Outlaw Tales of Idaho
by Randy Stapilus
Massacres, mayhem, and mischief fill the pages of Outlaw Tales of Idaho. Ride with horse thieves and cattle rustlers, stagecoach, and train robbers. Duck the bullets of murderers, plot strategies with con artists, hiss at lawmen turned outlaws. A refreshing new perspective on some of the Rocky Mountain’s most infamous reprobates.
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Outlaws in Idaho
The influx of the bravo and the criminal classes into Walla Walla, Orofino, and Florence, during the years of 1861 and 1862, before the Territory of Idaho was created, and before the exodus into Boise basin and other camps subsequently discovered, by those who were not hanged or killed, was the fundamental cause of Idaho’s gaining such an unenviable reputation for lawlessness during the earlier years of its organization.
These men were, in many instances, fugitives from justice in other states, and Walla Walla being the largest town in what was then eastern Washington, was the first place in which they took refuge, and it was usually but a short time after their arrival when they made their presence felt in a way that was generally followed by a funeral.
The following is a roster of a few of the prominent characters in the drama of murder, robbery and shame enacted during the early mining days of the northwest, before and after the organization of Idaho Territory, together with a brief synopsis of the career of some of them before coming to Idaho, and the sanguinary end which terminated their lawless activities:
“Cherokee Bob,” Henry Plummer, Bill Bunton, Charley Ridgley, Reeves, Charley Harper, Mayfield, Ferd Patterson, Hickey, Matt Bledsoe, David English, William Peoples, Nelson Scott, Bill Willoughby, Boone Helm and “Dutch Fred.”
In addition to this list of notables they had a large following of minor satellites who seldom rose above the rank of horse thieves or “bogus” dust operators, but who were useful to their superiors as spies, political boosters and jurymen.
~ Cherokee Bob ~
“Cherokee Bob” was a native of Georgia, his mother being a half-blood Cherokee, for which reason he gained the picturesque sobriquet by which he was known. He was a bitter partisan of the south, and upon his arrival at Walla Walla could talk or think little else than the great superiority of the southern soldier over his northern compeer.
Those who have witnessed a theatrical performance in a mining or frontier town are not likely to forget the boisterous enjoyment with which the audience fills up the intervals between acts. A bar where liquor is sold is almost invariably one of the conveniences attached, and most of the audience during the interims in the performance visit and patronize this inspiring adjunct of the entertainment, while others indulge in whistling, caterwauls, stamping feet, and other demonstrations expressive, usually, of good humor and the bubbling over of the surcharged animal spirits of men, who after all are only grown-up boys.
Walla Walla, during the time of the mining excitement, incident to the discoveries of gold in Orofino and Florence, was a typical frontier mining-supply town; here were gathered during the winter of 1861-1862 a heterogeneous population, made up of all the elements which represent the “good” and the “bad” in the human family. The men who sold dry goods and groceries, the men who made and sold what was appropriately called “Lightning whiskey,” the men who robbed stages and the unsuspecting wayfarers, the rollicking cow-boy, the faro dealer and his “look-out,” the minister of the gospel, the judge who pronounced sentence upon offenders, with a sprinkling of Uncle Sam’s soldiers from the garrison near the town. All these, and other kinds, were mingled together on the streets and in the business houses and places of amusement. Such a crowd of cosmopolites is rarely seen in any country.
Fort Walla Walla was situated about half a mile from the town limits, and the troops stationed there were permitted to visit the embryo city on “leave,” some of them attending the theaters during nearly all the performances. At the time of which I write, the fort was garrisoned with California volunteers, the regulars formerly stationed there having been ordered east to the seat of war.
One of the volunteer companies in the garrison was recruited in Placer county, California, many of them having enlisted at “Dutch Flat,” and were personally known to the writer who, at the time of their enlistment, resided there. They were all young men of good families, and most of them had money of their own when they volunteered. Their enlistment resulted from their intense patriotism. They were led to believe that in the near future they would be ordered to go east, there to engage in the struggle then in progress. But, owing to the need of seasoned troops, the regulars were sent to the front and the volunteers were substituted to do garrison duty. Hence the presence of the Placer county boys at Fort Walla Walla. They were sober, industrious young men, and though their uniforms were those of privates in the ranks, they were as far above the average civilian roisterers who made day and night hideous and dangerous in the town as could be imagined.
“Cherokee Bob” was consumed with wrath every time he saw these clean-limbed young “hirelings of Abe Lincoln,” as he called them, on the streets, and rarely failed to use some insulting epithet within their hearing; but as they always came to town in little squads of three or four, and were armed with regulation revolvers, he hesitated to start a street fight. He was, nevertheless, determined to show his superiority over such “hirelings” and merely waited for an opportunity to arrive when he could display his prowess and venom without incurring any great danger to himself.
Choosing a night when a popular play was being performed in the theatre, and a few of the soldier boys were present, he having previously arranged with a deputy sheriff who acted in the capacity of peace officer in the show, and who, like himself, was a rabid Secessionist, to interfere when the usual noisy demonstration began at the end of the first act, and to precipitate a disturbance, if possible, by using insulting language.
The program was successfully carried out. Porter, the deputy sheriff, at the time agreed upon, sprang from his chair and striding in front of them, yelled “Dry up there, you brass mounted hirelings, or I’ll snatch you baldheaded.” The insulting manner coupled with the insulting language, produced the desired effect. Smarting under the reproach, one of the young men inquired “Why do you single us out, when there are others who are more boisterous?” Porter waited for no other provocation, but drawing and cocking his revolver with one hand, he seized the soldier nearest to him with the other and jerked him into the aisle, calling on the deputy city marshal, “Cherokee Bob,” and several of his associates who were conveniently near, to assist in arresting him. The plan, as prearranged, was carried out without a hitch.
The soldiers, recovering from their first surprise, offered resistance, and a melee resulted.
Cherokee Bob was in his element; with a revolver in one hand and a bowie knife in the other, he sprang at his victims. When the smoke had cleared and quiet was restored Bob and his allies had disappeared, but two of the soldiers lay dead on the floor and others were horribly mangled.
The attack was so unexpected, so sudden and deadly, that the soldiers could make but little resistance. Porter and the deputy marshal were both shot through their legs—the latter was crippled for life.
Before daylight the next morning Cherokee took his departure to Lewiston, riding a stolen horse. Reaching his destination, he soon became the owner of a saloon where he was an efficient aid to the band of organized cut-throats who then made Lewiston a rendezvous, finally drifting into Florence with a painted female called Cynthia, whom he had won from the notorious gambler and murderer, Mayfield, of whom I shall make mention later. The woman referred to was finally the cause of his death. There was a ball in Florence some time after their arrival there, and Cynthia insisted that she must attend. Having made known her desire to Bob, he said in reply, “You shall go and be respected as a decent woman ought to be.” So he
asked Willoughby, who was suspected of being a member of the Plummer gang, to take her, at the same time saying, “If things don’t go right, just report to me.” She assented to go with Willoughby, and, doubtless as Bob had anticipated, they were met by scowls and evidences of disgust on every hand. The women present were indignant and gathered into groups by themselves; they soon determined to leave the room if Cynthia was allowed to remain. The managing committee, after holding a conference, informed Willoughby that he and his partner must retire, which they accordingly did.
