Nathaniel Pitt Langford.

Vigilante days and ways [electronic resource] : the pioneers of the Rockies : the makers and making of Montana and Idaho online

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in Seribn^'t Magazins
The Ascent ok Moint Havden
in Scrihn«r's Magazine






Nathaniel Pitt Langford







AU BighU Huervtd.



9. liall {Irintlit^ CCain)iait(|


iHnknoton ^ionercs




^eiD (great ^est.


" One of the chief temptations of
the Devil is that he can persuade
a man that he can write a book, by
xchich he can achieve both icealth
and fame." — Cukvaxtes.




I Henry Plummer 19

II Society ix Lewiston 26

III Northern Mines 34

IV Charley Harper 40

V Cherokee Bob 45

VI Florence 53

IL>VII___ First Vigilance Committee ... 60

VIII New Gold Discoveries 64

IX Desertion of Mining Camps ... 69

X Boone Helm 74

XI Death of Charley Harper ... 87


XIII Early Discoveries of Gold , . . Ill

XIV Captain Fisk's Expedition . . . 122
XV Bannack in 1862 130

XVI IMooRE AND Reeves 137

XVII Crawford and Phleger .... 148

XVIII Broadwater's Stratagem . . . 163

- >XIX Organization of the Roughs , . 171

XX A Masonic Funeral 181

XXI Battle of Bear River 195

XXII Aldee Gulch 206

• •




XXIII Virginia City

XXIV Coach Robberies . . .
XX\' Leroy Southmavd

XXVI Journey to Salt Lake City

XXVII Col. Sanders and Gallagher

XXVIII Robbery of Moody's Train

XXIX George Ives ....

XXX TiUAL OF George Ives

XXXI Result of Ives's Execution

XXXII Lloyd Magruder . .

XXXIII Hill Beachy ....

XXX I\ Howie and Fetherstun

XXXV Execution of Plummer

XXXVI Death of Pizanthia

XXXVII Execution of Dutch John

XXXVIII \'ii{GiNiA City Executions

XXXIX l*uusuiT OF Road Agents

XL Execution of Hunter .

XU The Stranger's Story

XLII White and Dorsett

XLIII Langford Peel

XL1\' Jos K I'll A. Slade .

XL\' A Modern Haman

XLVI . I AM IS Daniels

XLVII David Opdyke ....

XLVI 1 1 San Andreas in 1H19

XLIX An Interesting Adventiri:

L The Stage Coach

LI Retrospection




Nathaniel P. Langford Frontispiece

A PACK train: cinching 66

James Stuart, who set the first sluices in Mon-
tana 112

Granville Stuart, who set the first sluices in

Montana 116

Captain James L. Fisk, Commander of Northern

Overland Expedition 124

Judge J. F. Hoyt, Miners' Judge at trial of

]MooRE AND Reeves 144

Judge Walter B. Dance, Miners' Judge at Ban-

NACK 174

General P. E. Connor, Commander at Battle of

Bear River 198

Samuel T. Hauser, Ex-Governor of Montana . 256
Colonel Wilbur F. Sanders, principal prose-
cutor OF George Ives 300

Hill Beachy, Lloyd Magruder's avenger . . 332

Neil Howie, captor of " Dutch John "... 352

John Fetherstun, Overland express messenger 358

A Vigilante execution 396

John X. Beidler, leading Vigilante and express

messenger 464



IT is stated on good authority, that soon after the
first appearance of Schiller's drama of " The Rob-
bers " a number of young men, charmed with the char-
acter of Charles De Moor, formed a band and went to
the forests of Bohemia to engage in brigand life. I have
no fear that such will be the influence of this volume.
It deals in facts. Robber life as delineated by the vivid
fancy of Schiller, and robber life as it existed in our
mining regions, were as widely separated as fiction and
truth. No one can read this record of events, and es-
cape the conviction that an honest, laborious, and well-
meaning life, whether successful or not, is preferable
to all the temporary enjoyments of a life of recklessness
and crime. The truth of the adage that " Crime carries
with it its own punishment " has never received a more
powerful vindication than at the tribunals erected by the
people of the northwest mines for their protection.
No sadder commentary could have stained our civilization
than to permit the numerous and bloody crimes com-
mitted in the early history of this portion of our country
to go unwhipped of justice. And the fact that they '
were promptly and thoroughly dealt with stands among
the earliest and noblest characteristics of a people which
derived their ideas of right and of self-protection from ^^v)u^
that spirit of the law that flows spontaneously from our
free institutions. The people bore with crime until pun-
ishment became a duty and neglect a crime. Then, at
infinite hazard of failure, they entered upon the work of



