On the surrounding hills, Captain Williams stationed guards fifty yards apart. The four hundred heavily armed pickets commenced an incessant pacing through the snow as they watched below, where death squads marched the town streets. The party assigned to capture Frank Parrish found him hobbling about a general merchandise store, doing his shopping for the ranch. Glowing reports from a relative -- a Methodist-Episcopal clergyman who had opened a bookstore in Salem, Oregon -- had lured Parrish west. At age twenty-five, the Tennessee farm laborer arrived at the Grasshopper Creek mines, soon making arrangements to board with the Wilson Wadams family. Parrish was quiet, steady, and very poor. After looking over his new surroundings, he and a partner pooled their resources -- consisting of "one three-year-old pony, one pair of buffalo pantaloons, two buffalo coats" -- and bought claim "No. 36 above Stapleton Discovery." With profits made. Parrish and new partners. Dave Pickett and Bill Bunton, established a ranch on Rattlesnake Creek. Suspecting that the men had stumbled on a bonanza, acquaintances questioned Parrish the next time he came to town. "Where are you located?" they asked. "Got a fine place over on Rattlesnake," was all Parrish would reveal. "Doing well. I've got a big thing over there." By the time he had his supplies packed, he found himself surrounded by nearly three hundred frenetic stampeders. Without commenting further on his activities at the creek, Parrish sedately rode the fifteen miles to the ranch, his retinue trailing behind. But on their arrival, his followers saw no signs of excavation and became perturbed. "I didn't claim I made a gold discovery," the unruffled Tennessean informed the crowd.
"You said you had a big thing over here," they insisted.
"I have," he answered, motioning for them to follow him to the log house. At his call, his Indian wife appeared in the doorway. "She was quite fat," a pioneer recalled," and weighed not less than 250 lbs." Though some of the disappointed stampeders were angry enough to lynch him, even they could not help laughing when Parrish pointed to his wife and asked: "What do you call that if it isn't a big thing!"
The same winter he played the prank, Parrish froze his feet and hands so badly that he was left a cripple. Fortunately his ranch lay on the Virginia City-Bannack stage route, so Mrs. Parrish could support her nearly helpless husband by preparing meals for passengers. In addition, the bar -- tended by Red Yeager -- served a fairly steady stream of customers, and the care of the stage livestock, as well as a boarded horse herd, brought in further income. Then in late 1863 Parrish became ill. The doctor summoned from Virginia City on November 13 reported that the patient had a very high fever and probably would survive for only a few days.
But the rancher surprised the community by rallying and then commencing a slow recovery. By January 14, he was feeling strong enough to ride to Virginia City for supplies. When the armed men surrounded him in the store, he seemed more surprised than afraid. "What am I arrested for?" he asked.
"For being a road agent, thief, and an accessory to numerous robberies and murders on the highway," they answered.
"I am innocent of all," he said quietly, "as innocent as you are."
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They hurried him to a room where a somber body of men headed by President Pfouts waited. The president, who wore a neatly trimmed goatee and usually dressed in a business suit, was a respectable merchant whose single vice was an uncontrollable passion for gambling. After sizing up the crippled rancher seated before him, Pfouts embarked upon a severe interrogation. Sometime later the committee reported that Parrish had confessed to rustling cattle and horses, providing food for the outlaw band, and robbing a stage. For those crimes, they levied the death penalty. Though some residents realized that Mrs. Parrish cooked not for outlaws, but for any passing traveler, and thought that at the time of both stage robberies, Frank had been bedridden, none had the courage to intercede in his behalf. Knowing that death was imminent, the disabled "squaw man" made a final statement, giving instructions for the payment of his debts and listing the names of those he wished to inherit his clothing. Then he began the tense wait for the execution.
The next prisoner brought in was also lame. "Clubfoot" George Lane was a small man who hobbled about in a constant state of imbalance. Born with a muscle paralysis which prevented one heel from touching the ground, he was forced to walk on the ball of his right foot. When his arresters had surprised him at his cobbler's bench, Lane retained his composure. After asking the reason for his arrest and being informed that he was an officer of the outlaw gang, he calmly arose, grasped his walking stick, and, leaning heavily upon it with each step, came along quietly. While in his early twenties, the Massachusetts native had joined the California gold rush, working first on a farm in Yuba County and later relocating to Calaveras County, where he found lodging with a merchant who allowed him to clerk in his store. On hearing of the 1860 gold discovery in Washington Territory, Lane journeyed to the northern mines, but there encountered serious trouble. A Lewiston rancher accused him and a companion, Bill Roland, of "running off horses" on Camas Prairie. The two suspects surrendered themselves to the commanding officer of Fort Lapwai, who assigned them to a detail constructing buildings on post.
The following year a similar incident occurred. In June 1863, members of a vigilance organization that had been formed at Coppei (a small settlement northeast of Walla Walla) pursued two men driving a stolen horse herd toward the Snake River. On the posse's approach, the thieves abandoned their supplies and livestock, jumped
PARIS PFOUTS. Courtesy of Montana Historical Society
into a canoe, and rowed to safety on the opposite bank of the Snake. Though their pursuers fired at the men while they were fleeing in the canoe, the thieves were beyond rifle range. Later, certain posse members told a news reporter that they "supposed" the scoundrels had been William Bunton and "Clubfoot George." The following week brought another raid and another livestock recovery, but no sign of the thieves. Though Coppei citizens had no proof of the culprits' identity, the local newspaper printed the two suspects' names, adding that one posse member was "positive" in his identification.
Thus it was as a suspected horse thief that the diminutive cripple, riding a mule and wearing his California slouch hat, arrived in Virginia City in the fall of 1863 and asked Walter Dance and James Stuart if he could sleep and keep a bench in their newly opened store. Lane was skilled at mending harnesses as well as making and repairing boots, and the two merchants came to respect their tenant as a hard worker and skilled craftsman. "Your dealings with me have always been fair and honorable," Dance assured the cobbler. Nevertheless, when Virginia City vigilantes arrested Lane, Dance presumed that they had evidence and therefore believed that the little cripple was guilty as charged. Not everyone was so certain. "I know Lane," one resident informed a visiting news correspondent, and believe "him innocent of the charge of being Lieutenant of the organization -- or having any complicity with the murderers." Others believed that Lane had only provoked the vigilantes by riding to summon Sheriff Plummer during the George Ives trial. Since Plummer was at Fort Benton at the time, Lane had returned to Nevada City empty handed, but while at Bannack, he had done himself further damage by informing deputies Stinson and Ray of the growing vigilance movement, whose purpose was to assassinate the Bannack law officers. In response, Bannackites had established a picket on the divide.
In the examination room, Lane sat listening to the charges against him. "If you hang me," he responded, "you will hang an innocent man."
"We have positive proof of your guilt," Pfouts said. "Your sentence is death."
As he took in the enormity of the pronouncement, Lane covered his face. After a few moments, he dropped his hands, saying, "Can I have a minister?" The preacher who was summoned offered to remain with the condemned man until the end, praying and discussing the status of his soul.
The party sent in search of Bill Hunter had given up, concluding that the saloonkeeper had escaped through the cordon of guards encircling town. But during Lane's examination, another party had discovered deputy Jack S. Gallagher sleeping in a gaming room. He had stayed up late the night before playing faro and now lay curled up in his bedroll, shotgun and revolver beside him. At first he thought the arrest was a joke, but the tall, well-built deputy stood up anyway, pulling on his elegant blue overcoat trimmed with beaver fur. Alternately laughing and swearing, he entered the committee room. "What the hell is it all about?" he asked.
"You are an accessory to robberies and murders on the road," Pfouts stated, "and your sentence is death."
Gallagher stared back in disbelief and then sank to the bench, fighting back tears. But after regaining his composure, he became angry, cursing and demanding to know the name of his accuser.
"It was Red," Pfouts told him.
Gallagher erupted in a string of profanity, and Pfouts, offended at the blunt language being used in his presence, chastised the prisoner. Gallagher continued anyway. "Red's a coward and a liar," he insisted. His anger, however, was misdirected for it was the committee members who were lying. Gallagher's name was not on Red Yeager's list!
Eventually the deputy came to realize that his listeners had pre-determined his guilt and were not interested in his arguments. "My God," he muttered to himself, "must I die in this way?"
John Gallagher was a member of a prosperous, respectable clan of St. Lawrence County, New York. Born in 1834, he is believed to have been one of the eight children of Anna, a pious widow who belonged to St. Mary's Catholic church in Ogdensburg. Though illiterate, Anna had inherited considerable property from her deceased husband. In the late 1850s, Jack Gallagher left New York, seeking adventure in Kansas Territory. He was described as "tall, dark, noble-looking, and sonorous-voiced." The 1860 census taker found the twenty-six year old, along with two fellow New Yorkers, working as teamsters in an extensive wagon train bound for Fort Union. Their employer had provided his sixty teamsters overnight lodging in a residence at Fort Leavenworth.
