The banishment of Moore and Reeves was regarded by the roughs as an encroachment upon the system they had adopted for the government of the country. Long impunity had fostered in them the belief that the citizens would not dare to question their power to do as they pleased. They held a meeting, and it was quietly agreed among them, that every active participant in the late trial should be slain. The victims were selected, the work deliberately planned, and each man allotted his part in its performance. This wholesale scheme of vengeance was to be effected secretly, or by provoking those at whom it was aimed into sudden quarrel, and shooting them in assumed self-defense. Any course more culpable would afford the assassin small chance of escaping the vengeance of the law-abiding citizens.
Plummer was the recognized chief of the murderous band. To him was assigned the task of killing Crawford, who, as sheriff, had acted a prominent part in the trial of the exiles. This task was rendered doubly acceptable to Plummer, because he believed it would silence the tongue of the only man in the country who had any knowledge of his guilty career in California. One such person, in Cleveland, had already been slain; but Plummer suspected that on his deathbed, Cleveland had told Crawford everything. Crawford knew intuitively of Plummer's suspicions, and felt that his life was in danger. He was careful never to be unarmed. His business, as the proprietor of a meat market, was one of constant exposure. It rendered occasional journeys to Deer Lodge, where he purchased cattle, necessary, and his trips to his ranche, several miles from town, were also frequent. Outwardly, Plummer was friendly. One of Crawford's friends, Harry Phleger, confirmed his worst suspicions, by telling him that he had seen Plummer near the market one night, apparently on the watch for him.
He had also noticed some suspicious movements of Plummer and a rough, familiarly called "Old Tex," which seemed to be directed against Crawford. (The "Old Tex" mentioned in this part of the history must not be confounded with Boone Helm's brother, who is mentioned under the same cognomen in its earlier pages. "Old Tex" was a common sobriquet in the mountains, for noted men who had spent a portion of their lives in Texas. Almost every territory has its respective "Buffalo Bill," "Whiskey Bill," "Bed Rock Joe," "Sour Dough Tom," and "Old Tex.")
Plummer soon saw that Crawford understood him, and that the only safe method of executing his design, was to provoke him into a quarrel. Plummer was reputed to excel any man in the mountains in the use of a pistol,-an accomplishment in which Crawford had no skill. Several little incidents growing out of Crawford's efforts to re-imburse himself for the expenses he had incurred in the care and burial of Cleveland, and in the trial of Moore and Reeves, in which Plummer voluntarily intermingled, discovered the deadly purpose of the latter. On one of these occasions, believing that a quarrel could not be avoided, he was unexpectedly confronted by five or six of Crawford's friends with their hands on their revolvers. His temper and courage cooled at once, and he sent Crawford an apology, desiring to meet him as a friend. They shook hands a few days after, and parted, seemingly on the best of terms.
Anxious as Crawford was to be at peace, he was not deceived by this offer of friendship. It was but a new move in the deadly game which Plummer was playing for his life, and he knew it. A few days afterwards, while conversing in a saloon, a rough-looking individual asked him, in a impudent manner, what he was talking about.
"None of your business," replied Crawford.
"I dare you," replied the man, with an insulting epithet, "to fight me with pistols."
Looking around, Crawford discovered Plummer among the listeners standing near, and comprehended the situation in an instant.
"You have the odds of me with a pistol," said he. "Why should I fight you?"
"Well, then," said the man, in a furious passion, "try it with your fists. That'll tell which is the best man."
Discovering that the man had no belt, Crawford unbuckled his own, and laid his pistol on the bar. Following his challenger into a dark corner of the room, he slapped him in the face. The man instantly drew from his coat a revolver, but before he could aim it, Crawford seized him by the throat and disarmed him. At this moment, Plummer joined the man in the attack on Crawford, and the two wrested the pistol from him, and, but for the timely interference of Harry Phleger, who came to Crawford's assistance and recovered possession of the pistol, Crawford would probably have been shot. Crawford and Phleger then left the saloon. It did not surprise Crawford, when told afterwards by the saloon-keeper that the design was to entrap him into an out-door fight with pistols, when Plummer was ready, with his friends, to shoot him as soon as the battle commenced.
This assault did not disturb Plummer's affected friendship for Crawford. Learning a few days afterwards that the latter was going to Deer Lodge for cattle, he on the first opportunity told him that he should start for Fort Benton the next morning. Crawford knew that this was offered as an explanation in advance for his absence, and to throw him off his guard in the trip he contemplated making after cattle. He replied at once,-
"Wait a day or two and I'll accompany you part way."
