The tidings of Ives' execution and the deep and awe-strikingly news of the organization of the Vigilantes in the camps on Alder Gulch flew like wildfire, exciting wherever they were received the most dread apprehension in the minds of those whose consciences told them that their capture and their doom were convertible terms.
Among these men was Dutch John (Wagner). His share in the robbery of the train, and his wound from the pistol of Lank Forbes, pressed upon his memory. By a physical reminder, he was prevented from forgetting, even in his sleep, that danger lurked in every valley, and waited his coming on every path and track by which he now trusted to escape from the scene of his crimes. Plummer advised him to leave the Territory at once, but he offered him no means of locomotion. This, however, was of small consequence to Wagner. He knew how to obtain a remount. Taking his saddle on his back, he started for the ranch of Barret & Shineberger, on Horse Prairie, where he knew there was a splendid grey horse -the finest in the country. The possession was the trouble -the title was quite immaterial. A friend seeing him start from Bannack with the saddle, sent word. to the owners of the gallant grey, who searched for him without delay, taking care to avoid the willows for fear of a shot. One of them, after climbing a hill, discovered the robber sitting among the underwood. The place was surrounded and the capture was made secure.
Short shrift was he allowed. His story was disbelieved, and his captors went for his personal outfit, if not for his purse. They lectured him in the severest terms on the depravity which alone rendered horse-stealing possible, and then started him off down the road, minus his saddle and pistol, but plus an old mule and blanket.*
* Martin Barrett's story of the grey horse.
With these locomotive treasures, Dutch John left Horse Prairie, and took the Salt hake Road. He was accompanied by an Indian of the Bannack tribe, armed with bow, quiver and knife. Ben.
Peabody was the first who espied them. He was going to Salt Lake City with a cayuse pack-train for goods, and saw the road agent and his aboriginal companion at Dry Creek Canyon Ranch, since used by Oliver k Co. as a station. on the road to the metropolis of the Latter Day Saints.
About two miles below this place he met Neil Howie, who was coming from the same City of Waters, along with three wagons laden with groceries and flour. A long consultation was the consequence, and a promise was given that the aid of the train men would be given to secure the fugitive from justice. The same pledge was obtained from Neil's own party, and from the owner of a big train further down.
Shortly after, Dutch John and the Indian hove in sight; but this did not mend matters, for the parties ''weakened" at once, and left Neil cursing their timidity, but determined that he should not escape. Wagner rode up and asked for some tobacco. He was told that they had none to spare, but that there was a big train (Vivion's) down below, and that he might get some there. During the conversation he looked suspicious and uneasy; but at last went on, parting amicably from them, and attended by his copper-colored satellite, whose stolid features betrayed no sign of emotion. Neil felt "bad," but determined that his man should not escape thus easily, he mounted his pony and galloped after him, resolved to seek for help at the big train. He soon came up with the pair, and Neil fancied that Wagner gave some directions to the Indian, for he put his hand to his quiver, as if to see that all was right for action. Dutch John hald his rifle ready and looked very suspiciously at Neil. The Indian kept behind, prepared for business.
After the usual salutations of the road, Neil told John that he wanted to borrow a shoeing-hammer to prepare his stock for crossing the Divide, and thereupon he noticed a sudden, joyful expansion in the eyes of Dutch John, and, with a friendly salute, they parted company.
It was ticklish work for Neil to ride with his back to Wagner, right under the muzzle of his rifle, but the brave fellow went along as if he suspected nothing, and never drew rein till he came to the train. The owner -who had often lectured, in strong language, on the proper way to deal with (absent) road agents -backed square down, notwithstanding all the arguments of Neil, some of which were of a nature to bring out any concealed courage that his friend possessed. Wagner rode up, and glancing quickly and sharply at the two conversing, asked for tobacco, and received for reply -not the coveted weed, but an inquiry as to whether he had any money; which not being the case, he was informed that there was none for him. Neil immediately told the trader to let the man have what he wanted on his credit. Wagner appeared deeply grateful for this act of kindness, and having received the article, set forward on his journey. Neil made one more solemn appeal not to "let a murderer and road agent escape," but the train-owner said nothing.
