“The news of the organization of a vigilance committee and its prompt action in suppressing the traffic in bogus gold dust created consternation in some quarters and indignation in others; among the latter were the owners of the Washoe Ferry, on Snake River, near its confluence with the Payette. The ferry was owned by Charley and Alex Stewart, two brothers from Canada who had gained an unenviable reputation by harboring desperate characters who were known to be engaged in unlawful pursuits… The ferry house which they occupied was in Oregon, the river being the state line. It was a strong log structure with a dirt roof, about 20 feet in length by 16 in width, and being in a locality that was open to attack by Indians, it was constructed and equipped to resist assault or withstand a siege should occasion arise. Instead of windows, small portholes for rifle practice were cut in the walls.” wrote William McConnell.
The Stewart brothers wrote and circulated a letter denouncing the Payette Vigilantes and challenged them to take over the Washoe Ferry. At the next meeting of the vigilantes, the men agreed that the present management of the Washoe Ferry was a detriment to the area. Failure to respond to the Stewart brothers’ challenge would reverse the gains the vigilantes had made. Twenty men agreed to join in the assault on the cabin at Washoe Ferry; a captain and lieutenant were named and a date was set for the mission.
On a bitterly cold day in the winter of 1864-65, the men gathered and began to ride to the Snake River. When the troop drew near the house belonging to another ferry, the captain instructed the lieutenant to take the men and stay at that house until 4 AM the next morning, at which time they were to proceed to the Washoe Ferry, planning to arrive at daybreak. The captain called aside three men and told them and the lieutenant that a party of four, including the captain, would ride down river, cross, and ride back up on the Oregon side in time to join the assault at Washoe Ferry.
The captain and his three assistants rode on to another ferry crossing where he let them and the ferry operator in on a secret: they were going to cross the river that night and try to surprise the inhabitants of the house at Washoe Ferry. The men arrived at Washoe Ferry in the late evening. They pretended to be travelers wanting to use the ferry. One of the vigilantes, whom the Stewart brothers would not recognize, went to the door. When he had roused the ferry operator, he told his story. The operator allowed him into the cabin to warm himself. He found five men sound asleep, well supplied with rifles and revolvers. Suddenly the other three vigilantes burst into the cabin and took the inhabitants prisoner. When the rest of the vigilante troop arrived at daybreak they were astonished to learn that Washoe Ferry had been taken without a shot being fired.
A jury was formed that day by the vigilantes to examine the men taken captive at Washoe Ferry. Two of the men were farmers from Oregon and one man was a notorious bad actor in the local area. The Stewart brothers were charged with buying stolen beef and having possibly been accessories to the robbery and murder of a rancher. The jury released the farmers and one other man, banished the known desperado, and sentenced the Stewart brothers to death.
The captain of the vigilantes began to appreciate the difficulties of frontier justice as he realized that there was no solid evidence that the Stewart brothers had done anything worthy of the gallows. An informal, speedy trial had produced a verdict and sentence that were unjust. Through a series of events too convoluted to relate here, the captain convinced the other vigilantes that the Stewart brothers should be banished rather than executed. The brothers were given cash for the value of weapons they owned. They joined the banished desperado on the long trail to Walla Walla and towns to the west.
The Payette Vigilantes had narrowly escaped both a dangerous shootout and having blood on their hands for two unwarranted executions. It was time to get out of the law enforcement business. Fortunately, the vigilantes’ actions had disrupted the schemes of the criminal element so that Payette Valley became a peaceful, law-abiding place. However, the vigilantes would face one more challenge and oddly enough, it would come from officers of the law.

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