Murder of Edward Rucker

A letter from the Sheriff of Idaho County, Idaho to my grandmother, Henrietta Rucker, relating the circumstances of her brother’s, Edward Rucker’s, death at the hands of his mining partner

Submitted by Michael Pearcy

Submitters Note: Edward C. Rucker was one of nine children of Jasper and Samantha Lunsford Rucker.  He grew up in Scottown, Lawrence Co., Ohio.  As my mother relates what she was told by her mother, Henrietta Rucker Schmadel, Edward left Ohio, like many young men of that era, to find riches by prospecting in the western United States.

Office of Sheriff of Idaho County, Idaho
Grangeville, Idaho, June 10th, 1912
Miss Henrietta Rucker
Southern Bell Tel. & Tel. Co.,
Huntington, W. Va.

Dear Miss Rucker:-Your letter of May 25th, last, reached this office in due time and has not been answered before on account of the writers absence from the City until now. I Hardly know how to begin to tell you of this sad affair, but will in my own way, give you what information I have at my command.
The body of your Brother was found about May 1st, by three men, R. S. Danforth, E. S. Lougee, and J. M. Haynie, all of Dixie, Idaho, being in the water on the East side of the Salmon River about a mile below what is know as the Sam Myers Ranch. This place is about 18 miles from Dixie, Idaho, and about 75 miles down the river from where it was put in. This part of Idaho County is a very rough and mountainous country and very in accessible at any time of the year, and almost impossible to get into during the winter months. The body was buried near where it was taken from the water by C. H. Prescott and T. H. Thomas, also of Dixie, Idaho. I am informed that the body when taken from the water was fairly well preserved, but when taken out of the water decomposition soon set in, and it was impossible to keep the body but a few hours or perhaps a day at the most. At the time the body was found it would have been almost impossible to get it out to the railroad and even now I doubt if it would be practical to bring out the casket as it would have to be carried on pack horse for some 18 miles to Dixie and then 25miles to Elk City, and then by stage some 65 miles to the nearest railroad point.
Sam Pruitt, the man who took your Brothers life, came down the Salmon River in a boat to Riggins, Idaho, and from there to this place to tell his story of the awful affair, and surrendered himself to us long before the story of the killing could have reached us had he not taken that method of coming out. Pruitt was immediately confined in the County Jail, and I immediately sent three men into where the killing had occurred to make an investigation, and if possible to locate the body, and spent several hundred dollars in investigating the matter. We held Pruitt here in Jail for over a month, and finally, in the absence of sufficient evidence to bind him over to the District Court, and upon the direction of the Prosecuting Attorney released him. Pruitt has kept this office posted as to his whereabouts ever since and I
could locate him by wire in a few hours at this time.
The Prosecuting Attorney and this office have carefully considered every word and act of Pruitt and have found everything, even to the gunshot wound in the body and the rope with which he tied the rock to the body with which it was sunk into the water, substantially as he stated. So far we have not a single thing in the way of evidence that would justify any Court or Judge in binding him to the Trial Court.
The worst feature in the statement of Pruitt, and this is the one on which the Prosecutor and I worked, was the fact that after the killing Pruitt sank the body into the river. This statement naturally would lead one to think that there had been foul play, and both the Prosecutor and I acted on this presumption until we had made an exhaustive investigation.
In writing this letter I have not gone into detail for it would take hours to write you everything concerning the case, and even then you would never believe anything but that your brother had been foully murdered, but I have attempted to tell you what had been done in a general way. You have unjustly criticized me when you say that I have been “trying to shield the slayer rather than justify the slain” and when you know more of the case you will regret having written them. On the contrary we did everything within our power, regardless of expense, to secure the facts and so far have failed to find sufficient evidence to hold Pruitt for trail.
There is no need of my going into the question of your brothers sanity for I realize as well as anyone that it is next to impossible to convince anyone as near and dear as a Brother or Sister that such would be possible. I do not know, and perhaps no living person knows positively. However I have letters to this effect, and while I do not know who your Spokane, Wn. Informant is, have little doubt but that it was from one who wrote me in substance that Mr. Rucker was of a morbid disposition.
In conclusion Miss Rucker will say that I have done all that I could see possible in regard to this sad affair, and feel that the Prosecuting Attorney would not have authorized his release had there been any possible chance of holding him to the District Court. I will be glad to give you any further information concerning your Brother if you make it possible for me to do so.

