Saturday, September 17, 2016

Walgamott Slays Liquored-Up Gunman at Rock Creek Store [otd 9/17]

On September 17, 1877, traveling bank examiner Nathaniel Langford recorded an incident that highlighted the rather casual violence of those frontier days. Oddly enough, the surviving participant in the action chose not to connect himself with the event in the reminiscences he published later in life.
N. P. Langford, ca 1870.
Minnesota Historical Society.

Charles Walgamott came west from Iowa in August 1875, when he was seventeen years old. He joined his sister and brother-in-law Charles Trotter at Rock Creek, Idaho – about 12 miles southeast of today’s Twin Falls. Trotter ran the stage station there.

Charlie stayed in the West because, he said, “I love the mountains, the mountain streams, the western atmosphere, and the hospitable people with their western ways, the smoky odor of Indian-tanned buckskin, so prevalent around the camp fires, mingled with the sage-sweetened air, and the ever-present element of risk even to the preservation of life; and even the frequent solitude has its fascination.”

Early in the winter before Walgamott arrived in Idaho, Trotter had a run-in with a horse thief named William Dowdell (sometimes spelled "Dowdle"). According to a later report in the Idaho Statesman (September 20, 1877), Dowdell had served a one-year prison term for stealing a U. S. Government horse.

Just out of prison for that offense, Dowdell rode into the Rock Creek area on another stolen horse. Trotter recognized the animal and had Dowdell detained. Convicted and sent back to prison, Dowdell vowed revenge.

He appeared at Rock Creek station on September 17, not long after he got out. Trotter was down with typhoid fever and hadn’t come in that morning. After some quick drinks at the bar, Dowdell wandered outside and began taking pot-shots at passers-by and other targets. He reportedly wounded the local blacksmith so badly people thought the man would die. [Vintage photo of Rock Creek Station.]*

At that time, Walgamott held a clerk’s position at the Rock Creek store. Charlie doesn’t say what he was doing when the shooting started, but he finally went to the front door to see what was going on. When a shot through the door casing just missed him, Walgamott grabbed a pistol kept near the counter and shot Dowdell dead. (Charlie would have been about nineteen at the time.)

Langford rode the stage into Rock Creek that same afternoon. In his diary, he described the drunken “funeral procession” the locals had arranged: “Frequent potations had exhilarated the entire company to such a degree that no attempt was made to preserve regularity of motion or direction.”
They did eventually bury the body. An inquest declared Charlie fully justified in the shooting. In fact, according to Langford, “The entire settlement manifested their approval of Wohlgamuth’s [sic] timely shot.”

Walgamott lived in the Mountain West well into the Twentieth Century and published his Reminiscences of Early Days in 1926. In that, and the very similar Six Decades Back, he described many wild events, including the death of Dowdell. However, for his own reasons, Charles identified the retaliatory shooter as simply “a young man who was in charge at the store.”

* The Idaho State Historical Society holds the copyright on this photo and charges a usage fee. (As a member, I know the organization needs the money, but since my blog generates no income, I am not in a position to pay.)
                                                                                                                                      
References: Jim Gentry, In the Middle and On the Edge, College of Southern Idaho (2003).
N. P. Langford, Vigilante Days and Ways, Montana State University (1957).
Charles S. Walgamott, Six Decades Back, The Caxton Press, Caldwell, Idaho, 1936. Re-released in 1990.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Evan,
    Thanks for the fun blog. Walgamott writes about a miner named Johnny Stewart, on page 84 of, I believe, volume I of Reminiscences... Johnny may be my great, great grandfather. I'm wondering if you know of any other source, besides Walgamott, where I might be able to explore this possibility. Thanks!

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