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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]


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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]




THESE murder and jury statistics remind me of a certain
very extraordinary trial and execution of twenty years
ago; it is a scrap of history familiar to all old Californians,
and worthy to be known by other peoples of the earth that
love simple, straightforward justice unencumbered with nonsense.
I would apologize for this digression but for the fact
that the information I am about to offer is apology enough in
itself. And since I digress constantly anyhow, perhaps it is
as well to eschew apologies altogether and thus prevent their
growing irksome.

Capt. Ned Blakely—that name will answer as well as any
other fictitious one (for he was still with the living at last accounts,
and may not desire to be famous)—sailed ships out of
the harbor of San Francisco for many years. He was a stalwart,
warm-hearted, eagle-eyed veteran, who had been a sailor
nearly fifty years—a sailor from early boyhood. He was a
rough, honest creature, full of pluck, and just as full of hardheaded
simplicity, too. He hated trifling conventionalities—
“business” was the word, with him. He had all a sailor's
vindictiveness against the quips and quirks of the law, and
steadfastly believed that the first and last aim and object of the
law and lawyers was to defeat justice.

He sailed for the Chincha Islands in command of a gnano
ship. He had a fine crew, but his negro mate was his pet—
on him he had for years lavished his admiration and esteem.
It was Capt. Ned's first voyage to the Chinchas, but his fame
had gone before him—the fame of being a man who would


Page 353


[Description: 504EAF. Page 353. In-line image of a man hanging over the edge of a ship, while another man holds him by the collar.]
fight at the dropping of a handkerchief, when imposed upon,
and would stand no nonsense. It was a fame well earned.
Arrived in the islands, he found that the staple of conversation
was the exploits of one Bill Noakes, a bully, the mate of a
trading ship. This man had created a small reign of terror
there. At nine o'clock at night, Capt. Ned, all alone, was
pacing his deck in the starlight. A form ascended the side,
and approached him. Capt. Ned said:

“Who goes there?”

“I'm Bill Noakes, the best man in the islands.”

“What do you want aboard this ship?”

“I've heard of Capt. Ned Blakely, and one of us is a better
man than 'tother—I'll know which, before I go ashore.”

“You've come to the right shop—I'm your man. I'll
learn you to come aboard this ship without an invite.”

He seized Noakes, backed him against the mainmast,
pounded his face to a pulp, and then threw him overboard.


Page 354

Noakes was not convinced. He returned the next night,
got the pulp renewed, and went overboard head first, as before.
He was satisfied.

A week after this, while Noakes was carousing with a sailor
crowd on shore, at noonday, Capt. Ned's colored mate came
along, and Noakes tried to pick a quarrel with him. The
negro evaded the trap, and tried to get away. Noakes followed
him up; the negro began to run; Noakes fired on him
with a revolver and killed him. Half a dozen sea-captains
witnessed the whole affair. Noakes retreated to the small
after-cabin of his ship, with two other bullies, and gave out
that death would be the portion of any man that intruded
there. There was no attempt made to follow the villains;
there was no disposition to do it, and indeed very little thought
of such an enterprise. There were no courts and no officers;
there was no government; the islands belonged to Peru, and
Peru was far away; she had no official representative on the
ground; and neither had any other nation.

However, Capt. Ned was not perplexing his head about
such things. They concerned him not. He was boiling with
rage and furious for justice. At nine o'clock at night he
loaded a double-barreled gun with slugs, fished out a pair-of
handcuffs, got a ship's lantern, summoned his quartermaster,
and went ashore. He said:

“Do you see that ship there at the dock?”

“Ay-ay, sir.”

“It's the Venus.”

“Ay-ay, sir.”

“You—you know me.

“Ay-ay, sir.”

“Very well, then. Take the lantern. Carry it just under
your chin. I'll walk behind you and rest this gun-barrel on
your shoulder, p'inting forward—so. Keep your lantern well
up, so's I can see things ahead of you good. I'm going to march
in on Noakes—and take him—and jug the other chaps. If
you flinch—well, you know me.

“Ay-ay, sir.”


Page 355



[Description: 504EAF. Page 355. In-line image of a man with a gun leading a young boy into a room with a latern held at his belly. The people in the room are looking at the man with the gun.]

In this order they filed aboard softly, arrived at Noakes's
den, the quartermaster pushed the door open, and the lantern
revealed the three desperadoes sitting on the floor. Capt.
Ned said:

“I'm Ned Blakely. I've got you under fire. Don't you
move without orders—any of you. You two kneel down in the
corner; faces to the wall—now. Bill Noakes, put these handcuffs
on; now come up close. Quartermaster, fasten 'em. All
right. Don't stir, sir. Quartermaster, put the key in the outside
of the door. Now, men, I'm going to lock you two in;
and if you try to burst through this door—well, you've heard
of me. Bill Noakes, fall in ahead, and march. All set.
Quartermaster, lock the door.”

Noakes spent the night on board Blakelys ship, a prisoner
under strict guard. Early in the morning Capt. Ned called in
all the sea-captains in the harbor and invited them, with nautical
ceremony, to be present on board his ship at nine o'clock to
witness the hanging of Noakes at the yard-arm!


Page 356

“What! The man has not been tried.”

“Of course he hasn't. But didn't he kill the nigger?”

