Little is known about Diamondfield Jack’s early life. He was born about 1879 somewhere in the East.
By 1892, he was working in the Black Jack mine in the Silver City district of Owyhee County. He left the Black Jack to follow rumors of a diamond strike in the nearby hills. He failed to find any diamonds, but talked so much of the diamond field that he earned the nickname “Diamondfield Jack.”
In 1895, Diamondfield Jack began working for the Sparks-Harrell cattle company of southern Idaho and northern Nevada. He was paid $50 a month to keep sheepherders off of what was considered cattle territory. The company instructed him to “…keep the sheep back. Don’t kill but shoot to wound if necessary. Use what measures you think best. If you have to kill, the company will stand behind you – regardless what happens.”
After “shooting up” several sheep camps, and wounding a sheepman named Bill Tolman, Diamondfield Jack headed south into Nevada to stay out of sight. He realized he might hang if Tolman died. While in Nevada, he bragged about his activities and said he was paid $150 a month in Idaho to kill sheepherders.
He came out of hiding in 1896 and continued working for Sparks-Harrell. In February of that year, two sheepherders, John Wilson and Daniel Cummings, were shot and killed at a sheep camp in the Shoshone basin area of Twin Falls county. Because he had been in the area at the time of the killings, and because he often bragged about shooting up sheepherders, Diamondfield Jack was the prime suspect in the murder case.
He headed south again, and was eventually captured in the Arizona territory, where he was serving time in the Arizona Territorial Prison for a shooting incident. He was tried in the courthouse in Albion, Idaho, found guilty, and sentenced to hang on June 4, 1897.
Diamondfield Jack was confined to the Cassia County jail in Albion, Idaho, where the day of his scheduled execution date drew closer. He made hair ropes and other trinkets for children who visited the jail. The week before his execution date, he watched the gallows being built and tested, declaring them “capable of doing the job.”
In the mean time, two other men, James Bower and Jeff Gray, confessed to the murders. Although they were tried and acquitted by a jury, their stories raised doubt, and Diamondfield Jack was granted a reprieve the day before he was scheduled to die.
On February 24, 1899, the Idaho Legislature approved an act which ruled all executions must take place at the Idaho State Penitentiary. Because he was still under sentence of death, Diamondfield Jack was moved to the prison in Boise.
At 1:30 a.m. on the morning of February 27, 1899, Diamondfield Jack arrived at the Boise Depot. The Warden’s Report for that day states, “The Warden, with guards, met the party at the depot and took charge of the prisoner, who was, without delay, taken to the Penitentiary, where he arrived without mishap.” He was placed in the new cell house and watched by special guards. On December 24, 1899, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that Diamondfield Jack must go back to the Cassia County Jail as a county prisoner. He was taken back on December 28, 1899.
By 1900, Diamondfield Jack had exhausted all of his appeals. He was again scheduled for execution, this time on July 3, 1901. The public was opposed to this and believed Diamondfield Jack to be innocent. Aware of public support from some very influential citizens, the Board of Pardons extended the execution date to July 17. Word arrived in Cassia County three hours before the sheriff would have carried out the execution. On July 16, 1901, the Board of Pardons commuted Diamondfield Jack’s death sentence to that of life imprisonment. He was again moved to the Idaho State Penitentiary to serve his time. On December 17, 1902, the Board of Pardons granted Diamondfield Jack a pardon. He moved to Nevada and made a fortune in the Tonopah mining district. He later lost his fortune and was killed in 1949 when he was struck by a taxi cab in Las Vegas, Nevada.