Very respectfully,
J. I. Overman

Idaho County Free Press, December 5, 1911
S. M. Pruitt Confesses to Killing of E. C. Rucker
Tragedy Occurred Nov. 5th in Remote Mountain District
On last Saturday morning, Samuel M. Pruitt, a raw boned mountain man, wading into Sheriff Overman’s office and stated to the sheriff he wanted to surrender himself to the authorities for the killing of his partner, E. C. Rucker on the morning of November 5th, in a remote section of the mountains, forty-five miles from the mining camp of Dixie.  He states to the officers that following a row between the two men he had been attacked by Rucker and was compelled to kill him to save his life.

According to the story of Pruitt he and E. C. Rucker had been in the mountains since last May, prospecting and mining with more or less success and this winter the pair established their headquarters on the Salmon river, in a wild section of the country, the nearest human being being at the Eakin placer mine, located eighteen miles down the river.  The two men had prepared for a winter’s trapping and everything was agreeable until early in November when trouble arose between the two.  According to the story told by the man who surrendered Saturday, on the morning of November fifth he was awakened by Rucker who arose and stated he was going to secure the ax at the wood pile to the rear of the cabin and wreck vengeance on his partner.  Pruitt, realizing the state of mind of the man, jumped from his bunk and grabbing his Winchester, fled from the cabin, hotly pursued by Rucker, wielding the ax in the air, and shouting to the fleeing man that he intended killing him.  Pruitt tried to make his escape but was so hotly pursued by the raving trapper that he turned and fired in self-defense, the bullet entering the body from the left side under his arm, and death resulting.

Growing frantic over his deed, Pruitt secured the body and tying a sack of rocks to the same, cast it into an eddy of the Salmon river.  Worrying over his act he decided to seek civilization and inform others of the tragedy.  He took a boat and rowed down the river to the Eakin property where he recited his story to the men of the camp and was accompanied back by a tourist by the name of Wieder of Payette and one Fenny, a miner.  The river was dragged for several miles from the point where the body was supposed to have been thrown in but without avail and the party returned with Pruitt in charge, who was accompanied out by the two men as for as Goff and left with the instructions to continue on his way to Grangeville and surrender to the officers which he did arriving here Friday night.

Pruitt, who is a man of forty-five years of age and was born in Oregon, states he has no living relatives and has followed the occupation of ranch hand most of his life.  Previous to coming to Idaho county this year he worked for several ranchers over at Lewiston, Montana, who have been communicated with by the prosecuting attorney but up to the present time no reply has been received.  He is a tall, dark complexion fellow and has an intelligent face.  He has never had a days schooling but seems to have picked up a very fair education.  He feels mighty bad over the tragedy and when talking of the same breaks down.  His story told to the prosecuting attorney seems perfectly feasible and the straightforward manner in which he talks convinces one of his honesty.

A search will be made by the officers for the remains of Rucker and if found and the location of the wound as well as the description given by Pruitt of the manner in which the body was clad and other statements made by him can be substantiated he will be released.  In the meantime he is being held in the county jail waiting the outcome of the investigation by the officers.
Idaho County Free Press, December 21, 1911
Evidence Seems to Justify the Killing of Rucker
Those Who Knew Him So State—Other Evidence
From information received by Sheriff Overman during the past week it seems evident that the story told by Samuel Pruitt regarding the killing of E. C. Rucker by him several weeks ago near the Salmon river is true and that Rucker was an eccentric man and subject to melancholy spells if not a bad man.  “Billy” Robinson of Dixie has been sent in by the authorities with an equipment with which to drag the river and in all probabilities will secure the body of Rucker.

