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The Law & Claude Dallas

The chase is over but what brought the modern day cowboy back to Nevada?

ranchers, ranch

The ranchers return home to the ranch. Circa 1980.

Ernst Haas/Getty

His friends say Claude Lafayette Dallas Jr. was born 150 years too late for the life he wanted to lead. If you saw him ride and rope and shoot on the high desert ranches of Oregon and Nevada, you might think so, too. But it isn’t that simple. He was a student of the Old West but a graduate of this century. He knew you needed certain skills and a lot of nerve to make it in the modern world, and if you were going to survive on your own, you had to be prepared for anything.

The law caught up with Claude Dallas one Sunday last April in the northern Nevada desert, and there was nothing he could do about it. Not that he didn’t try. When a helicopter swooped down on the weathered trailer where he was holed up — in an area some locals call Poverty Flat — he burst through a window and ran to an old Ford pickup. Within seconds, he had plowed through a barbed-wire fence and was roaring across the open prairie at a speed that sent the truck bouncing five feet into the air. Waiting for him were two five-man SWAT teams from the FBI, a few other federal agents, Idaho and Nevada county sheriffs’ officers — about two dozen lawmen in all, armed with M-16s, shotguns and a rocket launcher.

Marksmen sprayed the pickup with bullets. Dallas was wounded in the left heel. Dragging his lever-action rifle, he crawled out of the truck and attempted to hide in the sagebrush, only to surrender quietly a few moments later.

Some of his pursuers couldn’t believe it was over. An offer of more than $20,000 in reward money had brought in tips and reported sightings from virtually every state of the union, but until now none had led to Dallas, a thirty-two-year-old loner and ex-cowboy wanted for the January 1981 killing of two game wardens in Idaho. After fifteen months of lost trails and false leads  one of the most extensive and frustrating manhunts of modern times — it hardly seemed possible that the chase could end scarcely twenty miles from where it began.

“I didn’t think he’d come back,” said Humboldt County sheriff Frank Weston, “and I still didn’t believe it was him until I saw him go across that field like that.”

Other officers sounded almost disappointed that the fugitive hadn’t put up more of a fight. For months now, they had been telling reporters that Claude Dallas was one tough hombre. He was an outlaw, they said, a “self-styled mountain man” out of step with the times, a quick-draw artist who had gunned down two conservation officers in a dispute over some minor game violations at his remote campsite. That he’d been brazen enough to come back to northern Nevada, where he’d trapped and cowboyed for more than ten years, was not so surprising. But no one had expected he’d let himself be taken alive.

Twelve years ago, Claude Dallas rode horseback through Nevada alongside Interstate 80— a curious blur, at best, to the tourists racing to Reno at ninety miles an hour. Those who slowed down must have felt they had lucked into a bit of local color: a genuine cowboy riding the range. It was the kind of life most men only dream about.

Claude Dallas still dreamed about it, too; he had been out West only three years. Born in Winchester, Virginia, in 1950 and raised in northern Michigan and central Ohio, he grew up hunting and trapping with his brothers and his father, a dairy farmer. After graduating from high school in 1967, he went looking for a little outdoor work. On a ranch in Oregon, he had his first taste of real buckarooing, which he would later describe as “just a man doing his job — modern day cowboy working livestock on horseback, whatever has to be done.”

In the summer of 1970, he rode into Paradise Hill, Nevada, a forlorn clump of trailers north of Winnemucca, and asked about work. He stored some gear at George Nielsen’s bar and eventually stayed in a trailer out back whenever he was in town. Over the years, he worked for several of the more traditional cow outfits in the area, the ones that still roped, branded and rode herd in the time-honored way. He earned a reputation as a good hand, and some of the old-timers came to regard him as an adopted son — even though, as George Nielsen puts it, “he knew more than a father could teach a son.”