In an instant he determined to arrest the robber at all risks, single handed. He called out, "Hallo, Cap! hold on a minute." Wagner wheeled his horse half around, and Neill, fixing his eyes upon him, walked straight towards him with empty hands. His trusty revolver hung at his belt, however, and those who have seen the machine-like regularity and instantaneous motion with which Howie draws and cocks a revolver, as well as the rapidity and accuracy of his shooting, well know that few men, if any, have odds against him in an encounter with fire-arms. Still not one man in a thousand would, at a range of thirty yards, walk up to a renowned desperado, sitting quietly with a loaded rifle in his hand, and well knowing the errand of his pursuer. Yet this gallant fellow never faltered. At twenty yards their eyes met, and the gleam of anger, hate, and desperation that shot from those of Dutch John spoke volumes. He also slewed round his rifle, with the barrel in his left hand and his right on the small of the stock. Howie looked him straight down, and as Wagner made the motion with his rifle, his hand mechanically sought his belt. No further demonstration being made, he continued his progress, which he had never checked, till he arrived within a few steps of the Dutchman, and there read perplexity, hesitation, anger, and despair in his fiery glances. Those resolved and unwavering grey eyes seemed to fascinate Wagner. Five paces separated them, and the twitching of Wagner's muscles showed that it was touch and go, sink or swim. Four! three! two! one! Fire flashes from John's eyes. He is awake at last; but it is too late. Neil has passed the butt of his rifle, and in tones quiet but carrying authority with them, he broke the silence with the order, "Give me your gun and get off your mule." A start and a shudder ran through Wagner's frame like an electric shock. He complied, however, and expressed his willingness to go with Neil, both then and several times afterward, adding that he need fear nothing from him.
Let it not be imagined that this man was any ordinary felon, or one easy to capture. He stood upward of six feet high; was well and most powerfully built, being immensely strong, active, and both coolly and ferociously brave. His swarthy visage, determined looking jaw and high cheekbones were topped off with a pair of dark eyes, whose deadly glare few could face without shrinking. Added to this, he knew his fate if he were caught. He travelled with a rifle in his hand, a heart of stone, a will of iron and the frame of a Hercules. It might also be said, with a rope round his neck. For cool daring and self-reliant courage, the single-handed capture of Dutch John, by Neil Howie, has always appeared to our judgment as the most remarkable action of this campaign against crime. Had he met him and taken him alone, it would have been a most heroic venture of life for the public good; but to see scores of able-bodied and well-armed men refusing even to assist in the deed, and then -single handed -to perform the service from which they shrank from bodily fear of the consequences, was an action at once noble and self-denying in the highest sense. Physical courage we share with the brutes; moral courage is the stature of manhood.
The prisoner being brought to the camp-fire was told of the nature of the charge against him, and informed that if he were the man, a bullet wound would be found on his shoulder. On removing his shirt, the fatal mark was there. He attempted to account for it by saying, that when sleeping in camp his clothes caught fire, and his pistol went off accidentally; but neither did the direction of wound justify such an assumption, nor was the cause alleged received as other than proof of attempted deceit, and consequently, of guilt. The pistol could not have been discharged by the fire, without the wearer being fatally burned, long before the explosion took place, as was proved by actual experiment at the fire by putting a cap on a stick and holding it right in the blaze.
The ocular demonstration of the prisoner's guilt afforded by the discovery of the bullet wound was conclusive. Neil left him in charge, at the big train, and rode back to see who would help him to escort the prisoner to Bannack. Volunteering was out of fashion just then, and there was no draft. Neil started back and brought his prisoner to Dry Creek, where there were fifty or sixty men; but still no one seemed to care to have anything to do with it. The fear of the roughs was so strong that every one seemed to consider it an almost certain sacrifice of life to be caught with one of their number in charge.
