By Pat Wilde
Roy Phelps was not an outlaw. he was a Short Line conductor and at worst he was a bully, a braggart and a public nuisance. At least he was the night the trouble began. With a heavy load of alcohol under his belt his entire life changed abruptly.
On the other hand, Fergus Brown was typical of so many western lawmen, courageous and proud of his responsibility to uphold the people's trust. It was May 30, 1913, and shortly after midnight Roy Phelps had had adequate time to get thoroughly drunk in spite of the local option law prohibiting sale of liquors in Bear Lake County. His second violation came when he strapped on his revolver. Hip guns had been outlawed in town since 1900.
Phelps started done the street in a drunken reverie and along the way he picked up a tag along companion Jake Rohner Jr. They began a course of abuse of anyone they caught up with on the street. At first their actions were a harmless frightening play. Most people passed it off as a humorous interlude. They had seen Phelps drunk before and seemed to expect that type of action from him. However, his actions became more abusive and demanding.
Word soon got to the night patrolman Brown, who started down the crowded street looking for the trouble causers. Brown later said he intended to escort them home to bed.
Meanwhile, a total stranger, John Casey, had just left the train at the depot and was coming up the street looking for a place to stay. As he neared the old Rose Hotel, Phelps suddenly stepped out of the shadows and without warning fired two quick shots into Casey. One slug struck his right arm and lodged in the abdomen and the second hit his shoulder and dropped him.
Brown, less than fifty yards away at the time hurried toward Phelps calling for him to drop his gun and throw up his hands. Instead, the drunken man whirled toward the lawman and began firing. Brown jumped behind a light post and returned fire. Phelps fired a total of 11 shots, three hitting the post and two others ripping through the officers coat. Brown took better aim, his third shot struck the arm of the assailant causing him to drop his weapon and flee.
Wandering through the 11th street alley he headed for his home in Hufftown and attempted to hide. Meanwhile Chief of Police Nelson had caught up with the action and the two officers had little trouble in locating the moaning man.
As for Casey, the injured stranger had collapsed and was taken to the Ashley Hospital where Dr. Poynter and Dr. Ashley operated for several hours, saving his arm and his life. This was fortunate for Phelps for he avoided a murder charge. Phelps whose arm had been shattered also got medical aid and was kept under heavy guard at the hospital until he was transferred to the county jail in Paris.
Three weeks later both Phelps and Rohner were released on heavy bond, $6000 for Phelps and $4000 for Rohner. In district court both men were guilty as charged and sentenced to the state penitentiary. Phelps was given not less than five nor more than fourteen and Rohner not less than one nor more than fourteen. Rohner was later paroled and Phelps served his time.