Three years later, Gallagher visited Denver for a few months and then joined a wagon train headed for the Grasshopper Creek mines. Among the company were Paris Pfouts, Alexander Toponce, and the James Sheehan family. Little Mollie Sheehan noted the "striking-looking" stranger who had joined them at Fort Bridger and one night seated herself next to Gallagher at the campfire and commenced reading a Bible story aloud. Ignoring his companions' "excited talk about the rich placer diggings... and the increased hostility of Indians," Gallagher directed his attention to the child. "He spoke in a pleasant, quiet voice," Mollie recalled, "and praised me for reading so well."
The train reached Bannack on May 14, 1863, about the same time that Ed Ray arrived. Ten days later, the newly elected miners' sheriff asked both Gallagher and Ray to serve as deputies. Since the sheriff was on his wedding trip during the June stampede to the Alder Gulch mines, deputy Gallagher assumed responsibility for extending law enforcement services to the new mining districts. Assigning Ray to remain in Bannack, Gallagher relocated to Virginia City and was serving as the court officer when a shooting affray interrupted a mining claim dispute. It became his duty to arrest Buck Stinson, Hayes Lyons, and Charley Forbes for killing D. H. Dillingham. To prevent escape, Gallagher ordered the three men bound in logging chains while they awaited trial.
Several weeks after the Stinson-Lyons trial, Gallagher joined a historic expedition. Led by an engineer who had helped construct the Mullan Road, a party of forty-two men and one woman set out to prospect the southern portion of the Snake River Valley. They departed Virginia City on August 3, 1863, reached the river after seventeen days, and turned northeast, proceeding up the rugged gorge. Their trail, which rose one hundred feet above the rushing waters, was so narrow and rough that they had to dismount and lead their horses and pack animals. Despite this precaution, one horse and one mule lost footing and slid off the rocky path. The weather was pleasantly warm and the scenery was breathtaking, but they were encountering no game or gold. Their frustration was heightened by vast swarms of flying ants which plagued them and the stock at every step.
Near the end of the month, they reached Jackson Hole and beheld an awesome spectacle: the basin was green with waving grasses, the meadows blue with wild flax, and beyond hovered the snow-capped spurs of the Tetons, a hazy blue in the distance. For the next week they traveled north, finding plenty of deer as they entered the wonderland now known as Yellowstone Park. It seemed that everywhere they panned they were able "to raise the color," but not in sufficient quantity to warrant serious mining. Though the winged ants had disappeared, they had been replaced by a new nuisance, thousands of tiny black lizards which scampered into frying pans and plates and annoyed all night by squeezing under blankets and exploring the sleepers' bodies.
By mid-September they were again having to dismount and lead the horses, but this time to wind their way between pools of boiling, ultramarine waters that emitted a strong sulphur odor. At times the party would halt to admire the strange beauty all around them -- the clear streams, steaming puddles, and an occasional sky-high eruption of what they called "steamboat springs." As they continued northwest, ascending the range that barred them from their starting point, the mild weather gave way to pelting rainstorms and violent winds, but still they were able to reach Virginia City by September 23. Jack Gallagher and the other members of the party were aware that they were the first explorers to follow the Snake to its source and then cross over to the source of the Madison, but despite this honor they were deeply discouraged. The purpose of their five-hundred-mile odyssey had been to discover gold, and they had failed. Good news awaited them at home, however. Unionists such as Gallagher -- who had a close relative engaged in the fighting -- were elated to learn that one month prior to their departure for the Snake, Confederates had suffered a resounding defeat at Gettysburg, thus turning the tide of the Civil War.
While Gallagher's prospecting expedition had been working its way back to Alder Gulch, Justice Edgerton's four-wagon train had been rolling along on a parallel course. Like the disappointed prospectors, the Bannack-bound immigrants experienced violent winds on September 14. "The wind blew perfect hurricane at noon," Wilbur Sanders's wife, Harriet, wrote in her diary. "As we were camped for dinner... a sudden windstorm swept down upon us and literally buried our dinner with a cloud of dust and sand,... a scene of disaster and wreck; tin plates and cups were scattered far and wide." After finding their antelope steaks smothered in alkali powder, the chief justice's family were more than a little disgruntled at "the perversity of nature" in the new country. Since they considered the gritty steaks unpalatable, they reseated themselves at their portable table and silently drank coffee and consumed "a few bites of bread."
On their arrival at Grasshopper Creek, the uncle and nephew who would play a critical role in determining Jack Gallagher's fate found the little town of Bannack every bit as disagreeable as the spoiled dinner on the trail. However, by the time Gallagher visited the area on November 14, the Edgerton and Sanders women had ceased their complaining, packed away their silk, complexion-saving masks, and settled their families into log cabins, while the men were busy politicking and locating promising claims. At the moment Gallagher rode into town, he found Wilbur Sanders in the dangerous predicament of being afoot amidst the main street traffic. The lawyer stood gazing plaintively up at Sheriff Plummer, who was trying to rein in his dancing horse and at the same time convince Sanders that his party was not setting out on a prospecting venture. They were going after a horse herd, the sheriff said, but when the claim-hungry newcomer persisted in his pleas, Plummer at last promised that if any staking were done, he would reserve fifty feet for Sanders. Satisfied with the arrangement, Sanders returned to the small law office he had recently opened on main street and was just settling down to work when his uncle interrupted him. Edgerton had heard a rumor "that Plummer had discovered a rich mine" and thought it might be wise if his nephew would tag along with the sheriff's party. If Sanders would hurry to his cabin to collect blankets and revolver, Edgerton said, he would hire the horse. Sanders "volunteered," as he put it, but on returning with his gear, to his chagrin discovered "a diminutive mule" saddled and bridled for his trip. While Sanders was pondering the figure he would cut among the cavalcade of "bold riders," deputy Gallagher galloped up on his fine horse, dismounted, and entered the office. If the lawyer thought he had a client, he was disappointed. Instead of broaching a legal matter, Gallagher uttered a subdued salutation, pulled a small bottle from his elegant blue overcoat, and after propping one foot on a box, commenced blacking his boots. When he had finished using Sanders's office as a shoeshine parlor, the deputy climbed back on his horse and sped away. But the series of humiliating experiences that had marred Sanders's morning were not yet at an end. With his teenage cousin Mattie snickering from her father's main street residence, the chief justice's secretary dutifully climbed into the saddle and -- with feet nearly dragging the ground and his tall form appearing even more lanky in comparison to his small mount -- headed for the hillside leading to Rattlesnake Creek. In view of the cold weather and the inexperienced rider, however, the mule decided after about a hundred rods that he preferred not to make the trip. Edgerton sent Leonard Gridley, who was more experienced at handling livestock than Wilbur, to lead the balky animal up the hill. The resulting match between men and beast greatly amused the townspeople watching from the street below. Every time Gridley would tug, the mule would lay back its ears, jerk up its head and forefeet, and whirl around so as to be facing in the direction it wished to go -- back to town. But Sanders's determination to stake a rich claim was stronger than the mule's desire to return to the stable, and after half an hour of the rider staying aboard the gyrating animal, man prevailed 
More trouble lay ahead. Though the pair had set out in the morning, by dark they had covered only seven miles. To make matters worse, the gentle snowfall turned into a blizzard, and layers of caked snow clinging to the mule's feet made them too heavy to lift. For the final eight miles, Sanders had to walk, leading the animal behind him. Naturally, the roaring fire in the massive fireplace at Rattlesnake inn was a welcome sight, and the exhausted traveler had already fallen asleep on the hearth mattress when Gallagher arrived about midnight.
After awaking bartender Yeager with what Sanders considered "boisterous and rude raps" on the barred door, Gallagher -- who was out of sorts over having gotten lost in the storm -- stomped into the inn and demanded food and drink. While Jack was seated at the crude pine table washing down cold boiled beef with whiskey, Sanders suddenly burst out with a question. Startled by the unknown voice arising from the dark side of the room, the deputy whirled about, drew his revolver, and aimed it at the speaker's head. Since his own weapon was somehow unavailable, Sanders dived toward Gallagher's boots -- the ones blackened that morning -- jumped to a standing position, and darted behind the bar to grasp Red's shotgun. But by the time the novice marksman had the bulky weapon cocked and in position to fire, he discovered that Gallagher had already tossed his own gun upon the table. The deputy, who stood with feet spread, overcoat thrown open, and chest puffed out, was inviting, "Shoot me, shoot me." Yeager did not take the dispute very seriously. After shaming Jack into a profuse apology, the bartender poured the warring pair a drink to seal the friendship. Though it seemed that all had ended well, Gallagher's blustery behavior at the inn made a fearful and lasting impression upon Sanders. The deputy had done nothing worse than drink straight whiskey, stride about the inn in soldier blue and once-glossy boots, swear a little, and take the precaution to protect himself against an unknown speaker who had surprised him, but Sanders spread the story that he had "come near being killed" at Rattlesnake.
Back in Virginia City, Gallagher took on a more worthy opponent, Joseph Slade, who was notorious for his drunken carousing, and peacemakers also had to resolve that quarrel. But when the deputy rebuked blacksmith John Temple for kicking a dog, gunplay ensued. For several weeks thereafter, the blacksmith walked the streets with one arm in a sling, while Gallagher, unscathed, continued to patrol the gulch on his magnificent horse. Yet on learning that the vigilantes had arrested the deputy, the blacksmith was disappointed, commenting that he wished the citizens had let Gallagher "run till I got well; I would have settled that job myself."
