The Duke of York, part II

Posted by Ken Campbell October 14, 2008 0 Comment 469 views

In the fall of 1859, on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a mail carrier was found murdered in his boat. His mail pouch had been rifled and his personal belongings were missing. Suspicion immediately centered on a young Indian who had been fishing in the area at the time of the killing. The settlers of Port Townsend, angry, impatient and disinclined to entertain the any principles of due process, promptly erected a gallows and prepared to dispense a little frontier justice.

The Duke of York, having reservations about both the guilt of the prisoner as well as the barbarity of the proceedings, sought help from the commanding officer of the Fort Townsend garrison, Major Haller. The Major, who was regarded as something of a pompous commander, arrived on the scene with a dozen armed soldiers, fully enjoying his role in the spotlight. Standing before the angry mob, he said:

“Men, Listen to me! I stand here as a duly constituted representative of the United States Government. As such, I intend to see that the majesty of the law is upheld – that every individual, whatever his race, color or creed, is given the protection of that law. Remember, you are surrounded by a multitude of Indians. A lynching would put them in a dangerous mood, and they would not rest until they had been avenged. The government has done its best to protect the settlers in this vicinity, and will call to account anyone making trouble between the natives and the whites. From what I have learned, the evidence against this prisoner is not at all conclusive. The Duke tells me he believes he can find the real murderers, if given a week’s time.”

Don’t let anyone soft-soap you, boys,” the leader of the mob cried out. “We’re going on with this hanging, so don’t waste any more time.”

Major Haller, a fire rising in his eyes, continued: “If you won’t listen to reason, we’ll have to try something stronger.” His bristling eyebrows shaded his ominous glare as he continued to speak. “Anyone attempting to molest this prisoner in any manner will be shot where they stand. Attention, men! Ready – Aim…”

His troops standing behind him lowered the muzzles of their weapons, business ends pointed at the rowdy mob as the tension in the air grew. After what must have seemed like an eternity, the designated leader of the pack relented.

“We don’t want no trouble with the guv’mint,” he said. “Not over a dirty Injun. We’ll postpone this necktie party, until later. But if the Duke don’t make good on his promise, we’ll begin right where we’re leavin’ off.” The crowd dispersed, the prisoner was taken into custody and the soldiers returned to their post.

The Duke wasted no time in dispatching runners in several different directions. There had been a couple of suspicious looking characters in town several days before, most likely deserters from a whaling ship, and the Duke had a hunch that they might be of interest in the case.

After a few days, some of the Duke’s men returned to Port Townsend with a portion of the stolen mail and the watch, pipe and other personal articles of the murdered postman. The runners had found the men that they were looking for on Dungeness Spit, where they had set up camp. Upon finding that they were in possession of the loot, the Duke’s men promptly killed them both and buried them unceremoniously in the sand where they fell, Indian justice being speedy indeed. There would be no appeal.

The wrongly accused lad was released from jail, the settlers were satisfied that justice had been done and the Duke, already a respected person of immense influence, saw his star rise even higher.

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