After leaving the Utah State Penitentiary, Clarence L. "Gunplay" Maxwell found work in Carbon County. During a mining strike, the Utah Fuel Co. hired him to help protect its property and act as a bodyguard for its lawyer, Max Braffett. Working basically as a strikebreaker, Maxwell played a prominent role in keeping miners under control in Pleasant Valley. Many coal miners detested Maxwell because he backed the mining company.
Another stroke of bad luck plagued Maxwell after his release from prison. His wife left him, and she took their daughter with her.
Maxwell drifted to Goldfield, Nev., after the coal strike in Carbon County ended. In Goldfield, Gunplay became a deputy sheriff, using the alias of Thomas Bliss. During a 1907 murder trial, Gunplay served as a prosecution witness favorable to a mining company. His false testimony helped convict two men named Preston and Smith of killing a man whose business was being boycotted by the mining union.
A defense witness named Edward Johnson had met Maxwell in Utah soon after Gunplay's release from prison. Johnson tried to discredit Deputy Bliss' testimony by revealing that he was really Gunplay Maxwell, a former member of the Wild Bunch. Despite Johnson's damaging testimony, Maxwell remained a deputy in Goldfield for a short period of time after the trial ended. Gunplay held a grudge against Johnson for the rest of his life. The two would meet again.
Early in 1907 while living in San Francisco under the assumed name of William H. Seaman, Maxwell met and married Bessie Hume, the widow of Joseph Hume, formerly a wealthy citizen of that city. Bessie had a 13-year-old daughter and two younger daughters from her previous marriage. Maxwell shaved his mustache, donned fashionable clothing and took his new wife and family to Utah.
Maxwell momentarily seemed to have given up the role of a bad man, but he eventually took up with a rough crowd again. When some of his acquaintances arrived in Price riding on a boxcar in August 1907, they announced their arrival by firing their revolvers in the air and shooting up the town.
The local marshal and some of his deputies arrested and jailed the men. Bill Chase, one of Maxwell's jailed friends, called on W.J. Davis, Starvation Jones and Gunplay to get him out of the lockup.
The three men, armed to the teeth, arrived at the jail ready to pay Chase's $100 bail. Local newspaper editor Carl Williams, who had arrived in Utah from Indianapolis a little over a year earlier, stood nearby taking notes. Maxwell threatened to kill Williams if he printed the story and put his name in the paper.
Williams printed the story, and in order to help protect the newsman, Price's marshal armed Williams with a sawed-off shotgun, several revolvers and an automatic pistol. Fred Strain, Williams' friend, told the Salt Lake Tribune the editor "was fortified to defend the freedom of the press with enough weapons to destroy half a dozen bad men so thoroughly that the coroner would have to pick them up with blotting paper."
Maxwell likely knew this, and realizing that the whole town was on the lookout for him, he stayed away from Price. Unfortunately for Gunplay, an upcoming incident proved that many of the residents of Helper didn't like him either.
Several weeks later, Maxwell sauntered into a Helper saloon, placed a silver dollar on the bar, bought a drink for himself and offered to buy one for the bartender. At this point, Paddy Mack entered the bar and commented that Gunplay might as well spend all of the money he had, since it was "scab money."
An argument followed, Maxwell suggesting a shoot out and Mack proposing a fistfight. Gunplay drew his pistol and placed it on the bar. He recommended shaking the dice to see who got to use the weapon, but Mack refused to play that dangerous game.
Somehow, this argument defused without a major explosion, but later in the day, the two men clashed again. Maxwell informed the Tribune that several times during the next few days, people told him that Mack was out to get him.
The two adversaries faced each other once more in a Helper saloon at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, September 22, 1907. They wrangled again. Mack called Maxwell a scab and a few other choice names commonly used in Helper's saloon society. According to the Tribune, Gunplay slipped out his gun and said the argument could be settled easier with pistols than with imprecations.
To this suggestion, Mack retorted, "I have no gun, but if you put up your gun I'll take a chance with you."
"If you haven't a gun," replied Maxwell, "maybe some of your friends have."
Upon hearing these words, L.C. Reigle, a 28-year-old Helper resident who worked as a fireman for the Rio Grande, removed a gun from his pocket and placed it on the bar saying, "There is my gun on the counter. Put yours alongside it, if you are not a coward, and I'll whip the hell out of you."
Maxwell snatched his pistol from the bar, and his reply came in the form of a slug that penetrated Reigle's right lung. The sturdy man faltered not, and Gunplay fired again as Reigle reached for his weapon. Maxwell's second shot struck the railroad man's right hand but did not disable it.
Reigle finally seized his pistol from the bar and began dosing the gunman with an application of his own medicine. A projectile fired from Reigle's pistol broke Gunplay's collar bone, disabling the gunman's right hand. Finding himself unable to fire his gun, Maxwell chose to exit through a closed window. The jagged glass sliced his cheek and made a gash down the length of his nose. Gunplay's sudden exodus effectively ended the fracas.
Both men received rapid medical attention and eventually recovered. Reigle's friends arranged for a special train to rush the seriously injured man to Saint Mark's Hospital in Salt Lake City.
