Why the Revisionist View of the Vigilantes is Wrong
   Check out the article that appeared in the Helena, MT, Independent Review on January 11, 2009.

  Then read my essay below:

The Historical Dispute Behind the God's Thunderbolt

By Carol Buchanan, PhD

Simply put, the revisionist version of the Montana vigilantes’ actions during the winter of 1863-1864 is wrong.

Revisionists claim that the road agents were innocent victims of the vigilantes’ vengeance rather than part of a gang that terrorized the region of Bannack and Alder Gulch. Based on erroneous assumptions and supported by slanted descriptions of road agents and vigilantes alike, the revisionists have selected some facts that support their assumptions, ignored others, and misinterpreted still more.

Revisionists assume that Henry Plummer was elected sheriff of the entire region. True, he was elected May 24, 1863, to be sheriff of the region east of the Bitterroots, i.e., the Grasshopper Mining District. However, after gold was discovered in Alder Gulch, 80 miles from Bannack, on May 26, 1863, the miners pouring into the area from other regions chose their own officers, including the sheriff of Virginia City’s Fairweather Mining District, whom Plummer later persuaded to step aside in his favor. By the time of the George Ives trial, Dec. 19 – 21, 1863, two other mining districts had organized and elected their own officers. Adriel Davis was sheriff of Junction District and Robert Hereford was sheriff of the Nevada District (Nevada City). 

Plummer had applied for appointment as Deputy U. S. Marshal for the entire region, but his appointment did not come through until after his death.

The revisionists ignore the evidence of a conspiracy that arose at the Ives trial, and to give credence to their position, they claim that Thomas J. Dimsdale, whose Vigilantes of Montana who brought out much of it, was writing to justify the vigilantes.

Being himself a Mason, and having insider information from his brother Masons, who were vigilantes, Dimsdale seems to have been motivated by two primary concerns: to lay out the truth of what happened, and to defend his friends. I don’t see the contradiction that the revisionists see. Because he wrote to defend the vigilantes does not mean that he lied. I believe he used truth as a defense.

The vigilantes alleged that the high incidence of robbery and murder was the result of a criminal conspiracy led by Henry Plummer. While Dimsdale’s account may not conclusively prove that it existed, in diaries and letters contemporaries independently express the opinion that an organized gang was operating in the area. Conrad Kohrs, in his Autobiography, tells of an experience that links Plummer to an attempt on his own life. Francis Thompson, who boarded with Plummer and knew him well, documents in his Tenderfoot in Montana how he came to believe that Plummer was guilty. George Chrisman, who owned the store in which Plummer had his office, sent his slave for the rope. The revisionists ignore all of this.

(Continued in Part 2)

This site by Byte Savvy, LLC. Text & Graphics © Carol Buchanan  

Carol BuchananPhoto by Trevon Baker