While the events I have just recorded were in progress at Bannack, the Vigilantes of Virginia City were not inactive. Alder Gulch had been the stronghold of the roughs ever since its discovery. Nearly all their predatory expeditions had been fitted out there. Being much the largest, richest, and most populous mining camp in the Territory, the opportunities it afforded for robbery were more frequent and promising, and less liable to discovery, than either Bannack or Deer Lodge. It was also filled with saloons, hurdy-gurdies, bagnios, and gambling-rooms, all of which were necessities in the lives of these free rangers of the mountains. At the time of which I write there was a population of at least twelve thousand, scattered through the various settlements from Junction to Summit, a distance of twelve miles. It was essentially a cosmopolitan community,-American in preponderance, but liberally sprinkled with people from all the nations of Europe. Some were going, and others coming, every day. Gold dust was abundant, and freedom from social and moral restraint characterized all classes, to an extent bordering upon criminal license.
The Vigilantes, more than ever, after it was decided to execute Plummer, comprehended the necessity for prompt and vigorous measures, as that event of itself would be the signal for all the guilty followers of that chief to fly the Territory. Accordingly, having ascertained that six of the robber band were still remaining in Virginia City, the Executive Committee decided upon effectual means for their immediate arrest. On the thirteenth day of January, three days after Plummer was executed, an order was quietly made for the Vigilantes to assemble at night in sufficient force to surround the city. Not a man was to be permitted to leave the city after the line of guards was established. Bill Hunter, one of the six marked for capture, suspecting the plot, effected his escape by crawling beyond the pickets in a drain ditch. The city was encircled, after nightfall, by more than five hundred armed men, so quietly that none within, except the Vigilantes, knew of it until the next morning. All that long winter night, while that cordon of iron men was quietly stretching along the heights overlooking the city, the Executive Committee sat in council, deliberating upon the evidences of guilt against the men enmeshed in their toils.
At the same time another small band was assembled around a faro table in the chambers of a gambling saloon. Jack Gallagher suddenly broke the silence of the game with the remark,-
"While we are here betting, those Vigilantes are passing sentence of death upon us."
Wonderful prescience! he little knew or realized the truth which this observation had for him and his comrades in iniquity.
Morning broke, cold and cloudy, discovering to the eyes of the citizens the pickets of the Vigilantes. The city was like an intrenched camp. Hundreds of men, with guns at the shoulder, were marching through the snow on all the surrounding hillsides, with military regularity and precision. The preparation could not have been more perfect if made to oppose an invading army. There was no misunderstanding this array. People talked with bated breath to each other of the certain doom which awaited the villains who had so long preyed upon their substance, and spread terror through the country.
Messengers were sent to the different towns in the Gulch to summon the Vigilantes to appear forthwith, and take part in the trial of the ruffians. At the same time parties were detailed to arrest and bring the criminals before the Committee. Boone Helm, Jack Gallagher, Frank Parish, Hayes Lyons, George Lane, and Bill Hunter were known to be in the city at the Vigilantes from Nevada, Junction, Summit, Pine Grove, and Highland marched into town in detachments, and formed in a body on Main Street. The town was full of people.
Frank Parish, the first prisoner brought in, was quietly arrested in a store. He exhibited little fear. Taking an executive officer aside,-"What," he inquired, "am I arrested for'?"
"For being a road-agent, thief, and an accessory to numerous robberies and murders on the highway."
"I am innocent of all,-as innocent as you are."
When, however, he was put upon his examination before the Committee, and facts were brought home to him, he receded from his position of innocence, and confessed to more and greater offenses than were charged against him.
"I was," said he, "one of the party that robbed the coach between Virginia City and Bannack."
This confession took the Committee by surprise. He then admitted that he had been guilty of horse-stealing for the robbers, and had butchered stolen cattle to supply them with food. He was fully cognizant of all their criminal enterprises, and shared with them as a member of the band.
Upon this confession he was condemned to suffer death. He gave directions concerning his clothing and the settlement of his debts. His case being disposed of, he was committed to the custody of a strong guard.
