Monday, July 18, 2011

Wild, Wild Huron - 1881 - John Walter BRETON

John Walter BRETON was appointed railway [telegraph] operator at Huron, Dakota Territory, June 25, 1880.  From his memoirs...

[Source: Mike BRETON, Geneal Familial, Used with permission, paragraphs and punctuation added]

In the year 1881 I was acting (as) Railroad Agent for the C and NW ry [Chicago & Northwestern Railroad] Huron and at that time the frontier life at Huron was called "woolly."  The Deputy U. S. Marshall named PAY was in town and came to me and asked if we had much money on hand and being told that we had banked at noon and not a large amount of money on hand he explained that the reason he asked was that there was a tough crowd of cowboys from along the river in town that night and that almost anything could happen.  He advised me to close the office early and let things be as quiet as possible.

I did as he suggested and then went down the main street of town, Dakota Avenue, where a group of excited men (were) in the middle of the street and was told that one of the cow boys had just passed up the street and with revolver in hand ordered every body to disappear[.]  [T]hey promptly did[,] much to the amazement of the aforementioned cow boy.

He went a short distance up the street[,] then headed for the river about half a mile away.  [I]n the meantime upon the disappearance of the gun man[,] the group of excited men reappeared in the street and proceeded to tell me what would happen if the gun man made his appearance.  He would have laid him out if he had been sure that it was not a joke as he would not want to kill a man and find it was only a kind of lark[.]  [H]e held in his hand a club to show that he was equipped to do the job.

Another man, a big husky proprietor of an all-night restaurant[,] laid a bull dog revolver on his hand and stated that he too would have disposed of him on short notice if he too had not been in doubt as to the reality of the situation as he would not want to kill the man and then find out that it was intended as a joke.

While we were discussing the mode of procedure, a man stepped into the circle right next to me and brandishing a revolver exclaimed, "Well boys here we are again."  I did not stop to see what the other men did, but I ran up the street as fast as it was possible for me to run and I never had the ground seemingly stick to my feet knowing that he was a good shot as the cow boys are reputed to be and expecting that at any moment he would bring me down as a coward that [who] was not fit to live.

I hope the reader will take into account that at that time I was pretty much a tenderfoot and well equipped to run.

After the gun man's second trip thro [through] town he started towards the river and[,] passing a shanty where one of the railroad men was batching it[,] he uttered a threat and the R.R. man went out to meet him.  [The cow boy] drawing his gun again on the R.R. man, the latter grappled with him and took his gun from him and brought him into town where he was recognized as the man who held up the town and he was placed under arrest and placed in a carpenter's shop as a substitute for a jail.  The crowd then turned its attention to properly disposing of the prisoner.  It so happened that a lot of the track layers and graders were in town and the crowd gathered around the shop loudly calling "Let's lynch him".  They charged the building several times where the U.S. Marshall had taken his stand and announced that he would protect the man and would see that he was protected.  The crowd gradually disappeared and I felt that I had come as near to witnessing a lynching as I have ever cared to be.

The Huron Tribune, August 25, 1881, page 3, column 2, reports:
BAD.--A fellow who announced himself as a bull whacker and a bad man generally, from Pierre, was pretty roughly handled by one of the light weights of Huron last night.

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