County attorney, deputy shoot it out in 1898 vendetta in Price
It was January 1898, and Price was still a pretty Wild West town.
Nothing tells that more than what happened on the afternoon of Jan.1 when a dispute between the Carbon County Attorney and a law officer erupted in gunfire.
Capt. James L. Smith, who was a deputy sheriff as well as a railroad detective for the Denver, Rio Grande and Western Railroad, decided his disagreement with J. Wesley Warf, the Carbon County Attorney, had gone beyond words. The dispute grew out of a charge that Warf had leveled at Smith over the threatening display of a gun at the Mathis Hotel one evening during the holidays. In actuality, Smith had been arrested and then he had pleaded guilty to the charge. He had paid a $3 fine for the incident. But there was a further complication. Warf had not been told about the trial and he missed attending.
According to Warf's version of the story, on the afternoon of Jan. 1 Warf and another attorney were approaching the train station in Price and were just about to step up on the train platform when Smith jumped from out of the crowd of people waiting for the train. He immediately opened fire on the pair. The lawyers each jumped away in opposite directions when he fired and the first bullet went between them.
Warf began to run as he drew his own revolver, and Smith emptied his six shooter on the moving target but never hit him. Warf finally found cover and returned a couple of shots at the man who apparently was trying to kill him. Smith stepped back into the crowd and Warf noticed in the melee that he had dropped his hat in the street. He went back to retrieve it and Smith stepped out of the crowd again. Warf took another shot at him but missed. That ended the incident.
Warf headed back to his office and on the way stopped at the other attorney's office to borrow a shotgun that he thought he might need to defend himself since Smith was still hanging around town. When he got back to his office he swore out a complaint against Smith for assault with a deadly weapon. Later that day the Carbon County Sheriff Charles Allred arrested Smith, who immediately swore out a complaint on the same charge against Warf. Trials for the two were set for the next week.
Smith's description of the incident was different, and he said that Warf had reason to be after him. Smith said that the animosity between the two came from the removal of a former sheriff (Gus Donant) which Smith had played a part in and with whom Warf had been personal friends.
"I have been subjected to a species of petty persecution since last July on this account," Smith told the Eastern Utah Advocate at the time.
Smith said Warf and the other lawyer approached the railroad station platform while Smith was just standing there.
"I met him with a smile and then he reached for his gun," said Smith, referring to Warf's actions.
Smith said he reached for his revolver and both fired simultaneously and then Warf ran.
"If my gun had not refused to work, my second shot would have fired him sure," stated Smith.
Smith's bail was set at $250, but was later raised to $1,000, which he obtained. Smith told the paper that "if he (Warf) decides to entertain me again I will be found at the same old stand."
Smith's case was prosecuted by A.D. Gash of Provo, who was named county attorney pro tem, because of Warf's being party to the charges. Smith was defended by Dick Wedgewood, a local defense attorney.
It didn't go well for Smith. Warf's story seemed to be the one that most witnesses (11 of them) supported. They all said that Smith had begun the shooting.
Later that day came the trial of Warf. But a problem had arisen. The court could find no one that would represent the county in the case. The justice of the peace said he would just hear evidence on the case. However, Smith said he needed more time to get witnesses and wanted the trial postponed. The Justice said that he had had plenty of time, and with no witnesses the case against Warf was dropped.
Smith was put in jail and the time allotted for his imprisonment was not mentioned in the paper.
However, as for Warf, this was not the first scrap he would be in, and certainly not his last, as over the next year he would be involved in a number of incidents which would be reported, including a killing.