Skip to main content

Full text of "Gold Camp"

See other formats



OU 160943 >m 


Alder Gulch and Virginia City, Montana 



New York 22 

To Sue and Charlie Herfey 

COPYRIGHT 1962 by Larry Barsness 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced 
without written permission of the publisher. 

Published simultaneously in Canada 
by S. J. Reginald Saunders, Publishers, Toronto 2B. 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 62-16185 
Printed in the United States of America 


Acknowledgments ix 


Discovery at Alder Gulch 1 


Virginia City, Melting Pot 14 


The "Innocents" 26 


The Vigilantes 37 


Taking the Gold from the Gulch 54 


How the B'hoys Lived 68 


Free Enterprise in Alder Gulch 81 


The Virginia City "Nightherd" 91 


Toll Roads and Freighters 106 

Contents viii 


Politicking: Dixie and Yankee Doodle 121 


The Editor, the Colonel and the Wild Irishman 138 


Womankind Emancipated! Dances, Divorces and 

Bustles 152 


The Risk-Takers of Trade 167 


Bounces Unlimited: The Stage Lines 184 


Saints and Sinners: Salvation's Rough Road in Virginia 

City 198 


The Canvas and the Boards: Prize Fighters and Thes- 
pians 213 


The Heathen Chinee 232 


The Small Fry 246 


Rivers to Ride 258 


Placer to Quartz to Resort: Virginia City Carries On! 271 

Notes 285 

Bibliography 299 

Index 305 


GRATEFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT is given to the people who 
generously helped with this book. Especial thanks go to the 
staff of the Montana State Historical Society Library: Michael 
Kennedy, Director of the Society, and Mary Dempsey, Librar- 
ian, as well as K. Ross Toole and Virginia Walton, former 
Director and former Librarian for the Society. They and their 
fine staff contributed much encouragement, much time and 
much knowledge toward the completion of the book. 
Further acknowledgment is made to: 

Rosalea and the late Norman A. Fox who encouraged the 
idea and made first suggestions. 

Doris Smith who read early chapters and made helpful 

The many people of Virginia City and Madison County 
who have helped, especially Warren Reichman for the use of 
the Madisonian files, Paul Love and Emmett Pankey for find- 
ing County and City records, and Mary Smith for reading and 
commenting on the manuscript. 

My wife, for all the extra things she has given to a book in 


Harcourt, Brace and Company has courteously given per- 
mission to reprint the passage from Constance Rourke's 
American Humor. 



THE six PROSPECTORS approached the 

skyline ridge of the Tobacco Root Mountains cautiously, 
climbing slowly, leading their horses surreptitiously upward, 
watching behind for any signs of pursuit as they moved over 
the crest, making dark silhouettes against the late-afternoon 
sky. They hoped they might be mistaken for scraggly junipers, 
if the Crows were still following their sign in the valley below. 
They hadn't seen the Crows since day before yesterday during 
the skirmish they'd had with them coming out of the Yellow- 
stone valley. Chances were the redskins were still skulking 
along, just as they had been since the older chiefs had released 
the six white men three weeks ago, given them runty Indian 
ponies in exchange for their own mounts, a smidgin of sup- 
plies, and sent them on their way. Some of the young braves 
had been angered by such softness. They hankered after white 
men's hair, so they had been following along, watching for a 
chance to get it. 

As the little group mounted and rode across the pass, they 
were more disgusted that the Injuns had held up their pros- 
pecting than they were concerned by their danger. It was late 


May, a time for prospectors to be testing every outcropping, 
not playing hide-and-seek with a bunch of pesky redskins. If 
they'd had any luck at all they could have been building 
flumes by now. Damn the luck, damn the Injuns and damn 
all of Idaho Territory. 

These six men Bill Fairweather, Tom Cover, Henry 
Edgar, Barney Hughes, Mike Sweeney and Harry Rodgers 
were old prospecting partners. Six weeks before they'd had 
high hopes of striking something really big in this summer of 
1863, for they were joining the James Stuart party to test the 
unexplored gravels of the Yellowstone country. The Stuarts 
were old-timers in the country surrounding the headwaters of 
the Missouri, and were sure to turn up something. 

Somehow, damn the luck again, the parties had missed 
their rendezvous at the junction of the Stinkingwater and 
Beaverhead, though the Fairweather party had camped there 
for several days. When it became certain they were left be- 
hind, they had thrown caution to the winds in their desire to 
catch up, and had landed smack in the midst of a party of 
Crows. The only bit of luck they'd had was that a seventh 
member of their outfit, Lew Simmons, had lived with the 
Crows at one time, understood them and liked them. He had 
powwowed with the chiefs for two days, until they finally had 
relented. Simmons had stayed with the Indians as a semi- 
hostage, joining the tribe again of his own free will. 

The other six, short of supplies and with no idea where the 
Stuart expedition was, started on the shortest route home, 
attempting to cover their trail by day, hiding by night. Now, 
twenty-three days later, as they sneaked over the Tobacco 
Roots, they knew they should be close to home. And, at the 
far end of the pass, familiar landmarks greeted them: thirty 
miles or so in the distance was the mouth of the Stinking- 
water, their camping ground of six weeks earlier. Once there, 
it was up the Beaverhead to the Rattlesnake, then over the 

3 Discovery at Alder Gulch 

ridge to Bannack City. Four days at the most. Today was the 
26th of May. They should be home by June 1st if these 
blasted Injun cayuses would make it. For tonight, the gulch 
below offered good cover. 

There were pleasant enough camping spots on the way 
down, springs and little meadows, but no good hiding place. 
Not until they reached the gulch bottom did they find the 
cover they needed: a place upstream a way, where the canyon 
narrowed, where the alder and chokecherries gave cover to 
man and horse and screening for a fire. Here a man might 
keep his hair during another long night. 

After supper, four of the group unlashed picks and pans 
and went upstream to prospect, leaving Fairweather and 
Edgar behind to wash dishes and stake out the horses. Bill was 
looking for a place for the animals, when he noticed a promis- 
ing looking rimrock sticking up from a bar in the stream. He 
yelled at Edgar to bring the tools; mebbe they'd try to wash 
out a little tobacco money, them ponies could wait awhile. 

When Bill had filled a pan, Edgar took it down to the 
stream's edge. He dipped it expertly under water, then up, 
swirling it dextrously above the surface, then under again, a 
few such practiced whirls removing most of the heavy gravel 
and coarse dirt, leaving only the fine sand and heavy iron 
particles and he caught his breath at what he saw. Fair- 
weather's yell from behind startled him. 

"I've got a scad!" 

"If you have one, I have a hundred!" Edgar shouted back, 
not missing a swirl, agape at the growing spots of color rolling 
just under the black sand he was gradually washing over the 
edge of the pan. 

Bill clambered down to show his nugget. 

"Nice piece of gold," Edgar said, and nodded toward the 

Bill whistled. 


"Pretty good for tobacco money," said Edgar. 

They weighed out what they had. Bill's nugget was worth 
$2.40 and Edgar's pannings the same, at Bannack gold prices. 

Horses and unwashed dishes forgotten, they scurried back 
to the rimrock in the failing twilight. Again they filled pans, 
working carefully in the ledges and cracks of the treasure 
rock, scraping dirt out of every crevice where gold might have 
lodged. These second pans washed out a total of $7.50! Jesus! 
They were rich! 

It was too dark to keep on panning, but it was no time for 
washing dishes either. Throw the damn things in the brush 
washing dishes is for poor men! 

So their partners found the two of them sitting by the fire, 
chores undone. Grumpy because they had not panned a flake 
of gold, the four grumbled some about partners lazing among 
dirty dishes while the horses were still uncared for. Bill 
handed them the pan with their gold samples to shut them up. 

"Salted," sang out Sweeney. Rodgers sniffed agreement. 
The two were getting testier every day. "All right, we'll look 
after the horses ourselves." 

Edgar exploded. "By God, you and them damn horses can 
go to the devil or the Injuns, fer all I care! You kin pipe Bill 
and me down and run us through a sluice box, but you 
couldn't get a color. We washed this here dust from a bar not 
half an hour ago." 

"We thought we could use a little tobacco money in Ban- 
nack," said Bill. "There it is twelve dollars and thirty cents' 

The gulch saw its first celebration that night. Not as rau- 
cous as later ones would be, for there was no liquor, but the 
b'hoys sat up so late that night they got hungry again and had 
another venison feast, and continued to sit around the cheerful 
fire, Indians and the woes of the last six weeks forgotten in the 
wild talk of the future of this, their secret gold mine. 

5 Discovery at Alder Gulch 

When the talk ran out, they dreamed into the dying fire: 
Fairweather fondling his discovery nugget, buying imaginary 
drinks for the house, Sweeney and Rodgers pacing the deck of 
a ship bound home for Newfoundland, Edgar and Hughes 
prospecting in style on this new grubstake; Cover calculating 
the best way to work this new capital. When they turned in, 
sleep was nigh impossible. 

They were up muddying the clear waters of the stream by 
the gray light of dawn, each of the six excavating likely spots, 
taking pannings from every promising outcropping, working 
each way from discovery. The creek remained muddy all day, 
for the men panned without letup, squatting at water's edge 
with muscles cramped, hands numb and aching from the icy 
water. The ground exceeded their hopes; by nightfall they had 
sacked enough dust to buy their grubstake in Bannack. 

The following morning they staked the ground they had 
chosen, proclaiming to the world that they pre-empted this 
land by right of discovery, according to the mineral laws of 
the Territory, although they had no intention of letting the 
world in on their secret until after they had returned and 
skimmed the easy pickin's from their find. They named the 
place Alder Gulch, for the many alders growing on its banks. 
By early afternoon they were fighting the brush of the lower 
gulch, on their way to Bannack, pinpointing landmarks as 
they went. 

Behind them, water clouded from panning cleared again. 
Trampled grass began to reshape itself. Except for the tiny 
scars left by the prospectors, the place appeared much as it 
had before. But never again would Alder Gulch look as nature 
had formed it. 

In June of 1863, Bannack had been a "city" for less than 
a year. Some five hundred Argonauts had settled there in the 
fall of 1862, lured to the spot by the richness of the placers 


discovered by John White in August. The camp grew all win- 
ter, as news of the great strike in the Idaho gold fields spread, 
until by spring upward of a thousand gold-hungry emigrants 
headquartered there. They found the good claims on Grass- 
hopper Creek gone; their appetite for gold still unslaked, they 
were in a mood to stampede. 

When the Fairweather party rode into town and began 
making purchases with foreign gold dust, rumor magnified 
their pokes to a horse-load of gold, and the populace went 
wild. These b'hoys had come west intending "to see this thing 
out and make a fortune here, // / have to stay six weeks." For 
most of them, the six weeks was long gone and the only gold 
they had seen belonged to other men. Now they followed these 
lucky prospectors about town, treating them like princes, yet 
watching their every move, weighing their every word for 
some clue as to where they had washed their gold. The items 
they bought were obviously supplies for men who intended to 
do some placer mining . . . the stories they told were too 
pat . . . they were in an awful sweat to get out of town. Not 
even Bill Fairweather, a man who loved his bottle, had time 
for a big drunk after six weeks of abstinence. Edwin Booth 
himself couldn't have fooled this audience. 

The discoverers intended to leave again June 1st, but the 
excitement in town was so great they put it off. The next day 
they sneaked off, only to find a large crowd of men waiting for 
them at Rattlesnake crossing and that others had been follow- 
ing them. That night they slept in the center of a circle of 
stampeders who watched them all night. The next day the 
crowd grew until they were traveling with two hundred or 
more men. Excitement was so high a stampeder was shot 
coming through the brush, mistaken for a beaver. 

The following day the Fairweather party could see it was 
all up with any hopes of returning to Alder Gulch secretly. 
They camped about noon and called a miners' meeting. They 

7 Discovery at Alder Gulch 

admitted their find, showed samples, but refused to go on un- 
less their claims were guaranteed. The crowd voted the guar- 
antee, and impetuously went further, granting to the discov- 
erers exemption from ever having their claims jumped and 
releasing them from the usual obligation of at least one day a 
week representation work in order to hold a claim. 

With these guarantees, Fairweather and his friends led on 
the next day, camping at evening within easy distance of Dis- 
covery. That night, fearful that their stakes might be pulled up 
by someone during tomorrow's mad scramble, Barney Hughes 
sneaked ahead to be on the spot. He took some of his Irish 
friends with them, so that they might get good claims. Others 
sneaked ahead in the darkness also, but made a bad turn up 
Granite Creek and greedily panned its sterile sands before dis- 
covering their mistake. Those left behind during the night 
made ugly threats when the absences were discovered. Luck- 
ily, the gulch was big enough and the strike strong enough to 
provide claims for all. 

Edgar led the remaining stampeders into the lower canyon 
of Alder Creek before remarking, "This is the place." They 
all rushed on ahead of him, every man in a sweat to get his 
stakes down within the hour. Edgar loitered along, knowing 
his claims were safe under Hughes's Irish eye. When he 
reached Discovery at four o'clock, the creek was all staked. 

A miners' meeting was held the next day at which a com- 
mittee of six was appointed to work out the regulations for the 
new mining district. On June 9, the report of this committee 
was accepted by another meeting, and Fairweather Mining 
District was ready for all newcomers. 

The rules set up by the miners' government established 
title to each claim in the district. The rules were similar to all 
such miners' governments in the west, as first established in 
the strikes in California. In the districts of Alder Gulch (of 
which there were six eventually: Highland, Pine Grove, Sum- 


mit, Fairweather, Nevada, and Junction) no person might 
possess more than two claims, either by purchase or pre- 
emption. In order to retain title, at least three days' work each 
week had to be done on the claim, except during the winter 
months. Each claim was one hundred feet wide in the bed of 
the gulch, extending across the stream bed in a narrow strip. 
Farther downstream, in the widest parts of the gulch, each 
claim ran only to the center line of the stream, making two 
claims for each hundred feet. 

The b'hoys of Fairweather District elected the usual offi- 
cers. Dr. William Steele was chosen President and would pre- 
side at all meetings. Dr. G. G. Bissell was elected Judge; his 
was the duty of trying both civil and criminal cases in miners' 
court. In a gesture of appreciation to the discoverers, the 
b'hoys asked Henry Edgar to be Recorder, but he refused to 
serve. He knew he would get no placering done if he was 
Recorder. It was a thankless task, for this officer recorded all 
claims and disposition of claims, and, by his record, claims 
were legal. It was especially a chore in a newly opened district. 
James Fergus took the job in Edgar's place. 

The b'hoys reckoned that this was enough of officialdom 
for now. They broke up the meeting without electing a Sheriff; 
they were too anxious to get to bedrock to bother with law 
enforcement. Anyway, it was cheaper to do without one; if they 
gave the job out, they'd have to reach into their jeans for the 
salary. Besides, no one wanted a job that would keep him from 
his claim. All in all, it was simpler to meet as a miners' court 
now and then, try an offender, and if he was found guilty, 
banish him. A pleasant way to while away a Sunday afternoon 
at no expense and no time lost. There was no jail in the gulch 
for more than a year, not until a county government was 

A miners' meeting was about as free and easy a legislature 
as there ever was. Every claim holder had a vote, drunk or 

9 Discovery at Alder Gulch 

sober. If he wasn't drunk when he arrived, he could be soon 
after, for whisky peddlers sold rotgut along the fringes of the 
crowd from crude, portable bars. It was a pure democracy, 
allowing every one his say and every kind of discussion, in- 
cluding fistic. The b'hoys were young and callow, unused to 
governing themselves, yet resentful of being told what to do. 
They started to swing fists when an argument went against 
them. John Grannis, a pilgrim to the gulch soon after the 
stampede, noted such a meeting in his diary: "Went to a 
Miner's Meeting Monday evening. Lemuel Reid got killed. I 
helped carry him home." x 

Such disorderly handling of their own affairs put the 
b'hoys at the mercy of smart operators, who understood the 
economics of placer gulches and intended to profit by manipu- 
lation rather than mucking. They could, by rigging the voting 
at a miners' meeting, run the district to suit themselves. They 
called "miner's or rather bummers meetings" which were 
"to pass the odious code of civil laws gotten up for the bene- 
fit of a few pettifoggers." They might try to change the 
number of days' representation work to be done from two to 
one or even none. Such a law benefited bummers who let the 
development work on neighboring claims raise the value of 
their own. If adjacent claims proved good, the value of theirs 
jumped accordingly. They could then sell out at a good price, 
having done no more work than driving their stakes and put- 
tering around on representation days. 

Other speculators found it easy to jump claims after the 
b'hoys were too drunk to care or had staggered away from 
the meeting, leaving the sharpies in a majority. Since the 
whole business of staking claims and recording them was 
haphazard, and since proof of representation work done on 
so many days of the week was hard to establish, this legal- 
ized claim-jumping was available to anyone who could "prove" 
that the claimholder had no right to his ground, and who 


could swing enough votes to have the meeting so rule. Another 
diarist, writing in the early days of the gulch, wrote bitterly, 
"Attended miner's meeting in Central District where Stanley 
lost a claim. So much for the injustice of miner's meet- 
ings. . . ." He also noted with satisfaction the meeting at 
Highland which "opened with motion to adjourn sine die 
and carried by a large majority." 2 To him, this was a most 
successful meeting. 

All miners' meetings were not drunken brawls, but a man 
never knew when one might go completely irresponsible. The 
honest miner had to stay on his toes, as did this letter writer 
from the Prickly Pear: 

"The prevailing sentiment in the morning, was to hang the 
Recorder. This probably would have been done, had the 
crowd been a little drunker. However, the Recorder was re- 
lieved of his office, and another appointed; the multitude be- 
gan to disperse; claims were jumped; new laws passed; the 
former Recorder was reinstated, and a general confusion fol- 
lowed. We waited until those who were sober started away, 
and those who remained got too drunk to pass any more laws, 
when we left for home, breathing freer and deeper . . . " 3 

Miners' meetings were a slipshod way of running the 
business of a district, but the b'hoys of Alder Gulch didn't 
care much for guv'ment, a bias which would get them into 
trouble later, before the year was out. 

Other things were chaotic the first month after the staking 
of the gulch. A forest fire roared up the bottom, charring all 
of the alders, climbed up the mountainsides, forcing prospec- 
tors on adjacent ridges to skedaddle. After the fire, each 
b'hoy worked in mud and water all day and lay down in ashes 
and charcoal at night, oblivious to the barrenness around him. 
The only direction he looked was down down into the hole 
he was digging; down where the gold lay, the gold that would 
see a man wealthy and home this fall. 

11 Discovery at Alder Gulch 

Into the gulch each day, helter skelter, came more men, old 
hands at mining and greenhorns who expected to sweep nug- 
gets from the bare ground. The old hands staked their claims 
after a professional hike over the ground and went to work. 
The greenhorns swarmed around other men's workings, gawk- 
ing, popping questions at any head that appeared above 
ground, hollering questions down shafts at the busy men below. 
They made one man so irate he noted in his diary on July 
29th, "Sunk shaft on bar; surrounded by stampeders, left in 
disgust at 4 P.M. . . ." 4 

These greenhorns also made life miserable for experienced 
fortune-hunters by prospecting the prospector. If an old hand 
headed into the hills with his gold pan, they followed him 
wherever he went, panning where he panned, camping by 
him at night so that he might not sneak off. Sometimes a man 
hiking by himself on other business gathered neophytes, as 
did the man who spent the day looking for a lost pig, followed 
by a crowd who were convinced he was leading them to Gol- 

Such simple-mindedness brought soothsayers and spiritual- 
ists to the gulch to prey upon the b'hoys. For a fee they would 
transmogrify novice prospectors into claim-holders so they 
said. Diviners led dupes up side gulches where they drove 
stakes into the first ground over which the forked stick 
twitched. It was hard for such frauds to fail, for there was 
some gold everywhere. 

On the other hand, old-timers in the Territory (anyone 
was an old-timer who had been in the area for a year) were 
sometimes no better off than the newcomers. Some of them 
had stood aloof from the new stampede. They had followed 
will-o'-the-wisp rumor before and come back with nothing 
but sore feet. They were professional miners who could take a 
stampede or leave it alone, whose attitude was similar to that 
of the man who wrote in his diary on the day the Fairweather 


party left Bannack, "A large crowd left in A.M. for the new 
'diggings', supposed to be on Humbug Creek visited by me on 
15th August last." 5 He was wrong; he had been on Flint Creek 
farther north, but he had been to "Humbug Creek" too often to 
get excited over this latest rumor. When he went to Alder 
Gulch in late June, he found much of the good ground al- 
ready staked by greenhorns. 

Experienced miners made other bad decisions based on 
their "superior" knowledge. During the first week of the 
strike, some of them walked off their claims and left the 
gulch, stating there was no pay here, because there were few 
bars in the stream where gold could be deposited. 6 Their pro- 
nouncements seemed to be borne out, for men who had 
staked claims that looked good, which had promised well in 
the first panning, had not found the big colors expected. The 
b'hoy who stuck with his digging in blind hope had the better 
of the professional. Within a week or so, he found that the 
gold lay just above bedrock in the bed of an old stream which 
"surpassed in magnitude and the uniform distribution of its 
golden treasure, any place which has been recorded on this 
plannet" as Judge Blake put it in his Fourth of July oration 
in 1876. Those "experts" who had given up their claims 
learned too late that "in mining it is better to be lucky than to 
have the wisdom of Solomon." 

When the riches of the place began to fill brand-new 
pokes, men arrived in the gulch not to mine, but to provide 
everything for the b'hoys. Along Daylight Creek, just a quarter 
of a mile below Discovery, on a pre-empted 320-acre townsite, 
arose wickiup gambling halls and tent stores to cater to the 
newly rich. The place was to be called Varina City. Judge 
Bissell's first act as elected representative of Fairweather Min- 
ing District was to change the name to Virginia City, mutter- 
ing that he'd be damned if he'd sign any papers naming a town 

13 Discovery at Alder Gulch 

after the wife of Jeff Davis. By his highhanded presumption, 
Virginia City she is to this day. 

Though new structures were rising every day in town, up 
and down the gulch the b'hoys were too busy to bother with 
building. Most of the claim holders rolled up in their blankets 
near their diggings, sleeping under the stars throughout the 
summer months. Others dug shallow caves or erected brush 
huts for protection against sudden mountain storms. The 
more hardy slept out until late fall, as did John Grannis who 
boasted in his diary on October 21st, "Slept under a roof 
tonight for the first night since leaving California Gulch on 
the 20th of April." Even so, a roof was about all he had, for 
he didn't find time to hang a door until December 1 1th, nor to 
make a bedstead until a year later. His claim, like many 
others, was no bonanza which loaded a man with dust before 
he ever felt need of a bed. 



ALL ROADS NOW LED to Virginia City. 

Emigrants who had reached Oregon Territory backtracked 
across the War Department's Mullan Trail from Walla Walla 
across Mullan Pass and into Hell Gate before heading south 
through Johnnie Grant's ranch to Alder Gulch. Californians 
retreated over Donner's Pass and the Humboldt River to Fort 
Hall, from which they headed directly north for the new 
stampede. Boatloads of men bound for Bannack City and the 
Idaho gold fields disembarked at Fort Benton, farthest point 
of navigation on the Missouri River, and changed their course 
a few degrees to veer toward Alder Gulch instead of the 
Grasshopper valley when they heard news of the great strike. 
Men bound for Oregon left the Oregon Trail at Soda Springs 
for Virginia City only two hundred miles north. 

Emigrants arrived through the light snow of the winter of 
'63-'64. By spring, the country where only the trapper and 
the Indian had loned it swarmed with displaced fortune 
hunters. Supplies were short, but there was lots of game to eat 
and oxen which had plodded into the Territory ahead of 
prairie schooners were butchered soon after arrival. Because of 

15 Virginia City, Melting Pot 

the constant emigration, beef was plentiful and prices were 
low. Many a pilgrim existed on a straight diet of meat before 
freight wagons arrived in the spring. 

Most of these fortune hunters were young men, youths in 
their twenties or married men in their early thirties who had 
left family at home. A few hardy oldsters were in the moun- 
tains, but Virginia City was populated by b'hoys. 

They had come to a country as young as they, for Idaho 
Territory had been created only that year. To a few politically 
minded men, an unorganized Territory was as luring as a 
paying claim. They saw an empire to be had for the develop- 
ing and planned to reside here where careers could blossom. 
They were in the minority, for very few of the b'hoys used the 
word "home" when they spoke of the gulch. When they spoke 
of home, they talked of "America," or the "Vaterland," or 
wherever. To them, the only thing important about the Idaho 
boundary was that it surrounded gold. 

Lewiston was the capital of Idaho Territory, two hundred 
miles to the west of the new diggings, over mountains almost 
impassable during winter months (the legislative delegate 
from this district was gone almost six months traveling to and 
attending the first legislative session in Lewiston). With 
thousands of emigrants pouring into the gold fields, the 
politically ambitious worried about a capital so remote. It 
seemed to them that there was a need for a new Territory and 
a new seat of government east of the Continental Divide. 

Such a necessity did it appear to these fledgling statesmen 
that they sent Sidney Edgerton, newly arrived Judge of the 
Eastern District of Idaho, snowshoeing back across the moun- 
tains to Salt Lake City, in the middle of January, 1864, 
and thence to Washington, D. C. Congress must be convinced 
that it was impossible to administer the headwaters of the 
Missouri from the Columbia River drainage. 

Edgerton and his backers were strong Union men and 


well-acquainted in Washington. There was little difficulty with 
the bill to create Montana Territory. It was introduced by 
Congressman James M. Ashley of Ohio (Edgerton's home 
state) . The only argument over the division of Idaho Territory, 
less than a year old, was that the name Montana seemed in- 
appropriate. Some Congressmen felt that the name should 
be of Indian derivation, but no one knew enough about 
Western Indians to come up with a good name. Ashley 
claimed the Spanish Montana was a good name for the 
mountainous region, so Montana it became, and so it was 
spelled until slothfulness dropped the diacritical mark. Presi- 
dent Lincoln signed the bill May 26, 1864; Montana Terri- 
tory was born; Edgerton hurried homeward with the good 

At Salt Lake City he learned that he had been appointed 
Governor of the new Territory. It was up to him to prepare for 
an election of a Territorial Assembly and decree a temporary 
meeting place for the Assembly, which would draw up the 
codes and decide upon a permanent capital city between the 
aspirants: Bannack, Virginia, and Nevada Cities the last 
another Alder Gulch community. 

Virginia City was fast outgrowing her competitors for this 
honor. Stakes had been driven amidst the sagebrush and cac- 
tus marking off a main street. Buildings had arisen along the 
string lines. By early 1864, George P. Dorris had completed a 
fine two-story adobe building on the corner of what was to be- 
come Wallace and Jackson streets, making this the main inter- 
section of town. Anyone who wanted to be located near the 
center of things built close by. What ninety days before had 
been worthless sagebrush and cactus and gumbo now sold by 
the square foot at city prices. 

The 320 acres appropriated for the Virginia City town- 
site lay about equally on either side of Daylight Creek, which 
empties into Alder Creek some 400 yards down-gulch from 

17 Virginia City, Melting Pot 

Fairweather's discovery point. Daylight Creek being goldless, 
her banks were free for use by city planners (although once 
during this first year the city itself was almost dug up in the 
belief that the entire hillside was gold-bearing; a day or two of 
fruitless digging stopped the threatened engulfment of the 
city) . The water trickling down Daylight Gulch was comman- 
deered by livery men who erected corrals and barns along the 
convenient stream, rendering it as unfit for consumption as 
Alder Creek. Drinking water had to be purchased, sold by the 
barrel, hauled into town from the springs which fed Daylight 
Creek but only until the enterprising water company com- 
pleted boring logs for its wooden pipe line which would serv- 
ice Wallace Street before the end of '64. 

Wallace Street became the main thoroughfare. It paralleled 
Daylight Creek, a fastidious block uphill of its odoriferous, 
noisy, fly-infested corrals. Running uphill as well as tilting 
sideways downhill toward Daylight Creek, its boardwalks on 
the downhill side are some three feet lower than uphill walks. 
This slant also makes one-story buildings on the lower side of 
the street reach down two stories at the alley which created 
a necessity for the famous two-story outdoor privies behind 
them, a marvel of Chic Sale plumbing. 

Other "cities" were built along Alder Creek, but Virginia 
City was the hub of the gulch. Below it were smaller trading 
centers: Junction, at the joining of Granite and Alder Creeks, 
four miles down the gulch; Adobetown, a mile or so closer; 
then Nevada City, oldest town on the creek, but overshadowed 
by her younger and bigger sister a mile away; lastly, Central 
City, so close as to be suburbia. Above Virginia City were 
Summit, near the head of the gulch, Pine Grove and Highland 
close by. An estimated 1500 to 2000 cabins filled the gaps 
between towns, standing so close that one man wrote: "the 
road connecting all these 'cities' is bordered with dwellings, 
on both sides all along." * 


At night, as far up and down the gulch as the eye could 
see, lights twinkled through the make-shift, oiled-paper win- 
dowpanes of the tiny cabins, or spilled out into the gulch 
through open doors. It was a lively scene, belying the drab 
wilderness and crude buildings hidden in the darkness. It was 
a sight not to be forgotten by men lonely for civilization. 
Judge Blake, early-day editor and barrister, remembered it 
well in 1876: "If a stranger entered the gulch in the prosper- 
ous days of 1863 and 1864, and traveled from Junction to 
Summit [about ten miles], the brilliant lights, illuminating the 
road and trail, would dazzle his eyes, and cause him to imagine 
he was in a vast city." 2 

By day, there was little natural beauty in the townsite 
in fact, a more unpleasant place would have been hard to find. 
The greater part of the town lies on the slope of the hill jut- 
ting between Alder and Daylight Creeks. A barren, rocky, 
sagebrush- and cactus-covered promontory, it is so situated 
that little of the surrounding beautiful mountain country can 
be viewed from it. Half of the horizon was barren; early photos 
show only sparse jumper clumps breaking the monotony of 
the other half. The soil that exists is the gumbo kind that, 
when wet, balls up underfoot and makes balloon tires on 
wagon rims and is oil-slick in addition. A most cantankerous 
place to build, but the gold miner had little choice. 

Trees that might have softened the bleakness were gone, 
fed into the saws of local mills, converted into timbers and 
rough planking for crude buildings and sluice boxes, used as 
logs for cabins. There was no beauty to be seen from any 
spot in the camp. The gulch itself was everywhere turned 
over, scored, washed, lying in ugly heaps, "as if an enormous 
hog had been uprooting the soil." The placer miner, of all 
miners, leaves the worst mess behind him. 

The b'hoys themselves were as unkempt as their town. 
Some Sundays they did laundry, but scrubbing hickory shirts 

19 Virginia City, Melting Pot 

and jeans was easily postponed if there was racin' or fightin' 
or other doin's in town. Durn work clothes were mud-plastered 
after two minutes' mucking anyway. As for good clothes, 
dirt floors and no sidewalks fixed them in the same hurry. 

Clothes were catch as catch can, bits and pieces of various 
outfits thrown together. An occasional remnant of Union 
blue was worn by some of the b'hoys; more often was seen the 
Confederate gray; either uniform in such a condition as 
never to pass another inspection. 

There was little point in brushing hair, trimming beards or 
changing collars in this wilderness camp. Washing hands and 
face was all right, if a man had soap, but as for a bath it 
was rare enough to confide to diary: "Had a good wash all 
over tonight." 3 It was a man's world, and if a man hated dish- 
washing, he soon learned to fry an egg on a piece of paper, 
eat it from the same paper, and toss it away when he was 

Yet for all its roughness and its squalor, the place was 
Wonderland to the gangling b'hoy from Pike County. In the 
first place the camp was polyglot; he heard the gabbling of 
several foreign tongues all around him. He puzzled over the 
broken English that was hurled at him: the exasperating heavi- 
ness of the German, the strange rhythms of the Russian and 
Polack, the good-natured mispronunciations of the Swedes, 
Norwegians and Danes. He laughed to watch French-Canadi- 
ans and immigrant Frenchmen wave expressive hands at 
each other in growing irritation at the others' awful language. 
To his surprise he found he could scarcely understand the lilt 
of the Lancashire man or the delightful burr of the Scotch- 
man, and the Welshman spoke a foreign language as far as 
he was concerned. 

The young Missourian could become a little cosmopolitan 
just through his daily contacts about the town. He might chop 
wood next to a Dubliner during the day, eat supper at the 


Star Restaurant with a Mexican, and in the evening sit among 
the Germans at Mannheim's Brewery to hear stories and songs 
of the Vaterland. He saw German newspapers, French news- 
papers, Russian newspapers. Later on, in '65, in the gambling 
dens of Chinatown, he watched the strange magic of the 
abacus, saw an occasional Chinese making the swift brush 
strokes of his cabalistic writing. His eyes popped at this; it 
was as if a teen-ager of today met up with a man from Mars. 
Every day the young adventurer was forced to translate any 
dialect that might be jabbered at him; he became something 
of a grammarian as he helped foreign friends through the 
intricacies of the camp's Americanese; apt foreign oaths oc- 
casionally came to his own tongue. 

Such was the population of the mining camp which called 
herself the Queen City of the Territory, and aspired to be its 
capital. This was the populace which Mr. Edgerton was to 
weld into a Territory loyal to the Union. 

He had his work cut out for him, because, of the native- 
born gold-seekers, a slight majority were Confederate sym- 
pathizers. The largest group of them was from Missouri, 
dubbed "the left wing of Price's Army" because they had 
left it far behind, and because they were far to the left of it. 
Kentuckians and Virginians were also numerous. New York 
State and Pennsylvania furnished the two largest groups of 
Union men, with Ohioans, Indianans and Illinoisans also 
plentiful. 4 

The two groups disliked sharing the same gulch and 
using the same streets. Many of the men on both sides were 
veterans who had served their hitch or had been discharged 
because of wounds or sickness. Their feelings were sore 
against men who had so recently been shooting at them. They 
were a long way from the shooting, so they tried to get 
along, but the effort rankled in many a heart, and when a 

21 Virginia City, Melting Pot 

newspaper, The Montana Post, started up in August of '64, 
one man spoke his feelings in a letter to the editor: 

... It is very true, that in our commingling together as 
neighbors and fellow-citizens, and in our business relations, 
we need not go constantly about obtruding our feelings 
upon those who may deem them obnoxious; but should we 
care nothing whether men are patriots or traitors . . . ? 5 

This smoldering animosity sometimes broke into flames 
when alcohol was poured into it. Howling riders sometimes 
galloped past Governor Edgerton's house in Bannack, firing 
at the Union flag flying there. A yarn still heard about this 
little Civil War is that in Nevada City on July 4, 1864 some 
b'hoys in gray struck the Union flag early in the morning. 
Northerners procured another flag and had it fluttering in the 
breeze after some scuffling. The Southerners then succeeded 
in chopping down the flagpole. The affair developed into a 
free-for-all but Union forces won the day, mended the 
pole and flew Old Glory again according to the story. 

Union men had the ear of the United States Congress, of 
course, and The Montana Post, the only newspaper in town 
for some time, was strongly Union in sentiment. Con- 
federates had difficulty making themselves heard, except 
at voting, when their majority spoke, and at rumor-mongering. 
News of the war was hard to obtain, for mail from the 
States arrived in town three months after it had been post- 
marked, if it arrived at all. The Confederate majority kept 
the Union b'hoys stirred up with all sorts of malicious rumors, 
which there was no way to prove wrong. Though the North- 
erners labeled any rumor as coming from "Dr. Click's Grape- 
vine Telegraph," they couldn't help feel disturbed at the 
persistent story that Washington, D. C. was captured and 


Lincoln held prisoner-of-war. They wrote letters home plead- 
ing for the truth: 

. . . They tell pretty hard stories here about the war. 
They represent that Gen Grant has been badly defeated at 
Richmond and the [sic] Washington is surrounded by Gen 
Lee and that Illinois and Indiana have seceded from the 
Union and have joined the Southern confederacy. They 
tell this as a fact. We get no papers here so we do not 
know what to think about it. Write soon and let me know 
the whole particulars. . . . 6 

Bloodshed was near several times. Once the men of a 
wagon train on the way to Virginia City, Yankees and Con- 
federates traveling together, had a falling out and almost 
fought the farthest west battle of the Civil War, before their 
women stepped between the readied rifles. 7 N. P. Langford, 
in Bannack one time, "had seen a Secesh flag flying, and men 
standing by with revolvers, daring any bystander to say that 
he did'ent like to see that flag or that he did'ent support 
Jeff Davis." 8 

Strife was present at any public meeting. At the theater, 
each side showed its prejudice by responding to the orchestra's 
rendition of "Dixie" or "Yankee Doodle" by firing their 
revolvers through the ceiling. At a school recital, "Seceshes" 
called for Southern tunes from the pupils; when they were 
refused, the Southerners abstained from applause for any 
number. Seemingly, the only time the two groups ever got 
along in public during the early days of Virginia City was 
when fire companies made up of Yankees and Johnnie Rebs 
marched together to the tunes of "Yankee Doodle" or "Dixie" 
with no fighting. 

Somehow, the two groups lived together in this isolated 

23 Virginia City, Melting Pot 

town, where there was no law, and where firearms were 
carried by all, without a pitched battle, although hatreds ran 
so deep that after the death of President Lincoln the follow- 
ing note was posted on the door of the Prickly Pear Agency 
of that enemy newspaper, The Montana Post: 

Glory enough for one time! 

Old Abe has gone to Hell! 

Hurrah for Jeff Davis! 

Grand Reception of Old Abe in Hell! 

Big Dinner! 

The Devil's Band played "Welcome the Chief!" 9 

In Virginia City, little Southern girls at a party danced 
around and around the room cheering the death of Lincoln. 

The violently pro-Union Post had done little to reconcile 
the difficulties. Its policy was to ignite any oil poured on 
troubled waters, and at war's end, printed the following item: 

MISSING. Lost, mislaid, stolen or strayed, a man 
named Jeff. Davis. He had lately sold his furniture, owing 
to the failure of some speculative scheme in which he had 
embarked. It is thought he headed for Havana, intending 
to try the cigar business all his projects having hitherto 
ended in smoke. Any person giving information of his 
whereabouts, will receive a Major-General's commission in 
the Southern army and a cord of Confederated scrip. 10 

These sentiments of the Post may have expressed Gover- 
nor Edgerton's feelings, but they did little to help him govern 
the Territory. The tensions of the conflict between the states, 
magnified by this local, outspoken bitterness, left this able 
man in charge of a Territory pulling against itself. He could 
do nothing right in the eyes of the Southerners and nothing 


wrong in the eyes of the Northerners. Consequently, all politi- 
cal questions became related to the larger argument, too often 
to the detriment of local interests. 

Cohesion in local matters was made even more difficult 
by the large alien population. The Irish outnumbered any 
other group of white emigrants. Their fiercely independent 
Fenian Society, a group to be reckoned with, was wooed by 
both sides. Thomas Dimsdale, first editor of the Post, English 
by birth and education and culture, took care never to ruffle 
an Irish temper on the question of Irish independence. He 
and the other Unionists in town were irritated by England's 
attitude toward the rebellion, and felt it would serve her 
Majesty right if the Irish did slap her face. Other emigrant 
groups, the German being the next largest, were somewhat 
apart from these schisms of loyalties, creating further diffi- 

Virginia City, during the first year of her existence, was, 
then, like a beehive without a Queen Bee, every occupant 
intent on his own business, ready to sting any other bee that 
got in his way, his one thought to get as much honey for him- 
self as possible. 

Yet in spite of this lack of community feeling, the place 
grew and began to resemble a town. Some families with 
children arrived, making it possible for the precise little 
Englishman, T. J. Dimsdale, to add a Professor to his name 
and open a log school house on the side of cemetery hill. 

Stagecoaches were running from Bannack and back every 
day as well as to and from Salt Lake City when they could 
make it. The town as yet afforded no hotels for their passen- 
gers. Transients spread their bed rolls on the floors and 
counters of friendly mercantile stores, road agent next to 
judge, drunkard next to preacher. Other buildings were scarce, 
also, and the overflow of merchants and professional men 
caused much doubling up, storekeepers with different lines of 

25 Virginia City, Melting Pot 

merchandise sharing one building, lawyers and doctors mov- 
ing their offices in on top of them. Some of these stores did 
further duty serving as meeting places for gregarious, intelli- 
gent men who liked to chew over the latest topics of the day 
but had no hotel lobbies to pass the time in, the saloons being 
too rowdy for serious talk. Storekeepers such as Pfouts and 
Russell or King and Gillette opened their doors after hours to 
all who enjoyed sensible talk. 

But those who had "got all they wanted" weren't about to 
sit around a general store in a dumpy mining camp all winter 
with their pokes bulging with gold. They had what they had 
come for and itched to get home with it. Throughout the fall 
they left the town headed for the States. More than a hundred 
of them didn't make it out of the mountains, part of them 
failing to show up in Bannack only seventy-five miles away. 
They were murdered for their gold. For while they had been 
neglecting all else in their fever to get it and get out, others had 
been putting in considerable time planning how to get it away 
from them before they got out. 



HENRY PLUMMER spurred his horse 

out of Alder Gulch, riding for Bannack. He had looked over 
the new diggings here and he was chortling to himself at what 
he had seen. This new strike expanded all his plans a thousand- 
fold. Not that he was a placer miner; no, silver-quartz lodes 
were more in his line, so he said. But if this Alder Gulch 
proved out, it would increase the wealth and the population 
in this country more than he had dreamed when he had 
come here less than a year ago. Not that he was a business- 
man; his shiny new badge, just pinned to his vest the 24th of 
May, proclaimed him Sheriff. 

Plummer liked it in Idaho Territory. It was a most suitable 
place for one of his nature; the best thing he had found in his 
wanderings through the West, which had taken him from 
California, through Nevada, north through Oregon Territory 
and east into the Salmon River country, before he had saddled 
for Bannack. 

He was popular with the b'hoys. True, they had yam- 
mered for a while about hanging him for murder last January, 
but had acquitted him in miners' court, and the same bunch 

27 The "Innocents" 

had elected him sheriff, for he had told them they needed a 
man as expert with a revolver as he was. He boasted he could 
draw and fire five shots in three seconds, and he was con- 
sidered the fastest shot in the mountains. His gun had killed 
five men before he had arrived in these parts, but the b'hoys 
didn't know that. 

He jogged along at a good clip, for he was anxious to get 
home to his new bride. A schoolm'arm she was, from the 
Sun River Country. He had married her over the tears and 
fears and objections of her sister. Henry smiled to himself. He 
was getting what he wanted. His manners were good; his looks 
were good, and he kept himself cleaner and neater than the 
hobbledehoys about him; he had schooling enough to make 
him friends with the bigwigs. He might make an honest way of 
it in the Idaho gold fields, if honesty would only pay. 

Yet, something kept him following the wheel tracks in the 
new-green grass, the fresh tracks of Oliver & Company's 
stagecoach, making the trail that would become the road over 
which thousands of miners would have to tote thousands 
of dollars in gold dust. Henry's eyes were busy to the side of 
the trail, also, seeking places for ambushes and holdups, for 
Plummer, the new Sheriff, could work both sides of the 
street. He had been banded with outlaws engaged in robbery 
and theft all winter. He had served a term in the penitentiary 
in California for his criminal activities. He had a chance to 
go straight, now but this lonesome trail, in a land where 
there was no law but him, along which a fortune in gold was 
about to travel, was very tempting. 

Plummer's resistance to such temptation lasted little longer 
than it took him to ride to Bannack: members of his 
road-agent gang began working the road from Alder Gulch 
soon after the strike there. George Ives set up a corral and 
stock ranche in the Stinkingwater Valley, where he boarded 
emigrant stock and from which he could raid the road. (It was 


a lucrative business in itself, for an animal was nothing but a 
nuisance that kept the busy miner from his claim, and the 
merchant or saloon owner found the three dollars a month or 
so paid for boarding an animal on a ranche much preferable to 
the ten dollars a day charged by a livery stable.) Another 
member of the gang, Club Foot George Lane, ostensibly a 
shoemaker, rented space in Dance and Stuart's store for his 
cobbler's bench and used it as a listening post to inform Ives 
which voyagers from Virginia City were worth plundering. 

Plummer by this time had organized his road agents into a 
neatly functioning gang of about fifty. Working in cahoots, 
the robbers were able to infiltrate each mining camp with 
spies such as Club Foot George, who noted which miner had 
made his pile and when he was heading for home. They held 
regular meetings, most often at Rattlesnake Ranche, but 
sometimes at Dempsey's Cottonwood Ranche, or at Daly's on 
Ramshorn Creek. They used a password, "I Am Innocent," 
tied their neckerchiefs in a distinctive knot, and shaved down 
to a mustache and goatee. They marked treasure coaches before 
they left town, so that they might be known on the road, and 
often arranged to have a gang member on the coach who 
might sing or whistle if it was dangerous to attack. They 
kept up a constant communication with each other. Their 
organization was a little reminiscent of opera bouffe, but 
they used real bullets. 

Plummer had enlisted this crew from the job-lot of thugs 
who hung out in Cyrus Skinner's saloon in Bannack. This 
little, low-ceilinged, log shebang boasted a bar lined with 
roughs who had come to the Grasshopper with robbery in 
mind. Most of them had been drifting in this direction for 
some time, moving ahead of posses and WANTED posters, 
seeking country less frequented by law men. Drinking at 
Skinner's, Plummer met Whisky Bill Graves, George Ives, Bill 
Hunter, Hays (Haze) Lyon, Frank Parrish, Ned Ray, William 

29 The "Innocents" 

Moore, Charlie Reeves, and a veritable Sweeney Todd of a 
barber, Buck Stinson. 

Any one of this ornery gang would have shot a man for 
the price of a good drunk; they shot at each other for less 
reason. George Ives was wounded in a gun duel with Carrhart, 
a fellow ruffian. Carrhart was later killed while asleep in a 
backroom of Goodrich's Saloon by a stray bullet from a tra- 
ditional shooting bout between two poker players. Moore and 
Reeves promptly got into this affray as friends of the mortally 
wounded Carrhart. They shot one of the poker players in the 
finger before he dodged out the door, then, just for the hell of 
it, they fired promiscuously into the rapidly fleeing crowd. 
These shots wounded two men, one of whom died later. 

Earlier, Moore and Reeves and a man named Mitchell had 
poured two separate volleys of shots into a tepee of friendly 
Bannock Indians camped in town, killing three of them, as 
well as a Frenchman who had run up to investigate the shoot- 

All of this gunfire caused "but little if any excitement" 
amongst the b'hoys in Bannack. Each man went about town 
heeled with Navy Colt, derringer, shotgun or rifle, not asking 
for trouble but intending to take care of himself. Expecting 
to be long gone from these parts in a few months, he could 
see little point in wasting time trying to ride herd on a bunch 
of roughs. He felt that "if the Shooting was left entirely to the 
Pimps there would Be very little harm Done." * 

Little harm was done while the pimps were shooting at 
each other, for most of Plummer's gang were not the expert 
gunmen they imagined they were. For instance, George Ives, 
the murderer of many men, succeeded in emptying his gun at 
Carrhart without wounding his adversary. In turn, Carrhart, 
with one shot left and with Ives's retreating back in his sights, 
only wounded Ives. (He himself then fled down the street 
before Ives could find another gun.) Moore and Reeves were 


able to hit targets such as a tepee full of people or a swinging 
door full of fleeing men, but when shooting it out with a poker 
player at close range, nicked his finger by accident. Plummer, 
for all his vaunted speed which, incidentally, was made to 
look slow by later records was not a particularly accurate 
shooter, if he can be judged by his one gun fight at Bannack, 
in which he managed to kill Jack Cleveland. In this saloon 
duel, he fired four shots at Cleveland at close range. The 
first shot lodged in a beam over Cleveland's head, the second 
ricocheted from his ribs, the third entered his head through 
the eye, and the fourth plowed into the log wall between two 
seated men. During all this time, Cleveland had not suc- 
ceeded in drawing his gun. 

These men were not the gunslicks of Western fiction. 
They were ordinary saloon goons, who, by their numbers 
and their tactics, were to wage a successful gang warfare, but 
their favorite method of fighting would be the bushwhack, and 
their favorite weapon a double-barreled, sawed-off shotgun, 
each barrel loaded with a dozen revolver balls. Revolvers they 
liked to use only at point-blank range say, held in a holdup 
victim's ear. 

Still, they had the advantage in any encounter with a lone 
traveler, armed and determined to defend himself and his 
gold though he was. In the first place, though he might have a 
chance to draw, the b'hoy with gun in hand was at a dis- 
advantage: he had been too busy mining to practice with the 
tricky thing; chances were good that a cap might misfire, for 
he tended to load it and then forget about it for months; 
chances were, also, that if it fired, the powder might be so 
poorly loaded the ball would not penetrate. The road agents 
dealt with him pretty much as they pleased, when they 
surprised him on a lonely road. 

Henry Plummer was able to direct the talent the Bannack 
renegades had for robbery and killing into a profitable road- 

31 The "Innocents" 

agent venture because of the strike in Alder Gulch. There had 
not been much plunder in Bannack during the winter of '62- 
'63. The gang had robbed the Walla Walla coach, burglarized 
a store or two, and held up straggling winter travelers enough 
take for tobacco money. It may be that Plummer was finding 
honesty more profitable than crime by May of '63; he might 
have attempted to go straight, for the sake of his new bride, 
if the riches of Alder Gulch had not multiplied by many 
times what he had estimated the booty would be. With the 
gang at hand, it was his for the taking. 

By fall it was extremely dangerous for any b'hoy to try to 
pack his gold home, for George Ives made the Bannack- 
Virginia City Road a seventy-five-mile ambuscade. The man 
was everywhere. Victims of the road agents later testified that 
it was Ives who popped out of the willows and snatched 
their pokes, that it was Ives who had forced them out of the 
coach and stripped them of their valuables, that it was Ives 
who had attempted to murder them. Plummer directed oper- 
ations from the centrally located Bannack, from there he 
could dispatch men to raid the Salt Lake City roads and keep 
an eye on the Stinkingwater Road as well, but it was blood- 
thirsty George Ives who murdered enough men to make the 
business pay. 

Ives didn't mind killing a man for his gold, and, after 
stopping a few travelers who thought they would outwit him 
by carrying no gold, he killed them for that, too. Lucky 
Anton Holter, proprietor of the White Pine Lumber Company 
in Virginia City, was shot at point-blank range by Ives for 
neglecting to bring enough gold to make this holdup worth 
the bandit's time. The first shot punctured Holter's hat and 
powdermarked him for life. The second shot Ives aimed 
deliberately in his face, but the cap misfired. Holter escaped 
and galloped home, "blessing the cap-maker." 

Stagecoaches made unscheduled stops in heed to Ives's 


shouted "Halt, you sons of bitches." The passengers, looking 
down the double barrels of road-agent guns, agreed one and 
all that they would have preferred "a side view of the oper- 
ation." Anna Skaggs, well-known madam in camp, tried to 
get home with the wages of sin her girls had earned for her. 
The coach she was on was stopped, and she had to come 
back to "work" again. "Bummer Dan" McFadden sneaked 
out of Virginia City and boarded the coach at Denipsey's 
ranch on down the road, carrying over $2,000 in gold in pokes 
strapped to his body under his clothes. The ruse didn't work; 
the coach was stopped, and he was forced to drop his pants 
in the blustering cold, while the road agents searched and 
robbed him. 

Soon after Fairweather Mining District was formed, 
Plummer became the Sheriff of it as well as of Bannack Min- 
ing District, replacing Buzz Caven, who had served only a 
few days. Now, as lawman, he could advise the b'hoys how to 
transport their gold, and as head of the road agents he could 
plan just where to take it away from them; as lawman, he 
heard any testimony from victims, and as head of the road 
agents, he ordered the execution of anyone who knew too 
much. Murder became an almost daily occurrence, and George 
Ives, sure of the protection of "the law," killed without at- 
tempting alibi or disguise, once shooting a man who had in- 
formed on the gang in broad daylight in the sight of a wagon 

Sheriff Plummer was seen more often on the streets of 
Virginia City and even joined in the gunplay. Soon the infant 
mining camp had to have a hospital, a convalescent home for 
victims of gunshot wounds. Colonel W. F. Sanders, nephew 
of Judge Edgerton, visited there one day as the guest of 
Sheriff Plummer, who led him past the beds of unconscious 
patients, pointing with pride to the ones who were the results 

33 The "Innocents" 

of his own marksmanship, unaware that Sanders suspected 
him of being a road agent. 2 

Virginia City suffered the same infestation of criminals 
as had Bannack City the year before. Plummer appointed 
three members of his gang, Ned Ray, Buck Stinson and Jack 
Gallagher, as his deputies in Alder Gulch. Virginia City was 
an occupied town which Plummer "ruled with a rod of iron.'* 
Somehow his chief deputy, a man named Dillingham, was 
honest. When he learned of the plans of the other three 
deputies to rob a traveler, he warned the prospective victim 
of his danger, a foolhardy action, for the man soon blabbed 
of his narrow escape to every one, all but signing Dillingham's 
death warrant. 

On June 30, 1863, less than four weeks after Alder Gulch 
had opened, the gang executed him by revolver shots (after 
closing in to make sure of their marksmanship), as he stood 
on the outskirts of a miner's civil trial in progress. He was 
killed by shots from three gunmen firing in unison, Hays 
Lyon, Buck Stinson, and Charlie Forbes. As prearranged, 
Jack Gallagher rushed in to arrest them, seizing their weapons; 
later on he managed to reload one revolver, so that no 
one would be able to tell who fired the fatal shot. 

Dillingham was still warm when the cocksure trio stood, 
flabbergasted, in miners' court, on trial for their lives. They 
had chosen a bad time for murder, what with a crowd of 
serious miners on hand, and a judge already holding court. 
Some of the b'hoys had begun to realize that the pimps were 
not shooting at each other any more, but were shooting at 
them. Now was a good time to get in a few licks of their own. 
Recognizing this, they were smart enough to decide upon a 
jury of the whole instead of twelve selectmen who would be 
chosen in part by a sheriff friendly toward his own deputies. 
They put three men on the judge's bench, incarcerated Forbes 


in a log building under guard, and proceeded with the trial 
of Stinson and Lyon in an open-air courtroom at the foot of 
what would become Wallace Street. Dillingham's body lay 
on a gambler's table in a wikiup casino near by. 

The trial took the rest of the afternoon, recessed over 
night, and continued the next morning. By noon, Stinson and 
Lyon had been found guilty and had been sentenced to hang, 
and men had been despatched to build a gallows and dig 
graves. Charlie Forbes was brought from the temporary jail 
house, and his trial proceeded while the preparations for 
execution went on. 

Forbes was a handsome man, well-educated, possessing a 
command of language which neither of his predecessors had. 
An appealing figure in the dock, he made his own eloquent 
petition to the crowd with such ability that they let him off, 
though he was a known gunman, of equal ability to Plummer, 
perhaps, who wore his gun always in position for a quick 
draw. His appeal might not have been so effective if he had 
been tried first, but by this time the b'hoys' attention was be- 
ginning to wander. Many had left the trial grounds, while 
others were anxious to get to the more exciting business of 
hanging their two birds-in-hand. 

The condemned men were loaded into a wagon to be 
transported to the gallows. From this rude tumbril, parked 
in front of the improvised jail, Hays Lyon entreated the crowd, 
promising to be good if let off this time, weeping as he spoke. 
This pitiful spectacle moved the hearts of the women in the 
crowd, who in turn implored the b'hoys for mercy. The up- 
shot was a new vote on their sentence, by ayes and nays, which 
resulted in both sides claiming victory. Another voting system 
was tried, those for hanging going uphill a way, those against 
moving downhill. Though the acquittal group swore they 
were the majority, the uphill men would not agree, and con- 
fusion boiled about the wagon. A third attempt at voting, by 

35 The "Innocents" 

having those for and against execution file between two 
vote-counters, ended in further argument when the ayes ac- 
cused the nays of voting more than one time per man. 

Jack Gallagher, pistol in hand, took advantage of the in- 
decision, led an Indian pony he had appropriated to the 
wagon, declared the men freed and sent them, double- 
mounted, galloping on their way before anyone got up gump- 
tion enough to stop them. 

Once again, good intentions had bogged down in waver- 
ing indecision. The miners' court, without accepted procedure 
and form to guide it, had proved too unwieldy to be an effec- 
tive deterrent to frontier crime. 

This latest failure of justice convinced Plummer that he 
could trample upon the b'hoys as he pleased, that they would 
never climb out of the diggings long enough to harm him. 
They were gullible innocents who could never believe that 
the smile on the sheriff's face came from swallowing gilded 
miners. They were simpletons who had believed in him when 
he had tesified in miners' court that he had killed Cleveland 
because the man had "belonged to Watkin's band in California 
and who had pursued Plummer for purpose of taking his 
life, said Plummer having served as an officer in California, 
to the detriment of said Watkin's schemes." 3 They were dolts 
who, after condemning Moore and Reeves to banishment 
from Bannack, for the tepee murders, giving them three hours 
to leave town and telling them not to stop moving until they 
were 600 miles away, allowed the two to hole up in near-by 
Deer Lodge, and shortly became so soft-headed as to rescind 
the sentence altogether. 

Plummer smiled and smiled during that year of '63. He 
could handle the b'hoys, and he was getting in with the right 
people, fooling them as well. But he couldn't fool his wife; 
she discovered her mistake very soon and fled home to Wis- 
consin, ostensibly for a visit. Nor could he fool wide-awake 


men, the men who were of some account, the men he liked to 
be with, the men who were wondering about the coincidences 
of the sheriff's absences "looking over silver leads" and certain 
highway robberies. 



IN MID-DECEMBER of 1863, a hunter 

dropped a grouse in the sagebrush foothills of the Ramshorn 
Mountains (the Tobacco Root Mountains today). His young 
son found the bird plummeted onto a human corpse, a bullet 
through its head. The hunter, William Palmer, walked to a 
nearby wikiup with the news, and there requested its two 
occupants to help him load the body into his wagon. The pair, 
Long John Franck and George Hilderman, refused to leave 
their hut for any dead body. 

"There's lots of dead bodies about," Long John pointed 
out. "They kill men every day in Virginia City, and nobody 
pays it no mind." 

Palmer hiked back to his wagon, managed to load the 
frozen corpse into it and to fetch the body to Nevada City. 
There it was identified as that of Nichola Tbalt, popular 
young German who had been missing for ten days. The re- 
mains lay in the open wagon for half a day, all the b'hoys, 
idled by the winter freeze-up, coming to hang chins over the 
wagon box and gawk at the awkward, frozen body, but re- 
maining to clench fists and swear vengeance on his killer. The 


toughs hung about, also, sneering at the excitement, inter- 
rupting Palmer's oft-told story with "Where'd you make the 
find?", "Did you get color?" or "How much does it pay?" 1 

Then somebody remembered that Tbalt had last been 
seen heading for Ives's ranch to pick up a team of mules he 
had sold, the money from the sale still in his pocket. Some- 
body else thought it a mighty good idea to investigate the 
occupants of that wikiup so suspiciously close to the body. 
By nightfall a posse of twenty-five men were preparing to 
ride in Tbalt's revenge. 

The following morning at dawn the posse captured three 
of the inmates of the makeshift abode, George Ives, Long 
John Franck, and "Tex." They nabbed George Hilderman 
as they rode home. The prisoners were brought to Nevada 
City, surrounded by guards who rode along singing, jesting 
with George Ives and racing their mounts almost losing 
Ives in a race when his horse proved faster than theirs. Ives 
bought a drink all around at one stop. This lively break in 
the winter's monotony closed inharmoniously when the pris- 
oners were chained up in a makeshift calaboose. 

When the news spread that Ives was arrested, a strategy 
meeting of Alder Gulch road agents despatched Clubfoot 
George on a midnight ride to Bannack and Henry Plummer 
with the bad tidings. It also gathered defense counsel for 
their compatriots, made up of nearly all the resident lawyers 
in Virginia City, Messrs. Smith, Thurmond, Ritchie and 

There was a lot of wrangling amongst the b'hoys over the 
question of where Ives should be tried, Nevada City or Vir- 
ginia City. The toughs wanted the trial in Virginia City were 
Plummer would empanel the jury. The posse demanded the 
trial for Nevada City. So it was decided. After all it was their 
corpse and their prisoner. 

They asked Colonel W. F. Sanders, visiting from Ban- 

39 The Vigilantes 

nack, to act as prosecutor, though he was a stranger to most 
of them. They chose better than they knew, for the twenty- 
nine-year-old Sanders was an accomplished lawyer, and, more 
important, he wasn't afraid of any road agent or of his growl- 
ing friends. He could outbluff them, outtalk them, and out- 
think them. And, what was more, he knew how to handle the 
b'hoys even better than Plummer did. He had a hot temper 
and a tongue that could blister and when action was necessary 
he could grab a gun as fast as the next man. (He carried a 
loaded revolver in his coat pocket throughout the trial.) He 
was determined to convict Ives, and he had a plan for doing 
so. He was ably assisted by Charles S. Bagg, a sloppy, earthy 
miner and lawyer, who was profane enough to be understood 
by all the b'hoys. 

