A Decade Later, Game-Warden Killings Still Stir Emotions
BOISE, Idaho (AP) _ Claude Dallas Jr. is a mountain man no more, if he ever really was.
Dallas is doing kitchen work in a Kansas prison today, far from the storm that engulfed him after killing two game wardens a decade ago on Idaho’s high desert.
″He seems to be adjusting well,″ said his Boise attorney, Lance Churchill. ″He’d like his freedom, but he’s used to a solitary life. That’s how he liked to live on the outside, and it’s helping him make it in prison.″
It will be another 10 years before Dallas, 40, has a chance for parole from his 30-year sentence. But time and distance have done little to calm strong feelings for and against him.
″There was never a time when it wasn’t just a raw wound,″ said Dee Pogue, widow of one of the slain officers.
While many in Idaho would be hard-pressed to recall the names of the men he shot, Dallas has become a name writ large in the state’s folklore. The tale of the mountain man who defied lawmen and escaped capture spread worldwide.
For some, the legend grew too large.
″There’s something wrong about creating a myth out of a murder,″ said A.J. Arave, who was prison warden at the Idaho State Penitentiary when Dallas escaped on Easter 1986.
That was the beginning of one chapter in the Claude Dallas saga.
The trapper and gun enthusiast was found innocent of escape despite almost a year on the run and months on the FBI’s most wanted list. Jurors believed Dallas was only saving his own life from vengeful prison guards.
Dallas had applied the same reasoning to what he argued were abusive game wardens five years earlier when a jury found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter, instead of first-degree murder, in the Jan. 5, 1981, killings of Bill Pogue and Conley Elms at a remote trapping camp. They were checking out a report that Dallas was poaching.
″We never really imagined one, let alone two officers would ever be killed this way,″ Idaho Department of Fish and Game Director Jerry Conley said. ″But when you have an individual that has the attitude of a Claude Dallas, who thinks he has the God-given right to take anything at any time, I don’t know how you avoid that kind of thing.″
Dallas’ friends rallied to his defense, and believed his claims that game wardens were out to get him for trapping and hanging a deer for meat.
″Claude didn’t go out looking for those guys - they went to his camp. He’s just not that kind of person,″ said Constance ″Coco″ Ickes of Caldwell, Idaho, a ranch owner who employed Dallas at one time. ″We all felt it was self-defense.″
Mrs. Ickes and her husband visited prisoner No. 46356 at the Lansing Correctional Facility for two days last month. They found Dallas fit and in good spirits, and as soft-spoken and polite as ever.
Even his detractors concede Dallas is charming, or at least beguiling.
″He’s attractive. He comes across with this warm, sensitive personality and has the friends to back it up,″ said Jefferson County Magistrate Michael Kennedy, who was a special prosecutor for the 1982 trial. ″Until you’ve actually sat through a trial and seen the impact of a person like Mr. Dallas on the jury, it’s just hard to describe.″
Dallas was cordial in declining a recent interview request. A brief written reply opened with ″Hello″ and closed with ″Best Wishes.″
He tried to use his charm at the trial to claim Pogue had been spoiling for a fight.
A parade of witnesses testified that Pogue was belligerent. And even though a number of the incidents cited were disproved, jurors got the message: Claude Dallas might have gone too far, but he essentially was a victim of circumstance.
″There are people capable of enormous self-deception,″ said Jack Olsen, who wrote a book about Dallas.
Pogue was a friend of Owyhee County Sheriff Tim Nettleton, a savvy, hard- bitten lawman who helped keep the case in the public eye while Dallas was on the run for more than 15 months after the killings.
″It’s always been, ‘The authorities were abusing him. They didn’t treat him fair. Poor little Claude Dallas,’ ″ Nettleton said. ″And he got away with it.″
The story stayed alive, but it needed little help from Nettleton. Its Old West and mountain man angles played well all over the world. It was told in two books and a CBS movie.
The image of the independent outdoorsman persisted, even after Dallas was captured in 1987 outside a California convenience store and the FBI found he had leaned heavily on friends while on the run.
Dee Pogue and Cheri Elms have spent the decade coming to grips with their husbands’ killings and the media maelstrom that followed. They make no attempt to hide the hurt of Dallas’ conviction for only manslaughter. But they have learned to carry on.
″Our energies are spent in living today and making plans, and having hopes and dreams again for the future,″ Mrs. Elms said.