EXECUTION OF DESPERADOES IN 1864.
In the year 1862 Aurora was a prosperous mining
town of most flattering prospects for the future, with a population of not less than 5,000; with a city government; two daily newspapers; two fire companies of sixty men each, with their machines; two military companies, uniformed and fully equipped, with commodious and convenient armories; a brass band of eleven pieces, together with all other appendages and accompaniments that go to make up a full-fledged city. In common with all lively mining camps, it was infested with bad characters; gamblers and thieves were numerous, and were incessantly getting drunk and killing each other. A man for breakfast became so common an occurrence, that the citizens ceased to be interested in ascertaining his name and the circumstances of the killing, feeling a sensation akin to gladness when it was announced that one more rowdy, they cared not which one, had met his natural and deserved fate. A feeling of insecurity, however, rested continually upon the people; they knew not at what time a peaceable citizen might be shot down:
A reign of terror existed during this period, culminating on the ninth of February, and it was useless as well as unsafe, to invoke the majesty of the law for the protection of person or property. No witness could then be found that would be willing to tell what he had heard or seen in any given case, for to do so they would be the next victims in the hands of that desperate gang of murderers and thieves who had been attracted to Aurora from the report of the richness and extent of her mines. It made no difference how often this gang of cut-throats may have assaulted one, or taken property, a jury could not be selected who had the moral courage to find a verdict against them, as sure death awaited them if they did so. The officers of the law, including even the Judge on the Bench, were more or less under the same influence of fear of personal injury or loss of popularity in a political power. Nor were the political parties of the day altogether free from the annoyance and interference of this villainous gang. At a primary election held by the Union Party in September, 1864 for delegates to represent Aurora in the County Convention, these ruffians, who were all Democrats, insisted upon voting, and having other persons who were not members of the Union Party vote also, and they enforced their demand to vote by walking up to the officers of the election and holding out in one hand their ballot, and in the other hand a pistol which was pointed at the officer. Thus things continued to go from bad to worse. If the ticket voted by this gang had been successful, a Democratic secesh delegation would have been elected to the Union Republican Convention.
One of the leaders of this gang of rowdies, thieves, fighters and murderers was John Dailey, then recently from Sacramento, a young man of but twenty-five years of age. Another of the gang was Sears, one of whose acts led to the culminating event. Sometime in the month of April, 1863, he had seen a horse tied in front of Mayberry’s, near Hoy’s Station, on the banks of the West Walker; mounted the animal and rode away. The owner, a German named Louis Wedertz, was much distressed by the loss of his horse, and followed down the road to Jack Wright’s Station, now Wellington, and asked assistance of W. R. Johnson, who was keeping the place. Mr. Johnson directed John A. Rogers, one of his men, to mount and pursue the robber and bring the horse back. Away flew Rogers in hot pursuit, leaving a dense trail of dust behind him. The thief was overtaken at Sweetwater, and being called upon three times to stop, and refusing to comply, was shot dead. The horse was returned to the happy German, and both Johnson and Rogers were commended for their activity in recovering the stolen property, the fate of the robber being considered a deserved one.
The balance of the band determined to kill Johnson for the part he took in this affair, and laid their plans to accomplish this secretly. They sought to induce him to go to Adobe Meadows, where they owned a ranch, and keep a station there, intending to kill him, where there would be none to witness the act. They so far prevailed upon him that he was in Aurora on the first day of February, 1864, with the intention of going with them to view the place on the following day. Their intentions were discovered by one of Johnson’s friends, who told him that if he went with them to Adobe Meadows he would certainly be killed, and advised him to tell the conspirators that he had received a letter from his wife that necessitated his return home in the morning, and that he would go with them some other time. Johnson did as he was advised, and retired to bed. The conspirators were satisfied that their victim had discovered their intentions, and determined to kill him that night. They went to the place where he was sleeping, aroused him, and coaxed him down to a saloon, where the balance of the night was spent. Between four and five o’clock in the morning Johnson started for his lodgings, and was met on Antelope Street by four men, and shot. Not content with this, the murderers cut his throat, and set fire to his clothing. Great was the excitement in the morning. The citizens felt that the time had come for them to do something, knowing that if left in the hands of the law enough perjured testimony would be procured to acquit the perpetrators. Quickly arrangements were made for the organization of a vigilance society. Three of the men, John Dailey, James Masterson, and John McDowell, alias Three-Fingered Jack, were arrested by the authorities, and lodged in jail, while Sheriff Francis, with an eager posse, started in pursuit of William Buckley, who had fled. The prisoners were given a preliminary examination before Justice Moore, at the old police station, during which an altercation occurred between one of the Dailey crowd, named Vance, and a citizen by the name of Watkins, resulting in the shooting of Vance in the groin.