Maxwell fled to the Jackson residence in Helper. He concealed himself among friends who gave him care until local citizens formed a necktie committee. They visited the home and threatened its occupants if they refused to give up Gunplay. Sheriff Cotter may have saved Maxwell's life when he spirited the outlaw away to the local jail where he received further medical treatment.
During Maxwell's second day in jail, Utah Fuel Co. attorney Max Braffett and rancher L.W. Melburn acted as sureties for the gunman's $5,000 bond. Gunplay, who was charged with assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill, walked out of jail a free man. Braffett, who acted as Maxwell's attorney, accompanied his client to safety in Salt Lake City. Gunplay immediately bought another pistol.
In Utah's capital city, the cocky outlaw openly boasted he would not go to prison even if it took all the money the coal company had to keep him out. He called that one correctly. When Gunplay's court hearing for the Helper shootout came before the judge, the magistrate heard the evidence presented by the coal company's lawyer and ruled that Maxwell had acted in self defense. His honor instructed Gunplay to go and sin no more.
Maxwell agreed to go; he returned to Goldfield, Nev., and took another job as a deputy sheriff. Unfortunately, Gunplay refused to sin no more. He and William M. Walters began planning what was possibly the West's last Wells Fargo stagecoach strongbox robbery.
Frank Adams described the robbery in an article entitled, The Rawhide Stagecoach Robbery of 1908. According to Adams, Gunplay and Walters ambled into an Indian trading post in Shurz, Nevada, on June 9, 1908. They told the trader, Robert Dyer, they were prospectors who had lost their mules. Gunplay showed Dyer his badge and told him he was a deputy sheriff. Before they left the post, the two pawned a gun for $5.
On June 10, 1908, the two adventurers entered the stagecoach office in Shurz, Nevada, where Maxwell showed agent Charles Covell his badge and claimed he was a sheriff from Goldfield. Thereby, Maxwell purchased two C.O.D. stagecoach tickets to Rawhide.
Three days later, early on the morning of June 13, the day of the robbery, Gunplay and his partner rented a hack drawn by two roans and drove to the stage line's halfway station between Shurz and Rawhide. The two men used credit to buy breakfast for themselves and feed for their horses.
The con artists told station manager W.E. Stubler they planned to prospect in the Red Mountain area and asked him to prepare them a lunch for that day. Stubler put together a couple of sandwiches and filled two bottles with water.
The "prospectors" left their team and wagon at the halfway station and disappeared on foot into a desert filled with sagebrush and greasewood. They walked until they reached the top of a hill overlooking the stagecoach route about six miles from Rawhide.
While they waited for the stage, Maxwell and Walters ate their lunch and drank their water, dropping the bottles where they finished drinking from them. After lunch, the robbers descended from the hill and hid behind a rock outcropping near a bend in the road that would force coach driver Tony Kano to slow his six horses.
Maxwell and Walters pulled off the robbery without a hitch. In order to disguise themselves, Walters tied a silk handkerchief over the lower half of his face, and Gunplay slipped over his head a sackcloth with eye holes cut into it. When the coach carrying mail, packages, produce and two passengers slowed, the highwaymen came from behind the rock and ordered Kano to raise his hands.
Walters asked Kano what was aboard. After the driver replied, "The Wells Fargo," Walters told him to throw it down, which he did. Next, the outlaws asked for water, and Kano handed them his canteen. Each took a long pull and offered a polite, "Thank you."
After the brigands had what they wanted, they ordered Kano to proceed. As the coach drove away, one of the passengers glanced back and saw the robbers prying open the strongbox with a chisel. Kano covered the route to Rawhide in as little time as possible.
As news of the robbery quickly spread through town, the Nevada State Police began their investigation of the crime. A posse under Captain W.L. Cox traveled to the scene of the robbery by automobile. Posse members recovered the empty strongbox and traced the outlaw's footprints to the top of the hill, where they found two empty bottles. They saved them as evidence and mapped the crime scene.
Nearby, officers spotted a piece of tissue paper sticking out of the ground. Upon investigating, they found two, small, wrapped boxes holding a quantity of diamonds taken from the strongbox.
Officers rapidly picked up leads from Dyer, Covell and Stubler. Sergeant J.R. Hunter just happened to be at the halfway station the day after the robbery when Maxwell walked out of the desert to reclaim his rented rig and horses.
Maxwell showed Hunter his badge and introduced himself as James Bliss, a deputy from Goldfield. Deputy Bliss told the sergeant that he and a friend had been prospecting. Gunplay claimed he was on his way back to Rawhide. He pulled out a $10 gold piece and paid for the meals and horse feed he had charged the day before and rode into town with Hunter.
Based upon the evidence they assembled, the officers ordered Maxwell and Walters arrested for the robbery, and local authorities took the two into custody. Justice of the Peace H.F. Brede conducted their hearing and bound them over to a grand jury for trial. He set their bail at $1,500.
Officers transferred the prisoners to the new jail in Goldfield. About a month later, Walters and four other inmates unsuccessfully attempted escape. Gunplay did not join them in their venture and became a witness for the prosecution, testifying against those who attempted escape.