One of the managers was named Williams; he was a saloon keeper and was familiarly called “Jakey” Williams; the other was Orlando Robbins, known to everyone as “Rube” Robbins. Bob was furious when he learned that Cynthia had been expelled from the ball room, and desired to punish someone for the indignity she had suffered. Choosing as his intended victims the members of the committee who had ordered his mistress to leave the ball, Jakey and Rube, Cherokee Bob and Willoughby the next morning determined to wipe out the offenders. Arming themselves to the teeth, they set out on their murderous purpose.
Men like Jakey and Rube were seldom found unprepared, and realizing no doubt that the ball room incident would lead to serious trouble, they were watchful; so when Bob and Willoughby appeared with weapons in their hands hostilities began. In the interchange of shots which followed, Willoughby fell, mortally wounded, dying in a few moments. Bob was punctured by several bullets and died in his saloon, where he was carried, on the third day after the gunfight.
It is told that in speaking of the relative courage of Jakey Williams and Rube Robins, Bob, before he became unconscious, said “They are both brave men, with this difference: Jakey always steps aside to get clear of the smoke of his revolver, while Rube pushes through it and keeps on coming, getting nearer his adversary with each shot.”
Thus ended the lives of Cherokee Bob and Willoughby. They were buried in the Florence cemetery, among other unmarked graves—the final resting place of companions in crime, who, like them, were murderers. Their victims, in many instances, received the same obsequies, and now repose in unknown, unmarked graves, among the rock-strewn mountains of the northwest.
~ Henry Plummer ~
Next on the list of these notables comes the name of Henry Plummer. In the spring of 1861 Henry Plummer and wife were registered in the leading hotel of Lewiston. They were strangers to everyone in town except, perhaps, a few gamblers who had known Plummer in Nevada or California, and these men, following the usual close-mouthed methods of their calling, said nothing about his antecedents. He was a man of gentlemanly bearing, and being accompanied by a quiet, gentle appearing woman whom he claimed as his wife, no one suspected their illicit relations. However, it was only a couple of days before he had established his reputation as a gambler which left no doubt as to his true character.
The woman he claimed to be his wife was abandoned in a short time, penniless and alone among strangers; she told how Plummer with professions of undying love had persuaded her to leave her husband and three children to live with him. Not having the courage to return to her family and confess her fault, she abandoned herself to the downward path which always leads onward to untold sorrows—an early and miserable death. Thus was Plummer’s entrance into Lewiston marked by her disgrace and degradation.
Being a gambler, his profession brought him in contact with the rough and dissolute characters when they arrived at Lewiston. It is customary in mining and frontier towns for new arrivals to “take in” the town, meaning that they shall visit all the various resorts—such as saloons, dance halls, etc. These tours are generally undertaken as soon as possible after their arrival at a new camp. Since gambling was usually conducted in these places, Plummer, as a member of the “profess,” soon became a “hail fellow well met” with the patrons of the amusements provided in these resorts.
The criminal classes soon began to recognize in him a leader, and flocked to his standard. Being a keen judge of character, he was able to choose from the common herd or “would-be” desperadoes, the most reckless and daring, the ones who combined with these traits the greatest skill in the use of firearms. These he organized into a band of choice cut-throats, who were governed by iron-clad rules, the enforcement of which was left to a committee, Plummer being its chairman, or head; in fact, he was chief of outlaws.
Outlaws and Their Methods.
The Outlaw Chief remained in Lewiston during the summer of 1862, following his profession—gambling. Owing to his demeanor, which was quiet and gentlemanly, and to the fact that his clothes were, as a rule, tailor-made and neat, a stranger meeting him would not have suspected him to be the depraved character he was.
By making occasional trips, usually in the night, to interior points, he supervised and directed the operations of the band. What purported to be a road house was established by them on the traveled route between Lewiston and Walla Walla, at Pataha Creek; another was started by them between Lewiston and Orofino. Although these resorts which they termed “shebangs,” were ostensibly managed by two men, the traveler might observe several other hangers-on, who were supposed to be guests, but who were actually silent partners holding themselves ready for action.
These resorts were surrounded by high hills in all directions. These hills were cut with ravines, while numerous fiats and little valleys were inserted between. Bunch grass and water being plentiful, these places were veritable paradises for horse thieves.
It should be remembered that in those days and for many years later there were no railroads in any direction of the country tributary to the Columbia river, even wagon roads outside of the Willamette and Walla Walla valleys were seldom to be expected, hence the early arrivals at the Orofino and Florence mines generally found their way there in small parties, riding saddle horses or mules, bringing with them on pack animals their camp equipage, including mining tools and a quantity of provisions. During the season of high water boats ascended the Columbia and Snake rivers, bringing passengers and merchandise to Lewiston, but after arriving there those whose destination was one of the interior mining camps were compelled to procure saddle and pack animals to continue their journey, therefore those who realized that fact usually brought their own equipment, and were thus prepared to travel in any direction rumor announced a discovery of new diggings. Lewiston was the point of divergence to all the interior mining camps in the Clearwater and Salmon river region during 1861 and 1862, hence all those destined for Orofino, Elk City, Florence or Warrens went first to Lewiston, where it was the almost universal custom for travelers to remain for a day or even longer, to rest themselves and animals, but more especially to gather information concerning any new discoveries which might have been made. Thus as will be readily understood with the arrival and departure each day of so many prospectors and adventurers, the town of Lewiston was all that is implied in the term “typical frontier mining town.”
During the stay made by travelers in Lewiston for rest or other purpose during those early mining days, they were carefully “sized up,” by Plummer’s emissaries, especially those who were on the return journey from the mines, with the object of ascertaining if possible, whether they carried any considerable amount of gold dust; accurate descriptions were also taken of their saddle and pack animals, including color and brands; bills of sale were then made out in conformity with the descriptions conveying title to the animals at some prior date to the keeper of one of the road houses either above or below, dependent upon which direction the travelers were going, the bill of sale was then dispatched by courier to the man in whose name it was drawn so as to reach him before the arrival of the men with the stock.
All being cunningly arranged in advance, as soon as the victims came opposite the house, they were halted and the demand made “Where did you get those animals? Get off, or I’ll blow you off.” These requests were made emphatic by the display of double-barreled shot guns or revolvers. The astonished travelers could only comply. They were then shown the bills of sale as a cause for the demand, and if the real owners of the stock were sensible men they left their property with the robbers and resumed their journey on foot. But if, as was sometimes the case, they offered resistance, their journey ended in an improvised cemetery, provided for just such occasions.
In the mining camps and frontier towns, a style of building much in vogue during their first establishment, was built by erecting a frame of poles upon which rafters of the same kind of material were set up, then sides, ends and roof were covered with sheeting or common brown muslin. Such buildings require no windows and even the doors were mere frames of small poles covered with the same material.