purgation with a strong hand — and in the briefest pos-
sihk' time established the supremacy of hiw. The robbers
and murderers of the mining regions, so long defiant of
the claims of peace and safety, were made to hold the
gibbet in greater terror there than in any other portion
of our country.

Up to this time, fear of punishment had exercised no
restraining influence on the conduct of men who had
organized murder and robbery into a steady pursuit.
They hesitated at no atrocity necessary to accomplish
their guilty designs. Murder with them was resorted to
as the most available means of concealing robbery, and
the two crimes were generally coincident. The country,
filled with canons, gulches, and mountain passes, was
especially adapted to their purposes, and the unpeopled
distances between mining camps afforded ample oppor-
tunity for carrying them into execution. Pack trains
and companies, stage coaches and express messengers,
were as much exposed as the solitary traveller, and often
selected as objects of attack. Miners, who had spent
months of hard labor in the placers in the accumulation
of a few hundreds of dollars, were never heard of after
they left the mines to return to their distant homes.
Men were daily and nightly robbed and nnirdered in the
camps. There was no limit to this system of organized

When not engaged in robbery, this criminal population
followed other disreputable pursuits. Gambling and li-
centiousness were the most conspicuous features of every
mining camp, and both were but other species of robbery.
Worthless women taken from the stews of cities plied their
vocation in open day, and their bagnios were the lures
where many men were entrapped for robbery and slaugh-
ter. Dance-houses sprung up as if by enchantment, and
every one who sought an evening's recreation In them


was in sonic way relieved of the money he took there.
Many good men who dared to give expression to the
feelings of horror and disgust which these exhibitions in-
spired, were shot down by some member of the gang on
the first opportunity. For a long time these acts were
unnoticed, for the reason that the friends of law and
order supposed the power of evil to be in the ascendant.
Encouraged by this impunity the ruffian power increased
in audacity, and gave utterance to threats against all
that portion of the community which did not belong to
its organization. An issue involving the destruction of
the good or bad element actually existed at the time that
the people entered upon the work of punishment.

I offer these remarks, not in vindication of all the acts
of the Vigilantes, but of so many of them as were neces-
sary to establish the safety and protection of the people.
The reader will find among the later acts of some of the
individuals claiming to have exercised the authority of
the Vigilantes, some executions of which he cannot ap-
prove. For these persons I can offer no apology. Many
of these were worse men than those they executed. Some
were hasty and inconsiderate, and while firm in the belief
they were doing right, actually committed grievous of-
fences. Unhappily for the Vigilantes, the acts of these
men have been recalled to justify an opinion abroad, prej-
udicial to the Vigilante organization. Nothing could be
more unjust. The early Vigilantes were the best and
most intelligent men in the mining regions. They saw
and felt that, in the absence of all law, they must become
a " law unto themselves," or submit to the bloody code
of the banditti by which they were surrounded, and which
were increasing in numbers more rapidly than themselves.
Each man among them realized from the first the great
delicacy and care necessary in the management of a so-
ciety which assumed the right to condemn to death a


fellow-man, and they now refer to the history of all
those men who suffered death by their decree as affording
ample justification for the severity of their acts. What
else could they do? How else were their own lives and
property, and the lives and property of the great body
of peaceable miners in the placers to be preserved? What
other protection was there for a country entirely desti-
tute of law?

Let those who would condemn these men try to realize
how they would act under similar circumstances, and they
will soon find everything to approve and nothing to con-
demn in the transactions of the early Vigilantes. I have
endeavored to narrate nothing but facts, and these will
enable every reader to judge correctly of the merits of
each case.

