April 12, 1862
Federal Court.—The Grand Jury was called and sent to their rooms.
Robert T. Hervey, indicted for treason, was admitted to bail in the sum of $5,000.
Daniel Dusky and Jacob Varner, indicted for robbing the mail at Ripley, in Jackson county, were brought into Court. The prisoners had no counsel, and the Court assigned Major Brown of Wirt county.—Major Brown declined, upon the ground that Dusky was indicted for murder in Wirt county, and he (Brown) intended to to [sic] prosecute him. The Court then assigned Col. Wheat, of this city, and Mr. Despard, of Clarksburg. Both of the gentlemen declined, when the Court assigned A. B. Caldwell and G. L. Cranmer. The prisoners were arraigned and plead not guilty.
. . .
April 14, 1862
Federal Court.—The Grand Jury was called and sent to their room.
Mr. Cranmer, one of the counsel for Jacob Varner, indicted for robbing the mail at Ripley, Jackson county, made a motion to quash the indictment upon the ground that he is charged in the indictment with robbing and stealing the mail, and it does not say what mail, so that the prisoner does not know what he is to answer.—It also charged that the offense was committed against the United States, when it should have been United States of America. The Court overruled the motion, and proceeded with the trial of the case.
Wm. Wetzel, a lad 12 years of age, testified that he was the son of John L. Wetzel, the Postmaster at Ripley. About the 19th of December last, a party of about eight men, calling themselves the Moccasin Rangers, came to Ripley with arms of all descriptions, and broke open the post office and took away a lot of letters and papers. Varner, the prisoner, was one of the party. They also broke into the court house and took some guns. They also went around to the houses of citizens and seized all the guns they could find. The occurred about 9 o’clock at night, and several citizens, including the Postmaster, fled.
Mr. Jacob Armstrong saw the Moccasin Rangers in the street on the night in question. They pointed a gun at him, and called him to a halt. They asked him to go to his (witness’) store and get them some tobacco. He refused to go, and they went themselves and got what they wanted, arousing up a young man who slept in the store, and who let them in. Thinks Varner was one of the party. He had the reputation of being a prominent Moccasin Rangers.
Ulysses W. Flesher testified that Varner admitted to him that he (Varner) was at Ripley with the Moccassins [sic], on the 19th of December and had his gun there but denied having anything to do with breaking open the post office.
Mr. Board thought there were about sixteen of the Moccassins [sic] in the party. Varner was one of them. Witness saw Varner going into the post office and coming out with a drawer full of letters Heard old man Dusky say that they (the Moccassins [sic]) had a half bushel of letters. The Moccasin Rangers were represented to be very skillful in slipping around at night and picking up things.
Two or three other witnesses were examined but before concluding the evidence the court adjourned till this morning at 9 o’clock.
April 15, 1862
Federal Court.—The case of Jacob Varner, indicted for robbing and stealing the mail, was continued, Messrs. A. B. Caldwell and G. L. Cranmer, conducting the defence.
A rule was issued against John H. Wetzel, an absent witness. When the witness appeared he was interrogated by the Count. He said he had just got up out of bed—had overslept himself in consequence of drinking too much whiskey. Besides he was sick. The Court imposed a fine of $10 upon the witness and compelled him to enter his personal recognisance in the sum of $100 to behave himself hereafter and attend upon the sessions of the Court.
John H. Wetzel testified that he ran away on the night the Moccasin Rangers came to Ripley. He had his gun cocked but concluded the safest plan was to leave. He considered his life in jeopardy. The Moccasins took about a peck or a half a bushel of letters from the Post Office, only leaving three papers. Witness thinks the majority of the people of Ripley are Secesh though it was hard to tell. Many men who pass for good Union men are secessionists at heart, and visa versa.
Daniel Dusky, who is indicted with Varner for the offence above charged, was called and examined on the part of the defence. Dusky testified that the crowd of which he and Varner made two, went to the post office for the purpose of obtaining news in reference to new movements of troops. They could find no key, when one of the party said he had a key that had never failed to unlock a door yet, saying which, he kicked the door open with his foot. The party then went to the Court House and jail, both of which they opened. One of the party, named Marcelles J. Kester, knew most of the persons to whom the letters were directed, and promised to remail them accordingly. The party was composed of the witness, Daniel Dusky, George Dusky, Alex. Goff, Marcelles J. Kester, Thomas Goff, Jacob Varner, Ben. Wright, Ephraim B. Carter, Geo. W. Tanner, Geo. Gibson, and three others, thirteen in all. The party took quite a number of guns from the Court House, some tobacco from a store, (which they had charged,) and other articles from other places. The witness seemed to think that the operations of the Moccasin Rangers were of a highly commendable character. Their range was unlimited. They went wherever they thought they could do the most good. The company of Moccasins was a regularly commissioned company, and acted under the authority of Gov. Letcher.
Here the evidence closed.
Col. Smith, the District Attorney, in opening the argument read the act under which the indictment was found. It provides that any person robbing or stealing the mail shall be punished with imprisonment. If, by effecting such robbery, the robber shall put the officer having charge of the mail in bodily fear by the use of dangerous weapons, or endanger his life, such person shall suffer death. If, therefore, it shall appear, that the accused, in effecting the robbery, endangered the life of Wetzel, it will be the duty of the jury to find him guilty, and the duty of the Court to pass sentence of death.
