From Beyond the Mississippi: From the Great River to the Great Ocean
By Albert D. Richardson
Hartford: American Publishing Company, 1867

STATE OF SUSPENSE Montana, now containing twenty-five thousand people, will soon apply for admission to the Union. Thus far, nominally it has been ruled through a Territorial legislature elected by the people, and governor and judges appointed by the President. Actually, the power has vested in the "Vigilantes," a secret tribunal of citizens, organized before civil laws were framed, when robberies and cold-blooded murders were of daily occurrence. The highwaymen were called "road agents," from their assumed authority over the stage roads and stage companies, transcending that of the superintendents themselves. Coaches and private conveyances were stopped by "road agents," with cocked guns, compelling passengers to hold up their hands, lest they should grasp weapons, whilst their persons and vehicle were rifled. He who resisted was killed on the spot. An immigrant who had shot a grouse near the road, ran to pick it up; and found that it had fallen upon the corpse of one of these victims, lying in a sage-brush thicket. In a Virginia barber shop, revolvers were drawn, one man was shot dead and another wounded; but such affairs were so common that the barber did not even stop lathering his patron's face, nor did the patron leave his chair.

After a hundred homicides, the Vigilantes organized, captured, tried, and executed twenty-four of the leading desperadoes; and banished many others. Two or three days before I visited Helena, the people awoke one morning to find a notorious reprobate in a state of suspense -- hanging dead from a tree limb, and labeled: "Murderer." It was a sharp warning to the surviving cut-throats. The tree, near the heart of the city, has been used so frequently for this purpose that it is known as "Tyburn."

Every new State in its early history attracts thieves and murderers; and sooner or later purges itself through the swift, terrible vengeance of Lynch law. But it was said that these Vigilantes had executed no man of whose guilt there was reasonable doubt; and they rendered life and property far safer than is usual in new gold regions.


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