Early in June, 1863, a company of miners, while returning from an unsuccessful exploring expedition, discovered the remarkable placer afterwards known as Alder Gulch. They gave the name of one of their number, Fairweather, to the district. Several of the company went immediately to Bannack, communicated the intelligence, and returned with supplies to their friends. The effect of the news was electrical. Hundreds started at once to the new placer, each striving to outstrip the other, in order to secure a claim. In the hurry of departure, among many minor accidents, a man whose body, partially concealed by the willows, was mistaken for a beaver, was shot by a Mr. Arnold. Discovering the fatal mistake, Arnold gave up the chase and bestowed his entire attention upon the unfortunate victim until his death, a few days afterwards. The great stampede with its numerous pack-animals penetrated the dense alder thicket which filled the gulch, a distance of eight miles, to the site selected for building a town. An accidental fire occurring, swept away the alders for the entire distance in a single night. In less than a week from the date of the first arrival, hundreds of tents, brush wakiups, and rude log cabins, extemporized for immediate occupancy, were scattered at random over the spot, now for the first time trodden by white men. For a distance of twelve miles from the mouth of the gulch to its source in Bald Mountain, claims were staked and occupied by the men fortunate enough first to assert an ownership. Laws were adopted, judges selected, and the new community was busy in upheaving, sluicing, drifting, and cradling the inexhaustible bed of auriferous gravel, which has yielded under these various manipulations, a greater amount of gold than any other placer on the continent.
The Southern sympathizers of the Territory gave the name of Varina to the new town which had sprung up in Alder Gulch, in honor of the wife of President Jefferson Davis. Dr. Bissel, one of the miners' judges of the gulch, was an ardent Unionist. Being called upon to draw up some papers before the new name had been generally adopted, and requested to date them at "Varina City," he with a very emphatic expletive, declared he would not do it, and wrote the name Virginia City,-by which name the place has ever since been known.
The road agents were among the first to follow in the track of the miners. Prominent among them were Cyrus Skinner, Jack Gallagher, Buck Stinson, and Ned Ray,-the last three as deputies of Plummer in the sheriffalty. Ripe for the commission of any deed, however atrocious, which gave the promise of plunder, jackal-like they watched the gathering crowd and its various industries, marking each and all for early and unceasing depredation.
The Hon. Washington Stapleton who had been at work in the Bannack mines from the time of their discovery, a miner named Dodge, and another man, each supposed to possess a considerable amount of gold, having determined to go to Virginia City, Dodge was privately informed by Dillingham, one of Plummer's deputies, on the eve of their intended departure, that Buck Stinson, Hayes Lyons, and Charley Forbes had laid plans for robbing them on the way, and had requested him (Dillingham) to join them in the robbery. When the time for their going came, Dodge expressed his fear of an attack, and announced his determination to remain. His friends rallied him, until, smarting under their taunts, he revealed the information given by Dillingham. Stinson, Lyons, and Forbes heard of it, and determined to kill the informer. Stapleton left his companions, and started for Virginia City alone. At Rattlesnake he encountered Hayes Lyons, who rode up and asked him if he had heard of the robbery which Dillingham alleged had been planned against him. Stapleton replied in the negative; but when telling the story since, says that he has felt more comfortable even when sleeping in church, than when he saw that scoundrel approaching him. He told him, he says, that this was the first he had heard of it, adding, "If you want my money, I have only one hundred dollars in greenbacks. You had better take that, and let me go."
Lyons replied with an oath that the story was a lie, and that he was then on his way to kill Dillingham for putting such a story in circulation, but he feared Dillingham had heard of his intention and left the country. Stapleton accomplished his trip without molestation. Lyons and Forbes rode on to Virginia City, also, and finding Dillingham there, they, in company with Stinson, met the next day and arranged for his assassination.
A miners' court for the trial of a civil case was in session the following morning near the bank of the creek fronting the town. To the observation of a person unaccustomed to the makeshifts and customs of a mining community, the picture presented by this court of justice would have exhibited many amusing features -not the least of which was the place wherein it was held. The Temple of Justice was a wakiup of brush and twigs, gathered from the different coppices of willows and alder growing upon the banks of the creek, thrown together in conical form, and of barely sufficient capacity to accommodate the judge, clerk, parties, and jurors. Spectators were indebted to the interstices in this primitive structure, for a view of the proceedings; and as no part of the person except the eyes, was visible to those within, the appearance of those visual orbs bore no inapt comparison to a constellation in a brush heap.