I would fain believe that this history, bloody as it is,
will prove both interesting and instructive. In all that
concerns crime of the blackest dye on the one hand, and
love for law and order on the other, it stands without a
parallel in the annals of any people. Nowhere else, nor
at any former period since men became civilized, have
murder and robbery and social vice presented an organ-
ized front, and offered an open contest for supremacy to
a large civilized community. Their works for centuries
have been done by stealth, in darkness, and as far away
from society as possible. I cannot now remember the
instance, within the past three hundred years, when
the history of any country records the fact that the crim-
inal clement of an entire community, numbering thou-
sands, was believed to be greater than the peaceful element.
Yet it was so here. And when the Vigilantes of Montana
entered upon their work, they did not know how soon
they might have to encounter a force numerically greater
than their own.

In my view the moral of this history is a good one.



The brave and faithful conduct of the Vigilantes furnishes [A
an example of American character, from a point of view; ' ;
entirely new. We know what our countrymen were ca-' • i
pable of doing when exposed to Indian massacre. We have
read history after history recording the sufferings of early
pioneers in the East, South, and West, but what they
would do when surrounded by robbers and assassins, who
were in all civil aspects like themselves, it has remained
for the first settlers of the northwestern mines to tell.
And that they did their work well, and showed in every act
a love for law, order, and for the moral and social vir-
tues in which they had been educated, and a regard for
our free institutions, no one can doubt who rightly ap-
preciates the motives which actuated them.

A people who had not been reared to respect law and
order, and to regard the privileges which flow from a free
government as greater than all others, in the regulation
of society, would have been restrained by fear from any
such united and thorough effort as that which in Mon-
tana actually scourged crime out of existence, and
secured to an unorganized community all the immunities
and blessings of good government. The terror which
popular justice inspired in the criminal population has
never been forgotten. To this day crime has been less
frequent in occurrence in Montana than in any other of
the new Territories, and no banded criminals have made
that Territory an abiding place.

Although not the first exhibition of Vigilante justice,
the one I here record was the most thorough and severe,
and stands as an example for all new settlements that in
the future may be similarly afflicted, for it was not until
driven to it both by the frequent and unremitting villainies
of the ruffians, and by the necessities of a condition for
which there was no law in existence, that the people re-
sorted to measures of their own, and made and enforced


laws suited to the exigency. But enough! If the history
fails to remove the prejudices of my readers, nothing
I can say will do so. It speaks for itself, and thougli
there are a few of its later occurrences I would gladly
blot, there is nothing in its early transactions, nothing in
the design it uii folds, nothing in the results which have
followed, that on a similar occasion I would not wish to
see reproduced.




THE Snake River or Lewis fork of the Columbia takes
its rise in a small lake which is separated by the
main range of the Rocky Mountains from the large lakes
of the Yellowstone, that being less than twenty miles dis-
tant from it. The Yellowstone, the Madison, Jefferson
and Gallatin, forming the head waters of the Missouri,
and the Snake, the largest tributary fork of the Colum-
bia, all rise within or near the limits of the territory re-
cently dedicated by the Government to the purpose of a
National Pai'k.

As contrasted with the large rivers of regions other
than the one it traverses, the Snake River would be a very
remarkable stream, but there, where everything in nature
is wonderful, it is simply one of the marked features in its
physical geography. From its source to its junction with
the Clarke fork of the Columbia, a distance of nine hun-
dred miles, it flows through a region which, at some re-
mote period, has been the scene of greater volcanic action
than any other portion of North America. Unlike other
streams, which are formed by rivulets and springs, this
river is scarcely less formidable in its appearance at its
commencement than at its termination. It leaps into
rapids from the moment of its exit, and its waters, black-



encd by the Ijasultic bed tlirough wliicli it flows, roar and
fret, and lash the sides of the gloomy canon which it en-
ters, presenting a scene of tumult and fury, that extends
far beyond the limits of vision. This initiatory charac-
ter it maintains, alternated with occasional reaches of
(juiet large expansions, and narrow contractions, fearful
and tremendous cataracts, to its debouchure into the Co-
lumbia. Its channel and its course, alike sinuous, have
obtained for it its name. Navigation is impeded by rea-
son of fearful rapids, every few miles of the first five hun-
dred after leaving the lake. The shores for most of the
distance are barren rock, always precipitous, often inac-
cessible from the river, and frequently engorged by lofty
mountains and rocky canons which shut its inky surface
from the light of day. The scenery, though on the most
tremendous scale, is savage, unattractive, and friglitful.
Its waters lash the base of the three Tetons, so celebrated
as the great landmarks of this portion of the continent.
As they approach the Columbia they break into frequent
cataracts, th* largest of which, the great Shoshone Fall,
with a perpendicular descent of two lumdred and fifty feet,
prusents many points of singular interest.

