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And so commenced Branton and Green’s Melmoth-like wanderings through the McKenzie Valley, horses in tow, looking for friends old and new who would be willing to perjure themselves in exchange for the pick of the herd.
Branton even made a fake beard so that he could pretend to be Linn at one spot. This didn’t work, though, because the rancher he was trying to fool recognized his voice.
The two of them tried several times to sell the horses, too, but no one would take them because Linn wasn’t there to sign the bill of sale.
Eventually it dawned on Branton that they were basically doomed, and his best shot was to cut and run. So the partners split up. Branton ended up in Kansas with the $65; Green, however, stayed in Eugene.
It may have been their plan all along for Green to finger Branton if the heat came on, and Branton to be gone on the lam. In any case, that’s how it went down. Green, whose psychological state had deteriorated badly and whose alcohol consumption rate had skyrocketed, finally couldn’t stand it any more and confessed to a friend, Lane County Sheriff’s Deputy John Day. Day took his friend directly to the district attorney, and the jig was officially up.
Green, brought to trial, shocked the court by pleading guilty despite the strong probability that it meant the gallows. He lucked out, though: the charge, when it was made, was second-degree murder, meaning a life sentence rather than death. He served 10 years of that sentence in the Oregon State Penitentiary before being conditionally pardoned by the governor.
But Branton — with the help of Green’s testimony — knew very well he couldn’t even hope for a break like that. And sure enough, when the verdict came in, it was “guilty of first-degree murder,” and the sentence was hanging.
Branton was kept in the county jail until the sentence could be carried out, and it was immediately clear he was a desperate man. When he was brought back to his cell, the instant the handcuffs were off him he leaped on Deputy Day, grabbing for his revolver. The two of them fought over the gun for a second or two; then the sheriff arrived and grabbed Branton by the throat, choking him until he let go.
Later Branton made a fake gun, carved out of pieces of food, and tried to bluff his way out of the joint by pointing it at Sheriff Withers. Withers, having good reason to know Branton wasn’t armed, said, “Oh, come off it,” and Branton passed it off as a joke.
Finally, on May 12, 1899, Claude Branton’s sentence was carried out. His wanderings were finally over; but, unlike Melmoth, he wasn’t expecting damnation to follow. He’d been baptized in prison, and spent the morning of his execution in Bible study.