Levi Boone Helm – Murderer, Cannibal & Thief

This was pretty bad even for Florence, and he had to leave. That fall he turned up far to the north, on the Fraser River, in British Columbia. Here he was once more reduced to danger on a starving foot march in the wilderness, and here, once more, he was guilty of eating the body of his companion, whom he is supposed to have slain. He was sent back by the British authorities, and for a time was held at Portland, Oregon, for safekeeping. Later he was tried at Florence for killing Dutch Fred, but the witnesses had disappeared, and people had long ago lost interest in the crime by reason of others more recent. Helm escaped justice and was supposed to have gone to Texas, but he soon appeared in the several settlements which have been mentioned in the foregoing pages, and moved from one to the other. He killed many more men, how many in all was never known.

The courage and hardihood of Boone Helm were in evidence to the close of his life. Three men of the Vigilantes did the dangerous work of arresting him and took him by closing in on him as he stood in the street talking. “If I’d had a chance,” said he, “or if I had guessed what you all were up to, you’d never have taken me.” He claimed not to know what was wanted of him when brought before the judges of the Vigilante court, and solemnly declared that he had never killed a man in all his life!  They made him kiss the Bible and swear to this over again just to see to what lengths his perjured and depraved soul would go. He swore on the Bible with perfect calmness! His captors were not moved by this, and indeed Helm was little expectant that they would be. He called aside one of them whom he knew, declined a clergyman, and confessed to murder in Missouri and in California, admitted that he had been imprisoned once or twice, but denied that he had been a road agent. He accused some of his warmest friends of the latter crime. Jack Gallager, also under arrest, heard him thus incriminate himself and others of the gang and called him all the names in the calendar, telling him he ought to die.”

I have looked at death in all forms,” said Helm, coolly, “and I am not afraid to die.” He then asked for a glass of whiskey, as did a good many of these murderers when they were brought to the gallows. From that time on he was cool and unconcerned and showed a finish worthy of one ambitious to be thought wholly bad.

There were six thousand men assembled in Virginia City to see the executions of these criminals, who were fast being rounded up and hung by the citizens. The place of execution was in a half-finished log building. The ropes were passed over the ridge-pole, and, as the front of the building was open, a full view was offered of the murderers as they stood on the boxes arranged for the drops.

Hangman's building in Virginia City, Montana

Hangman’s building in Virginia City, Montana

Boone Helm looked around at his friends placed for death, and told Jack to “stop making such a fuss.” “There’s no use being afraid to die,” said he; and indeed there probably never lived a man more actually devoid of all sense of fear. He valued neither the life of others nor his own. He saw that the end had come, and was careless about the rest. He had a sore finger, which was tied up, and this seemed to trouble him more than anything else. There was some delay about the confessions and the last offices of those who prayed for the condemned, and this seemed to irritate Boone Helm.

“For God’s sake,” said he, “if you’re going to hang me, I want you to do it and get through with it. If not, I want you to tie up my finger for me.” “Give me that overcoat of yours, Jack,” he said to Jack Gallager, as the latter was stripped for the noose.”

You won’t need it now,” replied Jack Gallager, who was dying blasphemous. About then, George Lane, one of the line of men about to be hung, jumped off his box on his own account.” There’s one gone to hell,” remarked Boone Helm, philosophically. Jack Gallager was hanged next, and as he struggled his former friend watched him calmly. “Kick away, old fellow,” said Boone Helm. Then, as though suddenly resolved to end it, he commented, “My turn next. I’ll be in hell with you in a minute!”

Boone Helm was a Confederate and a bitter one, and this seems to have remained with him to the last. “Every man for his principles I” he shouted. “Hurrah for Jeff Davis! Let her rip!” He sprang off the box; and so he finished, utterly hard and reckless to the last.


Go To Next Chapter – Death Scenes Of Desperadoes

By Emerson Hough, 1907. Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated October 2019.

Custom Wanted Poster

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Also See:

Outlaws Across America

Outlaw Gangs

Outlaws & Scoundrels Photo Gallery

Plummer’s Gang – the Innocents

About the Author:  Excerpted from the book The Story of the Outlaw; A Study of the Western Desperado, by Emerson Hough; Outing Publishing Company, New York, 1907. This story is not verbatim as it has been edited for clerical errors and updated for the modern reader. Emerson Hough (1857–1923).was an author and journalist who wrote factional accounts and historical novels of life in the American West. His works helped establish the Western as a popular genre in literature and motion pictures.  For years, Hough wrote the feature “Out-of-Doors” for the Saturday Evening Post and contributed to other major magazines.

Other Works by Emerson Hough:

The Story of the Outlaw – A Study of the Western Desperado – Entire Text

The Cattle Kings

The Cattle Trails

Cowboys on the American Frontier

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