Late in the month of August, 1864, a man named James Brady, of Nevada, was robbed of $700 in gold by John Dolan, alias John Coyle, alias "Hard Hat," who had been living with him, and took the money from his trousers' pocket. For some time the real thief remained unsuspected. He cunningly overed to assist in the search, and treated Brady out of the money; but suspicion being aroused by his sudden disappearance, pursuit was made in the direction of Utah. John McGrath followed him to Salt Lake City, and there found that he had changed his name to John Coyle, and that he had gone on to Springville, whither his pursuer followed and arrested him. Dolan stipulated that he should be preserved from the Vigilantes, on the road home, which was agreed to, and McGrath and his prisoner arrived at Nevada on the 16th of September. In the mean time, letters had been received from parties ignorant of his transaction, informing the Committee that Dolan was a pal of Jem Kelly, who was hanged at Snake River; and evidence of his complicity with the road agents was also satisfactorily adduced. He was the spy who "planted" the robbery of Hughes in the Salt hake coach. It is nearly certain that the reason he fled to Utah was that he might receive his share of the plunder.
After a patient and lengthened trial, his guilt being perfectly clear, he was condemned to be executed by a unanimous vote of the committee. Three hundred dollars of the lost money was recovered, and, though Dolan at first denied his guilt, yet the production of peculiar nuggets being irresistible evidence, he at last confessed the crime and offered to make up the balance, if he should be let go. This could not be acceded to, and, therefore, the Committee made good the amount lost by their refusal to Brady.
It was on Saturday evening, September 17th, that the execution of Dolan took place, and a' scene more fraught with warning to the desperate never was enacted before the gaze of assembled thousands.
About sundown, strong parties of Vigilantes from Highland, Pine Grove and Virginia, joined the armed force already on the ground belonging to Nevada and Junction. The prisoner was confined in the ball-room, next door to the Jaokson house, and here he was pinioned before being brought out. The companies from Virginia, armed to the teeth, formed in two parallel lines, enclosing an avenue reaching from the door through which the prisoner must make his exit, on his way to the scaffold. The silence and the sternly compressed lips of the guard showed that they felt the solemnity of the occasion, and that they were prepared to repulse, with instant and deadly action, any attempt at the rescue threatened by the prisoner's companions in crime and sympathizers. All being ready a small posse of trust-worthy men were detailed as a close guard in front, rear and on both Banks of the prisoner. The signal being given, the commander of the guard gave the word, "Company! draw revolvers!" A moment more and the weapons, ready for instant use, were held at the Vigilantes' "ready," that is to say, in front of the body, the right hand level with the center of the breast, muzzle up, thumb on the cock, and the forefinger extended alongside the trigger-guard.
"Right face! Forward, march!" followed in quick succession, and, immediately the procession was fairly in motion, the files of the guard were doubled. In close order they marched through a dense crowd to the gallows, a butcher's hoist standing in the plain, at the foot of the hills, about half a mile northeast of Nevada, where a fatigue party and guard had made the necessary preparations for the execution. The multitude must have considerably exceeded six thousand in number, every available spot of ground being densely packed with spectators. The face of the hill was alive with a throng of eager and excited people. The column of Vigilantes marched steadily and in perfect silence through the gathering masses, right up to the gallows. Here they were halted and, at a given signal, the lines first opened and then formed in a circle of about fifty yards in diameter, with an interval of about six feet between the ranks, and facing the crowd, which slowly fell back before them, till the force was in position.
Renewed threats of an attempt at rescue having been made, the word was passed round the ranks, and the guard, in momentary expectation of a rush from the anti-law-and-order men, stood ready to beat them back. The prisoner, who exhibited a stolid indifference and utter unconcern most remarkable to witness, was placed standing, on a board supported in such a manner that a touch of a foot was all that was necessary to convert it into a drop.
The executive officer then addressed the crowd, stating that the execution of criminals such as Dolan was a matter of public necessity, in a mining country, and that the safety of the community from lawlessness and outrage was the only reason that dictated it. He raised his voice, and finished by saying, in a manner that all understood, "It has been said that you will rescue the prisoner; don't try it, for fear of the consequences. What is to be done has been deliberately weighed and determined, and nothing shall prevent the execution of the malefactor."
Dolan being now asked if he had anything to say, he replied in a, voice perfectly calm, clear and unconcerned, that he admitted having committed the crime with which he was charged; but he said that he was drunk when he did it. He added that he was well known in California and elsewhere, and had never been accused of a similar action before. He then bade them all good-by, and requested that some of his friends would bury his body. The rope was placed round his neck; the plank was struck from beneath his feet, and the corpse swayed to and fro in the night breeze. He never made a perceptible struggle. The dull sound of the drop was followed, or rather accompanied, by the stern order to the crowd, repeated by one hundred voices, "Fall back!" The glancing barrels and clicking locks of five hundred revolvers, as they came to the present, sounded their deadly warning, and the crowd, suddenly seized with a wild panic, fled, shrieking in mad terror, and rolling in heaps over one another. A wagon and team were drawn up outside the circle held by the Vigilantes, but such was the tremendous stampede, that, taking them broadside, they rolled over before the onslaught of the mob, like ninepins, and over wagon and struggling mules poured a living torrent of people. Fortunately no great injury was done to any one, and they gradually returned to the vicinity of the scaffold. As the rush was made, the hill appeared to be moving, the simultaneous motion of the multitude giving it that appearance.
Just before the drop fell, one of the guard, who had newly arrived in the country, being pressed on by a tall, swarthy-looking reprobate, ordered him back, dropping his revolver level with his breast at the same instant. The villain quickly thrust his hand into his bosom, and the butt of a pistol was instantly visible within his grasp. "I say, you sir!" observed the guard, "just move your arm a couple of inches or so, will you? I want to hit that big white button on your coat." "H---l!" ejaculated the worthy, retiring with the rapidity of chain lightning among the crowd.
The people were then addressed by a gentleman of Nevada, who forcibly showed to them the necessity of such examples as the present. He reminded them that nothing but severe and summary punishment would be of any avail to prevent crime, in a place where life and gold were so much exposed. The prisoner had declared that he was drunk; but he had offered to return the money, though only in case he would be pardoned. This offer a due regard for the safety of the community forbade their accepting.
Dolan having been pronounced dead by several physicians, the body was given into the care of his friends; the Vigilantes marched off by companies, and the crowd dispersed. There was a solemnity and decorum about the proceedings of the Vigilantes that all admired.
Before leaving the ground, a subscription was opened on behalf of the man whose money had been stolen, and the whole sum missing ($400) was paid to him by the Committee. This was an act of scrupulous honesty, probably never before paralleled in any citizens' court in the world.