George Lane (Clubfoot George), who has figured conspicuously in this history, was next introduced into the presence of the Committee. He was arrested without trouble, at Dance and Stuart's store. Perfectly calm and collected, he inquired,-"Why am I arrested?"
On receiving the same answer that had been given to Parish, he replied,-
"If you hang me, you will hang an innocent man."
"We have positive proof of your guilt," was the response of the examining officer. "There is no possibility of a mistake."
"What will you do with me?"
"Your sentence is death," was the answer.
His eyes dropped, and his countenance wore an expression of deep contrition. For some moments he covered his face with his hands, seemingly overcome by the dreadful announcement. At length, dropping his hands, and looking into the face of the officer, he inquired,-
"Can I have a minister, to pray for and talk with me?"
"One shall be immediately sent for,"
And when the clergyman appeared, Lane, in care of the guard, spent his remaining hours of life in attending to the affairs of his soul.
While his examination was progressing, parties came in with Boone Helm and Jack Gallagher. The former had been arrested by strategy, while standing in front of the Virginia Hotel. With an armed man on either side, and one behind with a pistol presented to his head, this veteran scoundrel, bloodier far than any of his comrades, was marched into the presence of his judges.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, "if I'd only had a show, if I'd known what you were after, you would have had a gay old time in taking me."
His right hand was wounded, and supported by a sling. With much apparent serenity, he sat down on a bench, and looked defiantly into the faces of the members of the Committee.
"What do you want of me here?" he inquired, affecting entire ignorance of the cause of his arrest.
"We have proof that you belong to Plummer's band of robbers, that you have been guilty of highway robbery and murder, and wish to hear what you have to say to these charges."
"I am as innocent," replied the miscreant, in a deliberate tone, "as the babe unborn. I never killed any one, nor robbed or defrauded any man. I am willing to swear it on the Bible."
Less for any more important purpose than that of testing the utter depravity of the wretch, the interrogator handed him a Bible. With the utmost solemnity of manner and expression, he repeated the denial, invoking the most terrible penalties upon his soul, in attestation of its truthfulness, and kissed the volume impressively at its close.
The Committee regarded this sacrilegious act of the crime-hardened reprobate with mingled feelings of horror and disgust.
"This denial," said the president, "can avail you nothing. Your life for many years has been a continuous career of crime. It is necessary that you should die. You had better improve the little time left you in preparation."
Helm looked hopelessly around, but saw no glance of sympathy in the stern features of his judges. Beckoning to a person standing near, he whispered,-
"Can I see you alone for a few minutes?"
The man, supposing that he was desirous of obtaining spiritual counsel, replied,-
"I will send for a clergyman."
"No," was the instant rejoinder. "I want no clergyman. You'll do as well.
Stepping into the inner room, Helm closed the door, and, turning to the man, in an anxious tone put the question,-
"Is there no way of getting out of this scrape?"
"None. No power here is available to save you. You must die."
"Well, then," said he, "I'll admit to you that I did kill a man by the name of Shoot, in Missouri. When I left there I went to California, and killed another chap there. I was confined in jail in Oregon, and dug my way out with tools given me by my squaw."
"Now," said his confessor, "having told me thus much, will you not give me what information you can concerning the band to which you belong, their names, crimes, and purposes?"
"Ask Jack Gallagher. He knows more than I do."
Gallagher, who had been brought into an adjoining apartment, separated from the one in which the conversation occurred by a thin board partition, on hearing this reference to himself, poured forth a torrent of profane abuse upon the head of his guilty confederate.
"It is just such cowardly rascals and traitors as you," said he, "that have brought us into this difficulty. You ought to die for your treachery." "I have dared death in all its forms," said Helm, "and I do not fear to die. Give me some whiskey."
The guilty wretch, having been consigned to the custody of keepers, steeped what little sensibility he possessed in whiskey, and passed the time until the execution in ribald jesting and profanity.
Jack Gallagher bounded into the committee-room, swearing and laughing, as if the whole affair was intended as a good joke.
"What," said he, with an oath and epithet appended to every word, "is it all about? This is a pretty break, isn't it?"
On being informed of the charges against him, and the sentence of the Committee, he dropped into a seat and began to cry. In a few moments he jumped up, and with much expletive emphasis demanded the names of the persons who had informed against him.