This class of structures was the kind that largely lined the streets of Lewiston during the early mining excitement, which followed the Orofino and the Florence discoveries. There were no street lamps none were needed, for the sunshine lighted the interior of the buildings by day, without the aid of windows, while the lamps and candles used at night illumined the streets. Such buildings, obviously, presented slight opposition to burglars and as a protection against stray bullets they were a failure. To provide against the last it was customary to pile sacks of flour or sand around the beds of those who slept.
Illustrative of the foregoing, a German named Hildebrandt kept a saloon during the winter of 1861, and part of January, 1862, in one of these structures. He was a jovial character, and his place was a favorite resort for both Germans and Americans. His saloon was not a gambling house but was conducted in a quiet, orderly manner. He was known to be the possessor of considerable gold dust, which the Plummer gang determined to appropriate. Between twelve and one o’clock one cold January night the door was burst from its hinges and a volley of revolver shots were fired in the direction of the large bed near the door where Hildebrandt and two friends were asleep. Hildebrandt was killed by the first volley; his friends returned the fire, sprang from bed and escaped with the treasure.
His murderers then proceeded to search the place, and being disappointed in their search, uttering oaths and threats, marched out through the crowd of citizens who had assembled. They were known, but no one attempted to arrest them. The following day, however, a meeting of the citizens was held for the purpose of devising means to arrest the further progress of crime, and for punishing the murderers of Hildebrandt.
This was the first effort made in Lewiston looking to the protection of the people, and as the lawless element composed a large percent of the population in Lewiston, the movement was pregnant with serious possibilities. Henry Plummer took a conspicuous part in the proceedings and made an eloquent plea for conservative action. He explained the horrors of anarchy and urged the assembly not to take any action for which they might afterward be sorry. Since Plummer was known only as a gambler, and but few suspected that he had any connection with the robberies and murders which were of such frequent occurrence, his speech had the effect of dispersing the gathering and prevented an organization from being formed.
Among those who kept saloons at that time was a man named Ford. He was a courageous character, and while in the saloon business to make money, yet he never associated with the rough element; nor did he encourage them to frequent his place, but on the contrary he was their avowed enemy.
When the foregoing meeting was disorganized without taking action to punish the murders of Hildebrandt, he denounced those present as cowards, and accused them of “weakening.”
The murdered man had a brother in Orofino, who, when he learned of the tragedy, at once announced his determination to visit Lewiston for the purpose of wreaking vengeance upon the assassins. They learned of his intention, had a message conveyed to him, stating that if he started to Lewiston he would not reach there alive. The threat, as was intended, had the effect of intimidating him, causing him to abandon his purpose. Thus the assassins escaped justice that time. But they met their Nemesis later.
Nothing except the possible organization of a vigilance committee was feared by the Plummer gang, and for any man to advocate the organization of such an instrument of justice was to mark him for destruction. Hence, Patrick Ford, who was present at the meeting, and who insisted on action being taken, was listed for death. Ford had opened an additional business in Orofino, and it was known soon after Hildebrandt’s murder that he was going up to Orofino with a party of dancing girls to open a dance hall. This was thought to afford a favorable opportunity to dispose of him, so word was sent out to the “shebang” on the road, to intercept him, and to put a stop to his proposed vigilante activities. But Ford, suspecting their intentions, circled around the place and thus avoided the encounter, which doubtless would have been fatal to him.
Having heard of his escape, Plummer, Charlie Ridgley and Reeves mounted horses and followed on the trail, their route being marked with several robberies. When within a few miles of Orofino, two footmen were espied approaching, one being some distance in advance of the other. As the foremost one came up he was ordered to hold up his hands, a command that was readily complied with. He was searched, but nothing of value was found on his person. They then informed him that he would better move along and get out of the country as soon as possible, for the rough mountains were a poor place for a man who was broke.
By the time this search and colloquy were finished, the second pedestrian had arrived; he also was a Frenchman and proved more profitable than the first, for notwithstanding that ha stoutly asserted he had no money, their search revealed a well-filled buckskin purse containing approximately one thousand dollars in gold dust. Jubilant over their success, they dashed wildly into Orofino with the impetuosity of a band of stampeded buffaloes. Reining up in front of Ford’s saloon they dismounted; entering the saloon they demanded the barkeeper to serve them with liquor—Ford being out. After they had sated their thirst they proceeded to demolish the furniture, including the bar fixtures.
During the confusion Ford arrived, and with a gun in each hand he ordered them to leave the saloon and town. They backed out of the place, gained their horses and rode to a feed-yard, where Ford soon followed, demanding why they had not left town. This demand was answered with a shot, which precipitated a fight in which Ford was killed and Charley Ridgley was severely wounded. The latter was carried to a friendly ranch near by and given such careful treatment that he eventually recovered. Plummer now changed his headquarters to Florence, from whence his associates made frequent incursions along the different lines of travel leading to and from that camp.
New discoveries having been made in other sections, many began leaving the older camps. Among these were Plummer, Reeves and Ridgley, the latter having recovered sufficiently from his wounds to accompany them to Elk City, their new field. Here he met a coterie of his former California pals, but he suddenly disappeared and was next heard of in Deer Lodge. The former field of his activities was immediately occupied by others of his ilk equally unscrupulous, some of whose deeds will be recorded later.
At this time Plummer seems to have parted from nearly all the members of his old Lewiston gang except Jack Cleveland. Becoming more secretive in his movements, he formed a new band of congenial spirits.
He visited nearly all the camps situated along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains in Montana, but while the new members of his gang made robbery a business, and practiced the theory that “dead men tell no tales,” Plummer concealed his affiliations so well that for a long time he remained unsuspected outside the membership of his organization of freebooters.
The band of which he was chief at that time consisted entirely of new members whom he had enrolled since leaving Elk City save one man, Jack Cleveland, who had crossed the Bitter Root Mountains into Montana with him. His greatest fear seemed to be that Cleveland, while in his cups, would reveal some of the murderous enterprises in which they had participated before leaving Lewiston and Florence, Plummer having thus far succeeded in keeping his former record a secret from his new pals. The suspicions he entertained toward Cleveland finally led to an open rupture one day while they were in Bannock. This was settled in a pistol duel in which Cleveland was killed. Plummer then fled to Rattle Snake Creek, where he was captured by a posse from Bannock. In his trial which followed he was acquitted.
Criminals Active in Mining Camps.
As soon as the snow disappeared in the spring of 1863, many of the miners and prospectors who had been cooped up in Bannock (now in Montana) all winter, started out on prospecting trips. Other gulches containing rich deposits of placer gold were soon discovered.
The entire district was in the Territory of Washington until April 3rd, 1863, when the Territory of Idaho was created. It embraced all the new gold discoveries in and around Bannock and Helena. (There were two towns, or mining camps, named Bannock in Idaho during 1863).
