Claude Lafayette Dallas Jr. is a mountain man no more, if he ever was.
Dallas is doing kitchen work in a Kansas prison today, far from the storm that engulfed him after he killed 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 a 30-year sentence for the slayings. But time and distance so far 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.
Few who know of the case are indifferent; almost no one is ambivalent.
And while many in Idaho would be hard pressed to recall the names of the men he shot, Dallas has become a name large in the state's folklore.
Far too large for some.
"There's something wrong about creating a myth out of a murder," said A.J. Arave, warden at the new Idaho Maximum Security Prison.
He was in charge of the nearby Idaho State Penitentiary when Dallas escaped on Easter 1986, beginning another chapter in the Claude Dallas saga.
The trapper and gun enthusiast, who once was arrested for draft evasion, later was found innocent of escape despite almost a year on the run and months on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. The verdict surprised even his lawyer.
Jurors believed Dallas was only saving his own life. So did the panel that found him guilty of nothing more than voluntary manslaughter five years earlier in the Jan. 5, 1981, killings of Bill Pogue and Conley Elms at a remote southwestern Idaho trapping camp.
They were checking out a report that Dallas was poaching.
"We were leaving a whole era of innocence when 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 said Fish and Game officials were out to get him then; later it was prison guards. Final shots behind each man's ear may have been all that prevented a justifiable homicide verdict at the monthlong murder trial.
"A lot of jurors would have set him free except for his last acts," said Constance "Coco" Ickes of Caldwell, who owned the southeastern Oregon ranch where Dallas got his first buckarooing job in 1968.
"Claude didn't go out looking for those guys; they went to his camp," she said. "We all felt it was self-defense."
Ickes put up a $100,000 property bond to get Dallas out of jail between conviction and sentencing. She and her husband visited prisoner No. 46356 at the Lansing Correctional Facility for two days last month. They found him fit and in good spirits, as soft-spoken and polite as ever.
Even his detractors concede Dallas is charming, or at least beguiling. He was cordial in declining a recent interview request. A brief written reply opened with "Hello" and closed with "Best Wishes."
"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 deputy attorney general assigned as 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."
His attorneys, friends from his days as a ranch hand and trapper in the stark, remote country straddling the Idaho-Nevada border, and the "Dallas cheerleaders" camp followers took advantage of that presence. They turned attention at the trial from the shootings to allegations that 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 "Give a Boy a Gun: A True Story of Law and Disorder in the American West."
"Bill Pogue was a superb human being," Olsen said. "He was the kind of game warden that I want representing me in my state."
He also was a friend of Owyhee County Sheriff Tim Nettleton, the 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 says with a sneer. "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 Olsen's book and another by Jeff Long, "Outlaw: The True Story of Claude Dallas," which was turned into a CBS TV movie.
All the coverage, every analysis and each full-length treatment was assessed as critically as Dallas himself.
"I got scored in Idaho for having written a pro-Dallas book and in Nevada for having written an anti-Dallas book," said Long, whose book focused largely on the killer's version of the case and the cult of celebrity that surrounded him.
It was described by Olsen as "a beautifully written, poetic pile of horse manure."
But along with heat, the Dallas saga also has produced some light.
Fish and Game has beefed up training and tightened its policy requiring officers to wear guns in the field, and a number of the lessons learned from his 1986 escape were used in developing inmate-movement and other security procedures for the new maximum security prison.
Deputy attorney generals no longer are assigned subordinate to county prosecutors, as Kennedy was to relatively new Owyhee County Prosecutor Clayton Anderson in the 1982 trial. When they are named special prosecutor on a case, they take over.
Kennedy said he would have worked to "shorten the trial way up and not let Claude Dallas sit exposed to the jury as long as he did. Every day he sat next to the jury, the more they became enamored by his demeanor and his personality."
"I'm not sure Dallas would have only gotten his hand slapped today," Long said. "If we had hit it about 10 years earlier or 10 years later, he might have swung."