Judge Don L. Byam presided at the trial, assisted 
by Judge Wilson of Junction Mining District (the trial should 
have been held at Junction, nearest district to the murder 
spot, but Junction wasn't organized sufficiently to handle it). 
The judges and lawyers were on hand the morning of De- 
cember 19th, the day after Ives's arrest, ready to start the 
proceedings. The b'hoys were also about, since walking was 
easy in the skift of snow and since this much excitement was 
hard to come by in these parts. Before mid-morning the fro- 
zen, rutted mud of Nevada City's main street was being 
trampled by 1500 miners who had come from all the dis- 
tricts of the gulch to have a go at trying a man for murder. 
By noon they had shouted their way to several decisions: 
that they would vote en masse upon Ives's fate at the end of 
the trial, but would have an advisory jury of twenty-four men, 
twelve from Junction and twelve from Nevada; that counsel 
would be allowed the prisoners; that Ives would be tried first 
and alone. 

Two wagons served as judge's bench and witness box. 
Twenty-four chairs from a near-by hurdy-gurdy house seated 


the jury. Between the jury and the highly excited, well-armed 
crowd, stood a line of guards headed by James Williams. A 
huge fire was kept roaring near the wagons, burning cord- 
wood appropriated from an unlucky wood-chopper's handy 

The trial continued through the greater part of three days, 
halting at times to rout voters out of near-by saloons in order 
to dispose of an objection made by the defense which they 
always voted "overruled" before tromping back to saloon- 
warmth again. Those who stood about the wagons, stomping 
chilled feet, shouted suggestions to Sanders or yelled ques- 
tions directly at a witness when the cross-questioning didn't 
suit them. Little boys played tag in and out of the crowd. The 
toughs barked threats at outspoken witnesses and tried to 
disrupt the proceedings with hubbub, but Judges Byam and 
Wilson pounded them down, and Williams's armed guards 
curbed any roughhousing by leveling cocked guns. 

Williams did as much as any man to keep this trial from 
becoming a fiasco. He believed fiercely in democratic rule; he 
was prepared to live by it and to see that others complied. He 
could shut up an uncooperative tough, howling down a group 
decision, by ambling easily over to the fellow, staring coldly 
and saying firmly, "We're gonna do it our way." His presence 
here lent assurance to hesitant witnesses. His grit gave heart 
to his own men as they stood guard each night, protecting 
witnesses, judges and all, watching for any attempt to free 
the prisoners. 

Ives and his friends expected Plummer to appear in his 
sheriff's role at any time to break up the trial and claim the 
prisoner as legally belonging to him. If he didn't arrive in his 
sheriff's costume, then they thought he would surely come at 
night with his neckerchief tied in the road agent's knot, to 
lead a jail delivery. They had mistaken Plummer's brag for 

41 The Vigilantes 

his guts. He was in Bannack, fearfully saving his own skin. 
He scented danger. As far as he was concerned, the b'hoys, 
by hanging Ives, would be ridding the gang of a man both he 
and the others were afraid of. 

Sanders developed the trial into a proceeding to adjudge 
Ives's general guilt as a road agent and murderer rather than to 
determine if he had murdered Tbalt. Much evidence was 
admitted by the judges and by the b'hoys as to his former 
crimes: they took depositions from stage drivers who had 
been held up by him and from others who definitely identified 
him as a murderer and robber. But for this evidence, he might 
have been let off, for the only direct statement coming forth 
which linked Ives to Tbalt's death was Long John's word that 
Ives had told him he did it. 

Ives's defense was particularly bad. Alibis prepared for 
him by two disreputable witnesses were knocked into a cocked 
hat when Sanders and the b'hoys established the pair as being 
untrustworthy. Much of his counsel's tactics was designed 
merely to disrupt the trial or to adjourn it and was not a real 
defense. During the crucial last day of the trial, one of his 
lawyers was so drunk he could barely function. Protracted, 
pointless arguing was the result of most of their objections, 
and their cross-questioning was comprised of attempts to ex- 
cite the crowd against the witnesses, especially Long John. 

Such bickering tried the patience of the b'hoys, and on 
the morning of the third day, they informed the court that the 
whole shebang must be adjourned by three o'clock that after- 

It was a little later than that when the lawyers finished 
summing up, for it was dark by the time the jury, after a half 
hour's deliberation, returned a verdict of guilty, twenty-three 
to one. The lone dissident, Henry Spivey, said he could not 
vote for conviction because he didn't believe the evidence 


showed Ives to be guilty of Tbalt's murder, which was the 
specific charge against him. 2 

Sanders was ready for the verdict. He had packed the 
court this afternoon with men who would support a guilty 
verdict. Before the jury had been sent out, he had fired a note 
to John Creighton in Virginia City "telling him that the crisis 
had finally arrived and asking him to bring with him all the 
good men he could find, and remain till the end." 3 Sanders 
was taking no chances on this miners' meeting becoming 
wishy-washy at the final moment. He had a packed court and 
he used it, rising to his feet the moment the crowd heard the 
jury's verdict, asking for a vote upon it. The crowd upheld 
the jury. Ives's lawyers, confused for the moment, were totally 
unprepared for Sanders's next motion, that George Ives be 
immediately hanged by the neck until dead. Judge Byam as 
quickly put the motion, and the crowd voted it should be 
done. Ives and his lawyers seemed barely aware of what had 
transpired. Darkness had fallen, and they evidently had ex- 
pected sentencing and execution to be carried over till the 
next day. 

The Sheriff of Nevada District and his deputies were in- 
structed to find a place for the execution. As they went off into 
the dark, Ives, no longer leaving his fate in the hands of his 
lawyers, made a direct appeal to the emotions of the crowd. 
Simply, straightforwardly, he came to the wagon where San- 
ders was and in a clear voice which rang with sincerity (and 
carried well) asked to be allowed until next morning to write 
letters home. This appeal Sanders had three days ago made 
up his mind to refuse, but Ives, clinging to the Colonel's hand, 
might have swayed the sentimental b'hoys had not a voice 
from a near-by rooftop cut through the bathos of the scene, 
"Sanders, ask him how long he gave the Dutchman." It was 
the voice of short, cocky X. Beidler, who had spent his thirty- 
three years getting into the middle of excitements like this and 

43 The Vigilantes 

wasn't about to be gulled by such histrionics. The b'hoys 
laughed at his quip, and Sanders quickly told Ives to write 
now, for it was his only chance. In later years, X. could always 
count on the Colonel's friendship and generosity. 

In less than an hour after he was declared guilty, Ives was 
standing atop a five-foot packing box, a hangman's noose 
around his neck, the dangling end of a rope dropped from a 
beam thrust out from an unfinished building. From his rickety, 
elevated perch, he saw the reflection from the hundreds of 
bearded faces turned toward him, lighted by flickering fire- 
light and cool moonlight. There were no friendly faces close 
by, for some of his partners had made tracks after hearing 
testimony implicating themselves in his crimes, and his ac- 
quaintances, the gamblers, the saloonkeepers and the bum- 
mers, stood back in the shadowy fringes of the crowd, only 
the drunkest of them brave enough to howl the comforting 
"I'll shoot the murdering souls" which fell upon his ears. Some 
of these he could hear weeping drunken tears for their friend. 

Judge Byam's voice asked him the question he had hoped 
never to hear: 

"Do you have any last words?" 

The crowd was hushed. The reply rang out clearly: 

"I am innocent of this crime. Alex Carter killed the Dutch- 

With that the packing box was kicked from under him 
and he made his drop. The last sounds he heard may have 
seemed like the hoped-for jail delivery arriving too late, but it 
was only his friends, with the courage of despair, ineffectively 
rushing the jail-house to execute Long John and Hilderman 
in company with Ives. The sounds could have given him little 
hope, for he had already seen the crowd fall back under the 
leveling of the guards' rifles after the order, "Men, do your 

Ives's neck was broken so that he died instantly, but he 


was left swaying from the beam for about an hour just to make 
sure. He was buried next to his victim, Tbalt. 

Hilderman, Long John, and Tex were tried the next day. 
Hilderman was banished, with every man in the Territory 
authorized to shoot him on sight if he still was around on 
New Year's Day, only ten days off. Long John was freed, hav- 
ing purchased immunity with his testimony; Tex was freed be- 
cause there was nothing against him. 

This battle was won, but the war had yet to be fought. 
How, still had to be determined. Three days' time of a thousand 
men could be counted on once in a while when fevers were 
high and novelty drew the curious and when winter doldrums 
were upon the gulch. But could such cooperation be counted 
on from the transient, irresponsible b'hoy who was here first 
and foremost to get rich, who expected to leave the Territory 
and its borrowed trouble behind in a few months? Without 
his attendance at trials, a quorum of blackguards would be 
sure to appear and control things. 

Furthermore, could the necessary armed guards be found 
to protect the personnel and proceedings of the people's 
court from intimidation, beating, or killing over a period of 
months of prosecutions? It was doubtful. Why, right now it 
was taking the time of over one hundred men just to look after 
Sanders and the others. 

What was to be done? 

Colonel Sanders, James Williams, John Lott and others 
who had carried off the successful prosecution of Ives felt 
that the time had come to form an army for a definite battle 
against the road agents. Sometime during the two days after 
the execution of Ives, a Vigilance Committee was formed at 
a meeting somewhere in Alder Gulch, three different places 
claiming the honor (the chances are that all were scenes of 
separate meetings) . An oath was signed to read: 

45 The Vigilantes 

We the undersigned uniting ourselves in a party for the 
laudable purposes of arresting thieves and murderers and 
recovering stollen property do pledge ourselves and our 
sacred honor each to all others and solemnly swear that 
we will reveal no secrets, violate no laws of and never 
desert each other or our standards of justice so help us 
God as witness our hand and seal this 23 of December 
AD1863. 4 

The first signer was James Williams, elected executive 
officer of the Vigilante band. Other signers were Paris S. Pfouts, 
well-known storekeeper, President, and John S. Lott of Ne- 
vada City, Treasurer. Twenty-one other men signed, not in- 
cluding Wilbur Fisk Sanders, however. As a resident of 
Bannack, he properly belonged in its group, which was formed 

Necessarily the organization was secret. At first it may have 
consisted only of the original twenty-four signers, many of 
whom were Masons. (They were hardly showing their grati- 
tude, for, according to legend, no Mason had ever been 
harmed by the road agents, a thing which the Masons at- 
tribute to the fact that they were the only organization in the 
area strong enough to oppose them.) Other people soon aided 
the group, and if not actually signed-up members, encouraged 
the cause. The main work of the Vigilantes was accomplished 
by the small group of original signers, plus a few others. 

On December 23rd, half -provisioned and poorly clothed, 
they started tracking culprits, but news that they were heading 
toward Cottonwood (Deer Lodge) to hang Whisky Bill and 
Alex Carter leaked out. A message reading "Get up and 
dust, and lie low for black ducks" had reached the desperadoes 
before them. The gang's messenger, Red Yaeger, had passed 
the Vigilantes on the road and had run two horses to death in 


his haste. Captain Williams and his men had their several- 
day ride for nothing, but they remembered seeing Yaeger on 
the road, found out he had been here, and knew he had 
carried the message. 

Back through the snow they rode, miserably cold and al- 
most out of supplies. They found Yeager in a wikiup at Rat- 
tlesnake Ranch and captured him by a ruse, asking to be let in 
out of the cold. They took him on to Dempsey's Ranch on 
the Stinkingwater, twenty miles below Virginia City, and there 
in the morning arrested Brown, barkeep at this stage station, 
and the man who had written the message which Red carried. 
The two men confessed their crimes. The Committee voted to 
hang them immediately. 

Yaeger and Brown swung from a cottonwood branch 
near the mouth of Alder Creek on New Year's Day. Before 
Red died he informed on the rest of the gang in order that 
they might get theirs as well as he, naming twenty-six remain- 
ing members, including Plummer as leader. 

In the next thirty days, a good many bodies were sus- 
pended by the neck in "a noose pendant from a beam proper." 
The Committee worked efficiently and took their duties 
seriously, riding hundreds of miles in cold and snow to ferret 
out road agents. There was no place to hide from them in the 
Territory. The smartest outlaws rode right out of the country. 
Those who buried their heads in out-of-the-way places, 
hoping the "strangling sons of bitches" wouldn't find them, 
were out of luck. 

Vigilante trials were short and perfunctory. The Vigilance 
committee was not a law-enforcement body nor a judicial one. 
It was more nearly a military force, organized with the specific 
purpose of exterminating the enemy. It acted under the orders 
of a captain and rode under military discipline. The enemy 
was known, identified by men who had been robbed, by wit- 
nesses to crimes, and by Red Yaeger's listing. The trials were 

47 The Vigilantes 

necessarily short; once the enemy had been determined, the 
Viges were in all haste to defeat them. 

The next hangings were in Bannack, after four Virginia 
City Vigilantes arrived to recruit members to execute Henry 
Plummer, Ned Ray, and Buck Stinson, whose death warrants 
they carried in their pockets. They didn't gather many recruits, 
but there were enough hands to grab each of the condemned 
men separately and bring them to the gallows which Plummer, 
as sheriff, had erected for other victims. Three ropes were 
run over the beam. Since there were no boxes to be jerked 
from under the men to give them a good drop, they were lifted 
high in the air in the arms of their executioners and let fall. 
This failing, they were pulled up by the neck to strangle, a 
process which left Ned Ray clawing at his throat, gasping, 
"Hold on, damn it, you're choking me!" 

Plummer, like a little boy caught with the jam pot, wept 
and promised to be good if let off. He died screaming and 
begging for life. Stinson went out cursing. The b'hoys thought 
hanging such a good joke on him they couldn't resist taking 
his body all the way to Virginia City and plopping it into the 
grave which had been open and waiting for him ever since 
Dillingham's murder in June, 4 * the grave he had boasted of 
pissing in. 

If there were few men in Bannack who would join the 
Vigilantes, it was not because they were opposed to execu- 
tions. The following day they used a howitzer to blast the 
criminal Pizanthia out of his cabin, moments after he had 
killed one of his would-be captors. His body was riddled with 
shots, and then burned on the pyre of his cabin, the ashes 
of which were sifted for gold by the whores of the town. 

The Vigilantes washed their hands of the hysteria of 
this execution. That night they hanged Dutch John Wagner 
in the trimmer Vigilante style. It was Sunday, January 10, 


In Virginia City, four days later, the Vigilance Committee 
strung up five men in an unfinished building before a crowd 
of thousands. B'hoys stood in the street, hung from windows, 
looked on from rooftops, watching the solemn proceedings as 
the afternoon shadows lengthened. 

It had been an exciting day. In early morning, the town 
had discovered it was surrounded by a cordon of five hundred 
men which allowed anyone to enter, but no one to leave, an 
operation intended to capture the six road agents known to 
be in town. Following that had been the search which had 
ferreted out five of the six men the Committee were looking 
for, a search which one of the guards noted had caused bum- 
mers with prickling consciences to be very quiet all day. 

Club Foot George Lane, Jack Gallagher, Frank Parish, 
Boone Helm and Hays Lyon were captured; the sixth suspect, 
Bill Hunter, escaped through the line of guards by slowly 
crawling out of town through a drainage ditch. Only he and 
Jack Gallagher, who was found hiding in a roll of blankets, 
seemed to sense they were in danger. The others just couldn't 
believe the rumor that Plummer had been hanged. 

One by one the outlaws were brought before Paris Pfouts 
and the Executive Committee and informed of their sentence. 
They had been tried in absentia the night before. They were 
marched in the center of a hollow square up Wallace Street 
to an unfinished building on the corner of Van Buren. There 
they v/ere stood on packing boxes, all in a line, five ropes 
over a single beam. 

Even as they stood there, knots adjusted about their necks, 
Gallagher called to a man standing in a hotel window, "Say, 
I'm going to heaven! I'll be there in time to open the gate for 
you, old fellow." 

The boxes were kicked out from under them one at a time, 
except for Club Foot George, the first to go, who set the 
pattern for dying with spirit by giving his hat a toss and 

49 The Vigilantes 

jumping from his box. The one-time cannibal, Boone Helm, 
watched the drop of two other men, looked coolly at the 
swinging body of Gallagher and remarked, "Kick away, old 
fellow; I'll be in hell with you in a minute," and then 
shouted, "Every man for his principles hurrah for Jeff Davis! 
Let 'er rip," before his wind was cut off. 

The bodies hung for two hours and then were lined up 
outside on the street, where their friends found them and 
buried them on the hill above town. John Grannis went back 
up the gulch to his claim and wrote in his diary, "very well 
Satisfied with the Days work Saw five men hung and not a very 
good Day for hanging neither." 5 

The Vigilantes now had done for twelve men; they were 
almost halfway through the list given them by Red Yaeger. 
On their next foray they rid the Territory of eight more of 
their enemies, riding to Hell Gate (near the present town of 
Missoula) to do so. Twenty men hanged in less than 
a month a performance redolent of hysteria and lynching; 
but the fizzing passions of a lynch mob would not have 
burned hot enough to withstand the frigid 400-mile horse- 
back ride to Hell Gate and back, nor have smoldered through 
sub-zero nights of sleeping in the snow. Two hundred miles 
of snow whould have saved road agents fleeing to Hell Gate 
from lynchers, but it was no deterrent to Jim Williams and 
his little army of determined men. 

The last of the current crop of outlaws was hanged on 
February 3rd, the escapee, Bill Hunter. His death made the 
twenty-first Vigilante hanging since January 2nd. The re- 
maining five escaped the noose. 

When the Vigilantes coiled their hemp after hanging 
Hunter, they thought they had finished with hangman's duties 
for a while, but only eleven days later they took justice into 
their own hands again and strung up a man in Virginia City 
for a killing perpetrated February 14th. 6 Soon after that some 


of them participated in the lynching of J. A. Slade. Slade had 
raised enough hell about town to get the b'hoys' dander up, 
but nobody had tangled with him yet, because a gang of 
rowdies, among whom was Bill Fairweather, always sided 
with him. His reputation throughout the West was that of a 
killer, but he had slain no one in Virginia City. He ended 
up dangling from the crossbeam of the gate to the Elephant 
Corral as a public nuisance because hanging was the remedy 
of the time. 

Not that the b'hoys objected to the manner of his taking 
off; on the contrary, they were equally fond of mob law or 
martial law, if neither interfered with their mining. On Feb- 
ruary 27th James Morley, writing in his diary, commented, 
"The desperadoes being pretty well annihilated now, letters 
will go more safely. The number of the desperado gang now 
hung in this region by the vigilance committee, is not less than 
thirty [he was in error]. So the roads are now pretty well 
cleared of them ..." And, later, "Since the summary pro- 
ceedings of the Vigilance Committee order and quiet prevail 
throughout the country and one feels as safe, if not safer, 
than in the States . . ." 7 Newcomers, who had not experi- 
enced the terrors of road-agent rule/ did not object to the 
dictatorship of the Vigilantes, either. A letter written home on 
August 9, 18 64 stated: 

"I am now in the New Territory of Montana not yet 
organized. . . . We now live under a vigillance committee 
who are not chosen but initiates. No one knows who they are. 
They hung one man and whipped another a night or two 
since. Strange to say there is the most perfect acquiescence 
in this secret and invisible Government, and we all feel serene 
& quiet. . . ." 8 

Gratefully, the b'hoys abdicated the rights of the inept 
miners' court to this secret society. For more than two years 
the Viges were judges, sheriffs, jailers and executioners to 

51 The Vigilantes 

the Territory. During this period they flogged more often 
then they hanged, for now petty crime was truly the problem 
of the Territory. The "honest miner" was surrounded by bum- 
mers with sticky fingers. A b'hoy with a big woodpile was 
bound to have it shrink whether or not he had a fire. Meers- 
chaum pipes were lifted behind the owner's back from the 
place he had set them; piles of emigrant belongings were looted 
unless watched closely. Anything unattached was carried 
away. One of the early issues of the Montana Post carried an 
admonition from the editor: "Last Warning. You that gob- 
bled our old sheet iron stove, bring it back or we will send 
for it." 9 Likewise, a lady who had a few hens which provided 
her with the eggs so scarce they sold for a dollar apiece found 
that the only place her chickens were safe was in a corner of 
her cabin. 

Chicken thieves and petty burglars were eventually nabbed 
by the town policemen and punished by the local courts, but 
when it came to punishment of murderers and horse thieves, 
the b'hoys had confidence only in the Vigilantes. They kept 
them on the job long after civil authority was established in 
the Territory. 

Officialdom frowned. When Territorial Judge Hosmer ad- 
dressed the first grand jury on December 5, 1864, he lauded 
the past deeds of the Vigilantes, but pleaded, "Let us then 
erect no more impromptu scaffolds. Let us inflict no more 
midnight executions." 10 He warned that if the Committee con- 
tinued to act it would be the duty of his court to charge them 
with a "highly penal offense." The b'hoys of the grand 
jury tersely recommended to the judge that the courts turn 
all criminal business over to the hands of the Vigilantes. 

They knew the Viges would get the job done and would 
provide a nice cheap hanging as well. They hated to part with 
their dust to provide expensive board, lodging and jury for 
accused criminals, so much so that in 1866 they requested 


of Judge Hosmer that he release a prisoner named Gibson to 
the Vigilantes because it was "expensive for the state to keep 
him." n Request refused. 

During the years of 1864, '65, and '66 the Vigilantes con- 
tinued to ride. In '64 and '65 it was probably necessary that 
they do so, for the roads were still lonely and much treasure 
traveled along them. Such bait attracted other road agents 
whose guns could only be matched by a large force. In 1865 
the roughs were warned in bills posted in Virginia City reading 
"Admonition to 'dangerous classes' " and prohibiting "drawing 
deadly weapons, except as a last resort," 12 but the Vigilantes 
still considered hanging the best remedy. A few days after the 
bill posting, they strung up Charles Wilson, supposedly a 
baddie left over from the old gang, as a further warning, and 
buried him next to the original five. 

Ironically, the Vigilantes clung to a double standard when 
they decided which criminals would or would not be punished 
by them. They kept their hands off any murderer who came 
from the "respectable" class (businessmen) of town. Thus, 
when a popular store owner shot and killed his partner during 
an argument over the business, he was lodged in jail (never 
mind the expense) and given a trial. He was, of course, ac- 
quitted. 13 

By the spring of 1867 the organization had definitely 
outlived its usefulness. The b'hoys were tired of waking up 
to a "man for breakfast" and worried because the Viges had 
developed into a "Dark Lantern Clique" who operated only 
under the cover of darkness. Men were concerned over a rule 
of Judge Lynch which newspapers treated humorously, com- 
menting, "Leander W. Johnson, accused of a want of ap- 
preciation of the law of meum and tuum, was lately sus- 
pended by the neck, in Deer Lodge County" 14 or jocosely 
noting that "Hangman's Tree, in Dry Gulch, is barren this 
week no crop, nor sign of one." 15 

53 The Vigilantes 

The miners had cause to worry, for the hangman's knot 
had been adjusted behind the left ear of at least fifteen men 
since the Vigilantes had caught up with Bill Hunter in 1864. 16 
All of these hangings were not claimed by the Vigilantes, but 
if others got the itch, they had set the precept. 

In March of 1867, the b'hoys of Highland District had had 
enough and posted a warning to Vigilantes: 


We, now, as a sworn band of law-abiding citizens, do 
hereby solemnly swear that the first man that is hung by 
the Vigilantes of this place, we will retaliate five for one, 
unless it be done in broad daylight, so that all may know 
what it is for. We are all satisfied that in times past, you 
did some glorious work, but the time has come when law 
should be enforced. Old fellow-members, the time is not 
like it was. We had good men with us; but now, there is 
a great change. There is not a thief come to the country 
but what "rings' himself into the present committee. We 
know you all. You must not think you can do as you 
please. We are American citizens, and you shall not drive, 
and hang, whom you please. 

(Signed) FIVE FOR ONE 17 

Shortly after the appearance of this note, Vigilante action 




JAMES MORLEY owned a claim along 

with his partner, Jules, about two miles up gulch from Vir- 
ginia City. He worked his claim steadfastly, for he was a 
steady man. No big drunks kept him from sluicing; no laziness 
kept him lying in bed. Each week he worked four more days 
than the two required for representation work. He had only 
one wish on New Year's Day, 1864: "May this year see me 
back to the States in possession of the gold now buried deep 
in my claims." When, only two weeks later, the b'hoys on all 
the surrounding claims streamed down gulch to help the 
Vigilantes guard the town and round up road agents, Morley 
stolidly turned the creaking windlass, raising up the shaft 
the paydirt Jules was scraping from bedrock. Though the 
calendar said January, and January was no month for placer- 
ing, the weather continued good, and Morley made the most 
of it. That night he kept up his diary by writing: 

At windlass all day. ... A stream of men going by to 
town all A. M. which returned late in P. M. ... from 
whom I learned five men were hung in Virginia City to-day. 

55 Taking the Gold from the Gulch 

for being implicated in highway robberies and murders. 
. . . Such wholesale hanging ought to rid the country of 
these desperadoes who have rendered travelling so danger- 
ous. Weather warm and pleasant. 1 

He was a simple miner. It hadn't occurred to him to take 
the day off to lend a hand in town. Nope. Not while there 
was gold to be dug, and the weather remained good. 

Bummers and businessmen, sports and teamsters had 
time for such goings-on, but not the serious claim holder. 
Every day they could, these men put on their gum boots and 
shoveled at the innards of Alder Gulch, removing them and 
washing them in the cold waters of the creek and piling all 
but a few grains of the entrails back into the gulch again. 
They worked twelve hours a day or more, six days a week, 
with no time for leaning on a shovel. Their limbs were man- 
gled, their bodies were weakened forever by harsh work in the 
cold and damp, their lives were sometimes snuffed out by 
sudden accident. And all for a few tons of the yellow stuff from 
all of the thousands of tons of dirt they moved. 

Their very activity inspired one newly arrived school- 
ma'am to record it in her diary: 

There is a temporary bridge (very shaky) across the 
gulch that wagons may pass over. Standing on this bridge, 
in the middle of the gulch, looking up and down, and even 
beneath my feet, the scene is a lively one. So many men, 
it seems they would be in each other's way. They remind 
one of the bees around a hive. And such active work. It 
seemed that not one of that great multitude stopped for one 
instant shoveling and wheeling dirt, passing and repassing 
each other without a hitch. It made me tired to loofc-^t 
them. The ground is literally turned inside out ; jjpetit deep 
holes and high heaps of dirt . . ? 


These b'hoys in their gum boots and beards may have 
looked the very picture of efficiency to a green girl, but they 
were the laughingstock of old California and Colorado min- 
ers who called them "Pumpkin pilers" and wrote letters to 
the newspaper making fun of them: 

. . . they know more about raising wheat on the 
prairies, digging ginseng in the "Big Woods," gathering 
cranberries in the Minnesota swamps, or logs in the pine- 
eries, than using the pick and shovel; but they say that 
digging gold pays far better . . . just watch them handle 
a pick. A good miner has a pick drawn to a fine, sharp 
point; he works underneath the pay dirt on the bed rock; 
. . . with gravel . . . Get underneath it with a good 
long, sharp pick, and it is easily brought down ... a 
greenhorn has a short, thick, stubbed pick; he stands on the 
top, like a chicken on a grain pile; gets out one rock, and 
finds he has another below it requiring the same labor. 
Thus he works hard and accomplishes little. . . . 3 

Another writer claimed that the gulch in 1866 "has not 
been mined only mined at" and that in the entire gulch 
there were "neither marks or signs of science, skill, judgment 
or economy." And, he continued: 

An excavation here is called a "hole," another a short 
distance off is a "shaft," and a third a few feet further a 
"drift;" timbers, spiles, etc., are thrown in promiscuously 
(which is called timbering) . . . After a few days' work, 
the shaft or drift caves, the place fills up with water and 
dirt: the miner sinks another hole, strikes the pay streak 
"takes out his pile" in a short time and leaves the country. 
A miner naturally asks the question, and reasonably, too, 
what kind of an animal burrowed that hole and run that 
drift? 4 

57 Taking the Gold from the Gulch 

If the gulch took on the haphazard look of a mole colony, 
it wasn't all because of ignorance, however. Here in Alder 
Gulch they had problems. In the first place, the gold lay 
under heavy overburden, twenty feet or more below stream- 
bed. In order to put in a bedrock flume, by which the gold 
could be most easily worked, the b'hoys would have had to 
shilly-shally through weeks of planning and to endure more 
weeks of digging. They couldn't see it. Digging a flume 
across dozens of claims asked a miracle of cooperation from 
them here, where Southerner couldn't abide Northerner, and 
Californians complained that "The Pike's Peakers and East- 
erners, generally, manifest a most clannish and illiberal attitude 
towards the broad-shouldered, intelligent-browed, big-hearted 
and God-like Californians." 5 A bedrock flume was out. 

For these hasty miners, the best way of getting at Alder 
Gulch gold was by sinking a shaft to bedrock and then drift- 
ing along the old streambed. They had to winch a lot of extra 
gravel to the surface this way, dirt which had to go to make 
way for the tunnel, dirt which had to be dumped somewhere 
on the narrow claim bottom, somewhere out of the way of the 
workings. If it spilled over onto the next claim, the neighbors 
were liable to throw it back at the first head in sight. Also, 
this manner of placer mining left a lot of gold behind, for a 
man hunched over in a tiny drift (tiny because no one drew 
any more gravel up the shaft than necessary), slopping about 
in seepage water, peering about by candle light, missed a lot 
of gold. In addition, he left much of it in the pillars of earth 
which supported the roof over his head. But there was lots of 
gold, and he didn't worry about it. 

Mining was grueling labor even to men used to hard 
work. One experienced b'hoy, writing a letter home containing 
advice to be given his brother, confessed he was about played 
out: "There is probably no chance for him to get any work 


here except mining and I think that would be rather too hard 
for him to stand. It is harder work than I want to do much 
more of, and I know I am much more . . ." (end of letter). 6 
Another miner wrote in his diary that "... a years hard work 
in the mines has made me feel ten years older." 7 

In addition to working underground, the miner built his 
own windlass, constructed ore cars and tracks, and often whip- 
sawed logs into rough sluice-boards. He slaved for weeks in 
which never a flake of gold was seen. He worked early and 
late and some Sundays. The happy prospector who made his 
fortune in two or three days, and then skylarked off to town 
for a bender is a man who never lived. He was dreamed up by 
the b'hoys who did their mining in saloons. As an observer 
said of the actual miner of the day, "Sleep comes without 
effort, and there is no strong desire to get up in the morning." 

The shaft might have to be dug several times if there was 
no pay at the bottom, using up precious summer time, time 
which men in diggings with less overburden could use wash- 
ing gravel. Morley and his partner opened their claim on 
August 2, 1863. They had only a twenty-foot hole to dig; 
they were both experienced miners; they worked doggedly 
day after day, prying out boulders, building a windlass and 
hoisting countless buckets of worthless gravel to the surface. 
Yet on the 23rd of the month Morley wrote in his journal, 
"Still camped in brush and living on anticipations . . . these 
claims are very hard to open . . . water troubles so 
much . . . 'bed rock' line lies some twenty feet under the 

The next day, they hit bedrock and eagerly "rocked out 
twenty pans from bottom of shaft, getting forty cents." Two 
cents a pan. Theirs was not to be one of Alder's bonanza 
claims. Soon they sank another shaft which showed more 
color, but not enough to make them rich. During their first 
year, they worked their claim thoroughly, searching along the 

59 Taking the Gold from the Gulch 

bedrock for the pocket that would make their big gamble 
worth while, make this long absence from families not such a 
dreary waste. Their best day they retrieved $64.75 in dust, their 
worst day only sixty-five cents; and one day they made only 
$1.35 from seventy-six buckets of sand. They were still living 
on last year's anticipations of which Morley had written: "This 
place, so far as opened, has proved very rich; some claims have 
yielded as high as fifty four ounces ($970.00) in a day, per 
eight men, and many yield $40.00 to $50.00 per hand. Such 
claims, with labor at $6.00 per day, (the present rate) will 
yield their owners a snug little pile of the precious metal in a 
short time." 

Mining in Alder Gulch was dangerous as well as labori- 
ous. The shifting sands of the old riverbed were treacherous, 
almost beyond control. Cave-ins buried men alive with horri- 
fying regularity; rarely did the frantic digging of those from 
adjoining claims get to them before they suffocated. At first 
no one, not even experienced quartz miners, knew how to stay 
the sand. Only when men who had mined under similar cir- 
cumstances came into the gulch and taught the correct method 
of timbering did the regularity of the smothering cease 8 
but partners still took turns risking the dangerous work below 

Most good claims were worked with a crew of hired help, 
three men underground, two miners and an ore-car pusher, 
and four men above, two on the windlass and two sluicing. 
Hired hands were often worse miners than the claim owners. 
Many of them had come into town as drifters and "did not 
know how to mine, nor did they want to learn. All they wanted 
was enough money to last them until they could get some- 
where else." 9 These men might be useful above ground work- 
ing the windlass or shoveling tailings or picking rocks from 
the sluice, but underground they left more gold behind them 
than they were worth. 


Sluicing was the surest way of retrieving placer gold. A 
sluice was built up a section at a time for easy mobility, each 
section being perhaps fifteen feet long and from one to four 
feet wide, according to the amount of material to be washed 
and the amount of water available. Because of its shape it was 
known as a box, the sluice being made up of several boxes. 
Removable riffles were placed in the bottom of each box. Rif- 
fles were made from any material which would provide a 
rough surface to collect gold dust, as it, being heavier than its 
matrix, sinks to the bottom as the whole washes down the in- 
clined sluice. There were riffles made using cleats nailed across 
the bottom of the sluice; others used rough-sawed tree butts 
with the rough side up, small round poles nailed close together 
or a board through which many auger holes had been bored. 
The lower end of the sluice, from which the waste material 
was disgorged, was called the tail-race, hence the name tail- 
ings for the discharged material. 

If the material being hoisted to the surface was rich (the 
miner panned a little of this several times daily to check), the 
head box was cleaned often, maybe once a day, maybe once 
every several days. The heaviest deposit was naturally always 
in the first box. Lower boxes were allowed a longer time be- 
tween cleanings to allow them to build up their deposits. 

In order to clean riffles, the water was dammed immedi- 
ately above the one to be cleaned. This dam supplied the riffle 
cleaner with ample water for panning. A tub was brought 
near. The larger material was removed and placed in the tub, 
then the riffle was removed from the sluice box and carefully 
cleaned into the tub. The contents of the tub were then panned, 
for they were not pure gold: the riffles collected black sand 
as well, which had to be separated from the dust. The gold 
was collected into containers and hid under the bed for the 
Saturday-night division of spoils. 

61 Taking the Gold from the Gulch 

Mercury was sometimes placed in the riffles to aid in the 
collection of the gold particles. The gold and mercury formed 
amalgam, from which the gold could be recovered by heating, 
the mercury boiling off to be recovered by distilling and used 
again, the gold left behind. Sometimes the mercury was just 
boiled off, and greenhorns accidentally killed themselves by 
cooking their amalgam over the cabin fire, dying from breath- 
ing the mercury fumes. Others, smart enough to leave the 
cabin while the cooking was going on, died from eating 
food which had become impregnated with mercury. The Post 
warned all amateurs to do their mercury cooking outside and 
to stand ten feet away even then, but some of the b'hoys 
couldn't read. 

If tenderfoot miners were no great shakes when it came to 
digging gold, they were little better at sluicing it. They slapped 
their boxes together and set them at such a pitch that fine gold 
washed right on down the tail-race. Some of the tailings they 
left behind later panned out at four to twelve cents a pan, a 
good living for anybody. But what the hell was twelve cents a 
pan to men who spilled enough dust buying drinks to make 
a big night's saloon sweepings worth five dollars a pan as 
many a bummer knew. 

Gold left in the ground or gold dumped into tailings they 
cared little for, but gold left in sluices overnight, or gold 
stashed around the place, they were mighty chary of. They 
stood guard over uncleaned sluice boxes at night. Unaccus- 
tomed riches to guard made a man trigger-happy. It was un- 
wise to walk too close to a sluice box on a dark night, for a 
noise down thataway might draw a potshot instead of a search. 
Being caught on another man's claim, pan in hand, was also 
chancy, for claims had been worked out by bummers while the 
owner was gone, and the b'hoys were not likely to believe even 
the likeliest stories. They knew that the gold from one claim 


looked mighty like gold from another, and anybody's assertion 
that he'd just hit a rich pocket could vouch for his sudden afflu- 

But guarding gold was not a problem peculiar to Alder 
Gulch; it just added to other problems, chief of which was 
water supply. During the summer months the b'hoys along 
Alder Creek and its tributaries cursed the summer sun and hot 
wind which daily sucked up the snows from the mountains, 
reducing to a trickle the creek water available for sluicing. 
Each miner swore at the men above him, who were, he was 
sure, wasting it. He built a dam, if he could, behind which 
water deepened until there was enough for a freshet to spill 
down his sluice-way. He fretted with his partners on the bank 
of the miniature lake while the water inched its way from a 
puddle to a pond, until the headgate was raised and everyone 
worked double-quick to wash as much dirt as possible in the 
brief floodwaters. Then he chafed again and tried not to think 
of the amount of gold they could be sacking if only there was 
enough water. If the summer continued really dry, the whole 
party might be dry-gulched left with no water until the fall 

Miners sang the "no-water blues" as long as placer mining 
was important in the gulch, a plaint accompanied by fierce 
overtones of anger whenever any other body attempted to tap 
their supply. Thus they raised a ruckus when the Virginia City 
Water Company started to pipe the headwaters of Daylight 
Creek into town, but were unable to stop the project or 
decided it wouldn't harm them. They hatched various schemes 
to remedy the lack of water, the most grandiose of which was 
the one of bringing the waters of the Madison River into Alder 
Gulch by starting a canal miles and miles upriver. Some specu- 
lators received a charter from the first legislature to dig such a 
canal, which they estimated they could do for $75,000, but 
they never could persuade the b'hoys to hold still long enough 

63 Taking the Gold from the Gulch 

to make their scheme work. Another syndicate, the Virginia 
City Water Ditch Company, did succeed in bringing water 
from lakes beyond the head of the gulch, but an expected 
1500-inch head of water turned out to be a 300-inch trickle. 
Their more ambitious plan, an effort to dig a canal from the 
Ruby River to the gulch, collapsed in 1868 after only a few 
miles of channel were dug. 10 

The greenhorn, wanting only to scrape up what gold he 
could and to head for home, cared little about such long-range 
planning. Water was something that came out of the sky, not 
a carefully flumed product purchased like so much milk. 
Water in the mountains was free, or should be. The damnedest 
country, this day after day of big, black thunderheads drop- 
ping nothing but lightning. Back home, now, a black cloud 
meant business; it wasn't all rumbling with no results. 

Sometimes, though, in the driest part of the summer, a 
corker of a cloud would come grumbling all the way up the 
Stinkingwater. A man could see the water falling from it in a 
steady sheet. When it hit, anyone caught out in it found shelter 
dang quick, for this was a mountain hailstorm, bombarding 
him with pellets as big as marbles or bigger shredding 
leaves from quaking aspens, plucking feathers from sage hens. 
Brand-new dirt roofs leaked and eroded an inch or two during 
such a downpour. 

After the storm, partners came out of their cabin to wade 
through inches of slush and to gaze grimly at the hole where 
their dam used to be, the well that was their shaft hole. The 
sun, shining now in all its pre-storm heat, revealed sluice 
boxes disappearing along the crest of the flash flood, the fruit 
of a western cloud burst. Mining in the deforested bottom of 
a Rocky Mountain gulch had drawbacks never mentioned in 
the Guide Books to the Gold Fields published back home. 

Too much water, coursing along the escape channels it 
had always used, gathering volume from every side gulch, was 


an annual thing for Alder Gulch in May and June when melt- 
ing snow waters joined with rains. "Drowned! Drowned! 
Drowned!" was the yearly complaint of miners near Nevada 
City, for here the spring run-off from Alder and Brown's 
Gulch comingled to ruin their workings. Damage of $10,000 
per claim was not uncommon, damage which it took as much 
as two months to repair. 11 

The b'hoys soon learned to plan their work according to 
the water supply. After a season's experience with its floodings 
and ebbings, the shrewd miner, unable to sluice during the 
winter when the damnable liquid turned to solid, used the cold 
months to bring up gravel from his drift below, stockpiling it 
against the spring defrost, making sure that no part of the 
spring torrent went past him without having washed some of 
his pay dirt. Experienced miners also used this time to dike 
their claims against the expected spring run-off. 

Seepage water underground was also a problem, some- 
times so great as to force a man to abandon his claim. He 
could have been rid of this water, if he hadn't been in such an 
all-fired hurry and had been willing to spend a little time and 
money, to cooperate in establishing drains which would have 
served all. As it was, if the water became too bad, he joined 
the next stampede. Similarly, if a claim spread to too great a 
depth, on went the claim-holder; he was after wealth, not com- 

Though this clumsy miner was laughed at and criticized, 
for the most part he went home happy. When homesickness 
overcame him, or when he "had all he wanted," he toted home 
whatever he had of what he'd come for with never a backward 
glance. Usually he took off in the fall to avoid the idle winter, 
its boredom and expense. In the fall of 1865, the Post re- 
ported those who had struck it rich were heading home, one 
man transporting 400 pounds of gold dust, another 200 
pounds, and "from 100 Ibs. to 25 Ibs. ... so common, that 

65 Taking the Gold from the Gulch 

a record of the names would look like our post-office list." 12 
The poor man transporting only twenty-five pounds of gold in 
his carpetbag had a fortune of at least $5400 as his take-home 
pay. If he had stayed at home, chances were that he would 
have had to work about eleven years just to earn $5400, with 
no hope of saving such a sum in a lifetime of working for 
wages. The man with 100 pounds of gold was fixed for life. 

These men could have sold their gold in Virginia City for 
greenbacks or for bank drafts, but they would have had to sell 
for less than they could get for it in the East. Though the risk 
was greater, the extra reward made up for it. Most men trans- 
ported their own gold. 

Claim after claim, Alder Gulch yielded a yellow treasure 
that outdid all other placer discoveries, occasionally giving up 
unbelievable chunks of gold that squatted in the riffles when 
the dirty sluice water had drained away. Nuggets accounted 
for little of the actual wealth of the diggings, but there was 
something about their size (there still is, for that matter all 
that gold in one hunk) that made them the talk of the town. 
Any big new nugget was always "the biggest yet found in Mon- 
tana," and was displayed at the offices of the Post or at a trust- 
worthy saloon. 

Virginia City b'hoys crowed over the tendency of their 
gulch to produce nuggets. The Nelson Gulch crowd boasted of 
their big $2000 beauty (seven and a third pounds) , but had to 
clam up when, according to the newspaper, Alder disgorged a 
lump of gold weighing fifteen pounds in May of 1867. 13 Ironi- 
cally, the nugget was supposedly brought to the surface in a 
re-working of Bill Fairweather's discovery claim. Though the 
Post warranted such a nugget, it should be remembered that 
Editor Blake, who took over the paper after Dimsdale, admit- 
ted fabricating news when none was to be had, and it is likely 
that this nugget was the work of his alchemy. 

The great thing about Alder Gulch was not the size of its 


nuggets, but the extent of its gold deposit. Here gold was not 
pocketed in a piddling quarter mile or less; it lay in an almost 
continuous bed stretching in a sixteen-mile ribbon. Here was 
room for not just ten claims, or fifty claims or a hundred 
claims; close to a thousand claims were staked along its bot- 
tom. Most places the gold was thick, some places thin, but 
nobody found none. 

But more men came here than the gulch, for all its size, 
could hold. They spilled over into tributary gulches; they 
staked claims on neighboring Brown, Bivin's and Ramshorn 
Gulches. Yet every day brought new pilgrims, who had trav- 
eled hundreds of hard miles to mine gold, who begged to be 
sold a piece of the gulch. The b'hoys with fourth-rate claims 
salted them and waited for "the new comers from America 
going up and down this gulch, with a hundred or two dollars 
of nice new Lincoln's in their pockets, asking all sorts of ques- 
tions in regard to mining, and crazy to strip themselves of their 
last red, by purchasing one of these salted claims" 14 (thus they 
were described in a miner's letter home). B'hoys on the sell 
swore to the newcomers that they would be working the 
ground themselves, but they just didn't have the capital, or 
showed a bulging poke of what might be gold and allowed 
they had all they wanted. 

Speculation in claims ran extremely high in 1864, but no 
one was going to get more than a small piece of a claim for a 
few hundred dollars in greenbacks. Ordinary claims were sell- 
ing for $1000 to $2000, while good claims demanded at least 
$10,000 per hundred feet. 15 Selling a claim was the easiest way 
of making it pay, so much so that the six discoverers took the 
easy way, peddling their claims and all but one taking off for 
other parts. Only Thomas Cover remained to build the first 
sawmill, up Granite Creek, and, later on, to build the first 
flour mills in the Territory. Only Thomas Cover would die a 
rich man from investing his Montana-made capital in Califor- 

67 Taking the Gold from the Gulch 

nia real estate. (Barney Hughes and Bill Fairweather also en- 
riched Californians, Hughes being swindled by the San Fran- 
cisco real-estate sharks and Fairweather by the San Francisco 
saloon owners.) 

No one knew how much gold was being taken from the 
gulch each day, but it was so much that one man wrote home 
saying, "It is my deliberate opinion, that if daily accurate 
statements could be obtained and published, it would create a 
wilder gold delirium than has yet prevailed," but he didn't 
dare to venture a guess. The only estimate made was that of 
Judge Blake, one-time editor of the Post, who guessed that 
$30,000,000 had been taken from the gulch in 1864 alone, 
and that by 1866 it had produced $60,000,000. 16 What the 
total take has been, no one knows, for there is no telling how 
much gold was recovered by the Chinese who worked the tail- 
ings left by earlier miners, mucking for some forty years but 
never revealing what they were pocketing, by the men before 
them who had taken over abandoned claims and at last put in 
a bedrock flume, or by the miners of the '60's. Judge L. L. 
Callaway, who should have been able to make a good guess, 
writing in the 1930's, put the total production of Alder Gulch 
at about $100,000,000 at the old gold prices. 17 




early in 1865 saw a town so new that the clapboard and log 
buildings had not yet weathered; so jerry-built that some of 
these same buildings were already beginning to sag or lean 
in fact, a few had collapsed; so unkempt as to appear as if 
refuse had been piling for decades rather than for months; so 
crowded as to make privacy almost impossible. 

This same pilgrim, standing at the crossing of Wallace and 
Jackson streets, known as Content Corner, saw, in one block in 
each direction, most of the important business houses of town: 
narrow, ugly wooden buildings, huddled together, sprouting 
overlapping signs that befuddled his eye. Some of the stores 
were so narrow, the owner obviously had merely roofed over 
and plugged the ends of a walkway between two buildings to 
provide a niche for himself. Strange wooden chutes slanted 
from eaves over sidewalks to carry rainwater to the street, pre- 
senting even more of a jumble to the pilgrim. Stovewood was 
piled in the street fronting each store. 

Behind him, at the foot of Wallace Street, he could see the 
beginnings of a Chinatown plus the very evident red-light 

69 How the B'hoys Lived 

district just hovering over the workings in the gulch below. 
As he had walked up the street, he had passed Leviathon Hall, 
a log building eighty feet long and twenty-eight feet wide, 
said to hold 1,000 people (more on the occasion of the great 
Con Orem-Hugh O'Neill New Year's fight). 

Up Wallace Street to his right, just beyond the corner, was 
a handsome stone building, two stories high, which the sign 
told him was occupied on the lower floor by the Gem Saloon. 
This is the Stonewall Building. He would find out later that 
upstairs was the Gem Reading Room, a place of relative quiet, 
containing all the latest papers and periodicals, dominoes, 
checker and chess boards, but no pasteboards; a place for 
quiet conversation, but where religious and political subjects, 
which led to wrangling, were strictly taboo. Dues, five dollars 
per month 1 for a few months. The place would soon close 
doors: too much like a mausoleum for the b'hoys. 

Across Wallace Street from the Gem was the big Idaho 
Hotel and Billiard Parlor, almost nudging its little neighbor on 
the corner, the Montana Post building, into the street. Across 
Jackson Street (downstreet) from the Gem was the two-story 
adobe building which made this the center of town, now occu- 
pied by Content's Store, which gave the intersection its name. 

One block to the pilgrim's left and down the steep little hill 
behind the Montana Post, he could see a corral, from the gate 
of which hung a rude cutout of an elephant the Elephant 
Corral. If he had sharp eyes, he might see a man in the corral 
with the same rude elephant shape appliqued to his vest front, 
a walking reminder that this man would auction anything 
saleable. On the corner diagonally across was Anton Holter's 
White Pine Lumber Yard. These businesses stood at the corner 
of Jackson and Cover streets. Cover Street wound along Day- 
light Creek and would eventually be straightened by command 
of a picayunish city council who allowed only that "houses not 
in the middle of the street will not be disturbed." 2 A sign 


painter, a blacksmith and a candlemaker had workshops on 
this street, but it was mostly corrals on the creek side and 
dwellings on the other side. 

Behind the dwellings rose another hill, Cemetery Hill, the 
horizon line. A number of wooden headboards were scattered 
in silhouette across one end of the hill. At least seven hanged 
men lay buried up there. Soon many of the headboards would 
disappear as the righteous and well-heeled of the town moved 
the bodies of loved ones to another burying place on the hill to 
save them from the contamination of resting near the bodies of 
criminals. (Those bodies having no relatives in town, or no 
one to pay their fare from one grave to the next, were allowed 
to lie where they were and take their chances with the road 

The pilgrim, still admiring the view from Content Corner, 
could see only a little more than a block to his right just 
to the buildings beyond the crossing of Jackson and Idaho 
Streets. Jackson Street slanted easily uphill to meet Idaho Street 
and was one of the most "pedestriated" streets in town. If 
the pilgrim moseyed up that way, he would soon know that 
this was the block. At his left, across the street and against the 
sky, rose the glass checkerboard paning of a skylight empha- 
sized by the sign PICTURES the photographer's studio. 
Below the studio was Con Orem's Champion Saloon. From 
across the street the voice of the extroverted Con could be 
heard telling how he knocked out the champ of Denver. In 
spite of his loud ways, Con ran the soberest saloon in town. He 
didn't drink and wouldn't take any guff from drunks. Imme- 
diately uphill of Con's was the neat, painted storefront of John 
Rockfellow, General Merchandise. 

Walking on up the street, the newcomer passed another 
stone building, the Star Restaurant, the Delmonico's of Vir- 
ginia City. Next to it was the Claseby House, then a barbershop 

71 How the B'hoys Lived 

and, on the corner, the Arcade Saloon (ice cream and, a 
rarity in the town, a good cup of coffee also served), 

At Idaho Street the pilgrim could see that this, too, was a 
thriving business section. Tootle and Leach, wholesalers, catty- 
corner across the intersection from him, Chicago House on up 
to the left. Directly across Idaho Street was the Planter's House. 
W. A. Sanders, Attorney, behind the Arcade Saloon. Across 
Jackson Street to the left, the corner store of John Howe, Gen- 
eral Merchandise. And just down street a way was the sign 
BREWERY, which drew the pilgrim away from his sightseeing 
and into Mannheim's for a brew. 

If it had been just a little later in the year, he would have 
had to wade across to the opposite boardwalk, for here, in 
the spring, the word street was a euphemism for the muddy 
boundary which surrounded each block. It was of little use for 
foot travel, difficult for wagons, and much complained of in 
the Montana Post in any year from 1 864 to 1 868 : 

The heavy rain in the beginning of the week and the 
miry state of our thoroughfares, prevented any perform- 
ance at the Theatre, for some days. ( 1 865 ) 

(a mud hole forces ladies) ... to make a long and 
muddy detour, involving an elevation of skirt not relished 
by the most valued and respected of the sex. ( 1 865 ) 

Bootblacking is ridiculous; cleanliness below the knee 
impossible. (1866) 

Wallace Street has been chartered a canal. A ferry boat 
will be put on at Jackson Street crossing. ( 1 867 ) 

The streets might have served under ordinary traffic con- 
ditions, but here, in the spring and summer especially, they 


were choked with traffic, hundreds of men on foot, wagons of 
every kind driving wherever an open space presented itself. 
The tremendous flow of heavy freight wagons on iron-rimmed 
wheels towed by straining iron-shod hoofs, turned ordinary 
mud into deep, soupy mire. 

In the summer hoofs and wheels sank into loose dust, but 
it was more of a discomfort than a hindrance. Still, traffic 
moved slowly, because there was no traffic control of any 
kind, no right of way, no proper side on which to drive, no 
parking ordinances. Fleets of freight wagons, joined tandem 
two, three, even four in line stretched their eighteen to 
twenty oxen ahead of them, blocking the street as they un- 
loaded. The town marshal ordered all traffic off Wallace Street 
except wagons loading or unloading freight, in an attempt to 
relieve the congestion, and ordered the auctioneers to hold 
their auctions elsewhere than the middle of the main street, but 
the local court didn't support his command. The old disorder 

The streets were unusually filthy. Livery owners piled 
manure there from occasional stable cleanings. Dead animals 
lay for days where they had dropped, though editors warned, 
"If it gets a few degrees warmer they'll not smell pretty well." 
Hogs rooted where they would, a nuisance legislated against 
but never controlled, leading the Post to complain in 1866 that 
residents did not need plows, for the ground had already been 

Obstructions in the street were a menace to traffic. Excava- 
tors for new buildings piled dirt in the street. The holes at the 
foot of Jackson Street were avowed to be " 'somebody's busi- 
ness' to be fixed. Several wagons have upset there and 'smashed 
things generally.' " 

Nobody knew whose business it was to fix the streets, for 
the city didn't have the money for it. The city council at- 

73 ffow the Whoys Lived 

tempted to do something by ordering all property owners to 
"clean up the streets in front of their lots, after this is done, the 
Marshall will keep the thoroughfare clear, having a cart for 
the purpose." The marshal and his cart evidently weren't what 
was needed, for, soon after, the streets were being complained 
of again. The poor man hardly could have been expected to 
pick up behind litterbugs such as one of the doctors, who, 
cleaning up his office, nonchalantly tossed an amputated hand 
out of the window. Perhaps the biggest aid the marshal had 
was the annual flooding of the streets, when the accumulated 
refuse of months sank out of sight, the only complete street 
cleaning ever accomplished. 

A pedestrian had to "look a ledle oudt." Sidewalks were 
uncertain things, being full boardwalks in some places, planks 
thrown carelessly across mudholes in other places, sometimes 
fine stone walkways and in most places non-existent. His 
path at intersections might be blocked by auctioneers bidding 
off horseflesh, wagons, miner's shovels or what have you at a 
convenient corner. Jaywalking, he was in danger of being 
trampled by these same auctioneers galloping up and down the 
street, shouting their wares, showing off an animal to be sold. 
This was a real danger to anyone on foot, and complained of 
in the Post: ". . . running stock through a crowded thor- 
oughfare . . . is dangerous . . . to pedestrians. . . . For if 
six men ... try the strength of their lungs at once, going at 
full speed at the same time, it is impossible to ascertain from 
which side danger is approaching. . . ." 3 

The nocturnal stroller had to feel his way, for Virginia City 
streets at night were virtually blacked out except for an occa- 
sional illuminated sign such as the one before the Champion 
Saloon proclaiming "Everything for the Boys" and except for 
such dim light as might filter through windows and open 
doorways. A desultory lantern hung at street crossings was all 


the city boasted of street lights. Excavations were mostly un- 
marked, and the unwary sometimes disappeared into cisterns 
or ditches. 

Shank's mare was the mode of transportation for almost 
everyone in town. Buggies and similar rigs were rarities, except 
for the very few to be rented from the liveries, for few people 
had driven a buggy across the mountains into the wilderness. 
Bishop Tuttle wrote to his wife concerning the singular lack of 
wheeled transportation, warning her they would have to go 
horseback on short trips out of town, and remarking about the 
street scene, "There were no vehicles in the streets that I had 
been used to. Instead there were huge freight wagons from 
which goods were being discharged . . ." 4 Scheduled triptf 
up to Summit as well as down to Nevada City were made by 
what were termed omnibuses. They were not successful ven- 
tures; most miners preferred to walk; what was a few miles' 
hiking to men who had walked into the Territory from Mis- 

The little town undoubtedly didn't "smell so pretty good." 
Horses, oxen, and hogs in the street left certain effluvia behind 
them. The numerous livery stables added a similar stench to 
the wind. Rotting carcasses of cats, dogs, and perhaps horses 
added further aroma to it. Taking a bath was virtually impos- 
sible for a lot of the population, and some of them would have 
been puzzled at the necessity. Luckily, the drainage was good, 
the mountain air invigorating, and the spring water up Day- 
light Creek pure and sweet, for the miner was too busy to 
worry about sanitation. Even so, he was healthy and needed 
little medical attention. His eternal squabbling gave lots of 
work to lawyers, but in 1864 it was observed that "doctors 
[are] about to become extinct." 

There wasn't a building in town of any graciousness, any 
luxury. The Reverend Hough described the place as being "a 
city of ten thousand inhabitants, and not a frame or plastered 

75 How the B'hoys Lived 

house in it, but consisting of tents, 'dug-outs' and log-cabins, 
mostly with dirt roofs and no floors." 5 The young school- 
ma'am who had been astounded at the energy of the miners, 
was "not very favorably impressed with Virginia City. It is the 
shabbiest town I ever saw, not a really good house in it." 6 

Allen & Millard's bank was acknowledged the finest in 
town, and it consisted of one room papered "neatly" with 
a sleeping room in back. Saloons were ramshackle, though 
gaudy, with the exception of the fine Gem Saloon with its 
sunken dance floor and orchestra in the rear. The People's 
Theatre, which crowed about its parquette and orchestra in its 
opening announcements, and had its elegant appointments 
puffed in the paper, was in fact lined with ordinary muslin 
flameproofed with alum water. It was described by one visitor 
as "a hall, capable of holding two hundred and fifty persons, 
with a rude little rear gallery, long wooden benches, a great 
wood stove, an orchestra of four, five tallow candles for foot- 
lights, a green cambric drop-curtain, and a stage the size of a 
small bedroom." 7 In spite of the huge stove, it was sometimes 
so cold in the house that playgoers were forced to leave. 

Roofs of earth were all the style at first, even after it was 
discovered that sleepers under such coverings were liable to 
waken following a thaw or rainstorm with "faces striped in the 
most irregular manner," which prompted the Montana Post to 
plead with its subscribers to shingle their roofs before the rains 
set in and spattered the face of a loved one with mud. Occa- 
sionally, when a family sat down to eat, dinner was spoiled by 
a sudden avalanche of soil onto the tin plates or into the meat 
platter. The congregation at the one church in town was simi- 
larly annoyed, causing the parson to remark about the roof: 
". . . while it held dirt but indifferently, it did not hold water 
at all ... to the great annoyance of the advocates of 'dirt 
houses.' " 8 A man was killed when the "mud roof" of the 
California Exchange Saloon collapsed. 


In the town which surely must have had the largest per- 
capita income in North America at the time, everyone lived 
wretchedly. The Reverend Mr. Hough and his wife existed in a 
parsonage the size of a chicken coop: 

Our parsonage at Virginia City was built soon after our 
arrival there of entirely green logs from the woods, and 
chinked with the mud nearest at hand. It was 13x16 feet, 
with dirt roof, one window filled with glass and the other 
two covered with muslin. A carpet was extemporized of 
cow skins, placed hair side up, and stretched tightly while 
green, and nailed to the floor . . . That winter the ther- 
mometer was 50 deg. below zero and it was no exageration 
when I say we were very uncomfortable. Mrs. H. suffered 
so much from neuralgia that she has totally lost the sight 
of one eye, and will be a sufferer from the disease to the 
day of her death. 9 

The minister and his wife could find no relief from the 
cold by going to church, for one resident of the town wrote in 
his diary that winter: "Tommy went to church for the first 
time and nearly froze his feet." 10 But for all of this misery, 
their accommodations were better than those of the people 
who were still living in the wagon boxes they had wheeled 
across the plains and finding them luxurious compared to a 
brush wikiup. 

