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|The Barstow Lynching
"This is my story, sir; a trifle, indeed, I assure you.
Much more, perchance, might be said -
but I hold him of all men most lightly
Who swerves from the truth in his tale. No, thank you
Well, since you are pressing,
Perhaps I don't care if I do: you may give me the same,
Jim - no sugar."
- Bret Harte.
Contests of every sort were the order of the day in '49. Any ferocious encounter which would promulgate betting was countenanced, and even encouraged. There were dog fights, bull fights, bobcat or mountain lynx fights, and fights between game chickens.
The tale is even told of cootie fights during long, rainy winter evenings which must be spent indoors. The harborers of the contestants simply reached under their shirts, drew forth a doughty grey-backed warrior, placed him on a child's slate which was used as an arena, and the fight was on.
A camp named Lousy Level is said to have made a specialty of this sort of battle. Thousands of dollars were sometimes bet upon the outcome. Arguments arising from various combats often developed into robbing, murdering and lynching. This, then, is the tale of a certain lynching.
* * * * *
"Step up, gents. Only a dollar to see the big fight. One little dollar to view the greatest contest of the age. See the champion fighting jackass of the state vanquish the biggest grizzly in the Sierra mountains.
"The unconquerable battling jackass who has whipped two bulls down at Sonora, and caused a mountain lion to turn tail. Step up, gents. Only a dollar to get inside the ropes," and Webfoot Watson waved a well-kept hand toward the arena. It was a pine-staked palisade, bound around the top with rawhide thongs. At one end, the "champion donk" was tethered, and at the other the "fiercest grizzly" was confined in a stout cage of solid planks.
"Step in, gents! There are logs and stumps to stand on. The show will begin immediately. We are now loosing the lion-eating jack. He - "
"Hey!" roared Swipe-eye Weller, pointing to the laden trees outside the enclosure, "ef you think I'm agoin' to pay a dollar for this here show jest because I ain't no tree-climbin' animal, you're pickin' out the wrong customer. They coughs up a screamer apiece, or this act don't begin actin'. That's final!"
Nothing loath, Webfoot claimed the penalty from the crowd perched in the trees, in some instances not without the aid of his six-shooter, and the jack was then turned loose in the palisade.
"He's eatin' grass," piped up old Grease-top Jamie. "Say, I can see twenty jackasses eatin', down to the boardin' house at Blue Tent any day, an' I don't have to pay no dollar, neither. Turn out ye'r baar!"
"Hi! Here he comes! Eat 'im up, jack! Why, that ain't no grizzly. Sufferin' stars, he's only a little scared cinnamon."
"He's goin' after mister-old-donk, though."
"Ye-aw. Lookin' fer protection. Hey, look at the donk landin' kicks on 'is ribs. Ride 'im baar! Claw 'im up! Give 'im - " but the little cinnamon bear reached the fence in three jumps, scaled it, and took to the grease-wood thickets in record time in spite of the yells and bullets of the disgruntled spectators.
Webfoot had made even better time than the bear, and only the placid jack remained as a memento of the occasion. He was taken at the head of a long procession of miners and made the occasion for a call upon the whole round of fandango houses, and dispensaries of liquid rowdyism in the camp.
"Partners, aren't you getting somewhat rough with the little fellow?" asked a young man in unimpeachable black broadcloth.
"Why, it's Anthony Barstow! Look at the purple raiment! Man, you must have struck pay dirt."
"Yes, thank you, my claim has turned out to be a rich one. What will you take for the donk?"
"Help yourself. He's a maverick. What's that? Dog fight? Sic 'im, Rover!" and the fickle and drink-befuddled mob hurried off down the street to the newest excitement.
Anthony took half an apple from his pocket. "I was saving it for tomorrow, but do you think you could manage it, Little Pard?" The long ears lifted at once, and the soft hairy muzzle took the delicacy daintily out of his fingers. Anthony petted him and sauntered on, into the best of the gambling halls. He seated himself at a table presided over by a woman dealer.
"Monsieur, it is not permitted zat ze gamblair shall play," she told him courteously, with a flash of very beautiful white teeth.
"Ho! Ho! Barstow," roared Copper-down Hicks. "That's one on you! The madam, here, sees your brand new togs and thinks you tickle the green cloth for a livin'."
"It is monsieur's toilette zat 'ave cause ze mistake. I have now better observe he's face. He is welcome."
"Don't think your friend can sit in, though," observed Champer-down, grinning broadly.
Anthony turned. The donkey had followed him in, and was standing just behind his chair, head hanging, ears lopping, lethargic patience showing in every contour of his shaggy body.