Dallas was a bit of a purist as a cowboy. He spent countless hours filing his own spurs and collected books about the West; in 1972, he was pictured in a coffee-table cowboy book. He was not a talker; he didn’t smoke or cathouse around, and rarely drank, explaining to a friend, “The only good buckaroos I know are dead or alcoholics.”

“I don’t think Claude liked to be around blowhards and bullshitters,” says one rancher who knew Dallas. “He got along well with people, but cowboying wasn’t his long suit. He wasn’t all cowboy; he was a man who could do just about anything. I think he just wanted to be his own man.”

Being his own man, even in the refuge of the buckaroos’ wagon outfits, proved difficult for Dallas. In 1973, the FBI found him and took him back to Ohio to face federal charges of draft evasion. Dallas hadn’t been sent the required second induction notice, so the charges were dismissed after two months. But when Dallas returned to Nevada, he found that some of the larger ranches were being taken over by new corporate owners who introduced “progressive” methods and equipment. “The old-style outfits were going to hell,” he said. “I moved on to other things.”

As early as 1972, Dallas had been trapping bobcats and coyotes in the winter — camping out for weeks or months at a time, dining on deer meat and keeping to himself. Northern Nevada is not Jeremiah Johnson country — to live off the land you have to be more desert rat than mountain man — but Dallas knew the area and figured he could make a go of it.

He was too late, just as he’d been too late to cowboying. A few years ago, the price of many long-fur pelts more than doubled. Attracted by the higher prices, scores of amateurs became part-time trappers. The increased competition, in turn, spawned shorter trapping seasons and more regulations designed to protect the resources — which, some trappers argue, gave newcomers more incentive to trap illegally.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife fined Dallas only once — a 1976 citation for using illegally baited traps. But there was a built-in antagonism to their encounters with him not found in their usual dealings with weekend sportsmen. One conservation officer claims that Dallas told him he was welcome in his camp, “but leave your badge outside.” When the officer said he couldn’t do that, Dallas replied, “Then don’t come into my camp.”

Santy Mendieta, a sixty-seven-year-old trapper, remembers seeing Dallas at a Winnemucca fur sale in 1979. “He’d been out all winter, and he had fourteen cats,” he says. “He knew he didn’t do good. But I think the Fish and Game people in both Nevada and Idaho got the impression he was catchin’ 200 to 300 cats a year — that he trapped year-round and was a commercial poacher.”

In early December of 1980, Dallas moved his camp across the Idaho line to an area along the south fork of the Owyhee River known as Bull Camp. He’d trapped nearby once before, and he had spotted the ideal location — a piece of public land beneath a high desert plateau — on a canoe trip the previous spring. He brought with him two mules, his traps and camping gear, a few firearms and a nonresident trapping license. Among those who helped him erect his white canvas tent were his close friend George Nielsen; Jim Stevens, a potato farmer from Winnemucca; and Craig Carver who would put him up in his trailer on Poverty Flat months later.

Before setting out, Dallas had told some other friends that it would be the last winter he’d be trapping in this part of the country. Perhaps there was too much competition, too many people. He talked about going to Canada or Alaska, that last frontier for the inveterate outdoorsman. Again, it was time to move on to other things.

Owyhee county, a solitary stretch of rolling desert country in southwestern Idaho, is roughly the same size as the state of New Jersey. It is long on sagebrush, coyotes and rattlesnakes and short on paved roads and people. At last count, the government found 8272 residents in the county, which gets its name from an expedition of Hawaiian fur trappers sent to explore its rugged canyons and shapeless buttes in 1819. They never came back.

On January 5th, 1981, two conservation officers from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, William H. Pogue and Wilson Conley Elms, headed into the Owyhee wilderness to investigate reports of illegal trapping. They didn’t come back, either.

Two days after the game wardens disappeared, Bull Camp was swarming with Idaho lawmen. Claude Dallas’ mules and traps were still there. His tent was empty and immaculate, except for a box of .22 cartridges scattered on the bed. That afternoon, a television station’s helicopter crew spotted a body floating face down in the Owyhee River, downstream from the campsite. It was Conley Elms, who had been shot twice in the torso and once in the head at close range.

