Had it been possible at any time during the period I have passed under review, for the peaceful citizens of Bannack to return to their old homes in safety, such was the terror that environed them, I doubt not that nearly all would joyfully have gone. The opportunity for speedy accumulation of fortune from a prolific gold placer, offered small compensation for the daily risk of life in obtaining it, and the possibility of ultimate destruction to the entire settlement, The people were spellbound, and knew not what to do. They assented almost passively to the belief that the ruffian population, when disposed, was strong enough to crush them; and when a murder was committed, or a robbery made, expressed no stronger feeling than that of thankfulness for their own escape.
While public sentiment was gradually settling down into a state of helpless submission to the ruffian element, William H. Bell, a respected citizen, died of mountain fever. This was the first natural death that had occurred in the settlement. After his illness had assumed a dangerous form, he made known to myself and others, that he was a Mason, and expressed a desire to be buried with Masonic ceremonies. At first we deemed it impossible, but after his death, concluded to comply with his request, if a sufficient number of Masons could be assembled to conduct the exercises. A request for all the Masons in the gulch to meet on Yankee Flat at the cabin of Brother C.J. Miller, on the evening of the day of Mr. Bell's death, greatly to our surprise, was so numerously responded to, that we found it necessary to adjourn to more commodious quarters. It was past midnight before the forms of recognition were fully administered, and preparations completed for the funeral. So delighted were all to meet so many of the order, that before we separated it was virtually understood that early application should be made for authority to open a lodge. In the meantime, we agreed to hold frequent meetings.
The funeral ceremonies, the next day, were conducted by myself. The strange peculiarities of the occasion added a mournful interest to the impressive truths of the ritual. A large congregation had assembled. Near by, and surrounding the grave, stood the little band of brethren, linked by an indissoluble bond to him for whom they were now performing the last sad office. With clasped hands and uncovered heads they reverently listened to the solemn language which in that faroff land committed one of their number to his mother earth; while farther away, and encircling them, stood a curious multitude, whose eager gaze betrayed that they there for the first time beheld a Masonic burial ceremony. Among this latter number might be seen many whose daily lives were filled with deeds of violence and crime,-who mayhap at the moment might be meditating murder and robbery,-who, for the first time in many years, were listening to language which recalled the innocence of boyhood, the early teachings of parents, and hopefully pointed the way to an eternity of unmixed enjoyment. How strange it seemed to see this large assemblage, all armed with revolvers and bowie-knives, standing silently, respectfully, around the grave of a stranger, their very features,-distorted by the lines which their hardened lives had planted,-now saddened by a momentary fleeting thought of the grave and mortality.
Nor was this all. They learned from what they saw, that here was an association, bound together by bonds of brotherly love, that would stand by and protect all its members in the hour of danger. They saw the scroll deposited which signified so plainly, that death alone could break a link in the mystic chain which bound them together. They saw each brother drop the evergreen as a symbol of the surrender of him they mourned, to the eternal care of a higher power. And while the brethren, as they regarded each other in the light of their strong obligations, felt that in themselves there was a power equal to the necessities of their exposed condition, we may reasonably suppose that the ruffians who had marked them for ultimate destruction felt that a new and formidable adversary had thrown itself across their bloody pathway.
The ceremonies were conducted to a peaceful conclusion, and the assembly quietly dispersed. But from this time onward, the Masons met often for counsel. Among them there was no lack of confidence, and very soon they began to consider measures necessary for their protection. These meetings were carefully watched by the roughs, but they were quietly told that the Masons met to prepare for organizing a lodge. This threw them off their guard, and they continued in their lawless course.
After the Masonic fraternity at Bannack had decided to organize a regular lodge, and a dispensation for that purpose had been applied for, Plummer expressed publicly a strong desire to become a Mason. Such were his persuasive powers, that he succeeded in convincing some members of the order, that in all his affrays, he had been actuated solely by the principle of self-defense, and that there was nothing inherently criminal in his nature. There were not wanting several good men among our brotherhood, who would have recommended him for initiation. It is a remarkable fact that the roughs were restrained by their fear of the Masonic fraternity, from attacking its individual members. Of the one hundred and two persons murdered by Henry Plummer's gang, not one was a Mason.
