Sumner Pinkham – Dead at the Hands of a Gunfighter

Ferd Patterson

Ferd Patterson

Sometime later, Ferd Patterson entered the resort while Pinkham was paying his bill. Initially, Patterson ignored Pinkham, but by the time the ex-sheriff exited the resort, Ferd was outside waiting for him. Here, witnesses reported they heard Patterson say the word “draw” and then taunted Pinkham by calling him an “Abolitionist son-of-a-bitch.” Who drew first was in dispute, but in the end, Pinkham was dead.

Patterson quickly fled but was immediately followed by several lawmen. First to catch up with the killer was Rube Robbins, who by now was a civilian. Robbins found Patterson on the road to Boise about 14 miles from Idaho City. Patterson immediately surrendered to Robbins, who turned the killer over to Sheriff A.O. Bowen, who was next on the scene. Bowen and his men took over and escorted Patterson back to Idaho City.

When the lawmen and their prisoner arrived they were met with a mob who was bent on lynching the killer, but the lawmen outwitted them and got their prisoner safely into the jail. At that time, the town jail, the first in the Idaho region, was on an acre of ground surrounded by a stockade. The mob swarmed outside the stockade continuing to threaten Patterson, but the lawmen defended the stronghold with a cannon thrust through portholes in the protecting fence.

In the meantime, Sumner’s funeral was held, which was the largest and most impressive ever seen in the mining camp. It was reported that over 1,500 mourners followed his hearse to the graveyard.

William J. McConnell, who would later organize the Payette Valley Vigilantes and become a senator and governor of Idaho, described ex-Sheriff Sumner Pinkham as “one of Nature’s noblemen, six feet two inches tall, with the frame of an athlete … not only physically but mentally he was a leader among men … marked from the first for the bullet of an assassin.”

The sight of the immense number of mourners gave formerly reluctant men to take the law into their own hands. No vigilante committee yet existed in the Boise Basin but now, responsible men were openly suggesting that an organization of the righteous was the only way to clean up the country.

Ferd Patterson was tried for Pinkman’s murder at the beginning of November 1865. In the six-day trial, defense attorney Frank Ganahl, claimed his client acted in self-defense, arguing that Pinkham was laying in wait for him. Alternatively, Pinkham’s friends testified that he tried to avoid a showdown and that Patterson came to Warm Springs with the explicit purpose of murdering Pinkham.

It took only an hour and a half for the jury to acquit Patterson.

On November 16th, the Oregon newspaper reported:

This ruffian has gone through the farce of a trial by a jury of fellow “Democrats” at Idaho City, and of course, has been acquitted. By those who know the character of Patterson and his associates in Idaho, no other verdict was anticipated.”

The Idaho Statesman wrote:

Ferd Patterson has been acquitted, as expected. Idaho juries do not inquire whether a crime has been committed. All they ask is: “Was it a fair fight?” If so, they cry: “Not guilty!”

Knowing that he was in extreme danger, Ferd Patterson quickly fled Idaho City after his acquittal. He was killed in Walla Walla, Washington the next year.


©Kathy Weiser-Alexander, May 2018.


Bancroft, Hubert Howe; The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Volume 31; History Company, British Columbia,1890

Gulick, Bill; Outlaws of the Pacific Northwest, Caxton Press, 2000

Ferd Patterson – Legends of America

Also See:

Ferd Patterson – Living and Dying by the Gun

Idaho City – Queen of the Boise Basin

Lawmen of the Old West

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