"I have consorted with many of his kind," said Anthony, smiling, "and I prefer his frank sincerity, his bravery under stress, his worldly poise, his calm exterior, which does conceal the fiery depths of his nature; in fact, all his so-called animal attributes I prefer, to the more sophisticated allure of his human gender." Anthony laid a strong hand on the little beast's shoulder, while the French woman regarded him curiously out of long black eyes.
"There, take that, you good for nothing cur," and a man kicked a dog in through the door, to lie in a twisted, bloody heap upon the floor.
"What do you mean, you brute!" called Anthony, springing upon the miner, who immediately closed with him. Mignon screamed, and ran to stop them.
"Monsieur, for why you do - ?"
"Aw, he got licked. I lost money on him."
"Yes, and you haven't paid me, neither. You shell out, you Buckeye Pete!" spoke up a tall Kentuckian, with a mastiff on a leash.
"It wasn't a fair fight, Spotty Collins," whined Buckeye.
"It was - it was, so!" called a chorus of voices.
"I'll buy your dog," said Anthony. "That will pay your debts." Anthony handed the money to Collins, picked up the half dead dog, and, holding him against his immaculate new frilled shirt, he strode away toward his claim over the mountain. The jack, whose attitude had hair," never changed "by so much as the waving of a suddenly raised an alert head and as his benefactor vanished, he ambled quickly after him.
Pete sought to stop him at the door and in one lightning and concerted movement, he bit and struck and kicked, scattering the crowd in all directions. When the men watching Anthony down the street, burst into laughter at the bizarre procession, the French girl silenced them with fierce, hissing syllables..
"Heh! Dude Anthony, beloved of the b - "
"Zose words you shall not call la petite hound an' me. Even name of a dog is for such as you too good to be call'. Monsieur, we take pleasaire in your departure from hence."
"Go on, please the lady, Buckeye. There's no other jackass to keep you here any longer."
And Buckeye departed in a perfect indigo haze of profanity.
* * * * *
"Mignon, have you heard the news?"
"Non, Monsieur, I 'ave sleep all ze day."
"Spotty Collins was found in Blue Ravine this morning, robbed and murdered. You see, he had a lot of money on him from the dog fight."
"But ze beeg hound?"
"He was shot, too."
"Ze murderer, zey 'ave caught?"
"Not yet. They say the sheriff's on his trail, though. He just got back from Sacramento and he went right out. By jinks, he's coming now! An' he's got 'im!"
"Mon Dieu! It is Monsieur Ant'ony!"
"Oui! Heem, my woman's heart knows well."
"By jinks, you must be right! There's the fightin' jack followin' the horses. Dude Anthony of all people!"
"It is not true! It cannot be!"
"Think I've got my man, boys. His clothes are covered with blood and the money was in his cabin."
"I have just made a strike in my claim. That is my own money."
"Yes, of course, but the court thinks you oughtn't to keep it too long!"
"The 'court' is in his cups. He's sittin' over there in the plaza with his back against the flag pole, an' he won't budge. You listen - .
"Judge, can I see you to your room for a few hours' sleep?"
"What for?" asked the judge, eyeing the questioner solemnly. "Is there anything in the statutes of the State of California which forbids my pre-empting this small space on the highway? Is there any reason, if I am so inclined, that I should not teach my fellow-citizens the great moral lesson of the overthrow and debasement of genius by the demon rum? Am I not better employed than if in a stifling, tobacco-perfumed courtroom, beating law into the thick skull of a lawyer, who doesn't know Blackstone from white quartz? But, if you have four bits on you, and should ask me to join you - Ah, you have?"
"Well," said the sheriff to Anthony, after they had vanished into a near bar, "I'll have to put you in the jug till court convenes."
* * * * *
Buckeye Pete was celebrating. He seemed to be suddenly flush with "dust" and was dispensing drinks with a liberality which soon brought him a numerous following. By midnight it was a well-mellowed assemblage.
"Mignon, how long have you been dealin'?"
"About tree, four mont', Monsieur."
"I don't mean here. I mean altogether."
"About six ye-ar, Monsieur."
"You must be well off by this time. An' they say that you've earned it all workin', and that you're straight. Say, I'll marry you, if you say the word - "
"You say, they say, too much, Monsieur."
"Here! Don't you go givin' me no orders, you French crinoline fluff!"
"I ordair no man, an' no man is ordair me!" She stared him down with her glittering, black eyes, and returned to her dealing. Pete strolled out, followed by his satellites. When the noises in the street grew louder it caused no particular comment. It was the usual thing. But when a crowd burst into the Royal Flush, Mignon sprang to her feet with a cry of anguish.