A fourth search party found Asa Hayes Lyons eating griddle cakes at a miner's cabin. "You disturbed me in the first meal I have sat down to with any appetite in six weeks," Lyons complained.
The squad leader offered to let him finish his dinner, but with trembling hands, Lyons reached for his coat. "I can eat no more," he said. "What do you intend doing with me? Will I be hung?"
"Prepare for the worst," the leader warned.
Once inside the interrogation room, Lyons received the official sentence: "We have condemned you to death for the murder of Dillingham, and being associated in membership with Plummer's band of road agents."
"I have formed no associations that call for such severity," Lyons answered. Since a Virginia City miners' court had previously found him guilty of murdering deputy Dillingham, it was useless to deny that crime. The trial had been held in June 1863, when beyond the budding main street of log businesses, the undisturbed valleys were waist high with waving grasses. The court met in open air with a blacksmith prosecuting and three medical doctors seated in a freight wagon acting as judges. Judge Steele admitted that he "never knew any law" and "never had been sworn in a court," and that the court officer, sheriff Richard Todd, was "a stupid, ignorant fellow," who knew even less than Steele about the law. The defense attorney, however, was the learned H. P. A. Smith, who had known the Lyons family in Pennsylvania and had once dandled young Hayes upon his knee.
As the trial opened, Lyons had reason to be hopeful: the pure mountain air provided an invigorating courtroom setting; the only legal expert present was representing the defendants; this defense attorney knew Hayes had come from a good family; and lastly, one of the judges regarded the murdered victim as "an officious fellow who wanted to be a little smart." By nightfall, however, Lyons realized that the audience-jury favored a hanging. After the three prisoners -- Lyons, Stinson, and Forbes -- had been chained and confined for the night, Lyons confessed to their guards that he had killed Dillingham. His companions, he insisted, should be set free. Though Stinson and Forbes soon fell asleep, he lay awake crying for some time.
His premonitions proved correct. The following morning, the trial audience acquitted Forbes, but voted Stinson and Lyons guilty of murder in the first degree. Preparations for the execution proceeded with alarming speed. While carpenters put together two crude coffins, X. Beidler and Dick Sapp hastened to the Stinking Water, chopped down two forked cottonwoods, and erected a gallows on a hill above the camp; then they commenced digging two graves nearby. Taking advantage of what he supposed were the final hours of his life, Lyons composed a letter to his mother -- an aging widow burdened with the support of the two children still living with her in their Nebraska home -- expressing his love for her and his regret for his crime. While mining in El Dorado County, California, and while laboring in Leavenworth County, Kansas, he had, Lyons admitted, acquired the habits of drinking and gambling, but he felt that if the court had only spared his life, he might have been able to start anew. He dated the letter June 30, 1863.
Since the mining community was less than a month old at the time of the trial, there was no jail, and authorities had lodged the two condemned men in an unfinished log cabin. Through the gaps in their windowless and doorless jail, Lyons and Stinson could observe the main thoroughfare, bustling with the crowd drawn by their two days in court. Though June had brought an occasional rainstorm, the day was sunny and pleasantly warm, and by late afternoon, when they saw the death wagon approaching, the sun was still shining brightly. A single horse drew a small freight wagon, trailed by a large body of spectators. On the wagon box sat Sheriff Todd and behind him, on the bed, bounced two rough, hastily constructed caskets. Todd, who had been placed in charge of the execution, pulled the horse to a halt and ordered the prisoners to climb aboard. Since there was not room beside him, Lyons and Stinson seated themselves each on a casket, and Todd set the gallows procession in motion.
ALDER GULCH CABINS. Photo by Boswell
ALDER GULCH CABINS
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The cortege of lumbering wagon and its attendants moved slowly up the main street, turned left, and commenced the ascent of the hill. As they neared the top, Lyons began a final plea for his life, becoming louder and more emotional with each word. Women in the crowd -- moved to even greater pity because the two young men hunched abjectly upon their own burial boxes were not handsome -- burst into tears, adding their voices to Lyons's clamor. By the time they reached the cottonwood gallows, Sheriff Todd was completely unnerved. Aware that the miners' courts usually allowed a second vote on a death sentence (though not at this late stage of the process), the sheriff shouted to the agitated congregation, asking if they wished to change the sentence to banishment. As the "ayes" rang out, friends of the prisoners pulled them from the wagon, boosted them onto a small pony, and advised them to depart as quickly as possible.
Dr. Steele, who had passed sentence but could not bear to witness the execution, was walking alone to his cabin, battling the depression he was suffering from the thought that two potentially productive young men would soon die. Hearing a thunder of hooves behind him, he turned his head just in time to catch a glimpse of a pony and two riders streaking past him. He could not believe that the "joyfully countenanced" pair were the condemned men. "As they flew past me at full speed,... waving their hands and smiling," Steele recounted, "they both shouted: 'Good-by, Doc.'" But Lyons made the mistake of violating his banishment -- probably because he had fallen in love with a woman named Caroline and wanted to be near her -- and now he faced the gallows for a second time. Like Parrish, Lane, and Gallagher, the length of his life depended upon how long it took the vigilantes to mark off the last name on their death roster.
A fifth squad had surprised Boone Helm in front of the Virginia Hotel. Fortunately for them, the notorious desperado, who was as skilled at hurling a bowie knife as at firing a gun, was wearing his right arm in a sling. With an armed man on each side of him and a third holding a cocked pistol to the back of his head, Helm came along peacefully. "If I'd known what you were after," he commented as they walked, "you would have had a gay old time in taking me." On being led before Pfouts, Helm casually seated himself on the bench. "What do you want of me?" he asked.
"We have proof that you belong to Plummer's band of robbers," the president answered.
"I am as innocent as the babe unborn," Helm stated emphatically. Surprised by the denial, one of the committee offered the prisoner a Bible. Helm accepted it without hesitation, solemnly repeated his claim of innocence, and then kissed the book.
The committee members could not hide their outrage at the sacrilege. "Your life for many years has been a continuous career of crime," Pfouts stated indignantly.
During the twelve years he had lived as a wanted man, Helm had taken a certain pride in being a desperado, and he now made it clear that he was denying membership in an outlaw gang, not his former crimes. He had, he readily admitted, killed two men and twice escaped punishment. And the cannibalism -- to which he had freely confessed at the time -- was necessary for his own survival. "It is necessary," Pfouts announced, "that you should die. Give me what information you can concerning the band."
But again Helm stoutly denied having any knowledge of a robber band, and the committee dropped the matter. Despite their claim, they had no evidence linking the suspect to an organization. Acquaintances described Helm as "a loner with little, if any, association with any of the so-called road agents." And though he had committed no known crime while in the Virginia City area, his committee of jurors felt that in his particular case, the past record alone merited the death sentence.
"I have dared death in all its forms," Helm informed them, "and I do not fear to die." As if to demonstrate the truth of these words, he declined the services of a clergyman. While the vigilantes made last-minute preparations for the joint hangings, Helm called for a swallow of whiskey and, after downing it, commenced entertaining the other prisoners with a series of ribald jokes. Though the committee members thought his conduct "unseemly," their repeated rebukes failed to curb Helm's boisterousness.
Of the five condemned men waiting to be marched to the unfinished building which was being equipped with drops and nooses, Helm had the most fascinating past. His parents were born, reared, and married in a rural community located fifty miles east of Abraham Lincoln's birthplace. For the first twenty years of their marriage, the Joseph Helms continued to reside in Kentucky, farming and rearing their eight sons and four daughters. As owners of only four slaves, they could hardly be called wealthy, but they were prosperous enough to provide their oldest child, Joseph, Jr., with lawyer's training. Then in 1831, the couple made the momentous decision to leave behind all that was familiar and join the westward movement. Though they realized that the younger children -- Fleming, Boone, Jane, James, Alonzo, and Mary -- would be deprived of the advantages enjoyed by their older brothers and sisters, the parents purchased three parcels of government land in newly formed Monroe County, Missouri, an area completely devoid of roads, schools, churches, or trading centers. To obtain supplies, it would be necessary to ride forty miles to the river port of Hannibal, founded twelve years earlier. The first decade of taming the wild, yet fertile region would prove too trying for some pioneers. The Clemens family, for example, who lived four miles east of the Helms, abandoned Monroe County in 1839 and moved to Hannibal. The cultural facilities at the port would provide the sort of environment the Clemenses preferred for their four-year-old son, Samuel Langhorne. The Helms, however, remained on their homestead to face the wilderness challenge.
