A Stout Cord and a Good Drop by James M. Gaitis, ISBN 1-930043-09-0, published by Scott Publishing Co., Kalispell, MT. The events of 1862 to 1864 are presented through the narration of five youthful obsevers. Although a work of fiction, the narrative follows the historical facts.
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Book II (Joseph Swift), Chapter 3
There had been only one man hanged in the eastern Idaho Territory before Henry Plummer was made sheriff in Bannack. And that hanging had been up at American Fork, near Hell Gate, and a goodly distance from where gold was first panned by John White along a creek he named Grasshopper due to an infestation of that particular insect. The hanging occurred when a posse caught up with some horse thieves who had stopped in American Fork just long enough to pull in some tobacco and whiskey money by dealing a monte bank with a questionable deck. The posse had shot one of them right there at the table with his cards froze in one hand and his pistol in the other as he died; then, in an unlikely moment of calm reason, they set a second free for lack of evidence, and then peremptorily tried and hanged the third. Soon after, American Fork became known to many as Hangtown, a term that carried a derisive or boastful of just plain ignominious meaning, depending on one's point of view. That had been back when Bannack was still nascent and disorganized, before Henry Plummer ever crossed over the divide from California.
Granville Stuart was telling us about the hanging as Francis and I examined the Bannack City store that Stuart and his brother James had bought from Jim Bozeman the prior fall and now were offering for sale. "Right handsome young man we hung that day," he said, almost as an afterthought to the story. "Though he didn't seem to have much of an interest in living. Funny thing. He didn't say a single word throughout his trial; not in his own defense anyway. And when he knew he was going to die, all he asked for was time to write a letter to his family. It was a mighty good letter, too; full of contrition. After that there were some that started feeling sorry for him, so we got him a stout cord and gave him a good drop off a big pine there on the edge of town. Neck snapped like a twig under foot."
Since our arrival several weeks back, we had heard plenty of talk of hanging in Bannack City. A rash of robberies and shootings had spread like a prairie fire throughout both the Grasshopper and Alder Gulch regions, and some were clamoring for Henry Plummer to bring to bear a more immediate and decisive form of justice. Henry had tried to placate them by constructing a jail which he located directly behind Chrisman's, near the bank of the creek, and which he financed through private donations. But that failed to appease the populace in the main; it took money to guard and feed prisoners. And toward what end? The tiny jail could not serve as a penitentiary; and the jurisdiction of the miners' court would not be recognized by the territorial government which would refuse to receive prisoners convicted in Bannack City. So that every time a robbery or almost any other form of crime was committed, the cry went out to hang the perpetrator and be done with him, once and for all.
And now suddenly there was the real prospect that a man would be hanged in Bannack within a matter of days.
"I've never seen a man hanged," I said to Granville Stuart as we walked around back so that he could show us the corners of the property. The phrase "snapped like a twig" repeated in my mind and it chilled me somehow up beneath my skull, made me twist and crane my neck uneasily. From behind the building you could see the miners steadily working the water out of the new ditch that had been constructed at great expense to bring more water to the placer operations. "Hanging's not exactly the way I want to die," I said as I watched them shovel the gravel and dirt into sluices where the water washed out the lighter sediments. "Depends on what you mean by that," Granville Stuart said. He seemed to convey an easy form of confidence, engendered, I assumed, from his hard years in the West. "Strictly in terms of dying, it's as fast a way as any I know. At least when it's done right, that is. It's those few minutes beforehand that's the tough part. It's the knowing what's about to happen-and not knowing what comes next-and all those faces staring up at you knowing too, but not stopping it anyway. Better'n being eaten by a bear while you're half alive, one chunk at a time, like Bill Paterson; better'n laying there half dead while a Shoshone yanks back your head and removes your scalp, like they did to John Burnett and Buffalo Joe down on the Salmon River. Yes sir," he said, and I could see he was enjoying himself, "there's plenty of ways to die that're worse than hanging."