In November, 1863, I left Denver with a two horse team and some of my truck, and headed for Helena, Montana. A short time afterwards I took four or five wagons and men and went near Banick City, put up a log house and started a station. It was while here that I got acquainted with some of the road agents and familiar with their plans and tricks.
The Indians were not our only enemies; we lost a lot through the road agents, who were principally the criminals and jail breakers that escaped from the East and took refuge in our western wilderness, where there was no law, and, as they supposed, they could have things their own way. But they got fooled. We formed vigilant parties to protect ourselves, and no more thought of stringing up an outlaw who molested us than we did of scalping a redskin who had killed our neighbor and destroyed our property.
Just to show you how we did it, I will tell you of some of the road agents I ran across while on my trip to Montana.
In that part of Montana, gold was found in great quantities and a large gang of men were getting out the gold dust and going back to the states, so there was a continual come and go.
The outlaws soon saw a chance for easy money and after the miners got the gold and started on the road home, they were often waylaid and robbed, generally killed.
Henry Plummer had been appointed sheriff, but the people noticed that the road agents were just as bad as ever and soon discovered that Plummer was their leader and playing into their hands.
On one occasion Jack Oliver, Jack Hughes and Sloan took several mule teams and loads of groceries and liquor to a station about sixty miles from my station. They got a large amount of gold dust in exchange for their loads. Being afraid to try to carry it home, they traded it for greenbacks and put them in several envelopes and addressed them to different people in Denver, and scattered them out among their drivers, just as though it was letters they were carrying back.
The road agents always had spies out, and one of them got onto how the money was being carried. As the teams were quite a distance out on the road they were held up and the money taken from the drivers. When the robbers got to the last wagon, Jack Hughes and Sloan raised up from under the canvas cover and opened fire on them. The robbers dropped the envelopes and ran. The two who attacked the last wagon were severely wounded, but managed to escape.
Sloan, Hughes and their men went on into the next town and reported. Five vigilantes, headed by John Featherson, started in pursuit.
A few nights before a man by the name of Pease stopped at my place and had turned his horse loose to go to water. The horse failed to come back to the feed and we scoured all around the place, but found no trace of it. When the outlaws held up Sloan’s party they had a horse that Sloan recognized as Pease’s. He recaptured it and returned it to its owner.
As the vigilantes were scouring the country for the road agents, they noticed smoke curling up out of the willows in the distance and turned that way.
John Wagner and Ned Ray, the two outlaws wounded by Sloan and Hughes, got as far as the willows and gave out, on account of the pain and loss of blood resulting from their wounds. They stopped and built a fire and waited, taking their chances for either some of their companions or the vigilantes finding them first.
When found by the latter, they were nearly starved, their wounds swollen and hands and feet badly frozen. They were brought to my cabin and cared for until something was decided upon. There was no bed for Wagner, so I took him in with me. The boys tried to talk me out of it, but he was human and suffering, and I knew he could not harm me, he being in such a condition.
The vigilantes strung Wagner up three times to make him confess and tell who his comrades were. The ones he named were Jack Gallager, Henry Plummer, Club-Foot George, Ned Ray, Spanish Pete and several others, whose names I have forgotten.
Spanish Pete was a desperate and daring fellow. He always said he would never be taken alive, but would always save one shot for himself when cornered. While trying to capture Spanish Pete, Cubbly was shot in the hip and Featherson was grazed across the side of the head; his hair was shaved off by a bullet from the temple back. Pete hid in a log house that was built with logs about six to eight inches in diameter. He was well armed and protected, and at first no one could get near enough to make an opening in the building. At last one of the men thought of a little army howitzer that had been given to a family to take across the plains. He got it and shot a four pound ball through the walls of the cabin. The ball went through both walls of that cabin and on into my cabin and lodged in a sack of flour.
Durant, who had had some serious trouble in the past with Pete, knocked down the door and shot him twice with a double barreled shotgun. I believe that Pete was dead before Durant shot him, for he was crouched down in a corner and I noticed a hole in his temple with powder burns around it, and I think he carried out his threat.
The vigilantes took his body and hung it on Mrs. Moser’s clothes line scalene; then they just riddled it with bullets. Later the body was burned on some poles taken from the log house.
Three more were hanged that night. Henry Plummer was one of them. He was the first to hang on the gallows that he had built to hang his prisoners on during his term of sheriff, but his term expired before he had the opportunity to hang any one.
Slade, ClubFoot George, Jack Gallager and Boone Helm were taken to Helena and hanged the next morning. As they were all standing on the boxes with the noose around their necks, Helm noticed that Gallager had on a new suit of clothes. He said: “Gallager, you had better give me those clothes; you will never need them anymore.” He said it just as though he was not going to be hung, too. Then someone asked Helm if he wanted anything before he died. He asked for a drink and when a glass of whiskey was handed to him, he raised it and said: “Hurrah! for Jeff D” just then the box was kicked from under him. Helm was a southern man and every time he gave a toast or anything pleased him, he would always cheer for Jeff Davis.
When Mrs. Slade heard that her husband was captured, she left Mountain Meadow with Nailer Thompson, a great friend of Slade’s, and hurried to Helena. They rode horseback all day and night, and just as Slade was on the box with the noose around his neck, she came dashing down the mountain on a dead run, her horse covered with foam and in places the foam had frozen. She ran up to the mob and without stopping her horse she leaped down with two drawn revolvers and run into the crowd. Someone took the guns and led her away. Thompson tried to interfere, but was told to be careful or he would swing, too. As soon as Mrs. Slade was taken away the box was kicked from under her husband.
The rest of the road agents escaped to Deer Lodge. A short time after this the stage running through the Rattlesnake country was held up and Bummer Dan, who had always been a tramp, but had got a sudden raise, was robbed of nine thousand dollars. A young vigilante followed one of the robbers over into Idaho and got the drop on him. The vigilante took advantage of the robber’s surprise and used a little stratagem. In some way he made the robber believe he had help hidden nearby, when there was not a person for miles around. He got the robber to put up his hands, and he tied them together; then he got him on a mule and led the mule under a tree, put one end of a rope around the robber’s neck, the other end over a branch of the tree, and told the mule to “Get up.” The vigilante left the once desperate road agent a hanging carcass.
I stayed in Montana four months, and during that time sixty-four bandits were hung.
Smith, Holmes, Ritterhouse, Bullock and myself formed a party to go from Helena to Salt Lake. Holmes and Ritterhouse had been freighters from Ogden and sold their cattle and outfit to Darce and Vivian for about twelve thousand dollars, and the rest of us had several thousand between us. We were always on the lookout for the road agents, and wanted to be on the safe side, so we put the money in a pack on some mules and two men were always mounted on good horses to guard the mules, while one did the cooking and watched the wagons. We made a rule for none of us to shoot unless as a signal that the road agents were near.
One night, shortly after we made camp, I strayed away from the others, and suddenly I saw something that caused me to shoot in a hurry. The others came running and awfully excited. I showed them what I had killed, and their excitement changed from fear into keen appetite. I had shot two mountain trout, the two together weighing nineteen pounds.
At Salt Lake City Smith and I left the others and took the road down the Echo canon and headed for Denver. We met some immigrants on the way who warned us” of Indians, as there had been a rumor of an uprising. We got across the North Platte before we heard anything more of them, but we were at Marie Anna Station, and well sheltered.
We got into Denver just as the report of the Hungate massacre got there. I immediately joined in with the rescuing and scouting party.
Source: True History of some of the Pioneers of Colorado, by Miss Luella Shaw, Press of Carson Harper Co, Denver, Colorado, 1909