"No," said Plummer, "my business is urgent." Plummer left the next morning, accompanied by George Carrhart. Crawford found it convenient to be detained by private business, and sent his butcher in his stead, who met Plummer at the crossing of Big Hole river, and that worthy, upon being informed that Crawford was not going to Deer Lodge, returned to Bannack. Crawford was afterwards told that Plummer had made three efforts at different times to waylay and murder him on the road to Deer Lodge.
Among other devices employed, Plummer sought through his associates to accomplish the death of Crawford. He sent a notorious rough known as Bill Hunter, to engage him in a quarrel and shoot him. Hunter, meeting Crawford, told him he had something against him.
"If you want anything of me," said Crawford, with the emphasis of his hand upon his pistol, "you can get it right straight along."
Seeing that he would probably be killed before he could draw his pistol, or, in the sententious phrase of the country, that he could not "get the drop on him." Hunter left discomfited by Crawford's bravery.
The next Sunday while Crawford and George Perkins were in conversation, in one of the saloons, Plummer came in, seemingly in great anger.
"George," said he, addressing Perkins, "there's a little matter between you and Crawford in which I am concerned, that's got to be settled."
"Well, I can't imagine what it can be," Crawford laughingly replied.
"I'm not aware of having said or done anything concerning you, that should excite your anger or call for a settlement."
"Oh, you needn't laugh," responded Plummer with an oath. "It's got to be settled;" and turning to Perkins he continued, "you and Crawford have been telling around through the camp, that I was trying to court the squaw Catherine?" Then applying to Perkins a disgraceful epithet, he said, "You are a coward. I can whip you and Hank Crawford both, and if you are anything of a man, you will just step out of doors and fight me."
"I am, as you say," said Perkins, "a coward, and no fighting man when I've got nothing to fight for. I would not go out of doors to fight with anybody."
"Crawford won't admit that," said Plummer, "and if you refuse the challenge, I ask the same satisfaction of him. Let him go out with me if he dares."
"Plummer," replied Crawford, "I neither know what cause there is for fighting you, nor why I should fear to go out of doors on your challenge. I do not believe that one man was made to scare another."
"Come on, then," said Plummer, passing into the street, closely followed by Crawford. When they had walked a few steps,-"Now pull your pistol," said Plummer.
Crawford was standing close beside Plummer.
"I'll pull no pistol," he replied. "I never pulled a pistol on a man yet, and you'll not be the first."
"Pull your pistol," persisted Plummer. "You may draw it and cock it, and I'll not go for mine until you have done so, and uttered the word to fire."
"I'm no pistol shot," said Crawford, "and you know it,-and you wouldn't make me a proposition of this kind if you hadn't the advantage."
"Pull your pistol," retorted Plummer, with an oath, "and fight me like a man, or I'll give you but two hours to live, and then I'll shoot you down like a dog."
"If that's your game, Plummer," said Crawford laying his hand on his shoulder, and looking him steadily in the eye, "the quicker you do it, the worse for you. I'll present you a fair target."
Turning upon his heel Crawford walked deliberately away, well knowing that fear of consequences would prevent Plummer from firing at him, without some plausible excuse. This conversation occurred at a late hour in the afternoon. Harry Phleger came into town early in the evening. Crawford sent a message to him, requesting him to come at once to Peabody's saloon. As he entered, Crawford told him that Plummer had given him two hours to live, and the time had nearly expired.
"I expect," said Crawford, "he will keep his word."
"If he attempts it," replied Phleger, "we will try and give him as good as he sends. It's clever at any rate to inform one of his intentions. He will expect you to be prepared."
In a few minutes five or six men, armed with revolvers, entered the saloon, followed by Plummer. He had remained long enough outside to deposit a double-barrelled gun over the door. "Deaf Dick," who accompanied the crowd, was unarmed.
"Come on, boys," said Phleger, "let's take a drink."
All stepped back in refusal of the invitation.
"Well, Dick," said Crawford, addressing him in a key that he could hear, "you'll drink anyhow."
"Not I," said Dick with an oath. "I drink with no coward such as you have proved yourself to be by refusing to fight Plummer."
"You're the wrong man to brand me as a coward, at any rate," said Crawford, advancing toward him as if with the intention of striking.
Plummer at once stepped up and handed Dick his revolver, and the crowd gathered around him and Crawford. Harry Phleger at this moment drew his pistol and Crawford said to him,-
"Harry, I suppose these men have come to kill me. You are my only friend, and I'll make you a present of my six-shooter. I suppose I've got to die."
