The 601 vigilante group and Joseph DeRoche

The 601 vigilante group

One of the more famous stories of Bodie concerns the “601 vigilante group”. The notation of “601” is commonly known to mean “6 feet under, 0 trials, 1 rope”.

It’s not clear how that meaning came to be, but the history of Bodie is sometimes difficult to “prove” and is more often “interpreted” rather than “reported”. There were many papers in Bodie and “creative journalism” was sometimes practiced in order to sell papers. Sadly, most of those “records” have been lost to history.

The 601 and Joseph DeRoche

It was reported that during a ball at the Miner’s Union Hall on Saturday, January 15, 1881, Joseph DeRoche danced with the wife of Thomas Treloar, even though Treloar asked his wife not to. It’s unknown if words were exchanged or if some other argument took place, but DeRoche left the event before most of the other attendees.

When Treloar and his wife left the Hall, they walked down Main Street. At the corner of Main & Lowe Streets, DeRoche jumped from the darkness and shot Treloar in the head. DeRoche was immediately arrested, but was handed over to Deputy Farnsworth, who was drunk at the time. DeRoche quickly escaped.

DeRoche made a run for it down Goat Ranch Road, but was caught about eight miles away and returned to Bodie. He was hanged by the Bodie 601 vigilante group on Monday, January 24, 1881. Below is an article that was printed by The Bodie Free Press newspaper:

Judge Lynch held his first court session in Bodie early on Monday morning and passed iudgment on a criminal whose crime is already recorded and impressed on every mind in this community. The tragic end of DeRoche, the murderer, was at once awful and impressive.

The lesson to be learned from it is easily read and the simplest mind can fully comprehend it. That a cruel murder had been committed no one can deny; that the swift retribution was expected every observing citizen could predict with safety. The excitement of the Sabbath did not die away and the wrath of the people did not go out with the setting of the sun. As the shades of darkness enveloped the town, the spirit of revenge increased in intensity and developed into a blazing column of fire. It was burning in its intensity and fearful in its results. After the adjournment of the court and DeRoche was token back to his narrow cell, a mysterious committee was organized, the like of which has existed in many towns on this Coast since ’46, and whose work has been quick and thorough. The Committee, it is reported, held a long session and discussed the matter in hand. The session was long and deliberate, and its conclusions resulted in the lynching of DeRoche.

Between 1:30 and 2 o’clock Monday morning, a long line of masked and unmasked men were seen to file out of a side street into Bonanza Avenue. There must have been two hundred of them and as the march progressed to the jail the column increased. In front were the shotguns carried by determined men. They were backed up by a company which evidently meant business, and no ordinary force could foil them in their progress. When the jail was reached it was surrounded and the leader made a loud knock at the door. All was dark and quiet within. The call had the effect of producing a dim light in the office, and amid loud cries of “DeRoche,” “Bring him out,” “Open the door,” “Hurry up,” etc. Jailer Kirgan appeared, and responded by saying: “All right boys; wait a minute; give me a little time.” In a moment the outside door was opened slowly and four or five men entered. Under instructions the door of the cell in which the condemned prisoner lay was swung open. The poor wretch knew what this untimely visit meant, and prepared for the trying and humiliating death. It was some moments before he was brought out, and the crowd began to grow impatient. Some imagined the prisoner had been taken away by the officers – If this had been the case what would have followed can only be imagined. All these doubts were put at rest by the presence of the man.

He wore light-colored pants, a colored calico shirt, and over his shoulders was hung a canvas coat buttoned around the neck. His head was bare, and as the bright rays of the moon glanced upon his face, there was a picture of horror visible. It was a look of dogged and defiant submission. With a firm step he descended the steps and came out upon the street in a hurried manner, closely guarded by shotguns and revolvers. The order to fall in was given, and all persons not members of the mysterious committee to stand back. The march up Bonanza Street was rapid. Not a word was said by the condemned man, and his gaze was fixed upon the ground. He was hurried up a back street to Fuller. The corner of Green was turned, and when Webber’s blacksmith shop was reached, a halt was made. In front of this place was a huge gallows frame, used for raising wagons, etc., while being repaired. Now it was to be used for quite a different purpose. “Move it over to the spot where the murder was committed,” was the order, and immediately it was picked up by a dozen men and was carried to the corner of Main and Lowe streets. The condemned man glanced at it for a moment and an apparent shudder came over him, but he uttered not a word. From an eye witness we learn that the scene which followed was awful in its impressiveness. The snow had just begun to fall, and the moon, which had shone so brightly during the early part of the night, shed but a pale light on the assembled company. When the corner was reached, the heavy gallows frame was placed upon the ground, and the prisoner led under it. The prisoner’s demeanor still remained passive, and his hands, encased in irons, were clasped.

His eyes occasionally were turned upward and his lips were seen to move once or twice. On each end of the frame were windlasses and large ropes attached. The rope placed around the prisoner’s neck was a small one; when the knot was made it was tested against the left ear. This did not suit DeRoche particularly, and he changed it so that it was in the rear. Someone suggested that his legs and hands should be tied. This was immediately done. The large iron hooks of the frame dangled near the prisoner and the grating sound produced a peculiar feeling. It was at least three minutes before everything was ready DeRoche was asked by the leader if he had anything to say. He replied, “No nothing.” In a moment he was again asked the same question and a French-speaking bystander was requested to receive his answer. The reply this time was: “I have nothing to say only O God.” “Pull him,” was the order, and in a twinkling the body rose three feet from the ground. Previous to putting on the rope, the overcoat was removed. A second after the body was elevated a sudden twitch of the legs was observed, but with that exception, not a muscle moved while the body hung on the crossbeam. His death took place without a particle of pain. The face was placid, and the eyes closed and never were reopened. Strangulation must have been immediate. While the body swung to and fro, like a pendulum of a clock, the crowd remained perfectly quiet. After a lapse of two or three minutes a voice, sharp and clear, was heard in the background: “I will give $100 if twenty men connected with this affair will publish their names in the paper tomorrow morning.” The voice was immediately recognized as that of a leading attorney. (Only Pat Reddy would have had the courage to face the mob, and a yell went up from the crowd.) “Give him the rope,” “Put him out,” and similar sentences drowned out the man and his voice. His retreat was as dignified as the exigencies of the case would admit of. While the body was still hanging a paper was pinned onto his breast bearing the following inscription: “All others take warning. Let no one cut him down. Bodie 601.”

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