The discovery matched up with information supplied by Jim Stevens, who had told Nevada authorities that he was there when Dallas killed the wardens. Stevens had driven back to Bull Camp on January 5th to deliver supplies and see how Dallas was making out. He’d parked his Blazer at the edge of the plateau and met his friend on the trail down to the river; Dallas had continued up to the rim to unload the Blazer while Stevens headed for the camp. When Dallas returned, Pogue and Elms were with him. Pogue, who was armed, asked for Stevens’ pistol and unloaded it before handing it back to him.

According to Stevens, Pogue began to question Dallas about the poaching they’d heard about. Deer season had been over for two months and bobcat season did not open for another four days, yet there was venison hanging in Dallas’ camp, and Elms soon emerged from the tent carrying two cat pelts. Stevens was embarrassed and more than a little annoyed that Dallas might be arrested; he had driven for more than five hours and had planned to stay a few days. Yet he turned away from the conversation and didn’t realize what was happening until a flash of movement caught his eye. That was when, he said, Dallas suddenly drew his .357 magnum revolver and emptied it, firing first into Pogue and then Elms. Then he rushed into his tent, emerged with a .22 rifle, stood over the fallen officers and shot them both in the head.

As Stevens remembered it, Dallas then turned to him and said, “I swore I’d never be arrested again…. I’m sorry I got you into this, buddy. You’ve got to help me get rid of these bodies.”

Out of friendship or fear, Stevens did exactly that. Dallas loaded Pogue’s body on a mule and hauled it up to the rim. He then burned evidence at the campsite while Stevens attempted to load Elms’ body. But the mule couldn’t manage Elms, a big man weighing nearly 300 pounds. Dallas figured the only way to get the body up the trail was to quarter it, Stevens said, but both men agreed they didn’t have the stomach for that. Dallas ended up dragging it to the river.

Night had fallen when the two men drove the Blazer — with Pogue’s legs sticking out the back — 105 miles down to Paradise Hill. Dallas stopped at George Nielsen’s home and awakened him. Leaving Stevens with Nielsen and his wife, Dallas put the body into Nielsen’s pickup truck and drove away. He returned after midnight in an empty truck. Nielsen then gave him a ride about thirteen miles down the highway and dropped him off on Sand Pass Road, a gravel turnoff to nowhere.

Around noon that same day, Stevens and the Nielsens were sitting in the Humboldt County sheriff’s office telling what they knew about the killings. Dallas was on foot, but he had a considerable head start. A far-ranging search of the desert by land and air, employing everything from infrared sensors to psychics, drew a blank. Claude Dallas had vanished.

Idaho authorities wanted Dallas with a passion. Bill Pogue and Conley Elms were both family men, and their deaths stirred up considerable outrage in the state. It was the first time any Idaho conservation officers had been slain in the field, but the tragedy was also an inescapable reminder of the growing hazards of the profession.

Idaho game wardens assigned to enforcement duties usually carry .357 handguns and face the prospect of more armed encounters than the average big-city policeman. They have to contend with a rising number of hunters, trappers and even fishermen who are equipped with more guns and knives than they could possibly use — a new breed of sportsmen who, according to official statistics, are twice as likely to be in violation of fish and game laws than those of a decade ago.

The reward fund was quickly bolstered by donations from sporting clubs and conservation groups. Owyhee County sheriff Tim Nettleton, who coordinated the manhunt, was determined to find Dallas. A tall, lean lawman who patrols his county by airplane, Nettleton devoted long hours to learning everything he could about the fugitive. He told reporters that the search might take a year or two, but “we’ll get him.”

One aspect of the investigation suggested that Dallas was not quite the anachronism he seemed. A search of his trailer and an old school bus behind Nielsen’s bar yielded several guns, a gas mask, a bulletproof vest, an Israeli-type tanker’s helmet and books on combat shooting. The guns were in keeping with Dallas’ fondness for hunting and firearms, but he apparently had a survivalist bent as well and had talked about being prepared for war.