On the river, twelve miles above its mouth, at a point
accessible from the Columbia by small steamboats, stands
the little village of I^wiston, which, at the time of which
I write, was the capital of all the vast Territory that had
been just organized under the euphonic name of Idaho.
This Territory then included Montana and Wyoming,
wliich had not been orgaTiized. Lcwiston, being the near-
est accessibK> point by water to the recently discovered gold
placers of Klk City, Oro Fino, Florence, and Warner
Creek, grew with the rapidity known only to mining towns
into an emporium. In less than three months from the
time the first immigrants commenced to establish a settle-
ment there, several streets of more than a mile in length


were laid out, thickly covered on either side with dwell-
ings, stores, hotels, and saloons, chiefly constructed of
coninion factory cotton. A tenement of this kind could
be extemporized in a few hours. The frame was of light
scantling or poles, and the cloth in most cases fastened
to it with tacks. Seen from a distance, the town had the
appearance of being built of white marble, but truly

" 'T is distance lends enchantment to the view/'

for upon entering it the fragility of the material soon dis-
abused the vision and the admiration of the beholder. At
night, when lights were burning in these frail tenements,
a stranger would think the town illuminated. The number
of drinking and gambling saloons was greatly in excess of
stores and private dwellings, and to nearly all of these
was attached that most important attraction of a mining
town, the hurdy-gurdy. The sound of the violin which
struck the ear on entering the street, was never lost while
passing through it, and at many of the saloons the evi-
dence of the bacchanal orgies which were in progress in-
side was often apparent in the eagerness exhibited by the
crowd which surrounded the building without. The voices
of auctioneers on the street corners, the shouts of frequent
horsemen as they rode up and down the streets, the rat-
tle of vehicles arriving and departing for the miners'
camps, troops of miners, Indians, gamblers, the unmean-
ing babble of numerous drunken men, the tawdrily ap-
parelled dancing women of the hurdy-gurdys, altogether
presented a scene of life in an entirely new aspect to the
person who for the first time entered a mining town. It is
a feature of modern civilization which cannot elsewhere be
found, search the whole world over. The thirst for gold
is shared by all classes. Those who are unwilling to labor,
in their efforts to obtain it by less honorable means, flock
to the mines to ply their guilty vocations. Hence there is


no vice unrepresented in a mining camp, and no type or
shade of cliaruetcr in civilized society that is not there pub-
licly developed. The misfortune is, as a general thing,
that the worst elements, being most popular, generally

Our Civil War was raging at the time that Lewiston be-
came a mining emporium. Sympathizers with each party
fled to the mines, to escape the possible responsibilities they
might incur by remaining in the States. They carried
their political views with them, and identified themselves
with those portions of society which reflected their re-
spective attachments. Loyalty and Secession each flour-
ished by turn, and were the prolific causes of frequent
bloody dissensions. There was no law to restrain human
passion, so that each man was a law unto himself, accord-
ing as he was swayed by the evil or good of his own na-
ture. The temptations to evil, not so numerous, were nmch
more powerful than were ever before presented to a great
majority of the immigrants. Gambling and drinking were
made attractive by the presence of debased women, who
lured to their ruin all who, fortunate in the possession of
gold, could not witlistand their varied devices.

In the Spring of 18(51, among the daily arrivals at Lew-
iston, was a man of gentlemanly bearing and dignified de-
portment, accompanied by a woman, to all appearance his
wife. He took <juarters at the best hotel in town. Be-
fore the close of the second day after his arrival his char-
acter as a gambler was fully understood, and in less than
a fortnight his abandoium-nt of his female companion be-
trayed the illicit connection which had existed between them.
Alone, among strangers, destitute, the poor woman told
how she had been beguiled, by the promises of this man,
from home and family, and induced to link herself with
his fortunes. A fond husband and three helpless chil-
dren niounud her loss bv a visitation worse than death.


