This man, on some accounts the most noted among the roughs of Idaho, was of patrician origin,-the degenerate scion of a family which boasted among its members some of the leading citizens of New York. He was born in the vicinity of Cayuga Lake, New York, about 1830, and could not have been more than thirty-six years of age at the close of his infamous career. He went to California in 1855, where, for want of more congenial occupation, he was employed for two years by the California Stage Company as a stage driver. Thence, in 1858, he sailed to British Columbia, but finding no business there suited to his tastes, returned the same year to California, spending two unprofitable years in Yuba County, and two years succeeding in Virginia City, Nevada. Excited by the intelligence from the Northern mines, in 1862 he went to Florence and Warren in Idaho, and the fall of that year found him in Boise County, where he located and worked a valuable claim on the Ophir. In 1864, with an accredited fortune of fifteen hundred dollars, he removed to Boise City and bought a livery stable in the center of the town, which is still pointed out to visitors as having been the rendezvous of one of the most reckless and numerous bands of robbers and road agents in the mountains.
Opdyke's associations were bad, and he was suspected of aiding in the circulation of spurious gold dust, at that time an extensive business with the roughs of the country. His stable soon became the headquarters of all the suspicious characters of Boise, Owyhee and Alturas Counties. From these and other circumstances, the public was prepared to believe that all the thefts and robberies occurring in the country were committed by persons connected with the "Opdyke gang," but so careful were they to cover their tracks, that no positive evidence could be found against them.
A gentleman by the name of Parks went from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Baker County, Oregon, in 1862, where he was elected sheriff. He was very much respected. Early in the fall of 1864, he went to Idaho, and in Owy hee County purchased and located claims on several quartz lodes, specimens of which he selected to exhibit to his Eastern friends, and packed carefully in a valise. Coming to Boise City, preparatory to his departure for the States, he passed through the streets with the heavy valise in his hand, which, being observed by some of the "Opdyke gang," was supposed by them to contain a large quantity of gold dust. He remained in Boise four or five days, and was narrowly watched by the roughs.
On the morning of his departure, at three o'clock, several of the robbers left by a trail, and coming up with the coach seven miles east of the city, caused the driver to stop, fired upon Parks, rifled his pockets of two or three hundred dollars in money, and departed with the much-coveted valise. Their chagrin at finding it to contain mere quartz specimens, may be better imagined then described. Parks returned in the coach to Boise, and died in less than a week of his wounds. He was buried by the Masons. No clew to his murderers could be found at the time; but in some of the criminal developments made afterwards, it was ascertained that Charley Marcus and three others of the "gang" were directly concerned in the attack.
The next murderous outrage in which the "Opdyke gang" was concerned, was the murder and robbery, in Port-Neuf Canyon, of five coach passengers from Montana, in the summer of 1865. It is now known that Opdyke furnished arms and ammunition for the party from Idaho, which engaged in this expedition, and shared in the booty. Seven or eight of his gang left Boise at the time, and were joined at Snake River by an equal party of Montana roughs, who participated with them in the robbery. Frank Johnson, ostensibly the keeper of a public-house eight miles below Boise City, was one of the confederates in this crime. His house was long a rendezvous for robbers, and his partner Beech kept a similar meeting-place at the Overland Ferry on Snake River. Beech was hung by the Vigilantes in Nevada in 1865. Johnson eluded the pursuit of the Vigilantes, fled to Powder River, Oregon, where he was arrested by Captain Bledso, Wells, Fargo and Company's messenger, on a charge of stealing horses. Found guilty on his trial, he was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment in the Oregon Penitentiary.
Soon after the Port-Neuf robbery, information was given to the Montana authorities, that one Hank Buckner, an escaped murderer from that jurisdiction, had turned up in Idaho, and was living in Boise City. In the fall of 1863, Buckner, in a dispute with one Brown in the Madison Valley, drew his pistol and shot him. Buckner was arrested, examined in Virginia City, and placed in custody of the sheriff, from whom, by means never made public, he escaped. The sheriff, a very respectable man, was examined by the Vigilantes, and acquitted of blame in the matter; but the story he told, which was positively credited by the Vigilantes, ought to have led to further investigation, as it implicated others.
