BEN TASKER

Of all the suspected outlaws that roamed southern Utah in the 1880s, one of the most colorful and notorious was Ben Tasker.

            Ben had been a resident of a number of mining towns, drifting from Nevada to Silver reef, to Frisco, to Eureka and then making the rounds again, he didn’t stay long in any one place because the town marshals were always asking him to leave.  They couldn’t pin any specific crimes on him, but all kinds of problems seemed to happen when Ben Tasker was in town – money had a tendency to disappear from Banks and local stores, horses came up missing, and numerous petty thefts just happened.  Ben, of course, always had a good alibi.

            He was a tall, dark, handsome man with a lock of raven-colored hair that seemed to drop down over his forehead when he removed his hat.  A cowboy by trade, he just didn’t seem to trade in it much anymore.  He had a broad, smiling face, and green eyes that danced with mischief most of the time.  He was as frisky as a coyote and cunning as a bobcat.

            Someone, in a saloon late one summer night, after a few drinks, suggested to the crowd that it was high time that the citizens of southern Utah take some action to rid the territory of this scoundrel, especially since the law hadn’t been able to take Ben Tasker on.  So, they organized a posse of eight men to locate the rascal and bring their own brand of frontier justice to him.

            Ben, through some trustworthy friends, heard about the posse and hightailed it into the Wah Wah Mountains west of Frisco the next morning. His aim was to hunt some mule deer that he could sell to the chinese cooks at the Horn Silver Mine Boarding House. They loved the venison meat and found that it made their stews extra tangy. 

True to their word, the posse left Frisco bright and early. They had heard talk that Ben had lit out for the Wah Wah Mountains and they knew the country well to trap other quarry in the steep canyons. The posse followed his horse’s hoof prints across the Wah Wah Valley, but Ben had already bagged a nice four-point buck and was just beginning his ride back with the mule deer tied behind his saddle when he saw the dust of them coming and knew that any posse following his trail was a sign of trouble. He quickly dumped the deer in a near-by arroyo and retreated to the mouth of a box canyon just above the springs on the hillside the local Indians called Wah Wah. 

            The riders got there late in the afternoon – the sun was setting behind the craggy mountains.  They reined their horses.  From the new tracks they had found they could tell that Ben had ridden into the canyon.  But, they were wary.  This sly old fox might be trying to trick them.  The leaders couldn’t make up their minds – should they ride into the canyon in force and flush Ben out?  Or should they divide into groups and try to surround him?  After all, he had entered a canyon from which there was no escape.  They decided not to waste time talking about it.  If Ben had got himself into such a trap, then they would go in and get him.  They began walking their horses into the narrow canyon.  Ben was nowhere in sight.  They worked their way deeper into the gorge.  The rock cliffs rose on three sides.

            They had almost reached the end when they heard a voice behind them.

            “Okay, boys, that’s far enough.”  It was Ben.  He had sneaked behind them and was standing on the top of a large boulder holding a 32-40 rifle.  He cranked a shell into the chamber and ordered the posse to drop their gunbelts.

            “Now, men, I ain’t never stole nothing!”  Ben shouted as he jumped down.  “But you seem to think I done somethin’ wrong, so I gotta have a little lead time to leave the country.”

            He ordered them to remove their trousers.  He gathered up the gunbelts and pants, stuffed them into a gunny sack, tied their horses to a rope from his saddle, and mounted his own horse – the 32-40 always at the ready with the hammer cocked.

            “Gentlemen, it’s about twenty miles back to Frisco, I suggest you begin walkin’.”

            Ben rode away – with the guns, the horses and the pants, leaving the posse in shirts, boots and long-johns – mostly.

            It was a long walk back to town.  Ben got there first and left the horses tied to a rail outside the Lawrence Saloon.  He gave the pants and the gunbelts to Pete Lawrence, the saloon owner, then he left the area.

            The posse walked all night, arriving just as the sun came up in Frisco.  When they reached the edge of town they tried to force one of the youngest of the band to walk in and retrieve their belongings.  He refused and nobody else would do it.  So, they walked up Main Street as a closely-hunched bunch, while a number of early risers stood on the wooden sidewalks and watch.  They met Pete in the middle of the road outside his establishment, and the barkeeper insisted they dress outside.  Nobody tried to catch Ben Tasker again.  

Copyright Harold Hickman, 2021 All rights reserved

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