Hicks’ low number—coveted by criminals everywhere—is a little misleading. He was an early prisoner, but many others weren’t assigned a number in the first years of the prison. The Idaho Territorial Prison had been accepting guests since 1864. Hicks checked in in 1880, convicted of second-degree murder.
Moroni Hicks was the third of eight children born to George Armstrong and Elizabeth Temperance Jolley Hicks in Spanish Fork, Utah in 1859. We know little about the murder for which they convicted him, except that the victim was a man named Johnson in Sandhole, which was an early name for Hamer.
Booking photos for Hicks got lost when his prison file was being examined by the attorney general’s office to determine his eligibility for parole. One poor photo of him from later years exists (below). We know he was a large man, but his description varied depending on who was telling the story. When they booked him into the territorial prison, they described Hicks as six feet three and one-fourth inches with a light complexion, grey eyes, and light brown hair. In a later account, he was six-six with red whiskers.
Hicks made his first escape on September 3, 1880, not long after his incarceration. He and five other convicts were picking apples in the Robert Wilson orchard when they rushed their guard and the orchard owner, overpowering them. Five of the prisoners chopped off their shackles, stole some guns, including two shotguns, and a cartridge belt.
The orchard was near the prison. C.W. Newman, a prison guard, heard Mrs. Wilson screaming. He mounted his horse and rode over to investigate. When he got near the house, one of the convicts shot him in the face. As he fell and turned, someone shot him in the back.
Other prison guards had dashed into town to tell of the escape. In minutes a posse formed, including several soldiers from Fort Boise. When the posse arrived at the orchard, they met a fusillade from the house where the Wilsons were now held hostage.
A cavalry corporal took a bullet to his body. Another soldier gave covering fire for his downed comrade and hit convict William Reese. He would die the next day and the corporal would recover. One of the convicts who had failed to cut his chains off and gave up.
That left four men desperate to escape. They were Moroni Hicks and John Wilson, both doing time for manslaughter, and William Mays and W.H. Overholt (or Overholtz) who were in for life for mail robbery.
Somehow, the four convicts slipped away through the orchard to the Boise River. They swam across and found some horses to steal. Wilson took off on his own for Oregon, while the other three headed east.
The next day word of the escapees came back to Boise from travelers on the Overland road. The men had held up six hunters and ranchers at a ranch 40 miles northeast of Boise. That netted them new horses, some mules, blankets, boots, and other provisions. Convict Mays became especially enamored with a new hat he was able to steal. As far as he knew his old one was back in the Boise orchard with a bullet hole through the crown.
The escapees terrorized several people along their route. Meanwhile, U.S. Marshall E.S. Chase was offering a reward for their capture, $1,000, dead or alive.
On their way east the escaped prisoners raided the Glenn home in Glenn’s Ferry, walking off with canned oysters and salmon.
Further east they were spotted by J.W. White at the mouth of Malad Gorge. A brief shootout with White had no apparent effect on anyone. White wrote to Deputy U.S. Marshal Orlando “Rube” Robbins, head of the pursuing posse, that “I am inclined to think we shall have to kill Mays and Overholtz.” He thought Prisoner Number Two, Moroni Hicks, was more interested in escape than a gun fight.
Hard up for food, the escapees had killed an ox a few days before, a piece of which White had seen, describing the meat as “black as my hat.”
What followed was a hunt through the rocky bottom of Malad Gorge, with occasional gunfire. The fugitives had claimed a cave for their own protection. The posse was sure they had them surrounded and that it would all be over at daybreak. Dawn came and what they found was the escapees had sneaked out during the night.
A night or two later their hunger proved to be the fugitives’ undoing. Marshals spotted a guttering little fire inside a ranch corral not far from the gorge. Cold and hungry the men had dug up some potatoes which they were attempting to roast.
Captured with no further resistance, the men were returned to Boise to face new charges. But this would not be the last taste of freedom for Moroni Hicks.
The story concludes tomorrow.