As frontier towns developed, law and order often arrived after the towns were established. But once it arrived, as we will see with Denver, Colorado, it could be harsh and unforgiving.
When the cry of silver or gold goes out, immediately hundreds and even thousands of people flock to the area. Overnight, the area is dotted with crude structures called homes. And stores, restaurants and the mandatory saloons pop up right along with the homes. What doesn’t happen immediately is the town’s infrastructure…regulations to insure people are civilized, and a means of enforcement when people aren’t civilized.
That’s what happened with Denver, Colorado. But, on January 13, 1859, some of the citizens of Denver decided it was time for law and order.
A makeshift court was assembled along the Platte River. The hardened criminal was brought before the court. The man was charged with stealing…six cans of oysters. That’s right oysters. They were a delicacy to the miners. And, those six cans were probably the last oysters in town. Besides, they were valued at $30.
He was found guilty. And, since there was no jail in the area, his punishment was 20 lashes. However, there were those who though he should be hanged.
When they discovered that he was drunk at the time he stole the oysters, and, since most of the jury were probably heavy drinkers themselves, the final verdict was amended. They decided the offender should be banned from the settlement.
However, realizing that the draw of gold might mean that he would sneak back, they added one more caveat to his sentence. That was that if he returned to the village anyone could shoot him on sight.
I understand he was never heard from again.
Dakota Livesay is the editor of the Chronicle of the Old West. For more information about the Old West, visit www.ChronicleoftheOldWest.com You can hear Dakota 10 a.m. each day on KZUZ 93.5 in Show Low and KZUA 92.1 in Holbrook.