Photo by Betty Kuffel

Montana has never been an easy place to live. Even when bedeviled by tribulations and forced to make dangerous decisions, though, people survived with perseverance and hard work sustained by courage, faith, and hope.

The Vigilante Series is notable in historical fiction for one main reason: Trust. You can trust the history. Events in the book occurred as I discovered them in the sources. The sources I trust most are “primary” sources – people who were there when the Vigilantes acted. Their descendants have trusted me with their ancestors’ recollections as written in family histories, and in stories handed down through the generations. I have also searched – and still search – for contemporary journals and letters that talk about the Vigilantes, some from the Vigilantes themselves.

At this writing, I’ve collected notes on roughly 2700 books, journals, diaries and letters in files going back to 1997 when I began searching for the answer: Were the Vigilantes the good guys or the bad guys? (You can answer that question for yourself.) In the historical events, I’ve placed fictional characters, Dan Stark and his family, and others. I don’t believe in putting my ideas in the minds of people who actually lived in the Montana gold rush days. Or putting my words in their mouths. If the historical characters talk, I use what they might have said in real life. If you have questions, contact me via the “Contact Carol” page.

Happy reading. You can trust my books.

About Carol Buchanan

People in Montana Territory made dangerous decisions in order to achieve their dreams or just to survive. My novels depict their courage, faith, and hope as they fought a gang of secret outlaws, brutal winters, and the earth’s granite shell. Some of the people in my novels once walked the earth; the fictional ones walk only in the landscape of my mind.

Where I Live

I live in the Flathead Valley in Northwest Montana. Glacier National Park is 30 miles away. Although it’s tough to make a living and winters can be harsh (-26 F), I feel blessed to live here. Every morning I wake up to the Swan Range mountains, where both Tundra and Trumpeter swans make their homes part of the year.

I also like the attitude of the people. My father was a cowboy in his early working life. Around here, the word “cowboy” is not an insult, and we understand the “cowboy way.”

Writing Historical Fiction

I write historical Westerns. To do justice to the people and the times, I blend accurate research with imaginative – but logical – speculation based on fact, historical figures with fictional characters, historical incidents with fictional conflicts, and fact with feeling. No other form of writing has allowed me to engage my imagination to such a great degree. .

Instead of growing up believing Hollywood Westerns reflected the real West, I watched them with people who had lived in the real, historical, Old West. My old people told stories of the West they had lived in. None of them, but my father especially, was bashful about telling me, “It wasn’t that way.” Followed by how it really was.

The Vigilante Series of Books

“When I wrote God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana, I had no thought of writing more than one book about this early period in Montana’s history, which coincides with the Civil War. The more I’ve learned about it, the more stories I find to tell about our pioneers and the hardships they conquered through pure grit, hard work, and faith.” Carol Buchanan

The Vigilante Series Novels are listed below in the Quartet’s chronological order of historic occurrence.

  • God’s Thunderbolt – December 1863 – January 1864
  • The Devil in the Bottle – March 8, 9, & 10, 1864
  • Gold Under Ice – between May and September 1864
  • The Ghost at Beaverhead Rock – November 1864 – January 1865
  • A Time of Trial (Forthcoming June 2024) – between January – April 1865

Each book in the series is available through Amazon in paperback, and on Kindle.

Please click on the book covers listed below to purchase the book from Amazon.

Click to Purchase Ruffians rule and murder is tolerated in the Alder Gulch gold fields during the winter of 1863-1864. Daniel Stark, lawyer and abolitionist, fears he will not survive to take his gold home to New York and redeem his family from the disgrace of his father’s embezzlement and suicide.
When a friend is murdered, Dan prosecutes the suspect, whose five lawyers are Confederates. When the trial reveals a widespread criminal conspiracy, Dan joins Union and Confederate sympathizers united in a determination to establish law and order where there is no code of law nor reliable law enforcement. Going against everything in his training and personal beliefs, Dan helps to form a Vigilance Committee and serve as its prosecutor. Then he faces the horrible prospect of hanging the husband of the woman he loves.
God’s Thunderbolt won the 2009 Spur winner for Best First Novel from the Western Writers of America.

