The Trial of Justice Nuttall: Showdown at Hill’s Bar

Here is the final segment of “The Trial of Justice Nuttall” from my book, Mayhem at Rock Creek and more Gold Rush Stories.


[dropcap]S[/dropcap]cranton returned to Hill’s Bar where Justice Defries and a few others were waiting for him on the other side of the river.

“Well? How did it go?” Defries asked as he steadied the canoe.

Scranton shook his head, “stubborn and foolish. He has underestimated his opponent. Tell Constable Trimble to bring Marvin here if he wants to testify. We’ll hold the trial here at Hill’s Bar.”

Justice Defries nodded, “I’ll write up a summons right away.”

At nine o’clock the next day as large flakes of snow fell, Trimble delivered the summons to Marvin.

Marvin read the paper over a couple of times, hardly believing it. He hurried over to Nuttall’s hut and banged on the door wearing his oversized mittens.

“Hello! You only have to knock once,” said Nuttall from behind the door. He opened it a crack.

“Marvin? What now?”

Marvin held up the paper, “they want me to come to a trial in Hill’s Bar!”

“Come inside and we’ll talk.”

It was warmer inside but not by much and Marvin kept his coat on, with the collar almost covering his ears.

Nuttall read the paper. “This is absolutely absurd! I cannot believe that Defries would do such a thing! Where is that Constable Trimble? He failed to follow my orders!”

Nuttall instructed the jailer to bring the constable to the courthouse immediately.

Cold air seemed to blow in from every corner of the log building and Trimble stood there with hunched shoulders as he waited for Nuttall to enter.

“You must remove your hat when I enter the court, Constable!” Nuttall almost shouted.

Trimble did as he was told and exposed his pink ears.

“You failed to carry out your orders as directed by an officer of this colony.”

“But sir, Justice Defries instructed me to summon Marvin! Those were his orders.”

“Am I not your superior?!”

Trimble gave this some thought and then he answered. “No.”

Nuttall nearly blew up. His shouts brought the attention of the jailer who came running into the court.

“Put Trimble into the jail at once!”

Trimble protested loudly as the jailer pulled him from the room.

Nuttall thought about what had just happened as he pulled his military issued sword from its sheath. How could people be so turned against him? It was a plot to overthrow British rule! He was sure of it. But what proof did he have? If he penned a letter to the Governor, he would just reply back that he should be able to handle the situation himself.

What the Governor didn’t understand was that Yale was no longer a small fur trading fort – it had become a quagmire of American politics that overwhelmed the colony.

Later that afternoon, Scranton and nine others from Hill’s Bar strode along the main street of Yale. Several people along the way observed the men, each of them carrying guns and knives in plain sight. No one challenged them or asked them where they were headed.

Nuttall was standing in his hut with his back to the stove, when the door opened with a bang and Scranton and his entourage entered.

“You’re under arrest, Mr. Nuttall. I, Andrew Scranton and the nine others with me have been given the title of special constables.”

Nuttall stared at them open-mouthed. “On what grounds do you arrest me?”

Scranton brought his face close enough that Nuttall caught a whiff of stale alcohol. “You’ve unlawfully detained Constable Trimble, who we are now going to release.”

Nuttall was pulled aside while Scranton and his men stormed the jail, ordering the jailer to open the door. Alarmed at the sight of these men with their guns aimed in his direction, the jailer complied and unlocked the door behind which was a crowd of men including Constable Trimble.

“All of these men are freed!” Scranton shouted.

YaleMainStNuttall tried to leave the room but Scranton’s men roped his wrists together and led him down the main street amidst the shouts and jeers from miners who still missed their saloons. Nuttall felt the sharp point of his own military sword against his back as he walked reluctantly forward.

By the time they arrived at the place where the canoes lay waiting, the captors were full of self-praise.

Breathless from running, Dr. Chipp shouted “Scranton! If Mr. Nuttall is to get a fair trial then I have to attend as a witness.”

Scranton relented and let the Vigilante member take a seat beside Nuttall who sat in the middle of the canoe with his military hat askew.

Chipp reassured Nuttall that he would pay for any fine. “Scranton likes money more than anything; something that’ll buy a pint all around.”

Nuttall said nothing. He was too angry to speak. He sat there grinding his jaw as the canoe glided forward with every stroke. That afternoon was a blur. He proceeded like a prisoner in front of Justice Defries who read out the charges with occasional hints from Scranton himself.

“Defries!” Nuttall shouted. “This is a complete travesty of justice!”

“Mr. Nuttall, you are in my court.” Defries responded as he kept his head down and read out the charges.

Nuttall’s complexion turned a deep crimson and then pale with anger as he listened to Scranton’s lecture. Justice Defries ordered him to pay the fine of fifty dollars.

Dr. Chipp paid the fine for Nuttall as promised and luckily had enough money to pay some paddlers to get them both safely back to Yale just as the last sliver of daylight was fading.

Chipp said a few words about the closure of the saloons, but Nuttall scarcely heard them; he was still shaking with rage.

Just as soon as Nuttall reached his hut, he rushed to find paper and ink and set about writing letters to the forts downriver.

In each of the letters he transcribed word for word which he remembered Scranton utter during that canoe ride to Hill’s Bar:

“All there is in this so-called colony of yours is forts. We’ll take Fort Yale and then go downriver and capture Fort Hope and retreat with our plunder into Washington Territory.”

With those words written, Nuttall appealed for military intervention. “Fort Yale is under American control, the entire colony is in peril!” he wrote.

Nuttall described his ordeal and wrote “Justice Defries aided Andrew Scranton and the Hill’s Bar mob. Please send the army to Fort Yale at once.”

Finishing his signature with a flourish, Nuttall tied string around each paper in the fading candlelight and opened the door in the cold night to find someone to deliver the messages.