Juries Rule

Apology: [I last wrote a chapter for this newsletter on February 2. I do apologize that it has taken me so long to get back to it, but I hope you will understand that sometimes, life happens. To put it more accurately, I was overloaded and overwhelmed. I worked on the novel, The Ghost at Beaverhead Rock (to be launched June 4), and taught an eight-week self-publishing course at Flathead Valley Community College during February and March, followed in April by a four-week class on “Montana’s Vigilante History.”

[About mid-March, I was asked if I could finish The Ghost at Beaverhead Rock by June 4, in time for the first annual book event by the Whitefish (Montana) Community Library. I did, though how I don’t know how. The 7 weeks between “yes” and “done” are a blur.

[To pick up the Vigilante story where we left off. Up to this point, the organization we know as the Vigilantes of Montana has yet to be formed. George Ives has been tried, and the case is in the hands of the juries.]

If you remember, Wilbur Sanders, one of the two prosecutors of George Ives, came up with a brilliant compromise between two contradictory jury systems. The miners courts often used what they called the “jury of the whole,” anyone who was present when a vote was taken for or against the defendant. The Constitutional legal system used a sworn jury of 12 men.

The trial of George Ives took place where the two signs stand. John Xavier Beidler sat astride the ridge pole on the little building at left.

The trial of George Ives took place where the two signs stand. John Xavier Beidler sat astride the ridge pole on the little building at left.

To satisfy the crowd of 1,500 that stood around the court area on the main street of Nevada City, Sanders proposed that both types of jury be employed. Two mining districts, Nevada and Junction, cooperated in the trial, so Sanders had proposed that twelve men from each district serve as an “advisory jury,” and that the jury of the whole render the final verdict.

When the defense rested, the advisory juries were sent out to deliberate.

They returned, wrote Nathaniel Pitt Langford, in less than half an hour. Twenty-three men voted “Guilty.” One man voted “Not Guilty.”

Some in the crowd thanked God for the “righteous verdict,” as Langford calls it. Others growled, shouted curses, and threatened jurors to the staccato clicking of “guns and revolvers.” According to Langford, “one of the ruffians” called the prosecution, “‘murderous, strangling villains.'” (I doubt ‘villains’ was the exact term.)

In the midst of the chaos, Sanders jumped into one of the wagons and shouted a motion: “That the report be received, and the jury be discharged.” When that carried by acclamation, he followed it up immediately with a motion to “adopt as their verdict the report of the committee.”

Langford reports,

The prisoner’s counsel sprung to their feet to oppose the motion, but it was carried by such a large majority, that the assemblage seemed at once to gather fresh life and encouragement for the discharge of the solemn duty which it imposed.”

There was a pause, perhaps to anticipate what came next, and many probably recalled that the trial of Buck Stinson and Hayes Lyons for murdering D. H. Dillingham in June ended in the killers going free because no one had the will to act.

The penalty for a guilty verdict in the capital crime of murder was, and is, death.

At this point Wilbur Sanders, speaking for the prosecution moved “That George Ives be forthwith hanged by the neck until he be dead.”

Forthwith. Immediately. Now. There would be no re-vote, as in the Stinson-Lyons trial. Young Nick Tbalt would not lie in his grave without justice.

God's Thunderbolt, 2009 Spur winnerl

God’s Thunderbolt, 2009 Spur winner

Before Ives’s supporters and lawyers could react, the jury of the whole, that is, the crowd, voted “Aye” by acclamation.

Now Ives appeared to recognize his danger, and he requested – “begged piteously” – writes Langford, for a delay until morning so that he could write to his mother and sisters. Someone remembered, says Langford, that he had “written and sent to his mother and sisters an account of his own murder by Indians.” After that, no one thought it was a good reason for delay.

When he continued to beg for more time, a voice from the top of a nearby cabin shouted, “Ask him how much time he gave the Dutchman.” With that, John X. Beidler became part of Montana history.

The two sheriffs, Adriel B. Davis of Junction and Robert Hereford of Nevada, found a log intended for use as a ridgepole in a new building. They dragged it so that one end extended over the wall and put a noose around it. Again, Langford: “A large dry-goods box about five feet high was placed beneath for the trap.”

It was now dark, and the temperature dropped very fast as Ives stood on the box. He said, “I am not guilty of this crime.” One or two sources report an emphasis on “this,” but no one was concerned to discover what crimes he might have been guilty of, other than those revealed during the trial. He finished, “Aleck Carter killed the Dutchman.”

He tried to delay by making various requests, but the prosecutors and many others feared an attempt to rescue him, perhaps by his friends among the crowd, or by Henry Plummer, whom many still expected to ride in from Bannack.

For the first time, the order was heard: “Men, do your duty.”

Several men snatched the box from under Ives, and he dropped to his death.

One phase of Montana’s vigilante history had ended, and the rest would begin that night.