No longer in fear of attack by the Indians, immigrants had been steadily pouring into the Territory over the Salt Lake route during the month of June. Many came also over the mountains from Salmon River. The opportune discovery of Alder Gulch relieved Bannack of a large and increasing population of unemployed gold-hunters, who, lured by the overdrawn reports of local richness, had exhausted all their means in a long and perilous journey, to meet only disappointment and disaster at its close. Almost simultaneously with the settlement at Virginia City, other settlements lower down and farther up the gulch were commenced. Those below were known by the respective names of Junction, Nevada, and Central; those above, Pine Grove, Highland, and Summit. As the entire gulch for a distance of twelve miles was appropriated, the intervals of two or three miles between the several nuclei were occupied by the cabins of miners, who owned or were developing the claims opposite to them, so that in less than three months after the discovery, the gulch was really one entire settlement. One long stream of active life filled the little creek, on its auriferous course from Bald Mountain, through a canyon of wild and picturesque character, until it emerged into the large and fertile valley of the Pas-sama-ri. Pas-sam-a-ri is the Shoshone word for "Stinking Water," and the latter is the name commonly given in Montana to the beautiful mountain stream which was called by Lewis and Clark in their journal, "Philanthropy River." Lateral streams of great beauty pour down the sides of the mountain chain bounding the valley, across which they ran to their union with the Pas-sam-a-ri, which, twenty miles beyond, unites with the Beaverhead, one of the forming streams of the Jefferson. Gold placers were found upon these streams, and occupied soon after the settlement at Virginia City was commenced. One of these at Bivins's Gulch, in the mountains twelve miles from Virginia City, though limited in extent, was sufficiently productive to afford profitable employment to a little community of twenty or more miners. Twenty miles below Virginia City on the route to Bannack, a man by the name of Dempsey located a ranche, and built a large cabin for the accommodation of travellers. Seven miles above, and between that and Virginia City, another similar building for like purposes was owned by Peter Daly, and three miles above Daly's was another owned by Mr. Lorrain. These establishments are only important as they serve to locate occurrences connected with this history.
Of the settlements in Alder Gulch, Virginia City was the principal, though Nevada, two miles below, at one time was of nearly equal size and population. A stranger from the Eastern States entering the gulch for the first time, two or three months after its discovery, would be inspired by the scene and its associations with reflections of the most strange and novel character. This human hive, numbering at least ten thousand people, was the product of ninety days. Into it were crowded all the elements of a rough and active civilization. Thousands of cabins and tents and brush wakiups, thrown together in the roughest form, and scattered at random along the banks, and in the nooks of the hills, were seen on every hand. Every foot of the gulch, under the active manipulations of the miners, was undergoing displacement, and it was already disfigured by huge heaps of gravel, which had been passed through the sluices, and rifled of their glittering contents. In the gulch itself all was activity. Some were removing the superincumbent earth to reach the pay-dirt, others who had accomplished that were gathering up the clay and gravel upon the surface of the bedrock, while by others still it was thrown into the sluice boxes. This exhibition of mining industry was twelve miles long. Gold was abundant, and every possible device was employed by the gamblers, the traders, the vile men and women that had come with the miners to the locality, to obtain it. Nearly every third cabin in the towns was a saloon where vile whiskey was peddled out for fifty cents a drink in gold dust. Many of these places were filled with gambling tables and gamblers, and the miner who was bold enough to enter one of them with his day's earnings in his pocket, seldom left until thoroughly fleeced. Hurdy-gurdy dance-houses were numerous, and there were plenty of camp beauties to patronize them. There too, the successful miner, lured by siren smiles, after an evening spent in dancing and carousing at his expense, steeped with liquor, would empty his purse into the lap of his charmer, for an hour of license in her arms. Not a day or night passed which did not yield its full fruition of fights, quarrels, wounds, or murders. The crack of the revolver was often heard above the merry notes of the violin. Street fights were frequent, and as no one knew when or where they would occur, every one was on his guard against a random shot.
Sunday was always a gala day. The miners then left their work and gathered about the public places in the towns. The stores were all open, the auctioneers specially eloquent on every corner in praise of their wares. Thousands of people crowded the thoroughfares, ready to rush in any direction of promised excitement. Horse-racing was among the most favored amusements. Prize rings were formed, and brawny men engaged at fisticuffs until their sight was lost and their bodies pommelled to a jelly, while hundreds of on-lookers cheered the victor. Hacks rattled to and fro between the several towns, freighted with drunken and rowdy humanity of both sexes. Citizens of acknowledged respectability often walked, more often perhaps rode side by side on horseback, with noted courtesans in open day through the crowded streets, and seemingly suffered no harm in reputation. Pistols flashed, bowie-knives flourished, and braggart oaths filled the air, as often as men's passions triumphed over their reason. This was indeed the reign of unbridled license, and men who at first regarded it with disgust and terror, by constant exposure soon learned to become part of it, and forget that they had ever been aught else. All classes of society were represented at this general exhibition. Judges, lawyers, doctors, even clergymen, could not claim exemption. Culture and religion afforded feeble protection, where allurement and indulgence ruled the hour.
Underneath this exterior of recklessness, there was in the minds and hearts of the miners and business men of this society, a strong and abiding sense of justice,-and that saved the Territory. While they could enjoy what they called sport even to the very borders of crime, and indulge in many practices which in themselves were criminal, yet when any one was murdered, robbed, abused, or hurt, a feeling of resentment, a desire for retaliation, animated all. With the ingathering of new men, fear of the roughs gradually wore away,-but the desire to escape responsibility, to acquire something and leave in peace, prevented any active measures of protection; and so far as organization was concerned, the law and order citizens, though in the majority, were as much at sea as ever.
Previous to the organization of the Territory of Idaho on the 3d of March, 1863, all of that which 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, which by the nearest available route of travel was two thousand two hundred miles distant. The existence of Bannack was not known there at that time, to say nothing of the impossibility of executing any Territorial laws, at such arm's-length, even if it had been. Our legal condition was not greatly improved by the organization of the new Territory of Idaho. Lewiston, the capital, was seven hundred miles away, on the western side of the mountains. Eighteen months had passed since we became part of that Territory, before we received an authentic copy of the Territorial Statutes, and when they came we had been half a year in Montana.
In August, 1863, D.S. Payne, the United States Marshal of Idaho, came over from Lewiston to Bannack, to district the eastern portion of the Territory, and effect a party organization of the Republicans. Our people felt little interest in the measure. Some of the leading citizens had requested some time before, that I should make application in person for them, at the next session of Congress, for a new Territorial organization, east of the Coeur d'Alene Mountains. Payne was urgent for a representation of this part of the Territory in the Legislative Council, and as an inducement for me to consent to the use of my name as a candidate, offered to appoint any person whom I might name, to the office of Deputy United States Marshal in the east side district.
A Union League had been for some time in existence in Bannack, of which I was President. I asked the advice of the members in making the appointment, first cautioning them to ballot secretly, as by that means those who otherwise would not support Plummer, who was known to be a candidate, would escape detection by him. Neither Mr. Rheem, the VicePresident of the League, nor myself, voted. The votes cast, about thirty in number, were unanimous for Plummer. Some one informed him of it. He expressed his gratification at the result, and told me that the confidence of the League in him should never be betrayed. I immediately informed him that he must not expect the appointment. He gave this reply a favorable interpretation, and even after it was repeated, turned on his heel, laughing, and saying as he went,-
"It's all right, Langford. That's the way to talk it to outsiders."
Soon after this, in a conversation with Mr. Samuel T. Hauser, I informed him of the recommendation of the League. Hauser replied,-
"Whoever lives to see the gang of highwaymen now infesting the country broken up, will find that Henry Plummer is at the head of it."
Amazed at the expression of an opinion so much stronger than my own, I at once decided to reject the advice of the League, rather than incur the responsibility of recommending so dangerous a person for the office. Plummer heard of it, and lost no time in asking an explanation, affecting to believe that I had promised to recommend him. We sat down upon an ox-shoeing frame, and talked over the whole matter. He had his pistol in his belt. I was unarmed. He said many provoking things, and used many oaths and epithets, in his attempt to provoke a quarrel, but all to no purpose. Finding that no excuse would be given him for a resort to violence, he arose, and as we parted, said,-
"Langford, you'll be sorry for this before the matter ends. I've always been your friend, but from this time on, I'm your enemy; and when I say this, I mean it in more ways than one."
These were the closing words of our last conversation. We met afterwards, but never spoke.
During that fall I was engaged in purchasing lumber at Bannack to sell at Virginia City, where no sawmills had yet been put in operation. The business required frequent trips between the two places; and the ride of seventy miles through a lonely country, whose surface alternated with canyons, ravines, foothills and mountains, afforded such ample opportunity for secret robbery and murder, that it required considerable ingenuity to throw the villains off the track. With the threat of Plummer hanging over me to be executed upon the first favorable opportunity my position was by no means an enviable one. I would send forward the loaded teams, which were four days on the trip, and on the morning of the fourth would follow, mounted on a good horse, and arrive in Virginia City the same evening. On my arrival my horse was immediately put in charge of a rancher, or person who made the care of horses a specialty. He would send it with a herd to a convenient grass range, where it would feed in the care of herders night and day until wanted. Then it was brought into town, and delivered at the office of the rancher. The order for a horse was given the night before it was wanted, in order to have the animal ready the following morning.
George Ives, who turned out to be one of the most desperate of the gang of robbers, was the rancher's clerk at Virginia City. Whenever application was made for a horse, unless the applicant was on his guard, Ives could, by a careless inquiry, learn his destination. By communicating this to his confederates, they could pursue and rob, or kill the rider without delay or suspicion. To escape this system of espionage it was my custom, when ready to leave for Bannack or elsewhere, to send an order by a friend to the rancher or Ives, requesting him to let the bearer have the horse to go to some point in an opposite direction from the place of destination. The friend would receive and mount the horse, and ride out of town, beyond observation, where I would meet him and go on my way. Thirty journeys of this kind were safely made between Virginia City and Bannack during the fall, none, however, without the precaution of carrying a pair of revolvers in my cantinas, and a double-barrelled gun across my saddle.
During a brief stay in Omaha several years ago, I met with Dr. Levitt, who was a resident of Bannack while Plummer dwelt there. He related the following incident, which is repeated here, for the insight it affords of Plummer's malignancy.
"One night in October, 1863," said the doctor, "I was walking along the roadway of Main Street in Bannack. The moon, obscured by clouds, shed a dim light, by which I could see for a few yards quite distinctly. As I passed your boarding-house, my attention was attracted by a noise at my left. I stopped, and on close observation saw a dark object under the window. My curiosity was excited to know what it could be. Judge of my surprise on approaching it to behold a man with a revolver in his hand, on his knees at the window, peering into the room through a space of less than an inch between the curtain and the window casing. I watched him unobserved for some seconds. Disturbed by my approach, he sprang to his feet and darted around the corner of the building -but not so rapidly as to escape recognition.
"'Why, Plummer,' I exclaimed, 'what in the world are you doing there'?' "Seeing that he was known, he came forward, laughing, and replied,-"'I was trying to play a joke on my friend Langford. He and Gillette board here, and I heard their voices.' "I was puzzled to conceive what sort of a joke he was playing with a loaded revolver, but thought I had better not be too curious to ascertain. Plummer accompanied me home. He said that you and he were great friends; that you had done him many favors, and there was no person in the world he esteemed more highly. I thought nothing more of the matter, until I heard that Plummer had threatened your life for refusing to recommend his appointment as Deputy United States Marshal. I had no doubt then, and have none now, that he was trying to get a sight through the window for the purpose of shooting you. Your departure for Salt Lake a day or two after I heard of your difficulty with him prevented me from informing you of it at the time."
