Way We Were: From frontier justice to Justice of the Peace
Park City Museum
The phrase ‘snitches get stitches’ has entered the lexicon of everyday Americans through film, television and music. Designating someone as a ‘snitch’ or a ‘rat’ often leads to violence against that person.
In April of 1875, future Parkites Thomas Cupit and Jack Pape were fined by the Salt Lake City Police for selling liquor on a Sunday. They appealed their case because the man they had served, John Wardell, was acting as an informant for the police. He enticed the men into serving him by feigning an illness upon entering their saloon, the Overland House.
After the initial hearing, however, Cupit and Pape wanted some frontier justice, a.k.a. revenge, for the set-up, so they gathered some friends to rough up Wardell. As Wardell left City Hall that evening, the posse met him a few blocks away. Wardell turned and ran back toward the Hall, the men giving chase. As Wardell reached the door “he gave a shout, which was cut short by his receiving a blow on the head, which brought him to the ground insensible.” The men “struck several more severe blows, there being two gashes in the upper part of the forehead, his nose being rendered in that condition commonly denominated busted, while his mouth was mashed, cut, and swollen, as if on that part of the face he had received a powerful kick. This brutal and ferocious attack must have been consummated in a few moments, as [an officer] heard the shout and immediately ran to the door, where he found Wardell prostrate upon the pavement, covered with blood, and apparently lifeless.” Wardell was hospitalized in critical condition with “fears… entertained that he will not recover.”
The police found several members of posse not far from the scene of the beating and arrested them. Wardell survived and mentioned seeing both Cupit and Pape, among others. However, the men were all found innocent by a six-person jury several days later.
Cupit and Pape refused to pay the fine for serving liquor on a Sunday after their appeal was denied – and the police weren’t happy after the beating on their doorstep – so the pair were not allowed to renew their license to operate a business within the “corporate limits” of Salt Lake. They were politely pushed out of town.
Cupit and Pape moved to Park City where, despite having played rough in Salt Lake, they became respected citizens, especially Cupit. In 1878, Thomas Cupit was even elected Park City Justice of the Peace, serving for almost forty years. His business interests included the Grizzly Saloon, the Uintah Drug Store, the Park City Waterworks Company, and several mining claims.
Two of Cupit’s properties will be featured in this year’s Historic Home Tour, put on by the Park City Museum. The tour takes place on Saturday, June 15. Tickets can be purchased on the museum’s website.
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