Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
Part 9 out of 9
write for the Press, especially when a sense alike of personal
self-respect, of duty to this money-oppressed and fear-ridden community,
and of American fealty to the spirit of true Liberty all command me, and
each more loudly than love of life itself, to declare the name of that
prominent man to be JOHN B. WINTERS, President of the Yellow Jacket
Company, a political aspirant and a military General? The name of his
partially duped accomplice and abettor in this last marvelous assault, is
no other than PHILIP LYNCH, Editor and Proprietor of the Gold Hill News.
Despite the insult and wrong heaped upon me by John B. Winters, on
Saturday afternoon, only a glimpse of which I shall be able to afford
your readers, so much do I deplore clinching (by publicity) a serious
mistake of any one, man or woman, committed under natural and not
self-wrought passion, in view of his great apparent excitement at the
time and in view of the almost perfect privacy of the assault, I am far
from sure that I should not have given him space for repentance before
exposing him, were it not that he himself has so far exposed the matter
as to make it the common talk of the town that he has horsewhipped me.
That fact having been made public, all the facts in connection need to be
also, or silence on my part would seem more than singular, and with many
would be proof either that I was conscious of some unworthy aim in
publishing the article, or else that my "non-combatant" principles are
but a convenient cloak alike of physical and moral cowardice. I
therefore shall try to present a graphic but truthful picture of this
whole affair, but shall forbear all comments, presuming that the editors
of our own journal, if others do not, will speak freely and fittingly
upon this subject in our next number, whether I shall then be dead or
living, for my death will not stop, though it may suspend, the
publication of the PEOPLE'S TRIBUNE. [The "non-combatant" sticks to
principle, but takes along a friend or two of a conveniently different
THE TRAP SET.
On Saturday morning John B. Winters sent verbal word to the Gold Hill
Assay Office that he desired to see me at the Yellow Jacket office.
Though such a request struck me as decidedly cool in view of his own
recent discourtesies to me there alike as a publisher and as a
stockholder in the Yellow Jacket mine, and though it seemed to me more
like a summons than the courteous request by one gentleman to another for
a favor, hoping that some conference with Sharon looking to the
betterment of mining matters in Nevada might arise from it, I felt
strongly inclined to overlook what possibly was simply an oversight in
courtesy. But as then it had only been two days since I had been bruised
and beaten under a hasty and false apprehension of facts, my caution was
somewhat aroused. Moreover I remembered sensitively his contemptuousness
of manner to me at my last interview in his office. I therefore felt it
needful, if I went at all, to go accompanied by a friend whom he would
not dare to treat with incivility, and whose presence with me might
secure exemption from insult. Accordingly I asked a neighbor to
THE TRAP ALMOST DETECTED.
Although I was not then aware of this fact, it would seem that previous
to my request this same neighbor had heard Dr. Zabriskie state publicly
in a saloon, that Mr. Winters had told him he had decided either to kill
or to horsewhip me, but had not finally decided on which. My neighbor,
therefore, felt unwilling to go down with me until he had first called on
Mr. Winters alone. He therefore paid him a visit. From that interview
he assured me that he gathered the impression that he did not believe I
would have any difficulty with Mr. Winters, and that he (Winters) would
call on me at four o'clock in my own office.
MY OWN PRECAUTIONS.
As Sheriff Cummings was in Gold Hill that afternoon, and as I desired to
converse with him about the previous assault, I invited him to my office,
and he came. Although a half hour had passed beyond four o'clock, Mr.
Winters had not called, and we both of us began preparing to go home.
Just then, Philip Lynch, Publisher of the Gold Hill News, came in and
said, blandly and cheerily, as if bringing good news:
"Hello, John B. Winters wants to see you."
I replied, "Indeed! Why he sent me word that he would call on me here
this afternoon at four o'clock!"
"O, well, it don't do to be too ceremonious just now, he's in my office,
and that will do as well--come on in, Winters wants to consult with you
alone. He's got something to say to you."
