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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]


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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]




THE first twenty-six graves in the Virginia cemetery were
occupied by murdered men. So everybody said, so
everybody believed, and so they will always say and believe.
The reason why there was so much slaughtering done, was,
that in a new mining district the rough element predominates,
and a person is not respected until he has “killed his
man.” That was the very expression used.

If an unknown individual arrived, they did not inquire if
he was capable, honest, industrious, but—had he killed his
man? If he had not, he gravitated to his natural and proper
position, that of a man of small consequence; if he had, the
cordiality of his reception was graduated according to the
number of his dead. It was tedious work struggling up to a
position of influence with bloodless hands; but when a man
came with the blood of half a dozen men on his soul, his worth
was recognized at once and his acquaintance sought.

In Nevada, for a time, the lawyer, the editor, the banker,
the chief desperado, the chief gambler, and the saloon keeper,
occupied the same level in society, and it was the highest.
The cheapest and easiest way to become an influential man
and be looked up to by the community at large, was to stand
behind a bar, wear a cluster-diamond pin, and sell whisky. I
am not sure but that the saloon-keeper held a shade higher
rank than any other member of society. His opinion had
weight. It was his privilege to say how the elections should


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go. No great movement could succeed without the countenance
and direction of the saloon-keepers. It was a high favor
when the chief saloon-keeper consented to serve in the legislature
or the board of aldermen. Youthful ambition hardly
aspired so much to the honors of the law, or the army and
navy as to the dignity of proprietorship in a saloon.

To be a saloon-keeper and kill a man was to be illustrious.
Hence the reader will not be surprised to learn that more
than one man was killed in Nevada under hardly the pretext
of provocation, so impatient was the slayer to achieve reputation
and throw off the galling sense of being held in indifferent


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repute by his associates. I knew two youths who tried to
“kill their men” for no other reason—and got killed themselves
for their pains. “There goes the man that killed Bill
Adams” was higher praise and a sweeter sound in the ears of
this sort of people than any other speech that admiring lips
could utter.

The men who murdered Virginia's original twenty-six
cemetery-occupants were never punished. Why? Because
Alfred the Great, when he invented trial by jury, and knew
that he had admirably framed it to secure justice in his age of
the world, was not aware that in the nineteenth century the
condition of things would be so entirely changed that unless
he rose from the grave and altered the jury plan to meet the
emergency, it would prove the most ingenious and infallible
agency for defeating justice that human wisdom could contrive.
For how could he imagine that we simpletons would
go on using his jury plan after circumstances had stripped it
of its usefulness, any more than he could imagine that we
would go on using his candle-clock after we had invented
chronometers? In his day news could not travel fast, and
hence he could easily find a jury of honest, intelligent men
who had not heard of the case they were called to try—but in
our day of telegraphs and newspapers his plan compels us to
swear in juries composed of fools and rascals, because the
system rigidly excludes honest men and men of brains.

I remember one of those sorrowful farces, in Virginia,
which we call a jury trial. A noted desperado killed Mr. B.,
a good citizen, in the most wanton and cold-blooded way.
Of course the papers were full of it, and all men capable of
reading, read about it. And of course all men not deaf and
dumb and idiotic, talked about it. A jury-list was made out,
and Mr. B. L., a prominent banker and a valued citizen, was
questioned precisely as he would have been questioned in any
court in America:

“Have you heard of this homicide?”


“Have you held conversations upon the subject?”


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“Have you formed or expressed opinions about it?”


“Have you read the newspaper accounts of it?”


“We do not want you.”

A minister, intelligent, esteemed, and greatly respected;
a merchant of high character and known probity; a mining
superintendent of intelligence and unblemished reputation; a
quartz mill owner of excellent standing, were all questioned in
the same way, and all set aside. Each said the public talk and
the newspaper reports had not so biased his mind but that
sworn testimony would overthrow his previously formed opinions
and enable him to render a verdict without prejudice and
in accordance with the facts. But of course such men could
not be trusted with the case. Ignoramuses alone could mete
out unsullied justice.

When the peremptory challenges were all exhausted, a jury
of twelve men was impaneled—a jury who swore they had
neither heard, read, talked about nor expressed an opinion
concerning a murder which the very cattle in the corrals, the
Indians in the sage-brush and the stones in the streets were
cognizant of! It was a jury composed of two desperadoes,
two low beer-house politicians, three bar-keepers, two ranchmen
who could not read, and three dull, stupid, human donkeys!


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It actually came out afterward, that one of these latter thought
that incest and arson were the same thing.

The verdict rendered by this jury was, Not Guilty. What
else could one expect?