Even the well-to-do lived poorly. Rockfellow, the wealthy 
storekeeper and speculator, slept with the rats amongst the 
flour sacks in the storage room behind the store. Tilton, the 
publisher of the Montana Post, shared a tiny cabin with two, 
occasionally three, other men (the third for a time being 
Bishop Tuttle, who commented, "A man comes in and shakes 
up rather than makes our bed. Men rather than women do 
domestic work here") . Every place that would shelter a head 

77 How the B'hoys Lived 

was occupied, tiny cabins renting for twenty to thirty dollars a 
month. 11 

Hotels were primitive and crowded. Travelers directly from 
the east were shocked at the best accommodations in town, 
in the Planter's House, and could not get over how little they 
received for the $125 a week in their eastern paper money 
(twenty-five dollars a week in gold). 12 A typical room there 
was an eight-by-twelve, muslin-ceilinged cubicle containing a 
bedstead of rough lumber with a straw mattress, straw pillow 
and two rough army blankets on it, one rough stool, and a 
piece of broken looking glass. The Reverend Hough and his 
wife discovered only one sheet on their bed in this hostelry. 
When they asked about such a peculiar arrangement, the serv- 
ant informed them it was in use as a tablecloth because of the 
great rush of business that day. The sheet was returned to their 
bed, but, Hough surmised, only because they were early risers 
and would be up in good season to release the sheet for double 

Four years later Bishop Tuttle stayed in the same hotel 
and found conditions little improved. In a letter to his wife he 

We stop at the 'Planter's House,' the Fifth Avenue Hotel 
of the place. Our bedroom is about twelve feet square, and 
in it are one double, and two single beds. Mr. G. and I 
occupy the double. As there is need, the landlord sends 
whom he will into the cots. No lock is on the door; no wash 
bowl or pitcher in the room. Every morning we go down to 
the office to wash, wiping our faces on the office towel. 13 

Here the walls were so thin that two polite gentlemen kept 
a conversation about geology running on and on so as not to be 
"master of many a forbidden family topic" of the couple 
housed next door. In the seventies, hotel guests would have 


even more plaguing problems. Those lucky enough to have 
single beds and rooms to themselves would still have company. 
A newspaper editor wrote at that time that "Bedbugs are so 
thick down town that the fellows sleeping in single beds can 
hardly stand them. Some of them take chunks of raw beef to 
bed with them to give the bugs a chance to feed." 14 

Yet, the town was loved crowded, filthy, and verminous 
as she was. One early-day resident, reminiscing from Helena 
in 1869 (by which time the town was being referred to as 
"Old Virginia" a legend at six years old) wrote, "It is pre- 
eminently a city of happy memories. Who, in these later years, 
has lived within and left it, but cherishes the happiest recollec- 
tions of Virginia?" 15 Thomas Dimsdale wrote in a similar 
vein, "We have travelled far and seen much of the world, and 
the result of our experience is a love for our mountain home 
that time and change of scene can never efface." One emigrant 
so loved her, he thought her beautiful, and described her as he 
first saw her, saying, "If we expected to see a sprawling town 
of shacks we were doomed to disappointment. Instead, an 
orderly village of neat log and frame buildings nestled in a 
sheltered basin ... a tiny stream . . ." 16 

The natural beauty of the surrounding country must have 
moved all but the most molelike miner. The six miles of gulch 
above town wind through steep hillsides of pine and Douglas 
fir, with occasional hollows filled with quaking aspen. At the 
head of the gulch, little mountain meadows hang under the 
cliffs of Old Baldy. The three-mile ride from the head of Day- 
light Creek to the top of the ridge above town rewarded the 
rider with the blue, now blue-purple, now dull green view of 
the peaks of the Madison Range across the valley of the Madi- 
son River. From the ridge, looking back, the Ruby Mountains, 
sixteen miles away, looked like cardboard cutouts, toy moun- 
tains for a children's theater. 

Up the Madison River, so far as to sometimes appear 

79 How the B'hoys Lived 

cloud-like on the horizon, were the peaks of the strange coun- 
try surrounding the headwaters of the Yellowstone. A few ven- 
turesome b'hoys had penetrated this place and had come 
home visibly shaken, telling tales of fountains of steaming hot 
water, of a smell of sulphur, and of hollow ground that shook, 
roared, and trembled underfoot. (By the early seventies, every- 
one would be making the trip to see for themselves, and the 
most popular local song would be "I Want To Go Where the 
Geysers Go," and the place would be the first National Park.) 

Sunsets here beat anything a man ever saw back home, 
some nights filling the whole sky with color. And the special 
sunset that came sometimes after a rain, when the sun dropped 
into a slit between purple clouds and skyline, gilding rough 
lumber buildings with colored light, redoing the dull hillside 
in bold-lighted rock and juniper against purple-shadowed gul- 
lies. . . . The town stopped for a while to admire its own 

To men used to the everlasting winter and the deep snows 
of the East, or to the gray days and miserable, bone-chilling 
dampness of the Midwestern river bottoms, the Rocky Moun- 
tain winter was a surprise. Sunning oneself in shirt sleeves on a 
south slope in January was an unexpected pleasure. Deep snow 
was for the higher elevations; here, at 6000 feet, there was 
rarely more than six inches on the ground. Here, during a cold 
snap, though the temperature dropped out of sight on Eastern 
thermometers calibrated to only thirty below, the b'hoys com- 
mented that they didn't notice the cold as they did at home, 
and often worked out in such weather (sometimes freezing 
fingers and toes because they hadn't felt the cold). It was a 
great time for joshing about buying whisky by the chunk, until 
the chinook wind blew in from the southwest, raising the 
temperature eighty degrees overnight, evaporating the snow, 
leaving the ground bare, the weather mild. 

Summers were made up of warm days, seldom too hot, 


and nights blissfully cool, just right for sleeping. No more 
sweltering through a muggy, pitchblack night of July. There 
were no fireflies to enchant a summer evening, but overhead 
were stars close enough for the plucking. 

Indian summer commonly lasted until Christmas. Spring 
never came, as elsewhere, but here the squally snows of April, 
the sudden snowstorms of May, the soggy ones of early June 
were things to be endured for the sake of the tolerable weather 
of the rest of the year. 

Near-by natural beauty there was in abundance. Climate 
was better than some places, worse than others. Some even 
thought the town charming. But it must be admitted that they 
loved her not so much for her beauty, as for what she gave 
each man. In Dimsdale's words again, "The one great blessing 
is perfect freedom. . . . Everyone does what pleases him 




DOZENS OF MEN came to Alder Gulch 

and never worked a claim. Moses Stubbs taught "fancy danc- 
ing" in Stonewall Hall every Tuesday and Thursday evening to 
all the fellows who longed for the tender delights of the hurdy- 
gurdy, but needed instruction. Business was so good he had to 
advertise for help: "Wanted A DANCING MASTER 
None need apply, unless capable of teaching the latest fashion- 
able dances." Singing school was held by blacksmith Jess 
Armitage once a week. Mr. Hammel and "Monsieur Beure- 
gard, from Paris" taught French, the latter teaching the lan- 
guage "with Parisian purity." Professor Toffts painted views of 
the city and surrounding country, selling them to the local 
residents. DeWaugh's band was available for dances, funerals, 
or social affairs, and played for every performance at the 
theater. Old Brod, ex-Negro slave, made enough blacking 
boots to lose $50,000 on the New York stock market. A. M. 
Smith's photo studio over Con Orem's Saloon was "as profita- 
ble as a 'claim' in the bed of Alder Gulch." Daguerrotypes sold 
for five dollars each, and most all the b'hoys wanted to send 
their frontier likeness back home pistoled (with borrowed 


firearms?) and grim to prove to stay-at-homes that they 
were veritable Nimrod Wildfires. 

There was a market for most any ability in Virginia City. 
Little capital was needed; the important thing was to have a 
ready eye for opportunity and a spry wit. Some men saw the 
possibilities in using up the wagons in camp, wagons left 
standing where the oxen had stepped from the traces for the 
last time, abandoned by men who had no room to store them 
on their claims, by men who intended to take their dust home 
by stagecoach. Shrewd men manufactured pick handles from 
wagon spokes and made old wagon tires into pick eyes for the 

Each man did the opportune thing, trying one idea for a 
while until it played out, and then tackling another sure thing. 
For a while whip-sawing was a good business. Two good men 
could whip-saw 100 feet a day at seventy-five cents a foot. At 
another time, hunting game for one of the many butcher 
shops in town was profitable, and wagonloads of elk, moose, 
deer and buffalo carcasses entered town. One man, Professor 
Ward, gathered skins of these slaughtered animals for sale to 
Eastern museums. Two entrepreneurs furnished the city with 
ice: C. W. White guaranteed 200,000 pounds of Crystal Lake 
ice delivered "cheaper than any other White man and live" 
while Louis Romey's Pine Lake ice was "warranted pure and 
free from all Slaughter-House drainings." 

Craftsmen, especially, found a market for their skills in 
Virginia City. Of these, the most important to the thirsty 
b'hoys were the brewers, the men who could produce malt 
from barley and ferment it with sugar and hops to make beer 
they could buy for two dollars a gallon. The b'hoys drank 
enough of it to keep three breweries busy, Mannheim's and 
Gilbert's in Virginia City and Scheffler's in Nevada City. Beer 
and sweet highballs were their favorite drinks; the straight 
shot, downed in so many thousands of gulps on the movie and 

83 Free Enterprise in Alder Gulch 

television screens, was drunk when winter shortages of sugar 
forced it on unwilling palates. 

Many barkeeps kept a still dripping in the back room, and 
anyone of them worth his salt knew how to add a little cut 
plug to this batch of raw alcohol or cinnamon root to the next 
to produce "brandy," "rye," or "bourbon" as needed. The best 
of these recipes produced a Stinkingwater Brand of whisky for 
which the b'hoys would shell out seven dollars a gallon two 
dollars per gallon more than they were willing to pay for the 
cheapest "imported" rotgut. Good barkeeps also knew to the 
ounce how much cutting good whisky would take. Many a 
barrel of whisky on the back of a mule ended up as two bar- 
rels on the back of a bar. 

"Encourage Home Manufacture," pleaded the advertise- 
ment of the local candlestick maker, "save its freight hither and 
have a first rate article." It was a good argument. The Mon- 
tana Post got behind the movement and soon everything from 
soap to combs made from native Montana horn was being 
made and sold in Alder Gulch. 

A candy maker set up his kitchen on Wallace Street just 
above Content Corner. Several bakery signs appeared on the 
street, behind which the floury proprietor usually served liquor 
with his pies. Sometimes a man "went down to the bakery to 
have a drink." 

The blacksmith in Virginia City had things so good he had 
the gall to close his smithy on Sunday, knowing full well it 
would make no difference to his trade on Monday. He was in 
special demand, not only as shoer of animals and rimmer of 
wheels, but also as manufacturer, turning out everything from 
the plows needed by miner-turned-farmer to the parts needed 
for the first quartz mills (the one at Summit was entirely hand- 
made). Each blacksmith claimed he could hammer out a shoe 
better and faster than any other smith in the gulch. Forging 
contests were frequent. 


There were other smiths in town, smiths whose anvils 
didn't ring from morn till dark, smiths who couldn't shoe a 
horse or weld a broken wheel shaft, the goldsmiths. Three of 
them came to town to melt its gold into gee-gaws for the 
b'hoys. At their neat work benches they fashioned gold fresh 
from the claim into bold watch chains, or showed off that 
unique nugget on a conversation piece of a stickpin, or chased 
pretty earrings for the girl he'd left behind. They created some 
of the few bits of beauty in the town. 

Leather was the most necessary material on the frontier, 
furnishing the hinges on the miner's door as well as his latch 
string and sometimes his winter underwear. Passengers in 
A. J. Oliver's coaches were cushioned from the rough roads by 
the soft springing action of the leather thoroughbraces. Drive 
belts for crude water-powered machines were leather. Shoe- 
makers, saddle and harness makers were as busy as they 
wanted to be. A tannery on the Stinkingwater furnished 
leather to them at considerably less than the imported stuff, 
using the hides from hundreds of oxen who had pulled 
wagons into the Territory. 

Stone masons quarried local stone and raised native-stone 
buildings, the stones so skillfully fitted that their adobe-mud 
mortar still cements their walls firmly in place. Cabinet makers 
furnished the new buildings with fine rosewood and mahogany 
furniture "in the best style and of the most excellent pattern 
that can be procured." They advertised that they could also 
furnish billiard balls as well as "coffins on short notice." Tin- 
smiths fashioned buckets, stoves and chimneys by the hun- 

Virginia City, then, could produce almost anything she 
needed. She had to, for she was a long way from the factories 
of the East. She was able to, for her craftsmen could easily 
compete with the high freight rates necessary to bring in 

85 Free Enterprise in Alder Gulch 

ready-made goods. They were busy; they could afford to hire 

Jobs were plentiful in the early days of Virginia City, 
though the jobs were not always just what a person had been 
looking for, "People of means at home, working as day la- 
borers, taking in washing," and "clergymen's most prized rela- 
tives" tending bar. But callused laboring hands here made 
money tantamount to that made by soft, professional hands 
at home. 

Wages were five times higher than in the East. Miners were 
paid the premium wages of six dollars to eight dollars per day. 
Bookkeeper clerks made as high as $175 a month. Newspaper 
employees drew forty-five dollars per week, teamsters and 
laborers, fifty dollars per month plus board and room. 1 Con- 
trary to expectations, living costs were not nearly so high in 
proportion. The Montana Post in 1867 placed the living cost 
at not more than ten per cent higher than in the East, and, in 
the same year, Bishop Tuttle wrote his wife that prices were 
not outrageously high. Flour, sugar, and coffee sold for thir- 
teen cents, forty cents, and forty cents a pound, wholesale in 
Montana, and for seven cents, thirteen cents, and twenty-one 
cents in New York only twice as high. 2 There was consider- 
able fluctuation in prices according to season, of course, but 
it was estimated that a family could live for $1800 per year 3 
which was just about the average workingman's income. 

There was a great variation in labor supply, which should 
have produced a corresponding fluctuation in wages. The mar- 
ket was flooded in the summer months by the waves of emi- 
grants arriving; it dried up in the winter, when the worker, 
fearful of the high cost of lying idle, headed for home. Yet 
summer wages remained constant in spite of this annual in- 
undation. Partly, this was so because more men were needed 
during the summer, but also it was true because experienced 


miners were hard to find and because honest men were at a 
premium both in the mines and in town. 

There was actually a labor shortage in town during the 
mining season, enough so that it provided employment for a 
one-man employment agency. According to the Post, he was 
often hard put to it to persuade the independent miner to get 
to work: "He appears to think that mining pursuits lead to 
dropsy . . . upon overtaking a miner he immediately 'taps' 
him on the back. Some times he is successful, but occasionally 
he is requested to visit a place of much warmer climate than 
this is." 4 

Such independence was galling to employers who were 
anxious to grab their fortune and were being held up because 
of no help. The paper wagged the editorial club over these 
recalcitrant miners' heads by threatening to hire foreigners 
(Chinese) if wages continued at the same high rate, swearing 
that it was too much to be submitted to. 5 The editor might 
have saved ink, for the b'hoys did as they pleased, wages re- 
mained high, and the owners dared not put Chinese in the 

Employers also had difficulty finding honest men whom 
they could allow to handle big sums of money, or intelligent, 
educated men whom they could allow to make decisions. 
Anton Holter discovered this when a trusted employee ab- 
sconded with funds, forcing him to work almost around the 
clock, because there was no one he could hire to take the 
man's place. Young Jim Miller, bookkeeper and clerk for 
John Rockfellow, found that his employer would pay him any- 
thing within reason and give him speculation privileges, even 
storing goods for him, in order to keep him from other store 
owners who tried to entice him away. 

Men as sure of their jobs as Virginia City workers were 
could afford to work when they wanted. A man could feel free 
to turn down the flabbergasting offer of $250 a month for 

87 Free Enterprise in Alder Gulch 

bartending, if he just didn't feel like bartending right then. 
Such workers could afford to try another gulch, if they 
thought they could do better there. A steady job meant lit- 
tle to b'hoys who had their ears attuned to pick up the faint- 
est whisper of excitement over a new strike. They threw down 
their picks, took off their aprons, tossed away their tin-snips 
and piled out of town rather than let anyone get to a newly 
rumored good thing before them, sometimes following the new 
trail all night by matchlight. They left employers fuming, 
mines all but closed down, sawmills not turning a wheel, for 
want of help. They slid out from under the speculations mer- 
chants had built upon them, leaving the storekeeper sitting on 
nothing but the hopes that had brought him there. 

The stampede was an infuriating thing to men with a 
vested interest in Virginia City. City elders made every effort to 
play down any rumor of new gold strikes, the newspaper being 
their chief ally in admonishing workers not to be misled by the 
rainbow's end. When gold was discovered on Blackfoot Creek, 
the Post printed "this latest blast of ... (Rumor's) . . . 
trumpet" and wondered about "the exact locality of this ten 
thousandth edition of El Dorado." During the gold excite- 
ment on the Kootenai in 1864, the Post reported nothing 
doing there and said that Mr. Grimes of Oliver & Company had 
written that many were speaking of "coming back to a sure 
thing" Virginia City, of course. 6 

The editor and businessmen were not being entirely selfish 
in this pooh-poohing of rumored gold strikes, for far too many 
of them were wild-goose chases. One in 1864, particularly 
depopulated the town. Horses sold at enormous prices, grub, 
tools, and clothing were freighted out of town, buildings at the 
new camp contracted for all over a two-year-old prospect 
hole with no show of color. The ones who made money from 
this rush were the men who had goods to sell that would just 
suit the miner and a dozen mules that could get the stuff to the 


new place before wagonloads of stuff could arrive. False 
rumors circulated by these profiteers started so many gold 
rushes that the b'hoys devoted a commandment to them in 
the facetious Miner's Ten Commandments which they passed 
about the gulch: 

NINTH COMMANDMENT. Thou shalt not tell any 
false tales about "good diggings in the mountains" to thy 
neighbor, that thou mayst benefit thy friend who hath 
mules and provisions and blankets and mining tools he 
cannot sell; lest in deceiving thy neighbor, when he re- 
turneth through the snow with naught save his rifle, he 
presenteth thee with the contents thereof, and like a dog 
thou shalt fall down and die. 7 

In spite of the warning, the profiteers continued to break 
the commandment. They put up canvas stores at every new 
strike, sold a tent full of goods at swollen prices, and retired 
temporarily from business until the next stampede found them 
driving tent stakes where the b'hoys were driving claim 

But being lectured or cheated could not stop the b'hoys 
from stampeding. They pounded out of town to Blackfoot 
Creek, to Silver Bow Creek, to McClellan Gulch, or wherever. 
These strikes established small towns which freighted wagon- 
loads of supplies from Virginia City to new stores. To the sur- 
prise of those who had been worried about stampedes, the 
capital city fattened anew on wholesale business. Then, in 
1864, the whopper of a strike at Last Chance Gulch siphoned 
fifty per cent of the Alder Gulch b'hoys over the Boulder hill to 
the new town of Helena, merchants and manufacturers drawn 
along with them. Within weeks, Virginia City became "Old 
Virginia" and every other building in Nevada City had a FOR 
RENT sign on it. It was a blow from which Virginia City never 

89 Free Enterprise in Alder Gulch 

But while the b'hoys of Virginia City were stampeding else- 
where, b'hoys from the East continued to stampede to Alder 
Gulch, drawn not only by the money to be made here, but by 
the chance to do work more interesting and which called for 
a lot more from him than many available jobs in the East. 
Knocking about a mining camp forced a man to use his head. 
He learned to set timbers and spiling solidly against the un- 
stable sands or died because of his ignorance. If he had never 
sawed a rafter before, yet found a job as a carpenter, he was 
soon using a framing square like an old hand. He became 
the jack-of -all-trades that every frontiersman had to be and 
figured out how to blacksmith a little, to hew a little, to cook 
a little, to turn a hand almost anywhere. He was on his own. 
More so than if he'd stayed at home. His alertness and his 
ability were noticed by a government observer, who wrote in 
a report on the mineral resources of Montana: "The average 
miner of all the new Territories is far superior, both in natural 
intelligence and acquired knowledge, to the laborers of the 
older States." 8 His term, miner, could be expanded to include 
all the laboring force of the new Territories. It was a wonderful 
thing for men to expand, to be free of the routine jobs of the 
stagnant East. 

Coupled with the satisfaction of doing challenging work 
was the new sensation of enjoying work that cut across class 
barriers. In the gulch and in Virginia City, a b'hoy was not 
forced to be with and work with clerks only, if he was a clerk, 
or with roustabouts only, if he was a roustabout. Chances were 
he worked shoulder to shoulder with his boss; chances were he 
picked up from him words, ideas, and attitudes he'd never 
heard of before. If he was pleasant company, he became ac- 
quainted with friends of the boss, men he would not have met 
at home, literary men, military men, engineers, lawyers, and 
leading merchants. He truly felt the equal of anyone in camp. 

Such affluence, such generosity, gave Virginia City a spe- 


cial place in the hearts of all who lived there. The town could 
afford to hire men at decent wages, could afford luxuries which 
other towns could not, could afford leisure for big parties and 
big dreams. And of these things, the dreams were important, 
for the b'hoys had come closer to gaining them (the dreams of 
the Gilded Age) than if they'd stayed at home. Though they 
suffered hardship and were often broke, they had paid twenty- 
five cents for an orange and one dollar a pound for flour, 
prices to be afforded only by millionaires. 




THE WORST ENEMY of b'hoys able to 

do what pleased them best and with dreams partially realized 
was, strangely enough, boredom especially in the winter. 
When frozen ground idled the miner, troubles began, not be- 
cause of the cold, but because every morning a b'hoy had to 
make the same decision: What'll I do today? Mebbe he'd read 
that dog-eared copy of David Copperfield he'd just managed 
to borrow, but his eyes were still sore from reading by candle 
light last night. Mebbe he'd take his sled and go coasting down 
Van Buren Street hill, that'd use up a couple of hours. Chop- 
ping wood might fill the morning; if not, he could go skating 
once more on one of the frozen ponds. Tonight? Bowling? 
Nope, not at those prices. Billiards? Not for the twenty-third 
straight night. Hurdy-gurdy? The girls were ugly and the 
drinks hogwash. 

Mebbe the boys from other gulches called this dump the 
"Social City," but they didn't live here. This was a dead town 
even the newspaper admitted it: 

We are enjoying the dullest time in the evening amuse- 
ments line, we have had the misfortune to witness since 


our arrival in this otherwise fast town. No theatre, no 
negro minstrels, no balls, no nothings. Can't somebody get 
up a nice dance, such as we had the pleasure of witnessing 
a month or so ago. Where do you go these long evenings? 1 

A tiny cabin with dirt floor and muslin windows was a 
boresome place, no matter how snug. The filth of inadequate 
housecleaning drove most men to town instead of to cleaning. 
(Miners' cabins were so dirty a woman abhorred having to 
move into a place that had been bached in. ) 

Gambling, sleighing, singing in a glee club, hunting, fish- 
ing, none of them were any good to a man who needed a 
woman. Nothin' but busywork they were, busy work to keep a 
man's mind from continually climbing into bed with a woman. 
The fancy girls at the bottom of the street were useful, but the 
whang-bang of their professionalism left a man restless for a 
real woman. 

For men with wives left behind, men like Isaac Rogers, 
storekeeper, the dead calm of the Virginia City winter was a 
torture of morbid longing. Rogers wrote down his blues, a 
daily notation of self-pity during the day and of erotic dreams 
of his wife each night a diary which stopped short the day 
his wife arrived. 2 

Frustrated men were edgy men, downright mean at times. 
In the summertime, they sweated the meanness out by swing- 
ing a pick; in the wintertime, they drowned it out by swallow- 
ing alcohol but it wouldn't stay drowned, and on some win- 
ter nights a saloon-full of b'hoys mauled each other, creating 
a hooraw which could be heard all over town. Bartenders used 
slungshots and bungstarters freely to break it up; next day 
there were sore heads and black eyes around, but the whole 
town felt better for the excitement. 

Now and then, old wounds chafed to where the soreness 
could be soothed only by a grudge fight, and a couple of 

93 The Virginia City "Night herd" 

b'hoys on the prod would shoot at each other. Sometimes they 
wounded each other but the obituary notices of the Montana 
Post show very few deaths occurring from barroom brawling. 
(Similarly, the paper records few brawls during the summer 
months, when the b'hoys were too tired to come to town, too 
busy to drink.) Alcohol is not a good fighting partner for a 
man intent on murder. 

Those who had experienced the finer things of mid-nine- 
teenth-century life in the East tried to establish some of these 
institutions and customs in the crude little town to help while 
away the winter. They organized into debating societies and 
argued such questions as "Resolved: The Love of Woman has 
more influence on the mind of man than the love of gold." 
They got up mock lectures in which the fattest man in these 
parts expounded on "How to Get Fat." Dramatic societies pre- 
sented Shakespearean tragedies and Sheridan comedies. Glee 
clubs sang upon occasion. Brass bands organized, played a 
serenade or two and died. Literary societies flourished and 
withered each winter after listening to one of Judge Hosmer's 
presentations of the reasons Bacon was Shakespeare. Leading 
citizens organized social events of the coming season with all 
the aplomb of a "four hundred." 

Any affair was well attended. In fact, the upper floor of 
Stonewall Hall was so crowded at a meeting one night, it 
began to buckle "with a most exciting crash," causing some of 
the crowd to jump over the bannisters and land on the heads of 
those who were jamming the one stairwell. When the damage 
was repaired the whole crowd went back upstairs again to 
finish the meeting, weak floor or no weak floor. 

These organized social affairs made the place seem a little 
like a home. They gave the transient camp an aura of perma- 
nence, but they did little for the majority of men who lived 
here. The b'hoys still had to make their own fun. 

And they did. They were full of high spirits, and their fun 


was rough. The saloons were their meeting place and practical 
joking their avocation. Their membership included most of the 
men who in their most sobersided moments attended Judge 
Hosmer's literary lectures (before coming to town he had writ- 
ten the popular novel, The Octoroon). Night or day, occa- 
sionally their dern foolishness became so infectious that the 
whole town would explode into comic activity. Because they 
ne'er went home until morning, some wag dubbed them the 

Their restless, comic activity was what gave the town its 
personality, the personality of mining camps the West over. A 
good laugh came to be revered; comedy was the essence of the 

A fantastic mood was abroad that took closely colored 
and earthy forms ... A wild hilarity prevailed without 
the familiar check, without the familiar descent into other 
communal emotions . . . Personal ties had been cut: a 
deep sentiment, a vast sentimentalism, overflowed along 
with hilarity. . . . The current mood . . . was comic. 
. . . With all the vicissitudes, the heartbreak, the losses, 
the abundance of human failure, the comic mood arose 
irresistibly. 3 

Constance Rourke is here speaking of the California miner, 
but it is equally true of Montana. Laughter was the best medi- 
cine for the rigors of Alder Gulch. 

The very idiom of the Nightherd was designed for comic 
effect; a practical joke upon the language, upon the listener 
and upon the situation. For instance: if a man had "wood- 
bined" he had died "Gone where the woodbine coileth"; if a 
man was a "toozlecompoop," he was always sticking his nose 
in other people's business; if he started a new enterprise of 
any sort, he was learning to "run the machine." A real go- 
getter was a man who did "business in a minute! Most prev- 

95 The Virginia City "Nightherd" 

alent man in the camp was "the man in the wagon" he was 
the author of all rumor. 

A simple "No" was not enough for the b'hoys. If one of 
them declined something he was liable to say, "I ain't on it," 
or "I don't go a cent on that," or "None of that in mine." On 
the other hand, if someone said, "Take it Bob, take it," it was 
an affirmative meaning, "I'll have another drink." If he had 
too many he was "geysered." 

A fellow a b'hoy couldn't cotton to was "panned out and 
couldn't get a color." Chances are that the fellow was told 
"There's no weight in your coattails," which meant to git on 
about your business. With this a "gravel" probably started, 
which ended up in a fight in which one or the other was 
"cleaned out to bedrock." 

One saying in particular explains the town and its atti- 
tude. It was the laconic "Some things can be done as well as 

The Nightherd watched the doings of the more sedate men 
about town with a cynical eye, pulling a leg here and there 
when they were being especially serious, playing a lively 
counterpoint to their largo. When all the serious planners and 
organizers were stirring up the town with their cries of "Injun" 
and attempting to coerce "volunteers" for a militia, the b'hoys 
rigged up John How's black mastiff with Indian hat and feath- 
ers and bedecked him with a sign "Recruits Wanted." 

If some musicians formed a band, the next night "the 
Calithumpians" were out parading with tubs, kettles and other 
clangorous instruments. If a notorious tightwad refused to 
buy a new hat, the b'hoys saw to it that he received a decrepit 
headpiece every day as a gift until he got the idea. 

When there hadn't been a hanging in some time, the 
b'hoys spread the rumor that two men had been strung up 
during the night. Everyone except the Vigilantes and the joke- 
sters deserted the town to search for the bodies. From ceme- 


tery hill they could be seen "in ravines on the hillsides, as far 
as a ten pounder would throw a shell, the white surface of the 
snow was dotted with merchants, lawyers, clerks, mechanics, 
representatives, loafers and dogs . . ." 

They were especially fond of pranks on sleepers. Men apt 
to doze in public did so only once, for the favorite means of 
awakening such a snoozer was by inserting an oil-soaked cork 
in his nostril and setting it afire, scaring the poor man into 
thinking "he was a victim of spontaneous combustion." A 
variation on the prank was to "embellish the protuberant nasal 
organ of the slumberer with a split cork full of matches," light- 
ing same, "and in an instant the frontispiece of the little dozy 
presented the appearance of the patent head-light on a loco- 
motive." Dr. Nichols, "the-up-town Dentist," played another 
variation on this theme by waking a loafer found sleeping in 
his chair by yanking out a tooth with his pliers. Quoth the 
Post, "The joke is too good to lose, if the tooth was not." 

Such simple-minded stunts have ever been the delight of 
the human herd. It serves a purpose, culling automatically 
those who don't belong with a certain band as surely as a bat- 
tery of tests. It had a therapeutic value in the lonely mountain 
town by helping to break the monotony and diminishing the 
danger of cabin fever and real trouble. 

Retribution to evildoers was a very special kind of practi- 
cal joke; it taught a lesson and provided a laugh at the same 

Such a never-to-be-forgotten lesson was the explosion of 
the stove because the fuel stolen from another man's woodpile 
had been booby-trapped by drilling out a core and re-filling 
said core with gunpowder. Such a prank was known to back- 
fire when an absent-minded Guy Fawkes forgot which one was 
loaded and fired up his own stove with his own booby-trap. 

Bluffs and blowhards who loved to swagger about armed 
and blustering were apt to have their bluff called. When such a 

97 The Virginia City "Nightherd" 

citizen announced he was leaving Deer Lodge once upon a 
time, "a few of the citizens concluded that in honor of his 
departure, they would give him a farewell dose. So the ball 
went on, and at the point of a knife, with both hands elevated 
above his head, 'danced all night till broad day-light,' with 
permission to leave the country the next morning." 4 

To such a gang that once-a-year celebration on April 1st 
was a godsend not that they needed it, but it did add an 
extra fillip to the year. And even the non-inventive could get 
into the act, strewing the usual purses on sidewalks and send- 
ing mysterious packages filled with hay on which there were 
enormous express charges. Bottomless whisky bottles were the 
rage one All Fool's Day. Barkeeps asked to fill such a bottle 
wasted considerable liquor trying to decide where the level 
mark was with whisky at eight dollars a gallon. Madder were 
the merchants who tried filling such bottles with kerosene 
which retailed at twice as much. 

Most tenderfeet found the b'hoys' welcome a little too 
warm in spite of the Post's hearty greeting to greenhorns: 
"If . . . you catch the sound of 'pilgrim,' 'tender foot,' 'fresh 
fish,' etc. as you pass through our streets, laugh it off, for it is 
not meant in derision but said from force of habit; for our olcj 
mountaineers have hearts as big as all outdoors, and will bid 
you as warm a welcome as you could wish." 5 Perhaps but 
many a poor lad was put on a horse too much for him where 
"the exercise was invigorating, but the ride didn't amount to 
much." Other greenies found their hats flying down street at 
the end of fishhook and line. 

An innocent newspaper reporter was especially good pick- 
ings. One such was sent rushing up the street to see "an im- 
mense brick from the Kennet Lode." It proved to be a brick 
and it was "some distance from the Kennet Lode." At another 
time he, and half the town, rushed up the rocky butte opposite 
the foot of town to see the volcano, the smoke of which was 


issuing from between the rocks, only to discover another sell. 
The crowning blow was his walk of a mile to see a "cherry 
colored cat." He found one black as a crow, which the prank- 
ster explained by remarking, "black cherries." "Local" an- 
nounced in a special item in the paper that he'd had enough of 

A notable member of the Nightherd was round-faced, 
chunky X. Beidler, detective, messenger, bill collector and 
man hunter, he who had made his reputation as a cool cus- 
tomer back in the "old days" of the first Vigilance Committee. 
X. could usually be found with the b'hoys, swapping yarns 
in the most popular saloon in any town. He was a great traveler, 
dropping in here and there for a day or so on mysterious 
business which he always referred to as "looking for tracks." 
One time he rode 600 miles in eight days. If not on business, 
he appeared in all of his sartorial elegance, sporting a cane 
and beaver hat, his suit black, new and well cut. If on business, 
his well-known campaign hat, with brim so deep it hid his 
eyes, making him appear all hat and walrus mustache, sig- 
naled his sojourn in town one paper announcing his visit 
so: "The big hat (accompanied by "X.") visited our burgh 
last week." A showman to the Nth degree, Beidler knew the 
value of his cognomen, X., and used it when introducing him- 
self but alone, never with a surname. Copywriters loved 
the title: commenting on his clothes, the Post said he "goes 
into winter quarters, expensively, exquisitely, extatically, ex- 
actly X." 

If not on business, he was usually a few days later than 
expected getting out of town, for his coming was a signal for a 
party, and all the sports in town gathered around to hear the 
news from this latter-day strolling mummer, to hear what 
new stories he had collected or concocted and to hear once 
more his yarns about his grasshopper threshing machine. 
"The little one," as he was sometimes affectionately known, 

99 The Virginia City "Nightherd" 

had a way with the language and his phrase, "grease your 
boots," meaning scram, was the rage of Wallace Street for 
some time. He murdered the b'hoys by quipping an answer to 
where he caught all those fish "In the water." He became as 
enigmatic as his name, some papers referring to him as "the 
unknown quantity." If some toozlecompoop wanted to know 
where he was off to his stock answer was "don't know" and 
he was going there to "see what he could see." Such mys- 
teriousness only added to his appeal to the Nightherd. 

X. could do no wrong in their eyes except for one little 
fault: he tended to grow repetitious in his yarns about the 
hangings of the road agents (he was one Vigilante who 
openly admitted his membership in the group). He loved to 
talk of the days of '64, a weakness that grew downright ir- 
ritating come the twenty-fifth re-telling. The Virginia City 
b'hoys thought up a cure. 

One night, just before Christmas in 1867, Beidler wandered 
into the El Sol Saloon, popular Wallace Street hangout. A 
dozen or so of the b'hoys hallooed him and called him over 
for a tot of Christmas cheer. Aglow with the spirit of the sea- 
son, he agreed to tell them once more the story "that occurred 
up country in more dangerous days." Drink in hand, he 
launched into this, his favorite yarn. He had only started when 
one of the gang yawned profusely, mumbled and wandered 
off to the far corner of the room. Somewhat surprised, X. con- 
tinued, only to have another rude yawn punctuate the tale 
and still another crony desert him. One by one, his other 
listeners followed suit, leaving him with nary an ear to hear 
the tale. Mad at first, he soon divined it a capital sell and 
eagerly joined the gang, waiting to trap the next comer with 
the same gag, seemingly enjoying the joke as much as the 
next man, but secretly biding his time, waiting for his revenge, 
diamond cut diamond. 

His chance came a few days later, on Saturday. Judd, the 


famous outlaw, had just been captured and was in the local 
calaboose enjoying the bread and water which decree fed all 
prisoners. X. found his victims having an afternoon drink 
and "by knowing looks, and half spoken innuendos, he created 
quite a desire among a party of gentlemen to see Judd, now 
in jail." X. agreed to take them down to the jail if they really 
wanted to see the notorious one. They jumped at the chance. 
On pretense of showing them the cells, X. maneuvered the 
whole group into one, then, quickly stepping outside, slammed 
the door shut and turned the key, imprisoning the lot of them. 
"Sticking his handsome phiz against the grating, said: 'Boys, 
I believe while I have time and everything is favorable, I will 
finish that little story of mine.' " And he finished it adding 
for good measure a chapter of the Vigilantes (Dimsdale's) 
and a few pages from Chesterfield. 

X.'s revenge was secure, but the gag itself grew into pro- 
portions of a stampede, by which moniker it was known about 
the streets. A body could hardly stop to greet an acquaintance 
on the street but what he was yawned at and cut off in mid- 
sentence. Facetiously, the choir expected the congregation to 
leave on the first bars of the anthem at Sunday's church 
service, and Mr. Langrishe swore he would forego Othello at 
the theater "lest the audience will break in the first line of 
'Othello's apology.'" 6 

The meanest prank concocted by the Nightherd was played 
on a would-be poet, of all people. Poor David Cowan, a burr- 
tongued, Scotch attorney-at-law somehow never did set well 
with the b'hoys. He had at one time come into town with the 
claim of a fabulous ore discovery of some kind, all because 
his compass had spun crazily while crossing the Jefferson 
River on the ice. This had made him a laughingstock. Most 
irritating was Cowan's pretense as a versifier, not only as a 
versifier, but as a second Bobby Burns. Now many of the lads 
about town scrawled off a bit of verse now and then, and even 

101 The Virginia City "Nightherd" 

had their rhyming printed in the paper, but Cowan's claims to 
poesy was even slimmer than theirs. Perhaps a sample of his 
work will suffice to pinpoint their aggravation with him and 
his work. The following appeared in the Montana Democrat 
just before Cowan's downfall, with the comment "The author 
has evidently developed a latent genius and discovered the 
destiny nature has worked out for him." 

I see the ploughman at his work, 

In spring-time now so early. 
He's stripp'd at it in his shirt, 

On the Madison Valley. 

The sower next behind him comes, 

And scatters grain full plenty; 
The ox before the harrow goes 

And covers it so gently. 

Fear not, ye honest husbandmen, 

The earth's as true as ever; 
Then do not put your trust in men, 

But in God and the river. 

Showers of rain may not come down 

Upon your lovely valley, 
When first you want the sprinkling done 

Upon your oats and barley. 

But God is good to every one, 

No matter what his nation, 
Then trust Him and the Madison 

For water irregation. 

So keep to work; the soil is rich, 

Of our vast Territory, 
Montana's hills and vales, of which 

You'll never need be sorry. 7 


As Bishop Tuttle commented, the man "flung off verses." 
Their lesson to such overblown posturing was to invite the 
poor devil to give a public reading of his poetry at the theater, 
for admission, proceeds to be turned over to the poor. When 
Cowan doubted they could procure the theater, they solemnly 
assured him they could for "it was obtained for a dogfight 

Delighted with the prospect of a public hearing, Cowan 
accepted the invitation, in verse: 

My muse is young and cannot fly, 

Not having fledged a wing yet; 
But by that time she may comply 

And give us all a Tune yet. 

That sound it will, 

Around each hill, 

And o'er our streams and valleys, yet 
I shall endeavor to conjure up, 
1st, Something suitable to the occasion; 
2d, Something local and perhaps jocular; 
3rd, Something relating to miners and farmers. 

I am, gentlemen, 

Yours, most respectfully, 

The b'hoys generously gave their sucker a full month to 
prepare his one-man show. They spent the time giving him 
every encouragement, egging him on, even selling advance 
tickets to the performance for him, meanwhile making plans 
of their own. 

The house smelled something fierce that April Thursday 
night with the aroma of high cabbage and sundry other putre- 
fying vegetables, but Cowan, wrapped in the arms of his Muse, 
was oblivious to all but his great chance. He should have 

103 The Virginia City "Nightherd" 

taken heed of his own poetic advice, "put not your trust in 
men." He had only barely started when loud applause broke 
forth, drowning out his every word, "whistles, locusts, trum- 
pets, gongs, tin pans, and those accompanied by merry shouts 
of laughter saluted the ears of the poet." When he doggedly 
persisted, cabbages thunked against the podium, rising from 
the house at him in great green parabolas. When he could 
stand no more, he fled from the stage, taking refuge in a near- 
by hotel room. 

The boys had their laugh, but Cowan the next day re- 
mained undaunted, claiming that "Burns had been hooted, 
and Byron hissed, and that all great poets had much tribu- 
lation." His proceeds, after paying all expenses, amounted to 
$106.20, which he conscientiously turned over to Bishop 
Tuttle for the benefit of the poor. The man was dedicated; 
he subsequently appeared again that fall repeating his per- 
formance of the spring, "where youth, beauty and learning 
united in the touching tribute," asking only "an impartial 
hearing by those able to judge." Report has it that coaches 
coming in that October week were loaded with those who 
had heard of the first performance and were anxious to "judge" 
this one. If persistence counts for anything, the man should 
have been a poet, for a year later once again an item ap- 
peared in the Post that Cowan "threatens to read another 
poem . . ." 9 

This particular kind of a gag, a sell upon a performer, was 
a recurring one amongst the Nightherd of Virginia City. 
Earlier they had rigged a performance of an original play by 
a certain Major Alberta, who had starred in his own piece to 
the cries of "Foul," "Time," etc., and had delighted the crowd 
with a curtain speech which warned the audience that the 
play was copyrighted. 10 

Later, a Mr. Hastings, after a first lecture on Mormonism 


and Mohammedanism, was encouraged to speak again. The 
b'hoys came loaded with vegetables to the second lecture, and 
had charged and fused the podium, as well as loading them- 
selves with fire pumps full of water. Hastings, being an old 
hand with miners, proved wiser than they, and "wasn't as 
big a fool as he was fool-looking." He had himself "arranged 
a little programme and carried it out . . ." 

He waited until the crowd was all in and all the money 
taken. He then collected this, walked up to the lectern, took 
one look at it and said, "Gentlemen, I find that I have left my 
manuscript in my room at the hotel; I will go after it and 
return anon." With which he promptly jumped out the open 
window at the back of the stage, mounted the waiting horse 
there and galloped off into the night. Some of the boys made 
for him but all they got of him was the note he left on the 
lectern: Caught at your game no rotten eggs for me. The 
editor of the Madisonian hooted at the b'hoys for once the 
foolers fooled and said to his readers, "Anyone meeting the 
gentleman will please give him a half dollar for us; we paid 
him a half, but consider the joke worth double admittance." 

The b'hoys were left with a nice stock of firecrackers and 
rotten cabbage and eggs. They didn't try to use them. They 
were a little tired of them. With good grace and a wry laugh 
they ran the following ad disposing of them: 

BELOW COST. The undersigned having been sold, 
are now offering for sale below cost, the best assortment of 
fireworks ever brought to this city. Our stock consists in 
part of fire-crackers, serpents, torpedoes, rockets, &c. &. 
We have also on hand a large lot of first quality rotten eggs 
and cabbage; also a squirt pump, the same formerly used 
at the Stonewall. 

Having been disappointed in a late enterprise, we have 
soured on the country, and are determined to close out and 

105 The Virginia City "Nightherd" 

emigrate to Peace River. If you wish to see us alive, call 

George Mitchelum. 
We were betrayed James Farrellum 

Thomas Toddy & Co. 

Tickets to the Hasting's lecture can be procured of 
James Mitch, Esq. of the marble front. A few of those 
nice eggs on hand. For fireworks, pumps, and gongs, call 
at the above stand. 11 



IT WAS A LONG, long way to Virginia 

City from any direction a man tried to get to her. From almost 
anywhere, it looked as if "you can't get there from here," and 
for part of the year that was often true. Only the man on foot, 
on snowshoes, made it, especially so during the winter of 
'64, when Morley noted: "Owing to the deep snow . . . the 
mail agent has employed footmen to carry the mails from here 
over the range, nearly a hundred miles." That same winter 
it was necessary to send a man by foot over the mountains to 
Lewis ton, Idaho Territory, to procure a copy of Idaho Statutes 
that could serve as a guide to the freshman legislature about 
to convene in Bannack. He walked the 1400 snowy miles in 
less than forty days. 

Because the town was so far from any source of supply, 
because the way was rugged, the hauling season short, and be- 
cause the miner had the dust to pay for having his wants 
catered to, freighting soon became one of the biggest busi- 
nesses in the Territory. The miners needed picks, shovels, and 
powder. They used pills and pomades and patent medicines. 
For some, life could only be sustained by tobacco; others 

107 Toll Roads and Freighters 

found life impossible without liquor. Things to build needed 
nails; things to mend needed bar iron. Goods had to be moved 
from one excitement to another. People wanted news from 
home, wanted to send things home, wanted to-get-the-hell- 
out-of-this-Godforsaken-country. If a man didn't have a bo- 
nanza of a claim, the odds were that he could do better sup- 
plying these wants than dabbling in his muddy holdings. 

It took a good many men to wrangle freight the grueling, 
mountainous miles to Virginia City. In 1866, the year when 
the Territory was deluged with freighters, it was estimated that 
"twenty-five hundred men, three thousand teams and twenty 
thousand oxen and mules are employed in conveying freight 
from that sea-port [Fort Benton] to the mining towns . . ." * 
Freight coming in from Salt Lake that spring moved in a 400- 
mile string of wagons, as many as a thousand wagons rolling 
at one time (about two and a half a mile) . 

At the same time freighters and speculators in every di- 
rection around her loaded crates labeled Virginia City, M. T. 
Men in Portland, Oregon Territory, reckoned they were the 
closest seaport and sent freight up the Columbia River, then 
overland across the Army's Mullan Road to Montana. Men 
in Sacramento freighted goods to the terminus of the Pacific 
Railroad, then down the Truckee River, past Boise and into 
Virginia City. San Francisco and Los Angeles wholesalers 
sold goods to speculators whose wagons were pointed north- 
east. Pikes Peakers left Denver with goods destined for Alder 
Gulch. Men in Minnesota joined the last Fisk expedition and 
came through the Sioux of Dakota Territory to profit from the 
gold of Montana. The Post once estimated that 800 pack 
animals were headed her way, but in the same issue threw up 
its hands in despair and said freight was coming in from every 
direction and there was no way to keep track. 

If there were 2500 men working the freight that had 
come up the river by steamboat, another 2500 must have been 


handling overland freight, for it was estimated that half of the 
goods entering the Territory came by river and the other half 
overland. 2 In other words, it took as many men to freight 
goods to the miner, as it took men to work the mines per- 
haps more. They transported $12 million in goods that year 
of 1866. 3 

Virginia City was rather proud of her remoteness; it 
made the fact of her growth a phenomenon which her citizens 
felt they had accomplished by their own efforts. The chest- 
thumping Montana Post in its fourth issue smugly bragged: 

A more unpropitious locality could scarcely be im- 
agined . . . Sixteen hundred miles north-west of what, 
in our day, was the "far west," no ocean to waft the tide 
of commerce to its bosom; no ample river to roll its bur- 
den of commerce to the sea; a city like Virginia in a year 
and a half! Pshaw! . . . Yet it is so. 4 

But she paid for her remoteness. Goods arrived with 
fantastic freight charges on them. Miners in Colorado were 
far closer to the embarkation point for wagon trains, St. 
Joseph, Missouri (embarkation point it was, for St. Joe seemed 
an ocean port to all those who had navigated the prairies 
from its haven or who looked to her for goods and news 
from home). The silver miners of her namesake city, Vir- 
ginia City in Nevada, were closer to clipper ship and to 
railroad train than were Alder Gulch b'hoys whose wagon- 
freighted stuff "come over land from the Missouri border; 
average time ninety days; cost per pound from Atchison or 
Omaha, gold, ten to twenty-five cents; from New York, four 
to six cents addition." 5 Freight by boat might come up the 
Missouri in forty-five days; on the other hand, it might take 
as long as two years in transit. 

Her isolation and her needs helped to make her business- 

109 Toll Roads and Freighters 

men great travelers. They felt equally at home in Denver and 
Salt Lake City, traveled the long distances so often that men 
who lived hundreds of miles apart were close friends, and 
gossip in one town was the street talk of another. 

The isolation of the town made a wagonload of potatoes 
worth a fortune in June of 1863; it made a storekeeper out of 
the peddler who trudged up and down the gulch selling 
needles, pins and buttons from the pack sack he had toted all 
the way from Salt Lake City; it made a capitalist out of Lloyd 
Magruder, who sold a pack train of merchandise in town for a 
profit of $14,000. As in all mining camps, the early flush of 
sudden wealth and the lack of stores made a market in which 
a man could sell rubber boots at $38 a pair, and made a mule 
load of salt from Utah well worth the time and effort of an 
800-mile round trip. If a man could get there fustest with the 
mostest, he could make a killing. 

This was especially true in the spring when the b'hoys 
would pay almost any price to the man who would break their 
long, monotonous fasting. To hit this early market, a man 
needed mules. They couldn't carry much, maybe 300 or 400 
pounds per animal, but in any weather they could make two 
trips to an oxen-drawn wagon's one, and in the spring thaw 
they could leave them even farther behind. They carried big 
pay loads of many small parcels, in spite of the fact that they 
were persnickity about their vittles (more so than the mule- 
skinner) and had to carry a little oats for their bellies if they 
were going to work. Their speed and ability to go where the 
wagon couldn't made them one of the prime suppliers of the 
town, especially in hauling freight from Walla Walla. (The 
towns in the upper gulch, Summit and Highland, were also 
supplied by a daily pack train in 1 864. ) 

For all his speed, the muleskinner took little of the spring 
high-grade away from the slower-moving teamster, for he 
couldn't carry enough to more than whet the b'hoys' appetites; 


only goods by the wagonload could quench their winter- 
ripened wants, and they had newly mined gold to bid for it. 
If a wagoner knew his business, he headed his wagons into 
spring snow flurry heaped with flour sacks to fill the nearly 
empty mining-camp bins. If it arrived in town before the 
great lots from Fort Benton, the b'hoys might pay him forty- 
five cents a pound for it. On the other hand, if bad luck put 
him two weeks behind other wagons, the stuff was worth only 
fifteen cents a pound to them, sold right over the wagon 
back (after first taking out a five dollar peddler's license). 
Any later than this and he would have to sell to stores at 
lower than wholesale price, or through consignment to one of 
the auctioneers. 

Speculative freight, bought at Salt Lake prices, or better 
yet, at Missouri prices, on the chance that somebody in Vir- 
ginia City would buy it at a blown-up price, supplied the town 
in '63 and '64. Later than that, buyers in Virginia City more 
often ordered their goods ahead of time from eastern whole- 
salers, speculating in early spring merchandise themselves. 
Their Christmas stock came in July candies, ice skates, 
mittens and all were unpacked and stored in a "fireproof" 
at one-fourth of one per cent of their value per month to 
await their December market. 6 

In spite of this planning ahead, a Missouri b'hoy who was 
determined to see the Montana elephant could make money 
carrying liquid to the elephant. A barrel of whisky tucked 
away in a teetotaler's wagon was a sure-fire seller in Alder 
Gulch. Staple goods were better freight for the drinking 
man. Anyone with a new Shuttler wagon and four good mules, 
who traveled in a good wagon train, could make $1000 
on the trip $225 or more coming from passengers who paid 
$75 a head for the ride (grub thrown in, of course) . T 

But by 1866 the professional freighter was handling other 
men's goods and seldom had money invested in the load he 

Ill Toll Roads and Freighters 

hauled. He owned wagons and hired teamsters to drive the 
outfits for him. He had a surer thing this way, but, in the 
spring, he was as hard to deal with as ever. If a storekeeper 
tried to haggle with the man over a price to get his freight off 
the docks of Fort Benton, where it was becoming sodden in 
the May rain, he might just as well have been pleading with 
George Ives, for all the sympathy he got. No matter what 
his argument, he was going to be gouged from fifteen cents to 
twenty cents a pound for freight that a month later the con- 
scienceless teamster would be happy to haul at ten cents a 

For freight rates were as variable as the weather. A man 
paid what he had to to get his goods into Virginia City: in 
1866 freight from Walla Walla was moving at thirty to forty 
cents a pound, while, at the same time, wares coming up the 
Missouri River and then overland arrived in town at a total 
cost of only fourteen to eighteen cents a pound. 8 There was no 
set rate for any trip at any time. One man might pay one rate 
from Fort Benton, and another man several cents more or 
less for the same trip. Wagon freight was cheaper than pack 
mule, but they were both used at the same time over the same 
route. The difference lay in the kind of goods carried and 
what a man expected to make from them. When the railroad 
arrived at Corinne, Utah, in 1869, most goods moved to rail- 
head there and north the 400 miles to Virginia City. Competi- 
tion was stiff for this short haul, and freight rates stabilized at 
about ten cents a pound. 

Astute John Rockfellow, operating two stores, one in 
Virginia City and the other in Argenta, near Bannack, beat 
the freighters at their own game. He bought his own wagons, 
hired his own teamsters, and brought his goods from Fort 
Benton when he pleased and at his own price. 

The spring race of freight wagons to Virginia City was 
a contest of turtles plodding twenty miles a day between road 


repair stops, wagon repair stops, or stops to shoe animals and 
to rest them. Worst of all was the mudhole stop where the 
frost had gone out of the roadway, leaving gumbo, some- 
times belly-high on oxen floundering for a foothold against 
the drag of the wagons glued in place, sometimes crotch- 
high on a man as he wrestled barrels and crates to dry land in 
order to lighten the load, sometimes armpit-high as he crouched 
in the cold muck to dismantle the emptied wagon before 
pulling it to solid ground piece by piece. An expert freighter, 
with good luck, could make the trip from Salt Lake City in 
fourteen days (one did in 1866), but more usual was three 
weeks, plus extra days in the spring. If a freighter wanted to 
fight the bad mud in the early spring and take a chance on 
being snowbound in the fall, he could make four round 
trips a season; more likely was three, taking time out for 
loading, binges and the like. 

If an outfit did get snowed in, there was nothing for it 
but to camp on the spot the rest of the winter, eating beef 
from slaughtered oxen, living from supplies in the wagons 
unless they were filled with hardware. Come spring, somebody 
had to go to the nearest corral to purchase more oxen. 

The freighter who could afford horse or mule teams asked 
more for a job than the man with oxen, for he could move 
things faster. He soon won most of the short-haul freighting, 
from Fort Benton and Salt Lake, while the ox-driver made 
the long hauls from St. Joseph where speed didn't matter, 
the ox driver pulled bigger pay loads because it was unneces- 
sary to fill part of the wagons with grain to feed oxen; they got 
along on grass. 

The teamster's inspired cursing and the cracking of his 
whip announced his approach long before he could be 
seen at the foot of Wallace Street, as the whistle and rumble of 
an approaching railroad train do today. Most any boy in town 
would have swapped his job for a kingship, especially after 

113 Toll Roads and Freighters 

the four-mule team and one wagon multiplied into a sixteen- 
mule team and three wagons in tandem. Not many kings, as 
far as they knew, could sit aboard the near wheel horse with 
such aplomb, wheeling a juggernaut through the tangle of 
Wallace Street traffic with long jerkline running all the length 
of those glistening backs to the lead team, a long pull sig- 
naling them to turn left, a jerk to tak& it right a leetle, a whip 
pop and shout harassing any long-eared so-and-so who loafed 
on this last pull. 

The freighter and the Virginia City merchant dreamed 
of a Northwest Passage along which to bring goods from the 
east without wearing a man to a nubbin, on the one hand, or 
taking such a nick out of profits, on the other hand; some 
way that would be better than following the old Oregon Trail 
to Soda Springs, then striking north to Alder Gulch. Many 
things were wrong with the old road. First of all, it was too 
long: it formed the base and leg of a right-angled triangle; 
what was wanted was a route that followed the hypotenuse, 
that slanted toward Virginia City all the way from Missouri, 
but still avoided Sioux Territory. An impossibility. Another 
bad thing about the route was that it forced heavy wagons 
across the Continental Divide twice, once to the Pacific side 
at South Pass, back again to the Atlantic side at Monida Pass. 
What was more, the darn thing was worn out, not much feed 
for cattle nor brush or chips for fire too many people been 
over it since '49. And it was expensive to come that way, a 
squatter at every crossing, demanding toll for his bridge or 
ferry, sometimes ten dollars a wagon. 

Captain Sawyer's train, eighty-five wagons long, explored 
a new route to Virginia City in 1865 which crossed no moun- 
tains from Missouri to the Yellowstone Crossing, about a hun- 
dred miles from town. They came up the South Cheyenne to 
the Tongue River, then to the Yellowstone, which they followed 


to the Crossing. They built road all the way, but they also 
were delayed thirty days fighting Indians. 9 It saved five hundred 
miles over going through Salt Lake City, but few freighters 
used it. 

Jim Bridger, the famous mountain man and scout, laid 
out a route for the b'hoys that just about came up to their 
dreams. It cut off the Oregon Trail at Laramie, went up to the 
Yellowstone on the west side of the Big Horn Mountains, 
then followed the Yellowstone to the gold fields. It didn't 
follow the diagonal they wanted, and it was rough going in 
places, but there was lots of water and feed, and it avoided 
the pesky redskins. 

But Jim's notions were pooh-poohed by the new breed of 
mountain man, the booster, the promoter, the get-rich- 
quicker, who "could not see much to Bridger except an 
ability to sit on a wagon tongue and eat great quantities of 
sugar, meanwhile entertaining a lot of pilgrims with improb- 
able stories." 10 To him, Jim was an uncivilized, talky old 
nuisance who claimed it was better to take a little time and 
avoid the Injuns than to provoke them. 

John Bozeman planned a route that pleased the miner 
better: fast, with good grass and good water, just to the east of 
the Big Horn Mountains spang in the middle of Sioux 
country. It was easier country, physically, for greenhorns to 
traverse than Bridger's route, but it wasn't any faster (in 1864 
Bridger and Bozeman each led wagon trains to Alder Gulch 
by their respective routes, leaving Laramie at about the same 
time and arriving in Virginia City at about the same time) : 
the hail of Sioux arrows slowed down travel more than some. 

The army built forts along this road to protect the miner, 
but under-manned and under-supplied them dangerously. The 
Fetterman massacre in 1867, in which eighty-two soldiers 
were slaughtered, led to the abandoning of the forts. Even so, 
the freighter might have continued to try to force the road 

115 Toll Roads and Freighters 

had not the Union Pacific neared Corinne, disgorging freight 
and immigrant at rail's end, an easy few hundred miles from 
the mines. Everyone coming west, everyone freighting west 
used the speedy Iron Horse, giving the disputed land back to 
the Indians by neglect. 

When the road came into disuse, old Jim Bridger still had 
his hair, although he'd brought trainS up the bloody Bozeman 
trail, but John Bozeman had got himself ambushed and 
scalped in revenge for his road. 

Almost any old roadway that followed along not far from 
the route did for emigrant and freighter alike, each new wave 
of travel making wagon tracks parallel to older roads as the 
way became difficult. This was all very well on cross-country 
routes, but Virginia City merchants wanted something less 
haphazard after the roads crossed Territorial borders. They 
boosted for graded roads running straight to the capital. If 
Virginia City was to grow into its brilliant future so often 
prophesied by the Post, good roads had to be constructed. 
If she was to keep her preeminence as trading center to the 
Territory, good feeder roads must fan out to all the settlements. 
If she was to retain her position as first city of the Territory, 
there had to be available to the pilgrim good emigrant roads 
which would lead him straight to her doorstep. 

Unfortunately, the Territory had no way of financing such 
roads, no matter how necessary. None of the land of the 
infant Territory had been surveyed, hence it could not be 
taxed. Appeals for funds to the United States Congress were 
overlooked by that harassed body, busy with its own war 
worries. No public money could be raised for road building; 
yet, roads must be had. 