Though slightly uneasy at this change of programme, yet believing that in
an editor's house I ought to be safe, and anyhow that I would be within
hail of the street, I hurriedly, and but partially whispered my dim
apprehensions to Mr. Cummings, and asked him if he would not keep near
enough to hear my voice in case I should call. He consented to do so
while waiting for some other parties, and to come in if he heard my voice
or thought I had need of protection.
On reaching the editorial part of the News office, which viewed from the
street is dark, I did not see Mr. Winters, and again my misgivings arose.
Had I paused long enough to consider the case, I should have invited
Sheriff Cummings in, but as Lynch went down stairs, he said: "This way,
Wiegand--it's best to be private," or some such remark.
[I do not desire to strain the reader's fancy, hurtfully, and yet it
would be a favor to me if he would try to fancy this lamb in battle, or
the duelling ground or at the head of a vigilance committee--M. T.:]
I followed, and without Mr. Cummings, and without arms, which I never do
or will carry, unless as a soldier in war, or unless I should yet come to
feel I must fight a duel, or to join and aid in the ranks of a necessary
Vigilance Committee. But by following I made a fatal mistake. Following
was entering a trap, and whatever animal suffers itself to be caught
should expect the common fate of a caged rat, as I fear events to come
Traps commonly are not set for benevolence.
[His body-guard is shut out:]
THE TRAP INSIDE.
I followed Lynch down stairs. At their foot a door to the left opened
into a small room. From that room another door opened into yet another
room, and once entered I found myself inveigled into what many will ever
henceforth regard as a private subterranean Gold Hill den, admirably
adapted in proper hands to the purposes of murder, raw or disguised, for
from it, with both or even one door closed, when too late, I saw that I
could not be heard by Sheriff Cummings, and from it, BY VIOLENCE AND BY
FORCE, I was prevented from making a peaceable exit, when I thought I saw
the studious object of this "consultation" was no other than to compass
my killing, in the presence of Philip Lynch as a witness, as soon as by
insult a proverbially excitable man should be exasperated to the point of
assailing Mr. Winters, so that Mr. Lynch, by his conscience and by his
well known tenderness of heart toward the rich and potent would be
compelled to testify that he saw Gen. John B. Winters kill Conrad Wiegand
in "self-defence." But I am going too fast.
Mr. Lynch was present during the most of the time (say a little short of
an hour), but three times he left the room. His testimony, therefore,
would be available only as to the bulk of what transpired. On entering
this carpeted den I was invited to a seat near one corner of the room.
Mr. Lynch took a seat near the window. J. B. Winters sat (at first) near
the door, and began his remarks essentially as follows:
"I have come here to exact of you a retraction, in black and white, of
those damnably false charges which you have preferred against me in
that---infamous lying sheet of yours, and you must declare yourself their
author, that you published them knowing them to be false, and that your
motives were malicious."
"Hold, Mr. Winters. Your language is insulting and your demand an
enormity. I trust I was not invited here either to be insulted or
coerced. I supposed myself here by invitation of Mr. Lynch, at your
"Nor did I come here to insult you. I have already told you that I am
here for a very different purpose."
"Yet your language has been offensive, and even now shows strong
excitement. If insult is repeated I shall either leave the room or call
in Sheriff Cummings, whom I just left standing and waiting for me outside
"No, you won't, sir. You may just as well understand it at once as not.
Here you are my man, and I'll tell you why! Months ago you put your
property out of your hands, boasting that you did so to escape losing it
on prosecution for libel."
"It is true that I did convert all my immovable property into personal
property, such as I could trust safely to others, and chiefly to escape
ruin through possible libel suits."
"Very good, sir. Having placed yourself beyond the pale of the law, may
God help your soul if you DON'T make precisely such a retraction as I
have demanded. I've got you now, and by--before you can get out of this
room you've got to both write and sign precisely the retraction I have
demanded, and before you go, anyhow--you---low-lived--lying---, I'll
teach you what personal responsibility is outside of the law; and, by--,
Sheriff Cummings and all the friends you've got in the world besides,
can't save you, you---, etc.! No, sir. I'm alone now, and I'm prepared
to be shot down just here and now rather than be villified by you as I
have been, and suffer you to escape me after publishing those charges,
not only here where I am known and universally respected, but where I am
not personally known and may be injured."
