Of the early history of this individual I know but little, and but for circumstances attending his "taking off," should not trouble my readers with any notice of him. That he was hardened in vice and crime, and, possibly, was one of the worst of all the ruffians whose careers I have passed under review, will hardly admit of a doubt, when the reader is informed that he murdered one man in Tuolumne County, California, and was only prevented by want of agility to complete a race, from killing another. His appearance in Helena, and the commission of the crime for which he lost his life, were almost simultaneous. In a quarrel incident to a game of cards, near Helena, he stabbed and instantly killed a man by the name of Gartley. He was immediately arrested by the Vigilantes, who surrendered him to the civil authorities. On his trial for murder, circumstances were proved, which, in the opinion of the jury, reduced his crime to manslaughter. Judge Munson sentenced him to three years' imprisonment in the territorial prison. After a few weeks' confinement, a petition for his pardon, signed by thirty-two respectable citizens of Helena, was also presented to acting Governor Meagher, who, under a mistaken sense of his own powers, issued an order for his release. The right to pardon belonged exclusively to the President. Judge Munson went immediately to the capital to show the law to the Executive, convince him of his error, and obtain an order for the rearrest of Daniels. Meantime, that individual, uttering the most diabolical threats against the witnesses who had testified against him, found his way back to Helena; and before the judge could effect his object with the governor, in fact, on the night succeeding the day of his arrival in Helena, Daniels was arrested by the Vigilantes and hanged.
As I have endeavored to justify, in all cases where I deemed the circumstances warranted it, the action of the Vigilantes in taking life, so, as such circumstances were not apparent in this case, do I deem it a duty to say that they committed an irreparable error in the execution of this man. However much, by threats and reckless conduct, he may have deserved death, they had no right to inflict it. If he had been wrongfully pardoned, he could easily have been re-arrested. He was a single individual in the midst of a populous community, warned by his threats of his designs, which could easily have been thwarted by arresting him, or by setting a careful watch over his actions. No excuse can be offered for the course that was pursued. This, at least, was one case where the Vigilantes exceeded the boundaries of right and justice, and became themselves the violators of law and propriety.
I was at that time a member of the Executive Gommittee of the Virginia City branch of the Vigilante organization, and that Committee disavowed all responsibility for the execution Daniels, and expressed its disapproval of that act, which, it was believed, did not have the official sanction of the Executive Committee of Helena, but was regarded as the unauthorized act of certain irresponsible members of the organization at Helena.
And I will here take occasion to say that this was not an isolated instance. Under the pretence of Vigilante justice, after the establishment of courts of justice in Montana, and when many of the respectable citizens of the Territory had virtually abandoned the order, a few vicious men continued occasionally to enforce its summary discipline. Several individuals were hanged who had been detected in stealing horses, several for giving utterances to threats of vengeance, and several on mere suspicion of having committed crime. As soon as this order of things was understood by the people, the Vigilante institution was brought to an end, and the men who had misused its powers were given to understand that any further employment of them would probably cause it to react upon themselves. These abuses had not been frequent, and when discovered were promptly terminated.