Jack Spicer ran the best-organized bootlegging ring in Park County. His talent for concealing the locations of his moonshining stills were impressive, even to those who wished to put him behind bars. Spicer and his apprentices produced contraband alcohol that was by all accounts a superior, quality product, in high demand both locally and in neighboring states. But the skill with which Spicer plied his trade was matched by his blatant disregard for law and order, a factor that ultimately contributed to his violent end.
Spicer emigrated to Cody in 1907 from the Appalachian hill country of North Carolina where his family had long practiced the art of rendering mountain dew. With his inherited talents for producing quality spirits, Spicer quickly became the de facto leader of the local bootlegging culture. He invited family members from North Carolina to assist in his operation. His nephews Artis and Lonnie Royal, sons of Spicer’s sister, proved instrumental in this regard.
Spicer made his headquarters on the North Fork along Canyon Creek. From this location he could supervise the operation of multiple stills in the area. Artis and Lonnie Royal managed the day-to-day affairs of the actual distilling process.
Spicer’s criminal bootlegging and violent behavior inevitably attracted the attention of local law enforcement. In 1921 he was charged with the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors, although the case was eventually dismissed due to a lack of evidence. In 1923 he was charged with attempted murder for shooting one of his business partners after suspecting him of stealing product from their stash on Monument Hill. Spicer also stabbed a man in front of the Hart Mountain Inn for cursing in earshot of his wife. Spicer was usually arrested for these offenses but always managed to elude any real punishment by the law. This ability to dodge legal repercussions caused some residents to refer to Spicer as “The Snake”. His reputation as a tough character left many residents afraid to cross him.
While the exact details surrounding Spicer’s demise will probably never be known, it seems the trouble started when he began feuding with his nephews Artis and Lonnie Royal. The argument became physical on the night of a dance at the Wapiti schoolhouse, when all three men engaged in a brawl that left Spicer badly wounded.
The Royal brothers went into town that night instead of going to their bunkhouse on Spicer’s ranch. The next morning Artis returned to the ranch in order to gather his belongings. Spicer was ready and waiting with a six-shooter. Recognizing that his uncle was not looking to chat, Artis straightaway drew his own Colt .38 pistol. A flash of gunfire erupted, with both men at extremely close quarters. Spicer fired three shots, all of which entered his nephew’s chest. Artis’ automatic rapidly discharged five rounds, but only hit Spicer twice. One of the bullets found Spicer’s heart and killed him instantly.
Artis was quickly rushed to the hospital where he made a miraculous recovery. He was charged with first degree murder but was acquitted on self-defense. Following the incident he left town for good. Not long after Spicer’s death his widow married Lonnie Royal. The couple spent much of their long lives on Jack Spicer’s ranch.
The old bunkhouse where Jack Spicer and Artis Royal engaged in their shootout is still standing along lower Canyon Creek in the Wapiti area. It’s a sad testament to the days when men settled their petty differences in tragically fatal fashion.