Since the country at that time was not equipped with the machinery of government, the miners depended upon themselves to maintain local government. Each camp elected peace officers, and laws were enacted o secure the rights, peace and safety of the inhabitants. It having been determined to elect me sheriff for all the camps east of the Bitter Root Mountains, Plummer, the outlaw, became an active candidate for the nomination on the Democratic ticket. With the support of the members of his gang, and with that of the sporting elements in the towns, he triumphed. Thus with the aid of hundreds of good men who voted the Democratic ticket on account of “principle,” the vilest and most cold-blooded murderer who ever polluted the mining camps of the northwest was made sheriff—a man whose trail for years had been marked by the graves of his victims.
His position as sheriff enlarged his opportunities for evil until a long-suffering and forbearing public was aroused, which resulted in the forming of a vigilance committee, at whose hand he, and a dozen others of his partners in crime, expiated their sins on the gallows.
Nearly all of those who were Plummer’s associates in Lewiston, Florence and Elk City, including Charlie Ridgley, who was wounded while assisting in murdering Ford, found their way to Boise Basin, where we shall refer to them later.
~ Bunton ~
The next name on the roster of the lawless men who came to Lewiston in the early 60’s is Bunton—stool-pigeon, horse and cattle thief, and murderer. He had killed a man at a ball near Walla Walla, was tried for murder, and acquitted for want of sufficient evidence. Next, he killed his brother-in-law, escaping the officers by flight. He then located a ranch on Pataha creek, where he lived with an Indian woman. It was soon ascertained that his business consisted of hiding and selling stolen stock.
The officers raided his ranch, but he had doubtless been warned of their intentions and made his escape, disguised as an Indian wrapped in a blanket. It was at this time that he entered Lewiston and soon became a member of the Plummer gang. As long as Plummer remained there, Bunton proved a valuable aid in all of his nefarious ventures, but when his chief took wing, he too became alarmed and fled to Rattle Snake Creek, where he was soon captured and hanged by the Montana vigilance committee.
~ Charles Ridgley ~
Next on the roster is Charles Ridgley, who took a prominent part in the murder of Ford at Orofino. Before this, however, he shot a man named Gilchrist in Walla Walla, and thinking that he had killed him, said “That takes a load off my shoulders.” Gilchrist was badly wounded but he recovered. Ridgley escaped arrest by flight. Going to Lewiston, he joined the Plummer gang. After recovering from the wounds received at the time of the Ford murder, he went with Plummer to Elk City and later drifted to Idaho City and South Boise, where he distinguished himself as a friend of Ferd Patterson, a gambler, gun-man and political henchman of E. D. Holbrook. He finally disappeared from the eyes of the writer. Charley was a good fellow of his kind when the cards broke his way; his value as a political henchman consisted solely in his reputation of being a “gun-fighter,” and a “bad man.”
~ Charley Reeves ~
The next undesirable citizen is Charley Reeves, who accompanied Plummer and Ridgley to Elk City, whence he went to Bannock. While among the Bannocks in January, 1863, he bought from them a squaw, but she was so cruelly abused by him that she fled to her own people. Reeves and a friend named Moore tracked her to a tepee where she had taken refuge, and on her refusal to return with him, he resorted to violence, whereupon an old Indian chief forcibly ejected him from the tepee. Reeves and Moore, joined by a man named Wm. Mitchell, marched and countermarched by the place, firing volley after volley into it. The brave old chief was killed, together with a lame Indian, a papoose, and a Frenchman, named Cazette, who had entered the tepee to discover the cause of the disturbance. Two other curious individuals were badly wounded.
After the dastardly deed had been perpetrated the performers fled, but were captured the following day, brought back and tried by a jury, who brought in a verdict of “not guilty.” While the prisoners were guilty, and everyone knew it, the jury was afraid to bring in a verdict in accordance with the facts, they being intimidated by the criminal class, who were in the majority, and who crowded the room where the trial was being held, brandishing revolvers and threatening to take life for life.
This trial proved disastrous to the community, for it encouraged the lawless element, far and near, convincing them that they held the upper hand and had the business and law-abiding citizen cowed.
Emboldened by the foregoing result, and feeling that disguise was no longer necessary, the country was soon startled by a series of murders and robberies more brazen and shocking than any of the others that had preceded them.
The difficulties heretofore encountered by those who would have gladly pursued drastic measures in order to secure a reasonable degree of safety for life and property, were chiefly found in the newness of the country, which precluded the people, who were gathered there from almost every quarter of the globe, from becoming acquainted with one another.
Neighbors did not know one another hence, as was wise, they hesitated to suggest an organization designed to oppose lawless methods, lest the man approached might be a member of the banditti. There being no church nor society organization with which the better classes could affiliate, it was every man for himself. The road-agents had the only perfect organization, and it shielded its own. But a time came when conditions were altered.
An old man who had come alone to the camp secured a claim. After building a cabin, he had begun to work his ground. The hardships he was obliged to undergo were more than his enfeebled frame could withstand. Overcome by sickness, he abandoned his efforts when it was too late. Confined to his cabin and bed, he was given such treatment and care as the rough, rescue firing upon the guard and getting shot through the arm in return. When this was understood the people returned to their beds, leaving the guards to their dangerous vigil.
The next morning almost the entire populace visited the building where the prisoners had been confined, but no guards halted their approach. Drawing closer, they discovered that the guards had departed, leaving the doors ajar. Timidly pushing them open, the most venturesome entered. Here they found hanging by their necks from the joists, the rigid corpses of the men who had been, in life, thieves, road agents, murderers, and all-around “bad actors.” “The wages of sin is death.”
It was told of a very humane attorney whose sympathies were known to favor the oppressed highwaymen and horse thieves, that he appeared at the door of the building where the prisoners were confined, during the afternoon after their incarceration, and asked to see them, but was refused admittance and told to come back in the morning, which he accordingly did. In answer to his second request to see the accused, he was told to step inside, and upon doing so, he came suddenly and without warning upon the bodies of his clients suspended by ropes from the upper joists. It is needless to say that the learned barrister with the sympathetic proclivities, made a speedy exit.
Magruder Murder – Pursuit, Arrest and Conviction of the Murderers.
In August 1863, prior to the meeting of the -“- first session of the Territorial legislature, a prominent packer named Lloyd Magruder, who had been engaged for a couple of years in packing supplies from Lewiston into the various camps in the Clearwater and Salmon river countries, purchased a cargo of supplies suitable for a mining camp, and loading his train of mules, which numbered about sixty, started over the Bitter Root mountains to Virginia City—then in Idaho—a distance of nearly three hundred miles.
During the many trips Magruder had made to Lewiston in the previous two years, he had become well and favorably known to many of the citizens of that town. In those, days of danger and uncertainty, the men whom a man like Magruder gathered into his circle of friends were of the class to whom the word “friendship” meant something more than the mere breath of air used to utter the word.
Among these friends was Hill Beachy, the proprietor and landlord of the principal hotel in the town. He and Magruder were old acquaintances, they having known each other before coming to Lewiston.
