It may easily be imagined that life in Bannack, in the early days of the settlement, was anything but pleasant. The ruffians whose advent we have noticed served as a nucleus, around which the disloyal, the desperate, and the dishonest gathered, and quickly organizing themselves into a band, with captain, lieutenants, secretary, road agents, and outsiders, became the terror of the country. The stampede to the Alder Gulch, which occurred early in June, 1863, and the discovery of the rich placer diggings there, attracted many more of the dangerous classes, who, scenting the prey from afar, flew like vultures to the battlefield.
Between Bannack and Virginia a correspondence was constantly kept up, and the roads throughout the Territory were under the surveillance of the "outsiders" before mentioned. To such a system were these things brought, that horses, men and coaches were marked in some understood manner, to designate them as fit objects for plunder, and thus the liers in wait had an opportunity of communicating the intelligence to the members of the gang, in time to prevent the escape of the victims.
The usual arms of a road agent were a pair of revolvers, a double-barreled shot gun* of large bore, with the barrels cut down short, and to this they invariably added a knife or dagger. Thus armed and mounted on fleet, well-trained horses, and being disguised with blankets and masks, the robbers awaited their prey in ambush. When near enough they sprang out on a keen run, with levelled shot-guns, and usually gave the word, "Halt! Throw up your hands, you sons of b---s!" If this latter command were not instantly obeyed, there was the last of the offender; but, in case he complied, as was usual, one or two sat on their horses, covering the party with their guns, which were loaded with buck-shot, and one dismounting, disarmed the victims, and made them throw their purses on the grass. This being done, and a search for concealed property being effected, away rode the robbers, reported the capture and divided the spoils.
*Plummer's gun is now (July 1st, 1915) in the possession of Amede Bessette, Bannack.
The confession of two of their number, one of whom, named Erastus Yager alias Red, was hung in the Stinkingwater Valley, put the Committee in possession of the names of the prominent men in the gang, and eventually secured their death or voluntary banishment. The most noted of the road agents, with a few exceptions, were hanged by the Vigilance Committee, or banished. A list of the places and dates of execution of the principal members of the band is here presented. The remainder of the red calendar of crime and retribution will appear after the account of the execution of Hunter:
Names, Places and Dates of Execution
George Ives, Nevada City, Dec. 21st, 18638; Erastus Yager (Red)
and G. W. Brown, Stinkingwater Valley, January 4th, 1864;
Henry Plummer, Ned Ray and Buck Stinson, Bannack City, January 10th, 1864;
George Lane (Club-foot George), Frank Parish, Haze Lyons, Jack Gallaghar and Boone Helm, Virginia City, January 14th, 1864;
Steven Marsland, Big Hole Ranche, January 16th, 1864; William Bunton, Deer Lodge Valley,,January 19th, 1864;
Cyrus Skinner, Alexander Carter and John Cooper, Hell Gate, January 25th, 1864;
George Shears, Frenchtown, January 24th, 1864;
Robert Zachary, Hell Gate, January 25th, 1864;
William Graves alias Whiskey Bill, Fort Owens, January 26th, 1864;
William Hunter, Gallatin Valley, February 3d, 1864;
John Wagoner (Dutch John) and Joe Pizanthia, Bannack City, January 11th, 1864.
Judge Smith and J. Thurmond, the counsel of the road agents, were banished. Thurmond brought an action at Salt Lake, against Mr. Fox, charging him with aiding in procuring his banishment. After some peculiar developments of justice in Utah, he judiciously withdrew all proceedings, and gave a receipt in full of all past and future claims on the Vigilance Committee, in which instance he exhibited a wise discretion -
''It's no for naething the gled whistles.''
The Bannack branch of the Vigilantes also sent out of the country H. G. Sessions, convicted of circulating bogus dust, and one H. D. Moyer, who furnishecl a room at midnight for them to work in, together with material for their labor. A man named Kustar was also banished for recklessly shooting through the windows of the hotel opposite his place of abode.
The circumstances attending the execution of J. A. Slade,* and the charges against him, will appear in full in a subsequent part of this work. This case stands on a footing distinct from all others.
*First mentioned by Mark Twain in "Roughing It." Moore and Reeves were banished, as will afterwards appear, by a miners' jury, at Bannack, in the winter of 1863, but came back in the spring. They fled the country when the Vigilantes commenced operations, and are thought to be in Mexico.
Charley Forbes was a member of the gang; but being wounded in a scuffle, or a robbery, a doctor was found and taken to where he lay. Finding that he was incurable, it is believed that Moore and Reeves shot him, to prevent his divulging what he knew of the band; but this is uncertain. Some say he was killed by Moore and Beeves, in Red Rock Canyon.
The headquarters of the marauders was Rattlesnake Ranche.* Plummer often visited it, and the robbers used to camp, with their comrades, in little wakiups above and below it, watching, and ready for fight, flight or plunder. Two rods in front of this building was a sign post, at which they used to practise with their revolvers. They were capital shots. Plummer was the quickest hand with his revolver of any man in the mountains. He could draw the pistol and discharge the five loads in three seconds. The post was riddled with holes, and was looked upon as quite a curiosity, until it was cut down, in the summer of 1863.
Another favorite resort of the gang was Dempsey's Cottonwood ranche. The owner knew the character of the robbers, but had no connection with them; and, in those days a man's life would not have been worth fifteen minutes' purchase, if the possessor had been foolish enough even to hint at his knowledge of their doings. Daley's'** at Ramshorn Gulch, and ranches or wakiups on the Madison and Jefferson, Wisconsin Creek, and Mill Creek, were also constantly occupied by members of the band.
By discoveries of the bodies of the victims, the confessions of the murderers before execution, and reliable information sent to the Committee, it was found that one hundred and two people had been certainly killed by those miscreants in various places, and it was believed, on the best information, that scores of unfortunates had been murdered and buried, whose remains were never discovered, nor their fate definitely ascertained. All that was known was that they started, with greater or less sums of money, for various places, and were never heard. of again.
* The Phillips ranch at the crossing of Rattlesnake, on the road from Bannack to Deer Lodge.
** Pete Daley. He was supposed to have known much of the highweymen, but would not tell. In old age, he was sent to the insane asylum.