Dr. Steele, president of the gulch, acted as judge. He united with much native good sense great modesty of demeanor. He was not a lawyer. On his trip from the States, while crossing the plains, an unfriendly gust had swept his only hat beyond recovery, and he came into Montana with his brows bound in a parti-colored cotton handkerchief, which, for want of something more appropriate, not obtainable at the stores, he had worn until some friendly miner possessing an extra hat presented him with it. Proving too small to incase his intellectual organs, the doctor had, by a series of indented slits encircling the rim, increased its elasticity, so that, saving a succession of gaps, through which his hair bristled "like quills upon the fretful porcupine," it answered the purpose of its creation. With this upon his head he sat upon the bench, an embodiment of the dignity, law, and learning of this little mountain judiciary.
In the progress of the trial, the defendant's counsel asked for a nonsuit, on account of some informality of service.
"A what?" inquired the judge with a puzzled expression, as if he had not rightly understood the word.
"A nonsuit," was the rejoinder.
"What's a --" The question partly asked, was left incomplete. The judge blushed, but reflecting that he would probably learn the office of a nonsuit in the course of the argument, he broke through the dilemma by asking,-
"Upon what ground?"
The argument followed, and the judge, soon comprehending the meaning of a nonsuit, decided that unless the defendant could show that he had suffered by reason of the informal service, the case must proceed. Some of the friends of the magistrate, seated near the door, understanding the cause of his embarrassment, enjoyed the scene hugely, and as it presented an opportunity for returning in kind some of the numerous jokes which he had played at their expense, one of them, thinking it too good to be lost, with much mock sobriety of manner and tone, arose and said,-
"Most righteous decision!"
All eyes were turned upon the speaker, but before they could comprehend the joke at the bottom, another arose, and with equal solemnity, exclaimed,-
"Most just judge!"
Dr. Steele, though embarrassed by this ill-timed jocularity, was so well satisfied with his sagacity in finding out what a nonsuit meant, without betraying his legal unlearnedness, that the joke was taken in good part, and formed a subject of frequent merriment in after times.
Charley Forbes was the clerk of the court, and sat beside the judge taking notes of the trial. After the decision denying the motion, the plaintiff passed around a bottle of liquor, of which the court and jury partook.
Not to be outdone, the defendant circulated a box of cigars. And it was while the spectators were giving expression in various forms to their approval of the decision, that Stinson and Lyons came into the court, and proceeding to the seat occupied by Forbes, engaged him in a whispered conversation inaudible to the bystanders. After a few moments, Forbes suddenly rose in his place, and, with an oath, exclaimed,-"Well, we'll kill the scoundrel then, at once," and accompanied Stinson and Lyons out of the wakiup. The audience, startled by the announcement, hurriedly followed. Dillingham had come over from Bannack in his capacity as deputy sheriff, to look for some stolen horses. He had come on the ground a moment before, in search of Mr. Todd, the deputy at Virginia City, for assistance.
An assemblage of a hundred or more miners and others was congregated in and about the place where the court was in progress,-some intent upon the trial, others sauntering through the crowd and along the bank of Alder Creek. The three ruffians, after a moment's conversation, approached in company the spot where Dillingham stood.
"We want to see you," said Lyons, addressing him. "Step this way a moment."
Stinson advanced a few paces, and looking over his shoulder said to his companions,-"Bring him along. Make him come."
Dillingham waited for no second invitation. Evidently supposing that they had some matter of business to communicate, he accompanied them to an open spot not more than ten paces distant. There they all stopped, and facing Dillingham, with a muttered curse, Lyons said to him,-
"Take back those lies," when with the quickness of thought, they drew their revolvers, Charley Forbes at the same time exclaiming, "Don't shoot, don't shoot," and fired upon him simultaneously. The groan which Lyon's ball drew from the poor victim as it entered his thigh, was hushed by the bullet of Forbes, as it passed through his breast, inflicting a mortal wound. He fell, and died in a few moments. Jack Gallagher, who was in the plot, rushed up, and in his capacity as a deputy sheriff, seized the pistols of the three ruffians, one of which, while unobserved, he reloaded, intending thereby to prevent the identification of the villain who fired the fatal shot.