It is worthy of comment that every Mason in these trying hours adhered steadfastly to his principles. Neither poverty, persuasion, temptation, nor opportunity had the effect to shake a single faith founded on Masonic principle: and it is the crowning glory of our order, that not one of all that band of desperadoes who expiated a life of crime upon the scaffold, had ever crossed the threshold of a lodge-room. The irregularities of their lives, their love of crime, and their recklessness of law, originated in the evil associations and corrupt influences of a society over which neither Masonry nor Religion had ever exercised the least control. The retribution which finally overtook them had its origin in principles traceable to that stalwart morality which is ever the offspring of Masonic and Religious institutions. All true men then lived upon the square, and in a condition of mutual dependence.
Many persons who had been cooped up in Bannack, with nothing to do during the winter, sallied forth in quest of new discoveries as soon as the snow disappeared, in the spring of 1863. A number of new gulches were found, and the population of Bannack thinned out considerably under the inducements they offered for the improvement of fortunes. All these newly discovered placers were, however, known by the general name of East Bannack, the prefix being used to distinguish the locality from West Bannack, a mining camp in that portion of Idaho lying west of the main range of the Rocky Mountains. As rapidly as any of these new camps were settled, the miners adopted laws for their government, and elected judges to enforce them. No sheriff had, however, been elected to fill the place of Crawford. The miners held a meeting at which they concluded to elect one sheriff who should reside at Bannack, and appoint his deputies for the new locations. A day for the election was accordingly designated.
Plummer busied himself among the miners to obtain the nomination, and as an evidence not less of the unsteady purpose of this population than of the personal magnetism of this remarkable man, he succeeded. Men, who a few weeks before were clamorous for his execution as a murderer, deceived by the plausibility of his professions, and the smoothness of his eloquence, were now equally urgent for his election to the most important office in the settlement. Such of the number as were unwilling to support him, nominated a good man by the name of Jefferson Durley, but the majority for Plummer, decided the election largely in his favor. A marked change immediately took place in his conduct. Soon after he was married to Miss Eliza Bryan, the young lady with whom, as I have related in a former chapter, he contracted an engagement while spending the winter with her brother-in-law, Mr. Vail, at the government farm on Sun River.
Whether he honestly intended to reform at this time, or "assumed the thing he was not" for the better concealment of his criminal designs, can never be certainly known. There was much apparent sincerity in his conduct and professions. He forsook the saloons, and was seldom seen in the society of his old associates. His duties were promptly attended to. On one occasion in a conversation with me, of his own seeking, he spoke regretfully of his early life: -"I confess," said he, "that the bad associations which I formed in California and Nevada have adhered to me ever since. I was forced in sheer self-defense on different occasions, to kill five men there -and of course was undeservedly denounced as a desperado and murderer. This is not true,-and now that I am married and have something to live for, and hold an official position, I will show you that I can be a good man among good men. There is a new life before me, and I want you to believe that I am not unfitted to fill it with credit to myself, and benefit to the community.
As he stood thus, in a beseeching voice pleading for some abatement of the harsh judgment which he knew his conduct merited, it was not without an effort that I mentally denied to him that confidence so truly characterized by Pitt in his memorable reply to Walpole, as "a plant of slow growth." Very soon after, the justice of this opinion was confirmed by an undercurrent of circumstances, which plainly showed that he was either drifting back into the whirlpool of crime, or had assumed the guise of virtue that he might better serve the devil. His face, usually clear and white, betrayed in its weatherbeaten appearance, that several times when there was no occasion for it, he had been exposed to the inclemencies of a fearful night storm. Where had he been? What was the character of that business which could woo him from his home, to face the angry elements, and require his return and appearance on the streets by daylight? At one time, having occasion to go to the ranche where my horse was kept, I saw there a very superior saddle-horse. Having never seen it before, on inquiry, I was informed that it belonged to Plummer, who often visited the ranche to exercise it; but never rode it into town, or used it for any long journey. It was represented to possess greater qualities of speed and endurance than any horse in the country. Why was he keeping this horse, unused, and away from public view, if not for the purpose of escaping from the country in case of failure in his criminal enterprise? Many other circumstances, equally demonstrative as to the designs which Plummer was secretly carrying on, satisfied me that I had not misjudged his true character.
