When the executive and judicial officers appointed by the government, arrived in the Territory in the autumn of 1864, they found the mining camps in the enjoyment of a repose which was broken only by the varied recreations which an unorganized society necessarily adopts to pass away the hours unemployed in the mines. The people had perfect confidence in the code of the Vigilantes, and many of them scouted the idea of there being any better law for their protection. They had made up their minds to punish all law-breakers, and there were many who did not hesitate to declare to the newly arrived officers, that while the courts might be called upon in the settlement of civil cases, the people wanted no other laws in dealing with horse-thieves, robbers, and murderers, than the ones they themselves had made. This feeling, though not so general as was claimed for it, was quite prevalent at that time among the miners. As soon, however, as they found the courts adequate to their necessities, they readily conformed to the laws and their administration after the manner prescribed by the government, and the Vigilante rule gradually disappeared.
In several extreme cases they anticipated by immediate action the slower processes of law, but this occurred only when the offence was of a very aggravated character. Some of the leading newspapers of the nation, and the people of many of the older communities where the hand of the law was strong, and sufficient for the protection of all, have denounced the action of the Vigilantes as cruel, barbarous, and criminal; but none of them have had the perspicacity to discover any milder or more efficacious substitute,-though apologies and excuses for the murderers have been numerous and persistent. The facts narrated in these volumes are a sufficient reply to these hastily formed opinions. The measures adopted were strictly defensive, and those who resorted to them knew full well that when the federal courts should be organized, they themselves would in turn be held accountable before the law for any unwarranted exercise of power in applying them. The necessity of the hour was their justification. Too much credit can never be awarded to the brave and noble men who put them in force. They checked the emigration into Montana of a large criminal population, and thereby prevented the complete extermination of its peaceloving people, and its abandonment by those who have since demonstrat ed, by a development of its varied resources, it capacity for becoming an immense industrial State of the Union. They opened up the way for an increasing tide of emigration from the East, to this new and delightful portion of our country. They sought mainly to protect every man in the enjoyment of his own, and to afford every citizen equal opportunity to seek for and obtain the hoarded wealth of the unexplored mountains and gulches in the richest portion of the continent. They made laws for a country without law, and executed them with a vigor suited to every exigency.
Not one of that large cosmopolitan community who faced the realities of brigand domination and aggression, ever complained of the means by which they were terminated. The change was as welcome to them as sunlight to the flowers, or rain to the parched earth. It changed their fear into courage, and their despondency into hope. It cheered them with the promise that their hard toil and coarse fare would eventuate in good, and that the star which had led them from homes of comfort to these distant wilds, did not,-
"Meteor-like, flame lawless through the skies."
A marked improvement soon became visible in all classes of society. Pistols were no longer fired, and bowie-knives were no longer flourished in the saloons. Gambling, though still followed as a pursuit by many, was freed from all dangerous concomitants, and the hurdy-gurdy houses were an appearance of decency and order that they had not known before. An air of civil restraint took the place of recklessness in personal deportment, and men lived and acted as if they had suddenly found something in the community worthy of their respect. This enforced reformation was only to be preserved by a rigid observance of the regulations which had produced it There were hundreds of men in the Territory ready to take advantage of the smallest relaxations, to rush again into organized robbery and murder. The Vigilantes understood this, and that there might be no mistaking their intentions, they pursued every criminal, from the greatest to the smallest, oftentimes siding the civil authorities, and suffering no guilty man who fell into their hands to escape punishment.
A quarter of a century has elapsed since the United States Congress gave to Montana a territorial government. At that time it was the wildest and least inhabited portion of our national domain. A very small portion of it only had been reclaimed from the savage tribes which had inhabited it for centuries -the few whites who had gone there holding it by an occupancy so nearly divided between the lovers and the violators of law and order, that it was next to impossible to convert it into a peaceful, law-abiding community. There was nothing in the writings of early explorers to render it attractive for the purposes of permanent settlement. Captains Lewis and Clark, who explored this region in 1804-06, had told of its great rivers and valleys, its rocks and its mountains, and the numerous nomadic tribes which subsisted upon the herds of buffalo, elk, and antelope, that fed on its perennial grasses. Their story had been repeated in more graphic form by Washington Irving in his version of Captain Bonneville's expedi tion. Trappers and hunters belonging to the Northwestern and American fur companies, had told many thrilling adventures of their frequent conflicts with Indians and grizzlies; but no one had ever testified to the vast wealth of its mountains and gulches, the surpassing fertility of its valleys and plains, and the navigability and water facilities of its wonderful rivers. The possibility that it could ever become anything more than a field for furhunters, or a reserve for some of our Indian tribes, had never been seriously considered by any one. All the worst crimes known to the Decalogue stained its infant annals, until, roused by a spirit of self-defense, the sober minded and resolute population visited in their might with condign punishment the organized bands of ruffians which had preyed upon their lives and property. These, as we have seen, were speedily swept away from the face of the earth, and the organization of the Territory was then complete. Today Montana is the most attractive of all the Territories recently admitted into the Union. With a large and increasing population dwelling in cities, agricultural and mining districts, it is rapidly growing into one of the most powerful States of the Union. Favored by nature with healthful climate, and with seasons of heat and cold equally distributed, it cannot fail to give birth to a hardy, vigorous, and enterprising people. The development of its vast and varied resources has just commenced, yet, under its inspiring influence, large cities have sprung up, manufactories have been established, vast valleys subdued, great railroads constructed, and the work of a steady and increasing improvement made everywhere visible throughout its borders.
Many of the noble-hearted pioneers who placed themselves in the van of this movement have passed away. Montana, now a State of the Union, may well mourn the loss of such courageous spirits as James Stuart, Walter Dance, Neil Howie, John Fetherstun, Dr. Glick, John X. Beidler, and many more who have not lived to see her in her day of grandeur and triumph. A time should never come when the memory of these men should cease to be venerated. It should never he forgotten that Montana owes its present freedom from crime, its present security for life and property, to the early achievements of these self-denying men, and of their comrades who still survive; who established law where no law existed, spoke order into existence when all order was threatened with destruction, declared peace where all was anarchy, and laid broad and deep the foundations of a great and populous State amid the perils of robbery and bloodshed. Equal in degree to the sacrifices made by the brave soldiers of the war who saved our Republic, were the deeds of those who saved the Territory from rapine and slaughter. Like them, the graves of the dead should be crowned with flowers, and the pathway of the living be brightened with the rewards of a grateful people.
Standing in the valley of the Mississippi, and beholding its marvelous development, we talk of the West -its cities, its agriculture, its progress -with rapture; we point to it with pride, as the latest and noblest illustration of our republican system of government; but beyond the West which we so much admire and eulogize, there is another West where the work of development is just commencing: a land where but a quarter of a century ago, all was bare creation; whose valleys, now teeming with fruition, had then never cheered the vision of civilized man; whose rivers, now bordered by thousands of happy homes, then rolled in solitary grandeur in their union with the Missouri and the Columbia; -a land whose rugged features, civilization with all its attendant blessings has softened, and where an empire has sprung up as if by enchantment; -a land where all the advantages and resources of the West of yesterday are increased, and varied, and spread out upon a scale of magnificence that knows no parallel, and which fills the full measure of Berkeley's prophecy,-
"Westward the course of Empire takes its way.
The first four acts already past,
A fifth shall close the drama with the day.
Time's noblest offspring is the last."