4. Andrew Byrd, J.M. Bates and the Steilacoom Vigilantes.
Submitted by Gary Reese


(Erastus Light, "Early Times in Pierce County.").

During the year 1863 Andrew Byrd was killed. A man by the name of Bates was around town and he had spent nearly all day behind the stove in my store. When it came time to close the store he went out, and the next morning he was on hand again and resumed his seat of the day before.

I had noticed him and was a little suspicious but paid no particular attention. I had stepped out of the store for a short time and was busy when someone rushed out, calling to me that Byrd had been shot in the post office. I rushed to the scene but Bates had been taken care of and was safely behind the bars of the jail.

Byrd had been shot in the lower part of the body near the groin. The wounds were pronounced fatal. Excitement was at its highest pitch, and I could see an undercurrent of will and determination that meant business to the murderer if Byrd died.

He lived a day or two, and as soon as his death became known the town was full of men, and it seemed that those living at a distance had got there as if by magic. They made their appearance in such a short time.

The crowd assembled at Keach's store. I was sent for and requested to go to the jail and interview the murderer. I did so. The man denied that anyone was accessory to the crime, but that he had killed the man of his own free will, and had meditated the deed.  We returned to the place of the gathering and reported what the doomed man had said. They had a long rope, with a running noose, sledge hammers, picks, and crow bars.

Keach spoke and said, " Boys, you know your duty."  They needed nothing further. They followed Keach to the jail. I followed after them. They commenced at the upper door. I had superintended the building of the jail and knew  something of its construction, and I told them if they were determined to go into the jail they had better enter by the lower door, at which they flew with their sledges and hammers, all to no avail.

They grabbed up a large square piece of timber and used it as a battering ram, but the door stood fast. I told them the best way, and the way of the least damage was by removing the brick at each side of the door frame, which they did, and soon the door, frame and all was lifted out.

The sheriff had placed inside one long, heavy, three inch plank, secured the other end to the floor and was standing on it.  the board came forward with a crash when the door was removed and some of the determined men barely escaped being caught beneath it.

The sheriff was armed but he did not long remain so. The cell that contain the murderer was broken in to and he was dragged out, badly frightened. Someone cried out to give him a fair trial, whereupon I was appointed judge. I declined having anything to do with the matter, as he had acknowledge the crime, and the mob knew it.

The man whispered to some one that he wanted to see old Mr. Meeker. A man was sent out on the road to watch for any soldiers that might come and another dispatched for Mr. Meeker, who refused to come. In the meantime the rope had been placed about the man's neck, and about one hundred men lay hold of it and he was led to a barn, from which protruded the end of a pole.

Over this the rope was thrown and under it the man was placed, nearer dead than alive. He whispered to someone, for he could not speak audibly, that he wanted to see me. I went to him and took down his requests in a book, and, as I was soon afterward made probate judge, I saw all of them carried out.

When he had finished speaking I said to the crowd that he had nothing more to say, and in a moment more his body was swinging in the air.  He showed no signs of life nor feeling after being lifted from the ground and he was let down a corpse.

No one was ever punished for any part they took in this affair.

(Erastus Light, "Early Times in Pierce County.")


Leland Athow, "A brief history of the Adam Byrd branch of the Byrd family.

A tragedy that marred the early history of Washington was the death of Andrew F. Byrd, January 22, 1863. Andrew Byrd, who operated a saw mill, a grist mill and a slaughter house near the source of Chambers Creek, was a man of sterling character and enjoyed the highest esteem of all decent and respectable citizens of the county. Being a public spirited man, he spared no effort in promoting the school, library, Masonic Lodge, roads and other activities that benefitted the community.

J.M. Bates, who was regarded as a half-wit, lost a cow, and an enemy of Byrd told Bates that Byrd had stolen it and the head was in Byrd's slaughter house. Byrd assured Bates he had not seen the cow, even went so far as to tell Bates to go himself to the slaughter house to see. The enemy would not let the affair drop, but kept right at Bates.