"It was 'Red' who hanged a few weeks ago on the Stinking-Water."
Gallagher cursed the dead ruffian for a traitor, liar, and coward, in the same breath.
"My God!" said he, "must I die in this way?" He was taken of the committee-room while uttering the most terrible oaths and blasphemies.
Hayes Lyons, the only remaining ruffian, had not yet been arrested.
The party detailed for that object, while searching for him at the Arbor Restaurant, had found and captured Gallagher, on learning which the Gallagher pursuers immediately took up the hunt for Lyons. Foiled at several points, they accidentally learned that he had crossed the craps overhanging the gulch, and, after wandering in a circuit of several miles through the mountains, had come back to a miner's cabin but half a mile distant from his point of departure. Proceeding with all possible speed to the cabin, the leader threw open the door, and, bringing his pistol to a deadly aim, exclaimed,-
"Throw up your hands."
Lyons, who was in the act of raising a piece of a griddle-cake to his mouth, dropped the fork instantly, and obeyed the order.
"Come out here, and surrender at once," was the next command.
He was in his shirt-sleeves, and, as he stepped out of the door into the biting atmosphere, he asked in an undertone,-"Will some one get my coat?" A member of the party brought it to him, and assisted him in putting it on. He trembled so much with fear that it was with difficulty he could get his arms into the sleeves. While the party were searching him to ascertain if he was armed, he said,-"You disturbed me in the first meal I have sat down to with any appetite in six weeks."
"Finish your dinner," said the leader. "We will wait for you."
"Thank you; you are very kind, but I can eat no more. What do you intend doing with me? Will I be hung?"
"We are not here to promise you anything. You had better prepare for the worst."
"My friends advised me to leave two or three days ago."
"You would probably have done well had you followed their advice. Why didn't you go?"
"Because I had done nothing wrong, and did not wish to leave."
It is probable that but for the blandishments of a fascinating mistress, the memory of Dillingham's murder would have dictated to this ruffian an earlier and more successful effort at escape.
"Have you heard of the execution of Plummer, Stinson, and Ray?" asked the leader.
"Yes; but I don't believe the report is true."
"You may bet your sweet life on't."
"Did they make any resistance?"
"No; they had no opportunity."
Arriving at the committee-room, the prisoner was immediately confronted with the officers.
"We have condemned you to death for the murder of Dillingham, and being associated in membership with Plummer's band of road agents. Have you anything to say in extenuation?"
"That I am not guilty. I have committed no crimes, and formed no associations, that call for such severity. I am as innocent as you are."
And yet, but a short time before, the wretched man had confessed to a leader of one of the police committees, in presence of several witnesses, that he was the murderer of Dillingham. His complicity with Plummer's band was known to all.
Scarcely was Lyon's examination concluded, when word was brought to the Committee that two suspicious persons, who had gone hurriedly to Highland District, three miles above Virginia City, the evening before, were concealed in one of the unoccupied cabins there. An officer with fifteen men was sent to arrest them. They were disarmed, and brought before the Committee, but, no evidence appearing against them, they were discharged.
The examination being over, preparations were made for the execution of the convicts. These were very simple. The central cross-beam of an unfinished log store, cornering upon two of the principal streets, was selected for a scaffold. The building was roofless, and its spacious open front exposed the interior to the full view of the crowd. The ropes, five in number, were drawn across the beam to a proper length, and fastened firmly to the logs in the rear basement. Under each noose was placed a large, empty dry-goods box, with cord attached, for the drops.
Beside the large body of armed Vigilantes, a great number of eager spectators had assembled from all parts of the gulch to witness the execution. Six or eight thousand persons, comprehending the larger portion of the population of the Territory, gathered into a compact mass when the prisoners, with their armed escort, marched from the committee rooms into the street, and were ranged in front of the guard.
"You are now," said the president, addressing them, "to be conducted to the scaffold. An opportunity is given you to make your last requests and communications. You will do well to improve it by making a confession of your own crimes, and putting the Committee in possession of information as to the crimes of others."
