Henry Plummer - Outlaw-Sheriff or Innocent Victim of Vigilantes?
"Give me a high drop, boys." Henry Plummer, Idaho Territory, January 10, 1864. The vigilantes who hanged Henry Plummer gave him his last wish. The 'reign of terror' supposedly masterminded by this outlaw-sheriff was at an end, especially with the hanging of several other members of Plummer's 'gang'.
Plummer was elected Sheriff of the Bannack Mining District, in May of the previous year. Over the next several months, various robberies, hold-ups, and murders occurred in this area of present-day south-west Montana. Almost none of these crimes were ever solved, although George Ives was tried, convicted, and hanged for the murder of Nicholas Tiebolt. This was the last legal hanging, in that area, for quite some time - but it was far from being the last hanging.
A vigilance committee was formed, under the leadership of Wilbur Sanders, who used the San Francisco Vigilance Committee rules as a guide. They had decided that real justice was too slow, and too fraught with the potential of allowing the guilty to go free. During January, and February, of 1864, the Vigilance Committee caught, and lynched 22 men, one of whom remains anonymous to this day. There is no doubt that at least some of the men hanged were totally innocent of any crime, while others may have been guilty of only small misdemeanor offenses, certainly not deserving of a 'Montana necktie party'.
Henry Plummer was determined, by the vigilantes, to be the ring-leader of the gang of murderers and thieves, even though he was the elected Sheriff and had also been recommend to be appointed as a Deputy U.S. Marshall for the eastern section of Idaho Territory. Professor Thomas J. Dimsdale, in his book 'The Vigilantes of Montana' states that Plummer begged for his life at the gallows, and confessed his crimes. Many eye-witnesses, though, deny that Plummer confessed to anything.
Was Henry Plummer really an outlaw in the guise of a Sheriff, or was he an innocent victim of run-away justice? A trial, in 1993, of the Plummer case, ended in a 'hung' jury - so that Plummer would have been free to go, except that he had been hanged by vigilantes 129 years earlier.
Suggested Reading:
♠Dimsdale, Professor Thomas J.
  The Vigilantes of Montana
A semi-contemporary account of vigilantes in the Henry Plummer affair.
♠Mather, R. E. and Boswell, F. E.
  Hanging the Sheriff
A modern attempt to look at all sides of the Montana vigilante issue.
♠Langford, Nathaniel P.
  Vigilante Days and Ways
The story, by one of the vigilantes, himself.
♠Towle, Virginia Rowe
  Vigilante Woman
The vigilantes of Virginia City, from the women's perspective.
♠McGrath, Roger D.
  Gunfighters Highwaymen & Vigilantes: Violence on the Frontier
An overview of violence, and vigilantes, in the Old West.

Back to Top of Page
Top of Page