"We've got a woman for breakfast this time, and a Chinawoman at that," said X. Beidler, as he drew up to the well-filled breakfast table of the saloon where he boarded. "There's no want of variety. We had a Negro election day, and plenty of white men the week before." (The expression "a man for breakfast," signifies, in mining parlance, that a man has been murdered during the night.)
"What is the new sensation, X." inquired one of the boarders.
"Nothing remarkable," replied X., "a Chinawoman choked to death, and robbed of a thousand dollars during the night."
"Who did it'?"
"That's the mysterious part of it. It was done by some one who don't wish to be known. He's an exceptional scoundrel; generally, our murders are committed publicly."
"Have you no idea who committed the deed?"
"Oh, yes, but then I may be mistaken. I'll say nothing about that at present. The woman was ready to leave for Boise this morning with Negro Hanson, who has been living with her for some time. I don't think Hanson killed her, but it can do no harm to arrest him on suspicion, and hear his statement."
This brief colloquy occurred in Helena on a Sabbath morning in September, 1867. The town was at that time infested with thieves, ruffians, and murderers. Shooting affrays, resulting in death to some of the parties concerned, had been of almost daily occurrence for several weeks, and the citizens began to fear a return of the days of 1863.
X. Beidler ate deliberately, and when he had finished, sauntered out in pursuit of Hanson, whom he soon found, arrested, and took him before a magistrate. The Negro was frightened, but protested his innocence.
"How was it?" inquired the justice, in a kind tone. "Tell us all you know."
"I'll do that, sure," replied Hanson. "You see, this woman and I were jest as close friends as there's any need of. She had eight hundred dollars in dust and greenbacks, and three horses. We had agreed some time ago to go to Boise, and made our arrangements to leave this very morning. I went up to the house last evening and found a white man there. I didn't take no partikler notice of the man, but I think I would know him again if I saw him. I left, and did not go back till this morning, when I found the woman lying dead upon the floor. 'Fore God, that is all I know about the murder of the woman."
After a few more questions relating to the size and general appearance of the man whom he left in company with the woman, Hanson was discharged.
"I know," said X., significantly, "that he is not guilty. Let him go. We'll look further for the murderer."
Some ten days previous to this time, Hon. William H. Claggett came over from Deer Lodge to address the citizens of Helena on the issues of the political campaign, then in progress. He brought with him a Henry rifle marked on the stock with his initials. Forgetting to take it from the coach on his arrival, he returned from the hotel after it, and it was gone. It had been stolen during his momentary absence. After a diligent but unsuccessful search, it was given up for lost. X., however, promised to keep a lookout for it.
Election day came, when the Negroes, for the first time in our history, were to exercise the right of suffrage. It was a great day for them; and the few that were in the city, soon began to make their appearance, dressed up for the occasion as for a holiday. A riot was anticipated, as threats had been made by the roughs in town that the Negroes should not vote without a fight. X. Beidler stood near the polls to preserve the peace, and see that every man, black or white, was protected in voting. In the mean time a colored barber and his Negro associate had a set-to at fisticuffs, to decide some knotty point in politics. The crowd arrested the combatants, and while conducting them to the magistrate, the barber escaped and ran home. Hayes, still in their custody, was roughly charged by one John Leach with having drawn a pistol upon a white man.
"You lie if you say that," was the indignant reply of Hayes.
"Do you call me a liar?" retorted Leach.
"Yes, you or any other man who says I drew a pistol or carry one."
As he said this, the crowd released Hayes, and he walked down the street to a barber shop, where he was followed by Leach, who seized him by the collar with one hand, and drawing and cocking a pistol with the other, repeated the question,-
"You drew a pistol upon a white man, did you?"
Hayes again replied in the negative, and raising his arm said,-"Search me, if you think I have any weapons. My fuss was with a colored man, not with you. I don't want anything to do with you." As he turned to release himself from the grasp of Leach, that ruffian, aiming at his heart, said,-
"If you open your mouth again, I'll kill you," and instantly fired, the ball entering the left side, below the breast. Hayes lived about an hour.
On being apprised of the affray, X. Beidler hastened to the spot to arrest Leach. A crowd of roughs stood around to protect him, but Beidler, pistol in hand, at the risk of his life, pushed his way through it, and seizing Leach by the collar, secured him with handcuffs and led him to jail. Knives had been drawn in the melee by Leach's friends. A deadly blow had been aimed at Beidler by one Bill Hynson, which he evaded by the dexterous use of his right arm.
