BIRTH OF AMERICA BOOKS (tm)

THE BLACKJACK QUEEN, CUTTHROATS AND GOOD TIME GIRLS OF THE GOLD RUSH

REAL PEOPLE, TRUE STORIES

HISTORICALLY ACCURATE AND FUN TO READ

(They're written like novels with dialogue based on journals, diaries and newspapers)

HISTORY AS IT HAPPENS(tm) IN HIGH ACTION AMERICAN HISTORY BOOKS

 

 

 

 

"The saddest plight

Of the night gunfight

Is you just can't tell

Exactly who fell ---

Till you meet in Hell!"

Gary Wiles

 

 

CHAPTER 41

AUBURN'S NIGHT GUNFIGHT ....................SUMMER 1859

 

attlesnake Dick was jailed three times in Auburn in early 1859. But he was harder to keep behind bars than his namesake snake, escaping with a smuggled gun, a bedspring lockpick and a cup of hot coffee that a deputy got way too close a look at.

Since Claude Chana found gold nuggets in it's main ravine in 1848, Auburn had been known by many names - Wood's Crossing, North Fork's Dry Diggin's, Rich Diggin's and finally Auburn - but none of these towns had ever hosted an outlaw as slick as Rattlesnake Dick. And to say that Auburn's constabulary was fed up with this Richard A. Barter, alias Dick Woods, alias Rattlesnake Dick, was to deal in massive understatement. In April of '58, Rattlesnake Dick had tried to ambush Constable John Boggs at his home, and had the gall to leave him a note about it tacked to his gatepost. Right after that, Boggs had yanked "Dick Woods" and George Taylor off the Folsom stage and shot it out with them, winging George and not even scratching Dick, who ran. Then it happened!

At dusk on July 11, 1859, Constable Boggs got word that Rattlesnake Dick with a member of his gang - possibly Aleck Wright -- was headed toward Auburn from the south. Boggs took his double-barreled 10 Gauge, packed with Double O buckshot, off the wall. Boggs didn't have time to form a posse. He was aching to have it out with Rattlesnake Dick!

While Constable Boggs and big Deputy Sheriff L.L. Bullock thundered south to confront his nemesis and cohort, Undersheriff George Johnston, Deputy Sheriff William Crutcher and Deputy Tax Collector George Martin searched northward out of Auburn along the Illinoistown Road.

It was some three hours before midnight under a darkly clouded sky, when Johnston's small posse made out two nearby riders in the murky light a mile north of Auburn. Johnston asked, "You boys game to take them on with only one more man - if it's them?"

"You betcha!" Martin growled.

Crutcher snarled, "They're standing pat to see if we've got the guts. If it is them, let's take 'em in dead er alive!"

With his pistol in his right hand, George Johnston, yelled, "Rattlesnake Dick, surrender!"

Rattlesnake turned in his saddle, "What?"

A maverick drop of moonlight glowed on Dick's face and Johnston recognized his chronic jailbreaker. The dark night burst into swarms of lethal flashes, explosions, furious shouts mixed with shrieks of bucking horses, amid screaming clusters of hot bullets.

Rattlesnake Dick's bullet tore through Johnston's off-gun hand, deboning the palm and crippling it for life.

Martin and Crutcher emptied their handguns at Rattle-snake and his crony, who returned fire as fast as they could cock and shoot at the lawmen. A pistol ball smashed through Martin's chest, blasting him backwards from his saddle to hit the ground dead. Johnston's horse skied, insane with fear, then spun to the right because Johnston's shattered left hand had lost its rein. Stunning his mount into a moment's submission by pistol whipping its head, Johnston snapped off a revolver shot blasting Rattlesnake Dick's left lung into a hemorrhaging sponge. Rattlesnake reeled in his saddle, and with his cohort steadying him, they fled northward up the road.

With battle suddenly reduced to ear-ringing silence, Deputy Crutcher spurred his horse into a dead run back to Auburn for help, followed slowly by the bleeding Johnston, who'd left Martin's body only after finding no pulse.

Unaware of the night's blood bath, Constable Boggs and Deputy Sheriff Bullock abandoned the area south of Auburn and carried their search, cooled from frantic to methodical, northward throughout the night. Under a fiery dawn sky, they found a dead body beside the Illinoistown Road. It lay atop a leather mochila, with a saddle blanket covering all but the head.

Stripping away the blanket, Boggs saw the body was clothed in fine black trousers, with a light, blood-soaked, vest, matching merino coat and kid gloves. The powder burns around the entry wound in his right temple and the pistol clutched in his rigid right hand, left little doubt that the leader of the Tom Bell gang had engineered his last, and greatest escape with his own bullet. Boggs found a letter, stained with blood from a chest wound in his shirt pocket, apparently from the dead man's sister, Harriet.

It was addressed to "My beloved brother, guide of my infant joys and long lost friend of my childhood. Years have passed away since your last letter reached us." She begged him to follow "the path of rectitude." Knowing of his outlawry, she pleaded "Oh, brother, will you not be saved? God sees your heart while you read these words. He knows there is a secret wish there to be a better man....Will you not write a few words to your own home? It may indeed be a bitter task, but may it not prove a blessing? Do try to overcome every obstacle; look deep in your heart and see if there is not a wish to remember your sister, your own most affectionate and anxious sister."

Stripping the pencil-scrawled paper scrap from Richard A. Barter's elegantly gloved left hand, Boggs read, "Rattlesnake Dick dies, but never surrenders, as all true Britons do." The other side read, "If J. Boggs is dead, I am satisfied."

Unaware of what Dick referred to, Boggs dropped the crumpled note to flutter down beside the defiant dead man's peaceful face. [The outlaw obviously died thinking the Tax Collector George Martin, who'd been shot dead in the dark, was Boggs, himself.]

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