Publisher’s Weekly:…an excellent western with an intense moral gravity.
Amazon Vine Review:…history is brought alive with fine description and sensory detail.”
Roundup Magazine: “…the finest novel of the vigilante era ever written. … haunting and searing.

After Vigilantes ended a criminal conspiracy in Alder Gulch during the winter of 1863-1864, they founded a “People’s Court” to administer justice. At the same time, the notorious Joseph (aka ‘Jack’) Slade, who once ruled 600 hostile miles of the Overland Stage Line, has settled near Virginia City with his wife and adopted son. Although he controlled his district with a reputation for violence and intimidation, Overland passengers and the mail traveled on time, in safety. But Slade’s binge drinking wrecked his career when he and his men destroyed Army supplies at Fort Halleck.

In Virginia City, he and his friends continue their drunken rampages, despite his more sober friends attempts to persuade him to stop. Dan Stark, the Vigilante prosecutor, is one of his friends. Dan thinks there’s a devil in the bottle for Slade, a devil who wants him to die. He worries that someone could be killed when Slade, the man who also destroyed Denver, Colorado, “takes the town.”

In March 1864, on a binge, despite his friends’ pleading for days, Slade will not go home. The Vigilantes swear out a warrant for his arrest, but instead of respecting his good friend, the judge of the People’s Court, Slade holds a gun to His Honor’s head and tells the Vigilantes they are “all played out.” By that one act, Slade rules. The Vigilantes must give up control of the region, or do the unthinkable, for the town has no jail. Without it, they have only one sure way of ending Slade’s sprees. Hanging him. Yet he has committed no capital crime to justify it. Will the devil in the bottle get Jack Slade?

America teeters on the brink of change. It’s 1864, and the Civil War seems all but lost to the Confederacy. To finance the Union war effort, the Lincoln Administration passes the Legal Tender act, creating government issued paper money – the greenback. African Americans are experiencing freedom of choice as slavery retreats from the land.
After Daniel Stark’s father gambled away his own money and his law firm’s funds, and committed suicide, Dan’s grandfather sent him West to the Montana gold fields to get enough gold to redeem the family’s fortunes and honor. Now an emissary has come to take him back to New York.
Dan does not have enough gold to pay off the entire debt. And he fights against leaving his common-law wife, Martha. Arriving in New York, Dan fights his grandfather who wants him to stay in the city and work in the law firm he founded.
When Dan is badly injured in a fight to save his gold, he searches out the plot behind the attack. He discovers it began too close to home.
Gold Under Ice was a Finalist for the 2012 Spur from Western Writers of America.
Ruffians ruled and murder was tolerated in Alder Gulch, Montana Territory, during 1863 until the Montana Vigilantes established peace and enforced the rule of law. But a year later peace has not come to Daniel Stark, attorney and Vigilante prosecutor. He is accused of murdering his wife’s first husband. If he cannot find the true killer, he could well be on trial for his life.
Establishing a formal legal system, the Chief Justice of Montana Territory’s new Supreme Court warns the Vigilantes, “No more midnight executions.” Nonetheless, Dan knows that they could decide to try him secretly in the Vigilante tribunal, where the only sentence is death. As he searches for the murderer, the ghost of a hanged man haunts him. Is it a vision of his fate to come? Is it retribution?
Dan tells himself, I do not believe in ghosts. The Ghost at Beaverhead Rock is the fourth book in The Montana Vigilante Series by Spur-Award-winning author Carol Buchanan. Together, God’s Thunderbolt, The Devil in the Bottle, Gold Under Ice, and The Ghost at Beaverhead Rock tell the story of Dan Stark, and the Vigilantes of Montana.
Kirkus Reviews/Indie:Stark is a compelling, complicated hero, one of several finely drawn characters who bring the Old West to life.”