The three men were committed for trial at the conclusion of the examination.
Meanwhile the organization of the vigilance society was progressing in the Wingate Building, some 350 of the law and order citizens joining the organization. An executive committee of twelve of the leading citizens of Aurora was selected to decide the conduct of the organization, and their orders were fully and promptly obeyed. Colonel Palmer was appointed Marshal by them, and executed all orders. The society was divided into companies, with proper officers, and everything was done in a most systematic manner. Captain Teel, the Deputy Sheriff, was arrested and guarded in his own house, some of the guards belonging to the Esmeralda Rangers, of which company he was Captain. Other police officers were placed under like restraint, and the vigilantes maintained a guard over the police station and jail. Vance and a number of other bad characters were confined in the police station, and a few days later liberated, and requested to immediately vanish from sight, a request which they complied with
Vance was afterwards killed, at Austin, by Irish Tom, one who had left Aurora in the same unceremonious manner as himself.
While these events were transpiring in Aurora, Sheriff Francis, with his posse, were in hot pursuit of Buckley. The fugitive had secreted himself in a cabin near the Mono Lake placer mines, and when the pursuing party approached, a dog which accompanied them ran up to the cabin and began to bark. Buckley looked out to see what was the matter, and then fled from the rear door, pursued by the dog. Not seeing the fleeing murderer, but being convinced that the dog had discovered something, the party hastened after them, and soon came upon the sagacious animal, watching at the mouth of a prospect hole. From this hole Buckley was soon brought, and the party started for Aurora, where they arrived during the night. As soon as the Sheriff passed with his prisoner within the guard lines he was arrested, and placed under guard in his office, while Buckley was confined in the jail. The vigilance committee had taken charge of the arms of the Esmeralda Rangers, and used Armory Hall for their headquarters. On the summit of the hill, in the center of North Silver Street, 100 feet northeast of Armory Hall, was erected a gallows large enough for the quadruple execution.
For several days saloons had been required to close their doors at 9 o’clock in the evening, and on the ninth, the day set for the execution, business of all kinds was suspended. People for miles around came flocking into town, and on that -day no less than 5,000 were gathered here, the majority of them being in sympathy with the proceedings. The town was very quiet, guards patroled the streets, and everything was still and orderly, and when Governor Nye telegraphed to Samuel Youngs, one of the County Commissioners, that there must be no violence, that gentleman sent the following reply: All quiet and orderly. Four men will be hung in half an hour. At noon the vigilante companies formed in a hollow square about the scaffold, being under the command of Colonel Palmer, who received his orders from the executive committee in Armory Hall. The four doomed men were escorted to the scaffold, while guards upon the outside of the square kept the crowd at a distance. The execution could be witnessed to great advantage from a number of places in town, and at each one of these was assembled a crowd of eager spectators. At half-past 1 o’clock a little cannon that stood beside the gallows was fired, the rope was cut, and the four men disappeared through the trap-door and were soon hanging lifeless, a terrible example of the vengeance of an outraged community.
Two days later Governor Nye, Provost Marshal Van Bokkelen, and United States Marshal Wasson, rode into town, but accomplished nothing and left on the third day. The effect of this wholesome exhibition of justice and the absence of the bad characters warned out of town, was a quiet and orderly community for some time, and a considerable modification of lawlessness ever after.
REPORT OF THE GRAND JURY
Of Esmeralda County, Second Judicial District, for the March Term of said Court, A. D. 1864.
To THE HONORABLE DISTRICT COURT: The Grand Jury, whose term is about to expire, in conformity with custom, have the honor to present this report:
In the discharge of our duties we have examined thirty-six cases, of which twenty-two true bills are found, ten ignored or dismissed, and four cases continued to the next Grand Jury. The Grand Jury find it necessary to direct the attention of the County Commissioners to the condition of the County Jail, which has been leased from the county of Mono, California, by the Commissioners of the county of Esmeralda. At this time it contains four prisoners, against whom have been found indictments for various offenses by this Grand Jury. The prison itself is inefficient and insecure, and totally unfit for the lodgment and safe-keeping of the prisoners therein.