The prisoners separately declined to make any communication. When the guard were about to fasten their arms, Jack Gallagher, with an oath, exclaimed,-"I will not be hung in public," and, drawing his pocket-knife, he applied the blade to his throat, saying: "I will cut my throat first." The executive officer instantly cocked and presented his pistol.
"If you make another move of your arm," said he. "I will shoot you like a dog. Take the knife from him, and pinion him at once," he continued, addressing the guard. The ruffian cursed horribly, all the while his arms were being tied.
Boone Helm, with customary adjective profanity, said to Gallagher in a consolatory tone,-"Don't make a fool of yourself, Jack. There's no use or sense in being afraid to die."
After the process of binding was completed, each prisoner was seized by the arm on either side, by a Vigilante who held in the hand not thus employed a navy revolver, ready for instant use. The large body of armed Vigilantes were then formed around the prisoners, into a hollow square, four abreast on each side, and a column in front and rear. A few men with pistols were dispersed among the crowd of spectators, to guard against any possible attempt at rescue. Thus formed, the procession marched in the direction of the scaffold with slow and solemn pace. The silence of the great throng was unbroken by a whisper, and, more eloquently than language could have done, declared the feelings of anxiety and suspense by which all were animated. Some little delay being necessary to complete the preparations at the scaffold, the procession halted in front of the Virginia Hotel, on the corner diagonally from it across Main Street. While waiting there, "Clubfoot George" called to his side Judge Dance, and said to him,-
"You have known me ever since I came to Virginia City, more intimately than any other man. We have had dealings together. Can you not in this hour of extremity say a good word for my character?"
"It would be of no use, George. Your dealings with me have always been fair and honorable; but what you have done outside, I only know from the evidence, and that is very strong against you. I can do you no good."
"Well, then," said the penitent ruffian, "will you pray with me?"
"Willingly, George; most willingly," and, suiting the action to the word, the judge dropped upon his knees, and with George and Gallagher kneeling beside him, offered up a fervent petition in behalf of the doomed men.
Boone Helm was irritated at this request, and, raising his sore finger, exclaimed,-"For God's sake, if you're going to hang me, I want you to do it, and get through with it; if not, I want you to tie a bandage on my finger."
While the prayer was in progress, Hayes Lyons requested that his hat should be removed. Frank Parish gave abundant evidence of deep contrition, but Boone Helm continued, as from the first, to treat all the proceedings with profane and reckless levity.
Gallagher, at one moment cursing, and at the next crying, seemed the least composed of any of the prisoners. He wore a handsome cavalry overcoat, trimmed with beaver.
"Give me that coat, Jack," said Helm, as Gallagher rose from his knees.
"You never yet gave me anything."
"It's little use you'll make of it now," responded Gallagher with an oath, and, catching at the moment the eye of an acquaintance, who was regarding him from a window of the hotel, he called to him in a loud tone.-"Say, old fellow, I'm going to heaven. I'll be there in time to open the gate for you."
"Halloo, Bill!" said Boone Helm to one in the crowd, "they've got me this time; got me, sure, and no mistake."
Hayes Lyons begged of his captors the privilege of seeing his mistress.
"Let me bid her good-by and restore this watch to her, which is her property." The request was refused, only to be repeated, and on being made a third time he received for answer,-
"Hayes! bringing women to the place of execution 'played out' in '63, when they interfered with your trial for killing Dillingham."
The unhappy wretch ceased further importunity.
When the arrangements at the scaffold were completed, the guard crossed the street, opened ranks, and the prisoners were conducted through into the building, each as he entered stepping upon one of the drygoods boxes. Ranged side by side, "Clubfoot George" was first on the east side of the room: next to him was Hayes Lyons, then Jack Gallagher, then Boone Helm, and near the west wall Frank Parish. The area in front of them was occupied by the guard and the members of the Executive Committee. The two streets in front and at the side of the building were crowded with armed Vigilantes and spectators. The order being given to remove the hats of the prisoners, Clubfoot George, whose hands were loosely fastened, contrived to reach his hat, which he threw spitefully on the floor, the hats of the others being at the same time removed by the guard.
