In late November or early December of 1862, Plummer and Cleveland rode over to Bannack from Sun River. Granville Stuart's diary reports Plummer in Bannack on November 23, 1862. James Morley, who also kept a diary, reports him there in early December. He had come to Bannack to establish himself so that he could return to Sun River in the spring and marry Electa, and he did just that. One of his bitter enemies, Nathaniel Langford, had this to say about Henry Plummer in the winter of 1862:
He possessed great executive ability—a power over men that was remarkable, a fine person, polished address, and prescient knowledge of his fellows—all of which were mellowed by the advantages of a good early education. With all the concerns of a mining camp experience had made him familiar, and for some weeks after his arrival in Bannack he was oftener applied to for counsel and advice than any other resident. Cool and dispassionate, he evinced on these occasions a power of analysis that seldom failed of conviction. He speedily became a general favorite.Henry Plummer came to Bannack with a lot of advantages. He had been a successful miner in California and Nevada. He had been elected Town Marshal of Nevada City, California, and served two terms with distinction. But he had one great disadvantage that ultimately did him in: his reputation. Although based on false rumors Nathaniel Langford believed them, and 28 years later embellished these rumors to preposterous fictions in his book Vigilante Days and Ways.
By the time Plummer arrived in Bannack, placer operations had about ended for the winter. Quartz lode mining had just started in November, but a huge snow storm in the first few days of January shut that down also. This left about 400 or so men cooped up without much to do except play cards, gossip, and for some, to drink. Among those drinking heavily was Jack Cleveland, who had dogged Plummer since leaving Idaho. Cleveland had declared loudly and often that he was out to get Plummer. Let Ruth Mather in an article in Wild West Magazine tell the story of how Cleveland died and how Plummer was tried and acquitted.
In that January of 1862 there was another flare up of violence in addition to the Plummer-Cleveland gun fight, three drunken white men, Reeves, Moore, and Mitchell, shot up the Indian camp near Bannack. Thus there were two trials, the first in what is now Montana. These were tried before the Miners Court and conducted by the rules of American justice, with judge and jury. You get a picture of what it was like by reading the verbatim account in the diary of James Morley, un-tarnished by latter day spin-doctoring.
We do know that by the time spring arrived, Henry Plummer was part owner of a rich mining claim, along with several partners. There is on record the dispatch of a correspondent of the Sacramento Union describing the Plummer-Ridgely mining operation.
Before the organization of the Territory of Idaho on March 3, 1863, all of what is now Montana west of the Rocky Mountains was part of Washington Territory, with Olympia on Puget Sound for a capital. All east thereof belonged to Dakota, the capital of which was Yankton on the Missouri, nearly 2220 miles from Bannack. The town had to rely on its own resources to form a government. Almost from the day John White discovered gold on the Grasshopper (July 28, 1862) there was an organized Mining District to record claims, adjudicate disputes, allocate water, and generally act in civil cases. It wasn't until the spring of 1863, when the population swelled with new arrivals, that the need for a more formal structure arose. A meeting was held at Bannack City on May 24, 1863, "for the purpose of electing a Judiciary and Executive for Bannack District." The meeting was chaired by the district president, Walter Dance. B. B. Burchett was elected Judge (to preside in felony matters), Henry Plummer Sheriff (to assist the president and the judge), and J. M. Castner Coroner. Plummer received 307 out of 554 votes cast, a larger majority than any of the others elected. You may view the original report of this election., from The Bannack Mining District Records, SC 238, held at the Montana Historical Society Archives, in Helena.
After being elected Sheriff, he chose five men as deputies: Smith Ball, D. H. Dillingham, Buzz Caven, Ned Ray and Buck Stinson. The first three were respected, upright members of the community. Ned Ray was a professional gambler, but not a crook. Buck Stinson's main occupation was barber at Skinner's saloon, who on occasion got drunk and obnoxious. Buck was, however, a married man much devoted to his wife. (One could, maybe should, write a whole chapter on Plummer's deputies.)
One day before the election, Henry had bought a lot with a small house on it, a cabin, really, but big enough for Electa and himself. A day after the election he took off for Sun River, hoping to return in about a week, but it would be a month before he got back. Bannack would not be same place, and in the meantime the biggest placer strike in the history of the Rocky Mountains would be made at Alder Gulch.
You might want to take a tour of Bannack at this time. Norm Olson has put together a set of stunning images of present day Bannack.
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