The deed was committed so quickly, that the bystanders hardly knew what had happened till they saw Dillingham stretched upon the ground in the death agony. The court broke up instantly, and the jury dispersed. Aghast at the bloody spectacle, for some moments the people surveyed it in speechless amazement. The ruffians meantime sauntered quietly away, chuckling at their own adroitness. They had not gone far, until several of the miners, by direction of Dr. Steele, arrested them. The reaction from terror to reason was marked by the adoption of vigorous measures for the punishment of the crime, and but for the calm self-possession of a few individuals, the murderers would have been summarily dealt with. An officer elected by the people, with a detail of miners, took them into custody, and having confined them in a log building, preparations were made for their immediate trial.
Here again, as at the trial of Moore and Reeves, the difficulty of a choice between a trial by the people, and by a jury of twelve, occasioned an obstinate and violent discussion. The reasons for the latter, though strongly urged, were finally overcome by the paramount consideration that the selection of a jury would devolve upon a deputy sheriff who was in league with the prisoners, and, as it was afterwards ascertained, an accomplice in the crime for which they were arrested.
The people assembled en masse upon the very spot where the murder had been committed. Dr. Steele, by virtue of his office as president of the gulch, was appointed judge, and at his request Dr. Bissell the district judge and Dr. Rutar, associates, to aid with their counsel in the decisions of such questions as should arise in the progress of the trial. E.R. Cutler, a blacksmith, and James Brown acted as public prosecutors, and H.P.A. Smith, a lawyer of ability, appeared on behalf of the prisoners.
A separate trial was assigned to Forbes, because the pistol which Gallagher had privately reloaded, was claimed by him, a fact of which he wished to avail himself. In fact, however, the pistol belonged to Stinson. It was mid-day when the trial of Lyons and Stinson commenced. At dark it was not concluded, and the prisoners were put under a strong guard for the night. They were confined in a small, half-roofed, unchinked cabin, overlooking Daylight Creek, which ran through a hollow filled with willows. Dr. Six and Major Brookie had charge of the prisoners. Soon after dark their attention was attracted by the repeated shrill note of a night-hawk, apparently proceeding from the willows. After each note, Forbes commenced singing. This being noticed by the guard, on closer investigation they discovered that the note was simulated by some person as a signal for the prisoners. They immediately ordered Forbes to stop singing. He refused. They then proposed to chain the prisoners, they objecting, and Forbes remarking,-
"I will suffer death before you shall do it."
He receded, however, under the persuasion of six shot-guns drawn upon a line with his head, and in a subdued tone, said,-
During the night Lyons sent for one of the citizens, who, under cover of the guns of the guard, approached and asked him what he wanted.
"I want you," said he, "to release Stinson and Forbes. I killed Dillingham. I came here for that express purpose. They are innocent. I was sent here by the best men in Bannack to kill him."
"Who sent you?" inquired the citizen.
After naming several of the best citizens of Bannack, who knew nothing of the murder until several days after it was committed, he added,-
"Henry Plummer told me to shoot him." It was afterwards proven that this was true.
Hayes Lyons was greatly unnerved, and cried a great part of the night; but Buck Stinson was wholly unconcerned, and slept sound.
The trial was resumed the next morning. At noon, the arguments being concluded, the question of "guilty or not guilty," was submitted to the people, and decided almost unanimously in the affirmative.
"What shall be their punishment'?" asked the president of the now eager crowd.
"Hang them," was the united response.
Men were immediately appointed to erect a scaffold, and dig the graves of the doomed criminals, who were taken into custody to await the result of the trial of Forbes. This followed immediately; and the loaded pistol, and the fact that when the onslaught was made upon Dillingham, he called out, "Don't shoot, don't shoot," were used in evidence with good effect. When the question was finally put, Forbes, who was a young man of fine personal appearance, and possessed of good powers as a speaker, made a personal appeal to the crowd, which so wrought upon their sympathies, and was so eloquent withal, that they acquitted him by a large majority. In marked contrast with the spirit which they exhibited a few hours before while condemning Stinson and Lyons to a violent death, the people, upon the acquittal of Forbes, crowded around him with shouts of laughter, eager to shake hands with him and congratulate him upon his escape. Months afterwards, when the excitement of the occasion, with the memory of it, had passed from men's minds, Charley Forbes was heard vauntingly to say that he was the slayer of Dillingham. He was known to deride the tender susceptibilities of the people, who gave him liberty to renew his desperate career, and chuckle over the exercise of powers of person and mind that he could make so many believe even Truth herself to be a liar. Among all the villains belonging to Plummer's band, not one, not even Plummer himself, possessed a more depraved nature than Forbes; and with it, few, if any, were gifted with as many shining accomplishments. He was a prince of cut-throats,-uniting with the coolness of Augustus Tomlinson, all the adaptability of Paul Clifford. On one occasion he said to a gentleman about to leave the Territory,-
"You will be attacked on your way to Salt Lake."
