When the rumored discovery of extensive gold placers on Salmon river was confirmed, the intelligence spread through the Territories and Mississippi States like wildfire. Thousands of young men, thrown out of employment by the war, and other thousands who dreaded the evils which that great conflict would bring upon the nation, and still others actuated by a thirst for gain, utilized their available resources in providing means for an immediate migration to the land of promise. Before midsummer they had started on the long and perilous journey. How little did they know of its exposures! The deserts, destitute of water and grass, the alkaline plains where food and drink were alike affected by the poisonous dust, the roving bands of hostile Indians, the treacherous quicksands of river fords, the danger and difficulty of the mountain passes, the death of their companions, their cattle, and their horses, breakage of their vehicles, angry and often violent personal altercations,-all these fled in the light of the summer sun, the vernal beauty of the plains, the delightfully pure atmosphere which wooed them day by day farther away from the abode of civilization, and the protection of law. The most fortunate of' this army of adventurers suffered from some of these fruitful causes of disaster, So certain were they in some form to occur, that a successful completion of the journey was simply an escape from death. The story of the Indian murders and cruelties alone, which befell hundreds of these hapless immigrants, would fill volumes. Every mile of the several routes across the continent was marked by the decaying carcasses of oxen and horses, which had perished during the period of this hegira to the gold mines. Three months with mules and four with oxen were necessary to make the journey,-a journey now completed in six days from ocean to ocean by the railroad.
Some of the earliest of these expeditions, after enterinj the uncexplored region which afterwards became Montana, were arrested by information that it would be impossible to cross, with teams, the several mountain ranges between them and the mines. This discouragement was followed up by intelligence that the placers were overrun by a crowd of gold hunters from California and Oregon, and that large bands of prospectors were spreading over the adjacent territory. Swift on the heels of this came the rumor that new placers had been found at Deer Lodge, on the cast side of the mountains.
The idea was readily adopted that the country was filled with gold placers,-that it was not necessary to pursue the track of actual discovery, but that each man could discover his own mine. Thus believing, the stream of emigration diverged,-some crossing the range to Fort Lemhi on the Lower Salmon, and others pursuing a more southerly course, with the hope of striking an old trail leading from Salt Lake to Bitter Root and Deer Lodge valleys. Some of this latter party remained on Grasshopper Creek near the large canyon, where they made promising discoveries. The others went on to Deer Lodge, but being disappointed in the placers there, rejoined their companions and gave to their placer the name of Beaver Head Diggings,-that being the name given by Lewis and Clark to the river into which the creek empties.
While these discoveries were in progress on the east side of the mountains, a prospecting party which had been organized at Florence under the leadership of a Californian by the name of Grimes, discovered the mines on the Boise. They were one hundred and fifty miles south of Florence. Grimes and his party sunk their first shaft fifteen miles north-west of the site of Idaho City. While preparing to extend their explorations, they unfortunately fell into an Indian ambuscade and their leader was slain.
Intelligence of the Beaver Head and Boise discoveries unsettled all local projects for building up the towns of Florence, Elk City, and Oro Fino. They were immediately deserted by all who could leave without sacrifice. West Bannack, at Boise, and East Bannack, at Beaver Head, sprung into existence as if by enchantment.
Ridgely had now so far recovered from his wound as to be able to travel. Accompanied by him and Reeves, Henry Plummer left the vicinity of Florence and went to Elk City. There he met with several of his old California acquaintances who were familiar with his early history. Fearful of remaining lest they should deliver him up to the authorities and cause him to be returned to California, or that a Vigilance Committee would visit him with heavier punishment, he suddenly departed, and ten days later made his appearance at Deer Lodge. He found the camp full of needy adventurers, the mines unpromising, and the chances few for replenishing his fortune by either gambling or robbery. After spending a few days of constantly increasing discouragement he started in company with Jack Cleveland for Fort Benton, intending to go down to Missouri by the first boat. Fortunate would it have been had he carried this design into execution. If it would not have saved him from a felon's death, it would have preserved the lives of those who afterwards became his victims.
Sixty miles from Benton, their horses jaded with travel, the two men stopped at the Government farm on Sun river for a few days' rest. In this secluded valley they were out of the way of pursuers. Carpeted with bunch grass, it afforded grazing for their half-starved horses, and in Mr. Vail, the man in charge of the farm, they found a very hospitable host. Divided centrally by the large and peaceful river, the valley stretched away on either side to numberless plateaus, remarkable for the uniform height and tabular recession with which they rose to the summits of the lofty foothills, which in their turn swelled gradually into a circumference of heaven-kissing mountains. Nothing but a few forests were wanting to make the scene one of unparalleled grandeur. These were measurably supplied by the parks of cottonwood which stretched along either bank of the river, affording shelter for the herds of' elk, antelope, and deer that roamed unharmed over the boundless solitude.
Here, sheltered by the arms of kind relatives, Henry Plummer first saw the only being which inspired his bosom with virtuous love. A young, innocent, and beautiful girl, artless and loving as a child, won by his attention and gentlemanly deportment, and the tale, seductive as that poured by the serpent into the ear of Eve, which he told of his love, against the advice of her sister and friends, crowned his happiness with her heart and hand. No stories of' his past career, no terrible picture of the future, no tears and petitions, could stay the sacrifice. She felt the sentiment so beautifully expressed by Moore,
"I know not, I ask not, if guilt's in that heart,
I but know that I love thee, whatever thou art" -
and under its influence she linked her fortunes with those of the robber, murderer, and outlaw, in the holiest of human ties.
A quarrel, of which this young lady was the innocent cause, took place between Plummer and Cleveland before the marriage of the former. Their old friendship was never reestablished. Often during their residence at Sun river an exchange of bitter epithets only relieved their pent-up wrath. Afraid of each other, neither would leave the farm alone. Accordingly they went to Bannack in company, early in the winter of 1862-63. There wc will leave them while we return to Florence to inquire after the fortunes of Cherokee. Bob, whom we left a few chapters ago "settled in business."