The work so well begun was prosecuted with great energy. The ruffians had fled from Virginia City and Bannack, over the range to Deer Lodge and Bitter Root, intending gradually to return to their old haunts in Idaho. The Vigilantes, resolved that they should not escape, took up the pursuit. A company of twenty-one, under the command of a competent leader, left Nevada on the fifteenth of January. Arriving at Big Hole in the evening, they sent a detachment to Clark's ranche to arrest the bandit Steve Marshland, who was laid up with frozen feet, and the wound which he received in the breast while attacking Moody's train. Receiving no response to their repeated raps at the door of the cabin, one of the party entered, and, lighting a wisp of straw, found Marshland in bed.
"Hands up, if you please," said he, pointing his revolver at the head of the prostrate robber, who obeyed the command as well as circumstances would admit.
"Are you sick, Steve?" queried the Vigilante.
"Yes -very," faintly responded Marshland.
"No one with you?"
"No one,-no living thing but the dog."
"What is the matter?"
"I've got the chills."
"Strange! New kind of sickness for winter! Nothing else the matter?"
"Yes. I froze my feet while prospecting at the head of Rattlesnake Creek."
"Did you raise the color?"
"No. The water prevented me from going to bed-rock."
While this conversation was in progress, the party had built a fire and commenced cooking supper. Removing from beside the bed two doublebarrelled shotguns, a yager, and another rifle, they invited Marshland to get up and take supper with them. During the meal all engaged in merry conversation. After it was over, the leader informed Marshland that he was arrested for the robbery of Moody's train.
"You received," said he, "while engaged in that robbery, a bullet wound in the breast, by which we shall be able to identify you."
"I received no such wound," said he; and, striking his breast several times, he continued, "My breast is as sound as a dollar."
"You can have no objection, then, to submitting to our examination."
"None in the least, gentlemen. Look for yourselves."
The leader threw open his shirt. The mark of the recent wound confirmed the guilt of the robber. He could give no explanation of the manner in which he received it.
"The evidence is satisfactory to us," said the leader. "We have made no mistakes in arresting you. You must die."
"For God's sake do not hang me. Let me go, and I will trouble you no more."
"It cannot be. We shall certainly execute every one of Plummer's infamous band that falls into our hands, and we hope to catch them all."
Finding importunity of no avail, he made a full and frank confession of all his crimes. A scaffold was improvised by sticking into the ground a pole, the end of which projected over the corral fence, upon which the pole rested. A box taken from the cabin was placed under it, for the prisoner to stand upon. When all was ready, and the fatal noose was adjusted, the prisoner once more appealed to his captors.
"Have mercy on me for my youth!" he exclaimed.
"You should have thought of it before," replied the leader, as he gave the fatal order, and the poor wretch was launched into eternity.
The scent of his frozen feet attracted the wolves, and the party were obliged to watch both him and the horses, to prevent an attack by these animals. He was buried near the place of execution. The detachment found the main party the next morning, having been absent only one night.
The Vigilantes resumed their march, beginning at this point the ascent of the Deer Lodge divide. Not knowing how soon or where they might overtake others of the gang, they rode forward in double file at the rate of sixty miles a day. They divided their company into four messes, each of which being supplied plentifully with food already cooked, they lighted no large camp-fires, lest the smoke therefrom should betray them. A double watch was kept over the horses while in camp. Each man was armed with at least one, some with two revolvers, and a shotgun or rifle. While on the march, the captain was in the van. After they descended into the valley of Deer Lodge, a spy was sent forward to reconnoitre the town of Cottonwood, with instructions to meet the party at Cottonwood Creek.
At four o'clock p.m. they halted at Smith's ranche, seventeen miles from Cottonwood, until after dark, when they rode cautiously forward until within a short distance of the town. Learning from their spy, that all the robbers except Bunton and "Tex" had gone, they rode hastily into the town and surrounded the saloon of the former. Bunton refused to open the door. Three men detailed to arrest him called to him and expressed a wish to see him. He persisted in denying them admittance, until convinced that they would effect an entrance by force; and he then told a man and boy in his employ to let them in. The door was opened, but, as the lights within had been extinguished, the men declined to enter until a candle was lighted. As soon as light was furnished, they rushed in, and the leader exclaimed,-
"Bill, you are my prisoner!"
"For what?" inquired Bunton.
"Come with us at once, and you'll find out."
Observing that he made signs of resistance, a Vigilante, whose courage exceeded his strength, seized the ruffian and attempted to drag him out. Finding himself overmatched, he called to his assistance a comrade, who soon succeeded in binding the hands of the desperado behind him. In this condition he was conducted by a guard to the cabin of Peter Martin.
"Tex," who was in the saloon, was conquered in much the same manner, and forced to follow his companion.
Martin, who knew nothing of the arrest, was seated at a table playing a game at cards with some friends. Hearing that the Vigilantes were surrounding his house, he dropped his cards, and started with great affright for the door. For a long time he refused to obey their summons to come out, but, on being assured that he "wasn't charged with nothin'," he opened the door and returned to his game.