"You can't do it, Charley," was the reply. "Your boys are scattered, we are together, and will prove too many for you." Nevertheless, the party drove sixty miles over the mountains, the first day out, and thus escaped molestation.
His early life was passed in Grass Valley, Galifornia. While comparatively a youth, he was convicted of robbery. On the expiration of his sentence, he visited old friends, and on his promise of reformation, they obtained employment for him in McLaughlin's gas works. For a while his conduct was unexceptionable, and he was rapidly gaining the esteem of all; but in an evil hour he indulged in a game of poker for money. From that moment he yielded to this temptation, until it became a besetting vice. Not long after he entered upon this career, he provoked a quarrel with one "Dutch John," who threatened to kill him.
Forbes told McLaughlin, saying in conclusion, "When Dutch John says so, he means it."
"Take my revolver out of the case," said McLaughlin, "put it in your breast-pocket, and defend yourself as occasion may require."
Forbes obeyed. Soon after, as he was passing along with a ladder on his shoulder, an acquaintance said to him,-
"Dutch John is looking for you to kill you."
"So I hear," replied Forbes. "He'll find me sooner than he wants to."
A few rods farther on he saw John coming from the Magnolia saloon, where he had been looking for Forbes. Forbes sprang towards him, exclaiming with an oath,-
"Here I am," and immediately fired four shots at him. John fired once in return, and throwing up his hands in affright at the rapid firing of Forbes, ejaculated,-
"0 mein Gott! will I be murdered?" A bystander who had witnessed the meeting, and saw that John, who had expected an easy victory, was paralyzed with fear, called to him,-"Turn your artillery loose!"
Forbes was tried for this crime, and acquitted. He was afterwards convicted of crime of some kind in Carson City, and imprisoned. On New Year's day he succeeded in removing his handcuffs, broke jail, and went to the sheriff's house, as he said upon entering, "to make a New Year's call." The officer returned him to prison. From this time, his career of crime knew no impediment.
On his first arrival in the mountains he corresponded for some California and Nevada papers. His letters were highly interesting. His true name was Edward Richardson.
To return to Stinson and Lyons. After the demonstrations of joy at Forbes's escape had subsided, the people remembered that there was an execution on the tapis. Drawing up a wagon in front of the building where the criminals were confined, they ordered them to get in. They obeyed, followed by several of their friends, who took seats beside them. Lyons became almost uproarious in his appeal for mercy. The women, of whom there were many, began to cry, begging earnestly for the lives of the criminals. Smith, their lawyer, joined his petitions to those of the women, and the entire crowd began to give way under this pressure of sympathy. Meantime the wagon was drawn slowly towards the place of execution. When the excitement was at its highest pitch, a man demanded in a loud tone that the people should listen to a letter which Lyons had written to his mother. This document, which had been prepared by some person for the occasion, was now read. It was filled with expressions of love for the aged mother, regret for the crime, repentance, acknowledgements of misspent life, and strong promises of amendment, if only life could be spared a little longer. Every sentence elicited fresh grief from the women, who now became perfectly clamorous in their calls for mercy to the prisoners. After the letter was read, some one cried out, in derision,-
"Give him a horse, and let him go to his mother."
Another immediately moved that they take a vote upon that proposition. Sheriff Todd, whose duty it was only to carry out the sentence of the court, consented to this, and the question was submitted to ayes and noes. Both parties claimed the victory. It was then agreed that those in favor of hanging should go up, and those who opposed, down the side of a neighboring hill. Neither party being satisfied, as a final test, four men were selected, and those who wished the sentence enforced were to pass between two of them, and those who opposed, between the other two. The votes for liberty were increased to meet the occasion, by a second passage of as many as were necessary to carry the question. An Irish miner, while the voting was in progress, exclaimed in a loud voice, as a negro passed through the acquittal bureau,-
"Bedad, there's a bloody nagur, that's voted three times."
But this vote, dishonest as it was, settled the question; for Jack Gallagher, pistol in hand, shouted,-
"Let them go. They're cleared."
This was a signal for a general uproar, and amid shouts from both parties, expressive of the opinions which each entertained, some one mounted the assassins upon a horse standing near, which belonged to a Blackfeet squaw, and cutting the lariat, started them off at a gallop down the gulch. At this moment one of the guard pointed to the gallows, and said to another,-
"There stands a monument of disappointed justice."