On January 21, 1863, Andrew Byrd went to Steilacoom, about a mile from his home, and upon entering the post office was fired upon by Bates who had been waiting for him. The details are fairly well told in accounts of the shooting published in the Puget Sound Herald. In the issue of January 22, 1863, was the following:

"Yesterday about one o'clock p.m. was perpetuated another diabolic attempt at murder, this time in our own town, in the presence of several witnesses. One of our most sterling and inoffensive citizens, Mr. Andrew F. Byrd, on this occasion was the victim.

"At about the hour indicated, Mr. Byrd entered the post office on business and had barely time to seat himself before J. M. Bates, with whom he had some weeks previously had a slight controversy respecting some lost cattle, opened the door, stepped over the threshold, and deliberately shot him; the ball entering the side and remaining in the body.

"The wounded man was immediately removed to Galliher's hotel, and Bates at once taken into custody, declaring that he wanted to kill another man, (Dr. Spinning) and then he would be ready to expiate his crimes on the gallows. Bates is now in jail awaiting the result of the wound.

"At the time of his removal, it was generally supposed the shot would prove fatal, and that Mr. Byrd could not survive more than one or two hours. Dr. Steinberger, the garrison surgeon, who instantly responded to the summons upon  him, gave it as his opinion that if Mr. Byrd survived till morning, he would ultimately recover.

"This morning we are happy to say, he was pronounced much better, and his friends were hopeful of his recovery; but his condition was still very precarious.

"Much feeling was manifested by the citizens during last evening, and a strong disposition prevailed to hang Bates without delay. If Mr. Byrd had died during the night there is little doubt that Bates would have been hung immediately afterwards. As we go to press, the excitement is subsiding and the prospects of the recovery of Mr. Byrd are improving."

The Puget Sound Herald, Steilacoom, Washington Territory, January 29, 1863, published under the head "The Murder," the following:

"Amid the excitement and confusion consequent upon the murder of the lamented Andrew F. Byrd, added to the short interval between that event and the issue of our paper of the 22nd instant, it was almost impossible to make up a correct circumstantial account of the sad affair.

"As usual, on such occasions, there was a variety of versions, no two of which could be reconciled with a strict regard to the truth, with the perfactory remark that the event originated in an utterly unfounded charge by Bates, that Byrd had killed his (Bates's) cattle, we proceed to give the facts attending to the murder.

"It seems that Bates, several days before the commission of the act, made threat indicative of his purpose, but they were unheeded for the reason that he was not thought capable of perpetrating so great a crime.

"Unhappily he was too seriously in earnest. For nearly three days, from early morning each day, he patiently awaited the coming of his victim in the post office, which place he knew Byrd visited every time he came to town.

"At about one o'clock on Wednesday, 21st instant, Mr. Byrd, as was his wont, all unsuspicious of a lurking foe, lying in wait for his life, entered the post office; but scarcely had he taken the third step within the door when he received his death wound, followed an instant afterwards, as he turned to escape, by a second shot which struck him in the leg.

"Not content with this, the murderer was proceeding to discharge the third shot at him, but his pistol would not revolve; the last exploding cap having lodged between the hammer and revolving barrels and stopped it.

"Meanwhile Mr. Byrd ran out into the street and on the wharf, where he fell into the arms of Mr. Hanselman, who covered the wounded man's person with his own body as Bates approached to shoot the third time. Immediately hereupon, before he could fire again, Bates was taken into custody; remarking as he was so, that he wanted to kill Dr. Spinning, and then he was ready to hang.

"These are the facts as we have them from Messrs. Munson and Hanselman; the first named being inside the post office at the time, and the latter about to enter. There were one or two other witnesses of the act, but they witnessed nothing in addition to what is above stated.

