Intelligence of the discovery of extensive placers on the head waters of Salmon river, excelling in richness any former locations, had been circulated through all the border towns during the winter. The excitement consequent thereon was intense. Such was the impatience of the people to effect an early arrival there that many left Walla Walla and Lewiston in mid-winter, and on their way thither perished in the snows which engorged the mountain passes. Others, more cautious, awaited the coming of warm weather, and made the journey,-tedious, difficult, and dangerous at best,-with comparative safety. Among the latter number were Charley Harper and his band of brigands. Mounted on strong, fleet horses which they had acquired during the winter, the criminal cavalcade with its chief at the head dashed up the river valley, insulting, threatening, or robbing every one so unfortunate as to fall in their way. Of the number prominent in the riotous column were Peoples, English, Scott, and Brockie -men whose deeds of villainy have blackened the criminal records of nearly all the larger cities of the Pacific slope. With none of the magnanimity which characterized Joaquin Murieta and the earlier brigands of California, and with all their recklessness of crime and murder, a meaner, baser, more contemptible band of ruffians perhaps never before disgraced the annals of the race. No crime was too atrocious for them to commit, no act of shame or wantonness was uncongenial to their grovelling natures. They were as totally depraved as a long and unchecked career of every variety of criminal indulgence could make them. Afraid of nothing but the law, and not afraid of that in these new and unorganized communities, they were little else than devils incarnate. Insensible to all appeals for mercy, and ever acting upon the cautious maxim that "dead men tell no tales," the only chance for escape from death for those whom they assaulted was in their inability to do them injury. Human life regarded as an obstacle to their designs, was of no more importance than the blowing up of a safe or any other act which stood between them and their prey. Of course it was impossible that such a band of desperadoes should pass over the long and desolate route from Walla Walla to Florence without adventure.
On the second or third day after leaving Walla Walla, when nearing Florence, they met a company consisting of five men and a boy of sixteen, who were on their way to a neighboring camp. The brigands surrounded them, and with cocked pistols well aimed, gave the usual order, "throw up your hands." This order being obeyed, two of them dismounted to search the persons of their victims for treasure, the others meanwhile covering them with their revolvers. Five purses, containing amounts varying from fifty to five hundred dollars, were taken from them. The boy was overlooked, and had seated himself on a granite boulder by the roadside.
Scott, as he tells the story himself, approached him more from curiosity than expectation, when the following conversation ensued:
-"Come," said Scott, addressing him, "draw your weasel now."
"How do you know I've got any, stranger ?" queried the youth.
"No fooling, I say. Hand out your buckskin."
"You wouldn't rob a poor little devil like me, would you'?"
"Don't keep me waiting longer, or I'll cut your ears off," -and Scott drew his bowie as if to carry the threat into execution.
"Well, I only get half-wages, you know. Is your heart all gizzard?"
"Get off from that stone and shell out, or I'll blow your brains out in a minute," said Scott.
The boy sprung up hurriedly, and with affected reluctance thrust his hand into his pocket.
"Well, stra-an-neer," he inquired with a peculiar drawl and quizzical expression of the eyes, "what do you take Salmon river dust at, anyhow?"
With this he drew forth an empty purse, and handing it to Scott, said:
-"If you think I've get any more, search me."
Pleased with the pluck and humor of the lad, one of the band threw him a five-dollar piece, and they galloped furiously on towards Florence.
Thundering into the town, they drew up before the first saloon, fired their pistols, and urged their horses into the establishment. Without dismounting they ordered liquor for the crowd. All the by-standers partook with them. Harper ostentatiously threw one of the purses he had just seized upon the counter, telling the bar-keeper to weigh out the amount of the bill, and after a few moments they left the saloon, "to see," as one of them expressed himself, "whether the town was big enough to hold them." This irruption into Florence occurred while that city was comparatively in embryo. The great floods of immigration from the east and west had not arrived. Some months must elapse before the expectations of the robbers could be realized. Meantime they distributed themselves among the saloons and bagnios, and by means of gambling and frequent robberies, contrived to hold the community in fear and pick up a subsistence until the great crowd came.
Leaving them for a season, we will return to Cherokee Bob, whom we left in his ignominious flight from Walla Walla to Lewiston, on a stolen horse. That worthy had established himself in a saloon at Lewiston, and while there, renewed an acquaintance with an old pal known as Billy Mayfield. Mayfield was a fugitive from justice from Carson City, Nevada, where in the winter of 1861-62 he renewed an acquaintance with Henry Plummer, whom he had known before that time in California. The governor of California had issued a requisition for the surrender of Plummer, and a warrant for his arrest was in the hands of John Blackburn, the sheriff at Carson City. Though efficient as an officer, Blackburn, while in liquor, was overbearing and boastful of his prowess. His reputation was bad among the leading citizens of the town. Foiled in his search for Plummer, who, he believed, was in the territory, and knowing of Mayfield's intimacy with him, he accused the latter with concealing him. Mayfield denied the charge, and to avoid a quarrel with Blackburn, who was intoxicated, immediately left the saloon where the interview occurred, but as a measure of precaution armed himself with a bowie-knife. Blackburn, rendered desperate by liquor, soon followed in pursuit of him, and at a later hour of the same day found him in another saloon. As he entered the front, Mayfield tried to leave by the rear door. Failing in this, he drew his knife and concealed it in his sleeve. Approaching Mayfield in a bullying manner Blackburn said to him:
"I will arrest Plummer, and no one can prevent it. I can arrest anybody. I can arrest you if I wish to."
"You can arrest me," replied Mayfield, "if you have a warrant for my arrest, but you can't without."
"I tell you," rejoined Blackburn tauntingly, "that I can arrest you, or any one else," and added with an oath, "I will arrest you anyhow," accompanying this threat with a grasp for his pistol. Mayfield, with flash-like quickness, slipped his knife from its place of concealment, and gave him an anticipatory stab in the breast. Blackburn then tried to close with him, and being much the stronger man would have killed him had not Mayfield jumped aside and plied his knife vigorously until Blackburn fell. He died almost instantly. Mayfield surrendered himself for trial, was convicted of murder, and sentenced to be hanged.
While awaiting execution in the penitentiary, two miles distant from Carson, a plan for undermining the prison was successful, and he escaped. The friends who effected this were among the best citizens of Carson. They deemed the sentence unjust, and as soon as he was out of confinement, mounted him on a good horse, provided him with arms, and bade him leave the State as rapidly as possible. When his escape was discovered the next morning the jailer started in pursuit. He struck the track of the fugitive, and by means of relays, gained rapidly upon him. Mayfield's friends meantime were not idle. They managed to be appraised of his progress, followed close upon his pursuers, and by a short cut at a favorable point, overtook him, and doubling back, concealed him at a ranche in Pea Vine valley, only forty miles from Carson City. There he remained six weeks,-many of the leading citizens of Carson meantime watching for an opportunity to aid his escape from the State. A careless exposure of his person led to his recognition and the discovery of his retreat. His friends were the first to learn of it, and before the officers could arrive at the ranche, Mayfield was on his way to Huffaker's ranche on the Truckee river, which was nearer Carson by half the distance than the ranche he had left. While the officers were scouring the country in pursuit of him, he remained there until spring, sharing a box stall with a favorite race-horse. When spring was far enough advanced to afford pasturage and comfortable travel, he was furnished by his friends with a good "outfit," and made the journey unmolested to Lewiston, where he joined his old friends Plummer and Cherokee Bob.
Here he trumped up an intimacy with a woman calling herself "Cynthia," at that time stewardess of a hotel in Lewiston, and the fallen wife of a very worthy man.
In June, Cherokee Bob, accompanied by Mayfield and Cynthia, left Lewiston for Florence. Soon after their arrival the jealousy of Mayfield was aroused by the particular attentions of Bob to his mistress. On his part Bob made no concealment of his attachment for the woman, and when charged with harboring an intention of appropriating her affections, boldly acknowledged the soft impeachment. Cynthia possessed many charms of person, and considerable intelligence. She had, moreover, an eye to the main chance, and was ready to bestow her favors where they would command the most money. Bob was richer than Mayfield, and this fact won for him many encouraging smiles from the fair object of his pursuit. Mayfield's jealousy flamed into anger, and he resolved to bring matters to a crisis, which should either secure his undisturbed possession of the woman, or transfer her to the sole care of his rival. He had confidence enough in Cynthia to believe that when required to choose between him and Cherokee Bob, her good taste, if nothing else, would give him the preference. He had not calculated on the strength of her cupidity. Confronting Bob, in her presence, he said, as he laid his hand on the butt of his revolver:
"Bob, you know me."
"Yes," replied Bob with a similar gesture, "and Bill, you know me."
"Well now, Bob, the question is whether we shall make fools of ourselves or not."
"Just as you say, Bill, I'm al'ys ready for anything that turns up."
"Bob, if that woman loves you more than me," said Mayfield, "take her, I don't want her. But if she thinks the most of me, no person ought to come between us. I call that on the square."
"Well, I do think considerable of Cynthia, and you are not married to her, you know," replied Bob.
"That makes no difference. If she loves me, and wishes to live with me, no one shall interfere to prevent it."
"Well, what do you propose to do about it?." asked Bob, after a brief pause.
"Let the woman decide for herself," replied Mayfield. "What say you, Cynthia? Is it Bob or me'?"
Thus appealed to, greatly to the surprise of Mayfield, Cynthia replied: -"Well, William, Robert is settled in business now, and don't you think he is better able to take care of me than you are?"
This reply convinced Mayfield that his influence over the woman was lost. The quarrel terminated in a graceful surrender to Bob of all his claim upon her.
"You fall heir," said he to his successor, "to all the traps and things there are around here."
Cherokee Bob insisted upon paying for them; and Cynthia, true to the course of life she was pursuing, tried to soften the pangs of separation from her old lover by reiterating the question if he did not "think it the best thing that could be done under the circumstances."
Cherokee Bob forced a generous purse upon Mayfield, who left him with the parting injunction to take good care of the girl.
The woman shed some tears and, as we shall see at a later stage of this history, showed by her return to Mayfield that she entertained a real affection; and when, a year later, she heard of his violent death, was heard to say that she would kill his murderer whenever opportunity afforded.
An explanation of the circumstances under which Bob became "settled in business" is not the least interesting part of this narrative. The senior proprietor of the leading saloon in Oro Fino died a few days before Bob's arrival. He was indebted to Bob for borrowed money. Calling upon the surviving partner soon after his arrival, Bob informed him of the indebtedness, and declared his intention of appropriating the saloon and its contents in payment.
"How much," inquired the man, "did you lend my partner'? I'll settle with you, and pay liberal interest."
"That's not the idea," rejoined Bob. "Do you think me fool enough to lend a fellow five hundred dollars, and then after it increases to five thousand, square the account with a return of what I lent and a little more? That's not my way of doing biz. How much stock have you got here on hand?"
Bob carefully committed to writing the invoice verbally furnished.
"Now," said he, putting the memorandum in his pocket, "I'll hold you responsible for all these traps -the whole outfit. You've got to close up and get out of this without any delay. I'll give you twenty-four hours to do it in. You must then deliver everything safe into my hands."
The unfortunate saloonkeeper knew that the law as administered in that mountain town would afford him no redress. He also knew that to refuse compliance with the demand of Cherokee Bob, however unjust, would precipitate a quarrel which would probably cost him his life. So when Bob, accompanied by two or three confederates, came the next morning to the saloon to take possession, he was prepared to submit to the imposition without resistance. Walking within the bar, Cherokee Bob emptied the money drawer and gave the contents to his victim. He then invited his friends to drink to the success of the new "outfit," and finding himself in undisturbed occupancy, increased the amount of his gift to the man he expelled to several hundred dollars. This was the manner in which he became, as Cynthia said, "settled in business."