A new candidate for bloody laurels now appears in the person of Charley Harper. He arrived in Walla Walla in the fall of 1861. A young man of twenty-five, of medium size, of erect carriage, clear, florid complexion, and profuse auburn hair, he could, but for the leer in his small inexpressive gray eye, have passed in any society for a gentleman. His previous life is a sealed book: -but the readiness with which he engaged in crime showed that he was not without experience. He told his landlord that he had no money, but that partners were coming who would relieve his necessities. The second night after his arrival, several hundred dollars in gold coin were stolen from a lodger who occupied the room adjoining his. While intoxicated, the next day, he exhibited by the handful eagles which he said were borrowed from an acquaintance. No one doubted that he had stolen them: -but where officers were believed to wink at crime, prosecution was useless. Charley was not even arrested upon suspicion. The money he had obtained introduced him to the society of the roughs, with whom he became so popular that he aspired to be their leader. This honor was disputed by Ridgely, whom we left wounded in the last chapter, and by "Cherokee Bob," both of whom claimed precedence from longer residence and greater familiarity with opportunities for distinction.
Circumstances soon occurred which enabled Charley, without disputation, to assume the role of chief of the Walla Walla desperadoes. Cherokee Bob, heretofore mentioned as an associate of Plummer at Lewiston, was an uneducated Southerner. Elis mother was a half-blood Cherokee,-hence his name. With a hatred of the North and the Northern soldiery born of prejudice and ignorance, and a constitutional faith in the superior prowess of the Southern people, and with mercurial passions inflamed by the contest that was still raging, this ruffian was nearly a maniac in his adherent. to the cause of Secession. He could talk or think of little else than the great inferiority of the Northern to the Southern soldiers, and was continually boasting of his own superior physical power. He would often taunt the soldiers of the garrison near Walla Walla. In ingenuity of vaunting expression, he, far excelled Captain Bobadil himself; -hut like that hero of dramatic fiction he was destined to experience a reverse more humiliating, if possible, than that of his great prototype. With shotgun in hand and revolver in his belt, it was his frequent boast that he could take a negro along with him, carrying two baskets loaded with pistols, and put to flight the bravest regiment of the Federal army.
No person who has witnessed a theatrical performance in a mining camp can forget the general din and noise with which the audience fill up the intervals between the acts. Whistling, singing, hooting, yelling, and a general shuffling of feet and moving about are so invariable as to form in fact, a feature of the performance. So long as they are unaccompanied by quarrelsome demonstrations, and do not become too boisterous, efforts are seldom made to suppress them. The boys are permitted to have a good time in their own way, and the lookers-on, accustomed to the scene, are often compensated for any annoyance that may be occasioned, by strokes of border humor more enjoyable than the play itself.
Cherokee Bob, eager for an opportunity when he could wreak his demoniac wrath upon some of the Federal soldiers, with the aid and complicity of Deputy Sheriff Porter, who like himself was a Secessionist, contrived the following plan as favorable to his purpose: it was agreed between them, that on a certain evening Bob and his friends should attend the theatre, fully armed. Porter under pretext of quelling disturbances between the acts, should by his insulting language and manner provoke an affray with the soldiers present, in the progress of which he would command Bob and those with him to assist, and thus under the seeming protection of law, save them from the consequences of any acts of vengeance they desired to commit. On the evening appointed, six or seven soldiers were seated side by side in the pit, a single one occupying a seat in the gallery behind them. Porter was near them, and Bob and his associates in a position convenient to him. When the curtain fell upon the first act, the usual noises commenced, the soldiers joining in making them. Porter sprang from his seat, and striding in front of them, vociferated,
"Dry up there, you brass-mounted hirelings, or I'll snatch you baldheaded." This insulting language produced the desired effect. Smarting under the implied reproach it conveyed, one of the soldiers sharply inquired,
"Why do you single us out, when there are others more boisterous?"
Porter waited for no further provocation, but drawing and cocking his revolver with one hand, and seizing the soldier nearest to him with the other, he dragged him ignominiously into the circle where he was standing, ordering the deputy city marshal and Bob and his friends to assist in arresting him. The soldiers offered resistance. An immediate melee was the consequence. The women and children in the audience screamed in affright. The other soldiers present rushed with drawn pistols to the rescue of their comrade. The one in the gallery sprang upon one of the officers with the ferocity of a wild beast. Cherokee Bob with a pistol in one hand and a bowie-knife in the other, his voice wildly ringing above all other sounds, was in his true element. More than a dozen pistol shots followed in quick succession. Two of the soldiers were killed, and others fearfully mangled. Porter and his deputy assistant were each shot through a leg, the latter crippled for life. The work of blood was progressing, and but for the interference of an officer of the garrison, would have ended only with the death of the assassins.
The next day the soldiers appealed to their commanding officer for redress. lie ordered those of them engaged in the affray to be placed under arrest, and dismissed the subject from his thoughts. Indignant at this unexpected treatment, about fifty of the soldiers armed themselves, and marched into town, with the determination to capture and hang Cherokee Bob, whom they knew to be the chief mover of the murderous assault.
Disavowing all riotous intentions they informed the citizens of their design and commenced a thorough search for the murderer. He, meanwhile, fearful of their revenge, eluded them by leaving the town before the dawn of morning on a stolen horse for Lewiston.
The year before his appearance in Walla Walla Ridgely was living in Sacramento. During his sojourn there he acquired notoriety for his thievish and villainous propensities. One of the police corps, detecting him in the commission of a larceny, arrested him. He was convicted, and sentenced to imprisonment in the county jail. He vowed revenge against Gilchrist the policeman, but on his release fled to the gold mines. Soon after his arrival at Walla Walla he fell in with his old enemy, and secretly renewed the determination to take his life. Calling upon a friend to accompany him, he boldly entered a saloon where he knew Gilchrist to be and fired several shots at him. Gilchrist fell at the first fire. Ridgely, believing he had killed him, left the saloon, saying as he went, "I have thrown a load off my mind, and now feel easy." Gilchrist was badly wounded, but recovered. Ridgely escaping arrest on the night of the assault, crossed the river into Oregon the next day, beyond the jurisdiction of the authorities of Walla Walla, which was in Washington Territory. From thence he went to Lewiston and joined Plummer.
Cherokee Bob and Ridgely being out of the way, Charley Harper, as next in rank on the scale of villainous preferment, became the Walla Walla chief.