The True Story of Wilson and Cummings Murder by Ted Severe

Preface: This information was with my Great-Grandmothers papers, Agnes McBride Dummer and provided for this blog by my Sister Sandy. It was handwritten in pencil on old paper and held together with a pin. It is a true story but I do not know if my Grandmother copied it from somewhere or it was given to her. Ted Severe is her 1st cousin once removed. Ted Severe’s real name is Edgar Gilman Severe and He died in Burley Idaho and is buried in the Pleasant View Cemetery.

Daniel Cummings and John Wilson are both buried in the Oakley Cemetery.

A link to the scanned original document is at the bottom of this posting.

The True Story of Wilson and Cummings Murder

By Ted Severe

On the fateful morning of 4th Feb 1896 who killed Daniel Cummings and John Wilson? The finest legal minds in the country thought they had the mystery solved, wrapped up and disposed of, when Diamond field Jack Davis was tried and found guilty of the crime. But later, after receiving a reprieve and then full and complete pardon, Diamond field Jack was again a free man. The murder of the boys, Wilson and Cummings, was as much a mystery as ever. And so it remains to this day: no doubt the murderer had passed on to his final reward, who can say. I for one have always felt that Diamondfield Jack was not guilty at of the murder and was rightfully acquitted of the deed. In fact his acquittal was about the only right thing about the whole case. It has been said, that during the trial of Diamondfield, court would have to be adjourned to sober up another witness. As a precipitant in the trail I can truthfully say it happened many times.

I am the man that discovered the bodies of John Wilson and Daniel Cummings about two weeks after they had been murdered. I know just what was written in the note that was brought in as evidence at the inquest and was never seen again. I know the exact position of the bodies when found. There have been so many tales told and stories written about the murder, some partially right, some entirely fiction, I would like to the best of my ability, to set down the facts as I found them.

Much has been written of the war between the cattle men and the sheep men in the years between 1890 and 1900. The southern part of Idaho came in for its share of the dispute between the two factions. The Sparks-Herrel Cattle Company, among others, claimed the grazing lands surrounding Rogerson. The sheep men favored the area near Oakley, both small towns in the southern part of Idaho. All the land at that time was open range, and there was plenty of feed for all the cattle and sheep too, but greediness entered the picture, the cattle company claimed most of the water rights, all the best grazing lands, and dared the sheep men to cross their imaginary boundaries. The result was of course a forgone conclusion. The sheep men felt the land was as much theirs as it was the cattle men bitter feelings, fights and some unexplained killings. The Sparks-Herrel Company was a big outfit, with a number of foremen, particularly belligerent toward the sheep herders; one of the foremen was called Bowers. No doubt many of the old timers will remember him at the trial. It is possible that both sides had a point in the dispute, the cattlemen claimed that the sheep’s ability to eat the grass so close, together with their sharp hoofs cutting up the soil, made the range unfit for other animals. The sheep men came back with the argument that the land was free to all, and the cattle outfits were hogging all the best range and water.

As the feed became scarce around Oakley, the herders drove their bands farther and farther into the domain held sacred to the cattle men, despite repeated warnings of reprisal in some form or another. It was into this explosive situation that Diamondfield Jack Davis rode one day, from no one knows where. Davis had a habit of turning up where trouble was brewing, his fame had spread before him and soon the Sparks-Herrel outfit hired him as a trouble shooter. Diamondfield may have been fast on the draw, favored six gun rule rather than the law and was always ready for trouble. However, I never saw any thing to prove the stories he loved to tell about himself as has been the case with many self acclaimed “Bad” men. It is my belief the that stories grew out of proportion to the truth Be that as it may, I have read little in all the storied I have come across about Diamond field Jack, of the actual murder for which he was tried and found guilty.

Wilson and Cummings were herding sheep for Johnnie Grey; I had a band leased from my brother-in-law. There was a couple of other boys as well as myself, had received threats from the cattle men, that we were treading on dangerous ground, but being young unmarried me the threats went unheeded. On several occasions I heard sounds outside my sheep camp after I had gone to bed, I would get up, creep cautiously outside and stand for what seemed like hours in the willows near by, gun in hand waiting, for the shots that never came. I was never molested. One herder became so terrified he crept into the middle of a band of sheep, bedding down for the night. 30 some head were killed around him, but he wasn’t harmed.