Men who could foresee the coming of hordes of immi- 
grants proposed that the roads be built privately and supported 
by tolls. They knew that the squatters at makeshift bridges 
and ferries along the Oregon Trail had done well. They figured 


that the new toll road between Virginia City and Summit, 
built the summer of '64 by Allen and Millard, the "bankers," 
was doing well. A little flyer in road-owning might be a good 
thing especially if there were no competition. Tolls, they 
argued in Virginia City, could build and maintain fine roads 
and bridges throughout the Territory. Tolls from a main- 
traveled road, they thought in private, would pay better than 
a gold claim. So they wangled monopolistic charters out of the 
first Territorial Legislature, each of these franchises granting 
to an individual or company the sole rights to a certain route 
and allowing them to charge all comers for the privilege of 
using the roads and bridges provided. Thirty-four different 
transportation charters were granted, covering every possible 
transportation route, every river crossing in the Territory, 
some of the charters giving the holders right to pre-empt 
townsites along the way, as well as sole rights to the telegraph 
route which might follow their road. Most important, the 
companies were given right of way for ten miles on each side 
of the route in order to keep any competing road from using 
the same route. Most of the charters also stated that the roads 
must be built within a specified time and kept in good 
traveling condition: ". . . any person who may travel said 
road and find it in bad condition, shall have the right to make 
complaint before any justice of the peace." If his complaint 
was found to be justified, "no toll shall be collected upon 
said road, or any part thereof, until it is put in good repair." n 
Tolls to be charged were specified for each road and 
bridge, but they varied so widely in amount there seems to 
have been little rhyme or reason in the way they were estab- 
lished. John Baptist Lorrain (Laurin) and Toussaint Kensler, 
proprietors of the Big Hole Bridge Company, had about as 
good a thing as bridge proprietors could get. At the toll gate 
for their bridge over the Big Hole River they demanded duty 
according to these specifications: 

117 Toll Roads and Freighters 

. . . there may be collected for said bridge the follow- 
ing tolls, and no more, to wit: For each wagon or vehicle 
drawn by one span of horses, mules or cattle, five dollars; 
for each vehicle drawn by one horse, mule or other animal, 
two dollars; for each additional span of horses, mules, or 
other animals, one dollar; for each riding horse or mule, 
one dollar; for horses, mules* cattle, and asses driven 
loose, the sum per head of fifty cents; for hogs and sheep, 
the sum per head of twenty-five cents . . , 12 

It was claimed by Colonel McClure, in one of his articles 
for the New York Tribune, that this bridge brought in $8000 
annually to Lorrain, 13 a neat yearly income from his share of 
the $6000 necessary to construct such a bridge. 

Road builders could be sure of equally good returns on 
investment. Consider the Bozeman City and Fort Laramie 
Road Company, which held the rights to the Montana end of 
the famed Bozeman Trail. Here Walter Dance and R. Ander- 
son, incorporators, could legally extort two dollars for each 
span of mules, horses, and oxen, plus another dollar for each 
additional span. They could collect this amount at each toll 
gate along their road, and there was such a gate every forty 

The first Assembly, in its generosity, went so far as to 
extend a franchise which covered the route of the public 
Mullan Road, built by the Army, and in use three years. 
The franchise holders immediately put up obstructions across 
the military road, forcing any traveler to use the private road. 
Farmers in the Bitterroot Valley denounced the legislature for 
closing the road by which they freighted their produce to 
the mining camps, complaining they had been separated from 
the Territory by this action. Acting Governor Meagher, upon 
his arrival upon the Montana scene in 1865, branded this toll 
road a fraud. Still, nothing official was done to revoke the 
charter but in 1866 emigrants from the west pushed their 


way through the Mullan Road, removing obstacles as they 
went. Once again the road was open, but it was in such bad 
condition that a later Montana Assembly had the gall to ask 
Congress to appropriate money to repair it. (A similar situa- 
tion arose after Madison County built a public bridge over 
the Jefferson River, and in the summer of 1865 had to station 
men there to keep it open after someone had fenced it off 
and piled stones on the roadway.) 14 

The whole greedy proceedings were treated as a specula- 
tive lark, even statesmen of the caliber of W. F. Sanders con- 
doning the charters, writing jocularly of the franchise granted 
the Bozeman City and Milk River Wagon Road Company, 
"Some mean individual reading this charter might note that 
nothing is said as to constructing a road" 15 and nothing was, 
although authority to charge toll was granted. Neither was 
anything said about maintaining a road. But for that matter, 
few of the roads were kept up, whether or not it was so agreed 
in the charter. The toll road from Virginia City to Summit was 
so rough that the Post complained that travelers on it should 
be labeled "to be well-shaken." Governor Ashley, third gover- 
nor of the Territory, speaking to the Assembly of 1869, de- 
clared that no more than one day's work per year per mile 
had ever been put in on these roads. For this, a man with a 
wagon and team paid $40 toll between Virginia City and 
Corinne, Utah. 16 

The scrubby little log cabin on Bannack's main street, 
which housed the first legislature, was kept in a state of siege 
all through the first session by men in great coats, stamping 
in the snow against the sub-zero cold of their outdoor lobby, 
men with franchises in mind. Much of the time of this maiden 
assembly was devoted to deciding who was to get what fran- 
chise without neglecting any constituent with political power. 
Like so many Montana legislatures since, its members were 

119 Toll Roads and Freighters 

there not so much to govern as to oversee the slicing of the 
public pie. 

They gave out very generous portions, indeed, except to 
the two men who, finding all other possible routes spoken 
for, attempted to steal a slice for themselves by claiming pro- 
prietorship of the Salt Lake Road a property they had ac- 
quired by riding over it. Their claim was equal to that of 
those who acquired the Mullan Road route, but the legislative 
gentlemen couldn't see it their way (obviously, they had 
scratched no political backs). Certainly their bid wasn't re- 
fused on political grounds, though most of the legislators 
were Southerners, for Northerners and Southerners forgot 
their differences when there was public pie to slice: one 
marked out the pieces while the other cut along the line. 

If the b'hoys were cheated by their representatives, they 
couldn't say nobody warned them. The Montana Post's legis- 
lative observer, writing from Bannack, reported the road 
deals in letters to the editor from "Franklin," who, writing in 
January, said, "Men do not realize how seriously these charters 
will cripple the best interests and developments of our Terri- 
tory;" and again in March, "Travelers in Montana will curse 
this assembly so long as its monuments [toll-gates] remain 
. . ."; and, later in the same month, chided the lawmakers 
for granting so many charters, facetiously saying he under- 
stood they were patriotically going to hold an extra session 
"for the purpose of granting a charter for the only remaining 
free road in the Territory," an "unaccountable oversight" that 
well might be corrected. 17 

Another writer to the Post from the first legislative scene 
warned the b'hoys: "Everything is ground through on the 
'get what you can' principle. ... If all the roads, bridges, 
ferries and the like, for which charters have been obtained, 
are built and finished, at the limitation of time granted them, 


parties leaving next year will suffer a severe lightening of 
pocket." 18 

The b'hoys paid no heed: the doings of a foreign legis- 
lature are of little moment to visitors in the country. The first 
bill to be signed by Governor Edgerton was the road law 
approving the Missouri River and Rocky Mountain Wagon 
Road and Telegraph Company. 19 

The injustice of the charters was still being wryly com- 
mented upon thirty years later. A. J. Bennett, in a speech to 
the Society of Montana Pioneers (an organization at first 
limited to those emigrants who had arrived in the Territory 
before 1864) said, ". . . the pioneers did not endure all the 
hardships incidental to coming to Montana in the early days 
they at least did not have to pay the tolls." 20 Nor, it might be 
added, were any of them drowned as was at least one later, 
penniless traveler when he tried to ford the river because the 
ferryman refused to take him. 

The United States Congress also objected to the high- 
handed way in which the Territorial Assembly had allowed 
such free-booting exploitation of the country by legislating 
competition out of existence. In 1867 it condemned all of the 
charters allowed by the Assembly and passed an act forbidding 
any other Territory to grant such franchises. Montana's As- 
sembly dutifully revoked all charters the next year, but by 
then the damage had been done. 

Old-timers estimated that the man who operated the toll 
gate at the mouth of Ruby Canyon, on the main freight road 
to Utah, about fourteen miles from Virginia City, cleared 
$50,000 in three years. 21 




THE STORY is that the first person to 

call for a separate Montana Territory was a drunken miner 
haranguing the b'hoys from a wagon standing on a street 
in Bannack. Probably 'twas so, for after the Congress had 
granted his wish, given him his Territory, the early affairs 
of the place were on such a drink-to-drink basis one miner 
summed up the voting in the first Territorial elections by say- 
ing "Election day came, the polls were open and forty-rod 
carried the day." l The batwing doors of the saloons went on 
flapping all of the next several election days as bummers 
swigged another free drink and staggered off to vote again 
and again as often as they could navigate from bar to polling 
place. The Post observed these floaters, wept over them time 
and time again as its man Sanders was defeated for delegate 
to Congress, but child of the times as it was, it didn't get 
around to calling for a law against selling liquor on election 
day until 18 67. 

A year earlier it had thought that perhaps restrictions 
should be put upon who could vote and how often. It had 


complained that everyone who happened to be in town on elec- 
tion day went to the polls, freighters, tourists, and non-natural- 
ized foreigners (but no Indians, Chinese or Negroes, who were 
specifically disenfranchised by statute). But in 1867 the sit- 
uation still existed, and Colonel McClure reported to his New 
York paper: 

They vote in a very free and easy manner in the moun- 
tains. A resident can vote at any poll in the Territory, no 
matter where he may have his home, and they do not often 
take the trouble to swear voters. It is needless to say that 
many "vote early, vote often, and see that their neighbors 
vote," besides occasionally voting for them, in Montana 
elections. Cavanaugh had more majority in several pre- 
cincts than there were men, women, and children within 
the limits of the polls. They cheated just for the love of it; 
for a fair election would have given the Democracy as 
much majority as they needed for every purpose. 2 

It was, perhaps, this matter of a clear-cut majority for the 
Democrats which made the elections such a devil-may-care lot 
of monkey business: since no one's votes could keep the South- 
erners out of office, they were worth free drinks and no more. 

The first election was an especial anathema to Republican 
believers. Nobody had counted heads, but the Democrats 
ganged around the polling places, whooping in celebration of 
their foregone victory, shouting, "Hurrah, boys another Secesh 
vote!" as a bummer stumbled into line, or bidding passersby, 
"Walk along, gentlemen, vote for Dixie's land! Here are your 
papers! Straight Democratic ticket! No damned Union about 
it." 3 Their rebel yells cheered the name of Sterling Price and 
his army up and down Wallace Street; their caterwauling jeered 
the playing of Yankee Doodle by Waugh's band. They yelled, 
"That tune's played out," called for Dixie instead, and fought 
clean to bedrock with anyone who had no ear for their kind 

123 Politicking: Dixie and Yankee Doodle 

of music. Sure enough, at the end of the day, when the for- 
mality of vote counting was over, their candidates had carried 
the day, including one legislator who could neither read nor 

It had been a dilly of an election for the Johnny Rebs. 
Through it they had been able to show Mr. Union, Thomas 
Dimsdale, they didn't give a hoot in hell for his editorials 
"Shall we be faithful to the Union, or fall prostrate at the 
feet of that arch traitor, Jeff Davis?" he had pleaded just two 
weeks before the election. They had cut off their noses by 
winning the election, for, as Dimsdale had pointed out, send- 
ing a Confederate sympathizer to Washington as Territorial 
Delegate was the same as having no representative there. But 
the good of the Territory came second to whoppin' Yankees; 
the political battles here were as emotional as the shooting 
battles of the East, but ballots were more easily controlled than 
bullets, and in Montana the South won the war. In the words 
of N. P. Langford, internal revenue collector, "I was in a 
Territory more disloyal as a whole, than Tennessee or Ken- 
tucky ever were. Four-fifths of our citizens were openly de- 
clared Secessionists. . . . Then we had Jeff Davis Gulch, and 
Confederate Gulch. ... In our local matters, we were com- 
pletely under the rebel rule. ... I had not the support of 
one fourth of our people, and threats of violence were the 
rule, and not the exception." 4 

One of Sidney Edgerton's first acts as Governor was to 
appoint Bannack as the meeting place for the first Territorial 
Assembly. He next conducted a hasty census to give him some 
idea of the apportionment of the seven Council (upper house) 
members and the thirteen House members called for in the 
Organic Act passed by the Congress. The census showed 
15,822 residents in the Territory, 11,493 of these living in 
Madison County, which contained Alder Gulch, the remaining 
3000-plus scattered in Beaverhead, Jefferson, Chouteau, Deer 


Lodge and Missoula Counties, the only organized counties in 
the Territory (although Chouteau was not completely organ- 
ized). 5 

Edgerton was forced to ignore his census, which would 
have given most of the legislative seats to Madison County. 
Instead he allotted council members to the counties: Madison, 
three members; Beaverhead, two; Jefferson, one; and to the 
combined counties of Missoula, Deer Lodge and Chouteau, 
one. House members were similarly allocated. 

The three Madison County men went to Bannack to hook 
the capital for Virginia City (Bannack was not a capital city; 
that choice was left to the people, Edgerton's designation of 
it as meeting place for the first legislature not having made it 
the capital). It was a big fish they were after, one that would 
feed their whole town for years to come on government pay- 
roll, increased travel, state buildings, and assorted other polit- 
ical plums. They had more hooks than rival fishermen from 
Deer Lodge and Bannack, and a more plentiful supply of 
gold dust for bait, supplied by Virginia City speculators who 
had followed along to Bannack to aid in landing the capital. 
They were using the right lure for the pool in which they 
dropped their line, for within it, according to the Posfs 
"Franklin," were "some of the most venal, corrupt and shame- 
less legislators in the world . . . men openly in the streets 
propose to sell votes for a given price. . . ." 6 

The Republican Post was splenetic about the Democratic 
doings in Bannack, but in view of the fact that the legislators 
there tried to insure that ensuing ones would be in favor of 
Madison County by realigning apportionments, and voted 
themselves twelve dollars a day out of Territorial funds 7 (above 
the four dollars a day they were legally entitled to from United 
States coffers), it seems likely that the Post was not too hard 
on its enemies. At any rate, Virginia City, richest of the as- 
pirants for the capital designation, won out. 

125 Politicking: Dixie and Yankee Doodle 

The vested interest of the Post in the future of Virginia 
City kept it mum about the cost of this Pyrrhic victory, but it 
had been so outspoken over other trickery, the legislators 
were furious with it. They drew up a resolution chastising 
"Franklin" and the paper. When the attacks continued the 
council refused to pay the thirty-five-dollar bill owing the Post 
for the seven copies of the paper delivered each week to its 
chambers. Maybe the council members thought it hadn't been 
delivered; if so, they were wrong: members of the lower house 
had been swiping it each week before they could lay their 
hands on it. 8 

For more than ten years Virginia City was destined to 
have as much political as mining talk on its streets, to have 
more than its share of the drunkenness, double-dealing, in- 
nuendo and enmities that came with being the capital city. 

The winters of '64, '66, and '67 stirred up the town 
through the meetings of the Democrat-dominated second, 
third, and fourth territorial legislatures. The first had suc- 
ceeded in drawing up a code of laws which later ones could 
not leave unamended (if one is a lawmaker, he must make 
laws). The second and third assemblies, called by Acting Gov- 
ernor Meagher, were declared illegal by the United States Con- 
gress, and all of their acts were voided after Republican 
Colonel Sanders had traveled to Washington, D. C., to let the 
Unionists know what the Confederates were up to in Montana. 
The fourth assembly in 1867, legal enough, spent most of its 
time sanctifying and re-passing the voided acts of the out- 
lawed second and third assemblies, "while trying to appear 
as if they were not," according to Colonel McClure, who also 
noted that, "Taken as a body, the legislature falls below me- 
diocrity. . . . Here as elsewhere, however, politics is a trade, 
and is not cultivated for the lesser honors by the best men." 9 
He was a visiting Republican and a friend of biennial Con- 
gressional candidate Sanders, and biased. 


The movement of the government from Bannack to the 
capital consisted mainly of renting rooms about Virginia City 
to house the offices, for the Territory had acquired no trap- 
pings as yet. (Edgerton's office had been a curtained corner 
in his cabin.) The story is told that when just-arrived Secre- 
tary Meagher took over as Acting Governor for Edgerton, 
who was returning east, he carried all the official Territorial 
papers from Bannack to Virginia City in his coat pocket. The 
$500 which the first Assembly had appropriated for planning 
and finding sites for buildings of state in Virginia City lay un- 
used, because the few offices and files could be housed easily 
in available space. 

The Treasurer of the Territory could be found in his of- 
fice in the Idaho Hotel, while the Acting Governor was near 
by, diagonally across the intersection in rooms above Content's 

Court was held at first in the dining room of the Planter's 
Hotel. It thoughtfully convened just after breakfast, but some- 
times caused some tightening of boarders' belts at the dinner 
hour by not adjourning until late. Here Judge Hosmer ran a 
lenient court, his bench a carpet-covered sofa upon which 
he could recline during long-winded arguments "without en- 
croaching the dignity of his great office." And the arguments 
were long-winded, for the b'hoys felt that unless their law- 
yers talked at length they weren't getting their money's worth. 
Hosmer let the proceedings ramble on, rarely interfering, al- 
lowing complete informality to the rest of the court as well, 
at one time sending the sheriff out to find a good pine board 
when the jurors complained they couldn't think without whit- 
tling. Hosmer was accused of being ineffectual on the bench, 
but it appears he just knew his b'hoys. Once he did let things 
get so hot that the opposing lawyers spent all of the next day 
looking for each other, guns in hand, ready to shoot it out. 
At least, that was what they said they were doing, but neither 

127 Politicking: Dixie and Yankee Doodle 

of them ever pressed their search far enough along the streets 
of the little town actually to find the other one. 

With the coming of the government to the city, there were 
jobs available for clerks and minor officials, but there was no 
money in the treasury to pay them. Edgerton had been paying 
many of the expenses of the Territory out of his own pocket. 

When the Assembly met, however, there were better jobs 
to be had, sergeants-at-arms to be hired, and clerks, and all 
the other overburden of lawmaking and the salaries would 
be met, for the federal government footed this bill. Legisla- 
tors were buttonholed from the time they clambered out of 
the stagecoach until the gavel fell opening the sessions by men 
seeking attache jobs, as well as by their old enemy, publisher 
Tilton, seeking printing contracts for his paper. 

Those with buildings to rent pulled whatever strings 
they could in order to lease them for legislative halls. A good- 
sized dining room would have held either the seven-man 
Council or the thirteen-man House, but in honor of the gen- 
tlemen and their legislative function, the Territory always 
hired a hall for each group. "Meagher's Legislatures" met in 
buildings immediately across Wallace Street from each other, 
the Council in the Idaho Hotel and the House in the hall in the 
second story of the Stonewall Building, where the Gem Lit- 
erary Society had died a' borning. 

The 1867 House members found themselves in Con 
Orem's Melodeon Saloon, up Jackson Street a few doors from 
his old stand, the Champion Saloon, while the Council sat 
around the stove in the big room above John Rockfellow's 
store, down the street a way. These halls were dressed in the 
modest best the Territory could afford. 

Con's place was carpeted with an inexpensive rug that 
covered the half of the floor where the thirteen members sat, 
looking at one of Con's poker rooms, now converted into a 
Speaker's stand. Above the Speaker's table hung a rudely 


carved wooden eagle and a sign proclaiming this to be the 
House of Representatives, no doubt for the information of 
former customers who might stagger in and demand a brandy 
smash. While the House was adjourned for New Year's Day, 
Con rolled up the rug, spread sawdust on the floor, and staged 
an illegal prize fight on the premises. Vacationing legislators 
had to pay one dollar a head to come back in to their cham- 
bers to see the contest. 

Sixty days of legislating was more than enough to engross 
all of the bills of these legislatures, with plenty of time left 
over for horseplay, the members sitting about the comfortable, 
warm stove, whittling and cracking jokes, dreaming up Pea- 
nut Bills, Poker Club Bills, and Jawbone Bills, as well as a 
bill for the relief of one Chas. Trowbridge, "member of the 
Union League, for going to Fort Union for votes last year." 
The Sergeant-at-Arms was prone to fall asleep during sessions; 
as he slept, the assembled gentlemen tied his feet together 
and then yelled "Call of the House" in his ear. They had even 
more fun guying the lone Republican elected to the fourth 
session in 1867, bedeviling him about his uselessness here 
until he quit showing up for meetings. This legislature was 
named "The Missouri Admiration Society" by some Repub- 
lican wag. 

On a genuine call of the House, the Sergeant always 
headed in one direction toward the near-by Pony Saloon. 
It was here that the Third House met, and here the honorable 
members regularly fled when an embarrassing roll call was 
coming up. 

Informality was inevitable when a quorum of the council 
consisted of only four members, hardly a decent committee 
meeting today, and when there was little to do except dream 
up ways to inveigle Congress to raise their pay from four dol- 
lars a day, a pittance in a mining-camp economy. They were 
bored, for much of the work of the second, third, and fourth 

129 Politicking: Dixie and Yankee Doodle 

legislatures consisted of memorializing Congress for more 
funds for public buildings, for better mail facilities, for a good 
road into the Territory, for better Indian protection, etc. 

The ridiculousness of lawmakers whose promulgations 
could be swept aside by Congress tickled the b'hoys in Nevada 
City. They called a meeting of a n^ock legislature whose chief 
proclamation was an edict directing the Surveyor General to 
regulate the lines of latitude and longitude "so that the moun- 
tains shall not be higher than the [legislative] members assem- 
bled." A Virginia City mock session also got in some licks, 
motions being declared defeated after receiving ten times more 
ayes than noes, and motions to print 1,700,000 copies of the 
proceedings being unaccountably lost. 

Campaigns made a lot of excitement about town, much 
of it alcoholic, for every bummer was sure of a daily drink per 
candidate along about election time. Political rallies were held 
outside, speakers standing on the square wooden hydrant 
across from Content's Corner or up by the flagpole near the 
Planter's House, their makeshift podium lit by flaring, kero- 
sene-soaked fluff-balls speared by wire and jabbed into any 
near-by wooden structure. The speaker had to be part bull- 
roarer to outshout music from neighboring saloons, the chat- 
ter of gamblers who had set up portable gambling tables on 
the fringes of the crowd, as well as the hooting and jibes from 
the opposition. Whatever a speaker's politics, whatever his 
argument, his first necessity was volume, for any rally was 
sure to draw a crowd of over five hundred, the diversion 
alone drawing the b'hoys to the place. 

Torchlight parades usually preceded the speaking, horse- 
men carrying torches, a double line of marchers shouldering 
transparencies. The "brass-throated freedom shrieker" was 
fired, the boom of it echoing up, up, up into the gulch and all 
about town. Candles burned in windows along Wallace Street, 
adding their pale flicker to the illumination, fitfully holding 


back the customary night-blackness of the boardwalks, while 
the flaring torches transformed bleak, familiar storefronts into 
soft and shadowy charcoal sketches of themselves, magically 
changing marching neighbors into pageantry figures. 

Politics was entertainment in isolated Virginia City. Know- 
ing this, newspapers paid little attention to the laws of libel, 
smearing opposing candidates in terms even the bummer could 
understand. An opposition editor once called Colonel Sanders 
"an inordinate blackguard," and declared, "On every occa- 
sion the Colonel erects himself on his slim pins and emits 
quaint remarks of a smutty nature." 10 Another editor attacked 
a candidate by saying, "The charlatan and mountebank, Ben. 
Ezekiel, writhing under the charges of fraud and guilt proven 
against him by this paper, snaps and snarls like a belabored 
cur . . . prevents our taking further notice of the moral 
leper than to condescend to spit in his face should he cross 
our path." 11 Political argument reduced to the common de- 
nominator of saloon bickering was the stuff of mountain poli- 

This squabbling was fun, but the b'hoys in Virginia City 
had one political problem that united Democrat and Repub- 
lican: keeping the town the capital city of Montana Territory, 
defeating the biennial legislative bill which attempted to wrest 
it from them. It had been nip-and-tuck to garner the honor 
in the first Assembly, but now Helena was getting too big for 
its britches and demanding that it be made the capital. Deer 
Lodge also had delusions of political grandeur, but Helena 
was the enemy. 

The battle was carried on at long range, the only shots 
fired being editorial missiles. Virginia City and Helena edi- 
tors once broke into nursery-rhyme parody in their battle of 

131 Politicking: Dixie and Yankee Doodle 

Our Hugh McQuaid 

Has been waylaid 
And we know not where to find him; 

But let him alone, 

And he'll come home 
With the Capital close behind him. 

t (Helena) Independent 

This same McQuaid 

That you have said 
Would bring the Capital with him, 

Is still in town, 

Scooting aroun', 

Being unable to tote the Capital on 
his back and expects to leave it 
at a way-station, or at its present 

(Virginia City) Madisonian 12 

The legislature of 1868 allowed the capital-city issue to 
come to a vote before the people in the elections of 1869, 
much to the disgust of Madison County b'hoys, who could 
see no reason for their delegates' allowing such democratic 
action when they could still control the Assembly by their 
plurality. Faced with such a dangerous election, the b'hoys 
made every preparation to control it, keeping a wary eye on 
Last Chancers, for they expected "That the campaign would 
be dishonest, that the ballot would be stuffed " 

On voting day, when the news came over the telegraph 
that Helenans were turning in more votes than their popula- 
tion warranted, local voters multiplied prodigiously. Four 
men mining at the head of Wigwam Creek turned in 250 votes 
for their "town." Summit, which could have cast perhaps 150 
votes legally, turned up with an even 600, while friendly June- 


tion, which could have dug up fifty voters, had no trouble in 
returning 200 votes for Virginia as capital city. 13 Such neigh- 
borliness saved the capital for Virginia City by a substantial 
margin, for a "lucky" fire destroyed all records in the Terri- 
torial Secretary's office before the votes could be canvassed. 

The election of 1874 likewise produced voting and ballot- 
counting shenanigans on the part of both towns. Gallatin 
County, adjacent to Madison, voted 551 to 96 to keep the 
capital in Virginia City, but the officials threw out her votes 
because the returns didn't conform to law. Virginia City 
b'hoys quit speaking to the canvassers. Conversely, Meagher 
County, near Helena, tallied election-day votes of 561 for 
Helena and only twenty-nine for her rival, but, when the can- 
vassing board slit the sealed envelopes in Virginia City, the 
figures that fell on the table were tabulated exactly in reverse. 
To make matters worse, they had been delayed somehow and 
had conveniently arrived in town on the thirtieth and last legal 
day for counting votes. 14 Helenans screamed "Foul!" and hired 
lawyers to prove that skulduggery had been done. The case 
finally went to the Supreme Court, which adjudged that Hel- 
ena had won, and Governor Potts so proclaimed it. 

Virginia City b'hoys took their defeat grudgingly. A news- 
paper soundly expressed their feelings for them: 

. . . the last remains and remnants of the moving 
Capital of Montana Territory passed down Wallace Street 
on a couple of Murphy freight wagons. It was an indifferent 
lot of old second-hand chairs, tables and three-legged 
stools, and might, if exposed at public auction, find a pur- 
chaser in some poor devil about to commit premature 
matrimony. Not another soul in the wide world would 
dream of buying it. 15 

Although she was no longer capital, Virginia's streets were 
still filled with political wrangling over local elections, for she 
was county seat of Madison County as well as being the only 

133 Politicking: Dixie and Yankee Doodle 

incorporated town in the Territory. Most of the in-fighting 
was due to city politics. 

The incorporation charter was the bone of contention in 
'65 and '66. It had been granted to the tent and wikiup camp 
by the Legislature of Idaho Territory on January 30, 1864, 
and by a similar act of the Montana Assembly on December 
30, 1864, but by the time the election of February 5, 1865, 
came along, most of the businessmen, smelling taxes in the 
charter, were against it. Feeling was so high that, though the 
bars closed at noon, a storekeeper's diary shows that "A 
General free fight took place at the Election today." 16 

A month later, the first city council, Mayor Pfouts pre- 
siding, issued a budget and a schedule of license fees by which 
the budget would be supported, and the "general free fight" 
resumed. Every businessman in town, from the hole-in-the- 
wall dealer who paid ten dollars every six months to the gam- 
bler who was clipped for $150 per half year, damned the 
council and its gouging ways. "Why should we have city gov- 
ernment?" they cried; "Quit the charter before our town is 
depopulated on account of taxation." 1T 

The council had estimated that the license fees would 
raise the $15,000 necessary to run the city and pointed out 
that this total was about half the budget usually asked for a 
town this size. Only $8600 was to be paid out in salaries: 
$1550 apiece for two policemen and $2000 for a city clerk 
were the biggest items. 18 Office holders who were not paid sal- 
aries were compensated by a percentage of the fees they col- 
lected; John Rockfellow, City Treasurer, for example, was 
entitled to three per cent of any city money he collected. 

But the men trying to dump the charter weren't interested 
in the economy of the city government; they could see little 
sense in paying a street commissioner to fix streets which 
would very likely revert to sagebrush when the gold was gone. 
They complained that the only advantage of incorporation to 


them for $15,000 spent would be two policemen. Further, 
they pouted over the unfairness of licenses that soaked the 
merchant but let his landlord off untaxed. They wanted no 
blasted tax gatherer nicking their pocketbooks. 

The council dreamed of plats and subdivisions (and per- 
haps streets named after first aldermen) and clung to their 
beloved charter. They made some concessions, however. They 
halved the license fees after someone's superior arithmetic 
proved that those they had set up would raise $35,000 rather 
than $15,000; they took the street commissioner off the pay- 
roll and gave his job to the city marshal; they put a tax on 
landlords of one dollar per each $100 rent per annum. Instead 
of reducing taxes further, they spent money saved by putting 
two more policemen to work. 19 (The councilmen were dedi- 
cated city planners. A later council would have a beautifully 
scrolled map drawn up showing streets on which there was 
nary a house, parks which were enjoyed by gophers. City 
fathers also dabbled in promotion schemes to attract residents 
to their Rocky Mountain metropolis.) 

The furor was still going on at the second city election a 
year later. This time, anti-charter people were voted into office. 
The departing city council refused to seat Mayor Castner's in- 
coming government until after the votes were recanvassed. 
Meanwhile, the anti-charterists petitioned the second legisla- 
ture, then in session, to repeal the city's charter in a document 
signed by almost everyone in town Tilton, the publisher 
whose paper had plumped for city government being one, 
with George Gohn, N. P. Langford, Samuel Hauser, Lucien 
Romey, and W. S. Gilbert, brewer, among the others. The 
opposition petition, a weak thing, supported by a few strag- 
gling signatures, reached the legislature about the same time. 
They were both referred to committee where they died. 20 The 
anti-charter council was stuck for a year running a city gov- 
ernment they didn't believe in, but they did manage to keep 

135 Politicking: Dixie and Yankee Doodle 

expenses down, spending only $9,884.74 for the fiscal year, 
including $123.99 for fuel and lights for the calaboose 21 in 
spite of which the jail was reported clean and comfy and the 
prisoners "enjoying themselves as well as possible." 

The city was always short of funds, for taxes were hard 
to collect in Montana. The Territojial Tax Collector had man- 
aged to collect only thirty per cent of taxes owed during the 
first two years of the Territory, having run into one county, 
Chouteau, which refused to organize so that it would not be 
financially responsible, and into two counties that simply 
made no returns. 22 Similarly, all other towns in the Territory 
would resist their incorporation charters so successfully that 
Virginia City would be the only incorporated town in Mon- 
tana when the Territory became a State in 1889 and for 
several years afterward. 

The incorporation was an expensive luxury for the little 
mining camp, a luxury which never did take care of the civic 
needs listed in the Post in November, 1864, before the town 
was organized. Among these were street improvements, fire 
protection, traffic control, regulations concerning closing 
hours, and the necessity of having horses stand with their 
heads to the sidewalk. In the ensuing ten years, the city coun- 
cil's one unquestioned accomplishment was to persuade the 
horses to turn around. 

The city government made no attempt to guard against 
the great danger of fire, except to pass ordinances outlawing 
the use of tin stovepipes in town but fires were still starting 
from them and editors were still complaining of them in the 
seventies. It furnished no equipment: six months after the 
first council was seated the paper was begging for a triangle 
to sound the alarm, for at the last fire only one-tenth of the 
firemen knew about it, and pleading for funds to buy a hand- 
powered pump to replace the wooden shovels then used for 
throwing water. In the next year the city did build cisterns, 


which the paper admitted were well-contrived save for hold- 
ing water. 

Luckily, none of the smaller fires (such as the one caused 
by a flaring wing light at the theater or the one which dropped 
X. Beidler into the midst of a burning cabin when the roof 
collapsed from which he scampered with minor burns) ever 
got out of control. Some arson attempts were discovered just 
in the nick of time, the most serious one involving a plan to 
shut off the city water at the same moment torches would have 
been applied to the tinder-dry town. 23 Some said this was a plot 
by the road agents in revenge for Vigilante action, but it seems 
more likely that its origin was like that of the one in which an 
Idaho mountain town had been fired by vandals who used 
the cover of smoke, fire, and excitement to burglarize vacant 
stores. Whatever the purpose, the town would surely have 
gone up in smoke had not a chance visitor to the reservoirs 
above town found that they had been stopped up. 

The city council seldom accomplished anything for the 
b'hoys: street cleaning was nil, garbage remained wherever it 
had been dumped, streets remained unlit. The council ordered 
hogs kept off the streets again and again, yet the nuisance was 
not abated. In 1871 they were still waging war against the 
porkers, but found themselves so strapped for money that 
they couldn't afford to have the anti-hog edicts published, 
causing an editor to comment: 

... so they have ordered the clerk to get a bell and 
spend three days going over town and in a loud voice 
promulgate their edicts, ordinances and commands. If he 
can halloo loud enough to scare the hogs off, we think the 
said meeting will not have been in vain. 24 

The editor barked because those obnoxious taxes were 
still biting his pocketbook. Like all the other empire builders 
in town, he had hoped the West would relieve the pain of 

137 Politicking: Dixie and Yankee Doodle 

tax-bites, and, when the cur of government followed him even 
here, he groaned at its every nip of assessment as though it 
were rabies-infected. Merchants tried to avoid being con- 
taminated by the income-tax dog by claiming profits of less 
than $1000 or by the liquor-tax dog by claiming (after their 
liquor was seized) that the stamps had not been available. 25 
When these quick steps failed to dodge the hated teeth, they 
learned to smile grimly at the Post's quip: "A friend of ours 
is under bond to stand treat whenever he remains unvisited 
by a tax collector for a week," while feeling in their heart as 
miner Morley did when he kicked at the tax dog in his diary 
on a July Saturday in 1864: 

. . . To-day a collector made his appearance in the 
gulch to "stick" us for a four dollar poll tax, as he said, 
to raise $5000.00 to build a jail. That seems to be of pri- 
mary importance in organizing government these latter 
days. I more than half wish, when I see such officers and 
the scores of "pettifoggers" going about seeking "whom 
they may devour" in the country, that Uncle Samuel would 
let us severely alone, for it is a fact that miners can make 
their own laws so as to get along smoothly with each other, 
better than government laws enforced by such men. 20 

Only a year before he had been belaboring miners' meet- 
ings. What he and the rest of Alder Gulch wanted was to get 
home with their wealth before the local tax hounds could 
come sniffing around. They were successful. Not much of 
Alder's gold stayed home to build either the town or the Ter- 




THOMAS DIMSDALE, the erstwhile vil- 
lage schoolmaster, grew to be a leader of the town and a Re- 
publican bigwig, though he was hardly the rugged, rough-and- 
tumble leader of men that a novelist would cast in such a role. 
A slight, mild-mannered wisp of a man, he spoke with an ac- 
cent acquired at Oxford (he had been forced to come to the 
United States after his family lost money in a scheme to con- 
vert London sewage to fertilizer), which gave rise to the leg- 
end that he was a prissy, shy pedagogue who blushed easily. 
This caricature doesn't jibe with the character of the man 
whom the miners unhesitatingly chose, along with J. E. Mc- 
Clurg, to account for the flour they seized in the "flour riots" 
of '65; the angry man who waged a campaign against the 
medical quacks in town who were maiming patients because 
they had no more medical foundation than "ignorance, brass 
and a doctor's shingle"; the unsqeamish man who was tough 
enough to assist at emergency amputations; the courageous 
man who chose to stand up and be counted as a friend of the 
Vigilantes and as a staunch Unionist when it was risky to do 
so. True, he was frail and tubercular, unfit for mining, but 

139 Editor, Colonel and Wild Irishman 

the inner man was tough enough to make up for the lack in 
outer muscles. 

Schoolteaching was hardly an absorbing interest with him; 
he was much too interested in the tumultuous life and stag- 
gering growth of the town outside his log school building. He 
arrived in town about the time of the Vigilantes, but he may 
not have been one, although it was through them and their 
deeds that he found an outlet which made use of his educa- 
tion: the writing of his famous The Vigilantes of Montana, a 
book still selling several thousand copies each year. Much of 
this volume he wrote during school hours; his pupils remem- 
bered him as an abstracted, kindly man who sat near the win- 
dow writing, writing, writing, every spare moment. 

The Vigilantes needed an able apologist, for criticism of 
their actions was growing outside of the Territory. Dimsdale's 
book explained to these detractors their version of how things 
had been in Montana. When he finished it, the kingpins of 
the town (synonymous with kingpins in the Vigilantes) pre- 
sented him with a silver-plated revolver in appreciation. More 
than this, the manuscript established him as the able voice of 
the Territory and opened the job as editor of the Montana 
Post to him. It was originally printed in serial form in its pages. 

As editor, Dimsdale proved to be such a staunch ally of 
the Union cause that he was soon asked to speak for the Re- 
publican Party at a good many rallies. At these meetings, 
Dimsdale was always the last speaker evidently because his 
sardonic humor kept the crowd chuckling and sent it home in 
a good humor. He was especially sarcastic lambasting the Se- 
cessionists, one time querying, to the delight of most of his 
listeners, "when the gov't. was consigned to Hell, as it had 
been so often by the speakers during the preceding meeting, 
to what part of the United States did the Democrats intend to 
send their delegate?" * 

His wit made his paper loved by the fun-loving b'hoys, no 


matter what their politics, for it fitted right in with the tongue- 
in-cheek attitude of the whole Territory. Once he convulsed 
them when, refusing to retract remarks he had written about 
the Mormons, he said that making love to several women was 
too much, and that, as far as he was concerned, the best part 
of a Mormon house would be a "well-oiled back door." 

At other times, combining his guts with his humor, he 
tried to reform the wild ones about town, warning "young 
men, and, we are sorry to add, old ones . . . (that) . . . 
those who discharge small arms in or near the city" will be 
punished in a way "more effectual than agreeable," comment- 
ing: "Those who are so fond of blazing away, seldom do 
much when the target has also a revolver pointed in their di- 
rection. They go in for peace at once. They wouldn't fire at a 
human being for any consideration. When a MAN draws a re- 
volver something is going to fall." 2 

But essentially he put together a weekly newspaper, filled 
with serviceable items for the b'hoys: the week's local whole- 
sale market prices for staples, gold prices, mining news (here 
he was on the horns of a dilemma, if he made new strikes 
sound too good the town would be depopulated; on the other 
hand, if not good enough, the news wouldn't interest eastern 
emigrants and investors); stagecoach passenger lists as well as 
schedules, lists of mail uncalled for at the post office, and com- 
plete printings of important new laws of the Territory. When 
there was a show troupe in town, he reviewed every perform- 
ance of their repertoire and urged everyone to buy seats, for to 
him a town without a theater didn't rate the sobriquet of City. 
But he was equally generous of his time and space in backing 
prizefighting, especially those battles of his close friend, Con 
Orem. For that matter, he boosted anything that might add a 
little more civilization to his mining camp. It occasionally 
led him into ridiculous enthusiasms, such as this one: "Two 

141 Editor, Colonel and Wild Irishman 

institutions of a recreative kind are wanted in Montana. The 
first is a Jockey Club the second is a Cricket Club. Who 
will volunteer to start them? There is a splendid ground for 
fall races." 3 

He ran a good newspaper, the first in Montana Territory 
and the best. For several years it outsold the combined circula- 
tion of its rivals, including the Montana Democrat in Virginia 
City and Helena's Herald and Rocky Mountain Gazette, at a 
price of fifty cents a copy or eight dollars a year in gold, and 
attracted advertisers who were willing to buy half columns by 
the year at ninety dollars per annum. 4 

As editor, Dimsdale automatically became publicist for the 
Union Party in Montana, but some of his strongest editorials 
were written pleading for public education of the children in 
the Territory. Thus his services to the party were rewarded 
with the appropriate appointment of Superintendent of Schools, 
an office more honorary than not, for it paid no salary, the 
office not having been provided for by the first Territorial As- 
sembly (it had been established by direct proclamation of 
Governor Edgerton). This "oversight" on the Assembly's part 
no doubt repaid Dimsdale for his paper's rough handling of 
their sixty days in Bannack. 

After Edgerton left, Dimsdale was second in party im- 
portance only to Colonel Sanders, who also grew to be his 
best friend. The two men may have been atracted to each 
other through the medium of their equally sharp tongues, for 
Sanders, too, was known as a master of invective. In the court- 
room he had at times tongue-lashed men to the point where 
they would have killed him as he stepped out of the court- 
room that day, had he not walked straight up to them and 
charmed them into being friends. Opposing lawyers twice chal- 
lenged him to duels for remarks made in court, but the con- 
test failed to come off both times. Dimsdale and he had much 


in common in their notions as to how the Territory should 
develop, what values should be stressed, and what institutions 

Soon the frail little Englishman had parlayed his abilities 
and his contributions to the new society into a very promising 
political career. He hired a Mr. Davis to teach in his school 
and devoted his full time to the party and to the paper. As a 
good politician should, he married and became a part of all 
community enterprises. On Sundays he read the services for 
the Episcopalian congregation he had organized. He attended 
meetings of the Literary and Debating Society, of which he 
was an officer, and which had as members all the important 
men in town. Other nights he spoke at rallies or wrote edi- 
torials, when he was not out carousing with the Nightherd. 

Unfortunately, by 1866, he had worn himself out trying 
to make the most of his opportunity. He had to give up the 
newspaper and move to the country to recuperate. In Septem- 
ber he died, coughing out the last minutes of his life clasped 
in the arms of his friend, Sanders. 

The raspy Colonel now led the Republican Party alone. 
He continued his battle for the Union, which he had started 
with his enlistment in the Army in 1861. There he had risen 
to be Acting Assistant Adjutant General on the staff of Gen- 
eral Forsyth, before ill health had forced him to resign. When 
he came west with his uncle, Governor Edgerton, to find him- 
self in Confederate-dominated Territory, he had continued his 
battling. He was to fight the Republican battle for the rest of 
his life, undismayed by criticism and threats and continued 
defeat by the unsympathetic majority. In the 1890's, speaking 
at a meeting of mixed Democrats and Republicans, he lam- 
basted the Democrats and Missourians in general, though he 
had promised to refrain. When criticized for his lapse, he an- 
swered that he hadn't intended to but had been carried away, 

143 Editor, Colonel and Wild Irishman 

because "we may not ever get so many of the sons-of -bitches 
together again. . . ." 5 

Such deep antagonisms might have disappeared from the 
political scene earlier, except for the arrival in the Territory of 
the opportunistic Thomas Francis Meagher. 

When General Meagher arrived at the new capital, he re- 
ceived a welcome which the Micks of Nevada City felt due to 
the famed Irish rebel and which the Union men felt due to a 
renowned Union General. Anvils rang in every smithy, creat- 
ing a din that was augmented by the shrieks of delighted 
urchins and the howls of annoyed dogs, and echoed by the 
racket of a serenade by the musicians from the Stonewall Hall 
and the Champion Saloon. 

The handsome, though vacuous-looking, foppishly dressed 
Meagher, in his early forties, was used to the plaudits of such 
a crowd, having been the chief orator of a semi-revolutionary 
party in the old country, for which subversive activity he had 
been transported to Tasmania for life. After his hair-breadth 
escape from that island and his arrival in this country, he had 
been hailed as an Irish patriot, a victim of the anti-Union Eng- 
lish, He had been in great demand as a speaker in all the 
cities in the East. 

He had edited the Irish News and had gone to Central 
America doing articles for Harper's Magazine. During the 
war he had commanded an Irish brigade which he himself 
had raised in New York. Following the war, however, nothing 
he had turned his hand to had come out in the old romantic 
way. The lucky boy and heedless soldier-of-fortune found him- 
self out of the limelight and without a cause or an opportu- 
nity to bolster his reputation as a doer. Then, as a complete 
surprise, came President Johnson's appointment of him as 
Secretary to the new Territory of Montana. (The job had 
been offered to two others before him, but this he didn't 


know.) This unsought office gave him new hope. When he ar- 
rived in Bannack to find Edgerton leaving the Territory, mak- 
ing him Acting Governor, he must have felt that his gods were 
again favoring him. He entered this completely unfamiliar job 
with only the briefest of instructions from Edgerton. 

The trip from Bannack to Virginia City took eleven hours. 
When the Acting Governor arrived horse-back, all of the pa- 
pers of state in his coat pocket, he had a speech ready, com- 
posed to take advantage of his new situation. He was escorted 
into town by a torchlight procession all the way from Nevada 
City to the "liberty-pole" in front of the Planter's House. There 
he delivered his talk. 

Ever since word of Meagher's appointment had reached 
the city, Dimsdale had filled paragraphs praising the forth- 
coming Secretary, for the editor and his beloved Union party 
were ready to welcome the renowned patriot and Northern 
officer into the fold. His words that first night gave them little 
alarm: he said that he belonged to no party "never could be 
yoked, broken, coaxed, or otherwise teamed to any party 
His party, in a word, were the people of the United States." 
This he avowed in a cultured voice, affecting a slight lisp. It 
was a politic speech which left him open to overtures from any 
party, so he could jump whichever way opportunity lay. 

He moved into the little log cabin that was the Governor's 
Mansion during his stay and was soon joined by his charming 
wife, a woman described by young Miller as "... a very 
good representation of the grand lady a superb lady very 
much like a immense work very good to be seen at a proper 
distance but too large and unwieldy for a life Companion." 7 

For awhile the town was politically quiet. But Governor 
Edgerton and the first Assembly had left "the acting one" 
with a nasty Gordian knot. The Republicans wanted him to 
leave it tied; the Democrats demanded he cut it. The Republi- 
cans contended the legislative functions of the Territory had 

145 Editor, Colonel and Wild Irishman 

died, because the first assembly had refused to apportion the 
Territory and that before the Territory could legally function 
a new enabling act would have to be passed by Congress. The 
Democrats, who had controlled the Assembly and now filled 
all elective offices, contended the legislative function was still 
intact and held that the Acting Governor had the power to 
convene the legislature. 4 

At first Meagher publicly sided with the Republicans and 
refused to fiddle with the knot. But such do-nothingness was 
foreign to his nature and brought him no publicity. He soon 
realized that toddling along in the shadow of Sanders, if he 
continued a Republican, would hardly gain him quick prestige. 
So, doing an abrupt about-face, he sliced the knot as the 
Democrats wished, calling a session of the legislature to meet 
in April of 1866. 

He had made a fatal error, for he had incurred the enmity 
of Sanders, and he had misjudged the doughty Colonel's 
power in Washington, as well as Washington's desire to make 
the West Republican. But to Meagher, who ever had chosen 
the path which led to the limelight, there was no other way. 
He hoped that here in this wilderness he might once again 
make a place in the sun for himself. The irony of his decision 
is that, with Sanders's friendship, he might have been ap- 
pointed Territorial Governor upon Edgerton's resignation as 
he so dearly desired. He had gained the support of the major- 
ity party of the Territory, but the minority party had the ear 
of the Congress and the President, with whom the Territory 
had to deal. 

During the early months of his Governorship, Meagher 
made other errors. Especially flagrant were his errors in per- 
sonal behavior. Like many another emigrant, he felt he was 
far from any civilizing, restraining influence, and he let him- 
self go. He gained the reputation of a rowdy and a drunk. 
His periodic drinking bouts were referred to by the Post as 


Irish wakes which he held without the body. He "lost" his 
father twice, according to the paper. 8 During this period he 
pardoned the convicted murderer, Daniels, acting while drunk, 
said Judge Munson. The Vigilantes hanged Daniels, his par- 
don still in his pocket, and a crude note was pinned to his 
coat: // our Acting Governor does this again, we'll hang him* 

He incurred bitter enemies. William Chumasero, Virginia 
City attorney, wrote to Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, 
accusing Meagher of being a vulgar, indecent man, of harbor- 
ing lewd women in his office, of beastly habits and drunkenness 
and furthermore backed up his statements by telling the 
Senator to use the letter in any way he wanted to. 

Meagher further misjudged what were the powers of a 
territorial governor and what was expected of him. He came 
to the job with no experience in American politics and with 
little background in democratic American attitudes. He had 
no government administrative experience to qualify him. Now, 
he who had first made his reputation as a champion of the 
common man became dictatorial in his manner toward anyone 
who differed with him. When two of the Territorial Judges de- 
clared his legislative call illegal, he declared he would enforce 
any acts of this legislature with all the powers of the Territory, 
no matter what the judges might say. 

He agitated for statehood for the Territory, knowing that 
his popularity with the Democratic majority would assure him 
political control possibly even waft him out of his rural iso- 
lation into the Senate at Washington. He called a constitu- 
tional convention in the spring of 1866, but nothing came of 
it, the constitution itself being "lost" on its way to Washing- 

Sanders led the fight against Meagher. In a speech during 
the campaign of '66, he accused Meagher of not filing his 
bond, thus holding up Congressional appropriations to the 

147 Editor, Colonel and Wild Irishman 

Territory, of illegally using such appropriations when they 
finally arrived, of drawing drafts on empty depositories, of as- 
sembling a bantling legislature, of the impudent denial of 
rights of courts, judges and lawyers, of the scandalous disre- 
gard of the common decencies of life and the abuse of the 
American people. Sanders finished by saying he merited a 
stern and fearful rebuke from all decent men in the country. 
More directly, Sanders carried his fight to the Congress, which 
revoked all of the acts passed by "Meagher's Legislatures." 

When Green Clay Smith was appointed Governor of the 
Territory in spite of the many letters Meagher had written to 
President Johnson pleading for the job, the Irishman must 
have felt that his bid for success had failed. Discouraged, his 
vanity badly wounded, he took offense at a paragraph in the 
Post and challenged Henry Blake, who had become editor upon 
Dimsdale's death, to a duel. The objectionable paragraph be- 
gan, "T. F. Meagher; we understand this notorious individual 
is en route to Virginia City . . ." and went on to warn him 
that he would find his political friends gone with the arrival of 
Governor Smith. Another piece concluded thankfully that at 
the Governor's reception in his offices at Content's Corner 
there had been "no political allusions to mar (Meagher) the 
occasion." In answer to Meagher's challenge, Blake spoke out 
in print, pointing out to the Secretary that dueling was illegal 
in the Territory. 10 

After the adjournment of the third Assembly, which 
Meagher had called but which met during the administration 
of Governor Smith, it was decided that Smith should return 
to Washington, where as a former member of Congress, just 
resigned, he could most effectively lobby for the Territory. 
Meagher was once again Acting Governor. 

Meagher saw himself above all as a soldier, more specifi- 
cally as a leader of soldiers and as one who fought brilliant 
battles, but never grappled with problems of tactics or supply. 


Since he had first arrived he had continually specified an army 
as being necessary to the Territory, not only to exterminate 
the Indians, but also to replace the Vigilantes in their war 
against road agents. He was right about the necessity for 
troops in the area, for the Blackfeet were especially warlike 
and there were no soldiers stationed here to protect the set- 

His first chance to shine as a militarist came early in 1866 
when he called for 500 volunteers to march against the Black- 
feet, who were raiding near Fort Benton. To his disappoint- 
ment, few men volunteered. Who cared about Indians way up 
yonder when there was gold to be had in Alder Gulch and no 
Indians to bother? 

A year later a bigger chance came to the General. Resi- 
dents of the Gallatin Valley were alarmed by the threat of 
Indian raids. John Bozeman wrote the Acting Governor de- 
manding protection for the residents. When Bozeman was 
killed by Indians a few days later, Meagher saw his chance. 

He had repeatedly asked the United States Army for troops. 
Now he wrote to General Sherman, commander of the De- 
partment of the Missouri, asking for permission to raise his 
own. When he didn't receive it, he tried to raise a militia with- 
out it, but Virginia City merchants would not supply him with- 
out assurance that they would be paid. Again he wrote to 
Sherman, telling him of the great danger. At last Sherman re- 
lented in part, authorizing citizen troops at forty cents per day 
per man they to furnish their own horses and arms! a com- 
pletely unrealistic wage in a gold camp. 

Meagher ignored the minimum and went about raising his 
army, asking for 600 mounted and armed men, buying sup- 
plies on credit from Virginia City merchants, waving Sher- 
man's telegram in their faces for assurance they would be paid. 
He spent his credit recklessly, in some cases buying horses and 

149 Editor, Colonel and Wild Irishman 

equipment that did not exist. All in all, he ran up bills which 
were presented to Congress for a total of $1,100,000. The 
government finally settled for $513,000, paying for an Indian 
war which never took place. 

Meagher took the field at the head of his "army," spend- 
ing his days joyously in the saddle, his nights roughing it by 
the campfire, thoroughly enjoying himself, though he and his 
volunteers fought nary a battle. As the days in camp grew into 
weeks, fights occurred right enough, but among the men. Once 
an officer was killed. A mutiny developed, and desertions be- 
came frequent the men as a rule decamping with supplies 
and army horses. The entire operation was botched. With the 
return of Governor Smith in June, Meagher was relieved of 
his command, his opportunity to make a name for himself 
fighting Indians gone. 

Governor Smith began reorganizing Meagher's command 
in spite of a report of Major W. H. Lewis, envoy from General 
Sherman, who had investigated the fracas and reported the 
whole thing a trumped-up Indian scare. After all, if bills were 
to be presented to Congress, the Territory could not officially 
admit the expense had been for nothing. 

General Meagher was dispatched to Fort Benton to meet a 
shipment of muskets he believed was being sent on from 
Camp Cook and to meet his wife who was coming upstream 
on the same boat. He arrived on July 1 but the boat was not 
yet docked. 

In Fort Benton he met an Irish friend, an officer on the 
river boat G. A. Thompson, then unloading. He accepted an 
invitation to sleep on board in one of the staterooms, it being 
more comfortable than the rude hotel accommodations ashore. 
During the night he disappeared from the boat and was never 
heard of again. 

The night watchman said he saw a figure in white clamber 


down from the upper deck to the lower deck and jump into 
the river, but, the official version, as stated by Governor Smith, 
was that the General met his death accidentally. 

During the afternoon he had been in a highly distraught 
state of mind, hysterically demanding a gun to defend himself 
against the people of Fort Benton. He had been put forcibly 
to bed. Colonel Sanders, who then chanced to be in Fort 
Benton and in the company of Meagher for a time, stated 
Meagher was not drinking that day. On the other hand, Colo- 
nel Sanders was quite capable of withholding unpleasant facts, 
if we are to judge him by his written statement, "There is 
much to conceal ... in those 'ancient times.' " u Perhaps 
Sanders was unaware of Meagher's drinking. A known heavy 
drinker may have had his own private supply at hand and 
nipped at it when unobserved. 

Meagher was at the end of his tether: a man of forty-four 
who all his life had jumped without looking or considering the 
consequences and, until recently, always had managed to land 
on his feet. Now he had come a cropper in a backwoods coun- 
try where he had expected to lead the pack. It is quite possible 
that the General, in his jangled condition and perhaps under 
the influence of alcohol, may have jumped, not intending sui- 
cide (a doubtful thing in this strong Roman Catholic), but in 
another wild attempt to escape fate, and, misjudging his 
strength, accidentally drowned. It is also possible that he made 
good his escape and disappeared, rather than face a future as 
Meagher, the former hero. On the other hand, he could have 
been killed by Indians; or he could have died of exposure in 
the brakes of the Missouri after climbing from the river. 

When one considers the bravado of his escape from Tas- 
mania, in which he had warned officers he was going to at- 
tempt a getaway and then had waited until they were in sight 
before galloping off, a planned disappearance from Montana 
seems possible. For one thing, he had no fear of the water: 

151 Editor, Colonel and Wild Irishman 

his former escape had left him standing on a water-swept 
ocean shelf for several days. He was evidently a strong swim- 
mer. As for leaving his wife, he had left one behind in Tas- 
mania, also, and, when she appeared in the United States he 
had packed her off to Ireland to live with his father, where 
she died in childbirth. 

However he left, he was gone from the Montana scene, 
leaving behind him rancor and emotional political strife. In 
opposing him and his demagogic tactics, Colonel Sanders had 
ruined his own popularity and his future chances for impor- 
tant political office, for the majority never forgave him for 
calling their pet nasty names. 

Today, inside the Statehouse in Helena, in the rotunda, 
is a life-size statue of Colonel Sanders. From where he stands, 
he can look out the front doors at a heroic statue on the lawn 
of General Meagher astride a horse, sword raised, still charg- 
ing at windmills. 





Christmas season, the b'hoys of the upper gulch, bemused with 
Yuletide cheer, swore to stand treat for a party to which 
every woman in their districts was to be invited. When the 
liquor wore off, they realized that such a guest list necessarily 
would include the beautiful prostitute of Hungry Hollow, and, 
more daunting, someone would have to escort her there. No 
one volunteered to bring her, but it graveled the boys to go 
back on their resolve, so they drew straws to see who would 
spend the evening with the girl. Amos Hall, later to be mayor 
of Virginia City, pulled the short straw. 

The night of the party, Hall came to her door duded up 
as though she were the girl of his dreams, for he was deter- 
mined to make this as good a party and as merry a Christ- 
mas for her as for any woman there in spite of his mis- 
givings. To his relief, the girl who answered his knock scarcely 
resembled the chit he had invited. The gaudy clothes had been 
replaced by a sedate gown; the paint was scrubbed from her 
cheeks. It was with genuine gallantry that Hall walked her 
to the affair. 

153 Dances, Divorces and Bustles 

The b'hoys had no reason to regret inviting her, for the 
girl was as demure and formal as mountain etiquette could 
demand. Folks that came to be titillated went home astounded 
to find that she acted for all the world just like one of them, so 
much so, that if (whisper) one hadn't known, she might have 
passed for respectable. What with the games and the songs, 
the eats and drinks, she soon fitted right into the party they 
got used to her mebbe even liked her a little Sakes! The 
party was a great success. Hall took the girl home and bade 
her good night at her door without so much as kissing her. 1 

The incident is typical of the way custom was continually 
crumbling under abrasiveness of mining-camp life. Here, a 
woman found that contact with a prostitute didn't contaminate 
one's morals. Here, husbands did much of their business in 
the saloons they never would have entered at home. Here, one 
simply explained to one's children why the gaily dressed ladies 
were not nice, and what were those shooting noises. Here, a 
person had to dance, if she were to belong, even though a 
person had never dared at home and, really, it didn't seem 
so awful, once a person learned. 

Dancing was a mania in the gulch, and not entirely by 
happenstance. During the first months of the stampede, the 
problem of b'hoy meeting girl was difficult, not only because 
women were scarce, but also because the usual meeting 
place, church, was not yet established, and all other com- 
munity ties, family ties and the like were lacking; there was 
little place for courtin'. Then somebody started a dancing 
school, and also started the second stampede to sweep Alder 

During the winter months, there was hardly a night on 
which a "dancing school" was not meeting in some mining 
district or other. Tuesday night it might be at Summit, Wednes- 
day night at Virginia City, Thursday at Highland, and so 
on, presumably to give each district a chance to learn, but 


somehow, the same old crowd showed up every night. No- 
body, surely, needed as much dancing instruction as John 
Grannis, who, according to his diary, often attended class three 
or four nights running, each night in a different spot. But 
John had discovered that this was a good prospect on lively 
ladies, and, being newly divorced, he worked the diggin's for 
all they were worth. For the ladies, attending "school" was a 
respectable enough occupation to allow dancing and flirting 
in the middle of the week. Singing schools also met once a 
week, Professor Dimsdale running one in competition to Jesse 
Armitage's. They were nice get-togethers, but they couldn't 
compare with the pairing off necessary to dance. 2 

Dancing was such a pastime in Virginia City that Mc- 
Clure said in one of his newspaper articles, "I believe that all 
meetings . . . excepting church and funerals, end in a dance, 
no matter how they begin." 3 Virginia City became famous 
throughout the Territory for its balls, dances, and songs, mak- 
ing such competition among the b'hoys for partners to Calico 
Balls, Masquerade Balls, Legislative Balls, and Fenian Balls 
that every female from teen-ager to grandmother had to have 
a ball gown. 

