“You’re all atremble. No need to worry,” he said. “All the dirty work is done.”
So begins Randy Stapilus’ account of the grisly murder of Lloyd Magruder, the first of 14 such stories in his collection, “Outlaw Tales of Idaho: True Stories of the Gem State’s Most Famous Crooks, Culprits, and Cutthroats.”
Though some may know Stapilus better for his politically themed columns or works on water right adjudications, he is no less in his element here, presenting brief and entertaining vignettes of some of Idaho’s most sensational criminals.
Primarily taking place during Idaho’s territory years, many of the stories are set against a backdrop of rough and tumble mining boom towns, where the line between lawman and law breaker was often bent to the point of breaking.
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Such is the case in “Justice Overtaken,” which provides an account of Ada County Sheriff David C. Updyke, who, when he wasn’t upholding the law, moonlighted as a stagecoach robber. A corrupt politician makes an appearance in the form of former governor and embezzler Caleb Lyon, whose most prominent action, aside from stealing $50,000 in territorial funds, was to move the state capital from Lewiston to Boise.
Though most stories feature one or more victims finding themselves at the wrong end of a pistol or rifle, there is a surprising variety to the crimes represented, including a sophisticated counterfeit operation undertaken by the Splawn and Eddy families, as well as the assassination, via bomb, of former Gov. Frank Steunenberg. The previously mentioned Magruder tragically met the business end of an axe.
Of course, no list of Idaho notoriety would be complete without one of Idaho’s most famous and prolific serial killers, “black widow” Lyda Lewis, and she takes her rightful place among the villainous assemblage. Perhaps the most notable name of all, however, is the infamous Wild Bunch leader Butch Cassidy, who stopped in Idaho just long enough to rob the Bank of Montpelier before moving on.
Welcome additions to this book, the second edition of “Outlaw Tales,” are the stories of an all-out war between rival mining operations in Silver City, showcased in “Downstairs, Upstairs,” and the sensational murder of Wong Bock Sing in “An Incident in Chinatown.”
The inclusion of the unfortunately forgotten Boise Chinatown in particular provides a thrilling setting notably absent from the first edition. An index also makes this new edition more research-friendly, but the structure and style of the pieces lend themselves to a full reading, and Idaho history fans will likely find it hard to read just one. Indeed, Stapilus provides references as well as suggested readings for anyone who simply must know more about these fascinating characters.
In addition to the scoundrels, cheats and villains, Idaho’s unforgiving but glorious landscape and the rugged folks who carved out challenging but hopeful lives in her early years are captured beautifully in Stapilus’ book. Certainly after reading it, should anyone find themselves in the rough backcountry of the Magruder Corridor, they will not be able to help but tip their hat and take a moment to recall the brave pioneers who found themselves victims of notorious Idaho outlaws.
Heather Grevatt is a library assistant for ordering and interlibrary loans at Boise State University’s Albertsons Library.