We return now to Charley Harper, whom we left at Colville on the Upper Columbia, a fugitive from the Vigilantes of Florence. Fear had exercised a healthful restraint upon his conduct, and during the brief period that had elapsed since his flight, though by no means a model citizen, he had been guilty of no offences of an aggravated character. He was, however, known to be a favorite with the roughs, a gambler, a drunkard, and a man of desperate resources. Good men shunned and watched him. Had there been a Vigilante organization in existence then, he would have received its closest observation. But in a condition of society where all classes intermingled, he contrived to slip along without molestation.
New Year's Day brought with it the customary ball, to which all were invited. The preparations were on a scale commensurate with the wishes and means of the miners, who generally, upon such occasions, spare no expenses while their money holds out. Everybody in town was in attendance, Charley Harper among the number. Attracted at an early hour of the evening by the sparkling eyes and voluptuous person of a half-breed woman, he devoted to her his entire attention, dancing with her often, and bestowing upon her many unmistaken civilities. As the evening wore on, Charley became boisterous, swaggering, and noisy. His inamorata declined his further attentions, and refused his hand for a dance. Incensed to madness by this act, crazy with liquor, he knocked her down, and beat and kicked her in a most inhuman manner after she had been prostrated. This roused the indignation of the by-standers, and Charley, seeing vengeance in their demonstrations, fled in terror before them. They pursued him through the streets, he retreating and firing upon them until he had emptied his revolver. The pursuit ended in his capture, a rope was procured, and in a few moments afterwards the lifeless form of the wretched desperado was swinging in the cold night wind from the limb of the tree nearest the place of his arrest. Thus ended the life of one who, among his own associates, bore the name of being the meanest scoundrel of their gang.
After the affray which terminated in the death of "Cherokee Bob" and Willoughby, the Vigilantes of Florence met, passed congratulatory resolutions, and renewed their measures for the effectual suppression of crime in their midst. Their Executive Committee was instructed to warn all suspicious characters to leave the place immediately,-and they determined to visit with condign punishment those who disobeyed. The leading men among the offenders had fled in anticipation of some public demonstration, so that those who remained were few and powerless. Among these was a tall, lean, cadaverous individual, derisively called "Fat Jack," who, like "Happy Harry," belonged to that class of negative scoundrels, whose love for crime is confined by fear to petty thefts. "Fat Jack" obeyed the order to leave, and went to Walla Walla. Brooding over his expulsion with increasing indignation, and encouraged in the belief that he could return without molestation, after a short period he went back to Florence, muttering by the way violent threats against those who had banished him. Two months had elapsed since his hegira. It was late in the afternoon of a cold, stormy March day when he entered the town. At his first appearance he was promptly waited upon by the members of the Executive Committee, who ordered him to retrace his steps at once, or he would be hanged. Hard as this order may seem to the casual reader, to have neglected it would have endangered the efficiency of the committee and opened a way for a return of the roughs to their old haunts.
The poor wretch turned his face to the storm, and wandered through the darkness, sleet, and wind despairingly, from cabin to cabin, in search of food and lodging. Every door was closed against him, and he was rudely and unpityingly told to "Be gone," by all from whom he sought relief. At a distance of four miles from Florence he stopped at a late hour of the night at the door of a worthy man by the name of Neselrode. Jack answered frankly the old man's questions. Neselrode admitted him, gave him supper, and a bed by his cabin fireside. A hired man was the only other occupant of the house.
At a later hour of the night, two men roused Mr. Neselrode, and demanded the person of "Fat Jack." Neselrode, on being told that they had no authority, refused to surrender him to an irresponsible party, as to do so would be on his part a violation of the laws of hospitality. His refusal was followed by the instant discharge of two double-barrelled shot-guns which riddled the door with buckshot, and stretched in death-throes both the kind-hearted host and his criminal guest. The one surviving man threw open the door, and bade the dastardly ruffians enter, telling them the murderous effects of their shots. They availed themselves of the darkness to flee without recognition. None of the citizens of Florence were more indignant when told of this cruel assassination than the Vigilantes themselves. A meeting was held denouncing the perpetrators, and pledging the citizens to the adoption of every possible means for their early detection and punishment. Alas! the criminals remain to this day undiscovered.
They belonged, doubtless, to that class of officious individuals, of whom there are many in the mining camps, who in point of moral character and actual integrity are but a single remove from the criminals themselves,-men who live a cheating, gambling, dissipated life, and seek a cover for their own iniquities by the energy and vindictiveness with which they pursue others accused of actual guilt. If the various protective societies which at one time and another have sprung up in the mining regions to preserve peace and good order are liable to any charge of wrong, it was their neglect to punish those men who used the organization to promote their own selfish purposes, and in the name of Vigilante justice committed crimes which on any principle of ethics were wholly indefensible. The fact that in some instances wrongs of this kind have occurred, only adds to the proof, that in all forms of society, whether governed by permanent or temporary laws, there are always a few who are adroit and cunning enough to escape merited punishment.