Governor Green Clay Smith sent Neil Howie to Idaho, with a requisition upon Governor Lyon for the delivery of Buckner to the Montana authorities. The "Opdyke gang," of which Buckner was one, concealed the fugitive, on Howie's arrival, in Dry Creek, ten miles distant from Boise City. Reenan, the sheriff of the county, found and arrested him. Governor Lyon being at Lewiston, Buckner was examined, and despite the efforts of his friends, who flocked in hundreds to his defence, was ordered by the magistrate to be confined in jail in Idaho City, until an order for his surrender could be obtained. Before this could be received, a writ of habeas corpus was issued by the probate judge of the county, and Buckner was released on straw bail. Howie, seldom thwarted, as we have seen in earlier portions of this history, returned to Montana, greatly crestfallen, without his prisoner. Buckner, who was believed to have been a leader in the Port-Neuf robbery, is still at large.
At its session of 1864-65, the Legislature of Idaho set off and provided for the organization of Ada County, appointing the election of officers in March, 1865. The "Opdyke gang" was a strong power in the Democratic party. At its request Opdyke was nominated for sheriff, and by a party vote largely in the ascendant, elected by a small majority. Soon after his election, under a presence of official duty, he avowed the intention of breaking up a Vigilante organization of about thirty persons, which had been formed in the Payette River settlement, thirty miles from Boise City, for the purpose of freeing their neighborhood from two or three horse thieves and manufacturers of spurious gold dust. The Vigilantes were a great terror to the roughs, and interfered with all their unlawful and bloody plans for money-making. In pursuance of this design, Opdyke and his coadjutors had in some mysterious manner obtained the names of all the Vigilantes, and procured a warrant for their arrest. The proceedings, to all outward seeming, were to be conducted in legal form; but in making the arrest, Opdyke and his posse proposed to shoot the leaders of the Vigilantes, and screen themselves under the plea that they had resisted. It was arranged that fifteen or twenty of the "Opdyke gang" would leave Boise City, armed with double-barrelled shotguns and revolvers, and unite at Horse-Shoe Bend road with as many more from the country, similarly equipped. They would then proceed with their warrant to the settlement, and, by stealing a march upon the citizens, easily effect their diabolical purpose.
Intelligence of their plan came to the ears of the citizens of Boise City. They secretly despatched a messenger to the Payette Vigilantes with the information. The thirty members of that order armed and assembled at once in self-protection. Opdyke, at the head of fifteen of the worst men in the Territory, whom he had summoned as a posse comitatus, left Boise City at four o'clock p.m. to make the arrest. The party from the country failed to connect with him, and his party marched down alone. The Vigilantes, numbering two to one of his band, met him. They were quite as determined as their opponents. Surprised at the preparation they had made to resist him, Opdyke held a parley, and was obliged to comply with all the terms prescribed by the Vigilantes. These were, that they would march to Boise City and answer the warrant, but they would not allow Opdyke to disarm them or "get the drop" on them. By the aid of counsel, the complaint against them was dismissed, and they were discharged, thus bringing to a humiliating conclusion a deep-laid conspiracy against the lives of some of the best citizens of the Territory. Nearly all the Vigilantes had been partisans of Opdyke, and of course, after this manifestation of his hostility, were very bitter in their opposition to him.
Soon after this the county commissioners ordered the district attorney, A.G. Cook, to institute criminal proceedings against Opdyke for permitting a criminal to escape, and also for embezzlement, they having discovered that he was a defaulter to the county in the sum of eleven hundred dollars. Cook, however, resigned his office. A. Hurd, who was appointed to succeed him, prepared indictments which were sustained by the grand jury on both charges. Opdyke paid the amount for which he was a defaulter, and resigned his office, and the prosecutions were withdrawn. He, however, swore that he would be bitterly revenged upon the grand jury, which, being composed chiefly of men of his political faith, ought, he said, to have saved him, right or wrong, out of party consideration. The grand jury held a meeting, and sent to him to ascertain his intentions. He was glad to escape further molestation by disclaiming all hostile designs against them.
Early in March, 1865, the citizens of Southern Idaho fitted out an expedition against the marauding bands of Indians which, for some months previous, had been engaged in predatory warfare in that part of the Territory. Opdyke, as leader, with thirty of his gang, volunteered. Money, provisions, horses, and other equipments were furnished by the people. A man by the name of Joseph Aden was employed to pack the stores, for which purpose eleven ponies were provided and placed in charge, with the understanding that he should receive them in part payment for his services. In pursuance of that agreement, he immediately branded and ranched them.