"Dealt me a raw deal, didn't yeh, you smart Frenchie?" gloated Buckeye Pete. "Well, look at your man. Take a good look, an' don't miss the necktie he's wearin'. Pretty li'l rope choker we got for Dandy Anthony. Ain't no man can go killin' an' get away with it, while I'm here," looking around for applause.
"Name of a pig!" hissed Mignon. "You - you would."
"Sure' we would! Right out on the lynchin' tree." She turned and dashed for the rear. "Ze sheriff! He must come toute suite!"
"Min," whispered Soft-soap Joe, the bartender, "he left two hours ago on a new case, otherwise they wouldn't a-dared do this."
"Mon Dieu! An' ze justice, he is intoxicate! Mother Marie, pray for him," she cried, in her own language, and she ran after the lynching party.
Once she stopped, shaking with terror at what she took to be a grizzly in the path. It was only the fighting donkey still following the master whom he had adopted. He made his way to the very center of the mob. The French girl followed and, climbing onto a barrel, faced the crowd with flashing eyes.
"Consider what you do! The judgment of le bon Dieu will be upon you!"
"Aw! Choke her off! Pull her down, somebody."
But the three or four who tried to reach Mignon on her barrel next to the bound man on the horse beneath the hanging tree, fell victim to the "greatest battling jack in the state."
"My friend," orated the old judge afterwards, in describing these events, "what mere man, however filled with tanglefoot, could face the wicked teeth, and hoofs, and kicks which had conquered wild Texas bulls, caused the mountain lion to cringe in his lair, and the invincible grizzly to flee across the Sierras?"
At any rate, the little donkey was everywhere at once, biting, striking, kicking, squealing, with the venom and speed and precision of a rattlesnake, while Mignon railed, unmindful of Anthony's protests.
"Ze blood on hees clothes! Bah! You 'ave all see 'ow he is carry home la petite so-hurt dog. Oui! ze dog of Monsieur Pete. Who is know where Monsieur Collins is go for new dog fight? Monsieur Pete! Who has anger at Monsieur Ant'ony for because I, Mignon, 'ave look once again at Monsieur, who is so kind to all who I ave pain? Monsieur Pete! Who is insult good girl? That's me. Monsieur Pete! Who is spend much money tonight, who yesterday was br-r-oke? Monsieur Pete! Who, zen, should you swing on ze rope?"
She waited. There was absolute silence save for the crackle of the flaming pine-pitch torches.
"Ver' well,' 'in a low voice. "I, me, Mignon, shall answer." Again she paused. A long way down the canyon she heard horses galloping on the hard road. "Monsieur Pete!" she screamed, at the top of her voice.
The mob struggled forward, yelling.
"Ver' well!" she cried, snatching a silver-mounted pistol out of her bosom. "Come on! Ze jackass, he is ke-e-ll five! I, Mignon, I ke-e-ll five! Ten shall go to le diable before mon brave shall hang!"
They hesitated, those in front pressing back from the certain death which awaited them. Mignon set her arms akimbo, the gun gleaming at her hip, and taunted them in contemptuous French.
The horsemen had reached the camp and soon thundered into view. "What's this going on, anyway?" demanded the sheriff, angrily. "Anthony Barstow is innocent. These men can prove that they spent the night at Barstow's cabin. When I learned the truth, I came straight back. Buckeye Pete, you throw up your hands! You're wanted for the murder of Spotty Collins."
Mignon tore the noose from Anthony's neck, laughing and crying in true French abandon.
"Anthony, you're snared in another kind of noose," laughed the sheriff. "I know you're need in' your arms, but that rip-snortin' little jack won't let me get near enough to cut your bonds."
"By Salsifer!" he said, later on, "I'll have to swear that fighting jack in as a deputy sheriff, and set him to watchin' road agents confined in the jail. Well, goodnight, all. Pete's locked up safe and sound."
An hour later a sober band of grim spectres returned to the jail, overpowered the guard, and, for the second time that night, took out grisly fruit to hang on the lynching tree. There were no pine knots and no attempts at conversation till the leader asked: "Buckeye Pete, have you anything to say before you join your Maker?"
"Ain't no use prayin' for yourself," spoke up another voice. "Better pray for the soul of the man you sent to Purgatory, and for the well-bein' of the other innocent man you tried to destroy."
"It's that fightin' jack, prowlin' 'round."
"Let 'im prowl! Now, then, boys, are you ready? Then pull!" and, as the old judge always told in conclusion, "they say, as the men gave a mighty heave on the rope the donkey ran forward and kicked the barrel from under the doomed man's feet!"