"Who will kill you?" asked Phleger.
"Plummer, I suppose. He threatened it," was the reply.
"Not a man here dare shoot you," said Phleger, at the same time looking around upon the crowd, and characterizing it by a degrading epithet.
Plummer at this jumped forward, and seizing Phleger's revolver, tried to wrest it from him. In the grapple Plummer was thrown, when Phleger drawing another pistol from his belt, presented both ready cocked to the crowd, which was now pressing threateningly towards him, and calling to Crawford, said,-
"Come on, Hank, let's get out of this," and both backed out into the street facing their assailants, who did not follow them.
Phleger and Crawford started for the lodgings of the latter, passing on the way the meat market, where they were joined by Johnny Shepard and another man, who, taking all the arms they could find, went with them. As soon as they arrived at the room, Crawford, completely unnerved, lay down and cried himself to sleep. Phleger was made of sterner stuff, and watched all night. Some one rapped at the door at midnight, but was told by Phleger that if he attempted to enter, he would shoot him "on sight."
On the morning of the second day after this occurrence, Plummer came up the street, gun in hand, peeping by the way into the saloons and market for Crawford. Not finding him, he assumed a watchful attitude, and stood leaning on his gun, twenty steps distant from the door of the market. Crawford not appearing, after half an hour he walked on with "Deaf Dick" to Phleger's room. Phleger met him at the door, and invited him in.
"No," said Plummer, "you've set yourself up for a game-cock, and to let you know that I hold you in no fear, I've come to give you a chance to display your skill. Get your gun and we'll try an exchange of shots at ten paces." This invitation was interlarded with the usual complement of oaths and epithets. Harry felt the abuse of Plummer keenly, but knew too well his skill with firearms to consent to the murderous proposition.
"No, thank you, Plummer," he replied, laughing, "I'm not looking around for any one to shoot this morning, and have no special regard for any one who is. If you are, and you really want to shoot, you'd better turn loose."
It so happened that at the time of this conversation, Crawford, armed for the purpose, was searching for Plummer, with the intention of shooting him. As is usual on all such occasions, friends interfered to prevent a collision, but Crawford, believing that either he or Plummer must die on their next meeting, gave no heed to their advice. When this was understood by Plummer's friends, they resorted to various devices to throw Crawford off his guard. At one time they told him that Plummer was about to leave town. This only made him the more watchful. Plummer, meantime, was careful to have one or more friends constantly in his company, so that Crawford could not fire at him without endangering the lives of others. This situation of affairs between the two men continued for several days. The entire community was prepared to hear of the death of one or both at any moment, and each was now encouraged in his purpose by his friends.
Plummer was frequently seen near the butcher shop, but never alone. He finally disappeared, and sent a friend to Crawford with the proposition that they should drop all hostile intentions and meet as strangers.
"Tell Plummer," said Crawford, "that the trick is too shallow. I know him. His word of honor, so repeatedly broken. I regard no more than the wind. He or I must die or leave the camp."
Soon after this, one of Crawford's friends discovered that Plummer and his friends had laid a plan to shoot him in his own doorway, under cover of a house directly opposite, and told Crawford of it. While Crawford was on the lookout, a lady living in a cabin in the rear of the Bannack Restaurant called to him to come and get a cup of coffee. While he was drinking it. Frank Ray approached him, and telling him that Plummer was searching for him, placed in his hands Buz Cavan's double-barrelled rifle. At this moment, Plummer, armed with a similar weapon, came up on the opposite side of the street, and stopping in front of the door, with one foot elevated and resting upon a spoke of a wagon-wheel, placed his rifle across his knee, his right fore-arm lying horizontally along the stock, which he grasped as if prepared to fire at a moment's notice. Crawford's friends urged him to improve that opportunity to shoot him. He went out quickly, and resting the rifle across a log projecting from the corner of the cabin, shot Plummer in the right arm, the ball entering at the elbow, and lodging in the wrist.
"Fire away, you cowardly ruffian," shouted Plummer, straightening himself and facing Crawford.
Crawford fired a second time, but the ball missed; and Plummer walked down to his cabin, carrying his gun, and followed by several of his friends.
Crawford knew that Plummer's friends would kill him, unless he outwitted them on his escape from the country. He left for Fort Benton immediately, travelling the entire distance of two hundred and eighty miles by a trail that only those who had passed over it could trace. He was followed by three roughs, but arrived at the Fort in advance of them, where he was protected by Mr. Dawson, the factor at the post. He remained there until spring, and then took passage on a Mackinaw boat to the States.
