Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Packer Lloyd Magruder and Others Murdered on Nez Perce Trail [otd 10/11]

On the night of October 11, 1863, conspirators murdered packer Lloyd Magruder and four other men. The killings took place on the South Nez Percé Trail. The Trail – now also called the Magruder Corridor – twists crazily through the deep Central Idaho wilderness to cross a regional divide into Montana at Nez Percé Pass.
Magruder Corridor segment. U. S. Forest Service.

Scion of a prominent Maryland family, Lloyd Magruder had fought in the Mexican War and earned a promotion from private to second lieutenant. He resigned that commission to try his hand in the California gold fields. Bad luck reversed his initial success, so he moved to Lewiston, Idaho in July, 1862.

Within a year, the hard-working and intelligent Magruder owned both a pack train and a store. In August, Magruder’s string of mules headed east from Elk City on the South Nez Percé Trail, which provided the most direct route across the Bitterroot Mountains. He quickly sold his loads in the Montana gold camps and headed home, leading a train of six horses and about forty mules. Eight other men accompanied him.

About fifteen trail miles into Idaho from Nez Percés Pass, the party encamped on a side stream at the base of a ridge. They released the stock on a good forage area about a half mile up the slope. Magruder and a man named Christopher Lower drew the sundown-to-midnight watch over the animals.

When they left camp, Lower carried an ax, purportedly to clear some brush intruding on the pasture. Before midnight Lowe, or another conspirator who had joined them, split Magruder’s skull from behind with the ax. Those two and a third conspirator then slaughtered four other innocent bystanders. Hunter and guide William “Billy” Page knew about the plot but kept quiet through fear or greed. He later turned state’s evidence.

The men disposed of the evidence and headed surreptitiously for Lewiston. A few days later, they waited until after dark to enter the town. Page arranged to corral the animals out of sight. With no steamboat scheduled any time soon, they decided to take the early morning stagecoach to Walla Walla.

Luna House, ca. 1868. Illustrated History.
The nearest ticket office happened to be at Luna House, the hotel operated by Hill Beachy, a friend of Lloyd Magruder. Beachy, schooled on Mississippi River steamboats and in California gold camps, knew how to read men, and situations. When a conspirator bought tickets for four men, his furtive manner caught Beachy’s attention: Perhaps they planned a stage robbery.

Beachy passed a warning to the other passengers and watched them leave the next morning. That’s when he realized the strangers had considerable gold themselves. That induced other suspicions: Where had that gold come from? Investigation soon uncovered some of Magruder’s animals and gear that had been stashed with a friend of one of the conspirators.

Beachy's pursuit of the men became the stuff of legend, as he just missed them when they sailed from Portland on a coastal packet. Beachy had to race overland to apprehend the killers in San Francisco. He then returned them to Idaho for trial and execution.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [B&W], [Illust-North]
Julia Conway Welch, The Magruder Murders: Coping with Violence on the Idaho Frontier, Falcon Press Publishing, Helena, Montana (© Julia Conway Welch, 1991).

2 comments:

  1. I wondered if you had read any sources other than Julia Welch on the Magruder murders since her timeline of events differs from those of both Baily (1963, not to be confused with 1935 River of No Return Bailey) and Hamilton 1994. Welch has several errors including misnaming Buckskin Bill as Sylvan Wood, whose name was Sylvan Hart. I have been interested in the Magruder murders since 1963 and have visited the marker placed by the Forest Service, which location does not jibe with the record in time or place, Magruder Mtn., and the Little Clearwater from Bargamin Creek.

    Otis Maloy
    Moscow, Idaho
    email:otismaloy@cpcinternet.com

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  2. Besides Welch and the other two accounts I referenced, I have read quite a few others. Those include Dimsdale's "The Vigilantes of Montana," Langford's "Vigilante Days and Ways," the "History of Idaho Territory" (1884), and others.
    The problem is, of course, that the stories are often incomplete, contradictory, biased, etc.etc.
    I probably stuck closest to the account in the "Illustrated-North" and then stayed rather "generic" when there seemed to be no consensus.
    Thanks for your interest in the blog, and I hope this helps, somewhat.

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