By now you’ve heard more about natural resources in Lake County than you wanted to know. If you have any suspicion Lake County isn’t up to snuff in all departments, I want the reader to know that Lake County had more than its fair share of rustlers and stolen cattle and horses. Lake County citizens should be proud of the quality and determination of our rustlers. The rustlers in Lake County were every bit as good (or as bad) as all the other big-time Western States.
In the summer of 1856, the Lewis. C. Burris Wagon Train was one of the half dozen wagon trains moving ahead of the Burris Train and with more wagon trains coming behind. They were going west. That day they had finally gained the summit. The scouts reported water ahead and the pioneer’s herd, driven with the train, needed water. After traveling a thousand miles this was the first spring the people had come across. It was a welcome find. They drove their small herd into the western end of a canyon to let them graze on the new grass while the party of fifty-seven souls rested for the night.
The Burris train had been climbing the Rocky Mountains for a week, pushing and pulling the wagons up the steep, dangerous trail. Now, having passed the hardest part of the trip, and with an easier time of it going down into gentler lands, the wagon party heaved a sigh of relief, ‘The worst was over.’ Tomorrow they would begin the trip down.
Next morning eight men rode up to the Wagon Master.
“I’m from the Phillips train,” their leader said. “The Phillips Train is camped behind the eastern end of this canyon. We rode up to let you know to be on your guard. Last night twenty of our beef were stolen. We will appreciate your help to catch up to the rustlers.”
His request had to be honored. In the West, any call for help could not be ignored. Besides, with rustlers around, the Burris Train’s own herd was in danger. The sooner the thieves were apprehended, the sooner their train could go on in safety.
The Phillips Train spokesman said of the crowd he was with, “Four of these men with me are each from the wagon trains just ahead. The other four,” he added waving toward the men on his right, “Are from our train.”
Burris picked four men handy with a rifle or a pistol and the Burris Train men joined the posse. The ten men took off in the direction the rustlers had taken with the twenty stolen cattle, the posse in hot pursuit. Near the spring, but hidden behind some large rocks, one of the men pointed to a plume of smoke rising.
“Someone’s camped back there. I don’t think it’s anybody from a wagon train.”
The Posse drew near, hidden behind thick brush that grew about the rocks. They saw five men. The stranger’s rifles were with their saddles, off to one side of the campfire, and not within reaching distance of the Posse. Guns drawn and rifles at the ready, the ready-made posse announced their presence.
“Do not move or reach for your weapons or you are dead men.”
The strangers at the campfire made no move to resist. The twenty stolen cattle, the Phillips cattle-brand in plain sight on each of the animals, made the rustler’s guilt as plain as the expressions on their guilty faces. Their hands were tied behind their backs and each of the five rustlers was lifted to their horse. Feet were tied with ropes under the belly of the horse to keep them from making a break for freedom. The rustlers were taken to the Phillips’ Train and kept under guard.
While in captivity, some of the rustlers confessed. In an effort to plead leniency, they informed the guards that two more men, the ring leaders, Lyon and Moore, also intended to rob the fort during the night.
A small fort had been built near the Immigrant Trail Summit at the head of the canyon. Four men in the posse were dispatched to the Fort. They overtook and arrested the two ringleaders before they had a chance to reach the fort. With the rustler gang’s plan known in its entirety, messengers were sent to all the several wagon trains to give them the welcome news.
By the time the sun rose over the Rockies, fifty men had been collected from other trains. It was time to hold a trial.
Next Episode: The Trial
Lake County History. $32. (includes. Tax & Shipping)
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