The jury system puts a ban upon intelligence and honesty,
and a premium upon ignorance, stupidity and perjury. It is
a shame that we must continue to use a worthless system because
it was good a thousand years ago. In this age, when a
gentleman of high social standing, intelligence and probity,
swears that testimony given under solemn oath will outweigh,
with him, street talk and newspaper reports based upon mere
hearsay, he is worth a hundred jurymen who will swear to
their own ignorance and stupidity, and justice would be far
safer in his hands than in theirs. Why could not the jury law
be so altered as to give men of brains and honesty an equal
with fools and miscreants? Is it right to show the
present favoritism to one class of men and inflict a disability
on another, in a land whose boast is that all its citizens are
free and equal? I am a candidate for the legislature. I desire
to tamper with the jury law. I wish to so alter it as to
put a premium on intelligence and character, and close the
jury box against idiots, blacklegs, and people who do not read
newspapers. But no doubt I shall be defeated—every effort
I make to save the country “misses fire.”

My idea, when I began this chapter, was to say something
about desperadoism in the “flush times” of Nevada.
To attempt a portrayal of that era and that land, and leave
out the blood and carnage, would be like portraying Mormondom
and leaving out polygamy. The desperado stalked the
streets with a swagger graded according to the number of his
homicides, and a nod of recognition from him was sufficient
to make a humble admirer happy for the rest of the day.
The deference that was paid to a desperado of wide reputation,
and who “kept his private graveyard,” as the phrase
went, was marked, and cheerfully accorded. When he moved
along the sidewalk in his excessively long-tailed frock-coat,
shiny stump-toed boots, and with dainty little slouch hat


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tipped over left eye, the small-fry roughs made room for his
majesty; when he entered the restaurant, the waiters deserted
bankers and merchants to overwhelm him with obsequious
service; when he
shouldered his way
to a bar, the shouldered
wheeled indignantly,
him, and—apologized.
They got
a look in return
that froze their
marrow, and by
that time a curled
and breast-pinned
bar keeper was
beaming over the
counter, proud of
the established acquaintanceship
permitted such a familiar form of speech as:

“How 're ye, Billy, old fel? Glad to see you. What'll
you take—the old thing?”

The “old thing” meant his customary drink, of course.

The best known names in the Territory of Nevada were
those belonging to these long-tailed heroes of the revolver.
Orators, Governors, capitalists and leaders of the legislature
enjoyed a degree of fame, but it seemed local and meagre when
contrasted with the fame of such men as Sam Brown, Jack
Williams, Billy Mulligan, Farmer Pease, Sugarfoot Mike,
Pock-Marked Jake, El Dorado Johnny, Jack McNabb, Joe
McGee, Jack Harris, Six-fingered Pete, etc., etc. There was
a long list of them. They were brave, reckless men, and
traveled with their lives in their hands. To give them their
due, they did their killing principally among themselves, and


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seldom molested peaceable citizens, for they considered it
small credit to add to their trophies so cheap a bauble as the
death of a man who was “not on the shoot,” as they phrased
it. They killed each other on slight provocation, and hoped
and expected to be killed themselves—for they held it almost
shame to die otherwise than “with their boots on,” as they
expressed it.

I remember an instance of a desperado's contempt for such
small game as a private citizen's life. I was taking a late
supper in a restaurant one night, with two reporters and a
little printer named—Brown, for instance—any name will do.
Presently a stranger with a long-tailed coat on came in, and
not noticing Brown's hat, which was lying in a chair, sat down
on it. Little Brown sprang up and became abusive in a
moment. The stranger smiled, smoothed out the hat, and
offered it to Brown with profuse apologies couched in caustic
sarcasm, and begged Brown not to destroy him. Brown threw
off his coat and challenged the man to fight—abused him,
threatened him, impeached his courage, and urged and even
implored him to fight; and in the meantime the smiling
stranger placed himself under our protection in mock distress.
But presently he assumed a serious tone, and said:

“Very well, gentlemen, if we must fight, we must, I suppose.
But don't rush into danger and then say I gave you no
warning. I am more than a match for all of you when I get
started. I will give you proofs, and then if my friend here
still insists, I will try to accommodate him.”

The table we were sitting at was about five feet long, and
unusually cumbersome and heavy. He asked us to put our
hands on the dishes and hold them in their places a moment
—one of them was a large oval dish with a portly roast on it.
Then he sat down, tilted up one end of the table, set two of
the legs on his knees, took the end of the table between his
teeth, took his hands away, and pulled down with his teeth till
the table came up to a level position, dishes and all! He said
he could lift a keg of nails with his teeth. He picked up a
common glass tumbler and bit a semi-circle out of it. Then


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he opened his bosom and showed us a net-work of knife and
bullet scars; showed us more on his arms and face, and
said he believed he had bullets enough in his body to make a
pig of lead. He was armed to the teeth. He closed with the
remark that he was Mr. — of Cariboo—a celebrated name
whereat we shook in our shoes. I would publish the name,
but for the suspicion that he might come and carve me. He
finally inquired if Brown still thirsted for blood. Brown
turned the thing over in his mind a moment, and then—asked
him to supper.

With the permission of the reader, I will group together,
in the next chapter, some samples of life in our small mountain
village in the old days of desperadoism. I was there at
the time. The reader will observe peculiarities in our official
society; and he will observe also, an instance of how, in new
countries, murders breed murders.