I confess this speech, with its terrible and but too plainly implied
threat of killing me if I did not sign the paper he demanded, terrified
me, especially as I saw he was working himself up to the highest possible
pitch of passion, and instinct told me that any reply other than one of
seeming concession to his demands would only be fuel to a raging fire,
so I replied:
"Well, if I've got to sign--," and then I paused some time. Resuming,
I said, "But, Mr. Winters, you are greatly excited. Besides, I see you
are laboring under a total misapprehension. It is your duty not to
inflame but to calm yourself. I am prepared to show you, if you will
only point out the article that you allude to, that you regard as
'charges' what no calm and logical mind has any right to regard as such.
Show me the charges, and I will try, at all events; and if it becomes
plain that no charges have been preferred, then plainly there can be
nothing to retract, and no one could rightly urge you to demand a
retraction. You should beware of making so serious a mistake, for
however honest a man may be, every one is liable to misapprehend.
Besides you assume that I am the author of some certain article which you
have not pointed out. It is hasty to do so."
He then pointed to some numbered paragraphs in a TRIBUNE article, headed
"What's the Matter with Yellow Jacket?" saying "That's what I refer to."
To gain time for general reflection and resolution, I took up the paper
and looked it over for awhile, he remaining silent, and as I hoped,
cooling. I then resumed saying, "As I supposed. I do not admit having
written that article, nor have you any right to assume so important a
point, and then base important action upon your assumption. You might
deeply regret it afterwards. In my published Address to the People, I
notified the world that no information as to the authorship of any
article would be given without the consent of the writer. I therefore
cannot honorably tell you who wrote that article, nor can you exact it."
"If you are not the author, then I do demand to know who is?"
"I must decline to say."
"Then, by--, I brand you as its author, and shall treat you accordingly."
"Passing that point, the most important misapprehension which I notice
is, that you regard them as 'charges' at all, when their context, both at
their beginning and end, show they are not. These words introduce them:
'Such an investigation [just before indicated], we think MIGHT result in
showing some of the following points.' Then follow eleven specifications,
and the succeeding paragraph shows that the suggested investigation
'might EXONERATE those who are generally believed guilty.' You see,
therefore, the context proves they are not preferred as charges, and this
you seem to have overlooked."
While making those comments, Mr. Winters frequently interrupted me in
such a way as to convince me that he was resolved not to consider
candidly the thoughts contained in my words. He insisted upon it that
they were charges, and "By--," he would make me take them back as
charges, and he referred the question to Philip Lynch, to whom I then
appealed as a literary man, as a logician, and as an editor, calling his
attention especially to the introductory paragraph just before quoted.
He replied, "if they are not charges, they certainly are insinuations,"
whereupon Mr. Winters renewed his demands for retraction precisely such
as he had before named, except that he would allow me to state who did
write the article if I did not myself, and this time shaking his fist in
my face with more cursings and epithets.
When he threatened me with his clenched fist, instinctively I tried to
rise from my chair, but Winters then forcibly thrust me down, as he did
every other time (at least seven or eight), when under similar imminent
danger of bruising by his fist (or for aught I could know worse than that
after the first stunning blow), which he could easily and safely to
himself have dealt me so long as he kept me down and stood over me.
This fact it was, which more than anything else, convinced me that by
plan and plot I was purposely made powerless in Mr. Winters' hands, and
that he did not mean to allow me that advantage of being afoot, which he
possessed. Moreover, I then became convinced, that Philip Lynch (and for
what reason I wondered) would do absolutely nothing to protect me in his
own house. I realized then the situation thoroughly. I had found it
equally vain to protest or argue, and I would make no unmanly appeal for
pity, still less apologize. Yet my life had been by the plainest
possible implication threatened. I was a weak man. I was unarmed. I
was helplessly down, and Winters was afoot and probably armed. Lynch was
the only "witness." The statements demanded, if given and not explained,
would utterly sink me in my own self-respect, in my family's eyes, and in
the eyes of the community. On the other hand, should I give the author's
name how could I ever expect that confidence of the People which I should
no longer deserve, and how much dearer to me and to my family was my life
than the life of the real author to his friends. Yet life seemed dear
and each minute that remained seemed precious if not solemn. I sincerely
trust that neither you nor any of your readers, and especially none with
families, may ever be placed in such seeming direct proximity to death
while obliged to decide the one question I was compelled to, viz.: What
should I do--I, a man of family, and not as Mr. Winters is, "alone."
