Story type: Essay
The justice of the peace is sometimes a peculiarity, and if someone does not watch him he will exceed his jurisdiction. It took a constable, a sheriff, a prosecuting attorney and a club to convince a Wyoming justice of the peace that he had no right to send a man to the penitentiary for life. Another justice in Utah sentenced a criminal to be hung on the following Friday between twelve and one o’clock of said day, but he couldn’t enforce the sentence. A Wisconsin justice of the peace granted a divorce and in two weeks married the couple over again–ten dollars for the divorce and two dollars for the relapse. Another Badger justice bound a young man over to appear and answer at the next term of the Circuit Court for the crime of chastity, and the evidence was entirely circumstantial, too.
Another one, when his first case came up, jerked a candle box around behind the dining-room table, put his hat on the back of his head, borrowed a chew of tobacco from the prisoner and said: “Now, boys, the court’s open. The first feller that says a word unless I speak to him will get paralyzed. Now tell your story.” Then each witness and the defendant reeled off his yarn without being sworn. The justice fined the defendant ten dollars and made the complaining witness pay half the costs. The justice then took the fine and put it in his pocket, adjourned court, and in an hour was so full that it took six men to hold his house still long enough for him to get into the doors.
A North Park justice of the peace and under-sheriff formed a partnership years ago for the purpose of supplying people with justice at New York prices, and by doing a strictly cash business they dispensed with a good deal of justice, such as it was.
It was a misdemeanor to kill game and ship it out of the State, and as there was a good deal killed there, consisting of elk, antelope and black tail deer especially, and as it could not be hauled out of the Park at that season without going across the Wyoming line and back again into the State of Colorado, the under-sheriff would load himself down with warrants, signed in blank, and station himself on horseback at the foot of the pass to the North. He would then arrest everybody indiscriminately who had any fraction of a deer, antelope or elk on his wagon, try the case then and there, put on a fine of $25 to $75, which if paid never reached the treasury, and then he would wait for another victim. The average man would rather pay the fine than go back a hundred miles through the mountains to stand trial, so the under-sheriff and justice thrived for some time. But one day the under-sheriff served his patent automatic warrant on a young man who refused to come down. The officer then drew one of those large baritone instruments that generally has a coward at one end and a corpse at the other. He pointed this at the young man and assessed a fine of $50 and costs. Instead of paying this fine, the youth, who was quite nimble, but unarmed, knocked the bogus officer down with the butt end of his six-mule whip, took his self-cocking credentials away and lit out. In less than a week the justice and his copper were in the refrigerator.
I was once a justice of the peace, and a good many funny little incidents occurred while I held that office. I do not allude to my official life here in order to call attention to my glowing career, for thousands of others, no doubt, could have administered the affairs of the office as well as I did, but rather to speak of one incident which took place while I was a J.P.
One night after I had retired and gone to sleep a milkman, called Bill Dunning, rang the bell and got me out of bed. Then he told me that a man who owed him a milk bill of $35 was all loaded up and prepared to slip across the line overland into Colorado, there to grow up with the country and acquire other indebtedness, no doubt. Bill desired an attachment for the entire wagon-load of goods and said he had an officer at hand to serve the writ.
“But,” said I, as I wrapped a “welcome” husk door mat around my glorious proportions, “how do you know while we converse together he is not winging his way down the valley of the Paudre?”
“Never mind that, jedge,” says William. “You just fix the dockyments and I’ll tend to the defendant.”
In an hour Bill returned with $35 in cash for himself and the entire costs of the court, and as we settled up and fixed the docket I asked Bill Dunning how he detained the defendant while we made out the affidavit bond and writ of attachment.
“You reckollect, jedge,” says William, “that the waggin wheel is held onto the exle with a big nut. No waggin kin go any length of time without that there nut onto the exle. Well, when I diskivered that what’s-his-name was packed up and the waggin loaded, I took the liberty to borrow one o’ them there nuts fur a kind of momento, as it were, and I kept that in my pocket till we served the writ and he paid my bill and came to his milk, if you’ll allow me that expression, and then I says to him, ‘Pardner,’ says I, you are going far, far away where I may never see you again. Take this here nut,’ says I, ‘and put it onto the exle of the oft hind wheel of your waggin, and whenever you look at it hereafter, think of poor old Bill Dunning, the milkman.’”