurged for a second-class ticket in a sleeping car (and a private stall in the livestock car for his horse) and rode the line as far west as he could. November of 1872 saw him reach Dead End, Arizona. After deboarding the train and collecting his horse, he took one look around the tiny railroad company town, mounted up, and rode west towards Lost Angels. To get there, he had to cross the Mojave Desert, no mean feat for a single man and his horse. Zane managed to avoid bandits and Apache raiders but the desert itself proved a tougher adversary than he had expected. Days of 120 degree heat left him dazed and exhausted, wandering through the desert aimlessly. But months after he left Dead End, he stumbled out of the desert, starving and sunburnt, onto the Ghost Trail just a few miles from Lost Angels.

It took several weeks – and most of his remaining money beause food was so expensive – for Zane to recover from his ordeal in the desert. And when he did, he was appalled at what he found. He was in a shanty town outside of Lost Angels called Ghost Town. As far as he could tell, it was the place where those not fortunate enough to be allowed to live in Lost Angels squatted and scrabbled for survival while they waited for something better, either in the city or in the afterlife. He had heard things were rough in California after the Quake and formation of the Maze a few years back but he didn’t realize things were as bad as this. Several times, Zane travelled into Lost Angels itself. To gain entrance, he had to tell the guards at the gate that he wished to become a member of the Church of Lost Angels and wanted to visit in order to learn more about its teachings. The city was the polar opposite of Ghost Town. The streets were orderly, the people clean and well-fed. But still, there was a oppresiveness to the city, contributed to greatly by patrols of armed men in red robes called Guardian Angels. After only a few months, Zane decided he didn’t want to have to believe in Reverend Grimme’s version of god just to be able to eat.

But leaving wasn’t as easy as he hoped. Still weary from his travels across the desert, he decided to try to find passage on a mazerunner to somewhere further north. After months of trying to find a ship that was offering work of any kind (since he couldn’t afford passage), he began to reconsider a trip on horseback. But his fortune turned when he ran into Joe Sanders, another sharpshooter from Company E that he knew from the war. Joe told him him had been working on a mazerunner ship defending it against pirate and confederate attacks. He said the ship was called the SS California and was a Union mazerunner that made runs all through the maze to collect shipments of Ghost Rock and then up to Seattle to unload in US territory. Their last run had been particularly bloody and a lot of men had been lost. Joe could get Zane a job on it if he wanted.

Zane was aboard the California less than a day when he saw his first pirate ship. One minute the steamship was making good time through the North Channel, the next it was beset by chinese pirates attempting to board. He positioned himself on one of the highest decks and took aim at anyone trying to cross from the enemy ship to his. In the first few minutes he killed six pirates, each from a single shot. But when he took aim through his scope for a seventh target he was shocked to see it was a teenaged girl. The surprise threw off his aim and he missed as the girl dove for cover. Zane shook it off and kept firing. An hour later, the pirate ship had been fought off and he breathed a sigh of relief. He wondered how many times they would be attacked during the voyage. Three days later the California docked at Shan Fan having survived five pirate attacks. Zane thanked Joe for getting him the job but told him it wasn’t the life for him and got off the ship as soon as he could collect his pay. It was February 17, 1874 – the start of Chinese New Year.

Shan Fan turned out to be the destination Zane was looking for. He found work doing odd jobs for a chinese business man named Li Wen. At first these jobs consisted of gardening, construction, and other menial labor. But over time, as Wen came to trust Zane more, this type of work was replaced by more important jobs: personal security and bounty hunting as well as other…less legal activities. Zane was good at his job, Li Wen was a good employer, and Shan Fan became home.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the seedier side of Shan Fan began to leave its mark on him. Wen’s nephew Li Hui Ming, a layabout who benefited too much from his uncle’s wealth, introduced him to the world of opium. At first it the occasional trip to the local opium den but over the course of a couple of months Zane developed a full fledged opium habit, spending two or three nights a week at the Golden Sunset his favorite establishment for such activities. For a year his habit was nothing more than a drain on his wallet and his time. But eventually it cost him a lot more.

After a particularly hard night of using, Zane accompanied Li Wen and several associates to a meeting with a rival group of businessmen. When the deal turned south guns came out fast. Except for Zane’s. Hungover, he was of little use in the fight and, while he and Li Wen both surived, Li Hui Ming was shot and killed. Wen was furious with Zane and called him a worthless addict. When the investigation into the gunfight turned toward Wen and his friends, the distraught man served Zane up to the authorities. Although they were unable to pin any specific killing on him, he was convicted of several lesser crimes, including unlawful discharge of a weapon within the city and attempted assault. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

Zane’s time in prison was much harder in Shan Fan than it had been at Fort Delaware a decade earlier. The prison itself was dirtier, danker, and in general disrepair. Neither his sense of humor nor the color of his skin made him many friends and he endured semi-regular abuse from other prisoners and the guards. Forunately for Zane, or perhaps unfortunately, being in prison did nothing to limit his access to opium. For years he lost himself in the haze of narcotic smoke and the blur of prison routine. Then one day he was hauled out his cell, told to sign some documents, and pushed out the front gate of the prison. It was December 19, 1877, two years to the day since he had gone in. Zane had been released.

Soon after his release, Zane got involved with a woman named Lin Chi-ling who was married to a ship’s captain that would sail the Maze for long periods of time. For months he helped himself to the man’s food, drink, and marital bed. Chi-ling set him up with an apartment and a decent job working on the docks for her uncle. But in August of 1878 her husband, Captain Lin Zexu, returned home early from a voyage and discovered Zane in his bed. Rather than fight and either be killed or face another possible prison term, he jumped out of a second story window and ran off into the night, naked as the day he was born. Knowing it would only be a matter of time before the captain and his friends came looking for him, Zane decided he had had enough of Shan Fan. He gathered up his money, personal belongings (many paid for with money from Chi-ling), and his horse and headed north out of the city as fast as he could.

Two days later he found himself riding escort for a wagon from Shan Fan to to the town of New Opportunity on the day of the new church opening for the assumption of Mary celebration. Zane didn’t know much about the town or the people he was riding with, nor did he necessarily have much need to be at a church opening. But he was hoping that the name foretold something good for him.

Zane Sharkey

Opportunity Knocks dei1c3