Having made so many trips into the mountains with his pack train without serious adventure, Magruder appeared to have no apprehension of impending danger when he started off on the long trail to Virginia City. But Beachy, the proprietor of the hotel, was in a position to know the kinds of characters Magruder was likely to encounter, both before and after reaching Virginia City, and therefore he lent him a reliable gun, and warned him of the dangers he might encounter.
The departure of such a big mule-train for such a distant camp was an event in Lewiston at that time, and as the mules strung up the Clearwater along what is now Main street, and were lost to sight near where the railroad station now stands, one of those who witnessed the start and watched until his friend disappeared around a turn in the trail, was Hill Beachy, who from the first had a premonition that his friend Magruder would never return. Among the others who witnessed the departure of the mule train were three men, D. C. Lowry, David Howard and James Remain, who were disciples of the Plummer school and believers in the piratical doctrine “dead men tell no tales.”
These men soon after Magruder left began preparations to follow on his trail, and having secured a few more men who were unsuspicious of the characters of Lowry, Howard and Romain, and all having procured riding animals and additional pack horses to carry their provisions and blankets, after a delay of about ten days, started in pursuit of Magruder. The owner of a heavily laden pack train, having a long trip to make, is necessarily anxious to spare his mules as much as possible; hence his drives were short, usually not more than fifteen miles per day and if camping places with water and grass can be found, the daily journey is more likely to be limited to twelve or fourteen miles. So the pursuing party making double the distance each day, that Magruder made, came up with him before he reached his destination.
Magruder knew nothing about the characters of the men who had joined him, and as they appeared to be a jolly lot of mountain men and willing to travel with him and assist him in caring for and packing his mules, asking nothing for their assistance but their board, he willingly accepted their aid.
In loading a pack-train, the packers worked in pairs. The animal, horse or mule, after being saddled up, is led up to the cargo he is to carry and then blindfolded. Each man then picks up a side-pack and with a man working on each side of the animal, it is soon lashed in place. Therefore it is convenient to have plenty of men, so that the mules or horses, as the animals may be, need not be held after being loaded, awaiting the others, so on that account, if for no other, Magruder found the assistance of these additional men quite acceptable.
Finally Virginia City was reached without incident. A large tent was erected in the outskirts of the town, and the goods stored within, ready for sale. The men who accompanied Lowry, Howard and Romain from Lewiston, all except one, immediately started out to find work or look for “diggins,” and Magruder saw them no more, but the four, including D. C. Lowry, David Howard, James Romain and one other of the Lewiston party whose name is unknown, hung around Magruder’s camp, helping at times in caring for the mules, and always taking great interest in the rapid sale of the cargo and the consequent accumulation of gold dust received in exchange for the goods. It was about the middle of October before the last remnant of the goods was sold, and since Magruder was anxious to return to his family before the winter snow blocked his trail, he knew that he must not delay his departure, as the Bitter Root range, which he was obliged to cross, was liable to be covered at any time after early October.
He had a large mule train and their equipment, besides having about thirty thousand dollars in gold dust, the result of his venture. Help must be engaged to assist in bringing the mules over the mountains and guard the treasure. The three men whose acquaintance he had first made on the trail and whom he had no reason to suspect expressed a willingness to return with him, as did also another one of the original party, William Page, a trapper. So he engaged
these four men and in addition hired two others, a man named Phillips, the other named Allen. Two young men who were anxious to get out of the country were also supplied with saddle mules and added to the party, thus making the number nine men. The two young men who were last to join the party were trying to return to their homes in Missouri, having secured about two thousand dollars each in gold dust. If they gave Magruder their names in starting he probably made a memorandum in his diary which was destroyed, so their names are not known.
The start was made under favorable circumstances, the mules having had such a long rest on excellent grass, were in fine condition and everything bespoke a speedy and pleasant trip; and such it proved to be until more than half the distance to Lewiston was covered, when one night in camp a tragedy was enacted.
As near as can be determined by the evidence afterward brought out, it had been planned long before by Lowry, Howard and Romain to appropriate Magruder’s effects. It seems probable that their first idea was to murder him and his packers while on their way to Virginia City, and appropriate the mules and cargo, but as they could not assemble enough of their gang to successfully carry out that enterprise, it was thought safer to permit Magruder to sell his cargo and take possession of his effects while on the trail returning to Lewiston. It was resolved by Lowry, Howard and Romain that they would kill the entire party except the trapper Page. A night was chosen when they were encamped on a ridge which broke off on one side almost perpendicular for several hundred feet into a canyon or mountain gorge. Near the summit was a spring which furnished men and animals water. From a confession made by Page, the trapper, it appears that on the night selected for the massacre, Page was put on guard and told what was going to happen, and ordered to keep still under penalty of death.
Magruder and Lowry were also on guard away from the camp in an opposite direction, while Phillips, Allan and the other men were fast asleep in their blankets near the fire. During the first watch of the night, Lowry, who was on guard with Magruder, approached within striking distance, and dealing him a powerful blow with an axe which he had concealed under his coat, awaiting the fatal moment, knocked him senseless to the ground, where he was speedily dispatched. The killing of the sleeping men in camp was then quickly accomplished. Page, the trapper, who was watching the mules near by, claimed that he saw the murders committed. As soon as daylight arrived, the mules were brought up and five of the best were selected, four for saddle mules for the men to ride and one to pack their plunder. The other animals were then driven into a deep canyon and they, too, were murdered. They tied the murdered men in blankets and dropped them over the bluff near camp, into the bottom of the canyon, several hundred feet below, after which, having secured the gold dust, they made a bonfire and burned all the camp equipage, including the aparejos and other paraphernalia of a pack train.
The foregoing being accomplished, they started for the lower country, expecting to ford the Clearwater above Lewiston and keep on down the north bank, thus avoiding the town, but when they reached the river, the weather having turned cold, the water was full of running ice, so they were afraid to attempt to ford, and going into camp they remained there until in the night, when they quietly entered Lewiston. They found a stock ranchman with whom they left their mules, and took the early morning stage for Walla Walla, booking themselves under fictitious names.
In those days passengers from Lewiston en route to Portland, Oregon, took passage first on stage to Walla Walla, then on a second stage line from Walla Walla to Wallula; there passage was secured by steamer, including two portages to Portland.
Hill Beachy, who was yet keeping his hotel in Lewiston, upon learning that four men had entered town in the night, disguised, and taken the early stage out in the morning, entertaining the same fears for the safety of his friend Magruder that he had from the day of the latter’s departure for Virginia City, seemed intuitively to surmise that the travelers had robbed Magruder. So strong was this intuition, that he made complaint before an officer, and since Governor Wallace was in Lewiston, he obtained requisitions on the governors of Oregon, Washington and California. He intended to start immediately in pursuit, prepared to have them extradited, no matter in which of the foregoing jurisdictions they might be found.
Beachy’s friends, however, persuaded him to wait a few days in order to see if something definite could not be learned. Accordingly he postponed his departure, and learning that the men whom he suspected had left mules which were to be sent out to a ranch, he had the animals and saddles brought in for examination. One of the mules was recognized at once as having been Magruder’s saddle animal, and one of the saddles was also recognized as formerly belonging to Magruder. This evidence removed the last lingering doubt and satisfied the most skeptical.