"In justice to Dr. Steinberger, we should here state that we were misinformed respecting his opinion of the nature of the wounds. We have since been assured that he entertained no hope at any time of Mr. Byrd's recovery; he considered the first wound mortal as soon as he examined it.

"Nevertheless he was assiduous in his attention; remaining all Wednesday night with Mr. Byrd, and devoting all the skill of which he is master to the alleviation of his sufferings. This explanation is due to the Doctor's personal reputation."

"End of the Tragedy" was another headline to an article in the January 29, 1863, issue of the Puget Sound Herald which was as follows.

"We last week noticed briefly the beginning of the most thrilling tragedy that has yet taken place in this community. Now it becomes our painful duty to give the conclusion of the sad events. Mr. Andrew F. Byrd expired at about 10 o'clock on Thursday night, thus destroying the last hope indulged by his many friends and relatives.

"From the moment at which Mr. Byrd received his fatal wound to that which terminated his life, a feeling of very anxious solicitude prevailed all minds. When death put an end to the painful suspense a single impulse inspired our citizens, with scarcely an exception, to hang the murderer with as little delay as possible.

"As he had given his victim no warning of his hellish purpose, so a speedy retribution was deemed most in accordance with justice. Accordingly at an early hour on Friday morning, preparations were made for the closing scene in the tragedy.

"With a coolness and deliberation credited to all concerned the people set about the necessary arrangements which were concluded at noon, shortly after which, to the number of about a hundred, and embracing the most worthy and responsible men of the county, they went in a body to the jail.

"Arriving there, they first demanded admission, which the sheriff refused. Then with a sledge-hammer, axe, and crow-bar, they proceeded to force an entrance through the lower door. In this, after some delay, and much labor, they finally succeeded; after tearing off the jambs, the door was wrested from the hinges and fell outwards upon the ground.

"Mr. Judson, the sheriff, here came in full view, having been supporting the door on the inside, and warned the people against further proceedings. On the attempt being made to enter, he resisted; but he was soon over powered, and forcibly borne away by bystanders.

"A single blow of the axe sufficed to break the lock which fastened the door on the cell, and the next moment Bates, the murderer was in the hands of his executioners, the neighbors, friends, and the avengers of the pure and good man he had slain.

"On being asked if he had anything to say, or any dying request to make, he expressed a desire to see several persons not present. These were sent for, and, at the end of a quarter of an  hour, Mr.J.R. Meeker, one of the  persons he wished to see appeared.

"To Mr. Meeker he expressed his last request; being instructions regarding disposition of his property and the internment of his body. An appropriate prayer was made by Rev. Sloan, and after being blind-folded, his body was suspended by the neck and his soul launched into eternity.

"Several distinct contractions of the muscles, seen in the steady rising and falling of the body were the only visible symptoms of either life or pain until his pulse ceased to beat.

"He persisted to the end in justifying the act for which he died; asserting that he did not regret it, and that he had sufficient cause for it. There were few or none present who did not have a better acquaintance with his victim than did Bates, and that acquaintance was of a character to discredit the assertion of Bates, that he had suffered wrong at the hands of Byrd.

"So far as we can learn, the unfortunate man did not have a friend in the county, though he had lived here many years. His remains were buried on Sunday last, at a place indicated by him. He was from Bethel, Vermont, where his mother still lives. We did not learn his age, but judge he was twenty-eight or thirty years old."

Another story under the title "Andrew F. Byrd" appeared in the Puget Sound Herald, Steilacoom, Washington Territory, January 29, 1863, as follows:

"Andrew F. Byrd, so long and favorably known to the citizens of Pierce County and adjoining counties, came to his death on Thursday night, 22nd instant, from a wound inflicted by a pistol shot fired by J. B. Bates, on the 21st instant.

"The lamented dead was born in Green County, in the State of Ohio and resided there until about five years of age; since which he has resided in the states of Missouri, Illinois, and Wisconsin as well as Washington Territory. In each of these places of abode numerous friends still live to mourn his  untimely death, and to shed a tear of sympathy with his bereaved relatives.