Lacking moral courage to return to her heart-broken hus-
band and ask forgiveness, she sought to drown her sorrow
by plunging still deeper into the abyss of shame and ruin.
Soon, alas ! she became one of the lowest inmates of a fron-
tier brothel. This latest crime of Henry Plummer was
soon forgotten, or remembered only as one of many sim-
ilar events Avhich occut in mining camps.

He, meanwhile, in the pursuit of his profession as a
gambler, formed the acquaintance of many congenial
spirits. From their subsequent operations it was also ap-
parent that at his instigation an alliance was formed with
them which had for its object the attainment of fortune by
the most desperate means. Every fortunate man in any
of the mining camps was marked as the prey, sooner or
later, of this abandoned combination. Every gambler or
rough infesting the camp, either voluntarily or by threats
was induced to unite in the enterprise ; and thus originated
the band of desperadoes which, for the succeeding two
years, by their fearful atrocities, spread such terror
through the northern mines. Plummer was their acknowl-
edged leader.

Professional gamblers everywhere, in a new country,
form a community by themselves. They have few inti-
mates outside of their own number. A sort of tacit under-
standing among them links them together by certain
implied rules and regulations, which they readily obey. Of
the same nature, we may suppose, was the bond which
united Plummer and his associates in their infernal de-
signs of plunder and butchery. The honor which thieves
accord each other, the prospect of unlimited reward for
their vicious deeds, and the certainty of condign punish-
ment for any act of treachery, secured the band and its
purposes against any betrayal b}' its members.

Nowhere are the conventionalities of social life sooner
abandoned than in a mining camp. To call a man by his


proper name there generally implies that he is either a
struiigcr or one with whom you do not care to make
acquaintance. The gamblers were generally known by
diminutive surnames or appellations significant of their
characters. I shall so designate those of them who were
thus known, in this narrative.

Prominent among the associates of Plummer at Lewis-
ton were Jack Cleveland, Cherokee Bob, and Bill Bunton.
Cleveland was an old California acquaintance, familiar
with Plummer's early history. He used this fatal knowl-
edge, as it afterwards proved, in a dictatorial and offensive
manner, often presuming upon it to arrogate a position
in the band which by common consent was assigned to

Cherokee Bob was a native Georgian, and received his
name from the fact that he was a quarter-blood Indian.
He was bitter in his hatred of the loyal cause and all en-
gaged in it. Before he came to Lewiston he had, in an
affray of his own plotting, killed two or three soldiers in
the Walla Walla theatre. He fled to Lewiston to escape
the vengeance of their comrades.

Bill Bunton was a double-d^ed murderer and notorious
horse and cattle thief. He had killed a man at a ball near
Walla Walla, was tried for nnirder, and acquitted on in-
sufficient evidence. He afterwards killed his brother-in-
law, and in cold blood soon after shot down an Indian,
and escaped the clutches of the law by flight. Possessing
himself of a ranche on Pataha Creek, he lived there with
his Indian wife, imder the pretext of farming. It was soon
ascertjiined, however, that his business was secreting and
selling stolen stock. The officers made a dash upon his
ranche, but the bird had again flown. Soon afterward, dis-
guised in the blanket and paint of an Indian, he entered
Lewiston, and lounged about the streets for several days


witlioiit exciting suspicion. During this time he became
a member of Plummer's nmrderous band.

Tlierc were several others whose names are unknown,
that entered into the combination formed for systematized
robbery and murder at this time. Around this nucleus a
large number of desperate men afterwards gathered. They
became so formidable in numbers, and their deeds of blood
were so frequent and daring, that the mining camps were
awed by them into tacit submission, and witnessed with-

Online LibraryNathaniel Pitt LangfordVigilante days and ways [electronic resource] : the pioneers of the Rockies : the makers and making of Montana and Idaho → online text (page 1 of 40)