Immediately after sentence of death had been passed upon Stinson and Lyons, Dr. Steele returned to his cabin, two miles down the gulch. The result of the trial had furnished him with food for sad reflection,-especially as the duty of passing the death sentence had devolved upon him. Other considerations followed in quick succession. He has since, when speaking of it, said that he never indulged in a more melancholy reverie, than when returning home from this trial. The youth of the convicts; their evident fitness, both by culture and manners, for any sphere of active business; the effect that their execution must have upon distant parents and friends,-all these thoughts presented themselves in sad array before his mental vision; when, as he was about entering his cabin, a quick clatter of hoofs roused him, and turning to see the cause, he beheld the subjects of his gloomy reflections both mounted on the Indian pony, approaching at the animal's swiftest pace. He had hardly time to recover from his surprise, and realize that the object was not a vision, until the animal with its double rider passed him,-and Lyons, nodding familiarly, waved his hand, accompanying the gesture with the parting words -
The body of the unfortunate Dillingham lay neglected upon a gambling table in a tent near by, until this wretched travesty was completed. Then a wagon was obtained, and, followed by a small procession, it was hurriedly buried. The tears had all been shed for the murderers.
"I cried for Dillingham," said one, on being told that his wife and daughters had expended their grief upon the wrong persons.
"Oh, you did," was the reply. "Well thought of. Who will pray for him? Will you do it, judge?"
Judge Bissell responded by kneeling upon the spot and offering up an appropriate prayer, as the body of the unfortunate young man was consigned to its mother earth.
Soon after the murder of Dillingham, Charley Forbes suddenly disappeared. No one knew what became of him, but it was supposed that he had fallen victim to the vengeance of his comrades for the course he had taken in securing for himself a separate trial. This supposition was afterwards confirmed by some of the robbers themselves, who stated that in a quarrel with Moore at the Big Hole River, Forbes was killed. Fearing that the friends of the murdered ruffian would retaliate, Moore killed Forbes's horse at the same time, and burned to ashes the bodies of horse and rider. This fact was known to Plummer only, at the time of its occurrence.
Dillingham was a straightforward, honest young man, and his office as deputy sheriff was given to him, under the supposition that he would readily affiliate with the roughs. Lyons, Stinson, and Forbes, who were also deputies, supposed him to be as bad as they were. On my trip east in 1863, the Overland coach in which I had taken passage was detained a night by snow at Hook's Station in Nebraska. Ascertaining that I was from Bannack, a young man at the station asked me many questions about Hayes Lyons, telling me that he had heard that he narrowly escaped hanging the previous summer. I narrated to him the circumstances attending the murder of Dillingham, and the trial.
"He is my brother," said the young man, and invited me to go with him and see his mother and sister. I learned that Hayes had been well brought up, but was the victim of evil associations. His mother wept while deploring his criminal career, which she ascribed to bad company.
Later in the winter I received a letter from the father of Dillingham, who resided in North Orange, New Jersey, inquiring after his son. I replied, giving the particulars of his son's death, and the trial and escape of his murderers, and of my subsequent meeting with the mother of Lyons. In the mean time, Lyons had been hanged.
The father was almost heartbroken at the intelligence of his son's death, but in his letter, written in a kindly and Christian spirit, he says: -"While the shocking details of the sad narrative are inexpressibly distressing to us, it is a great alleviation to our grief to know that an act of manly virtue and honor was the superinducing cause that excited our son's murderers in their bloody purpose. Death under such circumstances, so far as it relates to the poor sufferer himself, is praiseworthy in the highest degree, and inspires us with thankfulness to God for our son's integrity, and with humble trust that it may be overruled in infinite wisdom for our good; and is certainly a thousand times to be preferred by the afflicted survivors, to a knowledge of, compliance with, and successful prosecution of, the infamous scheme proposed. Our hearts truly and deeply sympathize with the sorrowing mother and family of the criminal young Lyons. Truly, indeed, may it be said that only God can assuage the poignancy of such sorrow as must fill their bosoms. May he sustain and comfort them.
"It is satisfactory to know that summary measures were finally, and in a good measure effectually, adopted by your citizens, for ridding their interesting region of country of these worse than savages. Retributive justice is almost invariably sure, sooner or later, to overtake all such heaven-daring outlaws....
"Very sincerely yours,