Posse of “Worst Men” Aimed to Punish Payette Valley, Idaho Vigilantes
During the winter of 1864-65 the vigilantes of Payette Valley had success in ending thefts in their area, but the Pickett Corral Gang was still in business. The gang continued to steal horses–it just avoided taking them from its neighbors in Payette Valley.
The gangsters had a rather sophisticated operation. They kept a ranch on the south side of the Boise River, somewhere in the vicinity of the present Boise State University campus. Cottonwood trees along the river screened the ranch from the sight of Boise residents, and the gang shuffled stolen horses back and forth between the Pickett Corral on the Payette River and the ranch south of Boise. With two places to hide the pilfered horses, it was difficult for frustrated owners to catch the gang in possession of the stolen animals.
There was another reason why thefts of horses were seldom solved: the gang was allied with Dave Opdyke, the Ada County Sheriff. Opdyke owned a saloon and livery stable in Boise. Some people noted the presence of gentlemen with no visible source of income at Opdyke’s place and suspected the sheriff was a crook, but other folks were too wrapped up in their own business to notice. Movies often portray Western villains as surly, obnoxious thugs, but pioneer Boise’s riff-raff tended to be genial fellows. They were as generous as Westerners ought to be and often helped out with community projects. Unless a person crossed them, he or she might never realize how dangerous they were.
At that time Ada County included all of Boise and Payette valleys; the Payette Vigilantes were in Opdyke’s jurisdiction. After the incident at the Washoe Ferry, Sheriff Opdyke was talked into getting arrest warrants for all of the Payette Vigilantes. People in sympathy with the Pickett Corral Gang spread stories in town about alleged criminal activities of the vigilantes.
The propaganda against the vigilantes was effective enough that some honest men stepped forward to assist the sheriff in serving papers on Payette Valley’s self-appointed lawmen. To savvy observers like Judge Reynolds at the Statesman, the posse appeared to be involved in a farce. But matters took a serious turn when the sheriff deputized members of the Pickett Corral Gang for the posse.
According to William McConnell, word began to percolate through town that the real purpose of the posse was not to harass the vigilantes in the courts, but to kill their leaders. It was said that the plan entailed having the posse split into two squads upon arrival in Payette Valley. The honest unsuspecting members of the group would be sent out to serve warrants on the low ranking vigilantes while the Pickett Corral Gang would murder the captain of the vigilantes in a night-time raid. The killing was to be excused with a claim that the captain had “resisted arrest.”
As a posse of “the worst men in the territory,” in one writer’s words, rode out of town, opponents of the Pickett Corral Gang watched helplessly. William McConnell reported: “a party of men assembled at a store soon after the departure of the sheriff’s troop. It was remarked by one of the number present that it was a pity that such a disreputable lot of scoundrels should be dignified by the name of deputy sheriffs and permitted to advance upon any man’s house in the night, without warning; that if the captain of the vigilantes knew they were coming it might be quite different. George W. Hunt was present in the store at the time, and at once announced his willingness to attempt the passage of the trail across the foothills to Horseshoe Bend, if he could secure a horse. Quartermaster Hughes, who was stationed at Boise Barracks, being present, immediately responded that he had the best saddle horse in the territory, and he would cheerfully place him at Mr. Hunt’s disposal. It was soon settled that the attempt should be made, and within an hour the daring rider headed his mount for the unbroken snow on the Hill trail, bent on an errand of mercy. Only those who have faced the terrible sameness of snow-covered hills, without human habitation, for 18 miles, can realize the dangers the rider encountered that day. The horse proved all his owner claimed and the terrible journey was made without accident, in time to give the warning the rider carried.
“In less than two hours from the time the news reached the captain of the vigilantes at his ranch, a party of four mounted men rode away [to meet Sheriff Opdyke’s special deputies—the Picket Corral Gang. As it happened, the gang had been delayed and was still at the stage station where it had parted company with the rest of the posse. As the captain of the vigilantes and his friends] approached the Junction House, seeing a row of guns ranged against the side of the house under the front porch, they realized that the crisis had arrived. The house was but a few feet back from the main road along which they were riding, and there being no windows on that side, the deputies had no warning of their approach until they were immediately in front of the door, when one of the deputies jerked it open and reached for his gun. The movement, however, was anticipated, and the sharp command ‘drop it,’ had hardly passed the leader’s lips when the hand and arm were withdrawn and the door was as violently closed as it had been opened. No other words were uttered, nothing was said about the warrants or arrests and the horsemen proceeded on their way to the next house, where it was learned that the sheriff’s party had returned to Boise with a large number of prisoners.
“The prisoners taken to Boise were promptly arraigned and as promptly discharged, there being no evidence that they had violated any law. Thus ended a disgraceful fiasco, the expense of which was paid by the taxpayers of Ada County.”