One of Neil Howie's friends came to him and told him that he knew just the very man he wanted, and that he was camped. with a train near at hand. This was good news, for he had made up his mind to go with his prisoner alone. John Fetherstun at once volunteered to accompany him, road agents, horse thieves and roughs in general to the contrary notwithstanding. The two brave men here formed that strong personal attachment that has ever since united them in a community of sentiment, hardship, danger and mutual devotion.
The prisoner, who continually protested his innocence of any crime, and his resolution to give them no trouble, seemed quite resigned, and rode with them unfettered and unrestrained, to all appearance. He was frequently fifty yards ahead of them; but they were better mounted than he was, and carried both pistols and shot-guns, while he was unarmed. His amiable manners won upon them, and they could not but feel a sort of attachment to him -villain and murderer though they knew him to be. The following incidents, however, put a finale to this dangerous sympathy, and brought them back to stern reality.
The weather being intensely cold, the party halted every ten or fifteen miles, lit a fire, and. thawed out. On one of these occasions, Fetherstun, who usually beld the horses while Neil raised a blaze, in order to make things more comfortable, stepped back about ten paces and set down the guns. He had no sooner returned than Wagner "made a break" for them, and but for the rapid pursuit of Howie and Fetherstun -whose line of march cut him off from the coveted artillery -it is likely that this chapter would never have been written, and that the two friends would have met a bloody death at the hands of Dutch John.
One night, as they were sleeping in the open air, at Red Rock, fatigue so overcome the watcher that he snored, in token of having transferred the duties of his position to
Watchful stars that sentinel the skies.
This suited Wagner exactly. Thinking that the man off guard was surely wrapped in slumber, he raised up and took a survey of the position, his dark eyes flashing with a stern joy. As he made the first decisive movement towards the accomplishment of his object, Neil, who sleeps with an eye open at such times, but who, on this particular occasion, had both his visual organs on duty -suddenly looked up. The light faded from Wagner's eyes, and uttering some trite remark about the cold, he lay down again. After a lapse of about an hour or two, he thought that, at last, all was right, and again, but even more demonstratively, he rose. Neil sat up, and said quietly, "John, if you do that again, I'll kill you." A glance of despair deepened the gloom on his swarthy brow, and, with profuse and incoherent apologies, he again lay down to rest.
On another occasion, they saw smoke of a camp-fire, in close proximity to the road, and Wagner, who noticed it even sooner than his guards, at once thought that it must be the expected rescuers. He sang and whistled loudly, as long as they were within hearing, and then became sad, silent and downcast.
"Fortune favors the brave," and they arrived without interruption at Horse Prairie. Neil Howie rode on to Bannack to reconnoitre -promising to be back, if there was any danger, in an hour or so. After waiting for two hours, Fetherstun resumed his journey and brought in his man, whom he took to his hotel. Neil met Plummer and told him of the capture of wagner. The Shheriff(?) demanded the prisoner; but Neil refused to give him up. He soon found out that he would be backed by the "powers behind the throne." There were no Vigilantes organized in Bannack at that time; but four of the Committee, good men and true, were, even then, in the saddle, on their road from Virginia, with full powers to act in the matter. Neil knew very well that a guard under the orders of, Plummer, and composed of Buck Stinson, Ned Ray and their fellows, would not be likely to shoot at a prisoner escaping.
