Those were troublous times indeed. All-wool justice in the courts was impossible. The vigilance committee, or Salvation army, as it called itself, didn’t make much fuss about its work, but we all knew that the best citizens belonged to it, and were in good standing.
It was in those days that young Stewart was short-handed for a sheep-herder, and had to take up with a sullen, hairy vagrant called by the other boys, “Esau.” Esau hadn’t been on the ranch a week before he made trouble with the proprietor and got from Stewart the red-hot blessing he deserved.
Then Esau got madder and skulked away down the valley among the little sage brush hummocks and white alkali wasteland, to nurse his wrath. When Stewart drove into the corral that night, Esau rose up from behind an old sheep dip-tank, and without a word except what may have growled around in his black heart, he leveled a Spencer rifle and shot his young employer dead.
That was the tragedy of that week only. Others had occurred before and others would probably occur again. Tragedy was getting too prevalent for comfort. So as soon as a quick cayuse and a boy could get down into town, the news spread and the authorities began in the routine manner to set the old legal mill to running. Some one had to go down to “The Tivoli” and find the prosecuting attorney, then a messenger had to go to “The Alhambra” for the justice of the peace. The prosecuting attorney was “full,” and the judge had just drawn one card to complete a straight flush, and had succeeded.
So it took time to get square-toed justice ready and arm the sheriff with the proper documents.
In the meantime the Salvation army was fully half way to Clugston’s ranch. They had started out, as they said, “to see that Esau didn’t get away.” They were also going to see that Esau was brought into town.
What happened after they got out there I only know from hearsay, for I was not a member of the Salvation army at that time. But I learned from one of those present, that they found Esau down in the sage brush on the bottoms that lie between the abrupt corner of Sheep mountain and the Little Laramie river. They captured him but he died soon after, as it was told me, from the effects of opium taken with suicidal intent. I remember seeing Esau the next morning, and I thought I noticed signs of ropium, as there was a purple streak around the neck of the deceased, together with other external phenomena not peculiar to opium.
But the grand difficulty with the Salvation army was that it didn’t want to bring Esau into town. A long, cold night ride with a person in Esau’s condition was disagreeable. Twenty miles of lonely road with a deceased murderer in the bottom of the wagon is depressing. Those of my readers who have tried it will agree with me that it is not calculated to promote hilarity.
So the Salvation army stopped at Whatley’s ranch to get warm, hoping that some one would steal the remains and elope with them. They stayed some time and managed to “give away” the fact that there was a reward of $5,000 out for Esau, dead or alive. The Salvation army even went so far as to betray a good deal of hilarity over the easy way it had nailed the reward or would as soon as said remains were delivered up and identified.
Mr. Whatley thought that the Salvation army was having a kind of walk away, so he slipped out at the back door of the ranch, put Esau into his own wagon and drove off to town. Remember, this is the way it was told to me.
Mr. Whatley hadn’t gone more than half a mile when he heard the wild and disappointed yells of the Salvation army. He put the buckskin on the back of his horse without mercy, urged on by the enraged shouts and yells of his infuriated pursuers. He reached town about midnight, and his pursuers disappeared. But what was he to do with Esau?
He drove around all over town trying to find the official who signed for the deceased. He went from house to house like a vegetable vender, seeking sadly for the party who would give him a $5,000 check for Esau. Nothing could be more depressing than to wake up one man after another out of a sound sleep, and invite him to come out to the buggy and identify the remains. One man went out and looked at him. He said he didn’t know how others felt about it, but he allowed that anybody who would pay $5,000 for such a remains as Esau’s could not have very good taste.
Gradually it crept through Mr. Whatley’s wool that the Salvation army had been working him, so he left Esau at the engine house and went home. On his ranch he nailed up a large board, on which had been painted in antique characters, with a paddle and tar, the following:
[finger right] Vigilance Committees, Salvation Armies, Morgues, or young physicians who may have deceased people on their hands, are requested to refrain from conferring them on to the undersigned.
[finger right] People who contemplate shuffling off their own or other people’s mortal coils will please not do so on these grounds.
[finger right] The Salvation Army of the Rocky Mountains is especially hereby warned to keep off the Grass! JAMES WHATLEY.