The next movements of the Vigilantes were followed up with remarkable expedition. The work they had laid out contemplated the execution of every member of Plummer's band who, upon fair trial, should be proved guilty of robbery or murder. They intended also to punish such incidental rascals as were known to be guilty of crime, and to act as a protective police, until such time as a competent judiciary should be established in the Territory. There were many suspicious characters prowling around the gulches, who, though unaffiliated with the robber gang, were engaged in the constant commission of crimes. Flumes were robbed, burglaries committed, and broils were of frequent occurrence. The country was full of horse and cattle thieves. By prompt and severe punishment in all cases of detection, and by the speedy arrest and examination of all suspected persons, the Committee intended to strike with terror the entire lawless population, which had so long and unceasingly violated the laws and privileges of civilized life with impunity.
The execution of Plummer, Stinson, and Ray met with general approbation. Every good man in the community was anxious to become enrolled on the list of the Vigilantes. The dark shadow of crime, which had hung like an angry cloud over the Territory, had faded before the omnipresence of Vigilante justice. The very feeling of safety inspired by the change was the strongest security for the growth and efficiency of the organization.
The morning succeeding the execution, the Committee met to devise further measures for the arrest of the criminals still at large. None of the reputed members of Plummer's band were then in Bannack. There was, however, a Mexican known by the name of Jo Pizanthia, living in a little cabin built against the side of one of the hills overlooking the town. Being the only Mexican in the place, he went by the designation of "The Greaser." He brought with him to the Territory the reputation of a desperado, robber, and murderer. With a view of investigating his career in the Territory, the Committee ordered his immediate arrest, and sent a party to the cabin to effect it. The little building was closed, and there was nothing in the appearance of the newly fallen snow to indicate that it had been occupied since the previous day. George Copley and Smith Ball, two esteemed citizens, led the public force, and, advancing in front of it to the door of the cabin, called upon the Mexican by name to come forth. No answer being made, they concluded, against the advice of their comrades, to enter the cabin. Cautiously lifting the latch, the two men stepped over the threshold, each receiving, as he did so, the fire of the desperate inmate. Copley was shot in the breast, and Ball in the hip. Both staggered out, exclaiming in the same breath, "I'm shot." Two of the company supported Copley to the hotel, but the poor fellow died of the wound in a few moments. Ball recovered sufficiently to remain upon the ground.
When it was known that Copley was killed, the exasperation of the party at the dastardly deed knew no bounds. They instantly decided to inflict summary vengeance upon the murderer. Protected by the logs of the cabin, of which the door was the only entrance, the crowd appreciated the Mexican's facilities for making an obstinate and bloody defense. How to secure him without injury to themselves, called for the exercise of strategy rather than courage. Fortunately, a dismounted mountain howitzer which had been left by a wagon train lay near by; and bringing this to a point within a few rods of the side of the cabin, they placed it upon a box, and loaded it with shell. At the first discharge, the fuse being uncut, the missile tore through the logs without explosion. The second was equally unsuccessful, on account of the shortness of range. Aim was now directed at the chimney, upon the supposition that the man might have sought refuge within it, and a solid shot sent through it -the men meantime firing into the hole made by the shell in the side of the cabin. No shot was fired in return.
A storming party was now formed, the men of Nevada being the first to join it. Half a dozen in number, the men moved steadily onward under cover of neighboring cabins, until they reached the space between them and the beleaguered citadel. Rushing impetuously across, they stood in front of the entrance, the door having fallen inwards from the fusillade. Looking cautiously into the cabin, they discovered the boots of the Mexican, protruding beneath the door, which had fallen upon him. Lifting the door, they dragged him forth. He was badly injured, but, on the moment of his appearance, Smith Ball emptied his revolver into his body. A clothesline near was taken down, and fastened round his neck, and an ambitious citizen climbed a pole, and, while those below held up the body of the expiring Mexican, he fastened the rope to the top of the pole. Into the body thus suspended, the crowd discharged more than a hundred shots, satiating their thirst for revenge upon a ghastly corpse.
While this scene was progressing, several other persons were engaged in tearing down the cabin. Throwing it into a pile, it was set on fire, and, when fairly in a blaze, the riddled body of Pizanthia was taken down, and placed upon the pyre. Its destruction by the devouring element was complete; not a vestige of the poor wretch remained; though the next morning a number of notorious women were early at the spot, engaged in panning out the ashes of the ill-fated desperado, in search of gold.
The entire transaction was an act of popular vengeance. The people were infuriated at the murder of Copley, who, besides being one of their best citizens, was a general favorite. There seemed to be no occasion or excuse for it, as the Vigilantes contemplated nothing more by the arrest of Pizanthia, than an examination of his territorial record. With the crimes he had committed before he came to the Territory, they had nothing to do; and if he had been guilty of none after he came there, the heaviest possible punishment they would have inflicted was banishment. He brought his fate upon himself. It was a brief interlude in Vigilante history, the terrible features of which, though they may be deemed without apology or excuse, need not seek for multiplied precedents outside of the most enlightened nations or most refined societies in all Christendom.