Early Idaho saw killings, and leniency was rare – un­less vic­tim was a mi­nor­ity

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - STAY CONNECTED - BY ARTHUR HART Spe­cial to the Idaho States­man

The min­ing camps of early Idaho were dan­ger­ous places, as the Idaho World and the Idaho Tri-weekly States­man re­minded peo­ple reg­u­larly in the 1860s.

This item in the States­man of Aug. 29, 1865, tells us: “On the trial of a case of mur­der in this city, on Satur­day last, it was stated by the Dis­trict At­tor­ney that there had been, since the or­ga­ni­za­tion of Boise County, some sixty deaths by vi­o­lence within her lim­its, and yet not a sin­gle con­vic­tion for mur­der in the first de­gree had ever taken place. We doubt if the le­gal an­nals of any coun­try on the con­ti­nent can present a par­al­lel to this state of things.”

Later that sum­mer, Judge Mil­ton Kelly sen­tenced a man who had killed his brother to the Ter­ri­to­rial Pen­i­ten­tiary for the rest of his nat­u­ral life at hard la­bor, and the first six days of each year in soli­tary con­fine­ment. Judge Kelly would later be­come the owner and pub­lisher of the Idaho States­man.

Re­venge was the ob­vi­ous mo­tive for the mur­der of Thomas Mackay in March 1866. Mackay had shot at Michael Dunn the sum­mer be­fore, but the bul­let had only glanced off his fore­head. Dunn no doubt felt that “I bet­ter get him be­fore he gets me,” but it was still mur­der in the first de­gree, and Judge Kelly sen­tenced him to hang on July 6, 1866. On ap­peal, his sen­tence was re­duced to life im­pris­on­ment.

When Idaho City bar­tender Louis Ris­ley mur­dered Ter­ri­to­rial Trea­surer H.B. Lane in May 1867, and then killed him­self, the gen­eral opin­ion was that Ris­ley was in­sane. Case closed.

The Idaho World re­ported on April 21, 1870: “Killed --- Mur­phy, the owner of the cel­e­brated toll road in Oneida County, which is the main trav­eled road to Mon­tana, was shot by the Sher­iff of that county, at Malad City, April 11th and in­stantly killed. The dif­fi­culty orig­i­nated in re­gard to matters af­fect­ing Mur­phy’s toll road, which was brought be­fore the county com­mis­sion­ers.”

That racism was ram­pant on the Idaho fron­tier was no sur­prise; we have this from the States­man of Nov. 1, 1870: “A Chi­na­man was found to­day five or six miles be­low Idaho City mur­dered and robbed. He had started for Boise City to buy flour and had a gold bar for that purpose. This makes two mysterious mur­ders that have oc­curred within a few weeks, with money the ob­ject. As the first vic­tim was an old Mex­i­can and the next a Chi­na­man, no ef­fort will be made for the ap­pre­hen­sion of the mur­der­ers.”

Arthur Hart writes this col­umn on Idaho history for the Idaho States­man each Sun­day. Email hist­[email protected]

Idaho States­man file

Judge Mil­ton Kelly, later the pub­lisher of the Idaho States­man, had no prob­lem hand­ing down harsh sen­tences in the 19th cen­tury.

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