Friday, February 24, 2017

The Lynching of "Big Steve" Long

Dear Friends,

I recently found myself in a conversation with someone who is of the belief that most, if not all, lawmen in the Old West were just crooked gamblers, killers, con-artists, and pimps. He echoed a recent email that I received about the same thing with the exception that my reader's email said that he believed most were really badmen, gamblers, and killers, who were more at home associating with the criminal element that they were supposed to be against.

From everything that I've been able to read on the history of law enforcement in out country, and looking at the personal stories of many of the lawmen in the Old West, I really believe that most were good citizens simply doing a job that they were asked to do by the citizenry. It's true, most towns started out small, many with just tents, and the people there caring for their security used the age old method of security called the "hue and cry." 

Never heard of the "hue and cry"? Well, supposedly the "hue and cry" actually started back about a thousand years ago in England. But historically the "hue and cry" became a formal law in England in 1285 as part of "common law." 

A "hue and cry" is simply the process by which bystanders, all able bodied men, are summoned to assist in the apprehension of a criminal who has been witnessed in the act of committing a crime. The cry would go out and all would respond.

The law stated that anyone, either a constable or a private citizen, who witnessed a crime shall make hue and cry, and that the "hue and cry" must be kept up against the fleeing criminal from town to town and from county to county, until the felon is apprehended and delivered to the sheriff. All able-bodied men, upon hearing the shouts, were "obliged" to assist in the pursuit of the criminal, which makes it comparable to the posse comitatus. Yes, it's how posses originated.

In the mining camps of California where a thieve may have been seen robbing a sluice box, the cry "sluice box robber" was sounded. The loud cry called for all to stop what they were doing and join the pursuit to capture the criminal. In those mining camps, the criminal would be brought in front of a Miners Court.

Miners courts were very common in California and later the rest of the Old West. They gathered miners together to settle a dispute or quickly try a criminal. These courts were made to maintain order and decide punishments within mining communities.

A "judge" was usually picked by means of a raise of hands, and then a jury was selected. In criminal cases, the defendant was usually given swift justice. If he were a thieve, then their punishment was based on whether or not the amount stolen was more than $25 or not. If less, than the defendant was simply banished. If more, then he could have been hanged. 

While killers faced a hanging, swindlers, con-artists, cheats, and rowdies, badmen who bullied others, in many cases were tar and feathered and rode out of town on a rail. In the event a civil decision was disputed, a mass meeting of the entire mining camp could be called to allow the dissatisfied party to plead his case and possibly get the decision reversed.

From miners courts to people actually organizing and appointing a town constable, a full-time lawman in charge to keep the peace. Sometimes they worked in conjunction of each other. But the "hue and cry" was actually still around even though lawmen were usually picked to do the job by the citizens. 

Today, we do this same thing when we elect our sheriffs as most county sheriffs are elected. And yes, our posse comitatus laws are still in effect in that a law enforcement officer can still deputize citizens to help in the apprehension of criminals.

As towns grew, mayors and councils of citizens to represent the best interest of the towns were also elected. Finding a town marshal was a job usually left to the trust of the mayor and town council. Many towns elected their town marshal, while some were simply appointed positions. The majority of lawmen in the Old West were upstanding citizens. Many were absolutely intrepid lawmen. Yes, most were good and honest men.

Of course, as in today's America where we have over 900,000 law enforcement officers nationwide, the only law enforcement officers that we usually hear about in the news are the bad ones, And really, I believe that that's why there are so many stories about bad lawmen in the Old West. They stuck out. They were really not the norm. 

Sure there are all sorts of examples of lawmen who associated with criminals, or were themselves criminals. There certainly were some who were killers and badmen wanted in other parts off the West. Some were known to use different names because they may have been wanted in other parts of the nation. And while there were those crooked individuals who certainly were badmen while wearing a badge, or used there badge as a way to skirt the law to their own advantage, the fact is that majority were not of that ilk.

I'm about to tell you the story of one such badman who also wore a badge. He used his badge as a license to get away with murder. And yes, he was initially hailed as being a great officer of the law doing a splendid job for his community. Of course, when people said that, they really didn't know what he was doing behind their backs. 

The sorry part is that some people refused to believe the facts of who he was even after the truth came out about who he really was, and the laws he was breaking. It is said that some made excuses for his lawless ways, even after he was shown to be a badman and desperado. Some even refused to admit that he used his badge for his own advantage. Yes, even if that meant getting away with murder. Not just once, but a number of times. And no, I'm not talking about Wyatt Earp.
I'm talking about "Big Steve" Long who was a lawmen in the Wyoming Territory during the 1860s. He is one of the earliest examples of an Old West outlaw who was also a lawman during his life. But also, he is also a great example of someone who was initially a well respected lawman who used his badge to get what he wanted. 

