There was need of vigilance in this direction, for the vandals were quickly at work. Routed out from their dens along the wharves, the rats of the waterfront, the drifters on the back eddy of civilization, crawled out intent on plunder. Early in the day a policeman caught one of these men creeping through the window of a small bank on Montgomery Street and shot him dead. But the police were kept too busy at other necessary duties to devote much time to these wretches, and for a time many of them plundered at will, though some of them met with quick and sure retribution.
One onlooker says: “Were it not for the fact that the soldiers in charge of the city do not hesitate in shooting down the ghouls the lawless element would predominate. Not alone do the soldiers execute the law. On Wednesday afternoon, in front of the Palace Hotel, a crowd of workers in the mines discovered a miscreant in the act of robbing a corpse of its jewels. Without delay he was seized, a rope obtained, and he was strung up to a beam that was left standing in the ruined entrance of the hotel. No sooner had he been hoisted up and a hitch taken in the rope than one of his fellow-criminals was captured. Stopping only to obtain a few yards of hemp, a knot was quickly tied, and the wretch was soon adorning the hotel entrance by the side of the other dastard.
“These are the only two instances I saw, but I heard of many that were seen by others. The soldiers do all they can, and while the unspeakable crime of robbing the dead is undoubtedly being practiced, it would be many times as prevalent were it not for the constant vigilance on all sides, as well as the summary justice.”
Another observer tells of an instance of this summary justice that came under his eyes:
“At the corner of Market and Third Streets on Wednesday I saw a man attempting to cut the fingers from the hand of a dead woman in order to secure the rings which adorned the stiffened fingers. Three soldiers witnessed the deed at the same time and ordered the man to throw up his hands. Instead of obeying the command he drew a revolver from his pocket and began to fire at his pursuer without warning. The three soldiers, reinforced by half a dozen uniformed patrolmen, raised their rifles to their shoulders and fired. With the first shots the man fell, and when the soldiers went to the body to dump it into an alley nine bullets were found to have entered it.”
The warning this severity gave was accentuated in one instance in a most effective manner. On a pile of bricks, stones and rubbish was thrown the body of a man shot through the heart, and on his chest was pinned this placard:
Those of the ghouls who saw this were likely to desist from their detestable work, unless they valued spoils more than life.
Willis Ames, a Salt Lake City man, tells of the kind of justice done to thieves, as it came under his observation: