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The Administration of Justice on the Frontier

THE story of Justice Joyce, in a previous chapter, sufficiently proves that the interpretation of law and the proceedings of courts of justice, were, to say the least, irregular, in their infant days on the Kansas plains.

That Joyce was not alone in his peculiar legal practices, is verified by authentic accounts of similar practices in other places, not the least of which was Dodge City.

A cattleman by the name of Peppard was one whom the officers disliked to see come to Dodge. Invariably rows began then, and he was in all of them. While driving up a bunch of beeves to Dodge, so the story goes, Peppard's boss killed the negro cook. It has been said that the boss and Peppard were great friends and chums, and the boss killed the cook because Peppard wanted him killed. Anyway, a short time after they arrived at Dodge, Peppard and his boss fell out. The next morning Peppard saw him behind a bar in one of the saloons, and straightway procured a shotgun loaded with buck, and turned it loose at the boss, who dodged behind the ice chest, which was riddled. A very narrow escape for the boss it was. Peppard then took a man and dug up the dead negro, chopped off his head with an ax, brought it in a sack to within thirty miles of Dodge, when nightfall overtook them and they had to layout. The negro had been dead two weeks, and it was very warm weather. Wolves were attracted by the scent, and made a most terrible racket around the camp fire, and it was decidedly unpleasant for the two men. Peppard's man weakened first and said they must remove the head or the camp.

Inasmuch as the head was the easier to remove, they took it a mile or two away. Then the wolves took it and the sack several miles further, and they had much difficulty


in finding it. At last it was produced in court with the bullet-hole in the skull, and the perplexing question was sprung on the court as to its jurisdiction to hold an inquest when only a fractional part of the remains was produced in court. The case was ably argued, pro and con.

Those in favor of holding the inquest maintained that the production of the head in court included the other necessary parts of the anatomy, and was the best evidence on earth of his demise, and that the bullet-hole was a silent witness of his taking-off. The opposition argued that if the court had jurisdiction to hold an inquest on the head, there was no reason why the courts of Comanche county and other localities could not do the same on any other fractional part of the anatomy which might be found scattered over their bailiwick. The court, after mature deliberation, decided to give continuance until such time as the rest of the remains could be produced in court. Peppard left the town disgusted with the decision, and, for all 1 know to the contrary, the case is still docketed for continuance.

Here is an early day account of a proceeding in the Dodge City Police Court:

"'The marshal will preserve strict order,' said the judge. 'Any person caught throwing turnips, cigar stumps, beets, or old quids of tobacco, at this court, will be immediately arraigned before this bar of justice." Then Joe looked savagely at the mob in attendance, itched his ivory handle a little to the left, and adjusted his mustache. 'Trot out the wicked and unfortunate, and let the cotillion commence,' said the judge.

" 'City vs. James Martin'-but just then, a complaint not on file had to be attended to, and 'Reverent' John Walsh, of Las Animas, took the throne of justice, while the judge stepped over to Hoover's, for a drink of old rye to brace him up for the ordeal to come.

"You are here for horse stealing," says Walsh. "I can clean out the d-d court," says Martin, and the city


attorney was banged into a pigeon-hole in the desk, the table upset, the windows kicked out, and the railing broke down. When order was restored, Joe's thumb was 'some chawed,' Assistant Marshal Masterson's nose sliced a trifle, and the cantankerous originator of all this trouble, James Martin, Esquire, was bleeding from a half dozen cuts on the head, inflicted by Masterson's revolver. Then Walsh was deposed and Judge Frost took his seat, chewing burnt coffee for his complexion.

"The evidence was brief and to the point. 'Again,' said the judge, as he rested his alabaster brow on his left paw, 'do you appear within this sacred realm, of which I, and I only, am high muck-i-muck. You have disturbed the quiet OF our lovely village. Why, instead of letting the demon of passion fever your brain into this fray, did you not shake hands and call it all a mistake. Then the lion and the lamb would have lain down together, and white-robed Peace would have fanned you with her silvery wings, and elevated your thoughts to the good and pure by her smiles of approbation. But, no! You went to chawing and clawing and pulling hair. It's ten dollars and costs, Mr. Martin.' "'Make way for the witnesses,' says Joe, as he winks at the two coons that come to the front, and plants one on each side of Mr. Morphy who appears for the defendant. 'A thorn between two roses.' "It was the City vs. Monroe Henderson, all being 'niggas' except the city attorney and Mr. Morphy. The prosecuting witness, Miss Carrie, looked 'the last rose of summer all faded and gone.' Her best heart's blood (pumped from her nose) was freely bespattering the light folds which but feebly hid her palpitating bosom. Her star-board eye was closed, and a lump like a burnt biscuit ornamented her forehead. The evidence showed that the idol of her affections, a certain bloke named Harris, had first busted her eye, loosened her ribs, and kicked the stuffing generally out of Miss Carrie. Carrie then got