"Mr. Byrd crossed the plains in the summer of 1852, and came to this county in March, 1853, and has been a resident here till the time of his death. He had always enjoyed the esteem and confidence of the people of the county, and has been offered at different times almost every position of honor, profit, and trust within their gift but never accepted a public position until, July 1861, at which time his friends forced upon him the office of County Commissioner.

This position he has filled with credit to himself and the benefit to his county. His term has not expired and his untimely death therefore leaves the office vacant.

"Since he settled among us, the deceased has contributed largely toward the improvement of the county. A fine saw mill and flouring mill now stand at his place of abode, monuments of his industry and enterprise, to mournfully remind us of the departed.

"There is hardly a citizen of the county who, at different times has not receive hospitality, kindness and assistance at his hands; aye, even his murderer has been the recipient of his generous bounty.

"He was a dutiful son, a kind and generous brother, a devoted husband, and an affectionate father. He leaves behind him, to mourn his loss, an aged mother, who resided with him since he has been amongst us, and whose declining years  have been tenderly cared for by him; also a sister and six brothers, and a fond, inconsolable wife and three innocent little children.

"But these are not the only mourners; all the citizens of heart and worth in the county mourn with them. He was the true friend of every man who merited his friendship, Never, since his residence among us, has the deceased been known to carry a deadly weapon.

"He has never been known to raise his hand or voice against anyone, but always had a kind word for and of every one; and when it was known that his wound had proved fatal--that his family and relatives and the community had lost him forever by so cowardly and treacherous an act as that which ended his life--the feeling was unanimous that his murderer should be punished.

"This, the verdict of the people has been executed. Let this fearful loss of a good and generous friend and useful member of the community and the just but awful punishment of his murderer, be a lesson in the future to those who contemplate the commission of crime."

The man who advised and encouraged Bates to commit the dastardly crime, lived to an extreme old age, and despite the fact that he gained a place of considerable prominence during his declining years, he was often seen in court and had a host of enemies even to his dying day.

Andrew Byrd knew very well who the instigator of the crime was, yet as he lay in pain on his death bed, in a humble and forgiving manner he displayed neither malice nor revenge. So that the facts may be presented in the same spirit, the instigator will be referred to as Mr. X.

When the wife and relatives had gathered about the bedside of the wounded Byrd, he told them, "Mr. X is the cause of this, but always treat him well."

One of those whom Bates had wished to see before he was hanged was Mr. X, but he had fled to Oregon.

E.C. Meade, said, " I helped pull the rope that hanged Bates, but I rather would have had Mr. X on the other end."

Mrs. McFarlane, daughter of Mrs. Andrew Byrd by a later marriage, said in an interview with the author (Leland Athow) that her mother had told the story to her many times.

"Andrew went to town," she related, "and mother was so uneasy that she went several times to the gate to look. Finally she saw a man on horse back racing down the road. She was sure he had a message and ran to meet him. He said, 'Andrew has been shot and they are coming after you.' Andrew had been carried to Galliher's hotel and when she went to the bed side, he looked up at her and said, 'Mr. X has done this, but always treat him well.

"In the excitement mother forgot Harvey, a three and one half year old asleep in bed, and neighbors who heard him cry took care of him."

(Leland J. Athow, A brief history of the Adam Byrd branch of the Byrd Family, Tacoma, Washington 1953.).


At the time (of Byrd's murder) I was living five miles from Steilacoom on my ranch. Mr. Berry, who had bought and lived on part of my place, came out from town one evening about sundown and told me that Byrd had been shot and Bates was guilty of the dastardly deed.  I tried to organize a company and go and hang Bates that night, but they would do nothing until morning.

We all went to town the next morning and I called to see Byrd. He was still living, but was very weak. They would not allow me to speak to him, but to look at him strengthened the desire to see his slayer meet his just reward.