Lucky Virginia City gals enjoyed a surplus of men as high 
as the eight-to-one tallied in the 1870 census; what it had 
been before, there is no record. News of the great female 
shortage in the Rocky Mountains aroused hopes in the woman- 
crowded East and caused one lady to urge a plan of wholesale 
migration to this more favorable marriage clime. Her letter 
was answered in the Montanian: 

A Massachusetts lady wants to know if we have more 
men than women in Montana, if so she will contract to 
furnish as many ladies as Montana will men. She says she 
is now "twenty-six," and that the preponderance in num- 
ber of ladies over gentlemen is so great in Massachusetts 
that she despairs of ever getting a husband in that country, 

155 Dances, Divorces and Bustles 

and wants to know what we think her chances would be if 
she were to come to Montana. We think your chances 
would be good, but we would advise you to wait a year 
or two, as we have several old maids on hand now, and as 
they, of course, have the first claim, we should like you, for 
their sake, to hold off a little. They are trying hard and 
may make a riffle soon. Should they do so we will notify 
you. 4 

With such a shortage of women, "speculating on 'splic- 
ing' " was always rife, and there were many rumors that "one 
of the forty-seven marriageable females in this locality is 
busily engaged in running a Singer on muslin sheets." The 
Leap Year joshing which appeared in the papers each 
quartan year meant little here where women were so scarce 
"that young men now go four days without blacking their 
boots, don't oil their hair anymore, and wear paper collars a 
week without turning them." Leap Year editions of the news- 
papers, however, warned the girls that "Leap Year is fast 
petering out. Girls and widows who want a loving heart to 
cling to, and a pair of men's pants to lay over their feet during 
the cold winter nights, will find it advantageous to begin to 
talk business pretty soon." 

Once a society had been established in town, once people 
knew each other as neighbors, considerable courtin' was done 
in the ordinary fashion of the times. Serenading was a popular 
go for a while. Young swains about town grouped together 
late in the spring, learning old love songs, trying to harmonize. 
On balmy summer nights the little band drifted about town, 
quavering a song or two at the door of the rude cabins of 
belles of the town (never beneath the window, because two- 
story houses were rarities here), trudging along the dusty, 
unromantic, treeless streets between stops, serenading not only 
innamoratas but also governor, editor, champion fighter, etc., 
as well, the soft strains of their old tunes sometimes min- 


gling with the raucous jangling of near-by saloon music or a 
parody of their own sentiment bellowed by the irreverent 
Nightherd, "making the 'night hideous' with their infernal 

During the summer months, a favorite outing for couples 
was a fishing trip to the mouth of Alder Creek. Here came 
"romantic anglers and maidens from the city to ... whisper 
sweet nothings among the bushes, as they tantalize the jolly 
trout with their awkwardness." Such unaccustomed freedom 
allowed to young couples resulted in a number of seductions, 
enough so that Dimsdale felt it necessary to write an editorial 
under the heading GAY LOTHARIOS. He said that "these 
gilded serpents are with us, practicing their hellish arts. Several 
cases the most deplorable have been brought to our special 
attention." He concluded his item, typically Victorian, by 
commenting, "better, far better, had the seducer struck a 
dagger at his victim's heart . . ." 5 Such was the horror of 
the biological in this hell-raising town. 

Dimsdale and his friends could not see that woman was 
finding new freedom, becoming emancipated, here in Mon- 
tana. They clung to their old-fashioned ideals in spite of the 
fact that women were becoming more independent every day. 
Jobs were plentiful for them and were well-paid in comparison 
to the East. Dimsdale, not realizing the implications of what 
he wrote, printing "Advice to Immigrants" in the Post, coun- 
seled, "Females who can use their hands smartly, are sure of 
immediate employment at high wages, and a good character 
will insure not only magnificent pay, but a deferential treat- 
ment and a kind attention, before only read of in novels." 6 
And employment he spoke of was sometimes the usual woman's 
work of cooking or acting as servant-girl, but here the latter 
could command fifty dollars a month, as much as a teamster. 
But other employment was available. Women tended toll 
gates; women tended stage stations at the grand salary of 

157 Dances, Divorces and Bustles 

$125 a month. One woman worked shaping horseshoes for 
Bart the Blacksmith, leading an editor to fret, "When femi- 
nines turn Vulcanists and bronco-shoers the worser half will 
get their deserts . . ." Some women worked side by side with 
their menfolk in the claim, skirts hiked up, shoveling tailings 
all the long day. If anything, it was more usual for a woman 
to work than not, for her help was needed to meet high living 
costs and to relieve the shortage of labor for jobs men didn't 
want. If she didn't put her shoulder to the wheel, she was 
likely to be sneered at, as was Sarah Raymond, who, after 
arriving, overheard a lady she had just met telling a neighbor, 
"Some more aristocrats. They didn't come here to work. 
Going to teach school and play lady." 7 

These working women enjoyed an easy camaraderie with 
the miners. Single men and women visited back and forth in 
each other's cabins freely, paying no attention to the stuffy 
pretensions of newspaper editors and bankers, larking about 
town as they pleased a bit of which freedom can be seen in a 
laconic diary note, ". . . loafed around with Mrs. B. all day." 

This freedom resulted in some funny entanglements for 
the b'hoys. One naive woman, deficient in her definition of 
"rape," hailed into court a man who had fondled her a little 
extra. There it was learned that the gal had been coming to his 
cabin for swill for her pigs, on which occasions he had kissed 
her several times, perhaps a little imprudently the last time. 
The man was discharged, but, according to the Madisonian, 
"the affair has created quite a lively demand among the boys 
for casks suitable for swill tubs." 

On the other hand, the man who tried to take advantage 
of a lone woman in her cabin might find she had no need of 
the courts to protect her. One such adventurer ended up with 
a jackknife in his rear. The paper reported that the woman 
had "attacked the biggest part of her enemy . . ." 

In Virginia City a woman had to put up with mistreat- 


ment or neglect no more than she had to be dependent upon a 
man for an income. The divorce rate climbed to levels as- 
tounding to the Victorian eye. McClure noted that "Stray 
wives figure almost as often in the advertisements as stray 
cattle; and summons in divorce are about as numerous as the 
notices of hymeneal knots. The last two legislatures devoted 
most of their deliberations to the passage of divorce bills." 8 
Such action was necessary because there was no divorce law; 
couples wanting their marital ties sundered had to obtain their 
divorces by direct action of the lawmakers. A carload of tem- 
porary bigamists was created when Congress voided the pro- 
ceedings of the second and third assemblies, but the couples 
affected were old married folks by that time and paid little 
attention to such legalities. 

Protestant minister A. M. Hough also commented on the 
numerous divorces, writing: 

There were a good many weddings at that time in Mon- 
tana, not that there were many persons to marry, but 
because the few married often. The newspapers gave 
"divorces" a standing heading, the same as "marriages" 
and I have counted the same number of records under 
each heading. In some instances, a name would appear 
simultaneously under both headings. 9 

Many of the divorces were undoubtedly due to the in- 
creased competition for a lady's favors. An unhappy woman 
was sure to find a sympathetic male to persuade her he could 
make her happy again. A mistreated woman might find her- 
self with an entire mining district of protectors: the miners' 
court in Summit District met upon one occasion to take up 
the case of McCarty, accused of abusing his family. They 
found him guilty and banished him from the district, and saw 
to it that he was walked as far as Nevada City and warned 

159 Dances, Divorces and Bustles 

not to come back. Before long he had walked back again, 
this time accompanied by lawyers to demand a new trial for 
him. The miners allowed it, but still couldn't see things his 
way and booted him down the road once again. This time he 
stayed gone, and on Sundays, thereafter, sympathetic miners 
could be found at Mrs. McCar^y's helping her fix up her 
house. 10 

What was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander; 
if men were finding new opportunity and a new life, so could 
a woman. If she had to take a poke in the eye whenever 
the master woke up with a bad liver at home, she could 
counterpunch here. John Grannis spent his first winter in 
Montana recovering from the low blow he felt his wife had 
dealt him, thinking ". . . of home I once had But alas for 
a false Hearted woman I was Betrayed." One morning while 
traveling to Montana, according to his diary, he "had words 
with Mrs. Grannis and spatted her on the mouth." By night- 
fall he was alone in his wagon, for she had joined another 
wagon train and was headed for Alder Gulch without him. 

That year the Mrs. did better on her claim than he did on 
his, and what was more, she wouldn't allow him around the 
place. Then she found a nicer man, got her divorce bill 
through the legislature, remarried, and left John playing the 
dancing-school circuit for want of companionship. 11 

Mrs. G.'s behavior made her ineligible for the pedestal 
upon which most of the town leaders believed a woman 
looked best. It put her outside the pale to a young man who 
could write in his diary of Dora, child-wife of David Copper- 
field, "What a perfect picture he draws of a Pure Innocent 
loving Dear Child-wife. Too fair; too fragile; breaking her 
heart at an unkind word. A beautifull creation. Almost too 
beautif ull to be real." 12 It made her, in the eyes of some of the 
town, the same kind of woman which a horrified court had 
fined for dressing in clothes of the opposite sex, or the same 


scandalized court had fined for swearing. It made her the 
kind of woman that Dimsdale detested, the kind of woman 
the town was helping to produce, the kind of woman he 
scorned in a special, interruptive paragraph in his book: 

... A woman is queen in her own home; but we 
neither want her as a blacksmith, a plough-woman, a 
soldier, a lawyer, a doctor, nor in any such professions or 
handicraft. As sisters, mothers, nurses, friends, sweethearts 
and wives, they are the salt of the earth, the sheet anchor 
of society, and the humanizing and purifying element in 
humanity. As such they cannot be too much respected, 
loved and protected. But from Blue Stockings, Bloomers 
and strong-minded she-males generally, "Good Lord, de- 
liver us." 13 

But Mrs. Grannis didn't mind. She found a rootless, af- 
fluent society full of opportunity for her to live her own life; 
she took the step that perhaps she never could have made at 
home, for financial reasons if none other. She was a pioneer 
suffragette, but she didn't know it. 

Across streets ankle-deep in dust and manure, Virginia 
City ladies dragged stylish skirts. Down boardwalks splin- 
tery and wobbly, Virginia City girls tripped in boots proper 
to the paving of the East. Through mountain gales that shook 
flimsy buildings, Virginia City matrons struggled, holding 
the latest bonnets and coiffures in place. Woman's vanity had 
come west with her. 

Woman's concern with fashion and feminine frills set 
this goddess on her feet of clay and treated her to considerable 
joshing in the newspapers: " 'Oh Death where is thy sting! 
O grave where is thy victory!' Clark puts a looking-glass in 
coffins ordered for women." 

Goddesses of course had no reality in body, so a lady's 

161 Dances, Divorces and Bustles 

anatomy was seldom referred to except limbs and, occasion- 
ally, bosoms. Ladies' underclothing was a delightful mystery: 

"Chemile," "shemlin," "chimi-drawers," "getin," 
"chimjupe" and "chemiloon" are among the proposed 
names for the new what-d'ye-call-ems introduced by the 
female dress reformers. We, don't want to be captious 
about trifles, but the use of such abominable language 
ought to constitute sufficient grounds for a divorce. 

Montanlan 1875 

"Emancipation Undersuits" and "Sanitary Corsets," 
are articles of feminine gear for which prizes were awarded 
at the recent California State Fair. We don't know anything 
about such truck, but presume that the first named article 
is intended to effect the emancipation of the male sex from 
the rule of "petticoat government." If so, we don't approve 
of it. 

Montanian 1875 

It is said that the habit of wearing garters is killing hun- 
dreds of women. Take off your garters, girls or, if the 
trouble and fatigue are too much for you, come around 
and we'll take them off for you. 

Madisonian 1875 

No doubt about it, the fashion notes of the day were in- 
tended for the delight of masculine readers, not for the advice 
of ladies. No patterns, no learned charm articles, no descrip- 
tions of the latest fashion filled the local pages of Madison 
County weeklies. Women's dress was the material for mascu- 
line comedy in yesterday's comic newspaper story as in to- 
day's cartoon. 

Other mysteries of feminine dress were the gadgets de- 
signed to provide what nature hadn't: 


sissippi paper has the following: The various false calves 
are rendered necessary by the new style of "tilting hoops," 
which go far toward exposing what was before only 
dreamed of, or existed only in imagination. In the lan- 
guage of an exchange: 

"These calves are not a fleeting show, 

For man's illusion given, 
They're filled with brand, or stuffed with tow, 
And swell about a foot or so, 

And look first rate, by heaven." 

The false bosoms are made of fine wire in the shape of a 
bird's nest, with a small spring in them, and really look 
and feel quite natural. 

The plumpers are fastened on the teeth in such a man- 
ner as to make the face look round and plump, and are 
calculated to deceive the unsuspecting. Young gentlemen 
need have no fears as regards the ladies in this section 
they are all right and need no artificial fixins. 

Montana Post 1866 


... In this country low-necked dresses have never found 
as much favor as in France or England. Whether it is on 
account of superior modesty or inferior physical develop- 
ment, the wise must determine. Certain it is, that with low 
dresses, American women almost invariably affect puffed 
lace in the shape of capes or chemisettes, and in this way 
get the credit for a roundness of form that they rarely pos- 
sess. . . . 

Montana Post 1867 

Madison County editors, joshin' the "b'hoys," had pub- 
licized feminine fixin's almost a hundred years before Madi- 
son Avenue made falsie a household word or appliance. 

163 Dances, Divorces and Bustles 

The miners may have thought these feminine attachments 
were about as funny as any could get, but they hadn't seen 
nothin' yet. 

When the first bustles swayed across the corner of Wallace 
and Jackson streets, a gasp of masculine indignation rustled 
the pages of the Madisonian. Tom Deyarmon, the editor, 
called the bustle the "most detestable contrivance that fash- 
ion has ever forced and perpetuated upon female humanity." 

... If a lady appears on the street or in the ball room 
wearing a bustle, she is made the subject of ridicule. If 
without one, she is no less the subject of remark, because 
fashion has decreed that she shall wear one. Without one 
she is declared out of fashion; with one, either standing or 
walking, she is a misshapen object of derision. She cannot 
sit down in one, with comfort; but sit she will, and when 
she does, it is at the risk of being pierced and gouged, and 
scratched with a detached wire or whalebone of which the 
skeleton of the modern bustle is composed. 

Madisonian 1877 

That bobbling protuberance behind was an unwieldy 
thing in a buggy seat, a thing dangerous to squeeze by in a 
store aisle and a clumsy thing to keep one's eye on when clos- 
ing the door behind. It tickled the fun-loving boys. The only 
use for such an appendage was obvious. Some coarse bard 
aptly stated it in this ditty: 

Bustles are but a fleeting show, 

To vex a man's calm reflection; 

Whether of wire, rags or tow, 
How they're made, he may never know 
Without minute inspection. 

They're worn to churches and to balls 

To dinners and to evening calls 


And if the wearer slips and falls, 

We s'pose they're some protection. 

Madisonian 1876 

This "s'pose they're some protection" attitude was typical 
of the entire nation's feeling toward that ludicruous bundle 
lumped over the derriere but especially in the mountain 
West: "A lady's bustle is said to be the newest thing in the 
world because it was never seen before" quipped the Mon- 
tanian. It was the behindness that was irresistible to the wags. 

Whether campaigning from door to door for a fence to 
keep cattle out of the graveyard or parading across the stage 
in an amateur theatrical, the bustled lady rankled masculine 
observers. There was something so danged impractical about 
it on the frontier. Certainly the woman harnessed into one 
could neither board nor sit a buckboard with any security. 
Even pew-sitting was difficult: 

A young lady, marble-topped, dipped, and powdered to 
perfection, attired in a late-style "Seymour" pull-back 
costume, attempted to sit down in one of our churches the 
other Sabbath. She failed to reach the seat by many inches, 
but seemed to rest in the air, just as well as though she'd 
got down on the seat. Pull-backs act as pull-ups some- 

Madisonian 1875 

However, in comparison to the unwieldy hoop which had 
floated about camp only a few years before, the bustle seems 
fairly innocuous. Why such a ruckus? An explanation is that 
it just plain upset the male equilibrium: 

The fashion editor of a New York exchange offers the 
following advice, which should be borne in mind in any 
country: "Ladies who wear bustles should fasten the thing 

165 Dances, Divorces and Bustles 

down, and not meander the streets with a huge bundle 
bobbing up and down, and wriggling from side to side be- 
hind. It looks ridiculous, and, besides with so many beads 
and bugles on it, is apt to make a person walking in the 
rear cross-eyed!" 

Madisonian 1875 

But jibes nor sneers, nor raillery shall swerve the course 
of fashion, and the ladies of Virginia continued to push out 
behind. The "huge bundle," however, was often not made of 
"rags or tow" or whalebone either. It was suggested that they 
be made of cork: 

Jennie June, the fashion writer, suggests cork bustles 
for the ladies, whereupon the naughty editor for North- 
West says "that's one way to put a 'stopper' on the woman's 

Montanian 1874 

More often the Virginia City bustle was made of none 
of these materials. Being miles from stores where proper 
bustles could be purchased, the dears often used rolls of old 
newpaper to give the proper protuberance. The habit was 
soon made public: 

The funny man of one of our exchanges, at a party the 
other night, says he "set every woman in the house feeling 
the back of her head by holding up a 'switch' of false hair." 
He could have had twice as much fun by holding up a roll 
of old newspapers. 

Montanian 1873 

... a scene the like of which hasn't been seen since . . . 
whisky sold for 3 cents a drink and woman was pretty 
enough without piling newspapers on the small of her 

Montanian 1872 


Here was something new for the b'hoys. How many of the 
sidewalk experts followed the swaying bundles with new ap- 
preciation? How many made side bets on whether or not it 
was the "real thing?" Such intimate knowledge of what went 
on behind found its way into a naughty item in the Montanian. 
It tried to clothe its naughtiness behind codification but, well, 
notice the * : 

Honi sol qui mat y pense. The New North- West in re- 
ferring to the ladies using newspapers to create a bustle in 
society, says that "this thing of getting a little behind, 
won't do for progressive newspapers." We had rather see 
'em used for that, than all go to waist, Capt; though we 
advise those Deer Lodge girls who use the North- West, to 
beware of the Fs, pull the stings out of the B's, amputate 
the Jg^*, be Y's and unless they have an *, keep U at 
a safe distance, B-K's else they'll ne'er know P's or E's 
again. We C U & U O us 1. "Check." 

Montanian 1873 

The seventies would have been dull without the bustle. 
The b'hoys should have been grateful for it. 




to be a combination of capitalist, gambler and seer and more 
than one-third seer. The businessman of Virginia City in the 
1860's had no sure way to plan his business since "One year 
presents no data for the next, and everything goes by surges 
or waves to fortune or disaster. . . . Business ebbs and flows 
to a degree unknown in old centers of trade and sudden wealth 
and as sudden bankruptcy sweep close upon each other." * 
Bacon was known to drop from $1.25 per pound to sixty-five 
cents per pound in ten days' time. 2 The Virginia City merchant, 
with no figures to guide him, was forced to order for a year 
ahead, because freight moved only during the summer, via 
wagon train or Missouri River steamboat. Somehow he hoped 
to make an estimate of the next season's influx of emigration, 
determine what items would be short, make arrangements 
to get his goods on the market early, and, after Gallatin Valley 
farms and flour mills began producing, judge what influence 
local produce would have on his purchases. All of this had to 
be done in a little isolated town which was doing more busi- 
ness than its "neighbor" to the south, Denver. 3 


The Virginia City merchant-speculator was forced to buy 
in large amounts, for he was purveyor to the Territory. His 
fine stock of goods attracted customers from every direction 
(prices were lower in Virginia City). Miners from all over 
the Territory came to town to purchase supplies. Merchants 
In little hideaway gulches came to town to procure wagon- 
loads of stock for their shelves at the city's attractive whole- 
sale prices. To meet this demand, storekeepers along Wallace 
Street purchased shoes not by the dozen but by the wagon- 
load, Gurney & Company unloading eight wagons of shoes 
at once. Flour was purchased by the wagon train; at one time 
twenty-seven wagons of it were unloaded into Pfouts and 
Russell's "fireproof." (These "fireproof s" were merchants' 
only insurance against a conflagration which easily could de- 
stroy the major portion of this flimsy town. Most of their stock 
was kept in these structures, a good one being built of stone 
with "ventilated passage, closed at each end by iron doors of 
two thicknesses of plate, separated by a layer of charcoal.") 

These men are a little difficult to understand in these days 
of specialists, of formal training for a specific occupation 
which will become the line of work to be followed, usually, 
for life. These men were non-specialists. If they were trained 
they did not necessarily stay with that for which they had 
schooled. They turned a hand to whatever opportunity arose. 
A man easily could be a miner, then a storekeeper, take a 
turn at running a newspaper and end up by operating a bank 
or he could do all these at once. The really successful man 
was the one who could keep a number of irons heated at 
once and have time to shape each while it was hot. 

But the odds were that he would trip over some unseen 
obstruction between forge and anvil. As we have seen, 
transportation costs might almost double if his freight failed 
to make it to Fort Benton. If his freight was late, he might be 
forced to sell under cost in order to free his obligations. If he 

169 The Risk-Takers of Trade 

had figured wrong, the market could be glutted with what he 
had thought would be short, forcing him to sell at St. Louis 
prices. In the spring of 1867, McClure noted, "Some mer- 
chants have been compelled to borrow money at from ten to 
twenty per cent per month to pay freight at Fort Benton and 
then sold their goods at a loss of fifty to seventy-five per cent 
to meet their obligations." 4 In addition to these risks, mer- 
chants were forced to grubstake many miners in order to keep 
claims working, and often failed to collect many of these 

In spite of these enormous risks, there were "General 
Merchandise" signs on every street: Dance and Stuart, Tootle & 
Leach, Ohlenhausen & Co., Rockfellow & Dennee, Pfouts & 
Russell, to name just a few. They carried such fine merchandise 
they led Morley to remark in his diary, in the fall of 1864, 
that "the market is so well stocked that all the necessaries 
and many luxuries can be obtained . . ." 5 

Naturally, the reason for the number of men in the mer- 
chandising business and the fine stock available in spite of 
the risks involved was the phenomenal income to be derived 
from one of these stores. It was not at all unusual for gold to 
be taken by the pound over the counter at any Virginia City 
wholesale house (everyone sold both wholesale and retail). 
In more than one store, sales averaged over $1,000 per day. 
As an example, John S. Rockfellow's sales for forty-one days 
in August and September of 1865 were $41,386.93. 6 At one 
time a partner of Tootle & Leach took gold dust east to the 
tune of $60,000, "all he could handle, the net profits since 
his last trip to St. Joseph.'' 7 

These profits, it should be remembered, were made after 
the heyday of 1863-4, many of the miners having left Alder 
Gulch for the diggings of Last Chance Gulch and Blackfoot. 
In Nevada City in the same year of 1865 every other store 
had a "To Rent" sign on it and most of the population of 


Junction City four miles below was also gone. The income of 
Virginia City stores must have been even greater a year 

In a town of now not over 5,000 people, these merchants 
could lay their hands on tremendous amounts of capital, for 
their day or for our day. In the fall of 1866, one firm bought 
of another merchandise worth $1 12,000. 8 In November, 1865, 
when Captain Sawyer arrived in town with a fifty-seven- 
wagon outfit seven months out from Missouri, Higgins and 
Haggedorn purchased the entire train, including Schuttler 
wagons, contents, and the animals that pulled them. 9 This 
was an outlay of at least $75,000 for goods alone, besides 
fifty dollars apiece for the wagons, $2850, and an esti- 
mated $25,000 for the thousand head of oxen necessary for 
such a train. 

Obviously, much of the wealth of Virginia City lay in her 
trade, and the merchants came away with a lion's share. Not 
only did these speculators fleece the miners, they did pretty 
well shearing pilgrims and tourists as well. Everyone who 
came to see the elephant brought a little money to the wilder- 
ness hamlet, and left it in the hands of the storekeepers before 
they returned home. If they brought greenbacks with them, 
the storekeeper was doubly happy, for he took them in at a 
discount, but purchased his goods with them in the East at 
the higher eastern face value. When one considers the turn- 
over in population in Alder Gulch, and that for a good many 
years most emigrants entered the Territory through the town, 
it is obvious that "tourists" accounted for much of the store- 
keepers' profit. 

As the placer mines dwindled, and the quartz mines 
were remiss in opening, Virginia City's trade became in- 
creasingly important to her welfare. As early as June, 1865, 
the Post began placing stress on the town as a business center, 
urging retailers to buy in Virginia, publicizing their market 

171 The Risk-Takers of Trade 

by reporting a big turnover in new goods for new mining 
camps, pointing out that everyone came to the capital to buy. 
Later in the year it reported local businessmen going after the 
Blackfoot (Creek) trade. At about the same time, Rock- 
fellow opened branch stores in Bannack and Argenta. Nobody, 
but nobody, outsold Virginia City. 

Rents for places of business were high. The two-story 
stone buildings in town rented for $400 to $500 per month. 
The primitive Planter's Hotel rented to the lessee for $200 
per month. The Masonic Hall, built at a cost of $22,000 and 
finished in 1867, rented immediately for $4,000 per year 
lower floor only. If a man wanted to buy a place to go into 
business, he was asked as high as $8,000 for a "little, one- 
half story log store room with a dirt roof." 10 

All of these prices are given in gold dust, the established 
medium of exchange in the Gulch, and in the Territory. At 
first there was little currency and coin in the region because 
of its isolation. Gold was worth thirty dollars an ounce in 
baiter for any goods a man could buy. Then gold fell to as 
low as sixteen dollars an ounce. Disgusted with this price, 
the miners of Nevada City District set the price of gold at $ 1 8 
an ounce at a meeting held on January 15, 1864 the day 
after Virginia City's wholesale hangings. Later on speculators 
entered the economic picture, buying gold for resale on the 
eastern market, enjoying a premium of thirty-three to forty- 
seven per cent for the risk of a possible fall in price of gold 
and transporting the stuff through the wilderness. With the 
arrival of these "bankers" and of greenbacks the price of 
gold varied from $26 to $18 per ounce. 

Gold dust used as money was far from satisfactory as a 
means of exchange, but it was great fun for the individual who 
worried little about such theories. Almost any miner loved 
to throw a poke of dust on the bar and pour out a generous 
stream of the yellow stuff in payment for drinks for the house. 


Men who had come two thousand miles into the wilderness 
for gold were not to be satisfied with measly paper money. 
They wanted their gold swinging cosily from its pull string, 
close enough to be touched, displayed and spent. 

Yet, during every transaction they lost a little dust to the 
seller above the purchase price. Gold dust was accepted on 
all purchases of twenty-five cents on up. This minimum 
amount was seldom measured, it was a "pinch" or "two bits." 
For larger purchases the dust was measured out approximately 
on a balancing gold scale against a proper weight. It was 
then placed in blowers, two rectangle pieces of metal with 
lips folded up on three sides. The dust was blown from one to 
the other of these shallow trays, any light foreign material 
falling out and of course some miniscules of gold, also. In 
a number of small purchases, this might amount to a consider- 
able per cent: "Let anyone take the trouble to weigh out $10 
of merchantable dust, and expend it in small sums, keeping 
note of the amounts and he will be satisfied that there is 
considerable reason for the reluctance by capitalists to change 
the present system." 11 

Certainly there was a great demand for carpeting to place 
under gold scales, carpeting with a deep nap in which 
errant gold flakes could settle. Mrs. Wilbur Fiske Sanders 
gave up her Brussels carpeting bit by bit to saloonkeepers 
who pleaded with her most eloquently to sell small sections 
to grace their bars, and paid her well for them. These elegant 
scraps were placed under their scales and when thought 
thoroughly saturated with the valuable stuff they were burned 
and the gold recovered from the ashes. Even the sweepings 
from such a place were valuable. After especially drunken 
nights the sweepings from a hurdy-gurdy house had been 
known to pan out from $50 to $100 in spilled dust. In later 
years the flooring of old buildings was burned to recover the 
impregnated gold, and the ground underneath panned as well. 

173 The Risk-Takers of Trade 

The remains of the Pony Saloon panned from thirty-five cents 
to eighty-five cents to the pan, according to the newspaper. 

As it passed from hand to hand gold dust tended to de- 
teriorate in a manner in which no exchange medium should. 
Foreign matter invariably got mixed in with the true gold, 
sometimes by accident and sometimes deliberately. The 
most successful adulterations Were done with filings of galva- 
nized copper, which were difficult to detect by the acid-bath 
method of discovering bad gold, and by addition of sand. In 
most cases, dust which had gone through a number of hands, 
the last holder, unless wise, suffered from the deterioration of 
the dust, even though it had not been deliberately tampered 

Fraudulent weights were substituted for honest ones by 
unscrupulous traders. The unwary purchaser was relieved 
of extra gold in order to make the scales balance. Outstanding 
operator of this sort was the popular "Count" Murat, nephew 
of Joachim Murat, made King of Naples by Napoleon. This 
"real count" came to Montana Territory with all of the in- 
stincts of a true follower of the rapacious conqueror. He 
operated the Arcade Saloon in the early days of the camp. He 
was patronized by all the innocents who liked to pay for the 
privilege of gazing at aristocracy across a bar. In a few short 
months he weighted himself down with all the gold he 
could portage out of the mountains. The town wept to see 
this, the most popular of its citizens, pull up stakes. 

Several weeks later he was the barber to the upper crust of 
Denver when a startling report appeared in the Virginia City 
Post, written by his former friend, Editor Dimsdale: 

Count, (H. Murat) we kindly remember thee for 
sundry and diver's drinks taken in your Arcade for which 
we paid on your scales, with extra heavy weights. Your 
successor having found these weights, placed them in the 


hands of some officers, who showed them to us. You have 
got $8,000 gulch dust, have you? 12 

The Count's friends in Denver refused to believe the up- 
start Post's scoop. He remained mum, but kept a wary eye 
on strange customers who talked of Montana gold fields. Vir- 
ginia City soon elected a "Sealer" to check weights about the 

Even unadulterated gold dust was not worth the same 
amount per ounce from one poke to the next, that from 
some local gulches assaying some silver, while other gulches 
might produce a dust containing platinum, which shot its 
worth up considerably. To the expert, the dust from each 
gulch had characteristics of its own coloring varied from 
pale yellow to dark; the shape of the flakes varied also, some 
being flatly smooth, others rounded; while dust from a third 
gulch might be rough, not having been worn down. Gold out 
of Alder Gulch contained a lot of natural sand. The ex- 
perienced storekeeper and banker knew his gold or hired an 
expert who did. He paid as little for his gold as he possibly 
could. If the miner was not expert, he had to take what he 
could get for it. The merchant and banker also took advantage 
of the unwary and inexperienced by taking in high-grade dust 
but always giving out low-grade. 

With all these variances it is not remarkable that Isaac 
Moore, cashier of one of the local "banks" found that, busy as 
he was selling "one man currency or green backs as you call 
them, the next a draft, the next gold dust and the next gold 
coin, the next a Foreign draft on London, Dublin or Ger- 
many and perhaps the very same day buyfing] back drafts, 
gold dust and currency" and though "I have never made the 
slightest mistake in the cash or in any business transaction 
. . . it is more trouble and difficult to keep the gold dust right 
than all the balance of the business." 13 Incidentally, the local 

175 The Risk-Takers of Trade 

buildings which boasted the sign BANK were mostly deposi- 
tary institutions in which a miner could put his dust for safe- 
keeping, and more especially institutions which were speculat- 
ing in the buying and selling of gold. Only occasionally did 
they loan money or grubstake a miner. 

"The few greenbacks and treasury notes brought into the 
country were a commodity, and bought and sold at market 
price," noted Granville Stuart. 14 The price of greenbacks on 
the Virginia City market during the first months after the 
strike was fifty per cent of face value. Consequently, they 
weren't worth much to the man who brought them from the 
East as capital, but they were much in demand by speculators. 
Merchants, taking them in at the discounted value, could send 
them east to purchase goods and be allowed, if not their face 
value, at least much more than the Virginia City rate, making 
a double profit on each greenback transaction. A miner work- 
ing for wages could make from twenty to fifty per cent more by 
buying greenbacks, if he could, and sending them home to 
his family. A letter from Carswell to Duncan in 1864, illus- 
trates this speculative attitude: ". . . write and let me know 
how the paper money is in the States ... if I can send you 
any money I can buy greenbacks here from fifty cents to fifty- 
five cents on the dollar." 15 

Greenbacks were accepted at par as early as 1865, but 
only in the Idaho Billiard Saloon, and then presumably only 
in payment for games, for the paper commented: "He has 
only a few imitators. In general business it will not quite pay." 
The currency was still being discounted fifteen per cent in 
1867 when John Rockfellow broke with tradition and started 
accepting at par in his stores. Others soon followed. 

It had been suggested early that greenbacks be accepted 
at par. A big decline in the price of gold in the East during 
1865 resulted in most miners holding their dust from the Vir- 
ginia City market, causing a lull in trade. The paper sug- 


gested accepting greenbacks at par as a permanent cure to the 
speculative nature of the town's economy: "The loss in paying 
small sums in gold, the varying value of trade dust, and the 
perpetual frauds in weight should be enough to force the 
necessity of the measure." 16 At that time, greenbacks did 
increase in value, only to fall again soon, and to increase 
again briefly in the springs of 1866 and 1867, after which 
they stayed at about the same value as in the East. By this 
time there were more greenbacks available to the Territory, 
the monetary needs of the federal government not being so 
great as during and immediately following the war. 

There were other difficulties that imperiled the financial 
stability of the town. Each fall the place was almost drained 
of its medium of exchange as merchants and bankers shipped 
east all the gold they could, fearful of a drop in prices if they 
kept it through the winter. In addition to this, each miner 
and worker leaving the Territory carried with him some of the 
wealth of the town. Greenbacks were always short, being 
sent back east as fast as they arrived, and often when fall came 
they would be almost non-existent, as in 1867 when McClure 
noted, "Just now the Territory is drained of one million of 
greenbacks to pay freights." 17 

As a result of this eastward tendency of both dust and 
greenbacks, Virginia City was left poverty-stricken during the 
winter months. There was not enough gold in town to serve 
as money "for the encouragement of trade or even the re- 
muneration of labor." The placers were producing no gold dur- 
ing the freeze-up. Such a condition left the town at the mercy 
of the few "capitalists," who then could take advantage of 
any opportunity "secure from all competition, by the want of 
dust in all pockets but their own" so complained the Post in 
March of 1865. 18 On the other hand, it should be noted 
that there was little need for money for the remuneratioa 
of labor during the winter, "as there is no work or employ- 

177 The Risk-Takers of Trade 

ment but for a very few men here in the winter, I could get 
fifty men in a days time if I wished who would gladly work 
until spring for their board." 19 In fact, the few quartz mines 
took advantage of this oversupply of labor to hire good miners 
at fifty dollars a month (one-fourth of their summer wage) to 
get out ore during the winter months to be worked through 
the crusher in the summer. 

The discrepancy between gold dust and greenback values 
also caused considerable headaches for the first Territorial 
courts. Smart operators took advantage of the discounting of 
the value in greenbacks to try to pay off contracts in legal- 
tender currency, when the creditor had expected to be paid in 
dust. The courts necessarily decided this was perfectly legal, 
that a contract could be paid off in treasury notes at face value, 
unless the contract specifically stated an amount of gold dust 
due in weight, in which case payment would be made in the 
value of gold dust in greenbacks on the day of the trial, 
plus interest. The first Legislative Assembly made gold dust 
or bullion legal tender in payment of contracts, but never- 
theless much of the time of the early courts was taken up 
haggling over the terms of hastily written contracts. 

Still another factor contributed to the precariousness of the 
merchants' position: the numerous bad debts with which they 
had to contend. It was easy for a debtor to skip the country, 
hence there was little assurance a loan would ever come back. 
Who was to know the "credit rating" of one's neighbor on such 
short acquaintance as in a mining camp? Grubstaking was a 
gamble, not an investment. 

These difficulties made the going interest rate usurious. 
Five to ten per cent a month was not uncommon. Yet, with so 
many speculative opportunities arising, the man without capi- 
tal of his own was glad to pay these high rates, for if all went 
right, his profit would be so great he could easily afford it. 

Jim Miller, an eighteen-year-old lad who arrived in Vir- 


ginia City via Salt Lake so broke he had to talk his way past 
the toll gate below Nevada City, did very well for himself in 
two years, by speculating with borrowed money. He didn't 
work overly hard making his capital, and had the time of his 
young life enjoying the social life of this very social city. Jim 
had come west to make enough money to take him to Paris to 
see the Exposition set for 1867. 

He had several lean days in town before he went to work 
as a counter jumper in John Rockfellow's store at $100 per 
month plus board. As soon as possible he started gambling on 
the local market, sending money to Salt Lake City via friends 
to buy goods. On September 30, 1865, only three months after 
his arrival, his diary records a profit of ninety-four dollars on 
the sale of dried peaches and apples to his employer and notes 
his present capital as $280. 

By the following June he had sold two and one-half tons of 
salt at fifteen cents a pound, for which he had paid eight cents, 
"which," he crowed, "makes my present worth 558- a gain 
of 563 since June 8th a very good profit considering that my 
salary is only $125 per month." For this transaction he had 
"borrowed $375 from Jas. Clasby at 5% pr. mo. giving him as 
collatteral my watch and a receipt for the Salt Lake Goods." 

By the end of the year the youth had acquired $1 197 and 
by the time he left for France he had $2000 in his jeans. Even 
with this wad, he offered his services as messenger to several 
banks in Virginia City and Helena, and thus received $110 
from them for carrying gold, thus securing "part of my ex- 
penses at least to the states." 20 

His capital was not acquired in the Horatio Alger tradition, 
so dear to the nineteenth-century heart, of hard work, absti- 
nence and pinching pennies. On the contrary, the billiard halls 
saw a lot of this lad (where he played for MONEY!), he 
drank more than he should and he frittered his money away 
on girls, socials and clothes. True, he was constantly filled with 

179 The Risk-Takers of Trade 

remorse, and resolves to reform (particularly to shun the 
cursed billiard halls) but he found the temptations around 
him too much. He prospered in spite of himself with Rock- 
fellow's good advice, an aptitude for marketing, and a local 
market made for gambling. 

The speculator kept a lot of the miner's gold for himself, 
but the carefree miner was not a' man to higgle over prices. As 
a rule there was little grumbling on his part about prices 
changed and profits made by merchants. But once, in the 
spring of '65, the speculators got a leetle out of hand and had 
to be slappped down. 

It all had to do with the price of flour. Editor Dimsdale had 
seen there was going to be a shortage in this essential item. 
Early in the fall of 1864 he had warned the populace to stock 
up on food, for there was a great influx of new arrivals in town 
each day, and the daily wants of the people were in excess of 
the daily food arrivals at that time. Then in October he noted, 
"Flour went up $4.00 the morning of the snow. If it continues 
to go up as the snow comes down, where will it stop." The 
four-dollar addition to the price of flour made the cost of a 
100-pound sack twenty-four dollars to twenty-six dollars. By 
November 26th it was quoted at twenty-eight dollars, and con- 
tinued to rise all winter until it reached forty dollars a sack by 
April8, 1865. 

At this price, complaining against the speculators became 
more than grumbling, and an attempt was made to seize 
bakers' flour in Nevada City, but Sheriff Neil Howie foiled it. 
The Post now played Pollyanna, saying that prices weren't so 
bad: flour at one time had been eighty dollars in Colorado and 
"while the People of Virginia City are complaining of forty 
dollars for a sack of flour, the latest advices from the Last 
Chance Country quote flour at fifty-three dollars per sack." 

Wagon trains of flour which would have relieved the 
shortage were caught in Beaver Canyon in a blizzard in which 


all of the oxen perished. Now there was no relief in sight. It 
had been an unusually snowy winter, Chinook winds "refused 
to blow" and accumulated snow lay two feet deep in the val- 
leys and five and six feet deep on mountain passes, blocking 
any further caravans. 

Flour prices climbed to fifty-five dollars as speculators gam- 
bled with the few remaining sacks available. The morning of 
April 16, 1865, the market opened ten dollars higher than the 
previous market day, at sixty-five dollars, and by closing it was 
five dollars higher. On April 17th flour was seventy-five dollars 
a sack by 10 A.M., eighty dollars by 11 A.M., and before noon 
it had climbed to eighty-five dollars, with some offered at 
ninety dollars. 

The thin ribbon of Wallace Street was knotted with lumps 
of excited men talking about one thing, the corner on flour. 
Each time a new man joined a group a new rumor was started. 
One of the most prevalent was that flour had been on its way, 
but that a speculator named Dorris had ridden down the Salt 
Lake Road, buying it up all along the way, in order to keep 
the price up in Virginia City. 

The groups grew larger and more excited on the 18th of 
April, as the market went on a rampage and flour sold at one 
dollar a pound, according to the conservative market report of 
the Post, although Granville Stuart reported the price at one 
dollar and fifty cents a pound. It continued at these outrageous 
prices throughout this day and the next although the Post 
reported a market drop to eighty dollars per hundred pounds 
on the 19th, "due to current reports of new speculators." 

If the drop in price occurred, it was more likely due to the 
current reports of a column of 500 armed Nevada City men, 
marching the mile to Virginia City, led by a mounted man 
carrying a staff from which fluttered a symbolic empty flour 

The rumor proved true. What has come to be known as the 

181 The Risk-Takers of Trade 

"Virginia City flour riots" had begun a gross exaggeration of 
what occurred. The column of methodical men had no riotous 
intentions. They marched into town quietly, divided into groups 
of six, each headed by a captain, and proceeded to search for 
and seize flour wherever it was stored, "going through the 
matter as quietly as if it were seizing by order of the court." 
Flour was found concealed unddr floors and under haystacks, 
which led the Post to editorialize, "we do not endorse the con- 
cealing of flour under floors or haystacks when the article is up 
to the present price." 

The seized flour, a disappointing 175 sacks, was stored in 
Leviathon Hall overnight under an armed guard. Three claim- 
ants, a boardinghouse keeper, a baker and a private family, 
presented argument to the new holders of flour that their flour 
had been wrongly seized, and their portion of the confiscated 
commodity was returned to them. During the evening the dis- 
gruntled, dispossessed flour speculators met in the court room, 
to determine a course of action for regaining their merchan- 
dise. The only decision they could come to was that they had 
been done wrong, that their feelings were hurt and that they 
should adjourn. 

Flour was sold by the committee all during the next day, 
in twelve-pound lots, to any person who swore he had none 
and could get none. Families were allowed twice and three 
times as much. At the end of the day the committee paid all 
parties from whom flour had been taken at the rate of $27 for 
Salt Lake flour and $30 for St. Louis flour. It was decreed that 
any flour coming in should not be sold at a price exceeding 

The speculators supposedly lost an estimated six cents a 
pound in actual hard cash due to the seizure of their flour 
perhaps a total of $1,000 among them. No pity was wasted 
on them. Dimsdale's editorial for the week condoned the flour 
seizure, saying in part: 


. . . Now no law (did such an one exist) can make 
right out of that which is morally wrong, and in view of 
the severity of the winter and the impossibility of a miner's 
earning money for the support of his family, the raising of 
the price of flour at such a time, by combination and spec- 
ulative purchase, is a wrong that should insure lasting ig- 
nominy to the perpetrators . . . We might as well repeal 
all laws against road agents. . . . 21 

Lest news of the "riot" in Virginia City should frighten 
freighters loading flour for the town, Paris F. Pfouts, merchant 
and mayor of Virginia, published a newspaper proclamation 
in the same issue as Dimsdale's editorial to all freighters and 
travelers assuring them there was no danger in coming to 
Virginia City, and that their persons and their property would 
be protected. In an item immediately below the proclamation, 
the mayor shook his fist and stamped his foot at the citizenry, 
warning them that mobs would be dispersed at all cost and 
that all male citizens were subject to call of the sheriff "in this 
matter," a great show now that the barn was empty. 

Justice had been done, some people had enough flour for a 
few loaves of bread and the whole thing had provided a little 
excitement for a dull season of the year. It all had very little 
effect on flour prices in Alder Gulch, however. The very day 
of the distribution in Leviathon Hall, E. W. Me Veal's account 
book for his store in Summit lists flour sales at ninety cents a 
pound, a price at which it held for three more weeks. 22 The first 
new flour arrived in town May 13th and promptly sold at $58 
to $62, eight to twelve dollars above the commandments of 
the Committee, but what the hell, the frost was out of the 
ground, the placers could be worked, who cared about the 
price of flour now? By June enough flour was on hand for 
prices to return to normal. 

The respectable firms in town, Rockfellow and Dennee, 
Dance & Stuart, Tootle & Leach, Pfouts & Behm and others, 

183 The Risk-Takers of Trade 

played no part in juggling the price of the staff of life and can- 
not be blamed for the gouging in flour prices. Some of these 
men had a dream for the town and had invested their future in 
it. They were not about to try to ruin their fellow citizens. 
They had far more at stake here than the peripatetic specula- 
tor, miner or merchant, whose aim was to get gold and be 




THE SHORTCUT between Virginia City 
and Helena subtracted twenty-five miles from the trip, but it 
meant a climb up Boulder Hill at a slow walk, a loss of time 
the stagecoach drivers tried to make up by lettin' 'er rip down 
the far side at a stomach-fluttering gallop. B'hoys who were 
used to mountain coach rides learned, in the manner of 
bridgeworkers who never look down, to think of other things 
on this ride, forget the trees and rocks whizzing by or the 
dizzying drop at curve edge and to hang on for dear life. Thus 
one morning a coach load of them, failing to see the driver sail 
into the brush on one side of the descending coach or the shot- 
gun messenger bounce from his seat and land at the side of the 
road, rode 'er out all the way to the bottom of the hill, not 
noticing a jolt of difference between this ride and the usual 
jarring descent, unaware of their driverless condition until the 
runaways, galloping along the valley road, were stopped after 
almost overrunning the Oliver Company coach ahead of 
them. Like most coach passengers in the Territory, they had 
expected to be tumbled about in exchange for being moved 
quickly from one place to another. 

185 Bounces Unlimited: The Stage Lines 

Stagecoaches in Montana were popular for one reason 
only: S-P-E-E-D. Otherwise, there was little excuse for riding 
them. They were expensive, dangerous, erratic, jam-packed 
vehicles which offered a minimum of comfort for the sake of 
swiftness. They were necessary because distances were great 
and speculative opportunities awaited the early bird. They 
were especially popular with Virginia City merchants, who 
journeyed hundreds of miles about the Territory, checking on 
branch stores, taking orders, meeting freight in Fort Benton, or 
making contacts in the latest gold camp, dropping in on settle- 
ments 200 miles away as if they were calling on nearest neigh- 
bors. Some merchants also left town for the States each fall 
and returned each spring, thus avoiding the winter doldrums 
both in business and spirit, and sometimes putting themselves 
a scratch ahead of their stay-at-home competitors by being 
able to bid on the spot for the latest merchandise. The stage- 
coaches were useful to politicians who wanted to make their 
faces known in all of the diggings, as well as by Territorial 
delegate and lobbyist who coached part of the 5000-mile round 
trip to Washington, D. C., to plead the Territory's needs 
before Congress. Mining speculators and b'hoys who had all 
they wanted, anyone in a hurry for any reason, who could 
afford the ticket, used the coach for then as now, time was 
money. They developed a gadabout habit and a disdain for 
distance which Montanans still have. 

There were enough of these men in a hurry to allow sev- 
eral companies to make a profit bouncing them about the Ter- 
ritory. A. J. Oliver Co. was the first into Virginia City, operat- 
ing daily stages between it and Bannack within weeks after 
Fairweather had found his lucky scad, following soon after 
with a tri-weekly line to Salt Lake City. Peabody and Caldwell 
also braved road-agent guns to run competing lines to Ban- 
nack and to Utah. A third company, Egnell's, new in '64, car- 
ried anyone in Virginia City who had business in Prickly Pear 


or Silver City, while McCarthy's Express left every Thursday 
for French Gulch via Silver Bow. 

Oliver & Company said they could make it to Salt Lake 
City in four days, but if a b'hoy wanted to get there that fast, 
he had to be willing to pay $150 in greenbacks for his ticket, 
about seventy-five dollars in dust. 1 Ten people crammed into a 
Concord coach, as they frequently were, were worth $1500 to 
Oliver three times a week going and three times a week com- 
ing, a most profitable venture. The beauty of the enterprise 
was that the trip would have been profitable without passen- 
gers: northbound, the boot was full of letters for Virginia City 
forwarded from Utah at one dollar each, and, southbound, 
letters for home carried to Utah at the same price. Until the 
government officially recognized that there was a town north 
of Salt Lake City where no town had been before, and until 
it appointed a postmaster to the place, a process that took 
until late in 1864, all postal service into Virginia City was 
handled as a private business by the stagecoach lines. 

Ben Holladay of the famous Overland Stage Line noticed 
the profit-making possibilities of coaches running into Mon- 
tana Territory at about the same time that the Post Office 
Department became aware of the town not yet on its lists. 
His representative, "gentlemanly" Nat Stein, appeared in Vir- 
ginia City in May of '64 with the dismaying news (to local 
coach companies) that he had been three weeks on the road 
from Salt Lake City establishing stage stations along the way 
for the projected Montana services of the famous Missouri 
to California line. Holladay's coaches started running July 1st, 
and, bad as they were by all accounts, soon grabbed most of 
the business from the even more decrepit rolling stock of the 
local lines, as well as the just-established mail contract. By 
November, Oliver & Company's coaches had quit running for 
the winter, and Oliver had gone east (presumably by Hol- 
laday's Overland) to buy new coaches. 

187 Bounces Unlimited: The Stage Lines 

The following May, Oliver was back in the coaching busi- 
ness again, running his new coaches in daily service to Helena, 
carrying passengers for fifteen dollars (twenty-five dollars 
round trip), letters for twenty-five cents, and express (trunks 
five dollars, suitcases two dollars). 2 Then the Post Office De- 
partment heard about Helena and awarded him the mail con- 
tract, and the newspaper gave him a slap on the back when 
one of his rigs reeled off a trip at an average nine miles an 
hour, making it to Virginia City in about fourteen hours in- 
stead of the usual eighteen. Things were looking up. What with 
the mail contract subsidizing him, a few regular commuters 
like Colonel Sanders climbing aboard every week or so, the 
Boss Chinese, Ping Chong, and his lady riding to oversee 
Helena work gangs, even Featherlegs, an Indian, riding the 
white man's contraption, Oliver was able to get through the 
winter though bad weather and slow traveling forced him to 
raise his passenger rates until the one-way fare equaled the old 
twenty-five-dollar round-trip fare, and to double his express 
rates as well. 

Then in June he read the same old disheartening news: 
Ben Holladay had just rolled in six "splendid coaches" for an 
opposition line to Helena. Holladay's first coach carried the 
curtain-bulging load of fourteen plus express; in two months, 
Oliver had been run from the road and had put his coaches on 
feeder lines out of Helena, the first of a long line of Montana 
businessmen to be run off by foreign monopoly. 

Now Ben Holladay was stagecoaching as far as Montana 
Territory was concerned. His coaches could get to Atchison 
in twenty days. Hundreds of men, including those who had 
ridden with him once and should have known better, paid him 
the $350 he asked for the trip, 3 and cursed him for their mis- 
take. Granville Stuart, remembering a particularly rough trip, 
on one leg of which six passengers, driver, and luggage were 
loaded into a hack with no seats, forcing the passengers to 


"lock hands and hang across the load saddle bag fashion," 
wrote, "If the earnestness and deep sincerity with which the 
maledictions are uttered could insure their taking effect, I 
would not stand in Ben Holladay's shoes for two mail con- 
tracts." 4 Another frequent traveler about the West, Captain 
Fiske, who led three expeditions from Minnesota to Montana, 
also had the misfortune to take a Holladay coach home follow- 
ing one of his expeditions, and condemned the facilities of the 
Overland Company as the worst he had ever experienced. 

There was of course no rebate of fare to passengers who 
had paid for first-class travel and had to put up with any con- 
veyance Holladay chose to thrust upon them. Nor did Holladay 
ever rebate any fare to the passengers who were fool enough 
to pay out good money to ride the coach from Salt Lake City 
to Virginia City in the spring, and who found that they also 
had to push, or at least get out in the boggiest part of the road 
and wade through gumbo so that the vehicle could move. 
These mud-bedaubed trips were so common they became a 
wry joke among the b'hoys, who called them "walking to 
Virginia City on the coach." They were delighted when one 
disgruntled fellow, tired of paying for the privilege of walking, 
put his baggage on the coach in Corinne one muddy springtime 
and hiked out for Montana, arriving in Virginia City ten days 
later, where he had to wait for his baggage to catch up with 
him, having passed "the mud wagon and passengers that 
started from Corinne on the same day with him" at Pleasant 
Valley, Idaho. 5 

There were other things wrong with the services of the 
famous company on the Montana branch of its line. Monopoly 
made them careless and accidents became frequent on the 
mountain routes, sometimes the fault of drivers trying to keep 
up with overfast schedules on poor mountain roads, sometimes 
the result of horses fresh from the oat box being unskillfully 
driven by a driver fresh from the Senate Saloon. Because of the 

189 Bounces Unlimited: The Stage Lines 

accidents, the Holladay company drew an editorial blast from 
the Post, which accused it of laxness in regard to the safety of 
its passengers and of "the want of order and system in the con- 
duct and management of the Overland line of coaches. . . ." 6 

Stagecoaching in and out of Virginia City improved some- 
what after Holladay sold out to the Wells Fargo Company in 
1866; at least, the horses and coaches were said to be of the 
finest, and the meals were complimented as well. Even so, 
there were many complaints about the prices charged for 
meals and lodging. The complaining seems justified, for din- 
ners sold at $1.50 to $2.50 each, and the charge for sleeping 
on the floor of the stage station was two dollars a night. 7 
(Passengers on any line had always fretted about the food or 
the prices. Oliver & Company had once put such a mess on 
the table in front of Colonel Sanders that he had left it in dis- 
gust. When the station agent asked him if "them eggs wasn't 
hard enough?" the Colonel barked, "The whole damn meal is 
hard enough," as he slammed the door behind him and went 
back to the coach unfed.) Meals and sleeping accommodations 
could cost $200 above the ticket price on a twenty-day trip 
from Missouri. 

Another cost was that of excess baggage. The Wells Fargo 
Company generously allowed for this major voyage, a magni- 
ficent twenty-five pounds of baggage free, but charged sixty 
cents per pound of excess weight. Thus a well-dressed lady 
such as Mrs. Tuttle, the Bishop's wife, paid an extra $195 fee 
for her necessary baggage. 8 

One hardship that was not the fault of any company was 
that of wintertime Stagecoaching in Montana Territory there 
was no way to put a stove in the cramped coach or to keep the 
road from drifting over. Accounts of wintertime trips read 
like reports of Arctic survival expeditions. Sometimes the 
eighteen hours to Helena stretched into three grueling days, 
during which all hands labored to save themselves from freeze- 


ing, while the coach inched forward behind horses so winded 
they collapsed on their haunches, like dogs, to blow. On one 
such trip, the lead horses, bewildered by the storm, plunged 
off the road, burying coach, passengers, and themselves deep 
in a snowdrift. The b'hoys, after burrowing out, had to sink a 
shaft to extricate the coach and shovel a road to free the horses. 
On another snowy trip, finding the coach an impossible drag 
on the horses, the b'hoys abandoned it, boarded mail sacks 
towed behind the teams, and delivered themselves postage- 
free into Virginia City. 

Such ingenious efforts were born of necessity, for death 
could come quickly in a coach marooned in forty-below 
weather, even though the passengers dressed like men donning 
their entire wardrobe to escape a hotel bill. Colonel McClure 
pulling out of town in January during a "cold snap" (twenty- 
six degrees below zero), was wearing "double woolen under- 
clothing, a heavy winter suit, a blanket overcoat, a pair of 
heavy California blankets fully half an inch thick and large 
enough to envelop the whole body, an immense buffalo robe, 
double woolen socks, and buffalo boots, all carefully wrapped 
in gunny-sack, for the feet." 9 Eight similarly dressed men 
crammed themselves into the little mountain coach, while a 
tenth man, a poor miner with no Arctic gear, was plopped into 
the middle of them, insulated from the outside cold like the 
innermost fish in a sardine can. 

The driver, sitting on the box outside, also wore layers of 
insulation, with the addition of a full suit of buckskin underwear 
over his woolen long Johns. Unfortunately, he could not ade- 
quately protect his driving hand from the cold, for he could 
not encumber the fingers that held the lines. On this hand he 
wore a silk glove next to the skin, covered by a buckskin glove, 
protection so slim that following any bad weather stagedrivers 
were to be seen loafing about stations, nursing frost-bitten 

191 Bounces Unlimited: The Stage Lines 

A winter trip to Salt Lake City involved a sled ride over 
Monida Pass, coaches meeting the sleds on either side of the 
mountains. This high road was of packed snow marked off 
from the loose drifts around it by a border of willow poles 
stuck upright along the road edge. But in this all-white world 
where ground blizzards an$ sky blended in a white void, 
willow sticks were easily missed, and the sled was upside 
down at the side of the road three or four times a day, passen- 
gers strewn across the snow, laughing. In those hardier days a 
public carrier could spill his patrons about and never incur a 
lawsuit, not even if he broke the precious brandy bottles which 
they passed around between upsets, lying about the sled bot- 
tom, telling yarns as if they were partying on a hayride. 

While sledding over the pass, they traveled only during the 
daylight hours, stopping each night at a crude way-station, 
where they continued the day's festivity, nipping at brandy and 
singing around the stove before rolling up in all their layers of 
clothing and blankets to sleep on the cold floor. The b'hoy 
who had to go to Salt Lake in January sometimes wore the 
same clothes and nursed the same cold feet for eleven days 
before he entered the warmth of Mormon hotels (even though 
the mail contract called for weekly coach trips December 
through March). 

Montana winters were meant for sitting in stove-warmth 
reading through a supply of books, not for traveling. Most of 
the b'hoys managed this kind of hibernation, squinting at 
nineteenth-century small print until eyestrain set in, reading 
books from the single public institution they willingly sup- 
ported, the library, sating themselves with narrative until in 
May the paper could report, "The books of the city library are 
not sought after much. After people have read through an 
eight months' winter they know enough." 

But rumors of a new gold strike, such as the one near 
Salmon, Idaho, were all that was needed to make a b'hoy give 


up rocking-chair adventuring and board a coach for a bold, 
wintertime undertaking of his own. The midwinter trip to the 
new Salmon mines, which the b'hoys began offhandedly in 
coaches and sleds sent to the scene by A. J. Oliver, they found 
to be so cold and so dangerous it outdid any of the hair-raisers 
they had been reading. One of them wrote to the Post a Jules 
Verne-inspired idea for the trip: 

If there was a tube from Bannack to the new gold field 
through which passengers could be forced by steam in a 
minute, and one-half would lose their lives, it would not 
scare us as much, for every man would take his chance, 
one out of two, for a safe trip. 10 

Fifty-fifty odds would have looked good also to the b'hoys 
on several trips, but especially so to those aboard the coach 
which, driving at night through Port-Neuf canyon, on the way 
to Salt Lake City, ran into a thaw-water lake where the road 
should have been, and found themselves being floated through 
the darkness behind the swimming horses, a cruise lasting just 
as long as it took them to pull off their boots and make ready 
to swim for it before the horses pulled the dripping outfit 
ashore. Some other b'hoys may have wondered if they had 
even-up chances the day they rode a coach that rolled slowly 
along planks laid end to end across the thin ice of the Missouri 
River, a makeshift bridge which sank scarily as the coach 
moved over it. 

Yet in spite of the risks and hardships, in spite of the cut- 
throat competition, John Altaian saw opportunity in stage- 
coaching in Montana in the spring of 1866. Of course, he lived 
in Sacramento and didn't realize the number of coachmen who 
had had the same idea; consequently, he started for Montana 
from California in March with eight brand-new six-horse 
coaches, not knowing exactly what he was going to do with 

193 Bounces Unlimited: The Stage Lines 

them, but figuring he'd find a road to run 'em on someplace in 
the Territory. He found Virginia City with all the coach service 
she needed: there were coaches leaving for Helena and for Hot 
Springs every day, one for the Gallatin Valley once a week, and 
coaches for Salt Lake City leaving on Sunday, Tuesday, 
Thursday, and Saturday. Aljman spent the summer poking 
about Territorial roads for a good feeder route not already 
occupied by the ubiquitous Oliver & Company. Such was the 
need for coaches that by fall he had found the empty road he 
needed and was running a line from Hell Gate to Wallula on 
the Columbia River, using the coach-breaking Mullan Road, a 
450-mile trail fit mostly for pack animals. 11 

Yet, on such an out-of-the-way route a company could 
make money, for the stagecoach in Montana was the only sure 
way of transporting mail and express, the first on government 
contract, the second at monopoly rates so high a Virginia City 
lady once paid eighteen dollars in express charges on five dol- 
lars worth of flowers shipped "from the east," an experience 
which made her think she could afford to have her plants 
come by special balloon thereafter. Such lucrative cargo made 
passenger-carrying of secondary interests and passenger-com- 
fort of small concern to the stage companies; they stuffed 
them aboard as if they were a crate of chickens consigned to a 
way-station down the road a piece. 