When his parents moved to Missouri, Boone was five. Since there was no school, he did not have to worry about leaving the security of home. His family had brought only the barest necessities: pots, skillets, blankets, clothing, dried corn, and a cow to provide the drink that accompanied most meals -- buttermilk. Like the other settlers -- mainly from Kentucky and Virginia -- the Helms had used up most of their accumulated wealth in relocating and therefore had to survive off the land. With the help of his sons, Joseph built a windowless cabin and, after carving a row of holes in one wall, furnished it with two-legged bedsteads made of poles woven with bark. On the opposite wall, they built a large, mud-and-stick fireplace for both heating and cooking. The third household necessity was made by hollowing out and then searing the top of a log stump. With this "hominy block" and a rock used as a pestle, the women could grind cornmeal. Game was plentiful: fish, wild turkey, and deer that roamed the surrounding prairie in herds as large as twenty. For a special mealtime treat, the younger Helm boys raided the hives in the "bee trees" lining the banks of nearby Salt River. Though the family experienced a poverty they had not known back in Kentucky, they could take comfort in the knowledge that their neighbors were equally poor. In early Monroe County, an aristocrat was a settler who owned an iron-reinforced plow and lived in a log house lit by a greased-paper windowpane.
After providing his family with a roof over their heads, Joseph directed his efforts to tilling the virgin land. Despite the appearance of civilization that the homestead was gradually assuming, there were constant reminders of the wilderness lurking just beyond the orderly rows of sprouting corn and wheat. Sometimes wolves pursued the family's dogs right to the cabin door, and frequently huge snakes wriggled into the clearing. The Helms fell asleep to a wolf pack's howling, only to be startled awake in the blackness of night by a panther's chilling screech. The rigors of their new existence took an especially heavy toll on Boone's mother, who on the day of their arrival had climbed down from the wagon with five children under the age of six either clinging to her skirt or resting in her arms. In 1834 she gave birth to her last child, a daughter whom she named Martha. But the drain on her already declining strength was more than her body could endure. Her thirteenth child would never know a mother, while the twelve older siblings must inhabit a home made forlorn by her sudden absence. As for Boone's father, he vowed that he would never remarry, a resolution that the widower was to keep until his dying day.
Though the joy that had accompanied the Helms' conquest of the wilds was temporarily gone, life went on, and Boone, a sturdy eight year old, was now big enough to learn a man's work: plowing, weeding, harvesting, hunting, and tending livestock. Since schools were still a novelty in the county, for the time being he would not be troubled with book learning. Like his older brothers, he developed a love for the fine saddle and draft horses for which the county was becoming famous. And freighters who traveled the Santa Fe Trail (connecting western Missouri with New Mexico, then part of Mexico) claimed that in terms of intelligence and stamina, Monroe County mules were the best available. The Helms were developing herds of not only work animals, but also racehorses, and no day brought greater excitement to the community than a Sunday race held at the track built near Paris, the county seat. When competitors gathered from surrounding counties, the Helm brothers would be on hand to match their racers against the fine-blooded foreign stock. For an eight year old it was the finest imaginable holiday: savoring mouthfuls of warm gingerbread gulped down with apple cider; mingling with the milling crowd; watching the glossy-coated, high-strung horses perform their ritual, pre-race dance steps on precariously delicate forelegs; and then cheering raucously for the mount upon which his brothers had wagered money, whiskey, livestock, or any other object they owned.
But with community growth came new restraints, such as the small rural schoolhouse where a stern teacher severely curbed Boone's former freedoms. And in Paris a courthouse now graced the square that had once been no more than a patch of tangled hazel brush growing between ancient white oaks. Despite their high regard for the law, settlers respected community opinion even more, and nothing so motivated a man as his desire to maintain a good name. That is why Joseph became so outraged when a gossipy neighbor spread a false rumor about the family. Represented by his lawyer son, he sued for slander, and a sympathetic jury awarded the wronged plaintiff $475 in damages. The defendant, however, appealed the case, and though the state supreme court upheld the decision, somehow Joseph ended up with only $60. Still, he had presented his sons with a valuable lesson on the importance of preserving the family's reputation for honesty and decency.
By 1846, three of the Helm children had married and were rearing children of their own, but all lived close to the homeplace. Other than the loss of their mother, the family was still intact. It would require events of national magnitude to bring about further breach. The first occurred on May 11 when the United States declared war against Mexico. On hearing the news, the governor called upon Missourians to enlist in the Army of the West and "buckle on their armor for the distant fields of Mexico." The seven unmarried Helm brothers were in the forefront of the patriotic young men clamoring to engage the "less civilized Mexican under the burning suns of a foreign clime." But Joseph, who still maintained firm control over his sons, drew the line at age twenty-one. Boone would miss the thrilling adventure by a matter of only a few months, and watching a younger friend, Littlebury Shoot, gleefully pack his belongings made the pill almost too bitter to swallow. Boone, James, Fleming, and Alonzo stared with restless envy as Monroe's forty-four brave volunteers, led by Capt. N. B. Giddings and Lt. Elijah Burton, marched off to battle. Among the departing group were the fortunate Thomas, Frank, and David Helm, destined to die in combat or return home as heroes, either one a glorious fate.
The enlistees mustered in at Fort Leavenworth in July and then proceeded to Santa Fe. Finally, Joseph Helm received word that his three sons had survived the battles of Taos and Morotown. Then came General Winfield Scott's capture of Vera Cruz, and the Monroe County volunteers were on their way home. By May 11, 1848, they were back at Leavenworth. Of the original group, only two soldiers were not present to collect their mustering-out pay. The two casualties were Robert Bower and Thomas Helm.
Despite the shock of losing two of their young men, Monroe citizens busied themselves in preparations for an elaborate homecoming festival for the surviving veterans. There were committees to make arrangements, to raise funds, to send invitations, to select three speakers, to do the cooking, and most important, a body of forty-six gentlemen who were to provide the meat for the barbecue. Though Joseph could be thankful that two of his sons would be arriving in Paris on September 29, he and his family, along with the Bowers, did not participate in the welcoming preparations.
The all-day celebration held on the courthouse plaza was a huge success, initiating a year of calm before the national upheaval that would result from the Mexican War treaty. His war experiences had made a deep impression on David, the youngest of the three Helm soldiers, and he spent so much time telling stories about the strange lands he had visited, in particular the vast state of Texas, that his friends dubbed him "Old Tex," a nickname he would keep for the rest of his life. James, the brother just younger than Boone, decided that his last opportunity for adventure had passed and, following Joseph, Jr.'s, example, settled down to married life. James's bride was a sister of Jane Helm's new husband. The five brothers who were not yet ready for marriage -- Frank, David, Boone, Fleming, and Alonzo -- resumed their habit of satisfying their craving for excitement by racing horses and competing in local shooting matches. None, however, could match Boone's skills with a rifle or bowie knife. His favorite feat he performed on horseback. He would hurl his knife, swoop past the quivering weapon, and retrieve it at full speed. He was also fond of jumping his well-trained horse off the bridge into the Salt River's swiftly fiowing current. But after repeated performances, even such daring displays evoked little admiration. Thus the rugged son of the Missouri frontier was ripe for the news of an amazing discovery made on the land his brothers had fought and died to acquire. Though James Marshall had spied the pea-sized nuggets in his sawmill trace in January 1848, the news did not reach Monroe County until fall. The Paris Mercury compensated for the delay by prodding their readers into a gold-fever frenzy. Day after day, citizens marveled at the fantastic stories of the Pacific coast placer mines: using only a horn spoon, one miner had within a matter of hours scooped up so much pure gold dust that he could not lift his heaped basin; and another man had stumbled over an eighty-ounce nugget! "Nothing was talked of but the achievements of gold diggers," a Paris resident recalled, "the excitement... assumed the character of a mania." Since it was too late in the year to attempt crossing the plains, prospective gold hunters must postpone the trip until spring, but "the one great subject of discussion around the firesides that winter was the gold of California." Boone and the other unmarried Helm brothers were of course "smitten with the contagion," but the family patriarch rigidly held to his rule that any son under twenty-one was too young to leave home. Though Alonzo was not eligible for the anticipated trip, Boone, who was now twenty-two, joined the impatient fireside dreamers counting the days until spring.
April 1849, a county history records, brought "sights that may never be seen again in Monroe county,... a scene to beggar description. There was one continuous line of wagons... moving steadily westward." Some emigrants had hitched their milk cow to a wagon, while others who could not afford a larger vehicle, walked, drawing handcarts packed with meager supplies. Boone, David, and Fleming Helm were among the men, able in body but "unsettled in mind," who "crowded eagerly into the gaps in the wagon trains, bidding farewell" to loved ones perhaps "never to be seen again on earth." For Joseph Helm, now sixty-one, "sadder farewells were never spoken."
The elder Helm recalled that the last time three sons had been torn from the family bosom, one had not returned, and history was known to repeat itself. His daughter, Catherine, had attempted to keep the fallen soldier's memory alive by naming her first son Thomas, but since speaking the infant's name only seemed to keep the pain alive also, she decided to call Joseph's new grandson by his second name. It had been over a year before anyone had felt up to collecting Thomas's military pay. Finally, Joseph, Jr., ever dependable in times of family trouble, had agreed to settle his deceased brother's estate. Riding to St. Louis, he received from the paymaster the sum of $118 plus accumulated interest of $17.40. Only time would tell whether the gold-seeking journey might bring a similar sorrowful duty for the young attorney. Meanwhile, the children left at home brought their aging and still single parent great joy by supporting Paris's Methodist-Episcopal church, becoming active in Monroe County politics, marrying well, and providing him with grandchildren named for his own children -- Elizabeth, Catherine, Mary, Martha, David, Alonzo -- and, of course, Joseph.