After the man was in prison, and quiet restored, Hynson sought out Beidler, who was then, as now, a terror to the roughs, and said to him,-"X, I saved your life. I knocked off the blow just in time." Comprehending the object of this salutation, X. replied dryly,-
"I'm all right now, and much obliged to you. I suppose you saved my life."
Hynson, mistaking the irony for sincerity, followed it up by a request that Beidler would use his influence to get him a position on the police force of Helena. Beidler gave him no encouragement, and a few days afterwards he told Beidler he had got a better thing and did not wish the place.
From the meagre description given by Hanson of the man he saw in company with the Chinawoman, during the evening preceding her murder, Beidler's suspicions fell upon Hynson. He watched him narrowly, but could find no clew.
A day or two after the murder, at a very early hour in the morning, Beidler, in pursuit of circumstances to justify his suspicions, abruptly entered an old, deserted building, which a lot of loafers and roughs had appropriated for sleeping purposes. The floor was covered with their blankets, and the sudden presence of Beidler among them at so early an hour caused great consternation. They crept from their covers, and exchanging hurried glances with each other, as if to inquire, "Which of us is this day a victim for the dry tree?" fled from the building like rats from a sinking ship. Hynson was among the number. In the hurried observation he had taken of the room, Beidler saw, lying beside Hynson under his blanket, a Henry rifle, which by the initials on the stock he recognized as Claggett's. After the room was deserted, he returned to it, and seizing the rifle sent it to its owner by the next express.
Hynson missed the rifle. Meeting Beidler the next day, he inquired if he had seen it.
"Yes," replied X. "Whose is it?"
"Mine," said Hynson defiantly.
"Yours?" rejoined X. sternly. "How came you by it? You have seen the initials on the stock. Don't you know whose it is?"
Seeing that Beidler was not to be deceived, Hynson, after some prevarication, acknowledged that he took the rifle from the coach.
"I thought," said he, "I might as well have it as any one."
This admission of guilt would have been followed by Hynson's immediate arrest had not Beidler hoped by delay to find some evidence against him of murder. The Negro Hanson had, in the meantime, seen Hynson. He told Beidler he resembled the man he saw at the house of the Chinawoman. Beidler hesitated no longer, but at once arrested Hynson for stealing the rifle, intending to keep him in custody until satisfied of his guilt or innocence of the higher crime. Impatient of this restraint upon his liberty, Hynson daily vented his wrath upon his keepers.
"As soon as I get out," said he to John Fetherstun, "I intend to kill you.
Only give me the chance, and see how quick I'll do it." John laughed, dismissing all his threats with some axioms less complimentary to his courage than his bravado, such as "You crow well," "Barking dogs seldom bite," etc.
Beidler soon became satisfied that no evidence could be found sufficient to convict Hynson of murder, and the stealing of the rifle in a community where higher crimes were committed daily with impunity did not call for heavier punishment than the thief had already received. So Hynson was released. As Fetherstun opened the door of the prison for him, he said,-
"Have you got a six-shooter?"
"No," replied Hynson.
"Then I'll give you one, and you can turn loose," at the same time drawing a revolver from his belt and offering it to him. Seeing that Hynson hesitated, he immediately added, "Take it. It will give you the chance you've been looking for so long."
Hynson declined taking it, saying,-
"I was in jail and feeling bad when I said that. You've always been kind to me. I've got nothing against you, and don't want to hurt you, but I'm going for X., sure,-the man that put me in here."
X. needed no protector, especially when warned. No man could draw and fire a pistol with deadlier aim or greater rapidity, and so Hynson found no opportunity of putting his threat into execution.
In the spring of 1868, Beidler, on his return to Helena from the Whoopup mines, spent a few days en route at Benton. The steamboats from St. Louis were daily arriving with freights, which from this point were conveyed in teams to all the town and mining camps in the Territory. Hynson, who had hired as a teamster to Scott Bullard, a heavy Helena freighter, was on his way to Benton. Learning that Beidler was there, he frequently in conversation avowed the intention of shooting him on sight. As the train approached Benton, Bullard rode into town in advance of it, and apprised Beidler of his danger.
The day after the arrival of the train, Hynson and Beidler approached each other in the street.'The former extended his hand in a friendly manner, which Beidler seized with his left hand, keeping his right in reserve for the use of his pistol.
"I am told," said Beidler, "that you have come here to kill me."
"I kill you!" said Hynson, in well-affected surprise.