(Forthcoming June 2024)

Award and Accolades

The Whitefish Library Association honored Carol with the “Spirit of Dorothy Johnson”.

Awarded at the gala book festival on June 4, 2016.

Western Writers of America. Spur Award for Best First Novel:

God’s Thunderbolt: the Vigilantes of Montana. 2009.

Western Writers of America Spur Finalist:

For the novel: Gold Under Ice. 2011.

Washington State Book Award: Top Ten Finalist for Wordsworth’s Gardens.

Carol Buchanan, Author & Richard Buchanan, Photographer. 2002.

Vigilante Book Series Reviews

Carol Buchanan is an historian with a novelist’s ear capable of rending the individual voices of character into the orchestral narrative of a sweeping story.” By Craig Johnson: author of the Longmire series of contemporary Western novels and creator of the Longmire TV series on Netflix.

Whitefish Pilot Article published August 24, 2022


The Whitefish Community Library presented award-winning author Carol Buchanan in a program on the Vigilantes of Montana during the summer of 2022.

Buchanan is the author of four highly acclaimed historical novels set in Montana, on the Vigilantes: God’s Thunderbolt, The Devil in the Bottle, Gold Under Ice, and The Ghost at Beaverhead Rock.

Writing about pioneers and ruffians, she won a Western Writers of America Spur Award for God’s Thunderbolt, which the late Montana novelist, Richard S. Wheeler, called “…one of the greatest historical novels set in Montana.”

The sequel, Gold Under Ice, was awarded a top Spur Finalist, and the Whitefish Library Association honored Buchanan with the “Spirit of Dorothy Johnson” award at a gala book festival in 2016.

Buchanan is now at work on the fifth novel in the series, A Time of Trial.

God’s Thunderbolt

While your published books are fictional, you have very credible historical underpinnings to your works. I enjoyed God’s Thunderbolt, especially the portion involving Stark’s cross-examination of George Ives’s alibi witness over the details of their card game.” By Hon. Mark C. Dillon, Associate Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division. Author, Montana Vigilantes 1863 – 1870: Gold, Guns, and Gallows.

Publisher’s Weekly (from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award)

The Ghost at Beaverhead Rock

Buchanan offers a murder mystery that is set during a formative time in Montana’s history. It is an absorbing period, when the laws were unclear and so much rested on their creation and enforcement. The story is based on true events, and the author wisely populates the town of Virginia City with characters that really lived or are modeled on those who did (such as Stark). Stark is a compelling, complicated hero, one of several finely drawn characters who bring the Old West to life.” (Kirkus Reviews, 2016, about The Ghost at Beaverhead Rock).

Gold Under Ice

Carol Buchanan Strikes it Rich with Gold Under IceThe Billings Gazette

Gold Under Ice brings Montana’s gold camps to life in a story of action and adventure, larceny and love, all rooted in history.” The Great Falls Tribune

Gold Under Ice is a gripping Montana tale with meticulous historical research by a talented Montana writer. Any fan of historical fiction should check it out.” Dave Reuss of Outside Bozeman

The Devil in the Bottle

Carol Buchanan’s The Devil In The Bottle” sets a new gold-standard.” Amazon customer review.

Upcoming Events

Carol Buchanan will be speaking and selling books at:

  • June 17, “Were the Vigilantes of Montana the Good Guys or the Bad Guys?” Carol will answer this question at the Northwest Montana Westerners meeting, Monday evening, June 17, at 7:00 p.m., at the Northwest Montana History Museum, 124 2nd Ave East, in Kalispell. Signed copies of her books will be available for purchase. She will also have an update on A Time of Trial, her forthcoming fifth novel in the Vigilantes of Montana Series.
Please Contact Carol Buchanan with questions or comments.
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