We feel warranted, after inspection, in recommending that some other locality and a more suitable building be provided. We do not hesitate to reiterate the report of the Grand Jury of last October Term, as to its total unfitness, however careful and particular the officers in charge may be, to secure the inmates.
The Grand Jury would therefore call the attention of the County Commissioners to this subject, and suggest the purchase of some suitable location in this City and erection thereon of a building better adapted to the purpose, and more convenient than the one now leased by the county. Until that is done, we would recommend that a night guard be placed over the present place of confinement till the prisoners therein confined shall have been brought to trial or their cases disposed of.
The Court room and various county offices are leased from Preble, Devoe & Co., by the County Commissioners, for the sum of $250 per month, the owners thereof reserving to themselves the right to lease or let the center or Court room at any and all
times, provided they do not interfere with any Court of Record. The floor of the room occupied by the County Recorder, as also that of the Probate Judge, is of such a character that we beg leave to call attention thereto. It contains great openings and not a few holes, through which come noises from a saloon below, to the disturbance and annoyance of those engaged in making Records, whereby mistakes are liable to occur. We therefore recommend that the owners of said property be required, at as early a day as possible, to construct therein floors of such character that there need be no further cause of complaint. An examination has been made into the condition of the affairs of the Justice of the Peace for Township No. 1, and everything therewith found satisfactory.
The City Marshal’s office, rented at a cost of fifty dollars a month, is a small frame building in the back of which are two cells. Although we believe that as yet no one has succeeded in escaping therefrom, yet, it is patent to all that to make the attempt is to be successful. The prisoners in these cells are fed at a cost to the city of one dollar per diem, whereas, upon inquiry it is found that the prisoners confined in the County Jail are fed at a cost to the County of $1.50 per diem. We find the books and records of all the county officers kept in a neat, correct and clearly business-like manner. Having thoroughly examined the bonds of all the county officers, it is found that one of the bondsmen on the undertaking of the County Assessor has filed a protest, notifying the proper authorities that he has withdrawn, as one of the sureties upon said bond, for the sum of $2,000. We also find that many of the bonds on file are without the necessary stamp required by the United States Internal Revenue Law, and upon others the sureties have been qualified before officers not authorized by law to administer oaths in such cases.
With these exceptions the bonds are all correctly executed and approved, and in our opinion the bondsmen are all good and responsible men. We also find that the County Assessor has not complied with the provisions of an Act of the Territorial Legislature (approved December 20, 1861), providing for an assessment on the gross proceeds of the mines. Since the present Assessor entered upon the discharge of the duties of his office, to wit, From October 1, 1863, to January 4, 1864, there has been shipped from this county by Wells, Fargo & Co., of Aurora, bullion amounting to $219,770, upon which a revenue of $659.31 has been lost to the county and Territory by the negligence and inefficiency of the County Assessor. We also find for the last quarter ending this day, that there has been shipped by the above-mentioned company, bullion amounting to $307,500, upon which an additional revenue of $922.50 is due this county. We would especially call the attention of the proper authorities to a nuisance now infecting nearly every part of this city, to wit, the numerous disgusting Chinese brothels that exist on most of our public streets, to the great detriment of public morals and danger of property, and recommend that some action be immediately taken that will effectually abate the evil.
Among other alleged public offenses, we have been called upon to investigate the action of a self-styled Citizens’ Safety Committee, and upon inquiry we find that it was composed of over six hundred of our best, most substantial and law-abiding citizens. We find that this association was organized on the second of February, 1864, and on the ninth of the same month, four men, to wit, John Dailey, Wm. Buckley, John McDowell, alias Three-Fingered Jack, and James Masterson, were executed for the murder of W. R. Johnson, and various other crimes, by being hung by the neck on a gallows near Armory Hall, in the city of Aurora, at the hands of, and in pursuance of a preconcerted action on the part of, said association. Having considered the homogeneous character of our population, isolated as we are, and removed from the influences of older communities, and the great difficulty and expense of procuring witnesses, which deter persons of limited means from prosecuting and bringing to justice the perpetrators of crime, and the fact that within the last three years some twenty-seven of our citizens have come to their death by the hand of violence, and the delays and inefficiency, and we believe also, the indifference of those who were the sworn guardians and ministers of the law, and the unnecessary postponement of important trials, whereby many notorious villains have gone unpunished, we are led to believe that the members of that association have been governed by a feeling of opposition to the manner in which the law has been administered, rather than by any disregard of the law itself, or of its officers.
