On his own - FBI agent makes the most of his Nevada outpost

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

ELKO, Nev. -- FBI Special Agent Jack Salisbury likes to tell the story of a 1995 bombing he investigated -- notable more for the unlikely location than for his whiz-bang speed at wrapping it up.

He had traced pipe bomb fragments to a hardware store, and a sales receipt to a man in nearby Spring Creek.

"It was winter, and the first thing I noticed, he was sweating profusely," Salisbury recalled. "So I asked him, 'Is there something you want to tell me?'"

The man confessed.

Salisbury had opened the case just days before when a call came in about an explosion at the U.S. Forest Service facility in Lemoille Canyon. He knew that to be the national forest campground southeast of Elko.

"I didn't know," he said, "it was an outhouse."

50,000 square miles

Not exactly a big city caper, but Salisbury is not exactly the average Joe Friday.

An FBI agent for 34 of his 53 years, he is the chief federal law enforcer for 50,000 square miles of mining, ranching, forest and mountain ranges dotted with tiny towns in the northeastern corner of Nevada. His territory includes nine Indian colonies and reservations plus four northern Nevada counties with a combined population of about 62,000.

Elko County is the population center, with 45,000 people, including 17,000 in town. It's 230 miles to Salt Lake City; 290 miles to Reno; and 430 miles to Las Vegas.

One hundred and fourteen FBI agents are stationed in Las Vegas, Reno and Carson City.

At the time of the outhouse caper, law enforcers were on edge, with the FBI in Reno investigating a bombing at a U.S. Forest Service office in Carson City.

"To this day, they haven't solved that one," Salisbury said, hardly containing his competitive pride.

As one of just 16 solo resident FBI agents in the nation, he approaches each investigation as a challenge: G-man vs. bad man.

"I take it kind of personal," Salisbury said.

He could have retired years ago but stays because he likes the work.

"There's a certain amount of excitement and a lot of satisfaction, if you're successful," he said. "And this is the post to have if you like the outdoors."

'Last cowboy community'

Salisbury's beat is sliced east-to-west by U.S. 50, billed "The Loneliest Road in America," and Interstate 80, with its share of drive-through crime and drowsy driver crashes.

The hills are threaded with gold; the politics laced with anti-federalism.

"We've been called the last cowboy community," said Elaine Barkdull, executive director of the Elko Chamber of Commerce. "We have a heritage here that people like the open spaces and the freedoms of living in the West."

One group, the Committee for Full Statehood, refuses to recognize Bureau of Land Management authority. The Jarbidge Shovel Brigade is battling the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Forest services over their refusal to rebuild a washed out road on a stream that is home to the threatened bull trout.

A gun show speech in April by Randy Weaver about the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff in Idaho and his loathing for the FBI drew a standing ovation at the Elko Convention Center.

Brian Sullivan, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Reno who prosecutes cases that Salisbury investigates, said Salisbury "fits in well as a federal officer in a place where there has been a lot of animosity toward the feds."

Fitting in doesn't mean blending in. Salisbury's Jesse Ventura-shaved head and his suit jacket stand out a bit in a room full of boots, jeans and ranch hats at Elko's best Basque steakhouse, The Star.

The FBI office in Elko was vacant for almost 12 years before Salisbury transferred from Las Vegas in 1991. The move coincided with a push to enforce federal laws on Indian reservations. He said he was promised a second agent would be assigned soon.

None was.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: