As soon as the Berrys were assured of the identity of the villains who had robbed them they appealed to the people to assist in their capture. The robbers had stripped them of all their hard earnings, and they had the sympathy of' every honest man in the community. Nothing more was needed to kindle into a flame of popular excitement the long pent-up fires of smothered indignation. Public sentiment was clamorous for the capture and punishment of the robbers. It gathered strength day by day, until it became the all-absorbing topic everywhere. Men assembled on the street corners, in the stores, in the saloons, and at the outside mining camps to compare views and consult upon measures of relief. Meantime, several parties, whose faith in immediate action was stronger than in consultation, set out in pursuit of the robbers.
From the fact that they had passed south of Lewiston it was believed they had gone down the Columbia. Distributing themselves along the different roads and trails in that direction, the pursuers made diligent search for them in every nook and corner which could afford them a hiding-place. Their diligence was successful. The robbers had separated, but were arrested in detail, -Peoples at Walla Walla, Scott on Dry Creek, near there, and English at Wallula, forty miles distant on the Columbia.
The only surprise they manifested upon being arrested was at the temerity of their captors. In a community which had so long held them in fear any legal interference with their business was deemed by them an outrage. They did not pause to inquire whether their reign was near its termination, nor think that perhaps the people had decided as between longer submission to their villanies and condign punishment for their actual crimes. If they had, their efforts to escape would have been immediate. As it was, they rested easy, and reflected savagely upon the revenge in store for their captors after their friends had effected their rescue.
They were taken in irons to Walla Walla. Judge Smith ordered their removal to Florence for trial. Such was the indignation of the citizens of Lewiston that on their arrival there it was determined they should be tried by the people. All confidence in the law and the courts was lost. Accordingly a committee was appointed to investigate the circumstances of the robbery and declare the punishment. The prisoners were taken in charge by the committee, and confined to an unfinished building on the bank of the Clearwater, which was strongly guarded. To make their work thorough and terrify others of the band who were known to he prowling about the saloons of Lewiston, a number of persons were appointed, with instructions to effect their immediate arrest. In anticipation of this course all suspected persons except one escaped by flight. This one, known by the name of "Happy Harry," was a simple fellow, who denied all association with the band, confessed to a few petty offences, and was discharged on condition that he would instantly leave and never return to the country. He has never been heard of since.
One of the shrewdest of the gang, who from a personal deformity was called "Clubfoot George," well known as a robber and horse thief, escaped arrest by surrendering himself to the commandant of Fort Lapwai (a United States post twelve miles distant), who confined him in the guard house. The final disposition of the three villains in custody was delayed until the next day. A strong guard of well-armed men surrounded their prison. Just after midnight the sleeping inhabitants of the town were roused by several shots fired in the direction of the place of confinement. In a few minutes the streets were filled with citizens. A former friend of Peoples, one Marshall, who kept a hotel in town, had, in attempting his rescue, fired upon the guard. In return he received a shot in his arm, and was prostrated by a blow from a clubbed musket. The cause of the melee being explained, the people withdrew, leaving the sentinels at their posts.
The next morning at an early hour the people gathered around the prison. The guards were gone and the door ajar. Unable to restrain their curiosity, and fearful that the robbers had been rescued, they pushed the door wide open. There, hanging by the neck, stark and cold, they beheld the bodies of the three desperadoes. Justice had been anticipated, and the first Vigilance Committee of the northern mines had commenced its work. No one knew or cared who had done it, but all felt that it was right, and the community breathed freer than at any former period of its history.
Intelligence of the execution, with the usual exaggeration, spread far and wide through the mining camps. It was received with approval by the sober citizens, but filled the robber horde with consternation. Charley Harper, while on his way from Florence to Lewiston to gather full particulars, met a mountaineer.
"Stranger," he inquired, "what's the news'?"
"I s'pose you've heard about the hanging of them fellers?"
"Heard something. What's the particulars?"
"Well, Bill Peoples, Dave English, and Nels Scott have gone in. They strung 'em up like dried salmon. Happy Harry got out of the way in time; but if they get Club Foot George, his life won't be worth a cent. They're after a lot more of 'em up in Florence."
"Do you know who all they're after'?" asked Harper.
"Yes. Charley Harper's the big chief they're achin' for the most, but the story now is that he's already hung. A fellow went into town day before yesterday, and said he saw him strung up out here on Camas Prairie. Did you hear anything of it back on the road?"
Harper needed no further information. He felt that the country was too hot to hold him, and that the bloodhounds were on his track. As soon as the miner was out of sight, he turned to the right, crossed the Clearwater some miles above Lewiston, and pursued a trail to Colville on the Upper Columbia, where we will take leave of him for the present.