[The reader is requested not to skip the following.--M. T.:]
STRATEGY AND MESMERISM.
To gain time for further reflection, and hoping that by a seeming
acquiescence I might regain my personal liberty, at least till I could
give an alarm, or take advantage of some momentary inadvertence of
Winters, and then without a cowardly flight escape, I resolved to write a
certain kind of retraction, but previously had inwardly decided:
First.--That I would studiously avoid every action which might be
construed into the drawing of a weapon, even by a self-infuriated man, no
matter what amount of insult might be heaped upon me, for it seemed to me
that this great excess of compound profanity, foulness and epithet must
be more than a mere indulgence, and therefore must have some object.
"Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird." Therefore,
as before without thought, I thereafter by intent kept my hands away from
my pockets, and generally in sight and spread upon my knees.
Second.--I resolved to make no motion with my arms or hands which could
possibly be construed into aggression.
Third.--I resolved completely to govern my outward manner and suppress
indignation. To do this, I must govern my spirit. To do that, by force
of imagination I was obliged like actors on the boards to resolve myself
into an unnatural mental state and see all things through the eyes of an
Fourth.--I resolved to try on Winters, silently, and unconsciously to
himself a mesmeric power which I possess over certain kinds of people,
and which at times I have found to work even in the dark over the lower
Does any one smile at these last counts? God save you from ever being
obliged to beat in a game of chess, whose stake is your life, you having
but four poor pawns and pieces and your adversary with his full force
unshorn. But if you are, provided you have any strength with breadth of
will, do not despair. Though mesmeric power may not save you, it may
help you; try it at all events. In this instance I was conscious of
power coming into me, and by a law of nature, I know Winters was
correspondingly weakened. If I could have gained more time I am sure he
would not even have struck me.
It takes time both to form such resolutions and to recite them. That
time, however, I gained while thinking of my retraction, which I first
wrote in pencil, altering it from time to time till I got it to suit me,
my aim being to make it look like a concession to demands, while in fact
it should tersely speak the truth into Mr. Winters' mind. When it was
finished, I copied it in ink, and if correctly copied from my first draft
it should read as follows. In copying I do not think I made any material
To Philip Lynch, Editor of the Gold Hill News: I learn that Gen. John B.
Winters believes the following (pasted on) clipping from the PEOPLE'S
TRIBUNE of January to contain distinct charges of mine against him
personally, and that as such he desires me to retract them unqualifiedly.
In compliance with his request, permit me to say that, although Mr.
Winters and I see this matter differently, in view of his strong feelings
in the premises, I hereby declare that I do not know those "charges" (if
such they are) to be true, and I hope that a critical examination would
altogether disprove them.
Gold Hill, January 15, 1870.
I then read what I had written and handed it to Mr. Lynch, whereupon Mr.
"That's not satisfactory, and it won't do;" and then addressing himself
to Mr. Lynch, he further said: "How does it strike you?"
"Well, I confess I don't see that it retracts anything."
"Nor do I," said Winters; "in fact, I regard it as adding insult to
injury. Mr. Wiegand you've got to do better than that. You are not the
man who can pull wool over my eyes."
"That, sir, is the only retraction I can write."
"No it isn't, sir, and if you so much as say so again you do it at your
peril, for I'll thrash you to within an inch of your life, and, by--,
sir, I don't pledge myself to spare you even that inch either. I want
you to understand I have asked you for a very different paper, and that
paper you've got to sign."
"Mr. Winters, I assure you that I do not wish to irritate you, but, at
the same time, it is utterly impossible for me to write any other paper
than that which I have written. If you are resolved to compel me to sign
something, Philip Lynch's hand must write at your dictation, and if, when
written, I can sign it I will do so, but such a document as you say you
must have from me, I never can sign. I mean what I say."
