The infamous murder and robbery of Lewiston merchant Lloyd Magruder and his companions during the 1860s gold rush is legendary in Idaho, Montana, and Washington. Ladd Hamilton constructs a compelling account of the destruction of Magruder’s pack train while traveling on the Southern Nez Perce Trail in the Bitterroot Mountains, and the subsequent quest by Magruder’s friend Hill Beachey to track his killers to San Francisco, escort them back to Lewiston, and then protect them from mob justice until they could be tried in court.
By appraising written evidence and community lore, Hamilton has created an intriguing account based on fact and documentation. But he also blends in historical fiction when required to complement the narrative in those places where events are known to have occurred but the historical sources are sparse or virtually nonexistent. Underlying Hamilton’s work is his exact and familiar knowledge of early Idaho Territory, which in 1863 stretched hundreds of miles from Lewiston at the Snake-Clearwater confluence to the gold camps of Virginia City, Bannack, and beyond in what is now Montana.
Hamilton’s imaginative characterizations of Magruder, Beachey, outlaw sheriff Henry Plummer, and large cast of other historical figures in Idaho, Montana, and California is based on his years of knowing the many and varied peoples of the West. Also underlying Hamilton's work is his insightful knowledge of the early gold camps in Idaho and Montana territories.