Idaho History

Reports of killings in early Idaho were numerous, and often quite detailed

It took little provocation for one of these men to murder another.
It took little provocation for one of these men to murder another.

When Michael Dunn shot and killed Thomas Mackay in March 1866, evidence brought forth at his trial showed that his motive was revenge. The Idaho World recalled that Mackay had shot Dunn in the summer of 1865, but that the bullet had “glanced off Dunn’s forehead.” In May 1866, an Idaho City jury convicted Dunn of murder in the first degree, and he was sentenced by Judge Milton Kelly (who would later be publisher of the Idaho Statesman) to hang on July 6, 1866, at 10 a.m. Dunn appealed, and in May 1867, his sentence was reduced to 20 years in prison.

That same month Territorial Treasurer H.B. Lane was killed by Louis Risley, a bartender, who then committed suicide. Most people thought Risley was probably insane.

In July 1867 at Leesburg, A.J. Johnson and P.W. McManus got into an argument that became so heated, each of them drew his pistol. Friends quickly intervened before any shots were fired, and it was hoped that the two had calmed down. Unfortunately, as the Salmon News reported:

“Soon after, Mr. Johnson was passing down the sidewalk in front of McMann’s saloon, when he was assaulted by McManus, receiving a blow on the head with a double-barreled gun which felled him to the ground, and while lying insensible from the effects of the blow, McManus deliberately fired the contents of both barrels into his body, killing him instantly. Mr. Johnson was lately from Walla Walla, aged about 35 years, and was a much respected gentleman. He was the proprietor of a keg saloon in Leesburg, and owns a large saloon in Walla Walla.

McManus escaped, although parties are out now in search of him. He was a member of the Montana legislature last winter, and heretofore has borne a good reputation. Great excitement was created in Leesburg in consequence of this cold blooded murder, and strong talk was going the rounds. It was feared it would give rise to the formation of a vigilance committee. Later advices state that the shooting took place at about eleven o’clock at night and there were no witnesses to the dark deed.”

Having described the killing in some detail, the paper now admitted that nobody had seen it happen.

With some regularity Idaho newspapers reported killings. Here are a few of them:

Oct. 23, 1868: “John M. Kelly of Granite Creek was shot and killed by Mr. Perkins, the butcher. Kelly shot Robinson first. Some say a third party shot Kelly.”

Feb. 9, 1869: “John Buzzin killed Henry Sellers. He is confident of acquittal.”

July 8, 1869: “Murder in Cold Blood. James Porter shot and killed Hans Peter Hanson and John Moore in the Idaho Brewery saloon.” The 1870 census tells us that Porter was a 40-year-old hotel keeper born in Indiana.

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 Morgan, the Sheriff of that county, at Malad City April 11 and instantly killed. The difficulty originated in regard to matters affecting Murphy’s toll road, which was brought before the county commissioners.”

April 23, 1870: “A brutal murder in Idaho City. On last Saturday night, between ten and eleven o’clock, an old man named Ramon Kedore, a Mexican who has been in this country since 1863, was brutally murdered. He left White & Douglas corner shortly after ten o’clock somewhat intoxicated, intending to go to his cabin, but was soon after found in an insensible condition lying on his face in the water which was flowing down Montgomery Street.. All efforts to revive him failed.”

July 7, 1870: “Shooting in Alturas. A shooting affair occurred at Rocky Bar in Alturas County last week, between two men named Roberts and McIntyre, which resulted in the death of the latter.” A few days later a coroner’s jury found that James H. Roberts had shot and killed Stephen M. McIntyre with three shots, knowing him to be unarmed.

Be glad you didn’t live in what romantics call “the good ol’ days.”

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email