Life in Bannack at this time was perfect isolation from the rest of the world. Napoleon was not more of an exile on St. Helena, than the newly arrived immigrant from the States, in this recess of rocks and mountains. All the stirring battles of the season of 1862,-Antietam, Fredericksburg and Second Bull Run,-all the exciting debates of Congress, and the more exciting combats at sea, first became known to us on the arrival of the first newspapers and letters, in the spring of 1863. Old newspapers went the rounds of the camp until they literally dropped to pieces. Pamphlets, cheap publications, and yellow-covered literature, which had found their way by chance into the camp, were in constant and unceasing demand. Bibles, of which there were a few copies, were read by men who probably never read them before, to while away the tedium of the dreary days of winter. Of other books there were none then, or for a year or more afterwards. Euchre, old sledge, poker, and cribbage were resorted to until they became stale, flat, and disgusting. When, afterwards, the first small library was brought into the Territory, the owner was at once overwhelmed with borrowers, who, after reading, loaned his books without leave, until the loss or destruction of many of them, drove him to the adoption of means for the preservation of the remainder. He placarded over his library, where all could read it, the following passage from Matthew xxv. 9; "Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you; but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves." This gentle hint served better as a joke than an admonition.
As a counterpoise to this condition of affairs, the newcomer found much in the rough, wild scenery, the habits, customs, and dress of the miners, and in the pursuits of the camp, to interest his attention. There was a freedom in mountain life entirely new to him. The common forms of expression, rough, unique, and full of significance, were such as he had never been accustomed to hear. The spirit of a humor full of fun, displaying itself practically on all occasion often at his own expense, presented so many new phases of character, that he was seldom at a loss for agreeable pastime, or indeed profitable occupation.
The wit of a mining camp is sui generis. It partakes of the occupation, and grows out of it as naturally as the necessities. Indeed, it is of itself a necessity,-for the instance of a miner without humor or a relish for it, if it be of the appreciable kind, is very rare. One must be versed in the idiom of the camp to always understand it. As for example, if, in speaking of another, a miner says, "I have panned that fellow out and couldn't get a color," it means the same as if he had said, "He's a man of no principle, dishonest, or a scamp." So if of another, he says, "He's all right, clear down to bed-rock," it means, "He is honest and reliable." A hundred expressions of this kind are in common use in a mining camp. Common parlance has long ago wrung the humor from all these oddities of expression; but every now and then something new springs up which has its run through mining communities as a bit of fun, before its final incorporation into the epidemic vernacular.
It occasionally happens that a genuine loafer turns up. This is not common; for a man without money or employment among miners, especially if he evinces an indisposition for work, is a pitiable object. Nobody cares for him. His very necessities are subjects for ribaldry, and his laziness affords ample excuse for a neglect which may end in absolute starvation. There is no lack of kindness among miners -their generosity is only bounded by their means in meritorious cases, but it is cruelly discriminative against bummers and loafers. They must live by their wits,-and sometimes this resource is available.
A singular genius known as "Slippery Joe," whose character reflected the twofold qualities of bummer and loafer, hung around the saloons and restaurants in the early days of Bannack. He worked when compelled by necessity, and was never known to buy "a square meal." One evening he was an onlooker at a party of miners who were playing euchre in Kustar's bakery. Their frequent potations, as was often the case, developing first noise, then dispute, then quarrel, finally culminated in a fight and general row. Pistols and knives were drawn, one man was badly stabbed, and several shots fired. The bystanders stampeded through the door and into the street, to avoid injury. One man was prostrate, and another bent over him, with an upraised knife. Kustar and his bartender were engaged in quelling the melee. Seizing this opportunity, Bummer stole behind the counter, and taking a couple of pies from the shelf, mashed them out of shape with his knuckles, and laid them, still in the tin plates, on the floor near the combatants. He did not dare to steal the pies, knowing that detection would result in his banishment from the gulch. Kustar, discovering them after the fight was over, supposed from the appearance they presented, that they had been jarred from the shelf and trodden upon. He was about casting them into the street, when Bummer stepped forward, and offered twenty-five cents for them, pies at the time being sold at a dollar apiece. Glad to sell them at any price, Kustar regarded the quarter of a dollar as clear gain, and the sneak owed his supper to his criminal ingenuity.
This same slippery individual was the hero of another foraging exploit, which, however we may regard it in a moral aspect, was not discreditable to his strategic perspicacity. Two partners in a mining claim had quarreled, fought, and so far reconciled differences, as to agree to live together. One day a load of potatoes, the first that we had had for eight months, and a great luxury at sixty cents per pound, arrived from the Bitter Root Valley. The two miners bought several pounds, and agreed upon having a holiday, with an old-fashioned stew for dinner at three o'clock p.m. Bummer had epicurean tastes, and longed for a dish of the stew. He stationed himself near the door of the cabin. Just after it was taken from the pan, and placed, steaming hot, between the partners, and as one was in the act of slicing the loaf, Bummer entered, and with much adroitness introduced the subject of former difference. This brought on a dispute, and the two men rose from the table and rushed into the street to engage in a fist fight. While thus employed, Bummer made a single meal of the entire stew.
