Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sheepmen John Wilson and Daniel Cummings Found Dead [otd 02/16]

On the morning of February 16, 1896, sheepman Edgar "Ted" Severe settled his flock and then set up camp. Twelve days earlier, a looming snow storm had chased him from the campsite, located about 26 miles south of the near-future town of Twin Falls. Ted was worried. His flock was well over into cattle country, west of the informal “deadline” that was supposed to separate sheep from cattle range.
Sheep wagon. Library of Congress.

He had received thinly-veiled threats, but no one had directly confronted him. Several times, he had heard suspicious sounds around his campsite, and crept into the bushes to hide. However, nothing happened, and no one had bothered his flock.

All seemed quiet since his return, but he needed to stay alert. After awhile, he became even more worried about his two friends, John Wilson and Daniel Cummings. He could see their camp on Deep Creek, and some of their sheep. In all the time since he had trailed his flock into position and laid out his campsite, he’d seen no movement around their wagon.

In fact, their setup hadn't changed at all compared to what he remembered from twelve days before. That seemed odd since they would have been equally exposed to the bad weather. Finally, Severe saddled his horse and clip-clopped over to check out the other camp.

The Wilson-Cummings sheep had been allowed to scatter, and as Severe rode up to the wagon, he saw that their two dogs were still tied to the wagon wheels. Both animals looked weak and thin; one could barely bark. Inside the wagon, the horrified sheepman found the bodies of Wilson and Cummings. They had been shot and were long dead. [The blog for Feb 4 describes the claimed "self-defense" shooting by Jeff Gray.]

As quickly as he could, Severe found another sheepman to ride to Oakley, where they could pass word to the sheriff in Albion, the county seat. It would have been far easier, and quicker, to go through Rock Creek … but that was cattle country. The sheriff and county coroner didn't arrived until two days later. In the meantime, other sheepmen avoided the camp, except for one who took the dogs to his own site for food and water.

The coroner estimated that the men had been dead for ten days to two weeks. Sheepman Davis Hunter recalled visiting them on the morning of the 4th, which roughly confirmed the estimate. The investigators found plenty of clues: three empty .44 caliber shells, matching slugs, an almost-new corncob pipe, a scrawled note (hardly readable), and some uncooked bread dough.

There was also a bloody handprint on the canvas wall of the wagon. Of course, the sheriff had no knowledge of the barely infant practice of fingerprint identification, so this evidence was useless. Unfortunately, most of the other evidence was mishandled. Only one of the shell casings appeared at the trial, and for a time officials lost track of the note, corncob pipe, and bloodstained clothes.

To be be continued ...
References: William Pat Rowe, "Diamond-Field Jack" Davis On Trial, thesis: Master of Arts in Education, Idaho State University (1966).
David H. Grover, Diamondfield Jack: A Study in Frontier Justice, University of Nevada Press, Reno (1968).
Edgar Severe, Virginia Estes (Ed.), "The True Story of the Wilson-Cummings Murder," A Pause for Reflection, J. Grant Stevenson, Provo, Utah (© Cassia County Company of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, 1977).

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