on the warpath, procured a hollow-ground razor, flung tin cans at the defendant, and used such naughty language as made the judge breathe a silent prayer, and caused Walsh to take to the open air in horror. But the fact still remained that the defendant had 'pasted' her one on the nose. The city attorney dwelt upon the heinousness of a strong giant man smiting a frail woman. Mr. Morphy, for the defendant, told two or three good stories, bragged on the court, winked at the witnesses, and thought he had a good case; but the marble jaws of justice snapped with firmness, and it was five dollars and costs, and the court stood adjourned.

Joe Waters tells a humorous story which is a fair specimen of the rough verbal joking, common to early day conservation. It was issued in 1881, is entitled, "The Attorney for Jesus," and runs as follows, the location being the Ford county court at Dodge City, of course;

and Waters the prosecuting attorney. The case appeared on the docket entitled, "The State of Kansas vs. Jesus Perea," was solemnly called by the judge, and the proceedings are in this wise, by Waters:

"'The State vs. Jesus Perea,' the court now calls;

The Administration of Justice on the Frontier
'I appear for Jesus,' Gryden bawls;
'His last name you will please to state,
Or, Harry, 1 will fine you, sure as fate.
"'Perea,' says Gryden, so low the court could hardly hear,
'He is the man for whom 1 appear;'
Says the court, sotto voce,
'When the savior employs such as him,
Our chances for heaven are getting quite slim.",

The wit or humor of attorney and court was not confined to bench and bar, but the following is a terse argument by a lay woman: ' "A good story is told of a Dodge City divorce suit. The jury refused to grant the lady a divorce, and, when


The court inquired if she would like to 'poll the jury,' she said: 'That is just what I would delight to do if your honor will give me a pole;' and the glance she gave the jury made the cold chills run up and down their spinal columns." Dodge City had some unique characters in the judicial harness. Bill Nye, the humorist of the Laramie, Wyoming, "Boomerang," has a story about "McIntosh on Fees," justice of the peace named McIntosh furnishing the humorist with his droll account. On one occasion, in a case before Justice McIntosh, the jury rendered a verdict for the plaintiff who was unable to pay the fees; so the justice promptly reversed the judgment in favor of the defendant who made good. The plaintiff appealed the case, but was killed one morning before breakfast, prior to the session of the circuit court which was to dispose of the case.

"McIntosh on Fees" didn't know the difference between quo warranto and the erysipelas, but he had more dignity than the chief justice of the supreme court of the United States. Once, however, his dignity was seriously ruffled, when old Spangler brought to him the exhumed head of a deceased darkey in a gunny-sack, for the inquest mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. The gruesome find, with an aperature on the side of the head, so mortified the dignity of the justice that he re. signed his office and left the country.

The subject of the administration of justice on the frontier would hardly be duly considered without some reference to lynchings. But, in speaking of lynching, in the early days of Dodge City, there was not much of this kind of work carried on. When certain party or parties got too obnozious to the decent part of the community, they would be notified to leave town, and, if they did not go, the vigilants or respectable citizens would raise up in their might and shoot them to death. There were only two lynchings or hangings. One occurred in


the west part of town, for horse stealing. One night, long after sundown, a small party of men rode into town, stopped at the store, bought. a piece of rope, and quietly mounted and rode away. The next day, report reached Dodge that three men were hanging to a big cottonwood tree-a large lone tree, in the center of a nice little bottom near the crossing of Saw Log Creek, about twelve miles northeast of Dodge.

One of the three was a young man, about twenty-one, Calahan by name, who had been brought up in the right way. His father was a good Christian gentleman, and a minister of the gospel, and it nearly broke his heart, as well as the mother's. His uncle, Dr. Calahan, was the leading dentist of Topeka, and stood at the head of his profession throughout the state. Of course, they took his remains to Topeka for decent burial. The young man had no idea what he was getting into when he came to Dodge a stranger, looking for work, and hired out to herd horses for a noted horse thief, Owens by name, residing in Dodge. But Calahan gradually drifted in with them, and, I suppose, found the employment so fascinating and exciting that he became one of them. But this broke up the Owens gang here, and Owens emigrated north, where his business was more flourishing, and soon after, his son was hung for the same crime.



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08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 Appendix Home Ford County History KS Heritage Kansas History Dodge City History Old West Kansas American West
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