Beachy at once began his preparations to start in pursuit of the murderers. A man named Tom Pike was engaged by Beachy to accompany him, and so equipped with the necessary credentials, they started to overtake and capture the fugitives, who now had such an advantageous start. Taking a private conveyance and changing horses several times, they made a rapid drive to Walla Walla, thence took the stage to Wallula, from which point they took passage by steamer to Portland. Arriving there, they learned that four men answering the description of those wanted had been in the city a few days previously, and who while there seemed to be well provided with money. In fact, they had made a deposit in a faro bank amounting to several hundred dollars, but they had departed on a steamship bound for San Francisco. Having learned of their departure, Beachy sent Pike after them by water route, while he started overland, not caring to await the steamer, for, at that time, the sailing days were infrequent. The overland trip from Portland, Oregon, to Sacramento, by stage, was one that few men cared to undertake. The road traveled up the Willamette and Umpqua Valleys were proverbial for deep, sticky and numerous chuck holes, and since the stages ran both by night and day, the passengers, necessarily, had but little opportunity for wooing Morpheus.
Beachy was fully aware of these unpleasant features connected with the proposed trip, yet, without hesitancy, he boarded the Concord coach and started overland, fixed in his determination to capture the murderers of his friend. After three days and nights, cooped up in the stage, he reached Yreka, then the nearest point from Portland where telegraphic communication could be had with San Francisco. From this point he succeeded in wiring a full description of the suspects to the chief of police in San Francisco, and a brief detail of the murder, and requested that they be arrested and held, pending his arrival. The request was carried out, and upon his arrival a few days later, he found the murderers behind prison bars. In addition to the arrest, they had traced the dust the men had brought with them on the steamer to the U. S. mint.
After an embarrassing delay, caused by a writ of habeas corpus, Tom Pike having in the meantime arrived, with his prisoners securely ironed, Beachy and Pike started by steamer to Portland, thence by the usual route to Lewiston, where they arrived on December 7th, 1863, the same day on which convened the first session of the legislative assembly of the Territory of Idaho. Before leaving San Francisco, William Page, the trapper, who admitted having seen the murders committed, confessed to Beachy, and gave all the particulars of the tragedy. Upon his arrival in Lewiston with the four prisoners, had Beachy been a man of less determination, the citizens would have given the accused but short shrift; but he told them that the prisoners were his, and that before leaving San Francisco he had promised them that they should have a fair trial by a jury, and his promise must and should be kept.
Arrangements were made for holding the first term of district court ever held in Idaho, commencing on January 5th, 1864. Accordingly the prisoners were confined in jail and closely guarded until they were brought out and arraigned for trial. During the time they were imprisoned, the legislative assembly effected an organization and began their work in a spirited manner.
The organic act which created the Territory of Idaho failed to provide that the laws of the Territories, from which the new Territory was created, should continue in force, until such time as the legislative assembly of Idaho could enact Civil and Criminal Codes. Hence there was a period during the first year of Idaho’s territorial existence, extending from April 3rd, 1863, until the first legislative session had met and enacted laws, when we had neither Civil nor Criminal Acts, and were entirely dependent upon the general laws of the United States, which were inadequate to meet all conditions. Consequently the first legislative assembly was confronted with conditions requiring prompt and speedy measures.
The first district court to be held in the Territory was to be convened on January 5th, 1864, less than one month from the first day of the legislative session. The four men then in custody charged with the atrocious murder of Magruder and his party were to be tried during this term of court—and as yet Idaho had no Criminal Practice Act. Fortunately, however, the members of the first legislature were equal to meeting the occasion. They promptly passed the following act—an act adopting the Common Law of England:
“Be It Enacted by the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Idaho, as Follows:
“Section 1. The common law of England, so far as the same is not inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution of the United States, the Organic Act and laws of this territory, shall be the law of the land in this territory.
“Sec. 2. This act to take effect and be in force from and after its approval by the governor. Approved January 4, 1864.”
Thus, one day in advance of the coming trial, the district court was provided with authority to cover any void existing, heretofore, in the statute.
Judge Samuel C. Parks was assigned to hold the first term of district court in Lewiston, beginning on the 5th day of January, 1864. Of the four men held for the murder of the Magruder party, Lowry, Howard and Romain were indicted for murder in the first degree, and were at once placed on trial and promptly convicted, as the chain of evidence was complete.
William Page, the trapper, having turned state’s evidence, was permitted to depart after the trial. Rumor has it that he was killed soon afterwards, but by whom it is not definitely known. The three convicted men were sentenced by Judge Parks on January 26 to be hanged on March 4th, 1864, by the neck until dead.
The sentence was duly executed, and thus miserably perished a trio of human fiends— their execution striking terror to the hearts of their kind, and causing a prompt reinforcement to the troop of scoundrels who had already transferred their activities to Boise Basin and other congenial camps. The territorial legislature being in session during the progress of the trial, upon the recommendation of Judge Parks, it made an appropriation to pay Hill Beachy for the pursuit and capture of the Magruder murderers, including expenses incident thereto, $6,244.00. (See page 625, First Session Laws 1865. (1863).
The money found on the prisoners, together with that they had deposited in the U. S. mint at San Francisco, was paid to the family of Magruder after the necessary formalities had been complied with. The loyalty of Hill Beachy to his friend, combined with his native fearlessness and determination, was the leading factor in bringing the episode to a successful ending.
The following spring Hill Beachy, with a party of six others, visited the scene of the tragedy and buried the remains of the victims. The particulars of the gruesome find, together with the details of their trip, after being written and signed by all the party, were printed in a Lewiston paper. This removed every doubt of the correctness of the testimony of Page, upon whose evidence the men were convicted.
The punishment meted to the men who murdered Magruder and his party was justly merited; and their conviction and subsequent execution was endorsed by all who were familiar with the tragedy. Yet, had an appeal been taken to the supreme court of the territory, the red handed fiends might have escaped execution by the officers of the law. But the public was so thoroughly aroused that no technicalities would have been permitted to prevent their punishment.
The following decision of the Idaho territorial supreme court is of interest, as it shows the utter helplessness of those who by their instincts and training were believers in a government by law during these terrible months when there was no law:
Appeal From the Second District, Boise County.
C B. Waite, District Attorney, for the People. S. A. Merritt, for the Respondent.
C. J. McBride delivered the opinion of the Court, Cummin, J., concurring, Kelly, J., dissenting.
This case comes up on appeal from a decision of the district court, quashing the indictment.
The following are the facts: The defendant, John Williams, was charged by the indictment with the crime of highway robbery, committed in the month of September, 1863, in the county of Boise, Territory of Idaho. The indictment was found at the July term, 1865, and the defendant, being in custody, pleaded not guilty. Subsequent to this plea, but before trial, the defendant, by his counsel, moved to set aside the indictment. The motion was sustained, and the prisoner ordered to be discharged. This ruling was excepted to by the attorney for the people, and the case stands for decision upon this motion, and the alleged error of the court below in granting the same. Preliminary to the investigation of the main question which is involved in the decision below, it will be necessary to refer to some points raised by the district attorney in the brief by the appellants.