So it went on until the fateful morning of the 4th of Feb. 1896. A day in a sheep herder’s life starts with the dawn, and this morning was complicated with the promise of a heavy snowstorm. I rounded up my band of sheep and moved farther down to a more sheltered spot, out of the storm, I stayed there for about two weeks, until I felt the weather was settled then I returned to my original camp site. I was told later that this move was the only thing saved my life. I was on the list to be eliminated along with Wilson and Cummings. As I came back to my camping place, I could see the boy’s camp wagon; it looked like it hadn’t been moved. I went on and got squared around at my place, with a worried feeling. I knew of the bad feeling involved, I finally saddled up rode over to see if everything was all right. As I rode up to the wagon, I could see the dogs were tied to the wagon tongue, they looked like they were almost starved. A harness lying near by was partially eaten; they were so weak they could hardly move.

By this time I was really alarmed. The flap of the wagon was down, I called, ”hello,” no answer. I then dismounted and went to the wagon, it was then I say the blood on the wagon tongue. There were some empty shells on the ground. The silence was broken only by the whimpering of the poor dogs. I knew something was wrong, terribly wrong. A dog is very important to the sheep herder, no man in his right, would go away and leave his dogs like that. I lifted the flap that served for a door to the camp, every nerve tense and ready for —– I didn’t know what. I climbed slowly up in the wagon, my eyes searching the interior for some lurking danger. There was a man stretched out across the foot of the bed, going closer I could see it was Cummings or Dan Cummings body. He had been dead for several days; his body was fully clothed, even to an overcoat. He had fallen backwards onto the bed, his had lay where it had fallen off his head as he landed on the, he must have been standing beside the bed when he was shot and just fell backwards. There was not blood on the floor, only a small spot or two, but a lot around, around his body. He had been shot through the lower part of the body, and slowly bled to death. The autopsy showed that he had lived several hours after he was shot. There was a shelf at the foot of the bed over his head for books, he must have taken the doctor book and searched through it in vain for some way of helping himself.

The doctor book lay as it fell from his hand when he grew too weak to hold it any longer. I felt numb from the shock of finding the boy this way. My eyes searched the tiny room frantically trying to find the answer to the crime, but the wagon kept its secret. The howling of the dogs outside sending shivers up and down my spine. There was a pan of biscuits on the table by the stove, sever pans on the stove, one of the boys must have been preparing a meal. The thought brought me up with a jerk; John Wilson was the camp under Cummings the herder. Where was Wilson, had they quarreled and it had ended like this? But, no I discarded the thought as soon as it entered my mind. The boys were nice fellows; the best of friends, neither one of them would do this terrible thing. I pick up the doctor book and took it to the door where the light was better, maybe the boy had left some message there or some clue. I scanned the pages, but found nothing, I laid the book back beside the body and as I did I noticed something showing by his overcoat, it was a slip of paper, it had be tucked into the waistband of his trousers. I opened the paper with trembling fingers, was wondering by dreading what I would find, the note read like this ——-

That was all, the letters scrawled out, as his numbing fingers lost their grip on the object he was writing with. To me it looked like the note had been written with the head from a bullet, not with blood, as so many stories have it. There was not writing on the canvas of the wagon, either in blood or otherwise. All the was, was the pathetic little note, left by a dying man, in vain hope of seeing justice done.

I placed the note back where I had found it and turned to leave for help, when I thought I saw something showing, showing at the head of the bed. I pulled down the pile of bedding and there lay the body of John Wilson, a sight to chill the blood of even the bravest man, he had been shot through the mouth, and upper part of his body. I felt myself getting faint as I looked at what was left of him. His body had been cleverly hidden by the bedding, apparently so that the killer or killers could ambush the unsuspecting Cummings as he came into the wagon. To me it looked like Wilson had been preparing the food when he heard a noise outside, a noise unusual enough to cause him to lift the door flap and lean out to see what it was. It was then he was shot in the mouth, the blood from the wound had covered the wagon tongue. Them must have then carried his body to the bed and hid it, laying in wait like savage animals for the next victim, who entered the camp unaware of the horrible fate awaiting him there. Then the killers rode away, little knowing or caring that one man was not dead, but lay there through endless pain-racked hours until death finally ended his suffering. The snow storm heavy as it was must have greatly aided the killing, it no doubt covered the blood on the tongue and the shells for otherwise it seems, Cummings, would have noticed something wrong.