Miners and others who had worked out or sold their claims, were almost daily leaving the country. Often it was known that they took with them large amounts of gold dust. Various were the devices for its concealment. On one occasion a small company contrived to escape plunder by packing their long, slim buckskin purses into an auger hole, bored in the end of their wagon tongue, and closing it so as to escape observation. Others, less fortunate, lost, not their money only, but their lives, in some of the desolate canyons on the long route to Salt Lake. Many left who were never afterwards heard of, and whose friends in the States wrote letters of inquiry to the Territory concerning them, years after they had gone. Whenever a robbery was contemplated which the freebooters supposed would be attended with unusual risk to themselves, Plummer's presence was required to conduct it. Knowing that his absence would excite suspicion, he arranged that for such occasions, he should be sent for, as an expert, to examine a silver lode. But few discoveries had at this time been made of this mineral, and Plummer's Nevada experience was thought to qualify him for determining its value with considerable accuracy. A rough-looking prospector, dressed for the purpose, would ride into town, exhibit his specimens, and urge Plummer, who feigned reluctance, to go with him and examine his discovery, promising him a claim as an inducement. Often would unsuspecting citizens offer to aid Plummer in any work he might then have on hand to enable him to go out, and, under pretence of examining a silver lode, superintend the commission of a daring robbery. Sometimes this same object was accomplished by trumping up a charge against some imaginary delinquent, and obtaining a warrant for his arrest from the miners' judge, which Plummer, as sheriff, rode away to execute.
The following is one instance of Plummer's method of obtaining recruits. He called upon Neil Howie in the fall of 1863, whom he found hard at work mining, but barely earning a subsistence.
"Neil," said he, "this is a hard way to get a living."
"I know it," replied Howie.
"I can tell you of an easier way."
"I'd like to know it."
"There are plenty of men making money in this country," said Plummer, "and we are entitled to a share of it."
Doubtful as to his meaning, or whether he understood him aright, Howie regarded Plummer with a puzzled expression, making no reply.
"Come with me," said Plummer, "and you'll have all you want."
"You've picked up the wrong man," replied Howie.
"All right," said Plummer cooly. "I suppose you know enough to keep your mouth shut."
Howie remembered the fate of Dillingham, and heeded the admonition.
The placer at Alder Gulch was immensely prolific. Probably its yield in gold dust was not less than ten millions of dollars before the close of the first year's work upon it. Money was abundant. Merchants and bankers were obliged to exercise great ingenuity and caution in keeping it, as there were no regular means for sending it out of the country. The only stage route was between Bannack and Virginia City,-and a stretch of unsettled country, four hundred and seventy-five miles in width, lay between the latter place and Salt Lake. There was no post-office in the Territory. Letters were brought from Salt Lake to Virginia City, first at a cost of two dollars and a half each, and later in the season at one dollar each. All money, at infinite risk, was sent to the nearest express office at Salt Lake by private hands. In order to gain intelligence of these occasional consignments, Plummer induced some of the leading merchants to employ members of his gang. When this could not be effected, they were occupied so near and on such familiar terms, that they could observe without suspicion all business operations, and give him early notice of the transmission of treasure.
Dance and Stuart commenced business in Virginia City in the fall of 1863, with a large stock of goods. George Lane, better known as "Clubfoot George," whose history in the Salmon river mines I have already given, came to them with a pitiful story of his misfortunes, and asked for a place in their store for his shoemaker's bench. Though cramped for their own accommodation, they made room for him. He commenced work, meantime watching all their business operations, for the purpose of reporting when and by whom they sent money to their Eastern creditors.