“Certainly he did; but you are not thinking of hanging
him without a trial?”

Trial! What do I want to try him for, if he killed the

“Oh, Capt. Ned, this will never do. Think how it will

“Sound be hanged! Didn't he kill the nigger?

“Certainly, certainly, Capt. Ned,—nobody denies that,—

“Then I'm going to hang him, that's all. Everybody I've
talked to talks just the same way you do. Everybody says he
killed the nigger, everybody knows he killed the nigger, and yet
every lubber of you wants him tried for it. I don't understand
such bloody foolishness as that. Tried! Mind you, I don't
object to trying him, if it's got to be done to give satisfaction;
and I'll be there, and chip in and help, too; but put it off till
afternoon—put it off till afternoon, for I'll have my hands
middling full till after the burying—”

“Why, what do you mean? Are you going to hang him
any how—and try him afterward?”

“Didn't I say I was going to hang him? I never saw
such people as you. What's the difference? You ask a favor,
and then you ain't satisfied when you get it. Before or after's
all one—you know how the trial will go. He killed the
nigger. Say—I must be going. If your mate would like to
come to the hanging, fetch him along. I like him.”

There was a stir in the camp. The captains came in a
body and pleaded with Capt. Ned not to do this rash thing.
They promised that they would create a court composed of
captains of the best character; they would empanel a jury;
they would conduct everything in a way becoming the serious
nature of the business in hand, and give the case an impartial
hearing and the accused a fair trial. And they said it would
be murder, and punishable by the American courts if he persisted
and hung the accused on his ship. They pleaded hard.
Capt. Ned said:


Page 357

“Gentlemen, I'm not stubborn and I'm not unreasonable.
I'm always willing to do just as near right as I can. How
long will it take?”

“Probably only a little while.”

“And can I take him up the shore and hang him as soon
as you are done?”

“If he is proven guilty he shall be hanged without unnecessary

If he's proven guilty. Great Neptune, ain't he guilty?
This beats my time. Why you all know he's guilty.”

But at last they satisfied him that they were projecting
nothing underhanded. Then he said:

“Well, all right. You go on and try him and I'll go down
and overhaul his conscience and prepare him to go—like
enough he needs it, and I don't want to send him off without
a show for hereafter.”

This was another obstacle. They finally convinced him
that it was necessary to have the accused in court. Then they
said they would send a guard to bring him.

“No, sir, I prefer to fetch him myself—he don't get out of
my hands. Besides, I've got to go to the ship to get a rope,

The court assembled with due ceremony, empaneled a jury,
and presently Capt. Ned entered, leading the prisoner with
one hand and carrying a Bible and a rope in the other. He
seated himself by the side of his captive and told the court to
“up anchor and make sail.” Then he turned a searching eye
on the jury, and detected Noakes's friends, the two bullies.
He strode over and said to them confidentially:

“You're here to interfere, you see. Now you vote right,
do you hear?—or else there 'll be a double-barreled inquest
here when this trial's off, and your remainders will go home
in a couple of baskets.”

The caution was not without fruit. The jury was a unit
—the verdict, “Guilty.”

Capt. Ned sprung to his feet and said:

“Come along—you're my meat now, my lad, anyway.


Page 358


[Description: 504EAF. Page 358. In-line image of a man being lynched. There is a preacher reading from the Bible and two other bystanders.]
Gentlemen you've done yourselves proud. I invite you all to
come and see that I do it all straight. Follow me to the
canyon, a mile above here.”

The court informed him that a sheriff had been appointed
to do the hanging, and—

Capt. Ned's patience was at an end. His wrath was
boundless. The subject of a sheriff was judiciously dropped.

When the crowd arrived at the canyon, Capt. Ned climbed
a tree and arranged the halter, then came down and noosed his
man. He opened his Bible, and laid aside his hat. Selecting
a chapter at random, he read it through, in a deep bass voice
and with sincere
solemnity. Then he

“Lad, you are
about to go aloft and
give an account of
yourself; and the
lighter a man's manifest
is, as far as sin's
concerned, the better
for him. Make a
clean breast, man,
and carry a log with
you that'll bear inspection.
You killed
the nigger?”

No reply. A
long pause.

The captain read
another chapter,
pausing, from time to time, to impress the effect. Then
he talked an earnest, persuasive sermon to him, and ended
by repeating the question:

“Did you kill the nigger?”

No reply—other than a malignant scowl. The captain
now read the first and second chapters of Genesis, with deep


Page 359
feeling—paused a moment, closed the book reverently, and
said with a perceptible savor of satisfaction:

“There. Four chapters. There's few that would have
took the pains with you that I have.”

Then he swung up the condemned, and made the rope fast;
stood by and timed him half an hour with his watch, and then
delivered the body to the court. A little after, as he stood
contemplating the motionless figure, a doubt came into his
face; evidently he felt a twinge of conscience—a misgiving—
and he said with a sigh:

“Well, p'raps I ought to burnt him, maybe. But I was
trying to do for the best.”

When the history of this affair reached California (it was
in the “early days”) it made a deal of talk, but did not diminish
the captain's popularity in any degree. It increased it,
indeed. California had a population then that “inflicted” justice
after a fashion that was simplicity and primitiveness itself,
and could therefore admire appreciatively when the same
fashion was followed elsewhere.