Mr. Caldwell, in reply to a remark of Col. Smith, that the object of the defence in inquiring of a witness whether the Moccasin Rangers acted under commissions from Governor Letcher, was to defend Varner upon secession grounds, said his loyalty was above suspicion. He intimated that the District Attorney, Col. Smith, went as a commissioner with Judge Summers to induce Gen. McClelland not to bring Union troops into that county?
Mr. Caldwell said there was nothing done in the post office at the town of Ripley, on the night of the 19th of December last, which jeopardized the life of his client. If Varner was guilty of treason on that occasion, as stated by the District Attorney, he could not be convicted of robbing the mail. The felonious intents are entirely distinct. It is not the act which constitutes the essence of crime. It is the intention. These men acted upon the authority of commissions from John Letcher, as the defence had proved. He didn’t allude to this because he thought the the [sic] dictim of Letcher was worth a straw, but to show that these men were at Ripley in the furtherance of the cause of rebellion. They were there as rebels to aid and abet the cause of secession. They didn’t go there to rob the post office. They only felonious intent is a treasonable intent, and for that alone can they be punished. Robbing the mail is not treason. The offences are entirely distinct.
[At this point the Grand Jury came in and reported a long list of indictments for treason. The Court then returned its thanks to the Grand Jury and advised the members that they were discharged from further service.]
Mr. Caldwell continued at some length arguing warmly in favor of his client.
Mr. Cranmer followed Mr. Caldwell. He appealed to the Jury to give the prisoner the benefit of all the extenuating circumstances which appear in the case. He proceeded to give a defenition [sic] of the crime of robbery, and contended that this definition did not attach to the crime with which the prisoner stands indicted. The law under which this prisoner is indicted never contemplated the existence of such a political condition of things as at present. There is sufficient evidence to convict the prisoner of treason but he cannot be convicted of larceny. The offence was a political offence and not a criminal offence, in the common acceptation of the law.
Mr. Cranmer occupied something over an hour in his argument. He concluded by saying that Varner occupied precisely the same position as any other traitor. He had been deceived like thousands of others, and it is now proposed, merely from his accidental connection with this post-office affair, to incarcerate him in a prison for ten years, or hang him by the the [sic] neck, while thousands of others equally guilty will go scott free.
[The prisoner wept freely during the progress of the proceedings, and seemed to be very much affected.]
Col. Smith, in closing, alluded to Mr. Caldwell’s charge of disloyalty against him as an oft-repeated slander. The act alluded to was one of the most excellent acts of his life, and he was proud of it. He threw back the intimation of disloyalty with scorn and contempt. His loyalty was not questioned by any one. He then proceeded to a discussion of the cause, and replied to all the points made by the opposing counsel.
Judge Jackson charged the jury, the members of which retired, but returned again in an hour or so with a verdict of guilty as charged in the last three counts of the indictment, which will consign the prisoner to a term of imprisonment of not less than five nor more than ten years.
April 16, 1862
Federal Court.—Daniel Dusky, charged with robbing the mail, in connection with Varner, who was convicted on Monday, and other Moccasin Rangers, at the village of Ripley, Jackson county, last December, was put upon his trial yesterday. Dusky is a different style of man from Varner. He is made of sterner stuff. He is a confirmed secessionist, and appears to believe in it. He was a prominent Moccasin Ranger, of which his son George was the Captain. The evidence taken in the case did not vary much from the facts elicited in the case of Varner.
After the conclusion of the evidence, Messrs. Cranmer and Caldwell made arguments for the prisoner and Col. Smith for the Government. The jury, after a short absence, returned with a verdict of guilty as charged in the third and fourth counts of the indictment, for robbing and stealing the mail. This well send Dusky to the penitentiary for about five years.
April 21, 1862
Daniel Duskey and Jacob Varner, convicted of robbing the mail, were ordered up for sentence.
Mr. Caldwell made a motion for a new trial, and also a motion in arrest of judgment. Mr. C. assumed the position that the verdict was not in accordance with the law and the evidence. He claimed that the District Attorney had made an improper use of the evidence elicited, and that the offence of which the parties were convicted, was not committed with the felonious intent defined in the law. The parties went to the post office to get news to serve their secession masters. Their object was secesh and nothing else, and therefore the felonious intent defined by the law does not appear, and the parties are improperly convicted. They have been convicted of an offence which they never dreamed of, and which the proof shows they did not intend to commit.
Colonel Smith said the parties had gone to the post office, with arms, scared the post master away, took the property and never returned it. The intent must be inferred from the act. Whether they knew they were stealing of not has nothing to do with the question. No man can plead ignorance of the law. They only read the letters and papers because they could fevote them to no other purpose. That is all they were fit for.
The Court overruled Mr. Caldwell’s motion, and the prisoners were ordered to stand up. The Court remarked that the evidence in the case was conclusive; that it was not only the intent of the prisoners to rob the post office, but to take anything else belonging to the Federal Government. They had driven the people away from the village by fear, and while they may have intended to do a very different thing from what they did do, the jury are the judges of the act. The act was done without reason, provocation or excuse. They had had the benefit of able counsel and a fair and impartial trial, and it only remained for the Court to do its duty.
The Court then sentenced Varner to three and Dusky to four years in the Penitentiary, at Washington City. The Court said that it sympathised with the parties as much as any man, but it had a stern and inflexible duty to perform, and sympathies and feelings must not weigh a feather in the scale of public justice.
The Court adjourned till nine o’clock on Wednesday morning.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: April 1862