Ironically, only the well-to-do could afford to travel like 
livestock, but even they sometimes rebelled, and their venge- 
ance was laconically noted in the Post: "The passengers on 
one of Oliver & Co.'s coaches which left this town on the 17th 
inst., had a break down, got mad, and burnt up the coach on 
Snake River." 12 

They were wreaking vengeance not only for the manhan- 
dling they had always received from the coach companies, but 
for the thousand and one other inconveniences wrought upon 
them, one of which was irregular mail delivery. Although the 


coach was the fastest way in and out of the Territory, it was 
subject to as many delays as a woman dressing for a party, and 
had as many good excuses for tardiness. A fairly frequent one 
was that the horses were sick of an epizooty, leading the paper 
to complain, "We cannot reasonably expect more than two 
eastern mails per week from this until the stage-horses get 
through blowing their noses." 

"The Mud, the beautiful Mud" was another excuse used 
frequently in the spring, while Virginia City waited in vain for 
the long-postponed call, "the coach is coming!" and learned 
of the whereabouts of its mail from the newspaper: 


To those nervous individuals who rush frantically to the 
door every time a wheelbarrow passes, expecting the mail 
coach, we administer the following telegraphic opiate. 
Peace! troubled spirits: PLEASANT VALLEY, Friday, 
5 P.M. Mr. Gillespie, Agent: We have come to a dead 
stand still here. Four stages between here and Snake river. 
Cannot even go on foot. One team swamped, stuck in 
mud. Can neither get them forward or back. W. H. 
TAYLOR, Sup't. 13 

The mail which arrived in town after such delays was often 
proof that the coach company's excuse was valid, for it 
reached the post office "a curiosity frozen, torn, dirtied and 
mixed up in every conceivable form. After being thawed, it 
was distributed as nearly in accordance with the wishes of 
senders as the case permitted." 14 When four such mails arrived 
in town at once on four muddy coaches, the postmaster sorted 
the mail in the pandemonium of an office surrounded by 
b'hoys shouting and shoving their way toward his window, a 
crowd so large that a slowpoke had no alternative but to make 
a turnabout and walk on back to his claim at dusk to note in 

195 Bounces Unlimited: The Stage Lines 

his diary, ". . . could not get to the P.O. for the crowd." 

Stagecoaches were too erratic to provide what Virginia City 
desperately wanted, fast communication with the East. What 
was really needed, the b'hoys said, was an electric telegraph. 

As luck would have it, a man who knew building telegraph 
lines from post-hole digging to instrument installation lived 
right in town, John Creighton. He and his brother Edward had 
been the stringers of the first transcontinental telegraph wire. 
John had come to Alder Gulch in '63 and had done well min- 
ing and freighting. He was a storekeeper also, having built the 
stone "Creighton Block" building at the corner of Wallace and 
Van Buren Streets. A good friend of Colonel Sanders, he was, 
it will be remembered, the man whom Sanders relied upon to 
show up at Ives's trial with b'hoys picked to vote for conviction. 

In the summer of '66 the Western Union Company decided 
the town was ripe for a telegraph line and contracted with 
Creighton to build it. He started setting poles from Salt Lake 
City in August; by the time he arrived back in Virginia City in 
September with fifteen wagonloads of wire "and other essential 
materials" to begin that end of the line, sixty miles of poles 
were already in place outside of Salt Lake City, twenty-seven 
other wagons full of wire, etc., had been parceled out along 
the route, and 250 miles of post holes had been dug. Creighton 
was an organizer. 

On September 22nd the first pole was planted at the Vir- 
ginia City end of the line and anticipation ran high in town. 
By October 27th the instrument had been installed in Creigh- 
ton and Ohle's store, sending signals to the end of wire, and 
the paper prophesied completion in two weeks. On November 
3rd the line was completed, and the "lightning gobbler," Mr. 
Hugh, was sitting in his office watching his batteries "as ear- 
nestly as De Souty scrutinized those of the first Atlantic Tele- 
graph," and the whole town waited for the clicking to begin. 


One week later, the Post ecstatically reported: " 'The tele- 
graph works beautifully.' So says everybody, and our columns 
are filled with what is literally the news of the day, proves the 
truth of the remark." Telegrams could now be fired to and 
from New York at one dollar a word. 15 

Being at the end of wire was a godsend to the Post, for it 
became the only newspaper in the Territory with telegraphic 
service. Editor Blake claimed that he printed an average of 
5000 words per week of the latest telegraphic news, and he 
charged Helena papers with stealing his property by reprinting 
these valuble dispatches from the Post's printing of them. He 
implied that this news was costing the paper $5000 a week at 
the regular telegraphic rates which must have been about 
$3000 per week more than the paper took in. This newspaper 
war of the telegraphic dispatches was halted the next fall when 
Creighton completed the line from Virginia City to Helena, 
building at his fastest rate, completing as many as twenty- 
seven miles of line in one day. The October day it was com- 
pleted, the company allowed anyone who wished to send a 
free message between the two cities; afterward they paid $1.50 
for the first ten words, plus ten cents a word for extra words. 16 

Disappointingly, a slender telegraph wire strung through 
the wilderness proved to be almost as unreliable as the stage- 
coach. The first mishap to it serious enough to be reported in 
the paper occurred in the spring of 1867, when spring floods 
washed out sections of the line. From then on the service be- 
came more erratic, until in the early '70's an editor com- 
plained that "the thing is broken so often it is barely admis- 
sable to mention it in a newspaper," while another one claimed 
that the best way to reach a person with a telegraphic message 
"is to fill up the blank and forward it per mail," and still a 
third, Tom Deyarmon of the Madisonian, hoped that it would 
be fixed by the time of the next Centennial anniversary (1876) 
and printed this account of its efficiency: 

197 Bounces Unlimited: The Stage Lines 

An exciting race ended in the MADISONIAN office 
on Tuesday. It was between a daily newspaper and a 
telegram. The former left St. Louis on the 15th inst, and 
the latter was dispatched from Philadelphia on the 14th 
receiving one day's start. It was nip and tuck to the finish, 
but the telegram came in 30 minutes ahead of the paper. 
Hurrah for lightning. 17 < 

Though the telegraph had proved pretty much of a fizzle 
for long-distance, frontier communication, the b'hoys had 
considerable fun with the invention, stringing up wires be- 
tween each others' cabins, playing chess by Morse code in 
cabins separated by a hundred yards. The clicking keys caught 
on so they became a stampede, and "all the young men in 
town" joined the Virginia City Telegraph Association which 
met by wire every evening. Lovers too became infected by the 
mania and kept in contact by wire strung between their houses, 
tapping out sweet nothings after respectable courting hours 
had separated them, garbling the code so much that younger 
brothers had to be sent scurrying with notes to explain the 
misunderstanding. 18 

But the romance of coded communication faded when 
George Todd brought a "whispering telephone" to town one 
spring. Everybody had a listen and agreed "it beats telegraph- 
ing all to smithereens." Right away, the b'hoys wanted to be 
able to talk home on the new machine, blithely overlooking 
that fact that, as the Madisonian put it, "When they send us 
some telephonic music from the States the most appropriate air 
will be Thou art so near and yet so far.' " 




THERE WAS no such thing as a quiet 

Sunday morning in Virginia City. Saturday night the miner was 
paid; Sunday morning those b'hoys who had stayed the night 
in town gulped shuddery eye-openers standing shoulder to 
shoulder at the bar with men who were about to start their 
regular Sunday battle with "Mr. Al K. Hall." By church time, 
roisterers crowded the streets, come to shake the dust out of 
their pokes into saloon gold scales which had teetered emptily 
all week not into collection plates. They listened to preaching 
if there was nothing better to do, but Madison County b'hoys 
made up unreliable congregations: once, upon learning of the 
arrival of John Maguire, popular comedian, they stopped the 
sermon, ousted the preacher and brought on the actor. 

Sunday was the day when storekeepers hired extra help, 
when hurdy-gurdy houses put on extra dancers, when auction- 
eers curried nags till they shone like brand-new and shouted 
themselves hoarse extolling the newly shod, never-been-ridden- 
faster-than-a-trot animals. Sunday was the day when a rare 
miner exchanged jeans for broadcloth, hired a room for a 
meetin', and shouted his sermon in competition with the auc- 

199 Saints and Sinners 

tioneer's harangue just outside the window, making a confus- 
ing juxtaposition of messages: 

"What shall I do to be saved?" 

"Buy a first rate saddle horse." 

"What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" 

"Only thirty-seven dollars." 

or, reversing the order: 

"How much do I hear for this horse?" 
"Seven baskets of fragments." 
"Who wants him at forty dollars?" 
"Dives in the torments of hell." x 

Such a minister was Mr. A. M. Torbett, Baptist, who 
started a church of his own in the "court house" during the 
summer of 1864. His meetings were the only regularly held 
services in town, but J. Blanchard, making a kind of mission- 
ary survey of the Gulch, looked down his nose at the Baptist 
efforts, saying in a reporting letter that Torbett had "not come 
here expecting to preach but to speculate. He was once wealthy 
& would retrieve his fortunes. His room seats perhaps 60 to 80 
people and is well filled, but there are at least two to three 
thousand men in the streets, every Sabbath, while he preaches, 
crying goods, buying, gambling, etc., etc." 2 However, as Mr. 
Blanchard should have known, Torbett had no church organ- 
ization backing him and thus was obliged to support himself. 

With Torbett's sermons not drawing well, Blanchard felt 
that the Congregationalist message might fall on welcome 
ears, and wrote home pleading for gospel-spreaders: 

"There are, then, in the area of which this city is the cen- 
ter, some twenty to fifty thousand people, in a state of positive 
gospel destitution. ... In short, no missionary field, home 
or foreign, seems to me more pressing or promising than this 
... Is there not a hale, healthy and eloquent minister, who is 
adventurous enough to spend a few years here, in founding 


empires for Christ? Where too are the Societies to send reli- 
gious reading? Send some, who will visit the miners in their 
cabins, and they will be well received. . . ." 3 

He was evidently seeing what he wanted to see, for a man 
with a handful of tracts would have been as popular in the 
miner's cabin as one with smallpox, for religion was played 
out in the gulch. The b'hoys worshiped Mammon and sneered 
at Sunday School teachings which didn't show color. They 
may have given lip service to their old beliefs, and they may 
have thrown an occasional nugget churchward, but so few of 
them poked their noses inside the door of a church that most 
congregations resembled family prayer meetings. 

The Roman Catholics made one of the earliest attempts to 
bring the Word to the b'hoys, holding what was probably the 
first church service in Virginia City, the mass said to celebrate 
the Feast of All Saints, November 1, 1863. The service was 
held in the unfinished cabin of Peter Ronan, with Father Joseph 
Giorda, J. J., from the mission at Fort Shaw on the Sun River 
officiating. The later Mrs. Ronan, at that time little Mollie 
Sheehan, attended the service and remembered especially the 
tinkling sound of gold dust as it poured into tin cups which 
were passed from man to man for the offering. So innocent 
was Father Giorda of the value of the poke which the b'hoys 
had filled for the church, that, upon leaving, he was embar- 
rassed to say he couldn't meet his forty-dollar livery bill for 
two days' board for his horse, and was astounded when he 
learned he was carrying a nice fortune under his cassock. 4 

Services were more frequent after this lesson in mining- 
camp economics, various fathers holding masses, sometimes 
at the home of John Mulqueen, sometimes in his store, some- 
times in Fenian Hall in Nevada City, until the old theater build- 
ing on upper Jackson Street was purchased for a church. 

But churches and the godly arrived too late in town to 
change the topsy-turvy way in which the b'hoys regarded 

201 Saints and Sinners 

things, too late to alter the strange pattern of living which had 
come about through "the possession of vast sums of money by 
uneducated and unprincipled people," and which had been 
built on a philosophy of "If you're so danged smart why ain't 
you rich?" Brains, education, principles meant little here 
where the mark of success was to have a little luck: where a 
man's past life was of little account, if he didn't have the spon- 
dulix to back up his brag; where society was here today and 
gone with the gold; where the "turbulent activity, the constant 
excitement, and the perpetual temptations to which the 
dweller in a mining camp is subject" made it difficult to con- 
centrate on the eternal. A poverty-stricken parson had no con- 
vincing arguments with which to convert a happy Missourian 
whose claim could have supported a dozen such churches as 
his, who for the first time in his life had more than chaw 
money, and whose poke full of gold made him a man of con- 
sequence in town. 

The b'hoys gave the Lord their pin money, putting up the 
$2000 necessary to build the first church in town, the Method- 
ist, a log building at the corner of Jackson and Cover Streets, 
by contributing $1000 when the building was started and fill- 
ing the passed hat with another $1000 in thirty minutes on the 
day of its dedication, November 6, 1864. Yet not more than a 
hundred of them had joined the congregation by the following 
March, leaving the Reverend Hough, its pastor, still dependent 
on the $1000 per year contributed to his salary by the Mis- 
sionary Fund and trying to make ends meet on the pittance 
provided by the town for his support, perhaps another $1000. 5 

Yet Parson Hough was proud of the fact that by March 
of 1865 the new church was found to be too small, and that 
"hundreds went away every Sunday evening" because they 
could not be accommodated. Good as this may have been, a 
congregation of one hundred left thousands of men outside 
the fold who attended no regular service and who were so 


unpersistent in storming the church doors of a Sunday night, 
that, in the end, only a twenty-foot lengthening of the tiny 
church was necessary to seat the overflow. 

Perhaps the Reverend Hough had what he considered to be 
a large congregation because his services were held at night, 
thereby not competing with the horse races and all the other 
hoopla of a big Sunday in Virginia City: by evening, sinners 
had enough on their consciences to warrant pew sitting, and 
deacons were able to combine nighttime Sabbath church duties 
with daytime Sabbath storekeeping. Sunday closing of busi- 
ness houses was pleaded for by the Post every now and then, 
and one Sunday January 7, 1866 several stores did keep 
their doors locked, but it was not for another year that it be- 
came somewhat of a regular practice, and then only because 
Sunday business was played out, the town having dwindled to 
1500 population (the Post said 5000 in the area). 6 Sunday 
closing was then of no benefit to Mr. Hough, for his congrega- 
tion had also diminished. Only twenty-five of his faithful hun- 
dred remained in town by April, 1866, and he was forced to 
follow the stampeding b'hoys to Helena. An unlooked-for 
development, this, for it had been held by the churchmen that 
a decline would send off the gamblers to camps with easier 
pickings, leaving the godly supreme. 

When the Reverend Hough decamped, the town was left 
with hardly a pulpit to preach from. Soap-bubble dreams of 
two years ago had been bursting in the town's face ever since 
the strike in Last Chance; when Mr. Hough left, the b'hoys in 
Virginia City knew that a very large bubble had burst, for a 
town without a church is no town at all, least of all a City. 
(Summit had the only preacher in the gulch, the Reverend 
Hugh Duncan.) 

They blew new bubbles to attract emigrants by making 
the town a trade center, by opening branch businesses in 
Helena, by making the most of their position as capital of the 

203 Saints and Sinners 

Territory. A very considerable bubble was added to their pipe 
when the news came that the Episcopal Church was sending a 
Bishop to the Territory, and that his headquarters would be in 
Virginia City. Even as eastern immigrants, eastern shippers, 
eastern speculators were still thinking of Virginia City as the 
get-rich-quick town of the Rockies, unaware of the impact of 
the new diggings on the town, so the church had chosen the 
much-publicized place as seat of their new diocese. The town 
was living on the impetus given it by its early excitement, even 
though the gulch was described that same spring as "deserted 
and still but speaking with voices louder than ever could be 
made by the miners were they there." 7 

The services held by the Bishop stirred the b'hoys to reli- 
gious life again briefly. At first it was a diversion, a fad to 
turn out of a Sunday morning to hear the new man, the Bishop, 
preach, but the enthusiasm was short-lived. On April 29th, 
1868 the Bishop wrote: "I have just come home from service. 
We had full services and all, but without Holy Communion. I 
preached the sermon that I wrote yesterday and the day be- 
fore. Five men and five women were present." His disappoint- 
ment was keen, for he remembered it years later, reminiscing 
about his congregation: "I knew the excitement of preaching 
to hundreds massed. I knew the trial, when novelty and en- 
thusiasm were gone, of preaching to ten or twelve." 8 

He was not an easy man for the b'hoys to cotton to, for he 
disapproved of their loose life. Everyone swore, Sunday School 
lads and their fathers alike; everyone danced and played cards; 
if the Bishop suggested that it was wrong to do so, he was met 
with looks of mingled pity and amusement. Their laxness so 
galled him that he later wrote: "Caution, begot of knowledge, 
so ruled that in eight months of uninterrupted work in Vir- 
ginia City I did not find one single person to be confirmed." 9 
The b'hoys, uncomfortable under his disapproval, stayed away 
from him. He was lonely and friendless throughout the winter, 


his wife left behind, his study and residence a rough cabin, his 
best companion his cat, and practically his only caller an old 
German wood chopper. For this he had refused St. Peter's 
Church in Albany, New York. 

But swearing and cardplaying and dancing were not the 
Bishop's main concern; it was use of alcohol. In a town where 
every occasion was an excuse to take a smile, there were few 
places the cleric could go without smelling tainted breath. 
Callers in his cabin were similarly redolent on New Year's Day: 
". . . when all called most kindly at my cabin, it would have 
been irresistibly funny had it not been inexpressibly sad, to see 
the anxious efforts made to keep form and eyes steady and 
tongues straight." 10 

It was hard for the Bishop to face the fact that he was un- 
able to save his congregation from the demon rum. Alcohol had 
come to be a necessity to the b'hoys. It gave a false-front per- 
manence to the temporary relationships of the mining camp: it 
brought the b'hoys together with all the false warmth of to- 
day's cocktail party, substituting a-glow-on for the warmth of 
friendships left behind, making an old buddy out of a chance 
drinking partner. It helped to blunt the edge of despair when 
speculations went awry, to make preposterous schemes seem 
possible until hangover came. 

It was almost impossible to stay out of saloons, for they 
were clubhouse, news center, and business exchange all in 
one. Even those came through the swinging doors who "at 
home would as soon have been caught stealing chickens from 
a neighbor's hen-roost as to have been caught in such a place." 
Here they learned to prospect, began to savvy the language 
and the customs of the camp, heard of a good speculation, or 
hired out for their first job. 

As a result, drunkenness was endemic in Virginia City, 
and the Bishop had no antitoxin to stay it. In his little congre- 
gation, one of his vestrymen was an alcoholic, and two other 

205 Saints and Sinners 

men were also desperate drinkers, one of whom "grew so mad 
from drink his wife fled from him in terror. ... I stayed with 
him in his delirium saving him from self destruction." But this 
palliative was no good, for the Bishop did not understand the 
nature of the disease; the best he could get himself to do was to 
treat the sick "with loving forbearance toward wicked people" 
which only aggravated the disease. 

There was very little about the town of which the Bishop 
could approve. The b'hoys gambled on anything, anywhere, 
anytime; when nothing better offered, they played "fly-lu" 
while standing at the bar, laying bets as to which lump of 
sugar a fly would land on first. 

Backsliding gamblers further undermined the Bishop's 
church, for gambling came naturally to a town built on chance 
taking. There were big gaming houses, "The Mammoth" and 
"Burch, Clark & Co." on Jackson Street where fortunes were 
won and lost, though the gambling within their walls couldn't 
compare to the odds the b'hoys had already tossed against on 
their claims. In these rude casinos they could risk their whole 
pile in games dealt by "beautiful, nice young ladies, playing 
any games except three card monte," strap game, thimble rig 
game, patent safe game, black and red game (commonly 
known as the "tendice game"), any dice game, and two card 
box at faro they having all been outlawed by the first legisla- 
ture. Loaded dice were also legislated against (although there 
were to be no dice games), as well as marked and waxed 
cards. In spite of the legislation, tendice game was played so 
much the Post was forced to print a warning to greenhorns to 
beware of it, pointing out that though ten dice were thrown, 
the game was rigged so that only the highest and lowest num- 
bers could win, and the chance of throwing under twenty or 
over fifty were about one in a million. 

But the b'hoys of the Nightherd needed no such organ- 
ized games in order to wager. Playing the horses was a favor- 


ite method of gambling, though the nearest flat space large 
enough for a decent race was three miles uphill, at the top 
of the ridge between the Madison and Stinkingwater Val- 
leys (the same ridge which the Fairweather party had come 
over). Here, every Sunday, Monte owner of the livery stable 
(hearses available on short notice) promoted races over a 
600-yard course, starting at four P.M., for purses as high as 
$250 a side, finest of drinks available in the liquor tent. 

When all the horses had run against each other, and even 
sucker money stayed in a tenderfoot's pocket, the b'hoys went 
in for Sunday foot races, both running and walking, the racers 
themselves sometimes backing their brag with a couple of hun- 
dred dollars. W. F. Gernhart picked up $100 one Sunday 
afternoon in this way, walking to Eight Mile House on the road 
to Bannack in fifty-one minutes. When these contests petered 
out, Sim Grim dreamed up the strange contests which pitted 
man against horse, fifty yards to a perpendicular pole and 
back. The man usually won, for the horse was slow in turning. 
This racing of man against beast culminated in the great race of 
1867 between man and mule over a four-mile course from 
Junction to Virginia City the mule being handicapped one- 
half mile. Excitement over the race brought out more eager 
money than any other event recalled. The odds were upset 
when the man won, though bleeding at nose and mouth and 
completely collapsing at the finish line. 

There were lots of other Sunday contests well worth a bet: 
some days jig dancers cut a dido to decide who was the cham- 
pion of the Territory or, as in one case, to win the hand of 
a widow. Blacksmiths condescended to heat up their forges 
other Sundays to contest boastful men who had dared them to 
combat in public print: 

I hereby challenge Mr. James P. Welsh for to do the 
best piece of forging on any kind of machinery that Mr. 

207 Saints and Sinners 

Welsh may see fit for to name. Also that I will make and 
sett any number of Horse Shoes that he may name better 
than he can, for all the money I can raise. As I am not 
over flush I will say $200.00 at least, and as much more 
as I can get. The work is to be left to three disinterested 
Master Blacksmiths of this city or any where in this Terri- 
tory, and I will be governed <by their decision. Man and 
money ready at any time that Mr. Welsh may see fit. 


Sunday was also the day when dance halls did their best 
business. They were of no concern to Bishop Tuttle, for they 
had disappeared from Virginia City a year before he had ar- 
rived. If he had come sooner, he could have joined in the fight 
against them, though the campaign to close them was made 
not because they were immoral, but because a few Sundays in 
one could leave a b'hoy broke and on the relief rolls for the 

During the heyday of the hurdy-gurdy, the Bishop could 
have objected to them because they sold drinks, but not be- 
cause they were fronts for prostitution, for there was no need 
to sell anything but innocuous dances in those halls of '64 and 
'65. A girl could make plenty of money at this work alone. In 
fact, an occasional married woman in desperate need sup- 
ported her family by becoming a dancer in a hurdy-gurdy, and 
did so without being considered lost because of her occupa- 
tion. If it so happened that one of the girls spent the remaining 
hours of the night in bed with one of her dancing partners, it 
was a free-lance proposition, not one that had been pandered 
by her boss. Some of the girls may have been whores when 
they had arrived in town, but after hours of being swung about 
by burly miners they wanted to go to bed alone to sleep, hav- 
ing found "fifty sets of quadrilles and four waltzes, two of 
them for the love of the thing, is very hard work." 

The charge for a dance with one of the girls was one dollar, 


of which she took half, making her earnings for the night, if 
she danced every dance, twenty-six dollars. The prettiest girls 
danced oftenest and had the most income. The homeliest 
danced least and perhaps needed the occasional wages of sin 
to complement their income. A beautiful girl collected thou- 
sands of dollars in gold as gifts from admirers, and was some- 
times bedecked in clothes and jewelry worth several hundred 
dollars. She earned more in a week than an equally well- 
favored girl in the East could earn in two years. 12 

This waste of the b'hoys' money became less popular with 
the businessmen as the town became poorer, leading the Post 
to attack the institutions as early as January of '65, admonish- 
ing the spendthrifts that "With the hardest part of a mountain 
winter before them, our own citizens would do well to lay up a 
store of something more tangible than pirouettes, more nutri- 
tious than the memory of Varsoviennes and more profitable 
than smiles and tickets per agreement." 13 Virginia City was 
following the lead of Summit, where a public meeting had 
appointed a committee to call on hurdy-gurdy operators and 
tell them to quit. 

In Virginia City the dance-hall owners continued opera- 
tions, though dance halls declined in popularity as the town 
waned. To attract business they began to hire in 1866, "women 
of questionable or rather unquestionable reputation." 

This gave the Post an excuse. It launched an all-out attack 
on the two remaining places, aiming editorial barbs at them, 
and printing letters to the editor against them: 

Why don't you pitch into that infernal nuisance on 
Jackson street, called by some a dance house . . . nearly 
every night my rest is broken by the shouts of drunken 
prostitutes and their partners . . . Fights are always 
occurring and the dancers utter hour after hour the most 
profane and obscene remarks. Many fools throw away 

209 Saints and Sinners 

their money here, and we shall be obliged to support them 
the coming winter . . , 14 

One of the two houses was driven out of business by these 
attacks; the other stayed alive until December snows closed the 
mines. When it folded, the Post printed a two line obituary: 
"IMPROVING. There is no liurdy-gurdy' house in this city. 
This is a remarkable fact in its history." 15 An ex-resident of 
the place commented, more pithily, that "the prostitutes, 
pimps and gamblers are all leaving Virginia and the place 
is going straight to the d 1." 16 

But the saloons remained. In them the b'hoys shot and 
knifed each other, gouged out eyes, and bit off ears and lips in 
their brawling. Fighting was a seasonal thing with the b'hoys. 
They were able to drink together during the summer months 
when they were working, but during the winter, the same gut- 
burning whisky that had loosened their tongues in sudden 
friendships in July turned to fight-water in December, for idle- 
ness brought on cabin fever and loosened tempers in even 
quicker enmities. There were a couple of serious saloon blood- 
lettings a month during the winter of '65-'66, but after the 
April thaw, they got along so well together that only one 
shooting occurred from then till they started pulling triggers 
again the following December. 

The saloon was the enemy of the godly; they felt that alco- 
hol was the cause of all the town's misfortunes, including the 
waste of the capital which it produced. They were right. The 
b'hoys shoved a lot of dust across the bar, which they sorely 
needed for mining; a need which only occasionally drove them 
to abstinence: the six men who formed "The Mill Creek Tem- 
perance and Furnace Association" swore off from April 1 to 
July 4 in order to pool the amount usually spent on liquor for 
the purchase of a reduction furnace. They estimated that the 
amount the six of them would put by would be $100 to $125 a 


week at twenty-five cents a drink! 17 (Two-bits was the stand- 
ard price for a shot except in 1865 when the saloonkeepers 
doubled the price, until a boycott by the b'hoys forced them to 
knuckle under. ) 

Such continual imbibing made the b'hoys immune to all 
but huge amounts of alcohol. One editor swore that men were 
observed in town who could down seventeen tumblers of 
whisky a day and show no ill effects. Another newspaper story 
contended that at a blowout given for "the chosen leaders of 
the Virginia free lunchers and performers on improvised in- 
struments," a select group of thirty, meeting for an hour and a 
half in Mannheim's brewery, consumed "fifty-two gallons of 
lager beer, six hundred and sixty drinks of whisky, two hun- 
dred cigars and fifteen oyster stews." As the editor figured it, 
this came out to "two drinks of beer and one drink of whisky 
every three minutes; a cigar every fifteen minutes" for each 
man, and "an oyster stew for the crowd every six minutes." 18 

Those who lacked this Gargantuan capacity joined the 
Bishop in abstinence, and pledged temperance to the Good 
Templars, a promise which one of them put into verse and 
hung from his last broken-necked bottle: 

My Owl charmer your neck i've broak, 
Which seems to be unginerous, 
But hang the luck its too much goak 
To give you always countenance; 
Besides you know, before this blow, 
My neck you've oft disginted, 
So farewell fun I will by Gum 
Take one long snort we're parted. 19 

Though the editor might print such a humorous pledge, he 
was no supporter of drys, for barkeeps used a lot of paragraph, 
advertising puffs, and breweries often rolled a free barrel of 
brew into the pressroom to help get the paper out (sometimes, 

211 Saints and Sinners 

as on the Fourth of July, this was more hindrance than help, 
and the paper had to apologize for being late because all hands 
had been drunk knowing the b'hoys would understand) . 

Sunday closing and churchgoing received little support 
from editors other than Dimsdale, either. They preferred to 
write funny little squibs to entertain the b'hoys, such as "Be a 
man and observe the Sabbath. Buy your whisky to-night, and 
don't go sneaking around the saloons to-morrow," or "if you 
can't pray yourself, attend the Wednesday Evening Prayer- 
Meeting, and good people will pray for you with all their 
might. Spend an hour with the pious." 20 Virginia City editors 
needed no such circulation boosters as muckraking campaigns 
against saloons. 

Nor did any editor ever blast the sinfulness of the prosti- 
tutes in the houses at the end of Wallace Street, though one did 
get teary and moralize at the ministry when one of the girls 
died, writing: "Is it Christian-like for a minister to refuse to 
read a burial service and offer a prayer at the burial of a fallen 
woman? The doctrines of the New Testament do not teach this 
kind of spirit." 21 He was also critical of the Christian women in 
town, strangely horrified that a man had had to lay out this 
finally chaste body. Generally, editors sniggered about the 
"Cyprians" (as they loved to call them) and goings-on in the 
"demi-monde" (another favorite euphemism). Typically, when 
an assemblyman introduced a scandalous legislative bill to tax 
whorehouses, the editor printed the story under the headline, 
IF A BODY MEET A BAWDY. And when one of the girls 
sued one of the b'hoys to recover ninety-six dollars "for serv- 
ices rendered," the harlot's day in court was reviewed as a two- 
act stage entertainment which it came close to being. 

This levity in the face of rampant immorality convinced 
Bishop Tuttle that the b'hoys were among the damned, and he 
wrote: "Men were kind personally, generous in giving money, 
respectful and courteous; but I was appalled to discover day 


by day how almost universally given up they were to vicious 
practices." And again, "Alas, the longer I live here, the worse, 
the more deeply bad, the more thoroughly soaked in irreligion, 
do I find the entire community to be." 22 The Bishop's opinion 
didn't worry the Protestant b'hoys; they celebrated Christmas 
and Easter by getting drunker than on Sundays, ignoring the 
religious rites of the days completely. 

In direct contrast to their disregard was the mindfulness of 
the Jewish b'hoys to their religious days, times when they 
closed shop doors and remembered God. The heathen Chi- 
nese were also meticulous about honoring their gods, halting 
worldly concerns to practice their rites in the "josh house" 
which they built at the foot of Wallace Street, for which, an 
editor noted: "They will buy idols of the oldest style, and these 
heathens will then bow down to wood and stone. People who 
worship gold cannot see much sense in adoring cheap articles 
like these." M 





WANTED. A man that saw the bull-fight. Also, a 
forty-foot pole, a two foot sponge and five gallons of 
chloroform to catch a grizzly bear. 

Montana Post (1864) 1 


many of the b'hoys wanted to admit they'd been fool enough 
to spend two dollars on the honest-to-goodness Mexican Bull 
Fight of October, 1864, a scheme for getting gold dust that 
had placering backed right out of the gulch. This novelty was 
staged by men in need of capital to start a livery business. 
Homegrown talent appeared: the Mexicans in town had seen 
bull fights; they were to give authenticity to the Mexican part 
of the affair. Oxen with mean-looking horns were unhitched 
from their traces for a day to masquerade as toros. It was as- 
sumed that bringing Mexican and bull together in the ring 
would produce the fight part of the shindig. Unfortunately, 
"When the bull got into a passion, the bull-fighter had cooled 
off, or mounted the fence for that purpose." The only pases 
made anywhere near the bull's horns that afternoon were by a 


pack of dogs which were set on the poor animal to start some 
of the expected blood flowing. The b'hoys had been sold once 
more, whereas the ticket sellers had paid for their brand-new 

Because the b'hoys who piled up and down Wallace Street 
were restlessly searching for something to do, they were the 
delight of all promoters: they could be sold ducats for almost 
any kind of an exhibition that could be brought into the moun- 
tains, sold chances on everything from meerschaum pipes to 
real estate. 

Actors came from New York theaters to exhibit their tal- 
ents. Athletes, acrobats, minstrels, soothsayers, wizards, sing- 
ers, contortionists, faith mediums, fortune tellers, and spirit- 
ualists all kept Montana Post job-printing presses busy turning 
out placards, heralds, and (most important) tickets. Traveling 
lecturers also regarded the little town as a rostrum surrounded 
by paid admissions. 

One of the first showmen into town was the fellow who 
bobbed up Wallace Street on top of a dromedary, one of six 
which had carried him from California, shattering the placid 
routine of freighters and mule teams all the way. The six, sup- 
posedly remnants of those unsuccessfully imported by the 
Army for desert warfare in the Southwest, looked so out of 
place in the Rockies that Dimsdale proposed sending them as 
a pack train through Indian country to give the redskins the 
scare of their lives. The b'hoys bought lots of rides, but un- 
fortunately the brief safaris about the streets undid the nerves 
of all the dray horses in town, fraying drivers' tempers. When 
a girl was hurt in a fall from one of the ungainly brutes, the 
owner was told to grease his boots and take his camels with 
him. After one of his animals was shot as an elk by a startled 
hunter, dromedaries and owner headed for the safer ranges of 

Seven days' popularity was enjoyed by a strange pedestrian 

215 Prize Fighters and Thespians 

sport known as plank-walking. "Yankee" Driggs, a sharp New 
England tinsmith, invented the brief-lived endurance contest 
just before Christmas of 1865. He sold tickets to his novelty, 
raising capital to start a tinshop by hiring the brand-new 
Stonewall Hall and there grimly pacing back and forth on an 
eighteen-foot plank raised eighteen inches from the floor, 
never halting, for an exhausting* thirty-six hours. At the close 
of his marathon, which aroused tremendous interest, the She- 
bang Saloon, needing a diversion for the holiday season, 
backed an endurance contest between Driggs and C. W. Blunt 
for the plank-walking championship of Montana Territory. 
But ticket sales were light, and the men called it quits after 
topping Driggs's record by thirteen hours. Plank-walking was 
dead in Montana Territory, but by 1874 Driggs was mayor of 
the town. 

Mail-order bilks also fleeced the b'hoys. Typical were the 
patent-medicine quacks who advertised sure cures for venereal 
disease, sent in plain wrappers, or offered advice on how 
to regain sexual potency after the "debilitating practices of 
youth." The meanest of these bunco-artists were the ones who, 
preying on the loneliness of the b'hoys, advertised themselves 
as lovely young Mormon girls anxious to leave Utah and be 
out of the reach of the "lecherous" Brigham Young. 

Montana b'hoys rallied to rescue the damsels from the 
ogre. Letters posted to the Utah addresses brought back deli- 
cate answers. Further exchanges of missives produced sepia 
prints, slightly scented, depicting maidens even more lus- 
cious than the b'hoys had dreamed of. The smitten latter-day 
knights were all for donning sidearms for a joust with Latter- 
day Saints, but continued correspondence indicated all that 
need be done to rescue one of these lovelies, to have her comb- 
ing her tresses in one's lonely cabin, was to ransom her by 
sending stage fare. Bereft of reason by the pretty faces dim- 
pling at them from the pasteboard, the b'hoys dispatched the 


paltry money to Utah, and began meeting each coach from the 
south, eager to hand down the expected bevy of eloping beau- 

When a fortnight later no coach had disgorged either 
beauties or letters, one of the gallants made the quest to Salt 
Lake City, a knight-errant with carpetbag, a siege plan in his 
mind. Once in the City of Saints, he sought out the castle of 
the photographer from whose studio the prints had come and 
showed the chemical-stained wizard within his only keepsake, 
the photograph. Alas! the picture was one of numerous anony- 
mous stage beauties whose likeness could be purchased by the 
gross, and no amount of sorcery or pilgrimage could discover 
the evil giants who had robbed them so. 

The attractions that outdrew all others were the boxing 
matches. An ordinary fight once jammed so many b'hoys into 
town to see the event as to block the streets. Just the announce- 
ment of a forthcoming "Championship" bout was enough to 
stir them into a round of unheralded, impromptu knockdown 
discussions of who was going to be the coming Champion. 
After the fight had passed, the same form of debate was carried 
on in defense of the winner, the loser, the boxing style, the 
referee, the decision, or whether a rematch would reverse the 
result. A good fight could even draw mourners away from that 
rara avis of the town's diversions, a first-class funeral. So the 
sheriff discovered when he noticed the male portion of the 
crowd dwindling and followed the defalcators over Boot Hill 
to the coulee beyond, where, sure enough, two Negroes were 
sparring. At the sheriff's untimely appearance, the two boxers 
took "leg-bail," while the "bottle holders" went scrambling 

Their panic was caused because boxing had been banned 
in the Territory by act of the first legislature, making it un- 
lawful for two or more persons to fight by agreement "to the 

217 Prize Fighters and Thespians 

terror of the citizens of this Territory." (No matter that fisti- 
cuffs, a favorite pastime with the b'hoys, seemed unlikely to 
scare them much.) A later Assembly legalized boxing, if the 
fighters wore gloves; boxers observed the letter of the law 
scrupulously, always donning skin-tight buckskin gloves for 
each affray, after first soaking their hands in chemicals for 
weeks beforehand to toughen the skin. 

The rulings of the lawmakers resulted in a strange ambiva- 
lence on the part of the sheriff toward boxing. Some fights 
were the biggest thing in town, while others were hush-hush 
affairs (well-advertised) held in out-of-the-way coulees. One 
suspects that the sheriff frowned on any pugilism to which he 
had not loaned his bribed consent. 

Tickets to fights outsold all other kinds of pasteboards, but 
all was not peaches and cream for promoters. The b'hoys 
backed favorites with every ounce they had, and backed up 
their bets with brawn if they suspected skulduggery. The New 
Year's Day fight at Con Orem's saloon-legislative hall was kept 
from developing into a riot by Johnny-on-the-Spot X. Beidler, 
who jumped into the ring at the first sign of rumpus, both 
Navies drawn, threatening to shoot the first miner who at- 
tempted to stop the fight. X. was wise to the tricks of bad 
losers who, unhappy at the way the fight was going, tried to 
create a free-for-all which would halt the ring-fighting com- 
pletely and cancel all bets. Fearful of what soreheads might do 
to hedge a bet, promoters sometimes advertised, "No weapons 
of any kind are allowed around or outside of the enclosure." 

Con Orem was certainly Champion of the Territory, and 
claimed to be Champion Middleweight of the United States. 
Before coming to Montana, he had fought professionally five 
times, winning twice, taking forfeit money once, getting a 
draw decision against Patsy Marley, and having the crowd 
break up the fight before a decision. In Montana he fought six 
times, winning three, getting a draw once, losing twice one 


loss of which may have been a dive on his part. This ring 
record is not impressive, his fame being built upon his two 
fights with Hugh O'Neil, a brawny, six-foot, 190-pound 
freighter. Con stood five feet six and a half inches and 
weighed only 138 pounds. On January 2, 1865, these two 
men battled 185 rounds to a draw, one of the longest fights in 
ring history. In a later fight, in 1866, Con defeated his burly 
antagonist by decision, on a foul. 

Con was one of the most popular men in town when he 
first arrived. He paid attention to business and swore he would 
fight no more. He made friends with everyone, and once was 
serenaded by the City Brass Band, an honor reserved for 
bigwigs. But three years later Con was in adversity, possibly a 
pauper, his popularity gone. Strangely enough, his loss of 
popularity began with his good showing in the first fight with 

The big freighter was proud of his ability as a brawler. But 
for him there would have been no fight; his challenge to any 
fighter in Virgiania City appeared in the Post on October 8, 
1864. Up until this time, Orem had served in the local ring 
only as a second or official. Now he accepted O'Neil's chal- 
lenge in language more becoming to his friend Dimsdale than 
a boxer. 

EDITOR POST: In answer to Hugh O'Neil's chal- 
lenge in your columns, I have only to say that it was not 
my intention to seek further honors in the P. R. If such 
had been my desire, I would have gone East but if 
O'Neil must have a fight, and means business, although 
he is some fifty pounds heavier than I am, and would have 
to come down that much, according to the rules of the 
ring; yet if he will call upon me, I will make two matches 
with him, catch weights. One, a glove fight for $500 a side, 
and a ring fight for $1,000 a side, open for $5,000. Money 
ready at any moment. If this offer is not accepted within a 

219 Prize Fighters and Thespians 

fortnight, I will not receive or accept any further challenge, 
as it is my wish to follow my business undisturbed, and to 
live as a private citizen. Yours, & c. 


In spite of Con's blushing protests, and because of his later 
fights, one suspects that he had been waiting for just this sort 
of a big-money contest, that his main objection to a ring career 
in Virginia City heretofore had been the risk of cauliflower ears 
for a niggardly $100. 

Con's proposal for a ring fight at $1000 a side was accept- 
able to Hugh, and it was decided to fight February 5, 1865, 
which date was later amended to January 1, 1865, and then at 
Dimsdale's request changed to January 2 because New Year's 
Day fell on Sunday a rather remarkable concession, consid- 
ering the usual Sunday activities. 

The fight was promoted in the professional style of the day, 
sparring matches being held in the weeks before the fight to 
show off the style of the boxers. Also, an attempt was made to 
make this look like a grudge fight between the forces of good, 
teetotaling Con, versus evil, whisky-drinking Hugh an effec- 
tive bit of ballyhoo which is still heard in sermons today. At- 
tendance was expected to be so great that A. J. Nelson erected 
a sawed-log building, eighty by twenty-eight feet, especially 
for the occasion. It stood behind his Wallace Street saloon, 
near to Kiskadden's store, and contained a snug bar and a 
gallery for ladies. It became known as Leviathon Hall. Tickets 
went on sale at ten dollars for reserved seats and five dollars 
for the pit. 

The last bit of promotion, a sparring match, was held the 
night before the fight. It was a benefit gotten up for Hugh 
O'Neil by all his Irish friends. He sparred with Orem, Joe 
Riley, and Joe Bean for the purpose of "giving the public an 
opportunity of judging the condition of the men prior to the 


great contest." (Sparring contests on Sunday at one dollar a 
head were evidently not sacrilegious. ) Later Hugh claimed he 
hurt his hand during this evening. 

The next day Leviathon Hall was packed an hour before 
ring time, but not entirely with paying spectators, for "the fall 
of a shed introduced some three or four hundred ticketless 
spectators, and so crowded the hall" (a preview of what was to 
happen at Montana's other famous championship fight, the 
Dempsey-Gibbons affair at Shelby a half century later). De 
Waugh's Band was on hand to furnish music; a sprinkling of 
women took advantage of the ladies' gallery. 

Promptly at 1:15 P.M., O'Neil climbed into the ring, 
dressed in the green of Ireland, with the Irish harp and his 
name embroidered thereon. Then Con entered the ring, deco- 
rated in a black outfit with "a single star on a black ground 
with a red border. Round his waist were girded the stars and 
stripes with the eagle and bearing the motto 'may the best man 
win.' " J. A. Nelson, owner of the hall, was referee and George 
Hynson, proprietor of the new Gem Saloon, was timekeeper. 
The fight began at 1:40 after the rules of the London prize 
ring had been read from the gallery. The betting was alto- 
gether in Hugh's favor. 

Three hours and ten minutes later the fight was called a 
draw, the men having gone 185 rounds in that time, a round 
then being either a minute long or lasting until one man was 
off his feet, at least down on one knee. This rule seems to have 
been the only one obeyed by O'Neil, who was a man of little 
boxing science, and it saved Orem, who deliberately fell to his 
knees thirty-six times to end the round and O'Neil's attack. 

These tactics infuriated O'Neil and his big Irish friends in 
the crowd. Unable to keep the fast little Orem in his reach for a 
full minute, he took to falling on Orem whenever the latter 
slipped down, dropping his full 190 pounds on him, and then 
hitting him when they were down. Several times he lifted Con 

221 Prize Fighters and Thespians 

by the neck and threw him down, to crys of "foul, fair, go on, 

In spite of his slippery tactics, Con was knocked flat in at 
least fifty rounds. Even so he was in good enough shape after 
fighting a hundred rounds to clown a bit, falling backward, 
arms folded and laughing up at the hulk of O'Neil, mockingly 
shaking his fist. Con was able to knock Hugh down eighteen 
times, more often toward the end of the fight, as his tactics of 
wearing the bigger man down started to succeed. 

Con scientifically worked on Hugh's eyes, the most vulner- 
able part of the larger man, and succeeded in almost blinding 
him by the end of the fight. In the 129th round Con was forc- 
ing the fight, but in the 167th O'Neil slugged him behind the 
ear after the round was over. Orem was dazed from then on, 
being knocked down in the 169th round while too confused to 
guard himself. 

The referee, Nelson, stopped the fight to avoid a fatality, 
both men being "frightfully punished about the head and 
body." He vowed that it was the best fight he had ever wit- 
nessed. Dimsdale, who covered the fight for the Post, noted that 
in ten minutes more the timekeeper would have needed a 
candle and Hugh "an extra pair of eyes." O'Neil went home in 
a wagon, too blinded to walk; Con's seconds forced him to be 
carried, although he wanted to walk. 3 

The fight being called, all bets were off, but the arguments 
went on forever. The distant Salt Lake Vedette entered the 
dispute, criticizing the handling of the fight, forcing Dimsdale 
to print a rebuttal which pointed out the many fouls com- 
mitted by O'Neil, through ignorance, commenting, "Hugh is 
as brave as a lion, and would not break the rules, we think, if 
he knew it." 4 

Each man received $425, his share of the gross receipts 
after expenses, plus an equal share of the "ring money" the 
gold dust from the pokes tossed into the ring. Since this was 


far less than either had fairly expected to make, friends of each 
arranged benefits for them. Hugh's was a sparring match at 
Leviathon Hall; Con appeared at the theater in the role of 
"Stitch" in an afterpiece entitled The Frisky Cobbler. 

Con had proved himself game as they come, but had lost 
the patronage of the b'hoys, who liked slugfests, not science. 
His saloon closed in April and he hied himself to the newer 
fields of Helena. Dimsdale remained staunchly devoted, and 
hoped he would quit the ring, saying, "... a man of Orem's 
quiet and temperate habits and demeanor is surely able to 
make money and command respect in other ways than by the 
knuckle . . . besides ... he has done enough." 5 

If Con had heeded Dimsdale's wishes, he would have been 
better off. Instead, he came back to the ring as a source of easy 
money whenever one of his saloons folded, until in 1867 his 
fight with Billy Dwyer was branded by the b'hoys as "a mere 
swindle to get a winter's grub." Within a year he was gone 
from town. Three years later his vacant Melodeon was declared 
a public nuisance, sold for taxes, and razed. The only trace of 
the most publicized man in the Territory vanished along with 

But boxing matches remained the favorite entertainment 
of the b'hoys in spite of Con's defections. It was something that 
induced empathy, for it was their favorite exercise as well: 
many of them considered themselves expert pugilists, and, on 
nights when the champions were exhibiting their sparring 
style, made up the remainder of the bill by clambering into the 
ring, bearded and booted, to take on all comers. Too, many 
noses empathically felt the blows that flattened and many fists 
remembered the smack of knuckle against jaw from last Sun- 
day's row in the Shades Saloon. The only sure way of staying 
out of a fight was to follow the Post's advice to keep quiet 
in one's own house, for once out of it a man was a mark for 
any wandering bully. Even Territorial Governor Smith, sitting 

223 Prize Fighters and Thespians 

quietly talking to Captain LaBarge on a dock at Fort Benton, 
was forced to club down a man "determined to have a fight 
with someone" to avoid being stabbed. 6 

Some time during the first year following the gold strike, 
an actor at liberty arrived in, town carrying a few pirated play 
scripts at the bottom of a trunk filled with what looked like, to 
an eye not of the profession, cast-off clothes, beads for In- 
dian giving, children's tin swords with dented scabbards, and 
mangy scalps all the frumpery of the small-time touring 
actor. By September of '64 this stuff was being used in the two 
theaters of sorts which had been established in town, one in the 
hall above the post office on south Jackson Street, the other in 
a hall next door to it. The second-story room was frequented 
by minstrels and the ground-floor place by legitimate actors. 

Minstrel troupes stopped long enough to rattle their bones 
a few nights before moving to Summit, or Nevada City, or Salt 
Lake City; the acting troupe was mostly local and semi- 
permanent. This little band of experienced, strolling actors 
and stage-struck amateurs was well enough known in Septem- 
ber of '64 to command a Grand Complimentary Benefit for 
actor James Martin. For this they did Colman's tragedy, The 
Iron Chest, plus a broadly interpolated French vaudeville, title 
altered to fit the town, Wanted a Thousand Young Milliners 
for the Idaho Gold Diggings. 

Public support of these sporadic entertainments had been 
so encouraging that DeWitt Waugh, local band leader, decided 
to launch a winter theater season. He hired the local troupe, 
and leased a hall directly across the street from the post office 
accommodations for them to play in (the same building which 
would later become the Catholic Church). He called it The 
Montana Theater. Dimsdale lauded this cultural scheme, say- 
ing in the Post , "A place of innocent amusement where we can 
take our families without fear of insult is an absolute necessity. 


We are assured by these gentlemen that nothing will be pre- 
sented on the stage or permitted in the house, that can offend 
the most fastidious. Strict order will be maintained." 7 

The b'hoys packed the house on the night of December 
10th in spite of such a lily-livered attitude, and they evidently 
behaved themselves, perhaps because the management had 
hired "an efficient police ... to enforce order." At least, 
Dimsdale didn't complain of their behavior as he did in 1866, 
when he wrote: "As the house is perfectly secure and strong 
none need stay away, unless, indeed, it be the young men 
whose vulgar behavior and loud calls were evidence of want of 
good sense, which rendered their room more valuable than 
their company." 8 

The b'hoys' first-night decorum completely belied their 
later uncouthness, one night of which was described in the 
New York Tribune: 

During the performance, several babies and an enter- 
prising dog were running about the floor, and occupants of 
the gallery amused themselves by tossing apples over the 
heads to their friends below. Like most of the male spec- 
tators, my companion and guide had a navy revolver by his 
side. It was a mixed crowd, often boisterous, but never in- 
decorous; for there were half a dozen wives and sisters 
present. . . . 9 

Surprisingly, the audiences in Con Orem's Melodeon, a 
variety theater, were more decorous. Con had a way of stepping 
from the stage and giving belligerent patrons "something in 
the line of 'one, two,' " if they made snide remarks about his 

The uncritical miners liked the play-acting in spite of their 
rudeness, for it was a place where, three times a week, for 
$1.50 they could "forget for a few hours that they are in the 
depth of winter and almost cut off from the rest of the world by 

225 Prize Fighters and Thespians 

insurmountable barriers of snow." Waugh's company did a 
series of plays which might have been written especially for the 
b'hoys: Nick of the Woods, Poor Pillicoddy, The Serious Fam- 
ily, The Honeymoon, Lucretia Borgia, etc.; American melo- 
drama, French farce and drama translated for the London 
stage and pirated to the United States. Not only was Waugh's 
selection of shows right to interest the b'hoys, but he was also 
showman enough to hire popular local performers to draw the 
crowd. He presented local beauties and precocious youngsters 
on his stage, and sold tickets to all of their friends (Judge 
Hosmer's young son appeared in several roles). Upon occasion 
he also presented local topical songs such as "Quartz Upon the 
Brain," written by Ben Holladay's local agent, Nat Stein. 

The troupe worked hard, rehearsing and playing in three 
different shows each week, a box-office necessity, but a feat of 
memory so impossible that in Virginia City theaters (as in most 
stock-company theaters of the time) Dimsdale was astonished 
when no offstage voice was heard during a performance: "It 
should be stated as an extraordinary fact that the 'Lady of 
Lyons' was played 'without book,' from memory, only. It is 
rare to find a company that can do this." 10 In addition to try- 
ing to memorize three full plays a week and performing in 
them, the actors clowned through three one-act afterpieces, 
perhaps sang a song or shuffled off a dance for good measure, 
and put together their own costumes as well. 

All this they did for a pittance of weekly pay, a minimum 
which the leading actors of the troupe supplemented through 
benefit nights tendered them by their fellows and by Mr. 
Waugh, nights on which all the receipts above house expenses 
were theirs. 

Their entertainment couldn't wean the b'hoys away from 
the more heady pap of the saloons and dance halls, however. 
Dimsdale admonished them time and again to take in the 
show tonight but in spite of such press support, DeWitt 


Waugh closed his season in March, and made no attempt to 
reopen in the fall. His actors tried to launch a spring season of 
their own in April, but closed abruptly on the 29th upon 
receiving the news of the death of President Lincoln. 

Theatrical seasons in the next few years were rarely more 
successful, though several stars made money out of perform- 
ances in the depopulated town, not so much from box-office 
receipts as from ostentatious gifts of gold dust, nuggets, and 
jewelry presented by town leaders, who still pretended to the 
world that their town was leader of the Territory. The Chap- 
mans, the Couldocks, the Langrishes and the Irwins were all 
presented with mementoes of Alder Gulch worth as much as 

But for the men who tried to make a local theater pay, 
there were no such angels; seemingly, they could not operate 
out of the red. DeWitt Waugh was only the first to fail. In Jan- 
uary of '66 Dick Johnston opened The People's Theatre in a 
hall over the Montana Billiard Saloon, using the same company 
as usual: Mrs. Buzz Caven, Miss Perkins, William Norwood, 
and Ed Clark as well as Billy Sheppard, who had brought a 
minstrel show to town and folded there. 

The midwinter diversion attracted such good houses that 
Johnston expanded into a vacated store (never asking himself 
why the store was being vacated), installing in it the town's 
first complete theater. The Post was, of course, delighted with 
the new place on Jackson Street above Content Corner, claim- 
ing that it would hold 500 people (doubtful), and that it was 
an ornament to the city (possible considering the rudeness of 
the other buildings). The new theater opened February 22, 
1866, with a production of The Hunchback. 

Less than two months later Johnston had given up his 
theater to DeWitt Waugh (his orchestra had been in the pit), 
who ran it for six benefit nights only, stretched over three suc- 
cessive weeks. Johnston had been unable to cope with the 

227 Prize Fighters and Thespians 

decline in population, which at the same time was killing the 
Methodist church; the Rocky Mountain cold, which the one 
stove in his building could not drive off ("Very cold enjoy- 
ment" said one ticket-holder); the usual decline in ready cash 
among the b'hoys in the later winter months; and, most impor- 
tant, the opening of Con Orem's and Billy Sheppard's Melo- 
deon directly across the street, a place where banjos twanged, 
the skits were bawdy, and a man could drink while he watched. 

In May, Belle Douglass came to town, and rented the 
theater for a few performances. In June, O. W. Clipperton 
was managing it (ticket prices had risen to two dollars, but he 
said it couldn't be helped during the slack season). Briefly, he 
presented the celebrated Julia Dean Hayne, whom young 
Miller described as "a fine actress, a fine figure though not 
very strikingly handsome." In August Belle Douglass was back 
managing the theater, but on September 8 it closed its doors 
again. For a year following no one else was willing to take a 
chance on the place. Finally, Jack Langrishe presented the 
Couldocks there in September of '67, hiring the locals as sup- 

Langrishe operated the People's Theatre and made money, 
but he didn't try to produce repertory with a permanent stock 
company. Instead, he chose the time of his presentations care- 
fully. He first came to town in September when the b'hoys were 
flush, drew them through the doors with stars internationally 
famous, the Couldocks and gave them just two weeks of pro- 
ductions. He returned that same December (after first doubling 
the walls for warmth), but stayed only as long as the legisla- 
ture was meeting, closing about the first of February. Almost a 
year later he returned to town, again staying only two weeks. 

After Langrishe left, George Paunceforth, an actor who 
had arrived in town with him, remained behind to appear in 
and direct amateur theatricals. Their repertoire included The 
Rivals, after a performance of which Paunceforth inserted a 


thank-you card to the people of Virginia City in the Post, in 
which he complained that their ovation had not been strong 
enough to call him in front of the curtain! After Paunceforth, 
William Norwood, of the original 1864 group, produced local 
shows throughout the '70's, shows in which the still faithful 
Mrs. Caven ever appeared, acting and dancing her inevita- 
ble Highland Fling. These, and occasional traveling minstrel 
troupes (one of which had to get out of town on foot when 
ticket sales flopped) were all the shows the town saw. 

But Virginia City had never, even in its heyday, even when 
traveling stars appeared on the tiny stage of the People's 
Theatre, seen any first-rate productions, although Langrishe's 
shows had been far better than the limited stage and heavy 
production schedule ordinarily allowed. This was especially 
true when he was not hampered by the need of stars to play 
stellar roles. When he was free to develop shows as he saw fit, 
he did such things as an experimental production of Don Juan 
which attracted attention as far away as Nebraska, a complete 
version of The Merchant of Venice not ordinarily seen in 
those days as well as a modern-dress showing of Romeo and 
Juliet. This latter production led the Post to say, "The entire 
representations of this company are ... superior to anything 
our citizens are accustomed to." 11 

During the same engagement, Langrishe had had to present 
Mr. Couldock in his famous title role in Louis XL At this the 
paper complained: 

With a limited company, scenery, costumes, stage 
properties and stage facilities, it is simply an impossibility 
to present the standard tragedies familiar to the apprecia- 
tive portion of the audience, in an attractive and successful 
manner ... we think it will be admitted by the artistes 
and audience that for the present at least we must look for 
our most attractive performances in less meritorious 
plays. 12 

229 Prize Fighters and Thespians 

This was the Post's most outspoken review in five years of 
publishing and it kindly laid the blame on the play rather 
than on the fact that Mr. Couldock's insistence on appearing in 
his stellar role had made him lay an egg too large for the 
sixteen-foot width of the stage. 

It was rare that the Post was so outspoken, for its mission 
was to support theater in Virginia City, in spite of its short- 
comings. As Dimsdale looked at it, play productions were the 
most innocent entertainment in town. He considered them to 
be a moral force in the community, and commended their 
wholesome influence, saying: 

The performances at this popular place of amusement 
attract large houses and deservedly so ... the regular 
company, affords a most desireable means of amusement 
to our citizens, and empty houses, formerly crowded with 
dancers, prove that genuine dramatic representation under 
proper management, contributes to public morality. 13 

This attitude must have been startling to actors who visited 
town, accustomed as they were to hearing theater and its peo- 
ple damned for loose morals by most editors and from every 
pulpit in the country. Even more amazing must have been 
finding themselves hobnobbing with a bishop. Langrishe and 
Couldock became friends with Mr. Tuttle, who found them to 
be far more gentlemanly than his parishioners. 

The Post's reviews of the productions in Virginia City were 
always kind, but occasionally revealed more than they in- 
tended. One opening night Dimsdale thought that "The entire 
arrangements were very creditable," and that Mr. Waugh was 
a "Genius of the Lamp on a small scale; providing . . . 
'chiefly music, scenery and all other needful substances.' Con- 
sidering the small means at his command the scenery is a very 
praiseworthy effort of art, The building is comfortably seated, 
on the inclined plane principle so that all can have a good view 


of the stage. . , . The costumes of the ladies and of Mr. 
Martin were well chosen. . . . Mr. Miller, as 'Diggory,' in 
the farce was far ahead of most amateurs and will make a 
good low comedian in due time. As it is, a slight decrease of 
effort and a clearer articulation would render his comic sing- 
ing excellent. ... As the company get accustomed to each 
other, and opportunities of close study are afforded, there will 
be but little room for criticism." 14 Most of his reviews seemed 
to stress that everything was very successful "considering our 
distance from America." 

Out-of-town newspapermen were more forthright. Rich- 
ardson reported to the New York Tribune of the local produc- 
tion of The Lady of Lyons, "The beautiful diction of the play 
was rendered in a style which the fastidious and snobbish 
author would hardly have survived had he been there to see 
it." 15 Private reviewers were not kind either. Young Miller (the 
store clerk, not the actor) saw Six Degrees of Crime and com- 
plained to his diary of the "miserable Plot and miserable act- 
ing." 16 Another one of the b'hoys, remembering what must 
have been the local amateur theatricals, said, "A theater soon 
sprang up. And either because of the refined taste of some of 
the auditors, or the advanced talent of the performers, the 
playing was not the broad farce which might have been enter- 
taining, but was confined to Shakespeare and heavy tragedy, 
which was simply disgusting." Of the more professional pro- 
ductions he wrote, " 'Nick of the Woods' has frequently been 
produced with great applause, though the illusion is somewhat 
marred by the audible creaking of the wheels of the boat in 
which the Jibbenainosay sails triumphantly over the cata- 
ract." 17 

Jack Langrishe was the only man who knew how to please 
the b'hoys when they came to the theater and he was mighty 
popular with them. The papers kept track of him long after he 
had done his last show in town, reporting his doings in Green 

231 Prize Fighters and Thespians 

River, Wyoming; then as manager of a Chicago theater, where 
he was wiped out by the great fire; then as manager of The 
Black Crook company touring the New England states in 1873. 
As late as 1872 the b'hoys were still hoping he'd come back, 
and the Montanian printed a two-line tempter: "Manager, 
Chicago. There is no theatrical company at present in the 
Territory. The 'opening' is a good one." But the editor's was 
an idle dream. Theater was dead in the Territory, temporarily. 
It and a great many other things waited on the railroad to 
bring more population and more trade into the country. The 
Post had prophesied truly, when reviewing Langrishe's final 
season; it had said, ". . . everyone is enjoying the rare treat 
that Mr. Langrishe has offered for the last time perhaps in 



ONE AFTERNOON a doctor, driving to- 
ward Virginia City in his buggy, was startled by shots popping 
in the diggings across from Nevada City. He looked up just 
in time to see one Chinese chase another across the tailings. 
When the pursuer was close enough, he knocked the man 
down with his shovel. The doctor saw the upright figure be- 
labor the prone figure with shovel blade, until the prone man 
moved no longer. Then, when more shots sounded and a num- 
ber of figures scampered across the gulch under a hail of bul- 
lets, the doctor drove for Virginia City with the news that the 
Chinks were embattled just outside town. 