But the following year brought shocking news. The gold rush, county citizens learned, had cost them more lives than the Mexican War. There were no letters edged in black, only an impersonal list presented to the Paris Mercury, naming "persons who have emigrated from Monroe and died in" California. After expressing sympathy for those whose relatives had expired in that distant region, the editor printed fifteen names, among them "F. Helm." Boone and David, sobered by their brother's death, arrived home a few weeks later. The three young men who had so hopefully set off for the mines that spring morning had found no riches. Thus when Joseph, Jr., settled Fleming's estate, his sole task was to sell a piece of land north of Monroe County which his younger brother had hoped to homestead.
Though David had once before ventured forth from Missouri, the California trip had been Boone's first time away from home, and he had learned that the outside world, which he had been so anxious to see, could be disappointing and hostile. Temporarily, it was reassuring to return to his father's farm, and Joseph gladly welcomed his two wandering sons back to the hearth. During their absence, the home had been brightened by only Martha, Alonzo, Mary, and Mary's husband, who lived with the Helms so his wife could continue as her father's housekeeper. Perhaps it was the newlyweds' presence in the home that convinced Boone that marriage could be blissful, and there were five available girls in the immediate vicinity who surely realized that he would make a fine catch. Though he was a little wild, he was strong, genial, well traveled, skillful at riding and shooting, and fairly good looking. Five foot eleven, he weighed one hundred seventy pounds and had a fair complexion and blue eyes. On the negative side, his features were a little coarse, his face had what was described as an "old, determined" appearance, and he was "tolerably heavy built."
Of the several girls who might have welcomed Boone's attentions, the one he found most attractive was a neighbor who belonged to a family of higher social status than his own. In their native Virginia, the Charles Brownings had owned twelve slaves -- three times as many as Joseph Helm had been able to afford -- and Charles had been the county sheriff. And in Monroe County, the Brownings' land and residence were valued at $2,000 -- six times the worth of the Helms' property. In spite of the disparity in the two families' wealth, the primitive environment dictated similar living conditions. Another similarity was that Lucinda Browning, age seventeen, had exactly the same number of siblings as Boone. Her two older sisters had already married, leaving at home her two older brothers, Lucinda, and eight younger brothers.
Boone's courtship was a communal affair conducted at a variety of social gatherings. Sharing common hardships had instilled a strong sense of community in the settlers. When a man was ready to build a larger house, for example, neighbors showed up uninvited, the men notching and then "piling up" the logs, and the women serving a wagon bed dinner of corn bread, fat pork, and buttermilk. Other than the horse races, camp meetings, and yearly elections, most entertainment took place at home, quilting parties and shooting matches being the most popular. At these gatherings, a strict division of the sexes was maintained throughout the daylight hours; while the women chatted and quilted, the men competed at target shooting, rail splitting, and other feats of strength. In these activities, Boone always shone, but not until nightfall did he have the opportunity to spend time with Lucinda. Then the fiddle music commenced, and they could be partners for the square and round dances that continued until dawn. In the later stages of their courtship, it was acceptable for Boone to escort Lucinda back to her home.
But at the time Boone fell in love, another yearning was rekindling within him, his love of adventure. When a freighter appeared in Paris searching for teamsters familiar with the California trail, Boone's feelings for a woman were not strong enough to restrain him. Before departing, he asked Lucinda if she would marry him when he returned, and she consented. Thus he was anxious to again visit the goldfields, but also anxious to get back to Missouri. He, David, and Alonzo drove their mule teams relentlessly, leaving Paris in late summer of 1850 and making it home before year's end.
The wedding took place almost immediately. On January 5, 1851, the justice of the peace united Levi Boone Helm, age twenty-four, and Lucinda Frances Browning, seventeen. From the start, the marriage was a troubled one. For years the bride had been a favored daughter who helped her mother care for the mainly male household, but as a teamster's wife, Lucinda spent most of her time alone in the small cabin. Even when Boone was home, things did not go smoothly. The very traits which had attracted her -- her suitor's joviality, explosive energy, and fine horsemanship and marksmanship -- now made her life unbearable. Her husband always carried a pistol and bowie knife -- just as though he were still in California -- and sometimes when he wanted something from the house he did not bother to get off his horse, but simply rode the animal inside. At other times, he would carouse with his friends, return home in a foul mood, and chide her for what she considered no good reason. On occasion, Lucinda complained, Boone came home so drunk that he seemed "devoid of reason" and would bring his horse "into the house and into the room occupied by her and there keep it for hours." The couple's time together was not only brief and irregular, but too stormy to produce any progeny.
In the fall of their first year of marriage, Boone returned from a freighting trip without his brothers, but for the entire time he was so anxious to get back to California that his wild, excitable ways drove Lucinda to distraction. On the other hand, her complaints and demands brought him equal frustration. On September 14, they engaged in a bitter quarrel, driving Boone to suggest a drastic resolution to their mutual problem. If Lucinda would commit suicide, he said, he would also kill himself. When she refused to enter into the pact, he left the house, went to a tavern, and spent the remainder of the evening drinking with friends. According to another customer, after Boone became intoxicated, he charged that Littlebury Shoot (the boyhood chum who had incited Boone's envy by fighting in the Mexican War) had stolen a ten-dollar gold piece from him. About 9:00 P.M., Boone left the tavern and rode to the Bozarth farm, where Shoot and his wife Dolly were staying.
Judging by his behavior that Boone was drunk and up to no good, Mrs. Bozarth first denied that Shoot was there, but Boone knew better and refused to leave, continuing to insist that she send "Berry" outside. If not, he threatened, he would enter and search the house. As he stepped onto the porch, as if to force his way in, Mrs. Bozarth conceded that Berry was there but explained that the newlyweds had already retired for the night. If Boone would wait in the yard, she would waken his friend. Rather than waiting quietly, Boone amused himself by worrying the dogs into a fight, and the ensuing racket brought Shoot scampering into the yard in his shirttails to separate the animals. After Shoot had quieted the hounds, Boone said, "Come to the fence, Berry, I am obliged to see you before I leave." Listening from inside the house, Dolly and the Bozarths heard the friends conversing, but could not understand their words. Exactly what took place will never be known, but suddenly Shoot cried, "O, Mr. Bozarth! Dolly! Dolly! Dolly!" As the two burst out the front door, Shoot fell forward onto his face, and by the time they reached him, he was dead. Bozarth rolled the fallen man onto his back, revealing a knife wound oozing blood. Boone had already ridden away.
The governor posted a reward and description of the murder suspect, and a deputy sheriff and Indian guide trailed the fugitive to Indian Territory, arrested him, and brought him back to the Paris jail. The community was outraged, the Helm family sick with shame. After listening to Bozarth testify that he believed that "Littlebury Shoot was killed by L. B. Helm and no other person," a grand jury indicted the defendant. Boone did not deny his guilt. For Lucinda, the killing had created a crisis. During the days they had spent together in September, she had at last become pregnant, and now a killer's child was growing inside her womb. On April 24, 1852, she filed for divorce, and though Boone was "duly summoned" from his jail cell, he refused to make a public appearance. Since community feeling against Boone ran so high, Joseph, Jr., succeeded in obtaining a change of venue, and on the same day the court heard Lucinda's petition, the judge ordered the sheriff and an additional guard to convey the prisoner to Scotland County to stand trial for killing Shoot.
Since Boone had already confessed his guilt, the question the court must decide was whether he had stabbed Shoot in a fit of passion or had left the tavern for the express purpose of committing a murder. In May the state's witnesses traveled the nearly one hundred miles due north to testify against the defendant. Among them were Elias and Elizabeth Bozarth, Dolly Shoot, and Boone's father-in-law, Charles Browning. But when the key witness -- the tavern customer who claimed that Boone had accused Shoot of stealing his gold piece -- failed to appear, the prosecutor asked for a postponement until the next term. After all the witnesses had posted hundred-dollar bonds, insuring their return in October, they were allowed to return to Paris. For Boone, who had spent his life in the freedom of outdoors, the delay meant another five months of imprisonment in the small cell.