It is claimed by the appellants that though the indictment charges the offense to have been committed in September, 1863, the time is no material ingredient of the offense charged, and that the indictment would be supported if the proof should show that the crime was committed within the statutory time, although not upon the day charged, and as there was no proof—there having been no trial—that the offense was committed in September, 1863, when it was claimed no law existed for its punishment, that the court erred in granting the motion, as it might have appeared that it was committed after that time, and when no such objection would lie. This is an error. For the purpose of the motion the court must take the facts as stated in the indictment to be true. Time is material in this offense, and though it need not be proved as laid strictly, still where the time becomes a question of materiality the court must assume that it is stated according to the fact, and if there was no law defining this crime, and inflicting a penalty at the time when it was alleged to have been committed, then the indictment should have been set aside, and there is no error.
The second point of the appellant is that the defendant having been set at liberty under the order of the court below, the court should not take cognizance of this appeal. This appeal is taken by the people, and the district attorney has the right, if he chooses, to dismiss the appeal; but to prosecute the appeal, and deny the effect of its design, is certainly not allowable.
A third point assigned is that the motion was made to set aside the indictment after the defendant had entered his plea of not guilty, and that the motion came too late, and, therefore, the order should have been refused, and now reversed. The statute settles this question —and reason as well; the objection going to the merits of the prosecution could be raised at any time before or after judgment. It would have been the duty of the court to consider it any time during the progress of the trial, and to have arrested the judgment after verdict. It would be the height of absurdity to say that a court might be fully convinced that it had no authority to pass sentence upon a case, yet must proceed to try a criminal because it had begun the proceedings.
Having disposed of these preliminary questions, it remains to be decided whether there was any law for the punishment of defendant for the offense charged in the indictment. On the third day of March, 1863, Congress organized the Territory of Idaho, by cutting off certain territory from the already organized territories of Washington, Dakota, Nebraska and Utah.
The Territory of Idaho then became a separate political community and the power of government, of making and enforcing statutes, of preserving the rights of the people and punishing wrong-doers, was vested in the citizens of the territory in the manner prescribed by the organic act. Did this segregation of the territory of Idaho from the other territories named leave it without any criminal code? It undoubtedly was a repeal of the several organic acts named—they no longer had any form or validity, had been superseded and become nullities.
How they could cease to exist, and yet laws remain in force, deriving their validity from authority conferred by them, we cannot understand. It would be to extinguish the fountain and insist upon the rivulet continuing its flow —cutting off the source of life and affirming continued vitality. To provide against any such hiatus in the criminal code, it is always provided that the remedies shall subsist in full force. Thus in organizing a state government the universal practice is to continue, by special provision, the pre-existing laws; so in organizing new territories the usual provision is to continue the laws of the old political division until the enactment of new ones.
In organizing the territory of Oregon, in 1848, Congress affirmed and continued the laws of the former provisional government until they should be altered or repealed. The uniform practice in this respect conclusively establishes, we think, the principle that the laws of the old organization have no force in the new political community unless by special provision. We are now speaking only of criminal laws. In civil matters the question of rights and remedies are so different that the same rules do not necessarily apply.
In the act organizing this territory no provision is contained recognizing the former laws. Indeed, to have done so would have given vitality to four different codes of law in different parts of the new territory. Confusion would have followed inevitably, and the fact of this difficulty sufficiently accounts for the omission on the part of Congress to provide for their continuance until the new legislature should provide for the wants of the country.
There is no similarity between this case and that- of a conquered or ceded territory whose sovereignty is transferred from one authority to another. Then the laws pass with the people and the soil—but not so when the sovereign authority dismembers a piece of territory and makes no provision for the new community.
We are therefore of opinion that there was no statute punishing the offense charged in this indictment at the time it was alleged to have been committed, and that even if the facts alleged be true no sentence could be pronounced. The judgment of the court below will therefore be affirmed. Judgment affirmed.
As will be understood, the effect of the foregoing decision was that it released from confinement all prisoners serving sentence for the commission of crimes committed during the period between the creation of Idaho Territory March 3rd, 1863, and the passage and approval of statutes denying such crimes and providing penalties therefore; or, an interim of approximately nine months during which time there was no law within the borders of the new Territory to protect either life or property.
[Source: Early history of Idaho; By William John McConnell, Idaho. Legislature; Publ. 1915; Transcribed and donated to Genealogy Trails by Andrea Stawski Pack.]
source: Genealogy Trails
e-book: “Early History of Idaho” by WJ McConnell 1913 (18 meg)
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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Three Creek, ID
Ghost Towns Submitted by: Duane V. Peterson
On the days prior to September 19, 1900, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid along with Will Carver, traveled from their hideout at Power Springs, on the Wyoming Colorado border, through Three Creek, ID, on their way to rob the bank at Winnemucca, NV. In Three Creek (pop.32) there was a General Store made out of rocks quarried from nearby creeks, that was owned by Jim Duncan and his wife Lizzie. According to Sundance, they got Jim out of bed, and at gun point he filled their order, loading two pack horses with grub. The grub, along with horses, were cached along the 200+ miles to Winnemucca, and used in their escape after the bank robbery. Butch Cassidy had promised to pay Jim Duncan for the grub, and as they passed through Three Creek late at night on their return trip, they figured up the bill for the grub, and doubling it, they left it in a sack by the store.
source: Ghost Towns
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date unknown (in Owyhee Co.)
source: AHGP Idaho
[h/t Sharon McConnel]
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Butch Cassidy and Two Gang Members Rob Montpelier Bank
On Thursday, August 13, 1896, Montpelier, Idaho sweltered under a blistering afternoon sun. Three riders walked their horses along a street, trailing a pack mare behind them. Had the local jeweler seen them, he might have recognized the three men he’d hired to gather hay on his ranch near the Wyoming border. His wife, who handled the spread while her husband ran his shop, considered them good workers.
Montpelier, ca. 1910. Source uncertain: Wyoming Tales & Trails.
Founded by Mormon colonists in 1864, Montpelier grew only modestly until the Oregon Short Line railroad built a station there in 1884. The OSL soon added a repair facility and the town became the main supply hub for homesteads and ranches for miles and miles around. It also became a major shipping point for livestock and wool. By 1896, Montpelier had numerous stores, and the only bank in Bear Lake County.
The three riders stopped first at a general store. The storekeeper thought the three might be sheepherders. Finished, the strangers remounted and walked their horses east along the street. The time was after 3:00 p.m. when they stopped in front of the bank and dismounted. Two men standing on the board sidewalk glanced at them, didn’t recognize the riders, and resumed their conversation.
They paid sudden attention when two of the men, now masked with bandanas, accosted them with drawn revolvers. Terse commands urged them inside, where they found three bank employees and several customers. The robbers ordered everyone except the Assistant Cashier to line up facing the wall.