Dutch John proposed to Fetherstun that they should take a walk, which they did. Fetherstun did not know Bannack; but they sauntered down to Durand's* saloon. After a few minutes had elapsed Neil came in, and told Fetherstun to keep a close watch on Wagner, stating that he would be back in a few minutes. The two sat down and played a couple of games at "seven-up." Ruck Stinson and Ned Ray came in and shook hands with the prisoner. Four or five more also walked up, and one of them went through that ceremony very warmly, looking very sharply at Fetherstun. After taking a drink, he wheeled round, and saying that he was on a drunk, stepped out of doors. This raised Fetherstun's suspicions, which were apparently confirmed when he came in after a few minutes, with a party of nine. The whole crowd numbered fifteen. Fetherstun made sure that they were road agents; for one of them stepped up to John and said, "You are my prisoner." John looked at his quondam jailer and laughed. Fetherstun understood him to mean, "You had me once, and now I have you." He stepped into the corner and drew his revolver, fully expecting death, but determined to put as much daylight through them, as the size of his lead would allow. Re permitted them to take away the prisoner, seeing that resistance was absurd, and went off to his hotel, where he found four or five men, and being told, in answer to his question, that Neil had not been there, he said, "Gentlemen, I don't know whom I am addressing; but if you're the right kind of men, I want you to follow me; I am afraid the road agents have killed Neil Howie; for he left me half an hour ago, to be back in five minutes." They all jumped up, and Fetherstun saw that they were the genuine article. He was taking his shot-gun, when a man put his head in at the door and told him not to be uneasy. The rest seemed satisfied. He asked if he could go too, and was answered. ''no." He said he would go, anyhow, and started down street, gun in hand. He could not see the man, but walking on, he came to a cabin and descried Dutch John, surrounded by a group of some twenty men. He knocked, but was refused admittance. The party did not know him. It was a mutual mistake. Each thought the other belonged to the class "road agent." Fetherstun said Wagner was his prisoner, and that he must have him. They said it was all right; they only wanted to question him. The same mistake occurred with regard to Neil Howie, whom Fetherstun found shortly after, being aided by one of the new captors. He was as hot as calf love at the news, but, like it, he soon cooled, when he saw things in the right light.
* Durand was an illiterate frenchman. Me was suspected of having been a friend of the highwaymen -probably because he had a saloon.
The men at once gave up the prisoner to Neil and Fetherstun, who marched him back to the hotel, and, afterward, to a cabin.* Seven or eight parties gathered and questioned him as to all that he knew, exhorting him to confess. He promised to do so, over and over again; but he was merely trying to deceive them and to gain time. The leader in the movement took up a book, observing that he had heard enough and would not be fooled any more. The remainder went on with their interrogations; but at last ceased in despair of eliciting anything like truth from John.
The literary gentleman closed the book, and approaching Wagner, told him that he was notoriously a highwayman and a murderer, and that he must be hanged; but that if he had any wish as to the precise time for his execution he might as well name it, as it would be granted if at all reasonable. John walked up and down for a while, and then burst into tears, lamenting his hard lot, agreed to make his confession, evidently hoping that it might be held to be of sufficient importance to induce them to spare his life. He then gave a long statement, corroborating Red's confession in all important particulars; but he avoided inculpating himself to the last moment, when he confessed his share in the robbery of the train by himself and Steven Marshland. This ended the examination for the night.
* At Sayers' Corrall, mouth of Hangman's Gulch. John C. Innes was placed in charge of him.
It was at this time that the Vigilance Committee was formed in Bannack. A public meeting had been held in Peabody's to discuss the question, and the contemplated organization was evidently looked upon with favor. The most energetic citizen, however, rather threw cold water on the proposition. Seeing Ned Ray and Stinson there present, he wisely thought that that was no place for making such a movement, and held himself in reserve for an opportunity to make an effort, at a fitting time and place, which overed itself in the evening.
At midnight he had. lain down to rest, when he was awakened from sleep by a summons to get up, for that men had come from Virginia to see him. He put on his clothes hastily, and found that four trustworthy individuals had arrived, bearing a communication from the Vigilantes of Virginia, which, on inspection, evidently took for granted the fact of their organization, and also assumed that they would be subordinate to the central authority. This latter question was put to the small number of the faithful, and, by a little management, was carried with considerable unanimity of feeling. It was rather a nice point; for the letter contained an order for the execution of Plummer, Stinson and Ray -the first as captain, and the others as members of the road agent band. Four men had comprised those first enrolled as Vigilantes at Bannack.
It was resolved to spend the following day in enlisting members, though no great progress was made after all.
Towards night, the people, generally, became aware that Wagner was a prisoner and a road agent. No one would let him into his house. Neil Howie and Fetherstun took him to an empty cabin on Yankee Flat.