October brought a repeat of May's events. All witnesses appeared except the one critical to a first-degree murder conviction, and the prosecutor requested that the trial be postponed for another seven months. By May 1853, the prosecution still had not located the star witness, and the judge again agreed to resummon all witnesses at the following term. October's circuit court proceedings constituted the last reference to The State of Missouri vs. Levi B. Helm. The case, the clerk recorded, was to be "continued generally" while the court decided how to proceed, for by that date, Boone had spent two years in county jails without being put on trial. As Joseph, Jr., correctly contended, the defendant's constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated. The case was never continued. Due to the state's refusal to accept a lesser charge when the witness could not be located, Boone had escaped justice. Though his own family remained loyal, other residents of Monroe County could not forgive Boone for the drunken spree that had left a young widow in their midst. "As a rule," one Monroe pioneer admitted, the early settlers did "not arrive at a conclusion by means of a course of rational reasoning," but had "a queer way of getting at the facts." Thus in their view, Boone Helm had not escaped justice, but jail! They did not ever want to see him again, unless he was at the end of a rope. Not that Boone would have had any reason to return home; another man now had his wife and small daughter, Lucy B. Helm. Boone headed West, and with him gone, Lucinda had no way to recover divorce costs. Out of frustration and financial need, she sued Boone's father, and the court ordered Joseph to pay Lucinda $504.48. Since his real estate was worth only $300, Joseph was forced to sell everything he owned to comply with the court order. Deprived of his farm and therefore of a means of earning a livelihood, he moved in with his daughter Catherine and her family and remained with them for the rest of his life. Despite the harsh judgment against Joseph Helm, the community's quarrel was not with him, and in his declining years, fellow citizens would still refer to him as a "gentleman."
Boone's habit of drinking too much and then losing control of his temper had not only lost him his wife and child, but had also brought grief to Dolly Shoot, a loss of reputation for the Helms who remained in the community, and economic ruin to his aging father. But two years of enduring society's contempt had also had a profound effect upon Boone. His only source of pride from the day he walked out of the Scotland County jail would be his ability to survive in a hostile world. Rumors of his exploits on departing Missouri are rife. They range from the story that he joined a band of horse thieves who conducted raids upon California, to the conjecture that he performed covert executions for Brigham Young, and as well assisted in the massacre of the immigrants at Mountain Meadows. A California soldier was certain that he had recognized Helm stealing military livestock at Lodi; a Los Angeles storekeeper declared that Helm had robbed his business; an Idaho vigilante vowed that Helm had confessed to breaking jail in Oregon with tools provided him by his Indian squaw; and an Oregon farmer related a rambling narrative about Helm surviving a shipwreck and ultimately attempting to steal his rescuer's cattle herd. All, some, or none of their stories may have been true.
However, the account of his first act of cannibalism, committed on a former Monroe County friend, has basis in fact. On returning to the Far West, Boone looked up the two brothers who had been his teamster partners. Though the Helm brothers were intelligent, those raised in Missouri had little education, and therefore when their freighting job had run out, they had fallen back on the only other profession they knew. Boone found Alonzo working as a farm laborer near Sacramento and David working on a ranch near Walla Walla, but he did not share their urge to settle down. While visiting The Dalles, Oregon, he happened to run into Elijah Burton, who had served as the Helm brothers' lieutenant during the Mexican War. Burton had stumbled upon a means of earning a living that was more fun than farm work. He and several other gamblers were preparing to leave for Camp Floyd with a thousand-dollar racehorse which, Burton declared, "was to beat anything in Utah." Because of his fondness for both gambling and horse racing, Boone was eager to join the venture.
Riding fine saddle horses and leading the prized racer, the ill-fated party of six set out from The Dalles in October 1858, far too late in the season to attempt a crossing of the mountain ranges that lay ahead. After a few days on the trail, Indians attacked, and though some members of the party were wounded, all managed to escape, fleeing for three days with the natives in pursuit. When they thought they had reached safety, Burton's party camped for the night, posting two guards to protect the four sleeping men and the horses. But in the darkness, an Indian killed one sentry, forcing the five survivors to resume their desperate march. For days they traveled in crusted, knee-deep snow, the below-zero temperatures freezing their faces, fingers, and toes. The whirling flakes of a thirty-six-hour blizzard left them dizzy and disoriented, but they pressed on, resting sporadically and carefully rationing their jerked meat. Finally they reached the Bear River and took refuge in an abandoned cabin, hoping for a letup in the storm. But days lagged by with no lessening of the snowfall. As their provisions gradually dwindled, it became necessary to slaughter the horses, one by one. When none remained except the prized animal, they realized that he was their only hope for survival and killed the fine beast. After jerking his meat, they fashioned snowshoes from the hides of the several horses and started back towards Fort Hall.
At first the party was able to stay together, but as they tired, the weaker members commenced dropping back, straggling further and further behind the two Missourians cutting the trail, Burton and Helm. By the time the two leaders reached the Snake River, there was no sign that their companions were still following. With their meat entirely gone, the two survivors subsisted on the pulpy fruit of pricklv-pear cactus as they made their way downriver toward the fort. Soon, however, Burton, who was suffering from snow blindness, became too feeble to move his feet, and Boone helped him to a vacant cabin and continued on alone. Within a few hours, he reached Fort Hall, only to find the post completely empty. Retracing his steps, he arrived at the cabin about nightfall, found his friend alive, and was gathering willows for a fire when he heard a pistol shot from inside the cabin. Rushing inside, he discovered that Burton had put an end to his suffering by shooting himself in the head. Boone was now alone. Lesser men would have abandoned hope, but he was determined to live. Though half starved, he still had enough wits about him to realize that his only chance for life was to first strengthen himself and then strike out for Salt Lake. He did what certain members of the Donner party had done before him and what survivors of an airplane crash in the Andes long after his time would also do. He sliced a strip of flesh off his fellow Missourian's thigh, cooked it, and ate it. The next morning, he cut off Burton's other leg, wrapped it in a red flannel shirt, tied it on his shoulder, and after tucking the bag of gambling coin inside his fraying overcoat, stepped out into the arctic weather and headed south on snowshoes.
Somewhere along the route, he met an Indian who agreed to take him into his lodge at the price of ten dollars a meal. For two weeks, the Indian family and their guest lived on a diet of tobacco plant, ants, and meat from the red bundle, which the Indians found quite tasty. On April 10, 1859, six months after the Oregon departure, Boone stumbled into a freighting camp. As the packer drew back his tent flap, he saw "a tall, cadaverous, sunken-eyed man" looming above him. The traveler wore "a dirty, dilapidated coat and shirt and drawers, and moccasins so worn that they could scarcely be tied to his feet." After providing the desperate wanderer with a buckskin suit and a horse, the packer allowed him to accompany the party to Salt Lake. Though Boone offered to pay nine dollars from his sack of gold coins, his host replied that he "did not desire money for helping a man in his condition."
Boone's amazing survival in the wilderness had proven him an apt namesake of his parents' hero, Daniel Boone, if only in that one aspect. After gambling away most of the coin at Salt Lake, he returned to California and reversed his luck by enjoying a phenomenal winning streak at a San Francisco gambling hall. Winnings in his pocket, he caught a steamer back to his point of departure, Oregon. Then with the 1860 gold strike in the Clearwater River area, he hurried to Washington Territory and was living there when he heard that hostilities had broken out between North and South. The Civil War would not make his life in the West any easier. Previously he had been known as an eccentric and a "hard case," but now he was, in addition, a boastful Rebel. In all probability, he deserved his new reputation, since it is doubtful that he made a secret of being related to Confederate General Ben Hardin Helm, a Kentuckian married to Mary Todd Lincoln's sister. As the Missouri loner, dissipated and approaching middle age, roved the northern mining camps for what were to be his last two years of life, his outspoken loyalty to the South would create continual problems for him.
He spent the extremely harsh winter of 1861-62 in the snowbound camp of Florence, which towered above the Salmon River's white waters. This time, the miracle was not that he survived, but that considering the tempestuous society of the mountain boomtown, it was summer before he became involved in a fatal affray. One June morning, he entered a saloon where "Dutch Fred" -- a gambler and expert boxer with whom Boone had already engaged in a heated quarrel -- was dealing faro. The rivalry to become "chief" of Florence was akin to the competitions in which Boone had excelled as a youth, and he fell into the trap of letting Fred's enemies convince him that he was the sole camp inhabitant who was man enough to give the gambler the whipping that he deserved. Though handicapped by his inebriated condition, Boone advanced to the faro table, and with bystanders egging him on, commenced cursing the gambler and issuing challenges to fight. Dropping the card he was holding, Fred jumped to his feet and drew his knife. But as the combatants circled, poised to strike, more peaceful observers overpowered and disarmed the two, stashing their revolvers and knives behind the bar. After shamefacedly expressing his regret for the incident, Helm left. But later he got to brooding over the matter and in the afternoon, returned to the saloon, requested his guns and "Arkansas toothpick" from the bartender, swung around facing the faro table, and fired twice at his unarmed antagonist. Just as he had done after stabbing Berry Shoot, he fied, escaping camp with the help of other Secessionists and winding his way down the mountain. Once on the prairie, he made a run for the Canadian border.
The fugitive life was not a fate that should have befallen a son of Joseph Helm, but Boone had now entered that cycle of scrapes and escapes which were to occupy his final days. In the Cariboo Mountains of British Columbia, he reportedly quarreled with another man, fired at him, and then hastened to Victoria, arriving in that town hungry, thirsty, and penniless. From a street stand, he pilfered a handful of apples and while munching them, entered the Adelphi Saloon to remedy his thirst in a similar manner. When the saloonkeeper suggested that he should pay his bill, Boone attempted to intimidate him: "Don't you know that I'm a desperate character?" he asked. Then he strode out the door without settling his tab. Soon after, a policeman picked up a rumor that the saloon offender was wanted for murder in the United States. After tracking Boone down, he locked him in jail. But when the prisoner appeared in court, the magistrate noted that the supposed "bad character" was "not a bad looking man" and ordered him to either post security as assurance of future good behavior, or suffer a month's incarceration. Being without funds, Boone had but one option. During the weeks he labored on the Victoria chain gang, the Canadians daily expected extradition papers from the United States, but when none came, they released the suspect. Three days after the release, the papers arrived, but by that time the fugitive's whereabouts were unknown.