"Well, sir, what's to be done must be done quickly, for I've been here
long enough already. I'll put the thing in another shape (and then
pointing to the paper); don't you know those charges to be false?"
"I do not."
"Do you know them to be true?"
"Of my own personal knowledge I do not."
"Why then did you print them?"
"Because rightly considered in their connection they are not charges, but
pertinent and useful suggestions in answer to the queries of a
correspondent who stated facts which are inexplicable."
"Don't you know that I know they are false?"
"If you do, the proper course is simply to deny them and court an
"And do YOU claim the right to make ME come out and deny anything you may
choose to write and print?"
To that question I think I made no reply, and he then further said:
"Come, now, we've talked about the matter long enough. I want your final
answer--did you write that article or not?"
"I cannot in honor tell you who wrote it."
"Did you not see it before it was printed?"
"Most certainly, sir."
"And did you deem it a fit thing to publish?"
"Most assuredly, sir, or I would never have consented to its appearance.
Of its authorship I can say nothing whatever, but for its publication I
assume full, sole and personal responsibility."
"And do you then retract it or not?"
"Mr. Winters, if my refusal to sign such a paper as you have demanded
must entail upon me all that your language in this room fairly implies,
then I ask a few minutes for prayer."
"Prayer!---you, this is not your hour for prayer--your time to pray was
when you were writing those--lying charges. Will you sign or not?"
"You already have my answer."
"What! do you still refuse?"
"I do, sir."
"Take that, then," and to my amazement and inexpressible relief he drew
only a rawhide instead of what I expected--a bludgeon or pistol. With
it, as he spoke, he struck at my left ear downwards, as if to tear it
off, and afterwards on the side of the head. As he moved away to get a
better chance for a more effective shot, for the first time I gained a
chance under peril to rise, and I did so pitying him from the very bottom
of my soul, to think that one so naturally capable of true dignity, power
and nobility could, by the temptations of this State, and by unfortunate
associations and aspirations, be so deeply debased as to find in such
brutality anything which he could call satisfaction--but the great hope
for us all is in progress and growth, and John B. Winters, I trust, will
yet be able to comprehend my feelings.
He continued to beat me with all his great force, until absolutely weary,
exhausted and panting for breath. I still adhered to my purpose of
non-aggressive defence, and made no other use of my arms than to defend
my head and face from further disfigurement. The mere pain arising from
the blows he inflicted upon my person was of course transient, and my
clothing to some extent deadened its severity, as it now hides all
When I supposed he was through, taking the butt end of his weapon and
shaking it in my face, he warned me, if I correctly understood him, of
more yet to come, and furthermore said, if ever I again dared introduce
his name to print, in either my own or any other public journal, he would
cut off my left ear (and I do not think he was jesting) and send me home
to my family a visibly mutilated man, to be a standing warning to all
low-lived puppies who seek to blackmail gentlemen and to injure their
good names. And when he did so operate, he informed me that his
implement would not be a whip but a knife.
When he had said this, unaccompanied by Mr. Lynch, as I remember it, he
left the room, for I sat down by Mr. Lynch, exclaiming: "The man is mad
--he is utterly mad--this step is his ruin--it is a mistake--it would be
ungenerous in me, despite of all the ill usage I have here received, to
expose him, at least until he has had an opportunity to reflect upon the
matter. I shall be in no haste."
"Winters is very mad just now," replied Mr. Lynch, "but when he is
himself he is one of the finest men I ever met. In fact, he told me the
reason he did not meet you upstairs was to spare you the humiliation of a
beating in the sight of others."
