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Vigilantes of Beaverhead County
Source: "The Vigilantes of Montana" by Prof Thomas Josiah Dimsdale, written in 1864, published 1882
Early in the spring of 1862 rumors started about discoveries on the Salmon River. Emigration to the Gold Camps came from Salt Lake City, Colorado and other western locations through the mountains between Fort Lemhi and Horse Prairie Creek, to Deer Lodge and Grasshopper Creek. Grasshopper Creek became known as
Beaver Head Diggings named from the Beaver Head River - the River that the creek empties into. Then a party from Minnesota came and the Fisk company
who came under Government escort before Winter struck.
Following the miners were desperados and outlaws including Henry Plummer, Charley Reeves, Moore and Skinner who kept the roads under surveillance for
robbery. They were called "Road Agents". A Vigilante Committee was created to stop these Road Agents.
Among those captured and executed: George Ives in Nevada City 21 Dec 1863; Erastus Yager (Red) and G W Brown, Stinkingwater Valley, 4 Jan 1864; Henry
Plummer, Ned Ray and Buck Stinson, Bannack City 10 Jan 1864; John Wagoner (Dutch John) and Joe Pizanthia, Bannack City, 11 Jan 1864; George Lane
(Club-foot George), Frank Parish, Haze Lyons, Jack Gallagher and Boone Helm, Virginia City, 14 Jan 1864; Steven Marsland, Big Hole Ranch,
16 Jan 1864; William Bunton, Deer Lodge Valley, 19 Jan 1864; Cyrus Skinner, Alexander Carter and John Cooper, Hell Gate, 25 Jan 1864; George Shears,
Frenchtown, 24 Jan 1864; Robert Zachary, Hell Gate, 25 Jan 1864; William Graves alias Whisky Bill, Fort Owens, 26 Jan 1864; William Hunter, Gallatin
Valley, 3 Feb 1864.
Judge Smith and J Thurmond who were the counsel of the road agents were banished. The Bannack branch of the Vigilantes sent H G Sessions (convicted of
circulating bogus gold dust) and H D Moyer (who set up a room at night for them to work in and gave material for their labor). A man named Kustar was also
anished for shooting hrough windows of the hotel which was across from his house.
There was a miners jury at Bannack in the winter of 1863 in which Moore and Reeves were banished, but they came back in the spring. They fled when the
Vigilantes started and were thought to be in Mexico when the book was published in 1882. Charley Forbes was a member of the gang, who was wounded
in a scuffle and died.
The headquarters of the gang was Rattlesnake Ranch. Plummer visited often, and practiced his shooting there - drawing his pistol and discharging the
five loads in three seconds. The post he shot into was riddled with holes was quite a curiosity and was cut down the summer of 1863. They also met at Dempsey's Cottonwood Ranch. The owner of the ranch had no connection with them. Also Daley's at Ramshorn Gulch and ranches on the Madison and Jefferson,
Wisconsin Creek and Mill Creek.
Bannack, the first "mining camp" of any importance on the eastern slope of the Mountains, was originated from "Grasshopper diggings" which was
discovered by John White and a small party of prospectors on Grasshopper Creek. John White and Rodolph Dorsett were murdered by Charley Kelly
Dec 1863 near the Milk Ranch on the road from Virginia City to Helena. Other early citizens were Wash Stapleton, W B Dance, S T Hauser,
James Morely, Drury Underwood, F M Thomson, N P Langford, James Fergus, John Potter, Judge Hoyt and Dr Hoyt, Charles St Clair, David
Thompson, Buz Craven, Messrs Burchett, Morelle, Harby, J M Castner, Pat Bray and brother, Sturges, Col McLean, R C Knox and others.
In February 1863, George Evans was hunting stock belonging to William Bates, beyond Buffalo Creek - about eight miles from Bannack. It is believed that John
Cleveland shot, killed and robbed Evans who had a considerable sum of money of him. John Cleveland had no money prior to the theft, was seen riding
in the area and the next day he had plenty of money. Evans partner Ed Hibbert got a horse from J M Castner and searched for Evans, afraid he had frozen
to death because he could not be found. A herder named Duke, a partner ogf Jemmy Spence was also hunting cattle and found Evan's clothes tucked into
a badger hole. A body was found in the willows, shot.
Soon after this Cleveland came into Goodrich's saloon, and difficulties arose between he and Jeff Perkins about some money Perkins owed in the lower country.
Plummer told Cleveland that Perkins said he had paid him previously and that Cleveland should be satisfied. Cleveland continued on saying he was afraid of
none of them. Plummer shot Cleveland, one ball going into the beam overhead, the next above the heart, the next below the eye. George Ives and
Reeves took Plummer by the arm. Hank Crawford was boarding with L W Davenport of Bannack at the time, somewhat out of health. Davenport told
Crawford that someone had been shot at the saloon. Crawford took the man to his own lodging, sending someone for the Doctor. Cleveland lasted about
three hours. Nothing was done about this murder.