Nettleton figured that Dallas was more adaptable than most people believed. “He could be on a ship at sea,” he said, “or be a bank teller in New York.” Using an alias, Dallas did hire on at a steel mill in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, three weeks after the killings, and worked there for two months. But by the time a coworker recognized his likeness on a wanted poster and notified the FBI, the trail was cold. His movements after that remain a mystery. There is reason to believe he was in California at one point, but the greatest mystery is why he finally came back to northern Nevada.

“Nobody knows exactly,” says Cortland Nielsen, George’s brother. “I think he knew he couldn’t live that way the rest of his life. I went to see him in jail. I got the feeling he had come back to get caught.”

Other theories are not hard to come by. Dallas supposedly had a cache of traps that was never found, and there are persistent rumors that he actually returned to his old stomping grounds months before an anonymous tipster led authorities to Carver’s trailer. Some say he went to Bull Camp only days before his capture; they say he went to get his traps.

The trial was originally scheduled to take place at the Owyhee County courthouse in Murphy, a teeming settlement of fifty people. Dallas’ Boise attorneys, Michael Donnelly and his associate, Bill Mauk, obtained a change of venue after a survey of 100 county residents indicated that sixty percent of them believed Dallas was guilty of first-degree murder and should receive the death penalty. In September, a ten-woman, two-man jury was finally seated in Caldwell, an agricultural center in a neighboring county. The crowds lined up early each day to gain admission, even though it appeared to be an open-and-shut case, complete with an eyewitness to what the prosecution termed the “execution style” slaying of the wardens. But Dallas’ attorneys were determined to pursue a defense of justifiable homicide.

The prosecuting attorneys, Idaho deputy attorney general Michael Kennedy and Owyhee County prosecutor Clayton Andersen, called more than fifty witnesses and laid out a case charged with emotion. The widows of the slain officers took the stand to describe the last night they saw their husbands alive. Graphic photos and videotapes of Elms’ body were shown to the jury. The pathologist for the state testified that Elms had been shot in the back, an opinion that would be vigorously challenged by the defense’s pathologist.

The circumstances surrounding the wardens’ visit to Bull Camp became apparent during the testimony of rancher and trapper Ed Carlin. Carlin’s father had phoned Pogue the night before the shootings to complain about two men from Oregon who were trapping illegally not far from his ranch. Over breakfast at the Carlins’ place, Pogue had asked about other trappers in the area, and Carlin’s wife had replied, “What about that man up the canyon— Dallas?” Mrs. Carlin testified that Pogue acted as if he recognized the name.

Ed Carlin said he then warned Pogue about Dallas. Carlin had visited Dallas’ camp five days earlier, noted the illegal pelts and had a terse conversation with him about who was going to trap where. “I told Pogue I didn’t trust him [Dallas] and wouldn’t turn my back on him,” Carlin testified. “Pogue replied, ‘All right, we’ll keep each other covered.”‘

The state’s star witness, Jim Stevens, told the same horrific story he had already given to investigators on several occasions. He’d been looking off across the Owyhee River when something — possibly a shot or a shout of “Oh, no!”—  made him turn around: “There was a volley of shots, and I saw Pogue backing up and Claude crouching down with a pistol in his hands. I could see smoke coming from Pogue’s chest; he stumbled forward and fell.”

Despite an abundance of details, Stevens’ story contained a critical vagueness, and Mauk’s cross-examination pointed out Stevens’ uncertainty regarding the precise sequence of events. “Everything happened so fast,” Stevens said. “I do recall seeing Mr. Pogue’s arm or elbow dropping….As for the other officer, I didn’t even see him get shot. I saw him slump over.”