Crawford's friends, and the miners generally, who had regarded this quarrel as a personal difficulty between him and Plummer, rejoiced at his escape. It had terminated injuriously as they felt, to the party who was most in fault, and they were glad the result was no worse. Few knew or ever suspected that it had any deeper origin than the frequent collisions incident to Crawford's attendance upon Cleveland, after he was shot, and his action as sheriff at the trial of Moore and Reeves. Had it been understood at this time that the roughs had not only decreed the death of Crawford, but of every other man who participated in that trial, the people would have placed themselves on a war footing, and organized themselves to resist the encroachments of the ruffians, which finally left them no other alternative. So fully did they carry out their avowed purposes, that, within five months after the trial, not more than seven of the twenty-seven men who participated in it as judge, prosecutor, sheriff, witnesses, and jurors, were left alive in the territory. Eight or nine are known to have been killed by some of the band, and others fled to avoid a like fate.
Plummer's wound was very severe. The ball entered at the elbow. Passing down the arm, it broke each bone in two places. Dr. Glick, the surgeon in attendance upon him, after a careful examination of the wound, was of the opinion that amputation alone could save his life. The ball could not be found, and the arm swelled to thrice its natural size, and the passage made by the ball was filled for its entire length with bony spiculae.
Plummer had in a previous affray lost the ready use of his other hand, and knowing that the loss of this arm would necessarily deprive him of his position of chief among the roughs, and that his life depended upon his skill in drawing his revolver,-as he had numerous enemies, who would endeavor to kill him but for the advantage which this skill gave him,-declared that he might as well die as lose his arm, and peremptorily refused to consent to the operation, but insisted that the ball must be found and removed.
Dr. Glick, who was highly accomplished in surgery, explained to him the danger of such an operation, but Plummer said he would rather die in the effort to cure the arm than live without it. With great reluctance, and little faith in his ability to save the arm, the doctor undertook the thankless task, and made preparations to operate accordingly. When the arm was bared, and the doctor was about to commence, "Old Tex" and Bill Hunter entered the room, the latter armed with a double-barrelled shot-gun.
"I just thought," said he to the doctor, "that I'd tell you, that if you cut an artery, or Plummer dies from the operation you are going to perform, I'm going to shoot the top of your head off."
The operation was successfully performed, and a large amount of spiculae and disorganized tissue removed,-but the bullet could not be found. For several days the result was uncertain. Dr. Glick gave to the wound, which was terribly inflamed, his unremitting attention. He had incurred the hatred of Plummer's friends because of his active support of law and order. They pretended to believe that he did not wish for Plummer's recovery, and told him that they would hold him responsible with his life, for the safety of his patient. What was to be done?. Escape from the country in the midst of an inclement season seemed impossible. In order to effect it, he must follow Crawford over an unknown trail to Fort Benton or to the Bitter Root Valley, or run the gantlet of the hostile Indians at Bear River over a route of four hundred miles to Salt Lake. Plummer's wound was daily getting worse. The doctor, well knowing that the ruffians would put their threat into execution, prepared for his escape. Suspecting his intention, the friends of Plummer kept a close watch upon him. Despite their vigilance, however, a trusty friend secured his horse, saddled and bridled, in the bushes behind his cabin on the night that the crisis in the inflammation arrived. The doctor instructed Plummer's attendants to awaken him, in order that he might make his escape, if the swelling did not begin to abate by midnight, and lay down, booted and spurred, to get a little rest. But the favorable change which took place, while it saved to Montana one of her best citizens in Dr. Glick, lengthened out for a darker fate than that which had threatened it, the guilty life of Henry Plummer.
Dr. Glick came to Bannack with a party of emigrants of which he was captain, in 1862. The company were bound for Salmon river, but were arrested in their progress by the reputed richness of the Grasshopper mines. Glick had lost a handsome property in the early part of the war, and came to the gold mines to replenish his broken fortunes. He was accomplished in his profession, especially in surgery, and was the only physician in practice who had the confidence of the people,-Dr. Leavitt, also an able practitioner,-being, at the time, engaged in mining.
His services were in almost daily demand by the road agents, to dress wounds received in broils among themselves, or while engaged in the commission of robbery. It was impossible, from his frequent contact with them, and the circumstances with which ofttimes he found them surrounded, for him to avoid a knowledge of their guilty enterprises. But he neither dared to decline to serve them, nor to divulge their villainy, well knowing that in either case, he would fall a victim to that summary vengeance, so promptly and fearlessly exercised in the case of Dillingham. He foresaw also, that a time must come, when all the guilty misdeeds which he had been obliged to conceal, would be revealed, and that then the lovers of law and order would suspect the integrity of his motives, and possibly class him among the men of whom he justly stood so much in fear. But there was no remedy. He knew that his actions were narrowly watched, and that a word or glance indicating his suspicions would cost him his life. It was a happy day for him when, by the death of Plummer, his lips were unsealed.
