In the present and succeeding chapters will be found accounts of actual experiences with road agents, in the practice of their profession. The exact chronological order of the narrative has, in these cases, been broken in upon, that the reader may have a correct notion of what an attack by road agents usually was. We shall show at a future time what it too often became when bloodshed was added to rapine. As the facts related are isolated, the story is not injured by the slight anachronism.
About three weeks after the occurrences recorded in the last chapter, M. S. Moody (Milt Moody), with three wagons, started in company with a train of packers, for Salt hake City. Among the latter were John McCormick, Billy Sloan, J. S. Rockfellow,* J. M. Bozeman, Henry Branson and M. V. Jones.
* Afterward a merchant in Virginia and Bannack.
In the entire caravan there was probably from $75,000 to $80,00D in gold, and it must not be supposed that such a splendid prize could escape the lynx-eyed vigilance of the road agents.
Plummer engaged Dutch John and Steve Marshland for the job, and his selection was not a bad one, so far as Dutch John was concerned, for a more courageous, stalwart or reckless desperado never threw spurs on the flanks of a cayuse, or cried "Halt!'' to a true man. Steve Marshland was a bold fellow when once in action; but he preferred what mountaineers eall a "soft thing" to an open onslaught. This unprofessional weakness not only saved the lives of several whom we are proud to call friends, but ensured his own and his friends' capture and death at the hands of the Vigilantes.
In Black Tail Deer Canyon the party were seated at breakfast, close to a sharp turn in the road, when they heard two men conversing, close at hand, but hidden by the brush. Says the "first robber." "You take my revolver and I'll take yours, and you come on right after me." Every man found his gun between his knees in less than no time, and not a few discovered that their revolvers were cocked. Pulsation became more active, and heads were "dressed" towards the corner. In a few moments Dutch John aud Steve Marshland rod round the bend, with their shotguns ready. On seeing the party prepared to receive them they looked confused and reined up. Steve Marshland recognized Billy Sloan, and called out, "How do you do, Mr. Sloan!" to which Billy replied, "Very well, thank you." The last two words have been a trouble to Sloan ever since, being too figurative for his conscience. By way of excuse for their presence, the road agents asked if the party had seen any horses, and whether they had any loose stock, saying that they had been informed by some halfbreeds that the animals which they claimed to be lost had been with their train. A decided negative vouchsafed, they rode on.
The robbers did not expect to come upon them so soon, and were not masked. But for this fact, and the sight of the weapons on hand for use, if required, the train would have been relieved of the responsibility attaching to freighting treasure in those days without any delay.
Little did the party imagine that the safety of their property and their lives hung upon a thread, and that, the evening before, the "prudence" of Steve Marshland had saved six or eight of the party from unexpected death. Yet so it was. Wagner and Marshland had followed their trail, and hitching their steeds to the bush, with their double-barrelled guns loaded with buckshot, and at full cock, they crawled up to within fifteen feet of the camp, and leisurely surveyed them by the light of the fire. The travelers lay around in perfect ignorance of the proximity of the road agents; their guns were everywhere but where they ought to be, and, without a sentry to warn them of the approach of danger, they carelessly exposed themselves to death, and their property to seizure.
Wagner's proposal was that he and Marshland should select their men, and kill four with their shot-guns; that then they should move quickly around, and keep up a rapid fire with their revolvers, shouting loudly at the same time, to make them believe that they were attacked by a large concealed force. There was no fear of their shooting away all their charges, as the arms of the men who would inevitably fall would be at their disposal, and the chances were a hundred to one that the remainder would take to flight, and leave their treasure - for a considerable time at all events - within reach of the robbers. Steve, however, "backed down," and the attack was deferred till the next day.
It was the custom of the packers to ride ahead. of the train towards evening, in order to select a camping place, and 'it was while the packers were thus separated from the train that the attack on the wagons took place.
On top of the divide, between Red Rock and Junction, the robbers rode up to the wagons, called on them to halt, and gathering the drivers together, Dutch John sat on his horse, covering them with his shot-gun, while Steve dismounted and searched both them and their wagons.
Moody had slipped a revolver into his boot, which was not detected; $100 in greenbacks, which were in his shirt pocket, were also unnoticed. The material wealth of Kit Erskine and his comrade driver appeared to be represented by half a plug of tobacco for the preservation of which Kit pleaded; but Steve said it was "just what he wanted," and appropriated it forthwith.
After attending to the men, Steve went for the wagons, which he searched, cutting open the carpet sacks, and found $1,500 in treasury notes; but he missed the gold, which was packed on the horses, in cantinas. In the hind wagon was a sick man named Kennedy, with his comrade Lank Forbes; but the nerves of the first mentioned gentleman were so unstrung that he could not pull trigger when Steve climbed up and drew the curtain. Not so with Forbes. He let drive and wounded Steve in the breast. With an oath and a yell Steve fell to his knees, but recovered, and jumping down from the wagon again fell, but rose and made, afoot, for the tall timber, at an amazing speed. The noise of the shot frightened Dutch John's horse, which reared as John discharged both barrels at the teamsters, and the lead whizzed past just over their heads, Moody dropped his hand to his boot, and seizing the revolver, opened fire on Dutch John, who endeavored to increase the distance between him and the wagons to the best of his horse's ability.
Three balls were sent after him, one of which took effect in his shoulder. Had Moody jumped on Marshland's horse and pursued. him, he could have killed him easily, as the shot-gun was at his saddle bow. These reflections and suggestions, however, occur more readily to a man sitting in an easy chair, than to the majority of the unfortunate individuals who happen to be attacked by masked highwaymen.
John's wound and Marshland's were proof conclusive of their guilt when they were arrested..John made for Bannack and was nursed there. Steve Marshland was taken care of at Deer Lodge.
The packers wondered what had become of the wagons, and, though their anxiety was relieved, yet their astonishment was increased when, about three o'clock p. m. Moody rode up and informed them that his train had been attacked by road agents, who had been repulsed and wounded.
Steve's horse, arms and equipage, together with twenty pounds of tea, found lying on the road, which had been stolen from a Mormon train previously, were, as an acquaintance of ours expresses it, "confiscated." J. S. Rockfellow and two others rode back, and striking the trail of Steve, followed it till eleven p. m. When afterwards arrested, this scoundrel admitted that they were within fifteen feet of him at one time.
On the ground they found scattered along the trail of the fugitive robber all the stolen packages and envelopes, containing Treasury notes; so that he made nothing by his venture except frozen feet; and he lost his horse, arms and traps. J. X. Beidler met Dutch John, and bandaged up his frozen hands, little knowing who his frigid acquaintance was. He never tells this story without observing, "That's just my darned luck;" at the same time polishing the butt of his "navy" with one hand, and scratching his head with the other, his grey eye twinkling like a star before rain with mingled humor and intelligence.
Land Forbes claimed the horse and accoutrements of Steve as the lawful spoil of his revolver, and the reward of his courage. A demurrer was taken to this by Milt Moody, who had done the agreeable to Dutch John, and the drivers put in a mild remonstrance on their own behalf, on the naval principle that all ships in sight share in the prize captured. They claimed that their "schooners" were entitled to be represented by the "steersmen." The subject afforded infinite merriment to the party at every camp. At last a judge was elected, a jury was empaneled, and the attorneys harangued the judicial packers. The verdict was that Lank should remain seized and possessed of the property taken from the enemy, upon payment of $20 to each of the teamsters, and $30 to Milt, and thereupon the court adjourned. The travellers reached Salt Lake City in safety.