Stevens didn’t see Pogue draw his gun, but he did see the officer’s sidearm lying on the ground by his right hand when it was over. Elms was lying on his stomach with one arm beneath him, as if reaching for his shoulder holster. It was possible, the cross-examination suggested, that the officers had been going for their guns when they were shot — and Pogue must have drawn his at some point.

By the time Mauk was finished with Stevens, it was clear that the self-defense plea would hinge on whether Dallas could be any more precise — and credible. “When the time comes, listen to Claude Dallas,” Donnelly urged the jury. “We’ll dispel the portrait of evil.”

Throughout the trial, Dallas sat calmly watching, averting his eyes only when Stevens took the stand. After three weeks, it was his turn. Dressed in blue jeans and a western shirt, his hair and beard neatly trimmed, he began his story in a matter-of-fact drawl that gave no hint of remorse.

All his earlier encounters with game officers had been cordial, he said. All but one. In 1979, when he was wintering in Idaho’s Star Valley, someone had left a business card at his camp while he was out. The name on the card was William H. Pogue, and a message was scribbled on the back: “I’ll check on you later.”

“I thought that was a hell of a way to introduce yourself,” Dallas said. “I was a legal tenant, it was private property…. I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”

Dallas admitted he’d “knocked down” three deer and had pelts and venison in plain sight when Carlin visited him at Bull Camp, but he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. “I made no attempt to hide it,” he said. “It’s not something I’m ashamed of. A man’s got to eat.”

Five days later, he went to fetch supplies from Stevens’ Blazer and came face to face with the two game wardens. Pogue introduced himself and said he’d heard about the poaching. “I told him, ‘I’m a hundred miles from town and I’ve been here a month. I’ve got to hang up meat. And if you’ve come 150 miles to give me a citation for hanging up meat, I can’t see it.”‘

Pogue “flew hot,” Dallas said. “It seemed like he was on the fight. I’ve never been approached like that. Pogue’s hand kept going to his gun every time I moved. When I went to [Stevens’] rig, they split up and flanked me. They acted as if I just robbed a bank.”

The officers continued to flank him on the way back to the camp. About fifty yards from the tent, he said, Pogue asked him to hand over, butt first, the .22 trap pistol he carried in a shoulder holster under his windbreaker. Dallas complied. But Pogue neglected to ask for the .357 Ruger Security Six that Dallas carried on his right hip — and Dallas didn’t point it out to him. Dallas was “bewildered and apprehensive,” he said, about the senior officer’s “belligerent” behavior.

Dallas called Stevens over and introduced him to Pogue, who disarmed him and turned back to Dallas to discuss the venison. “Then he said he was going to search my tent. I told him that tent was my home. I didn’t want him in it without a search warrant. He said, ‘Dallas, you can go easy or you can go hard. It doesn’t make any difference to me.”‘

Conley Elms, who apparently said little, searched the tent and emerged on Dallas’ right, carrying the cat pelts. Pogue was standing six feet in front of the trapper; Stevens had wandered a short distance away.

“I asked [Pogue] if he would just cite me for the cats and venison. He indicated he would take me in and seize the cats. I told him I couldn’t go; I had my livestock and equipment and I couldn’t leave them….He said, ‘Then you can go hard”‘. “What did you take that to mean?” Donnelly asked.

“Well, hard — that’s only one way. That’s dead,” Dallas replied. “I told him, ‘You’re out of line, Pogue. You’re crazy. You can’t shoot a man over a game violation….’ He said, ‘I’ll carry you out’. And that’s when Pogue drew his gun. I reacted, went for mine. We fired. He fired one round, I fired [two]. Conley Elms was going for his gun, so I fired one round at him…then two more into Pogue, then one into Elms…. Then I went into my tent and got my .22 [rifle] and shot’em both in the head. I was a little out of my head at that stage. I was afraid.”

Clayton Andersen’s cross-examination failed to shake Dallas from his story. When Andersen asked why he didn’t go into town to get his meat like other people, Dallas snapped, “Nobody else I know lives like I do.” He denied making several statements, attributed to him by Stevens, which suggested premeditation or malice —  including the vow never to be arrested again. And while he admitted concealing evidence and fleeing the state, he said he had his reasons.

