The Murder of Lloyd Magruder: The Western Gold Rush Made Thieves and Murderers Out of Common Men


Lloyd Magruder ‘s pack train left Lewiston, Idaho to supply the gold camps of western Montana. He met with an untimely end when outlaws killed him and stole his gold.

Lloyd Magruder and Charles Allen ran a pack train out of Lewiston, Idaho. In August 1863, they left for a 300 mile journey to Bannack, Montana. Gold was discovered there along Grasshopper Creek in May 1862 by John White, Charlie Reville, and William Still.

By the time he arrived, the boom had died down. The miners had moved on to Virginia City, where Bill Fairweather, Henry Edgar, and Barney Hughes had discovered gold a few months earlier. Magruder spent a couple weeks selling his goods, making $18,000 in gold dust.

On October 3, he started back. Magruder had seven helpers, but three of them hired on in Montana when some of his men left for the gold fields. These three had their eyes on Magruder’s gold.

On October 8, James Romain, David Renton, and Christopher Lower made their move. Lower and Magruder checked the animals and then sat around a fire drinking coffee. Renton pretended to fetch some more wood. Lower picked up the axe he’d been carrying. When Magruder bent over the fire, Lower hit him on the back of the head with the axe. They also killed Horace and William Chalmers, Bill Phillips, and Charlie Allen. They spared Billy Page because he knew the area well and could guide them back to civilization.

They rolled the bodies of the dead packers over a cliff into a ravine. They burned everything they could, then set out the next morning. They shot most of the pack animals to keep them from following them and giving them away. They reached Lewiston on October 18. They bought passage on a stage that was leaving the next morning for Walla Walla.

Hill Beachey, proprietor of the Luna House, where the stage stopped, became suspicious. He observed the four men boarding the stage and thought one of them looked familiar. He sent Shull Kenney to Elk City to see if he could get any news about Magruder’s whereabouts. When another packer arrived who had left after Magruder, Beachey was sure there had been foul play.

Beachey visited the Idaho Territorial acting governor to get a arrest warrant for the four men. Beachey and Thomas Farrell followed them to Walla Walla then to Wallula. From there they steamed down the Columbia River. From The Dalles, they went south by stage where they caught up with the outlaws at San Francisco. A sheriff picked them up and held them for Beachey.

But the thieves’ attorney Alexander Campbell claimed that Beachey could not prove that Magruder was dead or produce any evidence. Local officials would not help so Beachey asked Governor Leland Stanford to allow him to extradite the prisoners back to Idaho territory.

A few days later, Beachey sailed north with his captives. They changed ships at Portland and sailed up the Columbia River. Soldiers from the Army of the Columbia stationed at Fort Vancouver escorted them.

There was a mob waiting for them at Lewiston. Beachey, the sheriff, and the soldiers managed to get the prisoners loaded on a stage. But the coach could not approach the door to the jail because of the crowd. Beachey convinced them to let them through so they could stand trial.

The trial began January 19, 1864. Enos Grey was the prosecutor. J. W. Anderson and W. W. Thayer represented the outlaws. Page was the star witness, giving direct testimony that proved the three men had motive and opportunity and in fact did kill Magruder. The jury found them men guilty and sentenced them to death. The hanging took place on March 9.

Beachey was later reimbursed $6,240 for his expenses. The remaining money the outlaws stole was recovered and made into coins by the San Francisco mint. This $17,000 was given to Caroline Magruder.


  1. “This Bloody Deed: The Magruder Incident,” Ladd Hamilton, WSU Press, 1994