X: THE REAL-LIFE VIGILANTE

FRONTIERADO IS COMING UP ON FRIDAY, AUGUST 4th!

X

The Vigilante called “X”.

JOHN XAVIER BEIDLER, AKA “X” – How does a real-life figure who was known by the cool nickname “X” fly under the radar as thoroughly as this man has? His real name was John Xavier Beidler with his nom de guerre coming from his distinctive middle initial.

Born in 1831 X was one of the most successful  Vigilantes in the history of the American West and his way of playing judge jury and executioner should have made him the subject of several gritty, “adult” westerns from the 1960s onwards. Spaghetti Westerns in particular could have romanticized him as a figure akin to that sub-genre’s famed Vigilantes like the Soldier of God and Sartana and others. 

By the 1850s Beidler was living in Kansas where he was associated with John Brown and some of the more active elements of the Abolitionist movement. In 1852 he took part in sabotaging the offices of a pro-slavery newspaper and the exchange of gunfire that accompanied the act. Whether or not X played any further role in the Bleeding Kansas violence is still being debated.

In 1863, after two years in the Union Army John took part in the Montana Gold Rush and found himself frequenting Virginia City and Bannock. As in the California Gold Rush outlaws took advantage of the chaos to prey on gold shipments and payroll deliveries.

In Montana, however, the situation was further complicated by the fact that the gunslinging leader of the criminal faction, the one and only Handsome Henry Plummer, was also serving as the head of the area’s law enforcement.

(This was similar to the way in which modern-day criminal organizations often outrightly OWN the local authorities. Back then the crooks assumed a more active role by just pinning on a badge themselves and using their office as a cover for their illegal activities.)

Frustrated, many Montanans formed groups of Vigilantes to handle what the lawmen were too crooked or too inept to handle. Beidler refused to hide his identity like the other members of the Montana Vigilantes and so in late 1863 his fame as “X” began.

Over the next few years Handsome Henry and countless other outlaws in Montana and Idaho were killed by the relentless Beidler, who also excelled at surviving ambushes and death traps that the criminal element laid for him.

By 1867 X was serving as a legitimate U.S. Marshal in Montana and Idaho, and among other adventures arrested the expatriate British gunfighter known only – and appropriately – as John Bull. Bull had gunned down the more popular gunslinger “Farmer” Peel and not only did X succeed in bringing the Britisher in alive but he even out-maneuvered the remaining Vigilantes in the area to keep Bull alive for his trial. (I guess it takes a Vigilante to out-think other Vigilantes)

Despite all the evidence against him John Bull went free after the trial, supposedly prompting a reawakening of X’s Vigilante tendencies.

From then on X’s reputation for going beyond the law to take down men he knew were guilty grew even more. He eventually spent time as a stagecoach guard, where there were fewer bureaucratic hindrances to his tendency for delivering summary justice. Only Whispering Smith would rival X in terms of taking the law into his own hands but even he was a distant second to Beidler.

The extension of the Utah & Northern Railway all the way to Butte, MT by late 1881 eventually caused the closure of the stagecoach lines in Montana and Idaho ending X’s latest career. By the mid-1880s X was down on his luck and unemployed so in 1886 he was appointed to the office of Collector of Customs for Montana and Idaho in recognition of his service in taming the area. John Xavier Beidler passed away on January 22nd, 1890.  

FOR FOUR MORE NEGLECTED GUNSLINGERS CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2013/07/14/four-cool-but-forgotten-gunslingers-for-frontierado/

FOR SIX MORE NEGLECTED WESTERN FIGURES CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2012/06/18/six-neglected-wild-west-figures/

© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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