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Friday
Jun112010

Colonel Webb & the Duncan Brothers

Pasted in a scrapbook and photocopied this 1 November 1888 article is very long and in tiny print, but too good to miss. I am not sure which paper published it, but I will transcribe it as best I can. Special Thanks to Marilyn Rountree for finding this "gem" of a human interest story for our SWSCHG archives.

SHASTA OUTLAWS - How Three Cherokee Brothers Once Ruled the County - They at last Met with a Man who would Shoot, and Two of Them Met the Fate of Most Desperate Ruffians

Among the well-known men of the city and State is Colonel A. H. Webb, secretary of the State Board of Horticulture, but probably only a small proportion of his numerous friends and acquaintances are aware that he has led a most adventurous life, as was indeed but natural, when it is considered that his childhood was spent in then frontier Arkansas, while his early manhood saw him push yet farther west with the first flood of the gold-seekers of '49.

In the year 1852, Mr. Webb was living in Horsetown, Shasta County, where he kept a store for the supplying of the miners of the vicinity and the few hundred inhabitants of the town. The times and the people were rough and uncivilized, and it required considerable skill for a man to keep out of quarrels, particularly when engaged in a business which occasionally led to difference of opinion upon that most sensitive of all subjects, money. Nevertheless, by strict attention to his business, and a systematic course of fair dealing, Mr. Webb had continued to live in peace and enjoyment of considerable popularity for a number of months, when an untoward, though almost accidental, circumstance occurred, which though not particularly serious to itself, afterward led to graver results.

For a year or two before and after the date mentioned, the people, not only of Shasta, but also of some adjoining counties, were greatly annoyed by the conduct of three brothers of the name of Duncan, who, though to all outward appearance of the Caucasian race, were nevertheless members of a well-known Cherokee family, which had always taken a prominent part in the affairs of the Cherokee Nation. The brothers mentioned were of three-quarters white blood, but retained all the original wildness of their aboriginal ancestry and had made themselves, by their lawless and reckless freaks and depredations, the terror of the law-abiding  members of the community. All three were splendid specimens of manhood, over six feet in height, and broad-shouldered in proportion with jet-black eyes and hair. They were magnificent horsemen and delighted in in giving evidence of this fact upon all possible occasions.

HORSEMANSHIP EXTRAORDINARY

One morning, hearing an uproar in the street, Mr. Webb went out of his store to ascertain the cause, and discovered the two younger Duncan brothers mounted upon half-broken mustangs and siding the animals in and out of all the houses in the village in rotation. This action was in consequence of a wager entered into by the brothers, which they seemed in a fair way to win, as no one apparently cared to interfere with them.When they finally drew up in front of Mr. Webb's store, there was an enforced pause, for the owner quietly informed them that his place must be an exception, as he could not allow of his goods being damaged or disturbed in any such manner. He was without a weapon, and the Duncans were armed to the teeth; nevertheless, his words had effect, for, with a good natured laugh, they spurred on to the next building meeting with no opposition there or anywhere else until they completed the tour of the village. That they consented to make the exception in Mr. Webb's case was probably more owing to the fact that they had always expressed and probably felt considerable friendship for him, rather than any fear of a collision, since, desperadoes as they were no one ever called their courage in question.

But the matter was not allowed to rest here, for, upon the next day, having been taunted by a boon companion with their failure to fully complete the stipulation of the bet, two men determined to do so, come what would. Mr. Webb had given no more thought to the matter, and was upon the second day, busied about the store, when with a clatter and crash, the younger of the two Duncans forced his foaming and struggling mustang directly into the store. Mr. Webb turned toward the intruder in astonishment and anger, and Duncan, noticing his indignation and immediately giving rein to his natural insolence, exclaimed with an oath "- - - , perhaps you don't like my riding in here?"

Irritated beyond endurance, Mr. Webb stepped rapidly behind his desk, and snatching a loaded revolver from a drawer, covered the desperado in an instant, while he answered with stern emphasis: "No, I don't like it, and you have just  twenty seconds to ride out of here before you get this bullet in your brain. Go!"

Duncan saw the other's deadly purpose, and, wheeling his horse, dashed out of the store in an instant.

The news that Mr. Webb had driven one of the Duncans out of his store at the muzzle of a pistol soon spread about, and while it increased his popularity with the majority of the inhabitants of the neighborhood, it changed the feeling of careless friendliness with which the desperado brothers had hitherto regarded him to one of bitter hatred, which everyone predicted would speedily culminate in a tragedy.

A HOLLOW TRUCE

For some time it seemed as if this was to prove an incorrect prophecy, as weeks and even months passed by unmarked by any overt act on the part of the Duncans directed against the man who had been the first to successfully defy them. They even made a rather poor pretense of still being well-inclined, toward him, though it was thought by many that an incident which occurred shortly after the first difficulty furnished the key to this line of conduct. Mr. Webb and a friend happened one day to stroll by a group of men in which were the Duncan bothers, all being engaged in shooting at a mark. The eldest of the three young Duncans addressed Mr. Webb in what he evidently tried to make appear a free and friendly tone:  "Hulloa, Webb, can you about any?" "Yes, a little," was the reply. "Well, there's the mark we've been shooting at. Take this gun and let's see what you can do."