While not much of Long's early life is known, we do know that he had settled in Laramie, Wyoming, after the Civil War. No one really knows where he was born, grew up, or the state where he enlisted in the Confederacy. But yes, it is believed Long served in the Confederate Army. It's also believed that he did so under a different name. After the war, he had supposedly spent some time as a hired gunman. 

Back in the Old West, it was considered improper to ask people about their past and good manners dictated that you simply went with what folks volunteered about themselves. I believe that's one reason why little is known about Steve Long. And to add to that, he is said to have changed his name to Long just before arriving in Wyoming in 1866. 

As for his half-brothers, Ace and Con Moyer started a saloon in Laramie City. In fact, Ace and Con Moyer are said to help found the town of Laramie City, Wyoming. Since they were among the first there, Ace and Con also appointed themselves Justice of the Peace and Laramie City Marshal, respectively. Imagine that! 

Then less than a year after their half-brother Steve Long arrived, his brother City Marshal Con Moyer appointed him Deputy City Marshal in early 1867.

The town of Laramie, Wyoming, was named for Jacques LaRamie, who was French-Canadian trapper who is said to have disappeared in the Laramie Mountains in the late 1810s. Around 1820, some say that he slipped on ice and fell into the Laramie River. Others say he froze to death in a small cabin. Some say he died "stuffed under a beaver dam." There are also those who say he was killed by rival trappers or traders and thrown into the Laramie River. Of course there was supposedly an eyewitness account that said "LaRamee's camp was attacked by Arapahos and he was killed." But really, who knows the truth?

For whatever reason, he was never heard from again. And since he was among some of the first Europeans to visit the area, settlers named a river, a mountain range, a peak, a U.S. Army fort, a county, and a city after him. In fact, more Wyoming landmarks are named for that one man than for any other trapper short of the famous Jim Bridger. So because the name was used so frequently, the town which is called Laramie today, was called "Laramie City" for decades to distinguish it from other uses.

Laramie City was actually founded in the early 1860s as a tent city near the Overland Stage Line route, the Union Pacific portion of the first transcontinental railroad, and just north of Fort Sanders which was the U.S Army post in the area.

The railroad reached Laramie on May 4th, 1868, when construction crews worked there along with a few passengers. It might be hard to believe, but by 1868, besides a few saloons, Laramie City also had stores, houses, a school, churches, and the western terminal of the Union Pacific Railroad. So really, this was no small place. There were a few folks there.

And yes, it's said that it was a rowdy area and lawlessness plagued Laramie City. In fact, that was so much the case that its first mayor, M. C. Brown, resigned his office on June 12th, 1868 after six turbulent weeks. Brown resigned after saying that the city council was "guilty of incapacity and laxity" in dealing with the city's problems. Those problems had to do with the lawlessness, including that created by none other than Judge Ace Moyer, City Marshal Con Moyer and his Deputy Steve Long.

And yes, though initially respected and applauded, within just a couple of months Deputy City Marshal Steve Long became a threat to the community.

Using their positions to their own financial advantage, they're said to have ruled with an iron fist as the trio dealt out "justice" in the backroom of the saloon. They soon became well known for harassing settlers and forcing folks to sign over land deeds and mining claims over to them. Those who refused were either run out of the area or killed after being goaded into a gunfight by Long. 

Of course, those who refused were visited by Long alone without witnesses. The outcome was always the same, they either went along with Long's demands or they were killed. And it was always same case in every incident, Long would claim that he only used his gun in "self-defense" after his victims "had reached for a gun". Yes, they were shot to death by Long on the pretense that the victim reached for a weapon. 

When a doctor acting as the coroner would inspect their body, they would always find a pistol or rifle or a knife nearby of on their body. Long was known to plant a weapon on his victims if they weren't carrying one. And as I said before, Steve Long wasn't foolish enough to have any witnesses.

Soon, the people in Laramie who initially praised Long actually started to whisper about how their new deputy killed at least nine men over a four-month period. And yes, a number of others were killed when they objected to crooked card games run at the saloon. Very soon locals were calling the Moyer brother's saloon, the "Bucket of Blood" because of the violence associated with it.

As with some other lawmen in the Old West, Long is said to have used his badge as a Deputy City Marshal to intimidate others, sell protection, swindle, to commit out and out robbery and extortion. 