Under institutions so eminently popular as under those which we live, where all power for the correction of abuses emanates from the people themselves, it is not to be wondered at if they should exercise that power when the tardiness or maladministration of the law fails to correct evils complained of; and when those who are deeply interested in good and wholesome laws, and in seeing them purely administrated, will not give sufficient attention to our elections to secure proper and sober legislators, judicial and other officers, they must expect insecurity of life and property. In this we find the true cause whence have sprung many of the evils of which we have suffered. The Grand Jury deplores the necessity that called into existence that association or self-styled Citizens’ Safety Committee, yet it is believed that the members of said association were influenced in their actions by no personal or private malice, but were actuated by a due regard for what they deemed the best interests of the community at large. Feeling assured now, however, that lawless ruffianism has been effectually checked, and will no longer dare put at defiance our laws and its officers, and being satisfied also that there is a determination on the part of all our officers to fully and faithfully perform all their duties, we, therefore, in view of all these facts, dismiss the whole matter as being one of those peculiar results of circumstances which cannot be fully justified in the eyes of the law, yet we cannot, in our opinion, effect anything by presentment that would result in public good.
We believe the association has ceased to act and formally dissolved, but doubtless the members are ready, if ever sad occasion should again require it, to assert the right of self-preservation and the supremacy of natural law over defective statutory forms and tedious tribunals, when, thereby, the substantial ends of justice can be best or alone attained, and society relieved of the horrors of unchecked and triumphant villainy.
It is sincerely hoped by every member of this Grand Jury that never again may dire necessity require a renewal of that terrible scene on the ninth of February, 1864.
We desire, before closing this report, to bear testimony to the able, efficient and prompt manner in which the Sheriff and his deputies have each discharged their duties as officers of the law, in arresting
and confining in prison the desperadoes that have recently suffered at the hands of the above-named committee of citizens. We also return our thanks to Deputy Sheriff Capt. H. J. Teel, for the promptness with which he executed all orders of the Jury, thereby greatly facilitating the dispatch of business; also to the county officers generally, for such information as was required of them.
JOHN S. MAYHUGH,
Foreman of Grand Jury.
While submitting our general report, we deem it our duty to add a few supplementary remarks relative to the late outbreak and escape of three prisoners from the County Jail. We find upon inquiry that the following-named prisoners, to wit, Geo. Alexander, G. Valliano and Nicholas George, escaped from their cells, between the hours of 7 and 8 o’clock on the evening of the twenty-fifth instant, by removing a portion of the planking from over the cell doors, thereby gaining access to the main or front room of the prison, when they escaped by making a breach in the south or front wall.
We learn upon inquiry also, that the only implement in possession of the prisoners, by which they effected their release, was an ordinary table-knife, with which they picked the mortar from the wall, thereby rendering the removal of the stones an easy task. The Grand Jury Committee, whose duty it was to examine into the condition of the public buildings, suggested to the proper authorities the necessity of placing a night guard over the jail until the prisoners therein confined should be brought to trial, and had these suggestions been followed, no escapes would probably have taken place.
We would mention, however, in justice to the Sheriff and other officers of the law, that they have made all efforts in their power to recapture the fugitives, but as yet without success.
We deem it not inappropriate to state, in conclusion, that in consequence of the great difficulty we have labored under in procuring witnesses, many of whom have been brought from a great distance, making it necessary for us to adjourn from day to day while awaiting their arrival, our session has been protracted to an unusual length. In the discharge of our duties we have examined one hundred and forty witnesses, besides reviewing a great deal of the written testimony given in the various cases tried in the Justices’ Court, and now, having finished the business before us, we submit this our report and ask to be discharged.
All of which is most respectfully submitted.
JOHN S. MAYHUGH,
Foreman of Grand Jury.
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