When the sheriff arrived, he found a couple of pig-tailed 
corpses which had been hacked to death, and not another 
slant-eyed divil in sight. But, picking through the hundred or 
so Orientals living near by, he somehow chose an Ah Wah and 
an Ah Yen as the culprits, and carted them off to jail. 

The first trial of the two resulted in a hung jury. They had 
to stay in jail until the next term of court, but they didn't 
seem to mind their incarceration in the least, or to have any 
worries about the future. Model prisoners, they were allowed 
many visitors, who came bearing sweetmeats and hot Chinese 

233 The Heathen Chinee 

dishes to relieve the monotony of Western cooking. Sometimes 
a number of friends gathered in the cell to help the pair enjoy 
feast days. These guests were as polite as the prisoners, and al- 
ways left quietly in a group when the jailer informed them 
their time was up. 

The second trial closed f abruptly when it was established 
that the two prisoners in the dock were not the two men in- 
dicted for murder and jailed. These were facsimile prisoners; 
the genuine articles were bound for China, having walked out 
of their cells amongst a crowd of their departing guests. The 
jailer and his white friends had always sworn that all Chinese 
looked alike to them. 

This peculiar blindness toward the yellow man was con- 
genital to the b'hoys in Virginia City. They couldn't see him, 
because he was a heathen and a slave. To them his food was 
revolting, his music god-awful, his women all whores, his scent 
of musk and opium sinful. Furthermore, they couldn't hear 
him because his language was an offense to the ears, even 
names being abominable, so they called each man John and 
each woman Mary. 

They kept their eyes closed and their ears stopped because 
rumor said John Chinaman was of the dregs of the Chinese 
Empire, and thus beneath their notice. Rumor said he was 
pouring toward Montana by the thousands, ready to take 
every white miner's job from him. Rumor said that he ate 
mice fried in axle grease, that he lost his strength when his 
queue was cut off, and that Mary was interesting anatomically. 
Rumor colored every b'hoy's emotions toward the Chinese, 
made him blind to their humanity; to him Chinks, niggers, 
and Injuns were all sub-human, strange offshoots of mankind, 
whom God had only half-formed. When one of the b'hoys 
swore he couldn't tell the difference between one Chinese and 
another, he really meant he was damned if he was going to 
open his eyes enough to notice any difference. 


But the Chinese girls who worked as whores at the lower 
end of town made the b'hoys blink a little. These women had 
been sold into bondage by their families and had to serve out 
their selling price as prostitutes at so much per month. Ac- 
cording to the Post "... [they] are bought and sold like 
hogs, the religion of their country pronouncing them to be 
without souls, and created only for the use of man." l Slave 
sales were not confined to China, these chattels being sold 
openly in Virginia City. In fact it was reported in the Post 
that one boss Chinaman offered to sell a girl to a "prominent 
gentleman" about town "at the rather exorbitant figure of 
$1000." The man declined the purchase as "this property was 
not the kind . . . [he] . . . wished to pay taxes upon." 2 
Though slavery had been abolished in the United States, no 
great fuss was made about the Chinese slave market by either 
Union or Confederate sympathizer because the town was "not 
very intensely interested in the welfare of the heathen Chinee." 

On the Virginia City market a young woman in good 
health could be marketed at $400 to $600; beautiful girls 
brought more. 3 Among the Chinese they were as valuable as 
real property in securing a mortgage, and a stray girl was ad- 
vertised in the paper the same as was any missing property: 


Wang Geu owes Dr. Yee Cheugh Five Hundred and 
Fifty Dollars. He can not pay it. So, according to Chinese 
law, he left his woman, Sing Gim, in Dr. Yee Cheugh's 
possession, as collateral, until the money shall be paid. All 
right. By and by, all same yesterday, Sing Gim stole Three 
Hundred and Seventy Dollars from Dr. Yee Cheugh, and 
ran away. Now then, all Chinamen take notice that if you 
keep Sing Gim, you must pay me Nine Hundred and 
Twenty Dollars, all same Wang Geu. 

Dr. Yee Cheugh 4 

235 The Heathen Chinee 

The wonder is that the Chinese-hating editor of this paper 
had not printed the notice under the heading ESTRAYS. As it 
was he sardonically hoped something would be done about 
the affair quickly because he was afraid that the advertisement 
would bring a fresh batch of missionaries to the Territory. 

Many of the Chinese m$n sent to Virginia City were also 
slaves. If they were bought and sold on the local market, they 
made no headlines. Such transactions were not prurient enough 
to make news. 

The men had a good chance to reduce the period of their 
bondage, for they were in demand about the town as servants 
and cooks at good wages. A woman's contract sometimes 
bound her for life by adding penalty time for the menstrual 
period which incapacitated her each month. 

Something was always astir in Chinatown to upset the resi- 
dents of the upper part of town. The most frequent of the 
weird noises that floated up street was the "stentorian roar" 
which announced the beginning of gambling in the Chinese 
gambling dens each evening at nine o'clock. "Greenbacks, 
opium, and joss-gods" were the stakes, and they gambled un- 
til the wee hours of the morning, leading one editor to com- 
plain, "We don't know and don't care how many years they 
claim to have been infesting the earth, and only wish they 
would go to bed like decent people and stop playing their in- 
fernal button game of Too-ti-hoo-ti,' so a fellow could get a 
nap." 5 

Gambling started in Chinatown as soon as enough Chi- 
nese had arrived in town to make the games interesting. Natu- 
rally, few of the slave-laborers could afford the stakes of the 
uptown saloons, but they were anxious to bet their pittance 
against other pittances in a chance to better their lot. One 
good night at the tables could propel a laundryman out of the 
"washee" business into the position of boss gambolier. 

The favorite Chinese gambling game in Virginia City was 
an uncomplicated guessing game which paid off the lucky 


guesser. As many could play as could gather around the gam- 
bler's table, and each man could bet whatever he pleased, 
high or low. The gambling master's only equipment was a 
handful of copper coins, a cup and a pointed stick. When all 
was ready, the handful of coins went into the cup, the cup 
turned upside down on the table, and the coins counted out 
four at a time by means of the pointed stick. The bets were 
made on odd or even coins remaining, or whether one, two or 
three coins would remain after all groups of four had been 
counted out. 6 

White neighbors were welcome at the gambling tables. 
Those miners who had picked up "a slight acquaintance with 
the jargon of chow chow" found they could make a little 
money here without the risks of "bucking the tiger" in the 
uptown establishments. They soon got used to the thick 
wreaths of opium smoke which hung over the tables, it having 
as little effect on the olfactory nerves as tobacco smoke. 

Chinese celebrations startled the town several times a year. 
The Chinese New Year was announced not only by the din of 
firecrackers, but also by the strange cooking smells, sweet and 
redolent of sin, which settled in the Gulch and wafted up 
Wallace Street. Strange concoctions were being made down 
there, prepared from the weird vegetables those yellow devils 
grew on the sod roofs of their shanties, and from the chickens, 
ducks and pigs which they raised for such occasions. 

The polite Chinese invited everyone in town to partake of 
their feasting and celebrating, a hospitality which was never 
reciprocated. "About half the male population of town" visited 
Chinatown for one New Year ceremony. Everyone was invited 
to eat, but only the most hardy attempted the strange food, 
some claiming the meat came from the carcasses of slaughtered 
cats, rats and mice; others refusing, as the Madisonian editor 
put it, because the cooking was clean and devoid of the ac- 
customed amount of American dirt. 

237 The Heathen Chinee 

Most of the visitors to Chinatown on this day were unin- 
terested in eating; they had come to guzzle the good American 
whisky provided by their hosts. They came early and stayed 
late and lost all interest in any other proceedings except that 
some thought the rumored Chinese custom of canceling all 
debts on this day would be fine institution to apply to saloon 
owners about town. 

The Chinese hosts and hostesses, "attired in the latest 
Pekin fashion," with their queues hanging at full length, the 
females, "hobbling along in canoes," received their gaping, 
bearded guests, with formal bows and pleasant smiles, urging 
them to tables loaded with delicacies. Crackerbox American 
cabins had been transformed into bits of old China: over the 
doors of each room were mysterious Chinese inscriptions, pla- 
cards sprinkled with showers of gold leaf "suggestive of For- 
tune's shower of wealth." Weird images stood in the corners, 
incense smoke puffing up in front of them in great dragon- 
like spirals. Each Chinese, immaculate in holiday blue shirt, 
cap and trousers, was strangely changed here in his own abode, 
graciously giving each guest a congratulatory crimson fortune 

Now, it was the miner who was foreign, but he didn't feel 
so, for his hosts were so danged courteous and kept urging 
more whisky and more sweetmeats and more cigars on a man 
until a fellow almost came to like the yellow cusses. Even the 
Chinese-baiting newspaper editor had to confess they had their 
good side on such occasions and grudgingly admitted, "What- 
ever may be said against them or their peculiar customs, they 
are at least entitled to the credit of generous hospitality on 
their festival days . . . " 7 

The annual "devil driving" exercises also drew crowds of 
the curious to the lower end of town to witness the "open war 
declared by Chinamen against his Satanic Majesty" and see 
the ceremony in which "he is chased around with chin music, 


one string fiddles, and divil's fire ... from one China house 
to another, until he hath not where to lay his head among the 
celestials, and therefore has to abide, for a time, with his 
'heathen' white subjects." 8 

A Chinese funeral smiling its way up Wallace Street, the 
mourners throughout the ceremony appearing "to be in fine 
spirits, smiling like the last rose of summer," disturbed the 
Victorian white more than these other heathenish practices. 
Such a happy funeral was foreign to Victorian human nature, 
which had to placate grim Death with a show of grief-stricken 
mourning. The strange customs of lowering buckets of food 
into the grave after the corpse, providing the body with a 
change of underwear and a clean towel, and the like, they 
could understand, for even the native Indian practiced such 
superstitions. But at least the Indian had sense enough to wail 
and mourn a little. This gaiety, this wearing of white mourning 
bands, this enjoying brandy and cigars at the graveside and 
this contented smile on the face of a bereaved husband as he 
provided his dead wife with food, made the Oriental more in- 
scrutable than ever really put him outside human feeling. 

This anti-Chinese sentiment was originally a California im- 
port. There, where so many thousands had arrived, much bad 
feeling had been aroused, most of it based on the rumor that 
the Chinese were going to take away jobs from American 
miners, a thing which never did develop. Californians had 
brought hard tales of the "yellow peril" to Virginia City. Con- 
sequently, the town was prepared to hate them. When the 
original contingent arrived by stagecoach in June of 1865, 
the Post, under Dimsdale's editorship, scornfully listed their 
names as "Ho-Fie, So-Sli, Lo-Glung, Ku-Long, Whang and 
Hong" and jibed that, because of their arrival, all the mice in 
town had declared a retreat. 9 

Through the sixties and seventies this hate campaign was 
carried on by successive newspapers and editors. They in- 

239 The Heathen Chinee 

formed their readers that every Chinese in town smoked two 
dollars' worth of opium every day forgetting they had previ- 
ously assessed his wages at a lowly eight to ten dollars per 
week. 10 The Montanian, in referring to the custom of feeding 
the dead, remarked that "If the living were with the dead, we 
don't know of any object, we would give money for more 
freely than to buy grub to strew over the mounds that cover 
their dead carcasses." It further said, "We don't mind hearing 
of a Chinaman being killed now and then, but it has been 
coming too thick of late . . . soon there will be a scarcity of 
Chinese cheap labor in the country. . . . Don't kill them un- 
less they deserve it, but when they do why kill 'em lots." On 
another occasion, the editor noted that nine out of ten Chi- 
nese had "kleptomania in the worst form, and the prospects 
for an early Chinese funeral are brightening." n 

The bitterest of this feeling was expressed in the early 
1870's, when the town was almost as much Chinese as it was 
white, some 272 of the town's 867 residents being Chinese. 12 
Actually, the Chinese population had grown by only about one 
hundred since 1866, when there had been 150 of them in 
town, including nine women and one baby. At that time only 
twenty of the men had been miners, the rest being in the 
"washee business" or working as servants. 13 

Yet violent quarreling between white and Chinese, as re- 
ported in the papers, was the exception rather than the rule. 
One serious altercation between white and yellow miners oc- 
curred near Virginia's suburb, Central City, where the Irish- 
men had been throwing tailings in a Chinese company's ditch. 
Naturally, the Irish carried the day. Germans and Chinese 
found themselves sometimes at odds and cursed each other 
roundly in "fractured English. When they came to the goddle- 
mighty portion of the debate every window-pane in the street 
rattled." On one occasion, in a fair fight with a Caucasian, the 
Chinese had succeeded in blacking the eye of his opponent 


and was winning the fight, when his queue slipped and pro- 
vided his opponent with an excellent handhold: finis China- 
man. But these altercations were no more serious than the 
fisticuffs which were always a part of the Virginia City scene. 

The Chinese was something of a fighter. Perhaps his 
method of fighting, knife in one hand, hatchet in the other, 
discouraged many white bully b'hoys. Their duels resulted in 
lopped-off ears and gouged cheeks if not in death. 

The antagonism toward the Chinese in Virginia City could 
not have been directly economic. In the first place, no white 
mine owner hired any Chinese miners. The Orientals bought 
and worked only claims that had been worked before ground 
the white man did not want. There was little competition in 
other business. An occasional Chinese operated a store, but it 
carried mostly Chinese goods. Sometimes the boss Chinese 
imported silks for local consumption, but they could not have 
been much competition to local merchants. Nor did the Chi- 
nese work for lower wages than the white man in jobs open to 
both. Those who worked about the town as cooks and servants 
were paid the prevailing wage for such work, about sixty dol- 
lars per month. 14 

Only in the laundry business were the Chinese ever directly 
charged with eonomic competition, and that happened in Hel- 
ena. There a "Committee of Ladies," the laundrywomen, noti- 
fied sons of Cathay that "they must suspend the washing or 
laundry business immediately" an affair that was put into 
rhyme by the editor of Helena's Montana Radiator: 

Chinamen, Chinamen, beware of the day, 
When the women shall meet thee in battle 

Ye hopeless professors of salsoda and soap. 
Beware of the fates that await ye, 

241 The Heathen Chinee 

No hangman's committee with ladder and 


But the ladies are coming to bate ye. 
Ye almond eyed leather faced murthering 


Ye opium and musk stinking varments, 
We will not object toyour livin' and 


But beware of the washing of garments. 
To stay or go ye can do as ye choose, 
To us it don't make any odds 
So long as ye keep your hand off of the 

And keep out of the lather and suds. 15 

In Virginia City they were accused of charging "four bit- 
tee" for "spoiling boiled shirts" but received no threats from 
the laundresses. The accusation, made by the Post, was un- 
warranted. Bishop Tuttle found their work to be neat and 
clean. The charge was just a part of the paper's general hate- 
the-Chinese campaign. 

No matter what John Chinaman did, he could not be 
accepted. If he tried to be Occidental, his efforts were resented 
even as much as his Oriental ways. If he tried to buy the 
house a drink in Western manner, he was scorned. When he 
went on a 'Melican-style party and galloped whooping around 
the town he very soon found himself thinking things over in 
the little log jail. 

Chinese had no Sundays off, delving from dawn to dark 
every day, wielding the pick and shovel "with the strength of 
Sampson and the patience of Job." These miners worked in 
companies of about fourteen men each, each company with its 
own cook and living quarters. Most of the time they worked 
all winter stripping claims, getting ready for the spring sluic- 
ing. They worked very primitively, using wheel barrows to 


trundle the dirt to creek bank, "rewashing old dirt heaps, and 
making money where anyone else would starve." They were 
grudgingly admired for their strength: 

Chinamen are heavy on the pack. While the heathen is 
apparently physically deficient, he can carry a load that 
would disgust the boss mule of a pack-train. One was no- 
ticed going down the gulch with two large rolls of blankets, 
a sack of rice, a couple of hog's heads, a lot of heavy 
mining tools, a wheel-barrow and a hand-rocker swinging 
to his pack-pole. It was a mystery how that Chinaman 
managed to tote that weary load along so gracefully, and 
not grunt a groan. 16 

Still, this prowess did nothing to bring them equality with 
the whites. One could not appear as a witness against a white 
man, nor could he find justice for himself in the lower courts. 
Usually little attempt was made by the court to understand the 
facts if the case concerned only Chinese. In an assault-and- 
battery trial, in which fifteen Orientals testified, "His Honor, 
with complacency, singled out the ugliest pig-tail, imposed 
a one dollar fine and costs and dismissed the outfit. . . . 
After which Policeman Dan Hammond drove the band down- 
stairs by order of the court." 17 

In another case of one clan against the other, the question 
of swearing the witnesses by use of the "chicken oath" arose, 
the prosecuting attorney contending "that unless the chicken 
was killed it would be no swear for a Chinaman." 

The legal nicety in the case, as in all frontier cases in- 
volving depositions by Chinese, was whether or not the tra- 
ditional ". . . and nothing but the Truth, s'help me God" 
was binding for a heathen. The "Chicken Oath," as used in 
Chinese courts, was felt to be binding, and hence used oc- 
casionally in Virginia City courts when the case involved a 
white man or in a murder case, such as this one for which 
the oath was given: 

243 The Heathen Chinee 

. . . Copies of the oaths to be administered to both 
parties were written in Chinese and handed to them, at the 
same time each one put a piece of red josh paper into his 
pocket. Two fowls were then brought in for the purpose of 
being sacrificed for truth's sake. The head of the first was 
stretched across a block of wood, behind which were 
ranged three of the witnesses. A hatchet was handed to 
the first in the line, who struck the chicken a blow in the 
neck, the other two Chinamen followed, and the third blow 
dispatched it. The other fowl was served in the same man- 
ner by the two interpreters and the remaining witness. 
While the fowls were still bleeding, the individuals who 
were to be sworn stood up before the Clerk and burned 
the oaths which they had subscribed, at the same time re- 
peating one in their own language, which ended the cere- 
mony. 18 

According to the Chinese, the belief was that if a man so 
sworn lied, his head would be chopped off in a similar manner. 

To go back to the prosecuting attorney, the judge in his 
case decided that the oath was unnecessary since the case 
involved only Chinese! Subsequently, the Chinese witnesses 
answered "yes" to every question, convicting every case 
which, the editor remarked, "was a good thing for the school 
fund." 19 

This lack of justice in the court bothered no one; a 
Chinese trial was just a good show: 

. . . The scene beggared description. . . . Their eyes 
set at a tangent with their noses; their queues bound round 
and round their heads, leaving stray locks standing up- 
right or hanging pendant to their shoulders; dressed in 
every conceivable variety of American and Chinese wear- 
ing apparel, from top boots to black bags with arms in 
them, and all chattering like so many magpies over a car- 
cass; . . .2 


When the proceedings involved a Chinese "bad girl" who 
had been robbed while performing an Oriental dance for some 
white boys, "the full details of which are unfit for ... a 
modest newspaper," a real carnival developed, for, during the 
dance, "Mary became drunk with excitement and stripped off 
her cotton trousers and nankeen chemisette. Her pantalettes 
contained a roll of $100 in greenbacks, a gold josh god, and 
other Chinese valuables, all of which Mary lost." She charged 
the white boys with stealing her property, and the police court 
heard testimony for a full two days of fun at the poor girl's 
expense. At the end of the proceedings, the judge told her, 
"Mary, from China, stand up! and listen to the majesty of the 
American law! ... It now becomes the painful duty of this 
court to pronounce final sentence upon you! . . . This court 
decides that you, while in company with white fellers, here- 
after, (if you want to keep your green backs) do KEEP 

A type of legal heckling was tried by the local legislators 
who passed various acts to discourage the Chinese. The year 
following their appearance in town, a bill to tax them appeared 
in the Territorial Assembly, but failed to pass. Later a license 
law charging Chinese fifteen dollars per quarter for the privi- 
lege of washing and ironing was passed, only to be repealed at 
the request of Governor Ashley after the signing of the 
Burlingame Treaty between the United States and China. This 
treaty, which guaranteed equal rights to citizens of each 
country residing within the borders of the other, was much 
resented by some of the miners and legislators. Representative 
Sample Orr suggested that no foreigner be allowed to work in 
mines if he had not legally declared his intention to become a 
citizen, but this was impractical. The Assembly of 1872 passed 
an act stating that "no subject of the Empire of China known 
as Chinese, shall acquire, possess or hold in the Territory of 
Montana any real estate, or mining claims or placer or quartz 

245 The Heathen Chinee 

mines, or any interest in or to real estate, or mines of any kind 
or nature whatever." 22 The law was on the statute books until 
1874, when it was voided by decision of the Supreme Court 
of the Territory, which said that a Territory cannot interfere 
with or control public lands within its boundaries. This settled 
the matter of legislating against them; anyway the scare was 
over no hordes of Chinese had descended on the state. 
Most of the Oriental emigrants had stayed in California where 
they had landed. 

In spite of their many discouragements, the Chinese out- 
stayed most of the placer miners in the gulch. Coming and 
going from China, one worker being replenished as another 
left, they worked most of the gulch below Virginia City by 
hand, taking about forty years to complete the job, finishing 
about the turn of the century. The other races which had 
landed fresh from the old country in Alder Gulch had learned 
American ways and had become assimilated. The Chinese did 
not; they stayed together, retaining their customs and dressing 
in Oriental fashion. 

They are remembered in 1900, working the lower end of 
the gulch, a colony of about 200 living in cabins as neat as a 
pin and still raising their own Chinese vegetables in gardens 
on the sod roofs. The attitude toward them had changed con- 
siderably in the years since their first appearance in the gulch. 
"They were a fine people," say the septegenarians in town. 
They remember the strange log temple at the foot of Wallace 
Street which contained a beautifully decorated altar presided 
over by a "real priest." It was well worth a visit just to hear 
the strange music played by a band of stringed instruments. 

The last of the two hundred, an old woman, "China Mary" 
of course, lived in town all alone as late as the twenties, telling 
of her ribald early-day experiences as a prostitute as matter-of- 
factly as if she were relating schoolgirl memories. 



THE KIDS in Virginia City lived in a 

town which might have been built for their delight. Board- 
walk, corral, graveyard, livery barn, Chinese laundry, stage- 
coach station, blacksmithy, mine tunnel, and deserted cabin 
were places which reeked of adventure. In them there was 
loot to be gathered, or curses to be learned, or tales to be 
heard. Everywhere there were people who dug for G-O-L-D, 
who believed in buried treasure, and who showed nuggets as 
big as peas to prove that it existed; there was such talk of 
wealth that every lad tried to pan gravel before he was eight, 
and saw enough specks of color to prove to him that he walked 
over fortunes every day if only he knew just the right spot 
to dig. There were soldiers, hunters, stage drivers, freighters, 
and packers to hero-worship. There were Injuns stalking up 
and down Wallace Street. 'Course, they weren't much account; 
they were only Bannocks and real Injuns figured the Ban- 
nocks to be so low-down that they called crickets "Bannock 
Buffalo." Even the newspaper said, "Lo, the poor Indian, has 

247 The Small Fry 

grown wonderfully fat since the grasshopper invasion," and 
hooted at their attempts to imitate the white man, ridiculing a 
young squaw who paraded proudly down Wallace Street in old 
hoops for a hoop skirt ("What do you call them, a set or a 
pair?") wearing them outside her buckskins. Still, a stick 
gun could draw an ambush Ijead on a feathered chief from 
behind the safety of a board fence. . . . 

But sometimes two or three hundred of 'em would come 
out of their camp in the hollow beyond cemetery hill to parade 
down Wallace Street after a fight with the Nez Perces, ki-yi-ing 
in a way that made a body want to be home and in bed as 
soon as it was dark, no matter how much fun the paper 
made of their parade: 

. . . through the streets of Virginia, through its mud 
and filth, the spectacle moved in stately grandeur, furnish- 
ing a nine minutes wonder to the staid people of the burgh. 
Fixed on poles, like Gesler's cap, were the scalps of the 
slain, fresh and gory, trimmed with gingham ribbons and 
the long black hair dangling about like cow-tails in fly 
time. To carry these, two healthy looking squaws, grim, 
obese and slatternly, with the sins of fifty years upon their 
idiotic heads, and the filth and grease of a generation on 
their tattered buffalo robes, were selected. Ranged on 
either side, as they marched by the front, were some fifty 
squaws, papooses and dogs sloshing through mud up to 
their knees, and joining in the infernal ee-e-yoh, ee-e-yoh, 
of the big medicine man in front, who furnished the in- 
strumental music for the occasion on a tamborine, which 
had got frosted and was swollen to the size of a tub. Chief 
Marshal and grand conductor of this motley procession of 
Indians, dogs and vermin, was an untutored buck, mounted 
on a cayuse, ancient and lean, who conducted them through 
the principal streets to the lower end of town, where the 
procession disbanded to hunt cold victuals and "oF clo's," 
up the back alleys. 1 


Maybe the scalps looked like cow's tails to middle-aged 
eyes, but younger ones spied the blood and the skin, and 
scanned knife and tomahawk for clues of recent gore. 

Vigilantes strode about town, also, like ordinary men, but 
hinting at dread deeds done at the black of midnight. Though 
mum was the word, Pop knew them all and pointed out the 
ones who had hoisted the awful rope with its squirming burden 
(sometimes a lad wondered if Pop hadn't been there himself, 
but it would never do to ask). Their secret password, 3-7-77, 
was gruesomely said by some to be the dimensions of a grave. 
It was still whispered by those who played at Road Agent and 
Vigilante among the graves on Boot Hill. There each spring 
bloomed a flower whose petals were spattered with tiny blood- 
red spots, and there each new blade of grass curled into loops 
making a "perfect hangman's noose" to the chilling awe of 
all make-believers. 

On nightmare nights these make-believers felt the rope 
rough around their necks as they swung into space with the 
pudgy face of X. Beidler grinning up at them from below their 
dangling feet. But the dreams of children who had lived in 
town through the hanging days of '64 were no make-believe 
they were remembered scenes in which they once again saw 
the strangled faces of the five tortured bodies, and heard once 
more the hysterical pleas of a man about to die and the pack- 
yelps of the b'hoys who were doing the hanging. Even during 
waking hours a glimpse of a street crowd could mean only 
one thing: hanging; the twang of a fiddle string could bring 
back the sound of a suddenly taut hempen rope. 

These awful things frightened Mollie Sheehan until the 
town she had loved to wander in, picking lambs'-quarter and 
talking to the friendly b'hoys, became more scary than a 
haunted house. Her every errand to the store was run in fear, 
and her mother's parting words to her, whenever she went 
out the door, were "Run now, Mollie, don't be afraid." 

249 The Small Fry 

Mollie was first frightened on the day the Vigilantes hanged 
the five at once: 

"Coming home from school one winter day, January 14, 
1864, I cut across the bottom of the gulch, climbed the steep 
hill, and passed close behind a large cabin which was being 
built; people were gathered in front on Wallace Street; the 
air was charged with excitement. I looked. The horror of what 
that look photographed on my memory still sends a shiver 
through me. The bodies of five men with ropes around their 
necks hung limp from a roof beam. I trembled so that I could 
scarcely run toward home. The realization flashed on me that 
two forms were familiar; one was Jack Gallagher;* the other 
was Club-foot George, who used to notice me and speak in a 
kind way. His deformity had arrested my attention and made 
me pity him. I did not know that he and Jack were 'Bad 

men.' " 2 

A few weeks later, little Mollie awoke to an early-morning 
commotion outside her house, and opened the door just in 
time to see a man make his drop in another temporary scaf- 
fold. She heard the rope creak in the frosty February air 
before she had time to close the door. 

That same spring, a kindly storekeeper shooed her out his 
back door to escape the street ruckus kicked up by Slade and 
his no-good friends. She pelted home like a frightened cot- 
tontail, dashing from cover to cover until safe in her own 

Before she had fairly gotten over this, she was an unwill- 
ing spectator to Slade's hanging for the b'hoys, with never a 
mind for anything but a good high crossbar from which to 
drop a rope, chose the Elephant Corral right below Dims- 
dale's school in which to execute the man. From her grand- 
stand seat, Mollie could see Slade dressed in fringed buckskin, 

* Gallagher was a special friend of hers. He had traveled to Montana with 
the Sheehan family. 


and could hear him plead at least three times, "For God's 
sake let me see my dear beloved wife." (This the b'hoys 
weren't about to allow, for she had stopped a previous at- 
tempt to hang her husband with her own six-guns.) As 
Mollie watched, someone shouted. "There she comes!" re- 
ferring to Slade's wife and, as Mollie recalled years later, 
"A man in a black hat standing beside Slade made an abrupt, 
vigorous movement. I turned and sought the refuge of home." 3 

But for those late-coming children who had not been eye- 
witnesses to brutality, the adventures of bad man versus good 
man which had occurred right on this very spot were thrills 
without any of the horror. The building which had accom- 
modated the mass execution became a kind of juvenile shrine. 
A really lucky lad was one who had been boosted into the 
attic above the drugstore now housed in it to see, in flickering 
lantern light, the ceiling beam with five horrid rope scars 
impressed into the wood, said to be the final marks made in 
this world by the five confessed road agents (the same marks 
gaped at today by thousands of tourists, adult and young 

A lad who grew up in Virginia City may have known a lot 
about the Vigilantes, but what he was really an authority on, 
although he didn't know it, was the Chinese, for he had seen 
queues and padded clothing, had heard the sing-song of the 
strange heathen language every day of his life. He knew more 
about the ways of the Chinese than almost any professor in 
the land: he had watched nimble fingers pluck music out of 
stringed instruments so often that neither music nor instru- 
ments seemed weird any more. He was one of the few white 
lads in the world who had shot off Chinese firecrackers, who 
had seen a yellow man smoking opium, who had looked 
through the holes in Chinese money, tried the brushes and ink 
which made Chinese writing, or seen the unbelievable chop- 
sticks in action. He was one of the few whites in the world 

251 The Small Fry 

who had eaten Chinese food most of it stolen from the graves 
in the Chinese cemetery on the nights following Chinese fu- 
nerals; free feeds of succulent roast pig and cold rice, washed 
down with a swig of fiery brandy, which the heathen had also 
left to comfort the departed. 4 

But, even as with their elders, familiarity with the Chinese, 
instead of leading to understanding, led to contempt. The 
Chinks were be-deviled in every way the kids could hatch: 
swipe their laundry, pull their queues, dump their suds, steal 
and sell their copper boilers, throw rocks at their doors few 
b'hoys would say them nay. Pranks played on a laundryman 
sometimes led to a brief chase down the alley, spluttering 
Chinese yelling obscenities at departing backs. Most of the 
kids learned a little Chinese in this way, all of it profane. 

Of course, any sort of mischief known to street urchins 
the kids learned whether it had to do with the Chinese or not. 
They had good examples in the antics of the b'hoys they so 
much admired; precepts with the sanction which newspaper 
reports gave for such high jinks. If the lads early learned to 
tin-can a dog's tail, to drop spitwads on the bald heads below 
from the gallery of the People's Theatre, to win all the Easter 
eggs from smaller boys by cracking their eggs with a painted 
porcelain one (winner keep the one which cracks first), the 
b'hoys who applauded had only themselves to blame. 

The smaller sprites peeked under the swinging doors at 
the forbidden male world of the saloons and sniffed the odor 
wafted out from the bar, the mingling of tobacco smoke, raw 
cuspidor stench and the aroma from spilled suds and rotgut 
wet on varnish. The bigger fellows ventured inside. They 
returned bragging of initiation into the mysterious rites of the 
green cloth tables. Later in a secluded stall of a vacant barn, 
the secrets of the pasteboards were imparted to all who would 
learn. An eight-year-old playing on the cellar steps of Pfouts's 
store was heard to say. "Oh, hell on it, I can't hold a pair," 


to which his seven-year-old partner replied, "Steady, old hoss, 
it's no use getting riled." 

More dangerous mischief was easily attempted, for black 
powder could be casually snitched for amateur blasting at- 
tempts, and cap-and-ball pistols easily "borrowed" for target 
practice out of earshot of meddlesome adults. Abandoned 
mines were explored by candlelight, against all edicts of par- 

All of these things could be done free, except dropping 
spitwads in the theater, but cash for such things as theater 
tickets could be come by. Even if parents were stingy, hours 
could be spent crawling over the accumulated trash beneath a 
boardwalk in search of dropped treasure, or peering through 
from above, crack by crack, retrieving big copper pennies, 
tokens from saloons, even a shinplaster or two with a wad of 
gum stuck to the end of a stick. When all other means failed 
to dislodge the booty, the boards could be pried up after dark, 
the treasure gathered, and the boards replaced. 

There was gold in them thar hills, and any handy lad 
could pan out two bits' worth of color from abandoned tailings, 
if he put a little elbow grease into it. The piles of sweepings 
from barroom floors might have paid better, but usually bum- 
mers beat youngsters to these bonanzas. Favored children 
were sometimes allowed to clean the crannies of a sluice box: 
Mollie Sheehan and a friend worked over the riffles belonging 
to big Irish friends until they had collected enough gold to 
have rings made. 

These same two little girls raised money by entering into 
a florist and green-grocer speculation. They were paid twenty- 
five cents in gold for each bouquet of wild flowers gathered 
and furnished to the hotels about town. These same hotel- 
keepers paid them $1.50 in dust per gallon for the lambs'- 
quarter which grew around the town (and still does). They 
were the only green vegetable available for their tables and 

253 The Small Fry 

were much appreciated by their boarders. The girls suddenly 
stopped deliveries when their fathers discovered their enter- 
prise and quashed it, thinking it unmaidenly of their daugh- 
ters to have dealings with such places. 

Youngsters who dreamed of spending robber gold spent 
hours searching for Henry Plummer's treasure. They dug up 
the floors of cabins said to have been inhabited by the robber 
band, and sometimes made expeditions to the ridge of the 
Ruby Mountains, high above the floors of the Stinkingwater 
and Beaverhead Valleys. Here, said oft-repeated tales, the road 
agents had kept a lookout and signal station where a man 
could spy on approaching stagecoaches or unwary travelers 
as they crawled their miniature way between Bannack and 
Virginia City. On this rocky ridge the bandits had buried their 
gold, it was said. It has yet to be found. 

Though they had great potentials of wealth, the lads were 
often out of pocket money, exactly like the b'hoys. Then the 
ice cream at the Arcade Saloon was beyond the reach of 
urchins. Far better to follow the ice wagon on a scorching day 
and gather chips scattered from the iceman's flashing pick. 
Held on the tongue till one's eyes ached, one chip produced 
a heap of coolant for the overheated ten-year-old. And the 
supply lasted as long as he cared to follow the wagon. 

Oh, there was plenty to do and sometimes all night to do 
it in, for a number of parents figured that the frontier freed 
them of all responsibility and let their offspring run wild. Teen- 
agers lounged about the town and hung about the dance halls 
most of the night. Elders wondered where in the world they got 
their money, and newspaper editors admonished them: "... 
boys . . . who loaf around dry goods boxes borrowing a 
'chaw' of fine cut . . . you'll never roost higher than the 
position of a professor of buck-saw exercises." But the delin- 
quents aped the b'hoys they so much admired and grew up 
"under the impression that swearing and blackguarding are 


accomplishments par excellence of the male gender," heedless 
of editors who complained that they outdid San Francisco 
toughs in their knowledge of blasphemy. 

The bachelor b'hoys paid only sporadic attention to the 
problems of kids all but abandoned in the West. Once when 
two little girls from Nevada City, daughters of a gambler and 
a whore, appeared on the streets of town clad only in their 
shifts, begging for food, they gave them food and clothing, 
but then shooed them on "home." Another time, when a 
young girl was made to support her father by working in a 
dance hall, they quickly ended his little game by clapping him 
in jail and shipping her off to the Midwest to live with relatives. 
Still another time, they warned child-beaters to desist or take a 
little lashing themselves some midnight. But they saw no 
necessity to bestir themselves further than these chance efforts, 
nor would they back a public-school system for Virginia City. 

Dimsdale pleaded this as a necessity for the many children 
running wild (252 of school age four through twenty-one 
according to the school census of 1867), 5 though it would 
ruin the three private schools in town (his and two others), 
which educated about seventy pupils among the three of them 
for a tuition fee of $1.75 a week each. 6 Not until January of 
1866 was there a public school in Virginia City, a two-year 
delay in this necessity in spite of all the columns the Post had 
filled arguing the benefits of a public-school law and a public 
school. Dimsdale pleaded that the town need hire only two 
teachers, for they could "manage with efficiency about one 
hundred and twenty scholars, or even more, by the aid of the 
monitorial system among beginners." He propagandized the 
kind of schools he would like to see in the town, stating that, 
"Drill in a common school should be exact and military. 
Children like it. It improves their health and abates the wea- 
riness of routine." He believed that "Boys and girls learn best 
together. Their seats only should be separated." He felt that a 

255 The Small Fry 

boy trained under the coeducational system would never treat 
a woman unworthily, nor would any girl "so reared and 
treated . . . ever forget her dignity." 7 

Though Dimsdale had hoped that such a school would 
entice most of the school-age children within its doors, it 
didn't attract anyone but the same students who had been 
attending the private schools. The rest of the children ran 
wild, just as before. During the summer there were some jobs 
open to them; but during the school year they loafed. Not 
until the town slowed down in the seventies did as many as 
seventy per cent of the children come to school and hood- 
lumism decline on the city streets with the start of the school 

Children then had neat fenced yards to play in (fences as 
much to keep the loose livestock out as to keep children in). 
Their parents had settled enough to plant gardens and start 
slips of trees. There were chores to do. Many town families 
kept a cow, a cow that had to be cared for, though the paper 
scoffed and said that menfolk looked pretty silly pulling teats. 
The b'hoys of '63 had married and become family men. They 
took baby for a piggyback ride on nice nights though they 
might sometimes balance baby on the bar top as they had a 
quick suds. 

The lads of Virginia City had it better than the girls, no 
doubt of that. They were free to wander where they pleased, 
while the girls of respectable families had to stick close to 
home. Not that the b'hoys would have wanted the girls tagging 
along, for all the creatures seemed to know how to do was 
chew gum. It came to be such a mania amongst the sex that 
the Montanian proposed an Anti-Gum Chewing Society, 
and the Montana Democrat remarked that the saying " 'you 
do not know enough to chew gum' is hardly applicable to some 
of the fair maids of Virginia City" and implored them to 
"introduce a little more grace to the motions of the jaw." 


When the young ladies took no heed, the Madisonian printed 
a dire warning to "ye girl chewers of gum" in which it noted 
that a girl in town had had her jaws locked for more than an 
hour from what the doctor said was "the result of a long and 
daily practice of chewing gum." 

No doubt of it, the lads had the best of it. No one cared 
if they chewed gum, or where in town they went. Free to 
wander where they pleased, they knew all the town characters: 
Bill Fairweather, whiskered and alcoholic, wandering deso- 
lately from saloon to saloon, dreaming spirituous dreams of the 
fortune he should still have, even his discovery nugget gone, 
lost one vacant day in '64; the Hermit of Daylight Gulch, 
the old recluse who lived in a lone cabin above town and 
claimed he was an illegitimate son of the first Napoleon; Old 
Brod, the Negro bootblack, who drank himself into insen- 
sibility now and then, whom the b'hoys had whitewashed once 
while he was passed out; Mr. Charles Bradbury, the traveling 
scenic artist for Drake's Plantation Bitters, who had come 
all the way up the Missouri River from St. Louis "decorating 
the rocks and trees and river banks in cabalistic characters, 
expressing the peculiar virtues of Drake's Plantation Bitters." 
This great man, who was going all the way to Sacramento and 
then back to New York, painted his message on Virginia City 
hydrants surrounded by his young admirers. His inspiration 
must have caused the daubing of a passel of back fences. 

Oh, there was plenty to do and they didn't need no 
organizations: "The attempt to establish a young Men's Chris- 
tian Association, in this town, fell through. It appears, from a 
canvass made, that the young men of Christian tendencies 
were not numerous enough to start the organization." 

And there was lots to learn in Virginia City. For one thing, 
there were the intricacies of the tooth-jarring jew's-harp to be 
mastered: "We have no brass band in Virginia City, but we 
have the next best thing to one. A large lubber of a boy, with 

257 The Small Fry 

freckles on his nose as big Mexican dollars, and a stonebruise 
on his left heel, discourses jewsharp music on Wallace Street, 
every other evening in the week. It will be no use in Prof. 
Charpie coming here to instigate a brass band as long as that 
boy holds out, and he is a healthy urchin." 

But most of all, there was* the thing that really mattered to 
be learned: how to wrest gold from the ground. The kids in 
the mining gulches could tell a piece of quartz from a piece of 
sandstone as easy as pie. They could get color in a pan any old 
time. They knew how to twist the drill and hold it steady while 
the double jack swung past your head, unerringly to the drill- 
head. They knew the value of each claim in the vicinity as 
well as the assayer. They knew how to make the color show 
by shaking the Long Tom. They prospected for gold outcrop- 
pings in the hills as other kids searched for good fishing holes. 
Eventually they knew how to tamp the black powder carefully 
into deep-drilled holes in solid rock, or gingerly experiment 
with the new dynamite explosive. They knew geology before 
geography. Their greatest ambition was to have a piece of a 
quartz claim when they grew up. 

In this love of gold, as in their love of mischief, the 
small fry were aping their elders. Perhaps they got into no 
more devilment than other boys in other places, but here they 
had the support and example of older males. Too often, prac- 
tical jokes and prejudice went hand in hand. Boys could see 
little wrong with stealing Chinese graveside food when they 
were supported in the enterprise by the cheers of the miners and 
applauded by the recognition of the newspaper editor. In fact, 
the actions of the "b'hoys" are often difficult to tell from the 
mimicry of the boys, for at times the former were pretty 
childish. It was difficult for a young'un to grow out of this 
childish playfulness, and consequently vestiges of this wild 
humor, the heritage of the mining generation, still outcrop in 
the mountain West. 





spring thaw makes each street a temporary stream bed, and 
running snow water washes upper-town silt onto lower-town 
neighbors; sudden escape channels furrow gardens; winter's 
debris is left piled high in the neatest yard. The gurgle of 
water rushing downhill fills the air. Daylight Creek turns 
brown; Alder Gulch Creek swells by the hour and runs out of 
its banks for days. Everywhere there is water tumbling down 
and away until one can fairly feel the pull of the Mississippi 
draining mountain water to the Louisiana bayous, to cool the 
alligators of the delta. 

Alder Gulch water joins the Ruby River a dozen miles 
downhill from town (near Robber's Roost, Pete Daley's 
Stage Station, alleged meeting place of road agents); the 
Ruby dawdles for a brief fifteen miles through the hay mead- 
ows about the shady town of Sheridan, until it and the Beaver- 
head form the Jefferson. This short swift river carries the Alder 
Gulch water to join the Gallatin and the Madison and to form, 
only ninety miles from home, part of the Missouri's silt-laden 
flood which will come together with the Mississippi under the 

259 Rivers to Ride 

docks of St. Louis. Standing atop Boot Hill, watching the water 
trickle into Alder Creek, a man wonders if any of the gold ever 
washed as far as Natchez. 

The pull of water eastward was felt by the b'hoys in 
Virginia City in the 1860's also, for they thought that the 
Missouri was to be the Terrkory's great trade route with the 
East, the Ohio River of the Northwest. They so confidently 
expected a great "sea-port" to arise at the head of river-boat 
navigation on that river, that they spent time and money try- 
ing to promote towns which could wrest this business away 
from Fort Benton. The Fort, they contended, was too far up- 
stream; boats couldn't make it all the way to its docks in low- 
water years. (In 1865 twenty steamers left St. Louis for Fort 
Benton, but only six reached their destination; two sank on 
the way, and the others were forced to unload downstream.) 1 
Freight unshipped downstream forced Virginia City business- 
men into expensive delays while the little steamer Deer Lodge 
shuttled back and forth from Cow Island to Fort Benton with 
its minute cargo of goods. Sometimes merchants had to send 
wagons after freight disgorged even farther downstream. Vir- 
ginia City speculators blamed the boat-owners of St. Louis for 
sending out crafts which drew more water than the upper 
Missouri could give, but while they were cursing them, they 
were planning how to make downstream unloading put 
money in their own pockets. 

Two different companies obtained charters from the first 
Territorial Assembly for the rights to build roads to proposed 
Missouri River ports and to establish cities there. They were 
not the first to speculate in likely spots for towns along the 
Missouri, for W. B. Dance, James Morley and others had hiked 
from Bannack to the headwaters of the Missouri in 1863 to 
establish a claim to the city which they were sure would rise 
here. At another time, this same "Judge" Dance left an up- 
river boat at the mouth of the Yellowstone to lay claim to 


ground on which to build a city. Unfortunately, the Judge 
got so interested in his town site he missed his boat, rode 
after it until the horse gave out, then traveled by foot in a 
"desperate situation" until he reached Fort Galpin, from where 
he took the next boat. 

To go back to the chartered river-port companies, one 
operation was called "The Missouri River and Rocky Moun- 
tain Wagon Road Company." In this company the ubiquitous 
city-speculator, W. B. Dance, was associated with N. P. Lang- 
ford, S. T. Hauser and others. They had their eye on the 
mouth of the Musselshell River as a port site. 

The second company, more elaborately planned, was to 
establish a town at the mouth of the Marias River named 
Ophir. This place was supposed to become the trading hub of 
the Northwest. The charters to create this metropolis embraced 
those of the Marias Ferry Company, the Ophir Ferry Com- 
pany, the Ophir and Flathead River Wagon Road Company, 
the Kootenai Wagon Road Company, the Ophir Town Com- 
pany, the North Ophir Town Company, and the East Ophir 
Town Company. Associated in the enterprise also were the 
Missouri River Portage and Railroad Company, which was to 
make arrangements for portage around the Great Falls of the 
Missouri. Another company in the organization was the Up- 
per Missouri River Steamboat Navigation Company, which 
was to make navigable the upper Missouri River from the 
Falls to the Three Forks in exchange for their franchise on this 
water. Governor Sidney Edgerton, who signed the franchises, 
was a holder in one of the companies. There were no conflict- 
of-interest worries in the good old days of Territorial Montana. 

The other speculative enterprise, at the mouth of the Mus- 
selshell, was completed in 1866 and called Kercheval City. 
Much hullaballoo had accompanied the progress of this 
"city." In January the Post noted that N. P. Langford, Presi- 
dent of the Company, had finished surveying the road to the 

261 Rivers to Ride 

city, and stated that it would be a drive only thirty-five miles 
longer than that from Fort Benton, on an easy, water-level 
route which followed the Musselshell River valley 150 miles 
directly west to the mountains. The company claimed that 
boats always made it upriver as far as this spot and that 
freight, which was held up by the shuttle system, was some- 
times here twenty-five days before the shuttle-boat Deer 
Lodge could bring it to Fort Benton. In February the paper 
stated that Captain Anderson and party had left to begin 
raising Kercheval City; it sounded like the biggest thing since 
Rome was built and, similarly, it took more than one day to 
finish its warehouse, dock, and cabins. But in April the com- 
pany announced that it was ready to handle three million 
pounds of freight, and that steamship companies would make 
a reduction of thirty-three per cent in freight sent to Kercheval 
City, because they could avoid the difficult river navigation 
on to Fort Benton. The company fathers were waiting for 
business. 2 

They were still waiting come September; thirty-three boats 
had puffed right on up the river past them to Fort Benton, for 
this was the year that small boats designed for Missouri River 
navigation began making the 2500-mile journey. The new city 
had also run into powerful opposition: a lot of St. Louis 
money was tied up in Fort Benton and it had plenty of in- 
fluence where the boats embarked. Such opposition surely 
hurt them, but the real stopper to first-season business was the 
fact that their road from the docks to the mountains wasn't 
finished (it was still being built in November), and every 
freighter in the Territory knew it. In spite of dock facilities 
superior to Fort Benton's, the only good thing that ever hap- 
pened to Kercheval City was that it was named county seat of 
Musselshell County by Meagher's 1866 legislature, an honor 
it lost when Congress nullified the Assembly's acts. Within a 
year or two an exceptionally high spring flood carried the 


hopes of the place toward New Orleans, though the site was 
briefly used as Fort Sheridan in later days. 

Steamboating up the Missouri was just another specula- 
tion in gold-camp business, an enterprise possible only be- 
cause the wealth of the mines made for high freight rates. The 
river, with its erratic channel, sudden ebbings, many sandbars, 
uncertain wood supply, and hidden sawyers (to say nothing 
of the difficulties encountered with swimming herds of buffalo 
and marauding Indians), was never meant for steamboat 
travel. The trip to Fort Benton developed into a once-a-year 
gamble which had to be ventured while water was high in the 
spring and early summer. Though boats were lost every year, 
in 1867, the biggest travel year on the Missouri, enough 
gamblers were attracted by the high payoff of a successful 
trip to put thirty-nine boats in the water. 3 

The 150 tons of goods in the hold and lashed to the lower 
deck were worth about $30,000 to a boat owner more, if 
there was a big demand for space, and he could get thirteen 
cents a pound for freight; less if holds were only half filled 
and he could ask only eight cents a pound from shippers. 4 The 
hundred-plus passengers added another $8000 to the ex- 
chequer, 5 making them of less importance to the financial 
success of the trip than barrels of flour. Sometimes leaks in 
stateroom roofs soaked them, a thing that didn't happen to 
the valuable flour in the hold. 

Captains of the little river boats were essentially business 
managers; it was up to them to make the voyage show a 
profit. They cut every possible expense, occasionally going so 
far as to hire only a skeleton crew, thus endangering the pas- 
sengers and causing unnecessary delays. One captain skimped 
so that he bargained at every wood lot for fuel to fire his 
boilers, never filling up unless the price was right, adding days 

263 Rivers to Ride 

to his trip because he made far more wood stops than neces- 

Still, the river boat was a favorite way of sending Virginia 
City wives and families home for a visit, or bringing them to 
settle in the West. One great advantage of boat travel was that 
each ticket holder could ship* a lot more free baggage than he 
was allowed on the stagecoach. And the leisurely forty-five- 
day trip to Fort Benton was a very pleasant time: 

. . . The comfort of a good cabin, ample state rooms, 
regular meals . . . freedom from care, the delight of so- 
cial intercourse ... all were intent upon making the long 
trip before them one of unalloyed enjoyment. This sen- 
timent displayed itself in little groups seated at the 
tables and around the stoves, some reading, others play- 
ing at cribbage, chess, backgammon and the never-failing 
euchre. . . . 6 

Passengers went ashore ^in hunting parties almost daily, 
easily keeping up with the slow boat, often having to wait to 
be picked up when they returned to the river bank because it 
was aground "as usual." Once out of the monotony of the 
prairie, the sculptured embankments of the Bad Lands made 
sightseeing worthwhile. Like cloud-gazers, erosion-watchers 
saw scenes in the weird shapes and pointed out Christ and 
his disciples in one group of erosions, or castles in Spain in 

Lolling about the tidy Grand Saloon of a river boat was 
far nicer than hanging on for dear life aboard a speedy 
coach, and it cost less to ride, also. Stateroom passengers paid 
only $175 for the sumptuous accommodations, cabin passen- 
gers $125 for theirs "with cots." Deck passengers could ride 
for only thirty-five dollars, furnish their own grub. 7 Meals 
were on time (for those eating at table) and were tolerable. 


Other than the fact that the quarters were small and there was 
no getting away from bores or the howls of a passenger with 
the delirium tremens the steamboat beat any other way of 
getting to Virginia City. The worst part of the trip, for early- 
day river travelers, came at the very end, when they were put 
ashore at Cow Island because their boat could go no farther, 
there to wait for days in a rough encampment for promised 
transportation which was to convey them any minute now to 
that near, yet so far, haven, Fort Benton. 

Incidentally, river-boat men in the Southwest thought 
maybe they could dip thumbs in the Alder Gulch freighting 
pie. They pushed their boats up the Colorado River to within 
400 miles of Salt Lake City. In a letter to the Montana Post, 
advising Virginia City merchants of their enterprise, "Path- 
finder" reminded them that the southern route could be used 
all year. Dimsdale caustically answered the letter with the re- 
mark that the mountain passes between Virginia City and Salt 
Lake City were scarcely all-year routes, and reminded them 
that even when the snow had melted, their terminus was a 
good 500 miles farther away than Fort Benton. So ended the 
Colorado River's bid to float Alder Gulch gold. 8 

Although Missouri River steamboats sped downstream to 
St. Louis in two weeks or so, making as good time as the 
stagecoach, their June departure date was too early to be of 
use to most of the b'hoys. The downstream boats were 
crowded with families going for a visit and children leaving to 
be educated. But only those b'hoys left in June whose hopes 
couldn't be roused by the optimism that stirs a gold camp each 
spring. Most of the b'hoys, if they'd hung around all winter, 
stuck 'er out another summer, and headed for home in the fall. 
Autumn was the time, too, when businessmen left to bank 
their profits; when all those who dreaded another winter in the 
mountains headed for civilized hearth fires. 

265 Rivers to Ride 

Consequently everyone wanted to go east at once (the 
exodus was given impetus by the annual rumor that the gold 
was played out). In September and October of 1864 it seemed 
that half the town was packing to leave. The newspaper 
noticed it: "Lots of folks returning to the states for the winter. 
Say they're coming back." 9 * Diary keepers commented on it: 
"A train of forty four wagons is to leave here for Omaha on 
the 10th and thousands of disappointed pilgrims will accom- 
pany it." 10 And letter writers told of it: 

The greatest number of the emigrants that came here 
last summer are all a going home again this fall. They are 
leaving here every day. They say that the mines have been 
misrepresented at home. There is not room enough for the 
emigrants to work. . . . Unless they discover some new 
digging by next summer this place will be gone up for there 
is no inducement for anyone to stay here. 11 

So many homesick souls with money to pay fares made 
one-way passenger carrying a good business. Naturally, the 
stagecoaches got some of this money, but not all of the 
coaches Holladay owned could have carried this exodus. 

Thousands of b'hoys went back by wagon train, joining an 
outfit especially put together to cart people home. Franck and 
Sichel's was typical, a twenty-five-wagon train, mule-drawn, 
on which a man could ride to Atchison for forty dollars, fur- 
nish his own grub. Each passenger could carry twenty-five 
pounds of baggage plus his provisions. He rode in a wagon 
filled with eight or nine other people. Men riding their own 
horses could tag along with the train and have their baggage 
carried for thirty dollars. If a family hired an entire wagon for 
the trip, it cost them four hundred dollars. 12 Private wagons 
also made the trip. One which was parked in front of the 
newspaper office advertised its availability with a sign 
scrawled across its canvas, PASSIONERS FOR OMIHAW. 


The wagons took two months of hard traveling to get home, 
sixty days of dirt and fatigue accompanied by the ever- 
present danger of Indian attack or early blizzard. 

A far easier trip was by boat: floating down the Yellow- 
stone or Missouri Rivers in specially built mackinaws which 
could navigate October low water because they needed only 
ten inches of it. Compared to the grim, jolting wagon trip 
across the plains, these were larking, holiday outings which 
wafted voyagers about eighty miles closer to home each day. 

The b'hoys from Virginia City generally went east down 
the Yellowstone, because the embarkation point at the mouth 
of Yellowstone Canyon was only about a hundred miles away. 
Fort Benton, the Missouri River take-off point, was another 
hundred miles away, and it cost about twenty-five dollars in 
coach fare to get there almost as much as the boat com- 
panies advertised as the fare to ride all the way downstream: 
"Ho! for the states . . . 600 passengers wanted ... for 
thirty dollars a man can see America and the girl he left be- 
hind him." 13 

The mackinaws were built on the banks of the Yellow- 
stone. There Lyman and Tomlinson had constructed a saw- 
mill especially to saw boards for the boatyards which each 
year were building boats to outfit the several flotillas which 
coursed downstream in October. These were good-sized craft, 
thirty-six feet long, capable of carrying twenty passengers, 
their luggage and provisions as well as an occasional half a 
dozen oarsmen to surge the boat ahead at ten to fifteen miles 
an hour through dangerous Indian country (through which a 
few groups traveled day and night). These vessels were roofed 
overhead with double planks placed at an angle the better to 
bounce any Indian rifle balls which might be fired at them. 
The gunwales were also double-planked, and contained port- 
holes from which guns could be fired. (Such outfits claimed 
they could "whip all the Indians between the Rocky Moun- 

267 Rivers to Ride 

tains and Omaha.") Some of the fancier mackinaws featured 
double berths and sheet-iron stoves, but it cost seventy dollars 
for passage in such yachts. 14 

When the boats were ready and the cottonwood leaves 
along the Yellowstone were turning, the drummers for the 
boat companies arrived in Virginia City, artful dodgers who 
muscled in wherever two or three b'hoys were gathered, to 
turn the conversation toward cruising down the Yellowstone. 
In the last week of September, a man could scarcely come to 
town for a twist of tobacco without being asked if he was 
looking for a way to America. Competition between flotillas 
was stiff, since a man with forty boats had to round up 800 
passengers to fill them. To attract customers, some of the bigger 
fleets offered free wagon-train transportation from Virginia 
City and Helena to Yellowstone Canyon and the flatboats. 15 

By the first of October there were several big encamp- 
ments at the mouth of the Canyon, six or seven hundred peo- 
ple gathered in the colorful cottonwood groves as for a church 
picnic. Luggage and grub were piled together under a hang- 
man's noose, a warning to pilferers to stop it or else. Every- 
one enjoyed a few days' rest until the boats were finished. 

Once in the water, the mackinaws took off at a racing 
pace, sliding down the white water of the upper Yellowstone 
at the rate of 100 miles a day, stopping only briefly each day 
when the b'hoys had to jump lively to push two or three ves- 
sels from the rocks before the torrent swamped them, and at 
night. Once out of the rapids, a leisurely cruise began. Au- 
tumn cottonwoods lined the river with the color the b'hoys 
liked best, gold, shimmering hot against muted, stained, sand- 
stone rimrock. They floated on a river of gold reflections, con- 
tent and relaxed, though they warily viewed the sights through 
portholes: this beautiful country was claimed by the Sioux, 
and autumn colors could hide rifles ready to fire at exposed 
heads. The stately cottonwoods made it hard to believe that 


this was Indian country; a passenger going downstream with a 
flotilla in 1865 described them as "giving river banks the ap- 
pearance of a succession of magnificent old country seats." 

Though the Yellowstone may have looked civilized, any 
group of boats which tied up along the bank at night put out 
sentries and readied rifles to protect them against Indian at- 
tack. They were made a little nervous by the fact that what 
looked like good camping grounds to whites had also looked 
good to red men, and they frequently found themselves sleep- 
ing in groves which had only recently been abandoned by 
Indians. At one of these spots they once found, on the peeled 
surface of a cottonwood tree, a rudely drawn Indian hiero- 
glyph which they jumped to the conclusion was a treaty 
amongst the Indians for a common-cause fight against the 
whites. They slept but fitfully that night. 

The flotillas tried to travel in close order in Sioux country, 
yet it took an hour each night to beach the many boats, a 
hectic sixty minutes of splashing in shallow water, of counting 
noses, making fires and lugging grub from boat to fireside, all 
the while watching upstream for errant boats while keeping an 
eye peeled for warbonnets. But, withal, a sunset time filled 
with silhouettes of softly moving boats drifting out of the 
colored western sky that the b'hoys allowed was prettier'n a 

Ten days found a fleet at the mouth of the Yellowstone 
and nearly out of Indian country, 850 miles from the starting 
point. Now the flotilla began to break up, little groups of 
acquaintances traveling together at their own speed, camping 
where they chose, keeping only in ragged proximity to the 
others. Another three weeks of easy travel saw them in 
Omaha 16 forty new boats used up in a month. 