Mr. Webb took the rifle offered him, raised it and fired, performing the "white", but a shade from the very centre. As he handed the weapon back, Duncan remarked grimly:  "H'm, I should say you could shoot."

From this time on until the end of the year and far into the next, none of the brothers offered to molest him in any way; but he could not lose the impression that they were but biding their time.

In 1853, Mr. Webb removed to Bald Hill, also in Shasta County, where he carried on the same business, having a store located on the main thoroughfare of the town. The Duncans were as frequently seen here as at Horsetown, as they had no settled place of abode, but roamed about at will, wherever the prospect of amusement or excitement might draw them. Upon the occasion of a local election at Bald Hill all three were in the town, drinking and carousing, and making themselves as usual by far the most conspicuous figures in the large assemblage which the occasion had called together.

The polls were established in a building just across the street from Mr. Webb's and as he had been appointed judge of the election, he was compelled to leave the store in charge of a partner with whom he had associated himself. During a lull in the voting, Young Duncan, the eldest brother, entered the room, but as it was many months since there had been a quarrel between them, Mr. Webb paid little or no special attention to his presence until he suddenly felt himself seized from behind.

A TREACHEROUS ATTACK

Long hair at that date, and particularly in the mountains, was almost universally worn, and the miscreant had secured such a firm hold that Mr. Webb found it impossible to free himself. ___ little time was given him in which to make it attempt for Duncan immediately drew, with his free hand, and enormous bowie knife from his belt, with which he made a murderous lunge at Webb's breast. Nothing could have saved his life, had not a young man named Kid, who stood nearby, seized the would be murderer's arm and arrested the blow at the very instant when the point of the weapon was against Webb's breast. Foiled in his immediate purpose, but still retaining his hold both upon the knife and  his intended victim, Duncan turned to the latter, saying tauntingly, while he savagely struggled to free his right arm for a second blow: "Why don't you beg for your life?"

"No, I will not." was the answer; "the sooner you let me go the better it will be for yourself."

"Let you go!" shrieked the desperado, as he struggled in vain to free his right arm from Kid's grasp, all the old savage instincts of his Indian blood roused to the fullest intensity; "let you go! I'll kill you first!"

But the crowd had gathered about now closed in upon them and the struggling men were torn apart and for the moment lost sight of each other. Webb remained in the room, his enemy being forced out into the street, and being unarmed looked around for a weapon. Several rifles were lying about, but as he picked up one after another, their owners told him they were not loaded. It struck him finally that the statements were not true, being made through the fear which most of the population had of Duncan and his gang, and an examination of one of the rifles confirmed his suspicions. At this moment someone called out:  "Duncan is in your store. He has attacked your partner!"

Webb sprang across the street, and upon entering the store, did indeed discover his partner in the hands of Duncan, who had him by the throat as if about to strangle him. He raised his rifle, but Duncan releasing his victim, sprang back through the store and out of the rear window. There he turned and sheltering himself partially behind the window casing drew his revolver from his hip pocket. As he did so, Webb fired, the ball shattering the desperado's hand as it rested on his hip and going on into his body. He did not fall but, resolute as he was blood-thirsty, raised his pistol with his left hand and fired, but missed. Mr. Webb, not knowing how badly he was hurt, and his own weapon being empty, rushed back to the polling place to secure another. As he emerged into the street, again, however, Duncan came out of the store, and staggering a few paces fell on his face. But he was not yet dead, and while some gathered about him others rushed to Webb and urged him with all manner of fierce argument to finish his work and rid the community of the desperado.

A CHEROKEE'S HATRED

"Kill Him, Webb, kill him!" savagely exclaimed a stalwart miner, named Ridge, whose aquiline features, raven hair, and burning, jet-black eyes ever _______ complexion proved him to be of Indian blood; "kill the hound!" "Here am I and my brother. We'll stand by you to the last drop of our blood against every Duncan in the mountains. Their people were with Ross, the chief, when he killed my father and grandfather in the Cherokee Nation. For God's sake, give me a chance to revenge that deed!"

This man, ordinarily speaking was, in thought, conduct, and appearance, a gentleman thoroughly civilized and not without polish. He had been educated at an eastern college as had also his brothers, the youngest of whom, the sole survivor of the family, is now a practising attorney at Grass valley, in this State. But, an occasion like this was all that was necessary to bring to the surface all the old instincts of the savage tribesman, his undying hatred and burning thirst for revenge.

But Mr. Webb would not allow himself to be urged into attacking an already helpless foe, and the almost inanimate body of Duncan was finally borne off by his brothers and some few intimate associates of the same stripe, amid the sullen murmurs of Mr. Webb's friends, who were not slow to warn him that he had done the worst possible thing for himself in suffering the affair to terminate in this manner, as by precipitating a conflict with Duncan's brothers and their comparatively few supporters, the whole gang would, in the prevailing temper of the people, have been easily wiped out of existence. It was predicted that matters were only deferred, and that the Duncans would claim a bloody reckoning some day.

