Frontier Justice Comes to Boise

This story was initially intended to be part of our book Murder and Mayhem in Boise but was cut at the last moment by the publisher. Good thing we had the story of the Kingpin of Boise's Underworld to replace it with! Check out the book on September 5th, 2022! Pre-orders are available now.


In mid-February of 1866, a messenger arrived in Boise from Ruby City in the Owyhee Mountains. He brought with him the sad news of another “Indian depredation” occurring in the Owyhees; Andrew Hall had been murdered by natives, and his livestock had been driven from his ranch outside of Ruby City. Hall became another casualty of the deadly Snake War. In response, the citizens of Owyhee County held a meeting to organize a volunteer company to defend against, and punish, those responsible for the attacks. The Owhyee Volunteers also sent a request to the citizens of Boise and Ada County asking them to form a militia and come to the aid of their neighbors to the south.




A meeting to organize this company took place in Boise at Riggs and Agnew’s Hall; it was well attended by Boise’s prominent citizens. Among them were H.C. Riggs, John Hailey, Theodore Burmester, and Caleb Lyon. Governor Lyon urged the people to action, while Burmester asked for contributions of money and supplies while calling for all due haste in outfitting the company. A few days later another meeting was called, wherein the name “Ada County Volunteers” was officially adopted. By this time, 25 brave men had signed up with $2,939 in cash and supplies having been donated by businesses and private citizens.


Left-Territorial Governor Caleb Lyon of Lyonsdale



As the Ada County Volunteers prepared for war, they still needed leaders to conduct operations in the field. The assembled company arranged

a vote and unanimously elected David C. Updyke, the former sheriff of Ada County, to lead them. Yet, Updyke’s loyalties were in question because he had been forced to resign from public office several months before after allegations were made alleging he had pocketed tax money and also refused to arrest an outlaw with an outstanding warrant. Furthermore, many people in Boise believed Updyke was the chief of a gang of road agents operating in Southern Idaho. However, he possessed enough respect among the 25 men to be offered this leadership role. He did have experience in fighting tribes in the Idaho Territory, having been a member of Standifer’s Rangers, a militia that had traveled south from the Boise Basin to fight several engagements with the natives in 1863 just prior to the establishment of Fort Boise.


Updyke led the volunteers out of Boise on March 1st, returning 24 days later without killing a single “savage.” The company report indicated that when the small band of Ada County Militia reached the Snake River, they were met by a representative of the Governor who passed along the message that peace had been reached. Still, they continued to search the river for those from the native population seeking war, making it as far south as Camp Lyon where the tired men requested supplies from the post commander only to be turned down. Thus, they returned to Boise. Some asserted the company had not actually searched for the militants, but instead camped on the bank of the Snake River and spent their time drinking, shooting targets, and racing horses until all the food and booze ran out. Legend says they buried a cache of weapons, paid for by the citizens of Boise City, for use by the road agents of the Boise Valley.


Whatever actually happened while the volunteers were out of town, a lawsuit arose, filed by the man who supplied the horses for the expedition. One of the trial witnesses was a young man named Ruben Raymond who had taken care of the volunteer’s horses. Raymond decided to testify in the trial, much to the dismay of Updyke and his crew. Raymond was working in Updyke’s livery stable on April 3rd, 1866 when John Clark, another member of the Ada County Volunteers, confronted him about his testimony. John Clark drew his pistol and attempted to hit Raymond with it, but Raymond dodged the blow. Clark then pointed the gun at Raymond, attempting to get Raymond to draw his own piece so Clark could claim he had shot Raymond in self-defense. However, Raymond stood still and calmly told Clark he would allow him the first shot. Clark fired and Raymond fell, a wound running through his stomach and out his back. He died later that evening.


The U.S. Bank building now stands where David Updyke's stable once did


A crowd had already begun to gather, and several witnesses watched Clark shoot Raymond in cold blood. The crowd threatened to seize Clark on the spot and lynch him, but Sherriff Duval arrived and took the outlaw into his custody. Because the jail had been deemed incapable of holding inmates, the county jailed its prisoners in the guardhouse at Fort Boise. Clark was arraigned before Justice Kline and bound over on a charge of murder.


Two days later, John Clark was found dead, hanging from a gibbet or a temporary gallows made from three poles. The gibbet sat on the future site of the Idaho State Capitol Building. The night before, some 15 to 20 men had gathered near Fort Boise between one and two in the morning. They had rushed the guardhouse, taking the sentry outside by surprise and knocking him to the ground. They pushed their way into the building, tackling another guard, before forcing their way into the cell in which Clark was being held and abducting the prisoner. Having secured their target, the intruders withdrew. Eventually, when the soldiers managed to untie themselves, they sounded the alarm; the prisoner and his new keepers had, by this time, disappeared into the night. When townsfolk discovered Clark’s corpse that morning, a message had been placed on his body.



Fort Boise, Idaho Territory, around the time of the Updyke drama


Pinned to Clark’s chest was a note:

No. 1

“Justice has now commenced her righteous work. This suffering community which has already lain too long under the ban of ruffianism shall now be renovated of its THIEVES and ASSASSINS. Forbearance has at last ceased to be a virtue, and an outraged community has most solemnly resolved on SELF PROTECTION.

Let this man’s fate be a terrible warning to all his kind, for the argus eye of Justice is no more sure to see than her arm will be certain to strike.

The soil of this beautiful valley shall no longer be desecrated by the presence of THIEVES and ASSASSINS. This fatal example has no terror for the innocent, but let the guilty beware, and not delay too long and take warning.

XXX”


The Boise City Vigilance Committee had introduced itself in dramatic fashion. Unlike its fellow vigilance committees in the Payette Valley and the Boise Basin, the vigilantes of Boise City successfully formed and operated clandestinely. Its membership remained a secret, but it has been speculated that A.J. Reynolds, editor of the Idaho Statesman had organized the committee, among others. When Updyke heard Clark had been arrested for the murder of Raymond, he revealed his true colors at last when he threatened to burn Boise to the ground. Yet, when he learned of Clark’s death at the hands of the vigilantes, he fled town to Rocky Bar. It was on the trail to Rocky Bar that the vigilantes caught up with him. The next day the disgraced sheriff and a chronie named Jake Dixon were discovered hanging; Updyke from two buildings at Syrup Creek Ranch, and Dixon from a tree a bit farther down the road. When word spread in Boise of the vigilante lynching, the former members of his criminal enterprise began to flee, bringing a period of relative peace to the valley.



Sign at Syrup Creek, near where David Updyke and Jake Dixon were hung


Where to See it: The gibbet where John Clark lost his life was placed near what is now the southeastern edge of the Idaho State Capitol Mall, near where the Ezra Meeker Oregon Trail Monument now sits. The stable in which Ruben Raymond was murdered was located at 8th and Main Street, now the location of the U.S. Bank building.


The Ezra Meeker Monument to the Old Oregon Trail stands where John Clark was hung by vigilantes


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