"Yes, you," said Beidler, dropping the hand he held; "and if you wish to try it, you'll never have a better chance. If that's what you want, you can't pull your pistol too quick."
Hynson glared at the little, athletic man who confronted him so boldly, and saw in those burning eyes and that steady muscle not the smallest trace of fear.
Seizing Beidler again by the hand, he said in hurried tones,-
"X., I did make a fool of myself when drunk in camp with the boys, in some remarks relating to you, but I didn't mean it, don't want to hurt you, and never did. Now, let's be friends."
Beidler, who had no other feeling than contempt for the bragging poltroon, listened in silence to what further he had to say.
"I want you," said Hynson, "to aid me in getting the position of nightwatchman in this city."
X. replied to this request in general terms, and, turning on his heel, left Hynson, who afterwards, by some means which X. could not fathom, received the appointment he desired.
Before leaving Benton, X. received a letter from Silver Bow requesting him to watch for and arrest a person who had stolen a lot of nuggets and jewelry, and gone from the place to Benton. Called suddenly away by more important business, X. intrusted Hynson with this service, who caught the thief and recovered the property, which he appropriated to his own use, pawning the jewelry for a sum of money, which was soon squandered. When X. returned, Hynson, with much difficulty, redeemed most of the jewelry, which Beidler returned to the owner.
About this time Beidler, as deputy United States marshal, made a seizure of some contraband goods. One Charles Williams was an important witness in the case. The court was held at Helena, one hundred and forty miles distant from Benton. Beidler discovered that the defendant and his friends had a plan on foot to prevent Williams from going to court, which he determined to forestall. He met Williams by appointment a couple of miles from town, furnished him a horse, a Henry rifle, and ten dollars in money, and directed him to ride with all possible despatch to Helena, he intending to follow in the coach, which was to leave in a few hours. Beidler saw nothing of his witness on the route, but, as he had told him to avoid the road the first day as much as possible, this occasioned no surprise; but when the second and third days passed without his appearance, he feared some accident had befallen him. The day after his arrival at Helena he received information that the horse had been found hitched to a post in Benton, with the saddle and gun on his back, and that Williams had been hanged. Beidler returned to Benton and secured his property. In a confidential conversation with Hynson be learned that before the execution of Williams was completed he was cut down, taken by his captors below Benton, placed upon a raft in the Missouri, and upon his promise to leave and not return to the country, permitted to escape with his life. This story, discredited at the time, was confirmed by Williams himself four years afterwards.
Hynson's participation in this high-handed outrage, while acting as a conservator of the peace, roused public indignation against him. A few days afterwards he provoked a dispute with Mr. Morgan, the sheriff, and slapped him in the face. One trouble followed another, until, in the summer of 1868, a Mr. Robinson was knocked down and robbed in the street, and the circumstances all pointed unmistakably to Hynson, the night watchman, as the aggressor. As there was no positive proof of his guilt, he was suffered to retain his position without molestation.
On the morning of the 18th of August, the same season, Hynson was observed to convey to a spot on the prairie, a mile or more distant from town, three pine-tree poles about twelve feet long and four inches in diameter. Tying one end of these three poles securely together, he raised them up in the form of a tripod. When they were stationed in a substantial manner, and to his liking, he went to a store and purchased a small coil of rope.
"What is the rope for, Hynson?" inquired a bystander.
"To hang a man with," was his reply.
The listeners understood this as a joke, and dismissed the subject with a laugh.
Hynson next employed a Negro to go out and dig a grave near the tripod.
"Who's dead, Massa Hynson?" inquired the man.
"Never you mind," replied Hynson. "Go ahead and dig the grave. I'll furnish the corpse."
The Negro obeyed, and the grave was in readiness at nightfall.
The next morning the lifeless body of Hynson was found suspended from the tripod by the rope he had prepared.
The citizens flocked in crowds to the spot. Among them was the Negro who dug the grave. When he saw the swaying form, and had scrutinized the ghastly face, he exclaimed,-
"'Fore God, dat's de gemman dat tole me to dig de grave, and he said he'd furnish de corpse."
After the body was cut down, there was found in a pocket the following letter from the mother of Hynson: -
"My Dear Son,-I write to relieve my great anxiety, for I am in great trouble on your account. Your father had a dream about you. He dreamed that he had a letter from your lawyer, who said that your case was hopeless. God grant that it may prove only a dream! I, your poor, brokenhearted mother, am in suspense on your account. For God's sake, come home."