The robbers, in other instances than the one recorded of his attendance upon Plummer, were in the habit of using threats to control the doctor's conduct. On one occasion in July, 1863, Plummer invited him to accompany him on a horseback excursion to his ranche on the Rattlesnake. Finding no one at the cabin on their arrival, Plummer asked the doctor to go with him down the creek and pick some berries. They soon came upon a large clump of birch bushes. Pulling them aside, Plummer disclosed an open space cut within the clump, in which were seated several men, seeing whom Glick drew back, but was told by Plummer to come in. He entered, and found himself amid five or six men with masked or blackened faces, of whom he recognized Moore and Billy Terwiliger. The latter was lying on a blanket, wounded in the leg by a bullet received in some affray.
After dressing the wound, the doctor started with Plummer on the return to Bannack. While crossing the plateau between Rattlesnake and Bannack, Plummer suddenly wheeled in front of the doctor, and, cocking his pistol, thrust it into his face, saying,-"Now you know all. These are my men. I'm their chief. If you ever breathe a word of what you've seen, I'll murder you." Under this kind of surveillance, the doctor lived until the robber band was destroyed. His discretion, only equalled by his kindness of heart, saved both his life from destruction by the robbers, and his good name from the public odium of the people. Montana has had no worthier or more useful citizen.
Henry Plummer was a man of wonderful executive ability. He was well educated. In stature he was about five feet ten inches, and in weight, one hundred and sixty pounds. His forehead was partially concealed by the rim of the hat which he rarely removed from his head, and his eyes were mild and expressive. In demeanor he was quiet and modest, free from swagger and bluster, dignified and graceful. He was intelligent and brilliant in conversation, a good judge of men, and his manners were those of a polished gentleman. To his enemies his magnanimity was more seeming than real. He always proffered them the advantage in drawing the pistol, but he knew that the instance would be very rare, where, even thus favored, his antagonist could anticipate him in its deadly use.
Hon. Wm. C. Rheem, in a letter to the Helena (Montana) Herald, writes of Henry Plummer as follows: -
"I remember Plummer very well. He was frequently in my cabin, and I often came in contact with him while he was exercising the office of sheriff. His form and face were familiar to the first settlers in Bannack. He was about five feet eleven inches in height, and weighed a hundred and fifty pounds. He was straight, slender, spare, agile, and what Western men call withy. He was a quiet man, and talked but little; when he did speak, it was always in a low tone and with a good choice of language. He never grew boisterous, even in his cups, and no impulse of anger or surprise ever raised his voice above that of wary monotone. His countenance was in perfect keeping with his utterance. Both were under the same vigilant command. If one was like the low, continuous purr of the crouching tiger, the muscles of the other were as rigid as those of the beast before he springs. Affection, fear, hate, grief, remorse, or any passion or emotion, found no expression in his immovable face. No color ever flushed his cheeks. With mobile and expressive features, he would have been handsome -all except the forehead; this, with the conformation of the skull, betrayed the murderer, and Plummer knew it. The observer beheld a well-cut mouth, indicating decision, firmness, and intelligence; but not a line expressive of sensuality; a straight nose and well-shaped chin, and cheeks rather narrow and fleshless, still, in their outlines, not unhandsome. But one might as well have looked into the eyes of the dead for some token of a human soul as to have sought it in the light gray orbs of Plummer. Their cold, glassy stare defied inquisition. They seemed to be gazing through you at some object beyond, as though you were transparent. While other men laughed or pitied or threatened with their eyes, his had the same half-vacant stare, no matter how moving the story or tragic the spectacle.
"I have said that Plummer knew he had a bad front: he therefore kept it jealously covered with the turn-down rim of his slouch hat. When not in the mood or act of slaughter or rapine, his politeness was notable and well timed in demonstration. He understood the formulas of courtesy, but the one of uncovering his head he failed to observe."
An examination of Plummer's arm after his death, disclosed the fact that the lower fracture of the radius never united, but formed a false joint. The bullet passed into the marrow of the lower end of the bone, and was stopped in its progress by the bones of the hand. From subsequent use of the hand, while Plummer was sheriff, the bullet became worn as smooth as polished silver.