Two months later, January 17, 1863, local police were summoned to Olympia, Washington's main street to investigate some reported disorderly behavior. Merchants complained that a man "armed with two revolvers and a huge knife... had been swaggering about town for some days, swearing that he would kill a man before he left town." On arrest, the prisoner identified himself as Boone Helm. Aware of his past record, Olympia authorities requested their Florence counterparts to come to take custody of the suspect, but during the delay, the prisoner broke jail. Continuing his desperate zigzag course between Washington Territory and Canada, Helm headed into the interior of British Columbia, hoping not only to disappear in the vast wilderness, but also to earn some badly needed money by trapping.
Except that Boone was now too destitute to own a horse, his first trapping expedition was reminiscent of the attempted trip to Camp Floyd, Utah. He and a companion started up the Fraser River, walking and carrying supplies on their backs. When British authorities -- who had been on the lookout for the American desperado since his ill-timed release from the Victoria jail -- overtook Boone, he was alone and so weak he could hardly stand. "He made no resistance to the arrest," the officers reported, "and acknowledged without equivocation or attempt at evasion that he was Boone Helm." In response to questions about his companion, he admitted to his cannibalism, saying, "Do you suppose that I'm a ---- fool enough to starve to death when I can help it?"
In May 1863, the British delivered their prisoner to American authorities, who then escorted him back to Idaho Territory to stand trial for shooting Dutch Fred. The capture made news in Pacific coast papers, and David Helm -- himself shortly to die when his horse fell on him, crushing his chest and breaking his neck -- hurried from Walla Walla to Florence to offer support during what he supposed would be the trying days preceding his younger brother's execution. But as in Scotland County, Missouri, the prosecution had difficulty locating witnesses. Nearly a year had passed since the event, and in the meantime many miners had moved on to more promising camps. Finally the prosecutor admitted that he had no case against the suspect, and once more Boone had narrowly escaped with his life. It was such evasions of justice that made vigilantes impatient with the legal system. Likewise, David Helm was not so lenient as Florence authorities; he warned his younger brother that he must turn over a new leaf or answer to him.
In the summer, Boone showed up in Virginia City, Idaho Territory, the site of the recent gold stampede. No longer being a desperado seemed to have taken the swagger out of him, or perhaps it was David's stern admonition, but at any rate, the Rebel kept an uncharacteristically low profile throughout the six months he spent in Alder Gulch. He got into no trouble, and in one instance when he did revert to surly drunkenness, restored the peace himself: while drinking at the bar in Robert Dempsey's ranch house, Boone invited William Rumsey to partake with him. When Rumsey declined, Boone insisted. "No man can refuse to drink with me and live," he growled. But before he could back up the threat with a weapon, Rumsey was holding his own revolver at Boone's temple. For several tense moments, the two men read each other's eyes, and then Boone slowly relaxed his grasp on his revolver butt. "You're the first man that ever looked me down," he said admiringly to Rumsey, "let's be friends." Rumsey, however, was not interested in pursuing the friendship; stories about Boone's past, the cannibalism in particular, had followed him to Alder Gulch.
It was with genuine surprise that the social outcast, fully aware that the two previous murder charges against him had been dropped, sat on a bench and listened to Paris Pfouts sentence him to death. The vigilantes were not interested in crimes committed elsewhere, Pfouts was saying, but they had knowledge that Helm belonged to an outlaw band. In declaring himself innocent and kissing the Bible, Boone was not denying the Paris and Florence crimes, but swearing that he had joined no robber gang in Alder Gulch. He presumed that as a Helm, his word was still good; he had killed men in anger, and out of necessity eaten human flesh, but he was not a liar. His upbringing had acquainted him with principles of decency, even if he did not always follow them. Thus Pfouts's disbelief brought an initial outburst of outrage, but after a few moments of deliberation, Boone sensed a certain justice in his sentence, in light of his past deeds. Of the five condemned men, he faced death the most stoically. His entire life had been nothing more than a series of losses: at five, he had left the security of loving grandparents and a comfortable home; at eight, he had watched his father and brothers lift his mother into a homemade coffin and lay her beneath the soil; and as a young man, he had in a fit of drunken temper forfeited his honor, teenage wife, and infant daughter. But his thirty-seven-year struggle for survival was over. And if there was a bitter irony in his having endured starvation, freezing temperatures, and society's scorn only to save his neck for the disgraceful noose, then he would muster the courage to laugh at it all. Parrish, the ailing squawman, could babble out the confessions the vigilantes wished to hear; the crippled cobbler could get down on his knees -- the only position where he was at even keel -- and pray for his immortal soul; the prideful deputy Gallagher could stride about in his fur-collared, long-tailed, blue overcoat and burnished black boots and angrily protest his innocence; and young Lyons could plead for mercy and invoke the name of his pious, aging mother; but Boone Helm would walk to the gallows smiling and jesting.
Guards led the prisoners into the street, thronged with several thousand, and stood them in a row facing the president. It was now approaching 4:00 P.M., and the all-day struggle between faint sunlight and heavy cloud cover had come to an end. A darkening gloom had settled over the valley, and a cutting wind drove the late afternoon chill right to the bone. "You are now to be conducted to the scaffold," Pfouts said. "You will do well to make a confession of your own crimes and the crimes of others."
The five prisoners remained silent. "Tie their hands," Captain Williams ordered.
As sentries approached, Gallagher drew a concealed knife. "I will not be hung in public," he said. "I'll cut my throat first." As he raised the blade to his throat, guards seized his arms and wrenched the weapon from his hand.
"Don't make a fool of yourself, Jack," said Boone. Then he added in a rather comforting tone, "There's no use in being afraid to die."
Williams was taking no chances on a rescue attempt. He first dispatched "pistol men" to disperse themselves among the crowd. Then he assigned two vigilantes -- cocked pistols in hand -- to each of the pinioned men, flanked the fifteen with a four-deep guard, and added a front and rear column. "March!" Williams barked, and the procession moved forward. The advancing parade of men bristling weapons maintained a slow, deliberate pace, befitting the grave occasion, not so much a solemnity for approaching death as the ceremonious takeover by a new power. Since the discovery of gold on Grasshopper Creek, the miners had enjoyed a pure democracy, each having equal voice, but the vigilante organization was now firmly in control, and they were making a public display of their might. Except for the impromptu killing of Jose Pizanthia, they had performed their previous lynchings in the secrecy of darkness, and the daylight execution of five men represented an increased boldness and confidence.
At the Virginia Hotel, they halted. As at Bannack four days earlier, preparations had been inadequate. One prisoner took advantage of the delay to request a final prayer for all the condemned, but the preacher had already departed, and no one else felt qualified. Finally storekeeper Walter Dance volunteered, and though unaccustomed to praying aloud, especially before such a huge audience, he knelt and commenced an oration. George Lane and Jack Gallagher also dropped to their knees; Hayes Lyons did not kneel, but in order to show respect, he asked guards to remove his hat; and though Frank Parrish offered no such homage, he at least assumed a reverent expression while he stood watching the others. William Pemberton, a young attorney in the crowd, thought that Dance was doing "splendidly for an amateur," but apparently Boone Helm did not share the enthusiasm. "I wish you'd stop this d----d foolishness," he interjected, "and take me on and hang me. I don't want to stand here all day in the cold." When the guards had pinioned him, they had removed the sling from Boone's arm, and he went on to grumble words to the effect that if the praying went on much longer, he would have to have "the bandage back on his finger."
As Gallagher, eyes flooded with tears, rose to his feet, Boone admired the handsome overcoat. "Give me that coat, Jack," he said, "you never yet gave me anything."
"Damned sight of use you'd have for it," Gallagher answered, but the banter had cheered him a little. Gazing up to a hotel window where a friend looked solemnly down at him, he called up, "Say, I'm going to heaven. I'll be there in time to open the gate for you."
Not to be outdone, Boone looked about him until he spotted an acquaintance. "Halloo, Bill!" he yelled. "They've got me this time; got me sure."
While Gallagher and Boone continued to exchange quips, Lyons was begging desperately to see Caroline for one last time. "I'll go fetch her," one of his friends said.
