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Front Page » November 27, 2012 » Carbon County News » Gunplay Maxwell draws his gun - and his last breath
Published 694 days ago

Gunplay Maxwell draws his gun - and his last breath


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

When C.L. Maxwell came to Price from Spring Glen on Aug, 23, 1909, his motive was to get the man who seemingly stood in the way of criminal actions he wanted to perpetrate. He never had a chance to carry out his plans to rob the paymaster at the Kenilworth Mine, nor rob a Green River bank.

The man he was after, Edward Johnstone, was a deputy sheriff for Carbon County. He had been keeping track of Maxwell's whereabouts and knew he was in the area. Maxwell had come from Ogden where he had been living and hiding in Spring Glen. Somehow he also knew that Maxwell had criminal plans for the area.

The day before he showed up in Price, Maxwell had passed a bad check with a merchant in the town in which he was hiding. It was the last bad check (a propensity of his) he would ever pass. But he brought what was about to happen on himself.

"Maxwell arrived in Price Monday morning," stated the Eastern Utah Advocate three days later in the weekly edition of the paper. "It soon developed that he was 'sore on himself' and everybody else."

The other paper in town had a bit of a different story about his arrival.

"The man Maxwell had come to Price Monday afternoon saying he had come in search of Thomas Burge, a special railroad detective," stated the Carbon County News on the next Friday, Aug. 27. "Maxwell saw Burge and invited him to come over to a saloon, but Burge refused and instead went over to the Western Lumber Yard."

It was supposed at the time that Maxwell had a bone to pick with Burge, who he said had been involved in a shooting in Goldfield, Nev. in which Maxwell himself had been implicated. While he had never been charged in that murder, he was looking for the Burge, who apparently crossed him somehow. Yet Thomas Burge was not the same Burge who had been at Goldfield, and it was unclear whether Maxwell was using this as a ploy to lure Johnstone into his clutches or was just a mistake on his part. The former was suspected by many.

"Then Maxwell saw Johnson (the paper got the name wrong) on the street and followed him down the street to the Mint Saloon," reported the News. "They talked for a few minutes and then headed uptown to where Burge was located."

The Advocate had the story a little different.

"He and Deputy Sheriff Johnstone met at the Oasis Saloon," it reported. "Later Special Agent Thomas Burge of the Denver and Rio Grande passed the place when Maxwell spoke to Johnstone, saying that Burge was the man he was after, prefacing his remark with an oath and a vile epithet against Burge. Little attention was paid to the matter by Johnstone or others present. Later Maxwell wanted Johnstone to to accompany him to the Sixty-Six Saloon , but this Johnstone declined to do, when Maxwell began to banter Johnstone about being ashamed to go on the street with him."

Finally Johnstone did go with him and while they were walking down the street the News reported that Maxwell then confided in Johnstone that he (Johnstone) was the man he was really after.

"As they came down the street Maxwell referred to the trouble Johnson (Johnstone) had caused him in Goldfield (Johnstone had been working for the gold mine there in security at the time of the shooting) when he identified him in court," reported the paper. "As Maxwell was speaking he pulled his gun. Johnson (Johnstone) saw the movement and drew his pistol and fired instantly. Two bullets hit Maxwell, one on each side of the breast bone and just above the hebart, one ranging downward through the vital organs."

The Advocate reported that instead Maxwell had instead gotten after Johnstone "because of the latter's having 'turned him (Maxwell) up' on the Green River job (proposed bank robbery) and one at Kenilworth. At this time the men were ten feet apart, having become separated during their argument. Maxwell at the time drew his gun (an automatic) when Johnstone warned him to put it back in its scabbard. Instead of doing so. Maxwell fired on Johnstone, the ball passing through Johnston's shirt near the waistline and coming out through his coat at the breast pocket."

The Advocate reported only then did Johnstone draw his pistol and fired with the first shot grazing Maxwell's shoulder. Then a second shot penetrated Maxwell's heart and a third struck him in the center of the breast bone.

Both papers reported that Maxwell fell and Johnstone rushed over to take his gun away from him. At that point Maxwell said "Don't shoot again Johnstone. You have killed me."

As the Advocate said with those kinds of injuries the death of Maxwell came "in less time than it takes to tell it."

Some reports say that people from the town rushed to the spot after they heard the four shots and found Johnstone standing over Maxwell. Other reports say that he was headed down the street when asked about it.

Once Maxwell's body had been removed from the street it was found that he had a number of pawn tickets on his person (possibly from pawning some of his wife's jewelry again as had happened in Reno, Nev. right after they were married). Also found was a "quantity of gum opium" (Advocate). He was later found to have tracks down his arm from injecting drugs into his system.

At an inquiry less than two days later Johnstone was exonerated of any charges against him for killing Maxwell.

In the aftermath of the killing the two wives (Mrs. Maxwell and Mrs. Bliss from the Uintah Basin whom he had never divorced) struggled with who got his estate. However, there apparently was not much to fight over.

That was the end of the C.L. Maxwell saga. After nearly 20 years of wandering around the west he had built a small reputation, but for the most part his criminal activities were failures. The only bank robbery he had really perpetrated ended in almost immediate capture and he was put in prison. Most of his adult life was doing petty crime and passing bad checks.

His legacy has exceeded his exploits by quite a bit. But the tales about Maxwell, the man who was never good enough to hook up with Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch, but instead tried to start his own gang, have largely faded into the general history of the state.

Johnstone's killing of Maxwell in basically what was the middle of Price at the time was the last shooting of its era in town. From there on Carbon County moved on to the modern era of world with the World War I following very closely after the shooting and law enforcement changing the way they did things. It was the last gasp of what some consider the old romatic outlaws of the west in the area.

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November 27, 2012
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