How did a native of Austria-Hungary who barely spoke English become the first and only person to be executed by a specially-made ‘Gun Machine’ in the history of Nevada?
Andriza Mircovich’s tale begins with tragedy. His cousin Christopher Mircovich died in Tonopah's Belmont mine fire, an underground blaze that took the lives of many men on February 23, 1911. Since Christopher left no will, the state was charged with distributing his funds to surviving family.
Those included two siblings, Vasso and Maria, who received $1,700 between them, while Andriza received $50. This distribution was determined by John Gregovich, a fellow Montenegrin working with Nye County to handle the estates of Serbians who died in the Belmont fire.
Mircovich, furious at not being given control of the entire estate, was even angrier at what he felt was an unfair distribution of his deceased cousin’s estate.
On the morning of May 14, 1912, Mircovich spotted Gregovich at the Tonopah train station, and shouted “I’ll get you, you old son-of-a-bitch,” at which point he stabbed him several times with a knife.
Gregovich later died of his wounds, and Mircovich was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was given the choice of hanging or shooting, and chose the latter because he felt it would be faster and less painful.
When the time came for his execution, no sharpshooters could be found willing to serve as a firing squad, so the state constructed a 1,000-pound “shooting machine,” a rack with three 30.30 rifles and three strings – only one of which discharged the weapons. That way the guards who cut the strings did not know which one fired the rifles.
Mircovich was killed instantly, and it was the first and last time anyone was executed by gunshot in the history of Nevada. The rifles used in the execution are on display at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City.