On September 5, 1908, an Esmeralda County grand jury indicted Gunplay and Walters for robbery. W.P. Talbot, a Wells Fargo official, testified that the company's strongbox held contents worth $1,200. That figure was likely low. A judge set the robbers' bail at $5,000, and the outlaws settled in for what they suspected would be a long wait in jail and an even longer term in prison.
Some anonymous person agreeably surprised Maxwell later in September by posting his bail. The Mine Owners Associates seemed disinclined to see Maxwell put on trial. Gunplay waited until his trial date was set, and then he left Nevada and traveled to San Francisco to join his wife. He jumped bail and was never tried for this robbery.
Mr. and Mrs. William H. Seaman returned to Utah where Gunplay established a placer mine in Southern Utah and helped develop an ozocerite wax mine in Spanish Fork Canyon. Then in 1909, Gunplay found himself in trouble with Utah lawmen again. He collected a $30 debt in Green River by pointing his revolver at the startled debtor and telling him to fork over the money.
In August 1909, Maxwell and his family lived in an Ogden Hotel. The impatient debt collector's hearing for calling in a loan at gunpoint was scheduled to come up late in the month.
Gunplay left Ogden on August 19 after telling his wife he was going to the ozocerite mine. He actually traveled to Spring Glen in Carbon County, where he hid out at the sheep camp of Wealy Gentry for three days. Locals said he rustled cattle in the area and sold the animals, using the money he gained to pay the men working on his placer mine.
Some Carbon County law officers thought the "reformed" outlaw planned to rob the Kenilworth Coal Company as soon as the payroll money arrived from Salt Lake City. The company found out about Gunplay's plan, and Deputy Sheriff Edward Black Johnson, the same man who revealed Maxwell's true identity during the 1907 murder trial in Goldfield, Nev., received the assignment to thwart Maxwell's plan.
Gunplay, it was said about town, suspected Johnson of foiling his chances of successfully robbing the Kenilworth payroll, and the outlaw craved a conflict with the lawman. He got his wish on August 23, 1909, when the two men came face to face in a Price saloon. Maxwell proposed going to a bar across the street for a drink, but Johnson held back. After the outlaw asked the lawman if he was afraid to be seen with him, Johnson consented to go.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the two were walking about ten feet apart and had reached the middle of the street when Maxwell told Johnson he intended to kill him and drew his gun. Johnson quickly warned Gunplay to put his weapon away, but instead, the outlaw fired at his intended victim. The shot missed, going through the sheriff's shirt and coat, and merely scratching his left arm. That was the only shot Gunplay fired.
Johnson drew and discharged his gun three times. His first shot grazed Gunplay's elbow, and the second pierced his heart, passed completely through his body and struck the road behind him. The deputy saw dust kick up in back of Maxwell twice, and he thought he had missed both shots. He was wrong. Gunplay fell to the ground and dropped his gun after Johnson's second shot.
Game to the end, Maxwell recovered his revolver and was in the act of trying to shoot again when Johnson's third shot blew a hole through the outlaw's lung. The sheriff ran to Maxwell, intending to wrest the gun from his grip. The dying criminal moaned, "Don't shoot again Johnson, you have killed me." With those words, C.L. "Gunplay" Maxwell expired.
After an inquest at the courthouse, officials packed Gunplay's slightly perforated body into a zinc-lined box and sent it to Salt Lake City. When the undertaker removed Maxwell's shirt to prepare him for burial, he found something that helped solve the riddle of this enigmatic outlaw whom a friend once described as a man vacillating between being an "amiable man . . . when he was in a sober and normal state" to being a man "burdened with malice."
The undertaker discovered Maxwell's left arm from about his wrist to near his shoulder was heavily scarred from needle punctures. A quantity of opium was concealed in the dead gunman's pocket. Maxwell was a drug addict.
Gunplay's second wife and her children attended his funeral in Salt Lake City, which was, in contrast to his boisterous, sensational career, as simple and quiet as possible. The Tribune described the services as follows: "The funeral . . . was carried out almost in the nature of a pure business proposition. . . . There were no religious services at the chapel or at the grave."
Four carriages and a hearse formed Gunplay's funeral procession to the Salt Lake City Cemetery. Since Maxwell had used an alias for the majority of his life, it seems appropriate that his wife used one of his many aliases when she buried him. Bessie had the colorful outlaw interred under what she apparently assumed to be his real name -- William H. Seaman.
Bessie was either short of cash or thought she had expended enough money on her deceitful husband, for she saw him buried in the pauper's section of the cemetery. If his grave ever born a marker, it must have been a wooden one that gradually succumbed to the weather. His final resting place lies unmarked today.
The day after the funeral, the Tribune printed what might have served as a fitting epitaph for the departed outlaw: "Whatever his tempestuous career may have been, matters little; his earthly record rests with him in the grave.
D. Robert Carter is a historian from Springville. He can be reached at 489-8256. "Tales From Utah Valley" is now available at Borders, Pioneer Books and BYU Bookstore, all in Provo and The Read Leaf in Springville.
This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page B2.