After breakfast the next morning a person who had been conversing with Bunton informed the Vigilantes that he had said to him that he would "get one of them yet," on learning whereof they searched him a second time. They found a derringer in his vest-pocket, which had evidently been placed there by some sympathizer during the night.
Bunton refused to make any answer to the charges made against him.
No doubt was entertained of his guilt. The vote on his case, taken by the uplifted hand, was unanimous for his execution. The captain informed him of it.
"If you have any business to attend to, you had better intrust it to some one, as we cannot be delayed here."
Bunton immediately gave his gold watch to his partner Cooke, and appropriated his other property to the payment of his debts. He had gambled for and won the interest in the saloon from its former owner a fortnight before this time. Having thus disposed of his affairs, he was conducted to the gate of a corral near, surmounted by a gallows-frame, beneath which a board laid upon two boxes served the purpose of a drop. While the hangman was adjusting the rope, he gave him particular instructions about the exact situation of the knot. This being fixed to suit him, he said to the captain,-
"May I jump off myself?"
"You can if you wish," was the reply.
"I care no more for hanging," said Bunton, "than I do for taking a drink of water; but I should like to have my neck broken."
On being asked if he had anything further to say, he replied,-
"Nothing, except that I have done nothing to deserve death. I am innocent. All I want is a mountain three hundred feet high to jump from. And now I will give you the time; one -two -three." The men were prepared to pull the plank from under him should he fail to jump, but he anticipated them, and, adding the words, "Here goes," he leaped and fell with a loud thud, dying without a struggle.
"Tex" was separately tried. The evidence being insufficient to convict him, he was liberated, and left immediately for the Kootenai mines.
Mrs. Demorest, the wife of the owner of the corral, was so greatly outraged by the use made of the gate frame that she gave her husband no peace until the poles were cut down, and the frame entirely unfitted for further use as a gallows.
After the execution of Bunton, the Vigilantes, in company with Jemmy Allen, a rancheman, left Cottonwood for Hell Gate, a little settlement ninety miles down the river, in the vicinity of Bitter Root Valley. Snow covered the ground to the depth of two feet, and the weather was intensely cold. It was after dark when the company arrived at one of the crossings of the Deer Lodge. The river, being a rapid mountain stream, seldom freezes sufficiently solid to bear a horseman; but, no other mode of transit presenting itself, the Vigilantes drove hurriedly upon the frozen surface, and, before they were half-way across, the ice gave way, precipitating their horses into the water. Had the stream been wide, all must have perished. As it was, after much floundering and considerable exertion, all were landed safely on the opposite bank. One of the party barely escaped drowning, and his horse was dragged from the stream by a lariat around his neck. At eleven o'clock the company arrived at Allen's ranche, where they passed the remainder of the night in blankets.
The next day, accompanied by Charles Eaton, who was familiar with the country, they rode on in the direction of Hell Gate, but, owing to the great depth of the snow, progressed only fifteen miles. They made a camp in the snow. Their horses, being accustomed to the mountains, pawed in the snow to find the bunch-grass. The ride of the following day terminated at the workmen's quarters on the Mullen wagon-road. One of the ponies broke his leg by stepping into a badger hole while they were going into camp, and another, by a similar accident, stripped the skin from his hindlegs. They were obliged to shoot the former, and turn the latter loose to await their return.
The troop were in their saddles at daylight, on the route to the settlement, which they approached to within six miles, and went into camp until after nightfall. Then they resumed their ride, stopping a short distance outside of the town. The scout they had sent to reconnoitre brought them all needful information, and, mounting their horses, they entered the town on a keen run. Skinner was standing in the doorway of his saloon, when they rode up, surrounded the building, and ordered him to "throw up his hands."
"You must have learned that from the Bannack stage folks," said his chere amie, Nelly, who was an observer of the scene.
Two men dismounted, and, seizing Skinner, bound him immediately.
Meantime two or three Vigilantes threw open the door of Miller's cabin, which was next to Skinner's, and Dan Harding, the foremost among them, levelling his gun, shouted to some person lying upon a lounge,-
"Alex, is that you?"
"Yes," replied the man, "what do you want?"
"We want you," was the reply, as the men rushed in, took his pistol, and bound the robber before he was thoroughly aroused from sleep.
"These are rather tight papers -ain't they, boys?" said Carter. "Give me something to smoke and tell me the news." On being told the names of those who had been executed, he quietly remarked,-
"That's all right; not an innocent man hung yet."
He and Skinner were conducted down to Higgins's store, and their examination immediately commenced. Three hours were occupied in the investigation, during which Nelly came down, with the intention of interfering in Skinner's behalf. She was sent home under guard; and her escort, on searching her premises, found Johnny Cooper prostrated by three pistol shots received in a quarrel with Carter the previous day, but for which it had been the intention of Carter and Cooper to leave for Kootenai. The baggage and provisions they had procured for the journey, worth a hundred and thirty dollars, together with the pack-animal, were taken for the use of the expedition, and were paid for by M.W. Tipton, whom Carter and Cooper had persuaded to become their surety for the amount.
During the trial of Carter, he confessed his complicity as accessory, both before and after the fact, to the murder of Tiebalt. It was proven also that he was concerned in the coach robbery. Skinner made no confession, nor was it necessary, as his criminal character and acts were susceptible of abundant proof.