The shock of finding the bodies had made me forget the poor dogs tied to the camp. I started out then went back and gathered up some food and water and gave them. I didn’t untie them as in their starved condition, I was afraid they would try to get at the bodies. I got on the horse and went back to my camp, sending Noel Karlson who was with me at the time for the Sheriff and Dr. Storey who was the coroner as well as the local doctor. Horses our only mode of travel in those days, plus the fact that the Sheriff was not in Oakley when Karlson go there, it was some time before he finally showed up bringing the doctor with him. I went with them and helped move the bodies to a wagon for their last long trip to town.

As I knelt on the bed to left the bodies, my knee was soaked thru with the blood. I became so sick I could hardly lift my share of the weight but we finally got them boarded in the wagon. I cut the dogs loose and watched them follow the wagon on its lonesome journey. Before the Sheriff left the camp he gathered up the shells lying around the wagon examining them carefully, they were 44’s. A foreman for Sparks-Herrel Co. owned such a gun and a search was begun for him right away. He was found before too long but was able to prove that he wasn’t around at the time the murder was committed and was released.

There was an autopsy performed on the bodies and it was determined that they had been dead for about 2 weeks, both shot with the same gun. Diamondfield Jack had disappeared about this time and in view of his many exploits a search was started for him. He led the Sheriff quite a chase before Inky Dayley, my brother-in-law, who was then Sheriff caught up with him in Arizona. When Sheriff Dayley met Diamondfield Jack and informed him of the charge against him, Diamondfield asked the Sheriff an odd question- He said to the Sheriff; “The sheep were pretty well bunched up wasn’t they?” The Sheriff looked at him in surprise and answered in the affirmative. Diamondfield nodded his head as if to say, “I thought as much,” but said no more at the inquest.

The note found on Cummins body was brought in as evidence but at some time between the inquest and trial the note disappeared and was never mentioned at the trial. The trial was held at Albion, Idaho amid much fan fare and wide publicity. Both the prosecution and the defense were represented by the best legal talent in the county. I was called as a witness at the inquest and the trial. It ended as most of us know with Diamondfield Jack being found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.

The general public felt that justice had been meted out to the right man. But I among others was glad when the news came that he had at long last been pardoned. Before Diamondfield Jack’s pardon came thru, it was the duty of Sheriff Inky Dayley to hang him by the time set by the judge. Sheriff Dayley went up into the timber, selected the best logs and poles he could find, brought them down to the jail and peeling and preparing them with the greatest care, he proceeded to build the scaffold, taking great pride in his work. When the fateful day rolled around, Sheriff Dayley was ready for it with the most outstanding gallows ever built but as the records show Inky Dayley’ beautiful gallows was cheated, not once by twice with dramatic last minute reprieves. It has been told that the last time Diamondfield was standing on the gallows when the rider came with his stay of execution.
In any case Diamondfield Jack was pardoned and I believe Inky Dayley faded out of office without once testing the accuracy of his carpentry work. After the trial had left the front pages and had been forgotten by many. A man who worked for the cattle company used to come and talk to me. This man seemed to have a great weight on his mind and conscience, especially when liquor had a little the best of him. The gist of his conversation went like this, and it was always the same.
“I never harmed you did I Ted,”
I have seen the man with tears in his eyes, He’d go on:
“I saw that murder, Ted, it was horrible, the bloodiest thing I ever say, we drawed straws to see who did the killing, Ted, I was lucky I didn’t have to do it and Ted you was going to be killed too but you was gone. I never harmed you, Ted did I?”

The maudlin’ imaginations of a drunken man, perhaps?

Here is a scan of the original document this was transcribed from.

Click here to visit an Albion Valley Historical Society article on Diamondfield Jack which sheds more light on this story.

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