The blond, stocky leader held them at gunpoint while the taller bandit stuffed all the bank’s cash money into a large sack. After raiding the vault, the man tossed loose silver coins into the bag, then dumped a stack of gold coins into a cloth bank bag. Finished, he carried the loot outside and loaded the bags onto his horse and the pack mare.
The blond robber waited inside until his partner completed the loading. He warned them not to make a fuss for at least ten minutes, then strolled out to mount up himself. The bandits turned their horses toward the edge of town.
The Cashier hurried to tell the deputy sheriff as soon as the hoofbeats subsided. However, the deputy was mostly a process server and owned neither gun nor horse. Still, willing to try, he grabbed a “penny-farthing” – a bicycle with giant front wheel and tiny rear – and gave chase. He soon gave up, but did find that the crooks had galloped east, towards the Wyoming border.
Butch Cassidy. Utah Historical Society.
The bandits had planned well. They apparently used the haying job as a cover while they traced the best escape route and located a spot to hide a quick change of horses. Fortunately, the third bandit, who held the horses ready, had not worn a mask. Outside on the street, that might have attracted unwanted attention. The Assistant Cashier got a good look at him.
That man turned out to be Bob Meeks, a member of Butch Cassidy’s notorious “Wild Bunch.” He was the only one caught and convicted for the robbery. The blond leader was surely Butch himself
For some reason, there seems to be no authoritative answer as to how much the bandits got away with. Reports vary widely, from as little as $5 thousand, to around $16 thousand, to over $50 thousand. A figure of about $7 thousand is most generally accepted. Whatever the amount, none of the money was ever recovered.
source: South Fork Companion
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Wyatt Earp Sheriff of Kootenai Co.
Wyatt Earp was a magnet for trouble, even when he came to Idaho in 1884.
Keva Wolfe February 26, 2016 Post Falls
He had long since left behind his exploits in Dodge City and the gunfight at O.K. Corral in Tombstone. His taste for adventure had turned to saloons, gambling and mining. It was a perfect formula for more trouble, and Idaho was the perfect place for it.
Gold and silver discoveries in Idaho were the same lure to adventurers then as they were in California decades earlier.
With his wife Sadie-Josephine Sarah Marcus (also called Josie) and his older brother Jim, Earp arrived in Eagle City on Jan. 30, where new miners were swarming in every day. His youngest brother Warren joined them later.
Located north of today’s I-90 near Pritchard in Shoshone County, Eagle was more of a collection of tents and log cabins than a “city.”
Their journey began in Fort Worth, Texas, with the final leg a trip up the Coeur d’Alene River aboard the steamer Amelia Wheaton to Cataldo Mission, and from there, overland to Eagle City.
The day after he arrived, Earp was “elected” part-time deputy sheriff of newly formed Kootenai County next door. There was plenty for him to do on both sides of the boundary line.
On March 28, Jack Enright, one of Earp’s partners, tried to stop miner Bill Buzzard? – a man of questionable character – from starting construction of a hotel which Enright said encroached on his property. Harsh words and a Winchester rifle quickly brought out the worst in both of them.
Soon, the two men and their pals were shooting it out between snowbanks. Some 50 bullets flew in all directions. Two went through Buzzard’s hat, and another just missed Enright’s face.
It was no O.K. Corral, however. No one died. This time, Earp was the peacemaker. He and Shoshone County Deputy W.E. Hunt stepped in and ended the war.
A later report said: “With characteristic coolness, they stood where the bullets from both parties flew about them, joked with the participants upon their poor marksmanship, and although they pronounced the affair a fine picture, used their best endeavors to stop the shooting.”
The Spokane Falls Review reported that after the shooting, Enright and Buzzard met and smoked together, complimenting each other on their courage. The only casualty was an onlooker who took a shot through the fleshy part of his leg.
Earp’s first business venture in Eagle City was to set up a dance hall in a big tent. Then he opened the White Elephant Saloon, “The largest and finest saloon in the Coeur d’Alenes,” according to an ad in the Coeur d’Alene Weekly.
Gold creates frenzy in men’s minds, and in the Eagle-Murray area, everyone was filing mining claims in those days. This created a deluge of legal problems, often causing violence. Earp was swiftly caught up in it.
He filed for a number of claims, that in the long run earned him more legal troubles than gold.
Mining camps have lots of problems, and on June 19, Earp landed in the middle of another one: Danny Ferguson, a 23-year old from Nebraska who was his partner in a land syndicate, attempted to rescue a drunk and disorderly woman who was being slapped around in the street in front of a saloon by Thomas Steele, son of an Omaha doctor.
She was a prostitute and the two had been drinking heavily. Steele resented Ferguson’s intrusion. Again, words and guns did their damage as the two men battled it out.
Steele ended up dead and charges were about to be filed against Ferguson who had left town. Earp decided to warn his young business partner. The telegraph operator, named Toplitz, refused to send the telegram and started running away until Earp stopped him by throwing a rock at him.
“Now send the telegram or I’ll beat you to death,” Earp growled. Toplitz sent it and Ferguson escaped the indictment, living out the rest of his life elsewhere under the name Danny Miller.
That was Wyatt Earp’s world in Idaho’s early days.
Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was born in Monmouth, Ill., on March 19, 1848, but spent most of his life in frontier towns throughout the West.
He was only in Idaho about eight months, where he did most of the things he was known for, but nothing like his adventures in Dodge City or O.K. Corral.
The gold petered out in the Coeur d’Alenes, so on Sept. 20, 1884, the Earps pulled up stakes and left Idaho. Wyatt and Sadie headed for Colorado, while brother Jim went to California to rejoin his wife Bessie, who died shortly thereafter. Jim died in 1926 and is buried in San Bernardino, Calif.
His brother Warren stayed behind for a while, then he too left. On July 6, 1900, he was shot to death in a saloon shootout in Willcox, Ariz.
Wyatt and Sadie moved from place to place in the west, staying together for 47 years. Wyatt died in Los Angeles of chronic cystitis – some say prostate cancer – on Jan. 13, 1929. He was 80.
He was the last of the Earp brothers and the last survivor of the O.K. Corral. During his long and violent life, he was never wounded.
Sadie died on Dec. 20, 1944, in the same small apartment in Los Angeles where Wyatt died. The cremated remains of both are buried next to one another in Colma, Calif.
Wyatt Earp has been described as a gambler, lawman, buffalo hunter, saloon keeper, gold and copper miner, barber, investor, horse racer, teamster, shotgun rider, enforcer and fight referee.
Sadie always wanted an exciting life. With Wyatt, she got her wish.
Wyatt Earp’s short stay in Idaho left no legacy, except that Eagle City was once the home of a Wild West legend. And even there, nothing remains but a few graves – and perhaps also, a ghost of the O.K. Corral.
Syd Albright is a writer/journalist/producer living in Post Falls. He is chairman of the Kootenai County Historic Preservation Commission.
link to: Wyatt Earp Sheriff of Kootenai Co
page updated July 7, 2020