While I was told that Long wanted to put in place a city ordinance to stop people from wearing guns in town so that his victims would be unarmed, I haven't been able to confirm that. Though many towns in the Old West, including Tombstone Arizona much later, actually created city ordinances against the carrying of firearms in town, many simply ignored the law that would have otherwise made it so that they could not defend themselves either against a crooked card game or an out of control lawman like Long.

Soon Long had earned a reputation as being a very violent lawman. It is said he killed eight men in gunfights within two months. And yes, it is said that he rarely arrested anyone. Instead, he choose to either intimidate them with the threat of force or simply shoot them.

One extremely violent incident took place on October 22nd, 1867, when Long opened fire on eight men during a street brawl after his orders to cease were ignored. It said he actually killed five of the men.

Just a year later, by October of 1868, folks figured that Long had killed 13 men. And yes, another seven men had been killed under suspicious circumstances. All of which with Long suspected, but his role in the murders could never really be confirmed. Each of the seven murdered men were known to have refused to sign over land deeds to Long and his brothers. And yes, it was soon after their refusal that they were killed.

While some agreed with him in saying that he couldn't get justice in the the court system, so that's why he killed those lawless men. Many saw him take the law into his own hands, against men who were not seen as law breakers. Soon the towns folk were justifiably scared of his wrath. And while there wasn't evidence to support his being named as the killer in these incidents, Long made it real clear that he wasn't interested in making the slightest effort to find the alleged murderers.

That in itself lead townsfolk to speculate if the whispers were true. Could their deputy city marshal really be responsible for committing those murders?

N. K. Boswell was a local rancher and one of the first settlers in the area. He was no shirkers as he served in the Union Army during the Civil War before joining his brother George Boswell in present-day Laramie, Wyoming.

While the whole area was considered extremely wild with a number of outlaws hiding out there simply because there was little to no law enforcement, things were about to change. Soon N.K. Boswell became the first Sheriff of Albany County where Laramie City, now known simply as Laramie, is located.

Boswell's first job was to organize a "Vigilance Committee" using the other ranchers. This was in response to what was taking place in and around Laramie City. But more so, he organized several other ranchers to flush out Long and his half-brothers. He insisted that if they could watch Long closely enough, that they would eventually catch him in the act.

The tide turned on October 18th, 1868, when Deputy City Marshal Steve Long attempted to rob a prospector named Rollie "Hard Luck" Harrison. Not being willing to be a victim, Harrison decided to pull his own pistol and defend himself. Shots were exchanged and the gunfight ended with Long being wounded and getting away as fast as he could. Sadly, Harrison who was mortally wounded died before naming his assailant. But while Long usually kept his mouth shut about his nefarious dealings, this time he screwed up by telling his fiancee what happened and why he was shot.

She immediately told Sheriff Boswell who immediately called out the Vigilance Committee, and a posse was formed. Yes, just like putting out the hue and cry for help.

After they gathered, they entered the Moyer bother's saloon on October 28th. And no, they didn't show up to discuss anything. In fact, Boswell's posse enters and swiftly overwhelmed Long and his half-brothers. Without discussion, they then led them to an unfinished cabin in town. And yes, all knew why they were there.

Long who was quiet throughout the whole thing, then finally he asked if he'd be allowed to remove his boots, saying, "My mother always said I'd die with my boots on".

He was allowed to remove his boots, and then he was lynched barefoot. The posse then hanged Ace and Con Moyer right along side of their brother Steve Long. All were hanging from the rafters of an unfinished cabin.

A photograph of the three men was taken after they were hanged. On the back of the picture was written, "(1) Gunfighter "Big" Steve Long, (2) Con Moyer, (3) Ace Moyer, A lynching in Laramie Wyo. -1868- Con & Ace were founders of Laramie Wyoming!".

Thus is the story of the lynching of "Big Steve" Long and two of his half-brothers by a posse made up of the County Sheriff and a posse made up of the local Vigilance Committee on October 28th, 1868.

It is said that after the lynching, Sheriff Boswell and his Vigilance Committee posse preformed a series of other lynchings. They also intimidated some and ran a few out of town on a rail. By doing that they're said to have reduced the lawless element and established a semblance of law and order in the area for years to come. As for any legal actions taken against the members of the lynch mob, there never was any.

Now as for a bit of irony, even though she turned Steve Long into the Sheriff who would lynch him, it's said that following his Long's death, his fiancee erected a marker in his memory. Imagine that.

Tom Correa

1 comment:

  1. Looks like they got beat up a bit before being hanged. Good story, but no one ever knows the absolute truth about these things...facts get twisted completely over time and tale.


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