That his friends were not without reason in thus speaking soon seemed to be proven, as Mr. Webb was very shortly thereafter informed upon trustworthy authority of threats which it was said were to be put into execution as soon as Young Duncan should have sufficiently recovered to be moved. Mr. Webb soon determined that, whatever might be the outcome of the affair, he would at least not longer be annoyed by the threats which were being made against him, and one day, seeing a friend of the Duncans passing, he accosted him. The fellow paused, hesitatingly, apparently not sure of the intentions of Mr. Webb, but the latter reassured him.

A GRIM WARNING

" I have nothing to say to you, personally, sir," he said; "but you will take this message to Young Duncan and his brothers. Tell them that if I hear of another word of threat being uttered against me, I'll shoot Young Duncan in his bed. Will you carry that message?"

The man promised compliance and doubtless did his bidding faithfully, for from that day on there were no further threats.

The law or rather its administration was carried on in rather a peculiar manner that date in Shasta County, as was evidenced this instance. Shortly after the shooting, Mr. Webb had occasion to visit the county seat where he was waited upon by the officials and a large delegation of prominent citizens who desired to know his intentions and wishes in the matter--whether he desired to stand trial or not. Mr. Webb replied that he did not care, particularly, except that going through a trial might interfere with his business somewhat. Thereupon, the entire delegation decreed that he should not be tried and in lieu thereof insisted upon his remaining until evening and attending a grand banquet at which he was the hero of the hour.

There was yet another sequel to the episode. In the following year, 1854, Mr. Webb paid a visit to the East, passing through the Cherokee Nation on his way. Much of his journeying through this section of the country was done on horseback and alone, and he was therefore necessarily compelled to in many instances depend upon the hospitality of the natives for shelter over night. Upon one occasion, evening overtook him in the neighborhood of a well-kept plantation upon which was a large and comfortable dwelling, at which he applied for hospitality. The proprietor, who was a middle-aged Cherokee of mixed blood, though to all appearance a polished southern gentleman, welcomed him with cordial friendliness. and entertained him in a most hospitable fashion. After partaking of a beautiful supper, the planter led his guest out upon the piazza, where they smoked and chatted for some time, both being to all appearance, well pleased with each other's company. Finally the planter said, apropos of some California experience which his guest had been relating:  "By the way, Mr. Webb, were you ever in a county in California which I think they call Shasta?"

"Certainly," answered his visitor. "I have lived there for several years past, and am very well acquinted there."

"Indeed. Then you must know my nephews, Young Duncan and his brothers?"

This was a startling speech considering all the circumstances, but Mr. Webb contrived not to manifest any outward sign of surprise and calmly replied:  "Oh yes, I know them all quite well. Are they your nephews, indeed?"

A THRILLING QUESTION

"Yes, my sister's children. But tell me, since you know them so well, is it true that Young was shot last year in a quarrel with some cut-throat desperado or other?"

Mr. Webb gulped down a strange mixture of feelings and answered calmly.

"It is true that he was shot, though whether the man who did it can be justly termed a cut-throat or desperado, I must say is by no means certain."

"Oh well," said the Cherokee, "it is quite possible I may have heard it incorrectly. It was only a very indefinite account that reached me. Please tell me all the particulars."

Thereupon the guest related- who, indeed, was better qualified?- the circumstances of the shooting to all of which his auditor listened with keen interest, apparently not noticing that the name of the "storekeeper" was not mentioned.

"What became of the fellow," he finally asked, "Is he still there?"

"I believe not," answered Mr. Webb. "In fact, I know that he went away some months since, and I have reason to think, left the state."

"Well, it doesn't matter," answered the Cherokee. "I dare say it was Young's fault, as you have suggested. He was always a wild youth, and when he drinks there is no holding him to."

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, host and guest parted in the friendliest possible manner, and the latter proceeded on his way.

Some one who had heard related the main facts here given, not long since questioned Colonel Webb concerning the circumstances, finally propounding the query:

"Colonel, suppose the planter had asked you the name of the man who shot his nephew, what would you have told him?"

"I would have told him his name was Webb" answered the Colonel, promptly, "but," he added with a humorous twinkle in his eye, "I don't think that I should have taken any particular pains to impress him with the fact that I was that particular Webb."

"Suppose he he had discovered the truth, what would he have done?"

"I can't say with any certainty, of course, but I think he would have entertained me just as inhospitably, and the next morning he would have mounted his horse and ridden out on the prairie with me till we were out of sight of the house. Then he would have drawn his pistol and told me to defend myself. There would have been a report. He would have been left lying on the plain, while I rode back to California, or perhaps my bones might have been left to be pieced by the wolves, while my friends upon this coast would have known nothing further than that I had gone and never returned."

"What became of Young Duncan?"

"Oh, he flourished for several years afterward, but finally had a quarrel with some one else, and met a bullet between the eyes."