Some time later, in the winter of 1862-1863, George Ives and George Carrhart were talking in the street near Carrhart's cabin. The discussion turned
angry, they shot back and forth, with Carrhart have one shot left, Ives having none. Carrhart shot Ives in the back, a through and through. Ives survived.
the two men made up their quarrel, Ives lived with Carrhart on his ranch for the rest of the winter.
Dr Biddle of Minnesota and his wife, with Mr and Mrs Short, their hired man was sitting around a campfire on Grasshopper Creek. J M Castner thought Mrs Biddle
would need the shelter of a shouse and went to the camp to offer his assistance. The offer was declined, but while he was there there was a shot that came
from the door of a saloon which just missed Castner, Mrs Biddle nearly fainted. Castner went to the saloon, saw Skinner putting his gun down saying he scared
the fellow over there, he thought they were Indians.
Haze Lyons owed a board bill to a citizen of Bannack who was informed that Lyons had won $300 or $400 by gambling the night before and asked Lyons
for the money. Lyons told him not to ask for the money again or he would make it unhealthy for the citizen. Lyons was hung much later for his other
In March 1863, Charley Reeves, a prominent clerk of St Nicholas, bought a squaw who refused to live with him. She alleged that she was ill treated and went
back to her tribe which was camped south of Yankee Flat. Reeves attempted to get her back, the old chief interfered and was stuck in the head by Reeves
with his pistol. The next evening Moore and Reeves were drunk, entered Goodrich's saloon laying their two double barrel shotguns and four revolvers
on the counter. They left the saloon, going behind the houses in the area and fired their guns into the Indian camp, wounding one Indian. Went back to the saloon to boast of their "work" and were accompanied by William Mitchell of Minnesota and two others back to the Indian Camp, and shot and killed others of the Indian party. a Frenchman named Brisette was killed, the Indian chief, and others. John Burnes escaped with a broken thumb.
The indignation of the local citizens of this unprovoked massacre called for a mass meeting the next morning to take some action. Charley Moore and Reeves heard
of the meeting and started towards Rattlesnake on foot, Plummer preceding them on horseback. Volunteers were call for, sentries were posted around the town
and Messrs Lear, Higgins, O J Rockwell and Davenport at once followed the tracks. The fugitives gave up and were taken back to Bannack. Plummer was tried
and acquitted on account of Cleveland's threats. Mitchell was banished, but hid around town for awhile and never went away. Reeves and Moore were next to
be tried. Judge Hoyt from St Paul was elected judge, Hank Crawford was elected Sheriff. Messenger were sento to Godfrey's Canon where N P Langford, R C Knox and A Godfrey among others were erecting a saw-mill. They were asked to sit on the jury at Bannack. Langford and Godfrey came at once to be ready for the trial the next day. Five or six hundred citizens wanted the the prisoners to be tried by the people instead of a jury. Ultimately Moore and Reeves were banished from the Territory but were permitted to stay at Deer Lodge until the range was passable.
The sheriff Crawford tendered his resignation several times, but was induced to continue. The arms taken from Plummer, Reeves and Mitchell were sold by Crawford to defray expenses. The gang attemped to keep after those who were on the jury against them. And they kept robbing others during this time and stores in Bannack were mysteriously broken into. While the road agents raged through Skinners Saloon, Dick Sap was injured, Carrhart was shot, so was a gambler George Banefield
(later dying), and injuring Goliath Reilly. Several more Indians were killed by the road gang including Chief Old Snag. Crimes were daily and outrageous.
Plummer was elected Sheriff at Bannack and appointed two of his road agents as deputies: Buck Stinson and Ned Ray. He also became Sheriff of Virginia City by
threat at the same time. They murdered a man named Dillingham and despite their "elected jobs" a people's court was organized and a trial was done by the people
en masse. Judge G G Bissell (a physician as well) was appointed "president", Dr Steel and Dr Rutar were chosen as Associates. E R Cutler, a blacksmith was appointed Public Prosecutor; Jem Brown was elected assistant; Judge H P A Smith was for the defense. A trial was started by the indictment of Buck Stinson and Haze Lyons. Charley Forbes was chained overnight. Stinson and Lyons had a unanimous verdict of guilty. A scaffold was built. Charley Forbes was acquitted by a nearly unanimous vote because he was so well spoken. A letter from Haze Lyon to his mother was read....and the vote was overturned. The assassins rode out of town with great speed.
November 1863 saw a continuation of crime and murder by George Ives and others. Ives and others were captured, Ives was declared guilty and ordered to be
hung. On 21 Dec 1863 George Ives was hung not more than 10 yards from where he sat for his "trial".
Rumors abound that a vigilance committee had been formed, that 300-500 men were on their way to hand Plummer, Ray, Stinson and George Chrisman among
others. In fact a Vigilance Committee was formed in Virginia City and in Nevada City within a few days. Red Yager and G W Brown were arrested next, with
Red Yager telling those that arrested him that Plummer was the chief of the band, that Bill Bunton was second in command, Sam Bunton a roadster; Cyrus Skinner
a roadster, fence and Spy. Many others were given up by Red Yager in Virginia City. Thus Yager and Brown were hung by the Vigilantes. News of the organization
of the Road agents spread like wildfire. The rest of the gangs were captured and hung within a month.
This page was last updated on -08/10/2019
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