Cooper was tried separately. He was one of the lieutenants of the band. A Vigilante by the name of President testified to his having murdered a man in Idaho, for which he was arrested by the people. While being conducted to the place of trial, he broke from his captors, leaped with a bound upon a horse standing near, and, amid a hundred shots, escaped uninjured, and came to Montana.
On the evening of the day these trials were in progress, a detachment of eight men left Hell Gate in pursuit of Bob Zachary, whom they found seated in bed, in the cabin of Hon. Barney O'Keefe, known throughout Bitter Root Valley as "the Baron." One of the party, on entering, pushed him over, upon his back, taking from him, at the same time, his pistol and knife. While on their return with him to Hell Gate, O'Keefe unintentionally mentioned that a stranger was stopping at Van Dorn's cabin, in the Bitter Root Valley. A company of three Vigilantes, suspecting by the description given that he was none other than George Shears, another of the band, started at once in pursuit.
Riding up in front of the cabin, Thomas Pitt, their leader, inquired of the man who met them at the door, if George Shears was in.
"Yes," said Van Dorn. "He is in the inner room."
"Any objection to our entering?" inquired Pitt.
Van Dorn replied by opening the door of the room, where George was discovered, knife in hand. He surrendered without resistance, astonishing his captors by the utter indifference he manifested to the near approach of death. Walking with Pitt to the corral, he designated the horses he had stolen, and confessed his guilt.
"I knew," said he, "I should have to come to this sometime, but I thought I could run another season."
"There is no help for you, George," said Pitt. "You must suffer the same fate as your companions in crime."
"I suppose I should be satisfied," replied the ruffian, "that it is no worse."
He was conducted to the barn, where, a rope being cast over a beam, he was requested, in order to save the trouble of procuring a drop, to ascend the ladder. He complied without the least reluctance. After the preparations were completed, he said to his captors,-
"Gentlemen, I am not used to this business, never having been hung before. Shall I jump off, or slide off?"
"Jump off, of course," was the reply.
"All right," he exclaimed, "good-by!" and leaped from the ladder, with the utmost sang froid. The drop was long, and the rope tender. As the strands untwisted, they parted, until finally one alone remained.
Soon after the party which captured Zachary and Shears had left Hell Gate, intelligence was received there that William Graves (Whiskey Bill) was at Fort Owen in the Bitter Root Valley. Three men were sent immediately to arrest and execute him. He was armed and on the lookout, and had repeatedly sworn that he would shoot any Vigilante that came in his way. The party was too wary for him. He was first made aware of their presence, by a stern command to surrender, and a pistol at his heart. He made no resistance, and refused all confession. A rope was tied to the convenient limb of a tree, and the drop extemporized by placing the culprit astride of a strong horse, behind a Vigilante. When all was ready, the rider, exclaiming "Good-by, Bill," plunged the rowels into the sides of the horse, which madly leaping forward, the fatal noose swept the robber from his seat, breaking his neck by the shock, and killing him instantly.
In the meantime, the trials of Carter, Skinner, and Cooper had resulted in the conviction of those ruffians, and they were severally condemned to die. Scaffolds were hastily prepared by placing poles over the fence of Higgins's corral. Carter and Skinner were conducted to execution by torchlight, a little after the midnight succeeding their trial. Dry-goods boxes were used for drops. On their march to the place of execution, Skinner suddenly broke from his guard, and ran off, shouting, "Shoot! Shoot!" Not a gun was raised, but after a short chase in the snow the prisoner was secured, and led up to the scaffold. He made a second attempt to get away while standing on the box, but a rope was soon adjusted to his neck, and the leader said to him,-
"You may jump now, as soon as you please." Carter manifested great disgust at Skinner's attempt to run away. While he was standing on the drop, one of the Vigilantes requested him to confess that he participated in the murder of Tiebalt.
"If I had my hands free," he replied with an oath, "I'd make you take that back."
Skinner, who stood by his side, was talking violently at the time, and Carter was ordered to be quiet.
"Well, then, let's have a smoke," said he; and, a lighted pipe being given him, he remained quiet. Both criminals, as they were launched from the platform, exclaimed, "I am innocent" -the password of the band. They died apparently without pain.
The party that arrested Zachary arrived with him the next morning. He was tried and found guilty. By his directions a letter was written to his mother, in which he warned his brothers and sisters to avoid drinking, card-playing, and bad company -three evils which, he said, had brought him to the gallows. On the scaffold he prayed that God would forgive the Vigilantes for what they were doing, as it was the only way to clear the country of road agents. He died without apparent fear or suffering.
Johnny Cooper was drawn to the scaffold in a sleigh, his wounded leg rendering him unable to walk. He asked for his pipe.
"I want," said he, "a good smoke before I die. I always did enjoy a smoke." A letter had been written to his parents, who lived in the State of New York. Several times, while a Vigilante was engaged in adjusting the rope, he dodged the noose, but, on being told to keep his head straight, he submitted. He died without a struggle.
Having finished their mission, the Vigilantes returned to Nevada.