Among the volunteers was a young man of nineteen, by the name of Reuben Raymond. He had performed faithful service in the Union Army, and was just discharged at Fort Boise. He was quite a favorite with the people, and, though necessarily intimate at this time with the "Opdyke gang," was perfectly honest and trustworthy. The expedition ran its course, and, like all expeditions of the kind, was barren of any marked results. Opdyke cached a large portion of the stores on Snake River for the future use of his road agent band; and the roughs, all the more daring and impudent for the confidence the people had reposed in them, became a greater burden to the community than ever.
Aden turned his ponies out on the commons on the south side of Boise River, claimed as a ranche by Opdyke and one Drake, the latter assuming to exercise a sort of constructive ownership to the land. Designing to swindle Aden out of his property in the ponies, Opdyke told Drake not to surrender them to Aden except on his written order. Aden employed attorneys and got possession of the ponies. Opdyke caused his arrest for stealing; and Aden, leading his ponies, which he hitched in front of the justice's office, appeared for trial. He was discharged, and the crowd dispersed; but Opdyke's attorney remained, and persuaded the magistrate to issue an order for the surrender of the ponies to his client. Opdyke and his friends took them away, and they were never seen in Boise City afterwards.
Aden commenced a suit against Cline, the justice, for damages, and recovered a judgment of eight hundred dollars, which Cline was obliged to pay. Cline resigned his office. At Aden's examination, Reuben Raymond had sworn to the identity of the ponies, which was disputed by nearly all the roughs in the expedition, and it was almost solely on his testimony, that Aden was discharged. The "Opdyke gang" were very angry with him; and on the morning of April 3, 1865, a few days after the examination, while Raymond was employed in a stall in Opdyke's stable, John C. Clark, a noted rough, stepped before the stall with his revolver in his hand, and commenced cursing Raymond. Opdyke and several of his associates, together with a number of good citizens, were standing near. Clark finally threatened to shoot Raymond.
"I am entirely unarmed," said Raymond, at the same time pulling open his shirt bosom, "but if you wish to shoot me down like a dog, there is nothing to hinder you. Give me a chance, and I will fight you in any way you choose, though I have nothing against you."
Clark covered Raymond for a moment or more, with his pistol, and then with an opprobrious epithet, said, "I will shoot you, anyway," and, taking deliberate aim, fired, and killed Raymond on the spot. This murder produced the wildest excitement, and Clark, who had been immediately arrested, was taken out of the guard-house the second night afterwards, and hanged upon an impromptu gibbet between the town and the garrison. Threats of vengeance were publicly proclaimed by the "Opdyke gang;" Opdyke himself improving the occasion to tell several of the grand jury men, who had found the indictment already mentioned against him, that they would not live to walk the streets of Boise City many days more It was also reported that the roughs intended to burn the city, and not leave a house standing.
The citizens, fully aroused to the dangers of the crisis, organized a night patrol. Every inhabitant of the city was armed, and all co-operated for the purpose of clearing the country of every suspected person in it. While plans were maturing for this purpose, the roughs became uneasy, and one after another began to disappear until but few remained. Opdyke took the alarm for his own safety, and on the 12th of April, accompanied by John Dixon, a notorious confederate in crime, departed by the Rocky Bar road, and brought up at a cabin thirty miles distant. A party of Vigilantes followed in close pursuit. They captured him during the night, and conducting him ten miles farther on the road to Syrup Creek, hanged him under a shed between two vacant cabins, on the following morning. His companion Dixon, who was caught on the march, was hanged at the same time.
When this intelligence became known in Boise City, every suspicious character disappeared, and the vilest gang of ruffians in Idaho was effectually broken up. Opdyke had many friends, and was naturally a man of genial qualities, but he had become corrupted by the evil associations contracted in Idaho Territory.
It was believed by many, at the time of Opdyke's execution, that he was hanged for his money by some of the employes of the Overland Stage Company. This, however, was a mistake in his case. The Vigilantes of Boise City had determined upon his death before he left the city, a measure they deemed necessary to rid the country of his associates, and establish peace in the community.
It was true, however, that some of the Overland Stage Company's employes were justly suspected of robbery and murder. On one occasion, two miners from Boise City, returning to the States, indiscreetly exhibited a large quantity of gold dust at Gibson's Ferry on Snake River, which exciting the curiosity of some of the observers, they were arrested on a pretence of having spurious gold dust, and hanged by some half dozen of the stage company's employes. Their bodies were burned, but no account was ever given of the gold dust. No one was deceived as to the character of this act. It was the cold-blooded heartless murder, for their money, of two honest miners who were returning to their homes with their hardearned savings. This was the popular judgment.