Sheriff Overman received a letter from H. W. Weider of Payette, who was hunting in that section at the time of the tragedy and who went with Pruitt to the scenes and assisted in dragging the waters for the remains.  Weider states that if he is any judge of human nature Pruitt told him a straight story relating to the tragedy and then relates the story in detail which corresponds with that told by Pruitt to the officers upon his arrival in Grangeville.  A communication was also received from a former employer of the deceased who states he was a barber and subject to moody spells and a man who was most peculiar in some respects.  It seems he barbered for a while in Spokane and later joined a geological survey party over at Salmon City and later went to trapping with Pruitt.  A letter from a hotel man at that place states there is no surprise over there regarding the news as it was expected that on account of his disposition he would meet with a violent death sooner or later.  His father, a man of some seventy years of age and citizen of Ohio, has also written the sheriff and regarding the affair.  Judging from the evidence in hand Pruitt had to shoot to save his life and no doubt with the return of Robinson he will be released from custody.
Idaho County Free Press, January 4, 1912
Released Pruitt
Edward Eakin, the gentleman at whose home Asamuel Pruitt mad his way and surrendered after the killing of one Rucker early in November, was in the city Saturday last and made a statement of the case to Prosecutor Griffith which tallied up with the story told by Pruitt to the officers at the time of his arrival in Grangeville.  The facts as related by Mr. Eakin coincided with Pruitt’s story and were convincing enough that the prosecutor ordered the release of Pruitt, who left Monday for Payette, Idaho, where he has secured employment with a hunter who was present at Eakin’s at the time Pruitt made his way down the river and related the events leading up to the killing of Rucker.  Pruitt, who undoubtedly was justified in taking the life of his partner, and who deemed to feel quite badly over the tragedy, has agreed to keep in touch with Sheriff Overman and Prosecutor Griffith.

The story told by Eakin of the conversation he had with Pruitt at the time he made his way down the river and told of the tragedy is practically the same as the one given in the columns of this paper same time ago.

The only additional light thrown on the affair is that the tragedy occurred just across the river from Lembi County, the Salmon river forming the boundary and that Rucker was a man with a mighty bad temper.

After relating his story Pruitt suggested that he be taken to Salmon City over in Lembi county where he had friends, but as it was evident that the crime was committed in Idaho county, he followed the advice of Eakin and the others in camp at that time to come to Grangeville and surrender to the Idaho county authorities.
“Billy” Robinson, who was sent in from Dixie to drag the river for the body, and who was assisted by Eakin, was unable to find the same but as the river is filled with boulders and the water is deep this need not be a matter of surprise.
Idaho County Free Press, May 14, 1912
Body of Salmon River Trapper Found by Hunters
Man Who Did Killing Gave Himself Up—Was Self Defense
The remains of E. C. Rucker, who was killed by his partner last winter and whose body was placed in the Salmon river, have been recovered and given burial.
About two weeks ago a party of bear hunters, composed of Rich Danforth, Jim Lunger, and Matt Haynie were going up the river, pulling a boat, they discovered the remains of a man, with a rope tied around his waist.  A hasty examination was made and it was discovered that the man had been shot through the left arm, the bullet entering his left side and lodging in the body.  The remains were in a good state of preservation with the exception of the face.

It was at once recalled that last winter Samuel M. Pruitt went to Grangeville and gave himself up to the authorities, and told of shooting his partner, and placing his body in the river.  Pruitt claimed to have tied a rope to the body and anchored it to a rock.  He also told that he shot Rucker through the left arm and body.
At that time, while Pruitt was still held in jail, the sheriff sent a party to make an investigation and see if the body could be recovered.  The party that went to the scene of the trouble could find no trace of the body, and there was no sign of any conflict, and on this report Pruitt was turned loose and his story of self defense was considered true.

The place where the body was found is about fifty miles down the river from where it was put in and it is supposed that the rock to which the body was tied was not large enough to hold, and that it has been moving down the river, and at last lodged in some boulders where it was found.
These articles were subsequently posted to the Idaho County USGenWeb page, which I shared with John Ogden, a researcher of the Dement line (Edward’s grandmother was a Dement).  John passed this information to Carla Leighton, a Rucker descendent who lives in Oregon, who sent me the following note:

“When I was a child we used to have large family gatherings and I recall hearing of this old man Pruitt knocked off a distant cousin and tied a rock to him and threw him in the Salmon River.  But being a child at the time this discussion was being held I did not remember anything about it until John sent me that article and then I remembered the elders talking about it.”