Roughing It by Mark Twain
Appendix C. Concerning a Frightful Assassination that was Never Consummated
If ever there was a harmless man, it is Conrad Wiegand, of Gold Hill, Nevada. If ever there was a gentle spirit that thought itself unfired gunpowder and latent ruin, it is Conrad Wiegand. If ever there was an oyster that fancied itself a whale; or a jack-o'lantern, confined to a swamp, that fancied itself a planet with a billion-mile orbit; or a summer zephyr that deemed itself a hurricane, it is Conrad Wiegand. Therefore, what wonder is it that when he says a thing, he thinks the world listens; that when he does a thing the world stands still to look; and that when he suffers, there is a convulsion of nature? When I met Conrad, he was "Superintendent of the Gold Hill Assay Office"--and he was not only its Superintendent, but its entire force. And he was a street preacher, too, with a mongrel religion of his own invention, whereby he expected to regenerate the universe. This was years ago. Here latterly he has entered journalism; and his journalism is what it might be expected to be: colossal to ear, but pigmy to the eye. It is extravagant grandiloquence confined to a newspaper about the size of a double letter sheet. He doubtless edits, sets the type, and prints his paper, all alone; but he delights to speak of the concern as if it occupies a block and employs a thousand men.
[Something less than two years ago, Conrad assailed several people mercilessly in his little "People's Tribune," and got himself into trouble. Straightway he airs the affair in the "Territorial Enterprise," in a communication over his own signature, and I propose to reproduce it here, in all its native simplicity and more than human candor. Long as it is, it is well worth reading, for it is the richest specimen of journalistic literature the history of America can furnish, perhaps:]
From the Territorial Enterprise, Jan. 20, 1870.
SEEMING PLOT FOR ASSASSINATION MISCARRIED.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ENTERPRISE: Months ago, when Mr. Sutro incidentally exposed mining management on the Comstock, and among others roused me to protest against its continuance, in great kindness you warned me that any attempt by publications, by public meetings and by legislative action, aimed at the correction of chronic mining evils in Storey County, must entail upon me (a) business ruin, (b) the burden of all its costs, (c) personal violence, and if my purpose were persisted in, then (d) assassination, and after all nothing would be effected.
YOUR PROPHECY FULFILLING.
WHEN WILL THE CIRCLE JOIN?
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 stripe:]
THE TRAP SET.
THE TRAP ALMOST DETECTED.
MY OWN PRECAUTIONS.
"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 will prove.
Traps commonly are not set for benevolence.
THE TRAP INSIDE.
"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 request."
"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 the door."
"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 assumed character.
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 animals.
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 change.
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.
I then read what I had written and handed it to Mr. Lynch, whereupon Mr. Winters said:
"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 investigation."
"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 remaining traces.
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 street.
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 rich.
Third--To blow my brains out the moment I had signed, thereby preventing me from making any subsequent explanation such as could remove the infamy.
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 erroneous telegrams?]
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.]