“I told Jim I didn’t think I had a chance, these being law-enforcement officers,” he said. “From what I’ve seen in print, and the lynch-mob attitude the state tried to cultivate against me, it would have been suicide if I’d been picked up at that time…. I thought my life might depend on the hour or two I would get by removing that body.”

Andersen did succeed in obtaining from Dallas a detailed description of the location of Pogue’s body, which had never been found. That same afternoon, Nevada authorities followed Dallas’ directions to a shallow grave near the base of Bloody Run Peak, in an area that had been scoured by investigators during the manhunt. Coyotes or badgers had invaded the grave; several yards away, the sheriff found a human leg bone tangled in a game warden’s green trousers.

While Pogue’s skeleton was being exhumed in the desert, Mauk and Donnelly were digging up allegations that Pogue had a history of misconduct in the field. Following Dallas’ claim that the officer had been the aggressor in the shootings, Idaho third district judge Edward Lodge agreed to allow limited testimony concerning Pogue’s reputation for “turbulence, dangerousness, violence or quarrelsomeness.” A number of witnesses took the stand to contend that Pogue’s behavior on several occasions had been, if not exactly trigger-happy, at least threatening and sometimes irrational.

“He had more badge and more gun than he could stand,” said Buford Lee, a sixty-three-year-old disabled veteran who testified that Pogue had shoved him around at a game checkpoint when he refused to unload his truck for a search. “That was the whole thing. If he’d come to me right, I’d have been glad to show him around the pickup.”

The prosecution produced a pack of rebuttal witnesses who remembered Pogue as “firm but fair,” a good, tough cop — but what they remembered most was his zeal. A grocery store owner who called Elms “a big sweetheart” had also heard people say Pogue “would probably arrest his own mother.” Donnelly seized on the comment with glee, asking, “Do you know if Bill Pogue ever arrested his mother?”

In his closing statement, Mike Kennedy lashed out at the defense for attempting to question Bill Pogue’s authority. He pointed out that under Idaho law, the game wardens had the right to search Dallas’ tent without a warrant and the right to arrest him. Pogue thought Dallas was disarmed, Kennedy argued, and the defendant had killed the officers with a gun he had deliberately concealed for that purpose. And if Pogue had fired a shot — “and missed? Preposterous!”— why had Dallas buried Pogue’s gun in a location he no longer could recall? “Isn’t it interesting,” said Kennedy, “that he could remember where he buried the body, but not where he buried the gun?”

Donnelly’s reply was an eloquent plea for justifiable homicide. “A peace officer using excessive force or threatening to kill is no longer a peace officer in the eyes of the law,” he said. “Do not get suckered in by all the state’s rhetoric that these were peace officers acting properly.”

Noting that Ed Carlin said he told Pogue that Dallas always— “always, ladies and gentlemen”— carried a .357 on his right hip, Donnelly insisted that the gun must have been “clearly observable” to Pogue. “Mr. Kennedy has asked why Bill Pogue didn’t disarm him. I want you to wonder about that, too…. Pogue was looking for the confrontation and deliberately left him with a loaded gun.”

The state had failed to prove premeditation and malice, Donnelly argued; what was evident was the presence of “provocation and passion.” As for Pogue’s gun, Donnelly maintained it was irrevocably lost. “After burying Bill Pogue, he went off across the desert. Somewhere in that expanse is the weapon that could prove our case — and God, I wish I could find it for you.”

Kennedy’s rebuttal was brief. He dismissed the idea that Pogue had been looking for a gunfight and drew the jury’s attention to the fate of Conley Elms. He left the jury with one last searing image: judge Claude Dallas, he said, “as if you had been in Bull Camp that day; as if you had watched him stand over Conley Elms and shoot him in the back of the head.”