I submit that that unguarded remark of Philip Lynch convicts him of
having been privy in advance to Mr. Winters' intentions whatever they may
have been, or at least to his meaning to make an assault upon me, but I
leave to others to determine how much censure an editor deserves for
inveigling a weak, non-combatant man, also a publisher, to a pen of his
own to be horsewhipped, if no worse, for the simple printing of what is
verbally in the mouth of nine out of ten men, and women too, upon the
While writing this account two theories have occurred to me as possibly
true respecting this most remarkable assault:
First--The aim may have been simply to extort from me such admissions as
in the hands of money and influence would have sent me to the
Penitentiary for libel. This, however, seems unlikely, because any
statements elicited by fear or force could not be evidence in law or
could be so explained as to have no force. The statements wanted so
badly must have been desired for some other purpose.
Second--The other theory has so dark and wilfully murderous a look that I
shrink from writing it, yet as in all probability my death at the
earliest practicable moment has already been decreed, I feel I should do
all I can before my hour arrives, at least to show others how to break up
that aristocratic rule and combination which has robbed all Nevada of
true freedom, if not of manhood itself. Although I do not prefer this
hypothesis as a "charge," I feel that as an American citizen I still have
a right both to think and to speak my thoughts even in the land of Sharon
and Winters, and as much so respecting the theory of a brutal assault
(especially when I have been its subject) as respecting any other
apparent enormity. I give the matter simply as a suggestion which may
explain to the proper authorities and to the people whom they should
represent, a well ascertained but notwithstanding a darkly mysterious
fact. The scheme of the assault may have been:
First--To terrify me by making me conscious of my own helplessness after
making actual though not legal threats against my life.
Second--To imply that I could save my life only by writing or signing
certain specific statements which if not subsequently explained would
eternally have branded me as infamous and would have consigned my family
to shame and want, and to the dreadful compassion and patronage of the
Third--To blow my brains out the moment I had signed, thereby preventing
me from making any subsequent explanation such as could remove the
Fourth--Philip Lynch to be compelled to testify that I was killed by John
B. Winters in self-defence, for the conviction of Winters would bring
him in as an accomplice. If that was the programme in John B. Winters'
mind nothing saved my life but my persistent refusal to sign, when that
refusal seemed clearly to me to be the choice of death.
The remarkable assertion made to me by Mr. Winters, that pity only spared
my life on Wednesday evening last, almost compels me to believe that at
first he could not have intended me to leave that room alive; and why I
was allowed to, unless through mesmeric or some other invisible
influence, I cannot divine. The more I reflect upon this matter, the
more probable as true does this horrible interpretation become.
The narration of these things I might have spared both to Mr. Winters and
to the public had he himself observed silence, but as he has both
verbally spoken and suffered a thoroughly garbled statement of facts to
appear in the Gold Hill News I feel it due to myself no less than to this
community, and to the entire independent press of America and Great
Britain, to give a true account of what even the Gold Hill News has
pronounced a disgraceful affair, and which it deeply regrets because of
some alleged telegraphic mistake in the account of it. [Who received the
Though he may not deem it prudent to take my life just now, the
publication of this article I feel sure must compel Gen. Winters (with
his peculiar views about his right to exemption from criticism by me) to
resolve on my violent death, though it may take years to compass it.
Notwithstanding I bear him no ill will; and if W. C. Ralston and William
Sharon, and other members of the San Francisco mining and milling Ring
feel that he above all other men in this State and California is the most
fitting man to supervise and control Yellow Jacket matters, until I am
able to vote more than half their stock I presume he will be retained to
grace his present post.
Meantime, I cordially invite all who know of any sort of important
villainy which only can be cured by exposure (and who would expose it if
they felt sure they would not be betrayed under bullying threats), to
communicate with the PEOPLE'S TRIBUNE; for until I am murdered, so long
as I can raise the means to publish, I propose to continue my efforts at
least to revive the liberties of the State, to curb oppression, and to
benefit man's world and God's earth.
[It does seem a pity that the Sheriff was shut out, since the good sense
of a general of militia and of a prominent editor failed to teach them
that the merited castigation of this weak, half-witted child was a thing
that ought to have been done in the street, where the poor thing could
have a chance to run. When a journalist maligns a citizen, or attacks
his good name on hearsay evidence, he deserves to be thrashed for it,
even if he is a "non-combatant" weakling; but a generous adversary would
at least allow such a lamb the use of his legs at such a time.--M. T.]
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