It is stated on good authority, that soon after the first appearance of Schiller’s drama of “The Robbers” a number of young men, charmed with the character of Charles De Moor, formed a band and went to the forests of Bohemia to engage in brigand life. I have no fear that such will be the influence of this volume. It deals in facts. Robber life as delineated by the vivid fancy of Schiller, and robber life as it existed in our mining regions, were as widely separated as fiction and truth. No one can read this record of events, and escape the conviction that an honest, laborious, and well-meaning life, whether successful or not, is preferable to all the temporary enjoyments of a life of recklessness and crime. The truth of the adage that “Crime carries with it its own punishment” has never received a more powerful vindication than at the tribunals erected by the people of the northwest mines for their protection. No sadder commentary could have stained our civilization than to permit the numerous and bloody crimes committed in the early history of this portion of our country to go unwhipped of justice. And the fact that they were promptly and thoroughly dealt with stands among the earliest and noblest characteristics of a people which derived their ideas of right and of self-protection from that spirit of the law that flows spontaneously from our free institutions. The people bore with crime until punishment became a duty and neglect a crime. Then, at infinite hazard of failure, they entered upon the work ofpurgation with a strong hand—and in the briefest possible time established the supremacy of law. The robbers and murderers of the mining regions, so long defiant of the claims of peace and safety, were made to hold the gibbet in greater terror there than in any other portion of our country.
Up to this time, fear of punishment had exercised no restraining influence on the conduct of men who had organized murder and robbery into a steady pursuit. They hesitated at no atrocity necessary to accomplish their guilty designs. Murder with them was resorted to as the most available means of concealing robbery, and the two crimes were generally coincident. The country, filled with cañons, gulches, and mountain passes, was especially adapted to their purposes, and the unpeopled distances between mining camps afforded ample opportunity for carrying them into execution. Pack trains and companies, stage coaches and express messengers, were as much exposed as the solitary traveller, and often selected as objects of attack. Miners, who had spent months of hard labor in the placers in the accumulation of a few hundreds of dollars, were never heard of after they left the mines to return to their distant homes. Men were daily and nightly robbed and murdered in the camps. There was no limit to this system of organized brigandage.
When not engaged in robbery, this criminal population followed other disreputable pursuits. Gambling and licentiousness were the most conspicuous features of every mining camp, and both were but other species of robbery. Worthless women taken from the stews of cities plied their vocation in open day, and their bagnios were the lures where many men were entrapped for robbery and slaughter. Dance-houses sprung up as if by enchantment, and every one who sought an evening’s recreation in themwas in some way relieved of the money he took there. Many good men who dared to give expression to the feelings of horror and disgust which these exhibitions inspired, were shot down by some member of the gang on the first opportunity. For a long time these acts were unnoticed, for the reason that the friends of law and order supposed the power of evil to be in the ascendant. Encouraged by this impunity the ruffian power increased in audacity, and gave utterance to threats against all that portion of the community which did not belong to its organization. An issue involving the destruction of the good or bad element actually existed at the time that the people entered upon the work of punishment.