After the nooses were adjusted, the chief of the Committee said to the prisoners,-
"You are now about to be executed. If you have any dying requests to make, this is your last opportunity. You may be assured they shall be carefully heeded."
Jack Gallagher broke in upon the closing part of this address with a leer,-
"How do I look, boys," he asked, "with a halter around my neck?." The grim effort failed to elicit a smile.
"Your time is very short," said the chief, again reminding them that their requests would be listened to.
"Well, then," said Gallagher, "I want one more drink of whiskey before I die."
The loathing which this request excited was apparent in the expression of the countenances of all who heard it. Some men exchanged meaning glances, revealing thereby the shock their sensibilities had received by his exhibition of depravity. Others craned their necks over the crowd, as if they had not heard aright. For a few minutes no one seemed to know what answer to make to a man whose last moments were given to the gratification of his evil appetites. This silence was soon broken, however, by an old miner.
"We told 'em," said he, "that we'd do whatever they asked. Give him the liquor."
A man appeared in a moment with a tumbler nearly full. Raising it as high as he could, the prisoner bent his head, but was restrained by the rope from touching the glass with his lips. Throwing his head back, he turned on the box, and, looking back upon the fastenings of the rope to the basement log at the rear of the building, in a loud and imperious tone he launched a profane and vulgar epithet at the guard, saying,-
"Slacken that rope, quick, and let a man take a parting drink, won't you?"
The rope was loosed, while the depraved wretch drained the tumbler at a drought. While the guard was refastening it, he exclaimed,-
"I hope Almighty God will curse every one of you, and that I shall meet you all in the lowest pit of hell."
The Committee decided that the executions should be single, commencing with "Clubfoot George," and concluding with Hayes Lyons, who stood next to him in order. At the words, "Men, do your duty," the men holding the cords attached to the box on which the prisoner in turn stood, were by a sudden jerk to pull the footing from under him. A fall of three feet was deemed sufficient to dislocate the neck, and avoid the torture of protracted strangulation.
No more requests being made, the men laid hold of the cords attached to the box occupied by George Lane. Just at that moment the unhappy wretch descried an old friend clinging to the logs of the building, to obtain sight of the execution.
"Good-by, old fellow," said he. "I'm gone," and, without waiting for the box to be removed, he leaped from it, and died with hardly a struggle.
"There goes one to hell," muttered Boone Helm.
Hayes Lyons, who stood next, was talking all the while, telling of his kind mother; that he had been well brought up, but evil associations had brought him to the scaffold.
Gallagher cried and swore by turns.
"I hope," said he, "that forked lightning will strike every strangling villain of you." The box, flying from under his feet, stopped an oath in its utterance, and the quivering of his muscles showed that his guilty career was terminated.
"Kick away, old fellow," said Boone Helm, calmly surveying the struggles of the dying wretch. "My turn comes next. I'll be in hell with you in a minute." Shouting in a loud voice, "Every man for his principles! Hurrah for Jeff Davis! Let her rip," his body fell with a twang that killed him almost instantly.
Frank Parish maintained a serious deportment from the moment of his arrest until his execution. At his request his black necktie was dropped like a veil over his face. He "died and made no sign."
Hayes Lyons was the only one remaining. Looking right and left at the swaying bodies of his companions, his anxious face indicated a hope of pardon. His entreaties were incessant, but when he found them unavailing, he requested that his mistress might have the disposition of his body; that the watch of hers which he wore might be restored to her, and that he might not be left hanging for an unseemly time. He died without a struggle.
Two hours after the execution the bodies were cut down, and taken by friends to Cemetery Hill for burial.
X. Beidler officiated as adjuster of the ropes at this execution. Jack Gallagher had killed a friend of his. Some time afterwards, when he was relating the circumstances attending the execution, in a mixed crowd, a gentleman present who was greatly interested in the narrative, and whose sympathy for the ruffians was very apparent, asked, at the close of the narrative, in a lachrymose tone,-
"Well, now, when you come to hang that poor fellow, didn't you sympathize with him, didn't you feel for him?"
Beidler regarded the man for a moment with great disgust, and, imitating his tone, replied slowly,-"Yes, I did. I felt for him a little, I felt for his left ear."