In the early days of gold hunting in California, many young men of religious proclivities, who had been reared by Christian parents, went there to make speedy fortunes and return home. Failing to do so, unwilling to work, and still intent upon suddenly acquiring wealth, they have wandered from camp to camp among the mountains ever since. These mining vagabonds are often met with. Their lives have been full of vicissitude and disappointment, and nature has covered them with signs and labels, which render their character unmistakable. Lost to all self-respect, ragged, uncombed, often covered with vermin, they seem to have no definite object in life, and are content to earn enough to eke out a meagre subsistence. Sometimes we meet with one, who betrays in the glow of conversation, the remains of a cultivated foreground; but generally the slang of the camp and the rough manners of the miner have wrought a radical transformation in both mind and body.
Such an one was Bill -with whom I first became acquainted in 1863. Passing Mather's saloon, one day in the fall of 1872, I caught a glimpse of him, and stepped in to renew my acquaintance. He stood by the bar talking with a friend whom he had known at Boise City, Idaho, in 1862. The conversation had reference to those early days.
"Jim," he inquired, "when did you hear of Yeast Powder Dave last?." A little farther on in the conversation, after taking a drink, Jim inquired in return, "Whatever became of Tin Cup Joe?" then the conversation flagged, another drink was indulged, and the inquiry followed, "How late have you heard where Six Toed Pete hangs out'?" At last Bill, fully warmed up to the subject, remarked,-
"Jim, you haven't forgot the parson, have you ?'
"Parson who?" inquired Jim dubiously.
"Parson Crib -you know."
At the mention of the name, tears came into the eyes of both. It was evident the memory of the man was very pleasant. Bill continued -
"Jim, they don't have no such preachers nowadays as the parson was. These new-comers, most of 'em feel above us 'cause we wear ragged clothes, and then they are so slow and lamb-like, that their talks have little effect on such fellows as you and me; but the old parson used to rattle up the boys every clatter, and when he'd got through they'd think their chances of salvation were mighty slim. And he was such a good man, so charitable and so kind -and how beautifully and eloquently he would explain the Christian religion as he talked to us of our duties to the Master. He was a real good man. There ain't many like him." Brushing a tear from his cheek, he added sorrowfully, "Jim, do you know I never did quite forgive Sam Jones for shooting the parson for stealing that sorrel mare."
It must have been a warm affection which would fail to approve of an act regarded so just as shooting or hanging for "cribbing" a horse in a mining camp. The parson is supposed to have held forth near Boise City.
Those of my readers who resided in Bannack at the time, doubtless remember the "Miner's Ten Commandments," written copies of which were circulated freely throughout the camp. I recall two of them. If the first one here given serves to illustrate the prevailing customs of a mining camp, the other contains a warning which the dishonest and covetous did not fail to heed.
Fourth Commandment. Thou shalt not remember what thy friends do at home on the Sabbath day, lest the remembrance may not compare favorably with what thou doest. Six days thou mayst dig or pick all that the body can stand under; but the other day is Sunday, when thou shalt wash all thy soiled shirts, darn all thy stockings, tap all thy boots, mend all thy clothing, chop all thy whole week's firewood, make up and bake thy bread, and boil thy pork and thy beans, that thou wait not when thou returnest from thy long tour, weary. For in six days' labor only, thou canst not wear out thy body in two whole years; but if thou workest hard on Sunday also, thou canst do it in six months, and thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, thy male friend, and thy female friend, thy morals, and thy conscience be none the better for it but reproach thee shouldst thou ever return with thy worn out body to thy mother's fireside, and thou strive to justify thyself, because the trader and the merchant, the carpenter and the blacksmith, the tailors and the Jews, defy God and civilization, by keeping not the Sabbath day, and wish not for a day of rest suchas memory and home and youth made hallowed.
Ninth Commandment. Thou shalt not tell any false tales about "good diggings in the mountains" to thy neighbor, that thou mayst benefit thy friend who hath mules and provisions and blankets and mining tools he cannot sell; lest in deceiving thy neighbor, when he returneth through the snow with naught save his rifle, he presenteth thee with the contents thereof, and like a dog thou shalt fall down and die.