I left the room with tears in my eyes for he had always been a good friend to me. I had bought cattle and lumber of him and had bought feed at his mill. I would sometimes tell him I did not have the money to pay for it, but he always said that made no difference, that I could have a thousand dollars worth if I wanted it.

The more I thought of his untimely end, the worse I felt about it and I started out to get men to help swing Bates up. I found twenty men who agreed to hang him if Byrd died, but I wanted to string him up then for it was plain that his intentions were to kill Byrd on the spot.

Byrd died at ten o'clock that night, and the next morning we adjourned to an old stable that stood near the jail. We put a pole out from the top of the stable on which was fastened a block and tackle. We took a big piece of timber which we used for a battering ram, and tried the jail door, but we could not gain access.

Steven Judson was then the sheriff and he braced the door on the inside. Philip Keach had taken a new ax up with him and Thomas Headly took the ax and began to chop the door, but the door was so full of spikes that nothing was made by that effort.  I then took the ax and place in on the bolt which locked the door and told Headly to strike the ax with a sledge hammer which he did and the bolt was cut in two.

M.J. West was picking a hole in the brick with a crowbar, but I told him we would get the door open. I took the crowbar and pried off the casting the door was bolted to and took the casing for a pry and broke it open.  The door fell out toward the men and Philip Keach had his army slightly hurt.

H. D. Montgomery made a rush to go in past the sheriff but he pushed  him back. I then caught the sheriff by the arm and dragged him out of the door, down the steps to the ground and B. Dolbear got him by the arm and we held him and the others rushed inside the jail.

I was going to let the sheriff go, but the men told us to hold on to him and take him down town for they meant to hang Bates. While we were at work trying to get into the jail two layers were on hand and they told us we would have to suffer for it.

While we kept the sheriff down town, the other men strung Bates up. When there were about to hand him, he said he wanted to see old man Meeker, and tell him what to do with his property.

He said he was willing to die if he could kill Dr. Springs and Montgomery, brother-in-law of Erastus Light and after husband of Ellen Byrd.

Bates was hung in the morning and when I left town after dinner time his body was still hanging. Thus ended the life of one of the cowardly dastardly fiends of crime which infested this coast a few years ago.

Such punished is rarely meted out to anyone in these days, and we all look at the prosperity of this grand country with pride. The strides we are making will be noted over the entire country and we may expect as good and peaceable a people as is to be found in any part of the world.

William D. Vaughn, "The Byrd murder" Tacoma Weekly Ledger, February 17, 1893.


Charles Prosch, "J. M. Bates," Reminiscences of Washington Territory. Fairfield: Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1969, p. 69-70.

Of what is variously termed "mob law," "lynch law," "hanging bees," etc., Washington Territory had a fair share.  Pierce county became somewhat noted in early days for affairs of this kind, they having occurred quite frequently there.  The first remembered is that of an Indian who killed a Chinaman in Steilacoom by pushing him off a log down an embankment, breaking the neck of the Celestial. 

Somebody witnessed the act, which was alleged to have been committed with the view of robbery.  Two or three hours later the inanimate body of the Indian was dangling from the same log.

Another Chinaman, partner of the murdered man, with much apparent satisfaction, acted as executioner on this oc¬casion under the advice and direction of the white men.

About the same time a young man named Bates, without any provocation or apparent cause, shot and mortally wounded Andrew Byrd, than whom no man in the county was more highly esteemed.  Bates was locked in jail and Byrd was placed in the hands of surgeons, whose skill failed to keep him alive longer than twenty four hours. 

The jail was forced, the murderer taken out, carried to the rear of the town and suspended by the neck to a hastily improvised gallows until dead.  There is little doubt that this man was insane, but such was the estimation in which his victim was held that any at¬tempt to save Bates would have been futile.

Charles Prosch, "J.M.  Bates," Reminiscences of Washington Territory. Fairfield, Washington:Ye Galleon Press, 1969, p.69-70.

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