The Dallas jury was made up of teachers, clerks, and homemakers — mostly women with no direct experience with hunting or guns. They enjoyed a casual rapport with Judge Lodge, Claude Dallas but they listened to his final instructions with a solemnity rarely seen outside of church. As their deliberations dragged on for a week, the press and public paced the halls and tried to read some meaning into the occasional glimpses of the jury’s grim faces.

On Tuesday, October 19th, Judge Lodge dismissed one woman for bringing unspecified outside information into the jury room. The prosecution immediately asked for a mistrial; the removed woman apparently had been the strongest holdout for a first-degree murder conviction, and would later claim that one juror had sought her dismissal from the start. Lodge denied the plea and replaced the woman with an alternate who’d been released at the close of the trial. The reconstructed jury returned a verdict the next day.

Claude Dallas was found guilty on two counts of voluntary manslaughter, firearms charges and a charge of concealing evidence. He was acquitted on another charge of resisting arrest. It was tantamount to saying Dallas had been pushed too far and acted in the heat of passion. Judging from statements several jurors later made to the Idaho Statesman, only the fact that Dallas used his rifle on the already wounded officers — “like a trapper finishing off his game,” as authorities had described it— prevented his acquittal.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game issued a statement blasting the verdict as one “that has cheapened and jeopardized the lives of all peace officers….We feel that the jury has told us some people can live off the land without social responsibility… that laws should not be enforced…or at least, that the last man alive is the one telling the truth.”

Donnelly had hoped for a full acquittal, but he was philosophical about the verdict. “Any time you deal with officers being shot in the field, you have an uphill struggle not to wind up with a conviction on something,” he said. Any possible appeal by either side will probably depend on the outcome of Dallas’ sentencing, slated for this December. The maximum penalty would be fifty years in prison.

There are people on both sides of the case, law-and-order types and Dallas sympathizers, who believe the shootings at Bull Camp were inevitable. Some say a man with Pogue’s fierce manner shouldn’t have been let loose in the field; others argue that any two officers would have met the same fate, given the kind of man they were dealing with.

But what kind is that? There is no easy way to account for Claude Dallas. He is a man with secrets, and the jury didn’t have a clue about many of them — the books that were found in his trailer, for example. Judge Lodge ruled they were not admissible as evidence because their “prejudicial effect” outweighed any possible relevancy. Among the titles investigators discovered were Firearms Silencers, Kill or Get Killed — and No Second Place Winner, a classic treatise on gun-fighting by William H. (Bill) Jordan, a veteran U.S. Border Patrol officer.

Jordan notes that his section on fast-draw techniques, “while written expressly for the modern enforcement officer, may be of more than passing interest to the civilian. Fast gun handling can be a fascinating game as well as the grim difference between living and going down, which it so often means to the lawman.”

For obvious reasons, the prosecution was prevented from suggesting that Dallas was following the instructions of William H. (Bill) Jordan when he encountered William H. (Bill) Pogue. Yet it seems likely that any serious reader of No Second Place Winner would come to appreciate, in certain situations, the value of surprise, preparedness and other survival skills. He might even take to Jordan’s preferred weapon, the 357 magnum revolver.

But what it comes down to is a circle of four in the Owyhee desert. Two of the men — Elms and Stevens — were apparently victims of circumstance. But the other two — each with his own inflexible code of conduct, his own notion of where the law stops and a man’s right to live out his dreams begins—  were soon locked in a showdown that would hurl one or the other over the line.

If Claude Dallas did not kill the game wardens simply because they were going to arrest him — if he actually believed that Pogue’s words about going easy or going hard were an invitation to a gunfight, and things got out of hand from there — then what happened that day may well have been the result of living the dream too literally, regarding every situation as a challenge to survive. According to testimony, Pogue and Elms cited another trapper earlier that day without incident. Pogue told the man, “You either sign those tickets or go to jail. You make up your mind which way you want to go.” 

In This Article: Coverwall, FBI


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