The offer made Beidler irate; the last time women had intervened, he had dug graves without pay. "By G-d," he stated emphatically, "bringing women to the place of execution played out in '63." Just then a signal alerted Williams that all was ready inside, and prisoners and guards marched across the street to the execution site, an unfinished log structure with no roof. As each prisoner passed through the gaping door hole, a strained silence fell upon the crowd; then they surged forward, some stationing themselves at the gaps in the building and others scaling the walls and peering over the top log for a bird's-eye view. From the central beam dangled five ropes, each with a three-foot box beneath it. The Executive Committee and a sentry detail had arranged themselves at the front of the vacant room, and they stood watching intently as guards boosted Parrish onto the first box, helped Helm to the second, Gallagher to the third, Lyons to the fourth, and Lane to the last. Close behind them came Beidler, scrambling onto each box, standing on tiptoe to remove each prisoner's hat and slip the noose over
his head, and then adjusting the rope to fit his neck. The executioner was becoming adept at his job by now, and it took him but a few moments to prepare the five men for execution. When he had finished, Pfouts stepped forward to make another solemn address. "You are now about to be executed," he commenced. "If you have any dying requests to make, this is your last opportunity. You may be assured they shall be carefully heeded."
BUILDING IN WHICH VIRGINIA CITY FIVE WERE HANGED.
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Gallagher was paying the speaker little mind. He had struck an affected pose and now called to the audience, "How do I look, boys, with a halter around my neck?"
"Your time is very short," Pfouts reminded him sternly. "If you have any dying requests," he repeated, "you may be assured they shall be carefully heeded." Boone Helm, whose bravado had not forsaken him, drawled, "Well then, I want one more drink of whiskey before I die."
Pfouts was shocked that a man would dare to meet his Maker with whiskey on his breath and stood pondering the best way to decline the request, but an old miner in the crowd piped up with a more liberal opinion. "We told 'em that we'd do whatever they asked," he argued.
Attorney Pemberton, who had scaled the wall and was clinging to the top log to maintain his perch, looked down in disbelief as a bystander hurried to a saloon, returned with a tumbler brimming with whiskey, and handed it to Boone. With bound wrists, Boone lifted the glass to his lips, took a drink "as long as a telegraph pole," and then exclaimed, "Let her rip!"
The words acted as a catalyst to the executioners, who moved toward the cord attached to Parrish's box. Since the single beam might not sustain five simultaneous drops, they would hang the men one by one. But before they could yank the platform from under him, Lane, who was on the opposite end from Parrish, lifted his eyes to the ring of faces showing above the walls. "Believe in my innocence," the little shoemaker pleaded. Turning to look down the row of haltered men to his right, he said, "I'm not able to witness their deaths," and at the same moment leaped from his box, striking the end of the rope, ejecting his tongue, and commencing to twirl slowly. His rope was so long that the tip of his toes reached the floor, and he dangled there, rotating and sustaining his agony by alternately flailing the crippled foot and then pushing himself up from the floor to ease the choking. "Ultimately," a witness recounted, he "yielded up mortality."
Viewing the prolonged strangulation greatly aroused the four men still poised on their platforms. Boone Helm unleashed a string of language which, his listeners thought, defied "death, decency and deity"; Gallagher "protested against the charge of his criminality," doing some "tall swearing at the s -- s of b s who had brought him to that box"; and Lyons, unable to keep his suffering inside any longer, commenced blurting out his innermost thoughts of "the old home" and "mother-love." He had been brought up well, he said, by a kind, decent widow. The shoemaker's actions had set off a chain reaction, and when his pitiable form had at last stopped twitching, Gallagher also launched himself from his box, the curses in his throat suddenly cut off by a taut rope; and Boone, crying, "Hurrah for Jeff Davis; every man for his principles," sprang up and then kicked away his box. Though Gallagher thrashed about for some time, Boone's heavier frame hit hard enough to dislocate his neck, and he was soon quiet.
Parrish stood perfectly still on his precarious scaffold, regarding with horror the distorted, bluish faces of the men hanging to his left. As the executioners approached his cord, he soberly asked that they first remove his black neckerchief and cover his face. They granted his request and then jerked the box from under him. Like Lane and Gallagher, he died "hard," but at least he had a bit of privacy. Lyons had seen enough to know that he was not ready to be hanged. Less than a year previously, he had received a gallows reprieve, and he still harbored a glimmer of hope. Once more he asked for mercy, but received a firm "no" in answer and realized that he must at last face up to settling final business. "Give Caroline back her gold watch," he commenced, "and tell her to take care of my body, and not to leave me hanging long." They pulled away his box, and George Bruffey, also watching from atop the wall, noted that Lyons "swung around, and did not kick much."
After observing the five motionless figures suspended from the beam, the crowd began to disperse, leaving the vigilantes to keep their two-hour death vigil alone. While members of the guard were milling about in the street, Mollie Sheehan passed on her way home from school. Noting that the air seemed "charged with excitement," the child peeked into the uncompleted building. On seeing the executed men, she recalled, "I trembled so that I could scarcely run." But even in the security of her own home, she could not erase the image of the two limp forms she had recognized. One was "Clubfoot George," and the other, dressed in long, military-blue overcoat, she remembered as the "courteous and soft-spoken" man who had sat beside her at their trailside camp; the flickering firelight had played on the open pages of her book, and he had told her precisely what she was hoping to hear, that he thought she was a good reader.
Why the vigilantes had chosen to hang deputy Gallagher, who was not on their list, remains a mystery. Later, Mollie heard that the seemingly kind man who had traveled to the mines in the same caravan as her parents and Paris Pfouts was actually "one of the most hardened of all the road agents," and she did not question the charge. Neither did other Virginia City residents, who passed along the story that in Colorado, Gallagher had ridden with a robber band and had singlehandedly committed "some of the most atrocious murders known to that country." At the time he had joined Mollie's wagon train at Fort Bridger, the rumor went, he had been fleeing prosecution for murdering a man in Denver in the spring of 1863. Of course a trial before his execution would have elicited the facts of the case, but his brief examination before Pfouts on the morning of January 14, 1864, did not even broach the subject. His questioning was a mere formality, since the decision to hang the Virginia City deputy along with the suspects on Red Yeager's list had been made at the meeting held the previous evening.
One source of the rumors that convicted Gallagher is easily traced. In his account of the five Virginia City lynchings, Langford wrote, "X. Beidler officiated as adjuster of the ropes at this execution. Jack Gallagher had killed a friend of his." Though Beidler evidently accused Gallagher of killing one of his Colorado friends, Beidler's journal included no such incident. In fact a few months after the alleged Colorado murder, Beidler loaned the deputy a horse. "One day when I was down in Virginia City after meat for supper," Beidler stated, "Jack Gallagher came to me to borrow my mare... to which I finally consented." When the deputy returned the animal an hour and a half later than promised, Beidler became enraged. Though Gallagher was brash at times, he evidently was not as hot tempered as X. and advised the smaller man "to go slow." A week later, Beidler still bore the grudge: "I was still hot at Gallagher and he at me."
Thus among vigilante leaders, Gallagher had personal enemies, such as Beidler and Sanders. There were precedents for members of the so-called protective societies using the organization for personal vengeance; Red Yeager's story provided the example of the neighbor who convinced the regulators that his enemy belonged to a gang of horse thieves, and Jack Gallagher's execution may have been a similar case. He had no prison record in his previous places of residence -- neither in Kansas, Utah, nor Colorado -- and there were no news items to substantiate Beidler's claim that Gallagher had shot a man in Denver and then escaped justice.
Had he been a fugitive at the time he joined the wagon train at Fort Bridger, he probably would have used an alias, since former Denverites such as Paris Pfouts and Mollie Sheehan's father undoubtedly would have heard of his trouble. At the time, Denver was described as a "disorderly collection of log and clapboard houses... on both sides of Cherry Creek," whose only claim to culture was a newspaper anxious for titillating items to enliven the local news section. A murder followed by the murderer's escape would have had the townspeople buzzing, yet on joining the train, Gallagher gave his correct name. And fellow traveler Alex Toponce wrote that it was not until after Gallagher arrived at Alder Gulch that he "sided with the hard bunch." It may have been solely on the recommendation of enemies such as Beidler, Sanders, Temple, or Beehrer that the Executive Committee voted to hang deputy Gallagher, or they may have viewed him as a threat because he was a miners' law officer who was opposed to the vigilance movement. At any rate, some of his contemporaries feared that the execution had been a grave mistake. "Jack Gallagher, who is well known in this community," the Camp Douglas editor wrote, "protested his innocence, and there are many who believe him."
BOONE HELM'S GRAVE. Photo by Boswell
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Nevertheless, Gallagher's name was indelibly blackened, and in the growing dusk of January 14, he hung beside confessed killer Boone Helm. When vigilantes were certain that none of the victims could be resuscitated, they cut down the bodies and laid them in the street. Perhaps out of fear, no friends -- not even Caroline -- appeared to perform the burials, leaving the task to the executioners. They wrapped each corpse in a blanket, loaded all five onto a wagon, and hauled them atop the barren, windswept hill overlooking the gulch. There they dug shallow pits, deposited the shrouded forms, and then covered the graves with boards. Thus there was no great difficulty in later exhuming the bodies and cutting off George Lane's clubfoot for display. And one resident bragged that he had cut off Gallagher's head, boiled away the remaining flesh and hair, and donated the skull to his favorite brotherhood. Another Alder Gulch citizen returned to his former home gleefully exhibiting "the rope that hanged Jack Gallagher." After hearing of the souvenir, the local editor commented, "It may be his style of still degrading the unfortunate dead, but it wouldn't be ours."