Few Indian war parties had the manpower to attack such 
a large group, but small parties of two and three boats some- 
times fought naval skirmishes along Yellowstone waters. 

269 Rivers to Ride 

These battles gave the Sioux no scalps, for a rifle ball fired 
from willow copse was too spent to penetrate gunwale plank- 
ing, and a direct attack meant a slow, exposed charge through 
shallow waters, much too risky to be practical. 

Other dangers existed for those who made their own boats 
and shared expenses. The fall of 1864 saw seventy-odd men 
start down the river late in October, having been held up 
building their own boats. They lost further time because their 
clumsy homemade craft, drawing too much water, drifted 
from sandbar to sandbar rather than bobbing over them. 
Then, above Fort Union, cold weather came and their boats 
froze in, forcing them to abandon their luggage and walk on 
to the Fort. Here most of them stayed, but a few tried to go 
on until storms, broken bones, and Indian fights forced them 
to hole up for the rest of the winter in the next forts down- 

But such an ill-conceived trip was a rarity; traveling by 
mackinaw was not nearly as dangerous as traveling by coach 
or wagon, and it was one of the best ways of getting gold 
home safely as well. The lone stagecoach was often the prey 
of road agents, for others had come to replace Plummer's 
gang. (Only nine months after the Vigilante hanging spree, 
coaches to Salt Lake City were forced to stop running for a 
while because road agents had shot up a coach in Port Neuf 
Canyon, killing three men.) Gold was far better transported 
by mackinaw amidst the protection of hundreds and so 
thought the b'hoys: in one group of 500 people floating down 
the Missouri from Fort Benton, there was also floating 
$1,500,000 in gold dust. 17 

As useful as the river routes proved in the early days of 
Virginia City, an expanding Territory needed something bet- 
ter. The steamboat was fine for carrying big loads of freight 
cheaply, but its once-a-year schedule was grating to men in a 
hurry. Mackinaw boats were all right for floating downstream, 


but of no use upstream. What was really needed to connect 
them to the East, thought the b'hoys in Alder Gulch, was a 
railroad. A nice, regularly scheduled train from Chicago, 
like the Northern Pacific, which was building slowly west- 
ward, would be just fine. According to "the man in the 
wagon," its tracks would come up the Yellowstone as far as 
the canyon mouth. From there Virginia City vowed it should 
come up the Beaverhead close by them. 

Everyone in Virginia City talked railroad. The b'hoys ap- 
plauded the old gentleman who stood up at the railroad meet- 
ing in Nevada City and said "he felt railroad and rheumatism 
both to once. He was proud he was a native, circumcised 
American, and an advocate of the railroad." 18 

Unfortunately for his rheumatism, railroad tracks did not 
enter Montana until 1879. Eventually the Northern Pacific 
spur line from Whitehall did come to the mouth of the gulch, 
nine miles down grade from town. 




a year old, b'hoys were panning along dozens of tiny streams 
flowing out of the Tobacco Root mountains, streams whose 
only virtue was that they were close to Alder Creek. Other 
b'hoys had ferreted out pockets of gold in Brown's Gulch, 
and Ramshorn Gulch, and had joined the middle-of-the- 
night stampede to the meager strike in Bivin's Gulch. They 
had climbed over the ridge into William's Gulch and Barton 
Gulch searching for placers, for Alder Gulch had all been 
staked. It had been staked by lucky men who had been pulled 
west by news of the strike at Bannack, and so arrived early on 
the far richer Alder Gulch diggings by happenstance. By June 
of '64 these lucky ones held all the ground worth having in 
and out of the gulch, and a visitor to the town noted, "Pros- 
pecting for gulch mines has petered. Old prospectors are dis- 
couraged and come in from a big stampede with their under 
lip sticking out a foot. . . . Many who have the spondulix to 
buy grub have turned their attention to quartz." l 

Prospecting for quartz accelerated after January of '64 
when F. R. Steele discovered a lode at the head of the gulch 


while hunting. He named his new mine the Mountain Sheep 
after the animal he had been stalking and started to tunnel for 
ore. Deyarman, Sedman & Company built a mill near by, a 
handmade affair which clanked through its first ton of ore in 
October of the same year. As their building rose, feverish 
b'hoys tested outcroppings within earshot of the hammer 
blows, "racing from one prairie dog hole to another," hoping 
to uncover gold-bearing rock to feed through its crushers, 
though they had come west to sluice for nuggets. For a while 
it was a second stampede: 

Hundreds of lodes have been found. . . . When a 
new lead is discovered a rush is made to the spot, and in 
an hour it is filed on and recorded, and in many cases (at) 
the distance of a mile where there is not the shadow of a 
prospect for a lead . . . but as there is no water, wood, 
or the necessities to work these discoveries they are pre- 
empted and held as real estate, for further developments, 
and the arrival of capital and crushers to work them out. 2 

The quartz excitement was interpreted by Dimsdale as a 
sign of a new blossoming in the wilderness, seeded by bullion 
wrested from rock. Every outcropping of granite looked a sure 
lead to unschooled editorial eyes. He asserted in the Post that 
the time was at hand when mining must change its character 
from placer to quartz, and blithely claimed there was work for 
a thousand quartz mills in the vicinity, about as unprofessional 
an estimate as an investor could get. Even the next dreamiest 
amateur mineralogist claimed work for only 500 mills. Opti- 
mistic? Well, yes. Five years later the United States Commis- 
sioner of Mining Statistics reported only twenty-five mills and 
thirty-five arrastras in all of Madison County, and eight of the 
mills were not working. 3 

Dimsdale was a man with his head in the clouds when he 
interpreted the signs that bespoke a great future for his 

273 Virginia City Carries On! 

adopted home; he could not but double-think permanent pros- 
perity and growth for it in spite of the stampede to Helena. 
After all, his town had garnered the capital, and now countless 
veins of rich ore also seemed to augur continued growth. At 
the very time that he noted ^wo b'hoys wheeling their duffel 
out of town on a one-wheeled cart, one pulling, the other push- 
ing, bent on rolling their load all the way to Last Chance, 
Dimsdale wrote, "The 'Golden Arrow' points steadily to Vir- 
ginia City as the future 'Queen City of the Mountains.' " 4 

He was not alone in prophesying that Virginia City had 
nothing but greatness ahead of her. That same spring the first 
mayor of the infant town, bedazzled by the omens he read in 
the paper, foresaw great things: 

. . . the monied capital of the country . . . will nat- 
urally find its way to this, the great commercial center of 
the Territory. The long distance we are from the places of 
mart . . . and the rapid strides Virginia City has already 
made toward commercial greatness give assurance that she 
has not now, or will she ever have in this territory, a rival 
in wealth, size, or importance. Every new discovery of 
mines within a radius of 200 miles . . . will add to our 
prosperity. 5 

It was quartz that made these men speak so, for other signs 
seemed to portend doom. Abandoned sluices, warping in the 
gulch, foretold the day when the gold would all be washed. 
Businessmen who spent more time at Helena "branch stores" 
than at headquarters bespoke a future in which Virginia City 
would discover it was tucked too far into the hills to continue 
being the trading center of the Territory. Helena stores were 
far closer to the new mining towns springing up, in addition to 
being nearer to Fort Benton, and close by the banks of the 
Missouri. This latter she was especially hopeful of "What 
say you Virginia to our town being the head of navigation?" 6 


a Helena editor jibed, a dream as overblown as Dimsdale's 
hope that quartz would resurrect Virginia City's days of '63. 

Not that there weren't millions in gold locked in near-by 
rock. There were. But unlocking it took some things that, for 
the present, Virginia City did not have. 

First, she needed cheap rail transportation to bring the 
thousands of tons of heavy equipment across prairies and into 
the mountains wagon freighters sometimes charged as much 
as twenty-five cents a pound to move mining equipment. Sec- 
ond, she needed a different kind of miner than she had. Quartz 
mining was too poky to appeal to the frantic placer miner who 
wanted to be home by Christmas. It required months of un- 
palatable planning and development. Furthermore, it took 
knowledge and experience to blast the rock-locked gold out of 
a quartz claim; tunneling into a mountain, following an elusive 
vein was for the professional, the hardrock, not the amateur. 
Consequently, though quartz looked good to the b'hoys when 
placer claims were scarce, they deserted quartz overnight to 
try for Last Chance gold-for-the-washing. Third, she needed 
money, for quartz mining took more capital than the b'hoys 

Dimsdale knew the need for money; some of his prophe- 
cies were made as propaganda to convince Eastern capitalists 
that they could reap untold riches by speculating in Alder 
Gulch quartz mines. Yet, no matter how good he made the 
mines appear and the Post made them sound like the best 
thing since the fabulous mines of Mexico, reporting assays on 
near-by leads that showed $291.65 to $2624.40 per ton 7 it 
was difficult to get Eastern money invested in anything as 
remote as Montana Territory. They could make good money at 
home in war financing, and, after the cease-fire, in reconstruc- 
tion. A group of capitalists told James Tufts, first Territorial 
Secretary on a visit to New York, that they wanted investments 
close by which they could keep an eye on, but that news of 

275 Virginia City Carries On! 

substantial returns from Alder Gulch mines might get them to 
release cash for such a long-distance investment. Tufts also 
learned that there was considerable confusion in their minds 
as to just exactly where Montana was (a confusion that still 
exists). Gold strikes in Montana Territory often had been 
credited to Colorado with the connivance of some Colora- 

While they waited for money, Virginia Cityans lived on 
hope. A hope which grew greater as prospector after prospec- 
tor filed his claim, wangled his grubstake and went back to 
prospect for quartz leads again, a more tedious search than 
placer prospecting, appealing only to the confirmed hardrock. 
One theory upon which he works is that all of this placer gold 
must have washed in from some near-by quartz vein. Some- 
times two or more kinds of gold dust turn up in the prospec- 
tor's pan; this shows him that there must be at least two 
quartz leads. If a particular kind of gold is found only at one 
point, or if the gold deposit is heavy only in one area, the 
chances are that the lead is near by. The frustrating thing is 
that, even though it be close, the vein is usually only two to 
four feet wide and may run in any direction. If it should hap- 
pen to go straight into the hill, leaving only a cross-section 
exposed, it is extremely hard to uncover. A prospector is 
as perplexed as an early visitor to the gulch who wrote, "There 
is no mistake but there is plenty signs of gold here among the 
mountains but it is very hard to discover where the gold is to 
be found." 8 

The prospector, searching for the vein, looks for any likely 
outcropping of quartz near where he had good panning, and 
there sinks a test hole, three feet, ten feet, or maybe twenty 
feet deep. He may have to sink dozens of holes before he finds 
his lode, // he does. The hills surrounding Virginia City are 
pock-marked with these burrows attesting to the industry of 
the hardrock prospector. If the prospector finds a lead, before 


he can gain title to it, he has to show clearly that he found it. 
In the 1860's he had to uncover the wall rock and deposit a 
specimen of this and the ore with the Recorder of the nearest 
mining district. This place was the discovery and was his, in 
addition to his right to make a mining claim against it by pre- 
emption. 9 

After he had staked his claim and placarded it with his 
name and the date of discovery, he was ready to announce his 
find. Usually, he secretly told his friends about it first to allow 
them to place claims next to his those which should pay the 
best. More often than not he had no capital to develop his find 
and lacked the know-how of promoting it. If he was in no 
need of a grubstake, he went off into the hills again, chasing 
his ignis fatuus until he was in need. Then he peddled his 
claims for whatever he could raise on them and went back to 
prospecting again. In this manner, the speculator in quartz- 
mining properties, who bought from the prospector at the 
lowest price possible, soon had all the good property at a frac- 
tion of its value. 

No matter who held the claim, the problem of raising 
money to work the mine and to buy the necessary machinery 
had to be solved, for quartz mining is an expensive process. A 
tunnel or shaft has to be driven to the underground ore, a 
time- and money-consuming task. The vein itself, once located, 
must be followed by another tunnel, a drift, which means 
more rock to be drilled, blasted, and moved to the surface. 

In Alder Gulch in the 60's, a further problem was the dis- 
posal of the ore once it was above ground: it had to be taken 
someplace to be milled. Since building roads was expensive 
and freighting great amounts of waste rock long distances 
uneconomic (only an ounce or two of gold was extracted 
from each toa of rock worked), it was usually thought better 
to bring the mill to the mine, piece by piece. 

Necessarily this meant that there must be ore on hand and 

277 Virginia City Carries On! 

available in the future to keep the mill busy. When that much 
gold was not assured, but the assay was rich, an arrastra was 
more commonly used. This is a machine for grinding ore simi- 
lar to the stone-wheeled flour mill. The ore is placed on a 
circular bed of stone and another heavy stone is rotated on it, 
dragged around a center post by a team of horses. When this 
ore is sufficiently crushed, the gold can be retrieved by the 
amalgam process or if outstandingly rich, it can be panned. 

Arrastras could be roughed together by handy men at 
little expense; mills had to be adjusted just so by specialists 
at high wages. Arrastras could be made from materials on 
hand; mills had to be purchased in the East and brought to 
the mine. Thus, by the time a steam engine and a mill had 
been dismantled and freighted to Virginia City, inched up 
the gulch and set onto a special foundation, housed from the 
weather, and water brought to it, costs had run to $30,000, 
$80,000, or $100,000. 10 

Such an outlay was sometimes impossible to the early 
mining companies. Then mills were built by independent 
operators (erected close by the mine), expecting to make a 
profit by charging for crushing ore and extracting gold. The 
milling charge spread from six dollars to fifteen dollars a ton 
at different mills, according to the ore to be crushed and the 
cost of getting the mill to the mine. 

A typical mill was Christnott's $80,000 plant at Summit, 
described by Bishop Tuttle in a letter to his wife: 

I went through the mill and was delighted to see it. An 
engine of fifty-five horsepower drives four sets of two 
heavy wheels for crushing the ore. Each wheel weighs 
twenty-five hundred pounds, and two, fixed on a vertical 
shaft, revolve horizontally in each tub into which the ore 
is cast. Water and quicksilver are in the tub, and the quick- 
silver secures the gold in the amalgam. Some of the gold 
particles escape through a sieve on the tub, and these are 


caught by quicksilver spread all along the plates over 
which the dirty water runs. Then the amalgam is after- 
wards gathered from the tub and the plates, and the mer- 
cury is driven off by heat, leaving the pure gold. The mill 
can crush a ton of ore an hour, and each ton yields from 
twenty-five to forty dollars worth of gold. The expenses of 
extracting are about fifteen dollars a ton. 11 

About once a week, the power was shut off, and the rasp 
of metal against rock, the rush of water through tanks, the 
chuff of steam escaping from pistons stopped, and the men 
cleaning the tubs and screens of amalgam, after seven days 
of shouting pitched their curses low and soft against the sud- 
den quiet. They worked carefully, for mills were required to 
run reasonably close to the assays of the ore they had crushed 
that week. 

After all the amalgam had been gathered, it was squeezed 
through buckskin until it looked the color of cornmeal mush. 
This liquid metal was then poured into a little, bricklike 
mold whose every side was perforated with needle holes. The 
mold and contents were placed in a large box from which a 
pipe extended into a tub of water. When the box was sealed 
and heated, the quicksilver distilled and collected at the bot- 
tom of the tub of water, and the gold was left as a brick formed 
by the mold. 

Christnott's mill piled up about $5500 in bricks each 
week, but at a $2500 milling expense, leaving only $3000 
for the mining company. Out of this $3000 it had to pay the 
cost of mining, which averaged about $5 a ton, or $840 for 
a full seven days, leaving a net profit of $2160 for the week. 
The near-by mill on the Kearsarge lode was much more effi- 
cient, cleaning up $4000 a week against milling expenses 
ofonly$650. 12 

When Eastern speculators heard that Montana mills had 
bricks left over each week as profit, Virginia City mining men 

279 Virginia City Carries On! 

had less trouble raising money (although one of the first 
mines to be worked by an Eastern joint-stock company, the 
Lucas, went broke when its vein so rich a guard had to be 
kept on the ore dump faulted out at sixty feet). But captur- 
ing outside capital did not cure all the ills that Alder Gulch 
quartz mining was heir to. Eastern capital too often meant 
Eastern management bad management, according to Colo- 
nel McClure: 

. . . careful men . . . seem to lose sight of all sound 
business principles in projecting and directing mining op- 
erations 3,000 miles distant ... In most cases, some son 
or friend of one of the leading officers of the company, hav- 
ing no fitness for business that is easily understood in the 
East, is sent out to enjoy fast horses, good liquors and 
cigars and speedily mismanages the company into debt 
and failure. . . , 13 

One such manager expended $250,000 on mill buildings 
and other structures, only to go broke before he could get 
around to mining. 14 

Another company, under the management of a "scientific 
professor," spent $5000 fencing a horse pasture. 15 These self- 
styled professors claimed to have special knowledge, proc- 
esses all their own, for extracting all of the ore from the rock. 
Many of them hid any knowledge they had behind a myste- 
rious, pseudo-scientific jargon, and made themselves indis- 
pensable by keeping their supposedly exclusive process a se- 
cret. One such professor, sick from inhaling mercury fumes, 
caused a mill to shut down because he was the only one who 
knew how to operate it. Honest mining men pleaded that the 
professors be sent down the road hand in hand with playboy 
favorite sons. 

In spite of mismanagement, the mills produced gold, and 
yellow bricks of the stuff soon became a regular item on Wells- 


Fargo bills of lading, and X. Beidler with his shotgun a reg- 
ular rider on coaches from Montana to Utah. He rode the 
top of the coach, guarding the valuable treasure boxes, riding 
down one week and back the next, all for $250 a month. 
Usually, he was the only passenger, for most ticket purchasers 
were afraid to ride a coach carrying $120,000 in gold. They 
had reason to be wary, for, according to Beidler, "It always 
seemed that the heavier the treasure aboard the thicker the 
road agents, and it got so dangerous that the express com- 
panies decided to put on more messengers and guards." X. 
was glad for the company, until he saw the men assigned to 
him: Big Nick, whom X. suspected of being in with the road 
agents, and Frank Orr, "a brocky-faced thief." 

Their first trip together, Big Nick suggested that if rob- 
bers should stop them in Dry Creek Canyon, where most 
holdups occurred, the smart thing to do would be to hand 
over the treasure. As reply, X. stuck his head out the window 
(he had just climbed inside after two days and two nights 
on top) and yelled at Tom, the driver, to whip up the team 
and let 'em run through the canyon. X. remembered that 
wild ride long afterward, when he wrote: 

The moon was near full and we rattled into Dry Creek 
on a good swinging trot. As we got into the creek, which 
was on both sides walled up with rocks and a natural place 
made especially for road agents, a man raised up from be- 
hind a rock and hollered "Halt!" I was head and shoulders 
out of the coach, shotgun in hand with eighteen buckshot 
to the barrel and powder enough to throw them. The road 
agent hadn't the word out of his mouth before he had 
eighteen buckshot buried in him, and I only had to shoot 
about ten feet. He fell backwards and both barrels of his 
shotgun went off as he was falling, and they looked like the 
smoke stacks of a steamboat. The smoke from my gun 

281 Virginia City Carries On! 

blowed away and there stood my next man, another road 
agent. I shot him with my other load, hitting him just about 
the groins. He fell over, and during this time the other road 
agents on the left hand had fired. Frank Orr had fired one 
shot (I don't know what at), and "Big Nick" had also 
fired one shot from a needle gun from the inside. The 
firing had set the team on a dead run. My gun was empty 
and I got my revolver out, but we were out of range of the 
road agents. I looked around and found "Big Nick" was 
laying at the bottom of the coach, and the team was going 
at break-neck pace. I hollered to Tom Caldwell, the driver: 
"Are you hurt outside?" He said: "No. Are you hurt on 
the inside?" I told him I didn't know, as "Big Nick" was 
laying on the bottom of the coach. I asked Nick if he was 
hurt and he said "No" and laughed. I wanted to know what 
he was doing down there. He said he "was resting." I called 
him some pet names and told him we would never be in 
another fight together. We got to the Hole in the Rocks, 
eight miles, in quicker time than the Utah Northern ever 
made it since. 16 

X. could protect the stockholders from having their money 
taken by shotgun-toting men in masks, but he couldn't pro- 
tect them from swindling mining men who closed good mines 
in "the freezeout game," a method of making money on a 
mine by not mining it. In this pastime, a sort of reverse blind- 
man's buff, blindered Eastern investors were tagged out by 
the "its" in control of the company who, taking advantage 
of the stockholders' blindness, deliberately mined poor ore 
to close the mine. When the game was over, the company was 
broke, and the swindlers, who secretly bought up the depre- 
ciated stock, became operators of a developed mining prop- 
erty. The freezeout game was played frequently in Alder 
Gulch whenever sufficient stockholders could be blind- 
folded often enough that Colonel McClure warned Eastern 


investors to beware of wearing blinders when playing min- 
ing games, saying, "any good mine in Montana that does not 
pay wants a change of management." 17 Unfortunately, spec- 
tators at such games, the merchants in Virginia City and the 
b'hoys who worked in the mines, were also hurt: as they 
watched, jobs disappeared and pay rolls dwindled. 

Another complicated mining "game," involving the way 
in which mining claims were laid out, forced stockholders to 
pay through the nose to learn the rules to a new kind of hop- 
scotch. The novice player, a greenhorn manager of a tender- 
foot Eastern mining company, often discovered after he had 
erected a mill that he was in the middle of a hopscotch figure 
with no place to jump: his company's claims were hemmed 
in by other claims held by speculators who had been waiting 
for someone like him to come along for he had to have their 
land to mine his ore inexpensively through a tunnel. If he 
jumped to those claims, he had to buy them at ruinous prices; 
if he stood still, he had to sink a shaft to his ore which would 
cost $20 a ton more than if he tunneled from these adjacent 
claims. 18 Either way he chose, his company was likely to be 

These were the troubles that descended on Virginia City 
when she tried to turn from placer to quartz mining. But they 
didn't stop her from continuing to put on the airs of a Queen 
City, though her wealth had been shipped to foreign parts, 
and her subjects had mostly emigrated. But then, truly royal, 
she had never been much of a one to face facts: she had flung 
gold to the winds, boasting she was wealthy enough to pay 
premium wages, heedless that the b'hoys blew their pay for 
whisky and slept in alleys except when bad weather filled 
every hotel room in town with their wet misery. She was an 
adolescent Queen City whose escape from reality caused her 
to suffer from an adolescent disease, schizophrenia. Most 
properly, her citizens were called b'hoys. 

283 Virginia City Carries On! 

When things looked blackest, she still believed she was 
the center of the gold-producing universe and that b'hoys 
who deserted to other camps had left the true faith. (Perhaps 
the frequent earthquakes which shook her were read to por- 
tend great things to come.) As late as the mid-seventies, when 
she was shipping only $15,000 in gold each week, 19 she sneered 
at the Black Hills rush, bragging that near-by Moose Creek 
had just produced a thirty-ounce nugget, scoffing, "And yet, 
some do run off to the Black Hills after the 'self -rising, yeast- 
powder, fly-float, gold,' said to be found down in the neigh- 
borhood of Custer City." ^ 

This was the way those b'hoys whom Virginia City had 
given everything felt. They stuck with her and believed in 
her. Though the census figures of 1870 showed only 569 
white people living in Virginia City and only 2054 people of 
the original 10,000 left in the county, they refused to con- 
sider all lost. Though the census further revealed only forty- 
seven miners living in town, and but 472 in the county (in- 
cluding 270 Chinese), they refused to believe the mines were 
gone. Though the town which had in 1865 gathered license 
fees from twenty-five hotels and eating places, seventy-three 
liquor dealers, three dance houses, and forty-eight manu- 
facturers, in 1870 had only four hotels and one restaurant, 
eleven saloons, no dance houses, and twenty-six manufac- 
turers to pay licenses, they still clung to their city charter of 
incorporation. Though only ten prostitutes (seven Chinese 
and three white delicately listed as "mercanteel" in the cen- 
sus list) entertained the b'hoys, they still thought of the town 
as hell-roaring. 21 

The dreams of '63, when Captain S. S. Short had proudly 
erected the first log cabin in town to house his wife and chil- 
dren, giving the town its first air of permanence, seemed to 
be all up in 1866 when young Miller informed his diary, 
"Trade is nearly Played Out here. Virginia looks like a large 


town minus the people." 22 In 1867, when b'hoys anxious to 
get out of town took to raffling houses and furniture in order 
to realize something on them, the town seemed to be gasping 
its last. In 1868, when the Montana Post listed seventeen 
bankruptcies in one issue, sensible men would have packed 
up and left. In 1874, when once-proud blacksmiths were 
reduced to advertising they would take all kinds of produce 
in exchange for work, the town's pulse seemed about gone. 23 
The departure of the capital in 1875 should have stopped it 
completely. Yet the town lived on. 

To Helena b'hoys, looking down on their former home 
from their self-inflated heights, the dinky little former capital 
must have seemed like the amphibious axolotl which they 
had seen in the lakes just beyond the head of Alder Gulch: a 
remnant of a former age left isolated high in the mountains 
to die. But Virginia City, like the axolotl, thrived on isolation 
and high altitude, and also learned to breathe in strange en- 
vironments: quartz mines and dredge boats and (at present) 
crowds of summer tourists. 

Of all the mining towns alive when Montana Territory 
was formed Bannack, Bagdad, Pioneer, Summit, Highland, 
Central City, Adobetown, Nevada City, Junction City and 
others only Virginia City still lives. Virginia City has never 
been a ghost town. 



Most of the story of the discovery of Alder Gulch gold in 
this chapter is taken from "The Journal of Henry Edgar" 
in Contributions to the Historical Society of Montana, 
Volume HI. Some incidents are from Peter Ronan's ac- 
count as given in Tom Stout's History of Montana. 

1 Diary of John Grannis, 1863-66. 

2 Diary of James Henry Morley in Montana, 1862-65, entries for 
March 8, 1864 and August 22, 1864. 

3 Letter to editor, Montana Post, April 22, 1865, p. 1. 

4 Morley, op. cit. t p. 117. 

5 Ibid., p. 106. 

6 Henry N. Blake, "Historical Sketch of Madison County, Mon- 
tana Territory," (Fourth of July Oration, 1876), Montana 
Historical Society Contributions, Vol. 2, p. 76. 


1 Morley, op. cit. 9 p. 191. 

2 Blake, op. cit. 


3 Diary of Isaac Rogers, Jan.-Dec., 1865, Virginia City, Montana 
Territory, January 28, 1865. 

4 Estimated from the 1870 census lists and from the membership 
list of the Society of Montana Pioneers. 

5 Letter to the editor signed "W," Montana Post, Sept. 24, 1864, 
p. 4. 

6 Photocopy letter Carswell written for Eraser to Mrs. Eraser, 
August 21, 1864. 

7 History of Madison County, edited by Melvina J. Lott, (Virginia 
City material by Frances Albright and Eunice Holbert), p. 71. 

8 N. P. Langford, "Letter to James Wickes Taylor," Montana 

Magazine of History, Spring 1954, p. 15. 
9 Montana Post, May 13, 1865, p. 2. 
10 Ibid., April 22, 1865, p. 3. 


1 Grannis, op. cit., December 26, 1864. 

2 Wilbur F. Sanders, "Sketches of Settlers," a typescript. 

3 Morley, op. cit., January 22, 1863. 


1 An Act of Divine Providence, by H. W. Sprague, printed by the 

author in 1924, p. 36. 
2 1 bid., pp. 41-42. 

3 X. Beidler, Vigilante, edited by Helen F. Sanders and W. H. 
Bertsche, Jr., p. 67. 

4 From original in files of Montana State Historical Society Li- 

4a Sanders and Bertsche, op. cit., p. 33. On the other hand, Stinson 
is supposedly buried in Bannack. There is no marker for him 
in Virginia City's Boot Hill. 

5 Grannis, op. cit., January 14, 1864. 


287 Notes 

6 Memoirs of a Frontier Woman, by Margaret Ronan, p. 144. 

7 Morley, op. cit., pp. 146 and 158. 

8 Photocopy letters of J. Blanchard to Reverend Milton Badger, 

9 Montana Post, Nov. 5, 1864>p. 3. 

10 JfoW., Dec. 10, 1864, p. 1. 

11 Ibid., August 18, 1866, p. 1. 

12 Ibid., Sept. 23, 1865, p. 3. 

13 Ibid., June 24, 1865, p. 3. 

14 Ibid., March 24, 1866, p. 3. 
15 /&/</., Dec. 2, 1865, p. 3. 

16 Estimated from newspaper and other accounts. 

17 Montana Post, March 2, 1867, p. 1. 


1 Morley, op. cit., p. 138. 

2 Days on the Road, by Sarah Raymond Herndon, p. 261. 

3 Letter to the editor, Montana Post, April 29, 1865, p. 1. 

4 Letter from Corporal Jack to the editor, Montana Post, Jan. 19, 

1867, p. 4. The Corporal claimed he was a miner with fourteen 
years' experience from Chile to the Russian provinces. 

5 Montana Post, Dec. 9, 1865, p. 2. 

6 Typescript letter of Ed Morsman to M. J. Morsman, Jan. 20, 

7 Grannis, op. cit. 

8 L. L. Callaway, "Tales of Alder Gulch," Montana Education, 
February, 1931, p. 18. 

9 Eighty-one Years in the West, by G. A. Bruffey, p. 51. 

10 Montana Post, Oct. 15, 1864, p. 2; Sept. 22, 1866, p. 5; Jan. 
5, 1867, p. 8; Jan. 19, 1867, p. 8; May 9, 1868, p. 7; May 22, 

1868, p. 8; June 12, 1868, pp. 2, 8; March 5, 1869, p. 6. 

11 Ibid., May 6, 1865, p. 3; June 17, 1865, p. 3; Bruffey, op. cit., 
p. 51. 

12 Montana Post, Sept. 30, 1865, p. 2. 


13 Ibid., May 18, 1867, p. 8. 

14 Clyde McLemore, "Virginia City in 1864," Frontier and Mid- 
land,Vol 19, p. 131. 

15 Morley, op. cit., pp. 102, 162, 202; McLemore, op. cit., p. 130. 

16 Blake, op. cit. 

17 L. L. Callaway, "Comments on the Pamphlet 'From Historic 
Virginia City,' " March 24, 1947. In his comments, Callaway 
fears that perhaps those who placed the monument to the dis- 
coverers on Fairweather's claim may have erred in reporting 
Alder Gulch produced $100 million, and thinks that the claims 
of $200 million in this tourist promotion pamphlet preposterous. 


1 Montana Post, Oct. 15, 1864, p. 3; Jan. 28, 1865, p. 3; March 
11, 1865, p. 2. 

2 Ibid., March 25, 1865, p. 2. 
B Ibid., Oct. 8, 1864, p. 3. 

4 Reminiscences of a Missionary Bishop, by D. S. Tuttle, p. 133, 
p. 138. 

5 A. M. Hough, "Establishment of Our Mission in Montana. Notes 
from My Diary." 

6 Herndon, op. cit., p. 262. 

7 Letter of Correspondent Albert D. Richardson to the New York 
Tribune, reprinted in the Montana Post, March 10, 1866, p. 1 
of supplement. 

8 Hough, op. cit. 
9 1 bid. 

10 Rogers, op. cit., Jan. 22, 1865. 

11 Tuttle, op. cit., p. 135. 

12 Hough, op. cit. 

18 Tuttle, op. cit., p. 129. 

14 Madisonian, June 22, 1876, p. 4. 

15 History of Montana (1885), p. 774. 

ie Covered Wagon Days, by A. J. Dickson, p. 170. 

289 Notes 


1 Montana Post, June 30, 1866, p. 3; Oct. 19, 1867, p. 8; June 
29, 1867. 

2 Tuttle, op. tit., p. 136. 

3 Langford, op. cit., pp. 20-21. 

4 Montana Post, June 23, 1866, p. 3. 

5 Ibid., June 30, 1866, p. 3. 
*Ibid., Oct. 22, 1864, p. 3. 

7 Vigilante Days and Ways, by N. P. Langford, p. 148. 

8 A. K. Eaton, "Notes on Montana," Mineral Resources of the 
States and Territories West of the Rocky Mountains, p. 139. 


1 Montana Post, Oct. 29, 1864, p. 3. 

2 American Humor, by Constance Rourke, p. 166. 

3 Montana Post, March 2, 1867, p. 8. 

4 Ibid., Dec. 28, 1867, p. 2. 

5 7fc/d., May 28, 1869, p. 8. 

6 Montana Democrat, March 21, 1868, p. 4. 

7 Montana Post, March 21, 1868, p. 8. 
8 /Wrf.,Jan.21, 1865, p. 3. 

9 Montanian, Sept. 7, 1871, p. 5. 


1 Montana Post, Sept. 29, 1866, p. 5. 

2 /Wd., March 10, 1866, p. 1, supplement 

3 Ibid., Sept. 22, 1866, p. 5. 

4 Ibid., Sept. 17, 1864, p. 2. 

5 Ibid., March 10, 1866, p. 1, supplement. 

6 Ibid., August 25, 1866, p. 8. 


7 Morsman, op. cit. 

8 Montana Post, Oct. 27, 1866, p. 3; March 10, 1866, p. 1, sup- 

* Ibid., Oct. 14, 1865, p. 2. 

10 Typescript letter of E. M. Morsman to John S. Collins, Sept. 
26, 1904. 

11 Acts, Resolutions and Memorials of the Territory of Montana, 
passed by the First Legislative Assembly, convened at Bannack, 
December 12, 1864. 

12 Ibid. 

13 Three Thousand Miles Through the Rockies, by A. K. McClure, 
p. 311. 

14 Montana Post, July 15, 1865, p. 3. 

15 Wilbur F. Sanders, Anaconda Standard, Feb. 23, 1919. 

16 From Wilderness to Statehood, by J. M. Hamilton, p. 309. 

17 Montana Post, Jan. 7, 1865, p. 4; March 4, 1865, p. 3; March 
18, 1865, p. 1. 

18 Letter to the editor signed "R. H.," ibid., December 31, 1864, 
p. 3. 

19 History of Montana, by Tom Stout, p. 282. 

20 L. L. Callaway, Cascade Courier, May 9, 1930. 

21 Ibid. 


1 McLemore, op. cit., p. 131. 

2 McClure, op. cit., pp. 380-1. 

3 Montana Post, Oct. 29, 1864, p. 2. 

4 Langford, op. cit., Montana Magazine of History, Spring, 1954, 
p. 15. 

5 Montana Post, Oct. 8, 1864, p. 3. 
6 /&W.,Feb.4, 1865, p. 1. 

7 Ibid., March 18, 1865, p. 1. 

8 Ibid., March 4, 1865, p. 2; Feb. 18, 1865, p. 2. 

9 McClure, op. cit., p. 385. 

10 Madisonian, Jan. 29, 1876, p. 3. 

291 Notes 

11 Montanian, Feb. 26, 1874, p. 5. 

12 Madisonian, Feb. 14, 1874, p. 3. 

13 Callaway, Montana Education, March, 1931, p. 21. 

14 Hamilton, op. dr., p. 339. 

15 Madisonian, Oct. 9, 1875, p. 3. 

16 Rogers, op. cit., Feb. 6, 1865! 

17 Letter to the editor, Montana Post, March 18, 1865, p. 2. 

18 Letter from City Attorney, John C. Turk, Montana Post, March 
11, 1865, p. 2. 

19 Montana Post, April 1, 1865, p. 2; May 27, 1865, p. 2. 

20 From the originals in the files of the Montana Historical Society 

21 Montana Post, Feb. 2, 1867, p. 8. 

22 History of Montana, by Helen F. Sanders, p. 334; Hamilton, op. 
cit., p. 293. 

23 Montana Post, Oct. 5, 1867, p. 8. 

24 Montanian, May 11, 1871, p. 2. 

25 Montana Post, May 20, 1865, p. 4; Jan. 20, 1866, p. 2. 

26 Morley, op. c/f., p. 171. 


Much of the material concerning General Meagher is from R. G. 
Athearn's excellent book, Thomas Francis Meagher. 

1 Montana Post, Oct. 22, 1864, p. 1. 

2 Ibid., Oct. 1,1864, p. 3. 

3 Ibid., August 26, 1865, p. 3. 

4 Ibid., Feb. 15, 1868, p. 4; August 24, 1867, p. 1. 

5 O. F. Goddard, "Reminiscences of W. F. Sanders." 

6 Montana Post, Oct. 7, 1865, p. 2. 

7 J. K. Miller, "My Diary (1864 to 1868 travels to Virginia City 
and later to Europe)," Jan. 29, 1867. Andrew F. Rolle has done 
an enjoyable and readable book of this diary, The Road to 
Virginia City. 

8 Montana Post, Feb. 3, 1866, p. 3; Sept. 21, 1867, p. 1. 

9 Ibid., June 30, 1866, p. 3. 


10 Ibid., Oct. 6, 1866, p. 5; Oct. 27, 1866, p. 2. 

11 Typescript letter from W. F. Sanders to J. E. Callaway, May 
16, 1904. 


1 Callaway, Montana Education, March, 1931, p. 20. 

2 Grannis, op. cit., Winter, 1864. 

3 McClure, op. cit., p. 390. 

4 Montanian, Feb. 12, 1876, p. 3. 

5 Montana Post, Dec. 2, 1865, p. 2. 

6 Ibid., May 19, 1866, p. 2. 

7 Herndon, op. cit., p. 262. 

8 McClure, op. cit., p. 371. 

9 Hough, op. cit. 

10 Grannis, op. cit., Feb., 1864. 

11 Ibid., Feb. 7, 1863 to April 14, 1864, recurrent references to his 
marital troubles. 

12 Miller, op. cit., Feb. 20, 1866. 

13 Vigilantes of Montana, by Thomas J. Dimsdale, p. 79. 


1 Montana Post, Sept. 14, 1867, p. 4. 

2 McLemore, op. cit., p. 132. 

3 Ibid., p. 130. 

4 Montana Post, Sept. 14, 1867, p. 4. 
6 Morley, ap. c//., p. 191. 

6 Miller, op. cit. f Sept. 22, 1865; Montana Post, June 23, 1866, 
p. 3. 

7 Samuel Leach, "Excerpts from the Autobiography of Samuel 
Leach," typescript. 

8 Montana Post, Nov. 17, 1866, p. 5. 

9 Ibid., Dec. 9, 1865, p. 3. Amounts calculated from market report 
given in this issue. 

293 Notes 

w Ibid., June 10, 1865, p. 3; Tuttle, op. cit., p. 132; McLemore, 

op. at., p. 132. 

11 Montana Post, March 25, 1865, p. 2. 
12 Ibid.,Nov. 12, 1864, p. 3. 

13 Typescript letter of I. I. Moore to Col. J. H. Moore, Sept. 14, 

14 Forty Years on the Frontier, by Granville Stuart, p. 27. 

15 Carswell, op. cit. 

16 Montana Post, June 10, 1865, p. 2. 

17 Ibid., Sept. 14, 1867, p. 4. 

18 Ibid., March 25, 1865, p. 2. 

19 Morsman letter to Morsman, op. cit. 

^Miller, op. cit., Sept. 30, 1865; July 18, 1866; January 1, 1867; 
May 27, 1867. 

21 Montana Post, April 22, 1865, p. 2. 

22 Account book of E. W. McVeal. 


1 Montana Post, Sept. 9, 1865, p. 3. Assuming that the Oliver & 
Co. fare had been at least as high as the old fare given here. 

2 Tom Baker's Account Book for Oliver & Co. 

3 An estimate: Morley, op. cit., p. 206, noted that it cost $600 to 
$800 to return to the States in 1865; according to Leach, op. cit., 
$375 was the fare to Denver in 1867; the Montana Post, April 
28, 1866, p. 3, says the fare from Salt Lake City to Atchison was 

4 Granville Stuart's letter to the editor, Montana Post, Jan. 5, 
1867, p. 4. Stuart speaks as though Holladay was still operating 
the line. 

5 Montanian, April 22, 1875, p. 5. 

6 Montana Post, Oct. 22, 1864, p. 1. 

7 Leach, op. cit. 

8 Missouri-Montana Highways, by H. A. Trexler, p. 33. 

9 McClure, op. dr., p. 428. 


10 Letter to editor from "S. F. D.," Montana Post, March 16, 1867, 

11 Montana Post, March 3, 1866, p. 1; May 5, 1866, p. 3; May 19, 
1866, p. 3; Nov. 24, 1866, p. 5. 

12 Ibid., Oct. 29, 1864, p. 3. 

13 76/W., April 20, 1867, p. 8. 
14 /</., April 1, 1865, p. 3. 
15 //W.,Feb. 16, 1867, p. 1. 

Ibid., March 2, 1867, p. 8; Oct. 12, 1867, p. 8; Oct. 19, 1867, 

p. 8. 

17 Madisonian, April 26, 1877, p. 3. 
^Montanian, Dec. 19, 1872, p. 5; Madisonian, Feb. 22, 1877, p. 

3; May 24, 1877, p. 3. 


1 Montana Post, April 20, 1867, p. 8. 

2 Blanchard, op. cit. 

3 Ibid. 

4 Ronan, op. cit., p. 46. 

5 Hough, op. cit. 

6 Ibid.; Montana Post, March 10, 1866, p. 1, supplement. 

7 Miller, op. cit., April 7, 1867. 

8 Tuttle, op. cit., pp. 185 and 192. 

9 Ibid., p. 172. 

10 Ibid. 

11 Montana Post, Nov. 12, 1864, p. 2. 

12 Dimsdale, op. cit., p. 12. 

13 Montana Post, Jan. 14, 1865, p. 2. 

14 7fe/W., Sept. 22, 1866, p. 5. 
15 //>/W.,Dec.22, 1866, p. 8. 
16 /</., May 12, 1866, p. 3. 
17 76/W., March 28, 1868, p. 8. 
18 /</., Feb. 2, 1867, p. 8. 

19 Montana Democrat, April 18, 1868, p. 3. 

20 Madisonian, March 25, 1876, p. 3; May 1, 1875, p. 3. 

295 Notes 

21 Ibid., May 25, 1876, p. 3. 

22 Tuttle, op. cit., pp. 172 and 175. 

23 Montanian, April 22, 1875, p. 5. 


1 Montana Post, Oct. 1, 1864, p. 3. 

2 Ibid., Oct. 15, 1864, p. 3. 
3 7foW., Jan. 7, 1865, p. 1. 
4 7Z>/W.,Feb. 18, 1865, p. 2. 

5 Ibid., Jan. 21, 1865, p. 3. 

6 Ibid., June 29, 1867, p. 4. 

7 76/W., Nov. 26, 1864, p. 3. 
8 7fe/U,Feb. 3, 1866, p. 3. 

9 76/W., March 10, 1866, p. 1, supplement. 
10 Ibid., Feb. 10, 1866, p. 3. 
11 /Wd., Sept. 7, 1867, p. 8. 
12 7fc/W., Sept. 21, 1867, p. 8. 
13 Ibid., March 17, 1866, p. 3. 
14 7foW.,Dec. 17, 1864, p. 3. 

15 Ibid., March 10, 1866, p. 1, supplement. 

16 Miller, op. cit., Sept. 17, 1865. 

17 Montana Margins, ed. by J. K. Howard, p. 363. 


1 Montana Post, Feb. 10, 1866, p. 2. 

2 Montanian, Dec. 26, 1872, p. 5. 

4 7rf.,Dec. 19, 1872, p. 4. 

5 7fcW., Jan. 30, 1873, p. 5. 

6 Montana Post, Sept. 29, 1866, p. 5. 

7 Ibid., Jan. 25, 1868, p. 8. 

8 Montanian, Nov. 13, 1873, p. 8. 

9 Montana Post, June 3, 1865, p. 2. 


10 Montanian, Nov. 7, 1872, p. 5. 

11 Ibid., August 31, 1871, p. 5; March 27, 1873, p. 5; June 12, 
1873, p. 5. 

12 From the 1870 census figures. 

13 Montana Post, Nov. 3, 1866, p. 5. 

14 Tuttle, op. cit., p. 170. 

15 Montana Radiator, Jan. 27, 1866, p. 3. 

16 Madisonian, March 8, 1876, p. 3. 
1T /Wrf.,Jan.8, 1876, p. 3. 

18 Montana Post, March 21, 1868, p. 8. 

19 Montanian, April 27, 1871, p. 5. 

20 Montana Post, Jan. 26, 1867, p. 8. 

21 Madisonian, Oct. 9, 1875, p. 3. 

22 Montanian, Dec. 21, 1871, p. 7. 


1 Montana Post, April 6, 1867, p. 8. 

2 Ronan, op. cit., p. 55. 

3 Ibid., p. 58. 

4 Madisonian, April 5, 1877, p. 3. 

5 Montana Post, April 13, 1867, p. 8. 
6 /feM., Sept. 17, 1864, p. 2. 

7 /fczU, March 11, 1865, p. 2. 


1 Montana Post, Oct. 7, 1865, p. 1. 

2 /Wd., Jan. 13, 1866, p. 2; Feb. 24, 1866, p. 3; April 7, 1866, p. 

8 Hamilton, op. cit., p. 146. 
4 Trexler, op. dr., p. 10. 

fi Estimated according to the fares given later in the chapter. 

e Montana Post, June 30, 1866, p. 1. 

7 Ibid., May 2, 1868, p. 7. These figures are not necessarily 

297 Notes 

standard prices. Fare varied from boat to boat and season to 
season. Incidentally, freight was only 6 a pound this season. 

8 Ibid., April 29, 1865, p. 1. 

9 Ibid., Oct. 22, 1864, p. 3. 

10 Morley, op. cit., p. 179. 

11 Carswell, op. cit. 

12 Montana Post, Sept. 2, 1865, p. 2. 
18 Ibid., June 16, 1866, p. 3. 

14 Ibid., August 26, 1865, p. 2; Feb. 10, 1866, p. 3. 

15 Ibid., August 11, 1866, p. 3. 
16 /Wd.,Nov. 10, 1866, p. 5. 

17 7Wd., Sept. 29, 1866, p. 1. 

18 Madisonian, Feb. 5, 1876, p. 3. 


1 McLemore, op. cit., p. 131. 

2 Ibid. 

3 Montana Post, June 17, 1865, p. 2; Nov. 25, 1865, p. 2; Statistics 
of Mines and Mining in the States and Territories West of the 
Rocky Mountains, by Rossiter W. Raymond, pp. 302-305. 

4 Montana Post, Feb. 18, 1865, p. 2. 

5 Anaconda Standard, March 12, 1917. 

6 Montana Post, Sept. 8, 1866, p. 2. 

7 /Wrf., April 8, 1865, p. 3. 

8 Carswell, op. cit. 

9 Montana Post, Oct. 12, 1867, p. 2. 

10 Ibid., July 17, 1868, p. 5. 

11 Tuttle, op. cit., p. 138. 

12 Montana Post, Feb. 23, 1867, p. 8. 
Ibid., Sept. 14, 1867, p. 4. 

14 Montanian, Oct. 26, 1871, p. 2. 

15 /Wd. 

16 Lott, op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 184. 

17 Montana Post, Oct. 12, 1867, p. 2. 
18 /Wd., Sept. 14, 1867, p. 4. 


19 Madisonian, Oct. 16, 1875, p. 3. 
*>Ibid.,May 18, 1876, p. 3. 

21 Census of 1870, op. clt.; Montana Post, March 18, 1865, p. 2. 

22 Sprague, op. tit., p. 29; Miller, op. eft., June 8, 1866. 

23 Montana Post, Sept. 14, 1867, p. 8; Ftowr am/ Wfo?af in Mon- 
tana Gold Camps, by H. A. Trexler, p. 9; Montanian, Feb. 26, 
1874, p. 3. 


Most of the material in this book has been found in several 
readings of Virginia City's Montana Post, an excellent 
mining-camp newspaper, filled with facts instead of the 
usual frontier froth. It was first published in 1864 and 
suspended in 1869 after moving to Helena. 

Other Virginia City newspapers examined at length 
were the Montana Democrat (1865-69), the Montanian 
(1870-6), and the Madisonian (1873-). 

Acts, Resolutions and Memorials of the Territory of Montana, 

Passed by the First Legislative Assembly. Convened at Bannack, 

December 12, 1864. Virginia City, 1866. 

Alter, J. Cecil. James Bridger. Salt Lake City, 1925. 

Athearn, R. G. Thomas Francis Meagher. Boulder, 1949. 

Baker, I. G. Diary and Note Book, 1864. 2 vols. Typescript in 

Montana State Historical Society Library. 
Baker, Tom. Account book for A. J. Oliver & Co. Virginia City, 

Montana, 1865. Original in files of Montana State Historical 

Society Library. 


Blake, Henry N. "Centennial Address on Madison County; de- 
livered July 4, 1876." Contributions to the Historical Society 

of Montana, Vol. II. Helena, 1896. 
Blanchard, J. Letters to Rev. Milton Badger, D.D. Typescript in 

Montana State Historical Society Library. 
Bruffey, George A. Eighty-one Years in the West. Butte, 1925. 
Callaway, L. L. Cascade Courier. May 2, 1930 through July 4, 

1930, a series of weekly articles about Virginia City and Alder 

Comments on the Pamphlet "From Historic Virginia City!' 

Letter of March 24, 1947 in Montana State Historical Society 


"Tales of Alder Gulch." Montana Education, February- 
July, 1931. 
Carswell, Robert. Letter written by Robert Carswell for Duncan 

Fraser to Mrs. Eraser, 1864. Photocopy in Montana State 

Historical Society Library. 
Census of 1870 for Madison County. Original book in Montana 

State Historical Society Library. 
Davis, A. B. Statement Concerning Early Schools. Contributions 

to Historical Society of Montana, Vol. V. Helena, 1904. 
Dickson, A. J. Covered Wagon Days. Cleveland, 1929. 
Dimsdale, Thomas J. Vigilantes of Montana. Butte, 1945. 
Dunraven, Windham Thomas. Hunting on the Yellowstone. New 

York, 1922. 
Eaton, A. K. "Notes on Montana." Mineral Resources of the States 

and Territories West of the Rocky Mountains. Washington, 

Edgar, Henry. "Barney Hughes: An Appreciation." Contributions 

to Historical Society of Montana, Vol. VII. Helena, 1910. 
"Journal of Henry Edgar." Contributions to Historical 

Society of Montana, Vol. III. Helena, 1900. 
Fenner, L. A. Trial and Execution of George Ives. Manuscript in 

Montana State Historical Society Library. 
Goddard, O. F. Reminiscences of W. F. Sanders. Typescript in 

Montana State Historical Society Library. 

301 Bibliography 

Grannis, John. Diary, 1863-66. Typescript in Montana State His- 
torical Society Library. 

Hakola, John. "Currency in Montana: 1863-1873." Historical 
Essays on Montana and the Northwest. Ed. by J. W. Smurr 
and K. Ross Toole. Helena, 1957. 

Hamilton, James McClellan. From Wilderness to Statehood. Port- 
land, 1957. 

Handly, James. The Resources of Madison County, Montana. San 
Francisco, 1872. 

Herndon, Sarah Raymond. Days on the Road. New York, 1902. 

History of Montana, 1739-1885. Edited by Michael A. Leeson. 
Chicago, 1885. 

Holter, A. M. "Pioneer Lumbering in Montana." Contributions to 
Historical Society of Montana, Vol. VIII. Helena, 1917. 

Hosmer, H. L. "Letter," Montana Post, Nov. 25, 1865, p. 2. 

Howard, J. K., ed. Montana Margins. New Haven, 1946. 

Hough, A. M. Establishment of Our Mission in Montana. News- 
paper clippings in Montana State Historical Society Library. 

Jones, J. Letters to his wife. Typescripts in Montana State His- 
torical Society Library. 

Langford, N. P. "Letter to J. W. Taylor, Esq.," ed. by Michael 
Kennedy. Montana Magazine of History, Spring, 1954, p. 13. 

Vigilante Days and Ways. Missoula, 1957. 

Leach, Samuel. Excerpts from the Autobiography of Samuel Leach, 
Nov. 1, 1865 to October 1, 1870. Typescript in Montana 
State Historical Society Library. 

Lott, Melvina J., ed. History of Madison County, Montana. Mad- 
ison County Federated Woman's Clubs, June, 1931. Type- 
script in Montana State Historical Society Library. 

McClure, A. K. Three Thousand Miles Through the Rocky Moun- 
tains. Philadelphia, 1869. 

McLemore, Clyde. "Virginia City in 1864," Frontier and Midland, 
Vol. 19, 1938-9, p. 129. 

McVeal, E. W. Account Book of His Store in Summit City, Mon- 
tana. Original in Montana State Historical Society Library. 

Miller, J. K. My Diary (1864 to 1868 travels to Virginia City and 


Later to Europe). Microfilm in Montana State Historical 

Society Library. 

Miller, James Knox Polk. The Road to Virginia City, ed. by An- 
drew F. Rolle. Norman, 1960. 
Montana: A State Guide Book. Ed. by John A. Stahlberg. New 

York, 1955. 
Moore, Isaac I. Letter to Col. John H. Moore, Sept. 14, 1866. 

Typescript in Montana State Historical Society Library. 
Morley, James Henry. Diary of James Henry Morley in Montana, 

1862-1865. Typescript in Montana State Historical Society 


Morsman, E. M. Letter to John S. Collins, Sept. 26, 1904. 
Morseman, Ed. Letter to M. J. Morsman, Jan. 20, 1865. 
Noyes, A. J. The Story of Ajax. Helena, 1914. 
O'Neil, Eliz. E. "A Story of Pioneer Days," Helena Independent. 

May 30, 1903. 
Palladino, S. J. Indian and White in the Northwest. Baltimore, 

Parsons, John E. "Steamboats in the 'Idaho' Gold Rush," Montana 

Magazine of History, Winter, 1960, p. 51. 
Plassman, Martha Edgerton. "Another Version of the Trial of 

George Ives," Dillon Examiner, April 2, 1924. 

Autobiography. Typescript in Montana State Historical 

Society Library. 

"Con Orem Never Admitted Defeat," Hardin Tribune- 
Herald, December 6, 1929. 

Raymond, Rossiter W. Statistics of Mines and Mining in the States 
and Territories West of the Rocky Mountains. Washington, 

"Records of Montana's First City Council Are Uncovered," Ana- 
conda Standard, March 12, 1917. 

Rogers, Isaac. Diary, January to December, 1865, Virginia City, 
Montana Territory. Microfilm in Montana State Historical 
Society Library. 

Ronan, Margaret. Memoirs of a Frontier Woman. Typescript of 
MA Thesis in Montana State Historical Society Library. 

303 Bibliography 

Rourke, Constance. American Humor. New York, 1931. 

Sanders, Helen F. A History of Montana. Chicago and New York, 

Sanders, Helen F. and Bertsche, W. H., Jr., eds. X. Beidler: Vigi- 
lante. Norman, 1957. 

Sanders, James U., ed. Society of Montana Pioneers; Constitution, 
Members, and Officers, with Portraits and Maps. Vol. I. 
Akron, 1899. 

Sanders, W. F. u ln the First Legislature in Montana Territory," 
Anaconda Standard, Feb. 23, 1919. 

Letter to J. E. Callow ay, May 16, 1904. Typescript in 

Montana State Historical Society Library. 

Sketches of Early Settlers in Montana. Typescript in Mon- 

tana State Historical Society Library. 

Shinn, Charles Howard. Mining Camps. New York, 1948. 

Sprague, Henry Wilson. An Act of Divine Providence. Printed by 
the author, 1924. 

Stone, L. R. "Diaries and Letters of Franklin L. Stone," Frontier, 
Vol. XII, 1931-2, p. 375. 

Stout, Tom, ed. Montana, Its Story and Biography. Chicago and 
New York, 1921. 

Stuart, Granville. Forty Years on the Frontier. Edited by Paul C. 
Phillips. 1925. 

"Letter to the Editor," Montana Post, Jan. 5, 1867, p. 4. 

Montana As It Is. New York, 1865. 

Territory of Montana versus Ah Wah and Ah Yen, Third Monday 
of March, 1881. Original in Clerk of the Court's files, Mad- 
ison County, Montana. 

Thomas, D. K. Wild Life in the Rocky Mountains, or the Lost Mil- 
lion Dollar Gold Mine. C. E. Thomas Pub. Co., 1917. 

Thompson, Francis M. "Reminiscences of Four-score Years," The 
Massachusetts Magazine, Vols. V, VI, VII, VIII, 1912-15. 

Townsend, John K. "Narrative," Early Western Travels. Ed. by 
R. G. Thwaites. Cleveland, 1905. 

Trexler, H. A. Flour and Wheat in Montana Gold Camps, 1862- 
1870. Missoula, 1918. 


Missouri-Montana Highways. Columbia, 1918. 

Tuttle, D. S. "Early History of the Episcopal Church," Contribu- 
tions to Historical Society of Montana, Vol. V. Helena, 1904. 

Reminiscences of a Missionary Bishop. New York, 1906. 

Vaughn, Robert. Then and Now; or, Thirty-Six Years in the Rock- 
ies. Minneapolis, 1900. 

Wall, James C. "Gold Dust and Greenbacks," Montana Magazine 
of History, Spring, 1957, p. 24. 

Whitford, C. S. "Nevada City, Ghost Town," Glasgow Courier. In 
Virginia City clippings, Montana State Historical Society 

Winther, Oscar Osburn. Via Western Express & Stagecoach. Stan- 
ford, 1945. 


Adobetown, 17 

Alberta, Major, 103 

Alder Creek, 7, 16, 17, 18, 46, 
62, 156, 258, 259 

Alder Gulch, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 
14, 16 #., 26, 27, 31, 33, 113, 
170, 271; dancing school in, 
153-154; districts of, 7-8; free 
enterprise in, 81-90; gold re- 
moved from, 55-67; quartz 
mining in, 177, 271-282; Vigi- 
lance Committee formed in, 44; 
see also Virginia City 

Allen and Millard's bank, 75, 116 

Allman, John, 192-193 

Anderson, R., 117 

Arcade Saloon, 71, 173, 253 

Argenta, 111, 171 

Armitage, Jess, 81, 154 

Arrastra, 277 

Ashley, James M., 16, 118 

Atchison, 108, 187, 265 

Bagg, Charles S., 39 

Bannack City, 3, 5-6, 12, 14, 16, 
21, 24, 26, 31, 41, 118, 121, 
124; government moved from, 
to Virginia City, 126; outlaws 
executed in, 47; Plummer's 

gang in, 28-30; Rockfellow's 
branch store in, 171; stage- 
coach to and from, 185 

Bannack- Virginia City Road, 31 

Barton Gulch, 271 

Bean, Joe, 219 

Beaver Canyon, 179 

Beaverhead County, 123, 124 

Beaverhead River, 2, 253, 258, 

Beidler, X., 42, 98-99, 100, 136, 
217, 248, 280; quoted, 280-281 

Bennett, A. J., 120 

Big Hole Bridge Company, 116 

Big Hole River, 116 

Big Horn Mountains, 1 14 

Big Nick, 280 

Billiard Parlor, Virginia City, 69 

Bissell, G. G., 8, 12 

Bitterroot Valley, 117 

Bivin's Gulch, 66,271 

Blackfoot Creek, 87, 88, 171 

Blackfoot Indians, 148 

Blake, Henry, 12, 18, 65, 67, 147, 

Blanchard, J., 199 

Blay, William, challenge by, 206- 



Boxing matches, Virginia City, 


Bozeman, John, 114, 115, 148 
Bradbury, Charles, 256 
Bridger,Jim, 114, 115 
Brod, Old, 81,256 
Brown, execution of, 46 
Brown's Gulch, 64, 66, 271 
Bull Fight, Mexican (1864), 213 
Burch, Clark and Co., 205 
Burlingame Treaty, 244 
Bustles, women's, 163-166 
Byam, Don L., 39, 40, 42, 43 

California Exchange Saloon, 75 

Callaway, L. L., 67 

Carrhart, 29 

Carter, Alex, 43, 45 

Castner, Mayor, 134 

Caven, Buzz, 32 

Caven, Mrs. Buzz, 226, 228 

Cemetery Hill, Virginia City, 70 

Central District, 10, 17 

Champion Saloon, 70, 73, 127, 


Chicago House, Virginia City, 71 
Chinese, in Virginia City, 20, 212, 

Chouteau County, 123, 124, 135 
Christnott's mill, 277, 278 
Chumasero, William, 146 
Claim-jumping, 9-10 
Clark, Ed, 226 
Claseby House, 70 
Cleveland, Jack, 30, 35 
Clipperton, O. W., 227 
Colorado River, 264 
Columbia River, 15, 107, 193 
Content Corner, 68, 70, 83, 129, 


Content's Store, 69, 126 
Continental Divide, 15, 113 
Corinne, Utah, 111, 115, 118, 188 
Couldocks, 226, 227, 228, 229 


Cover, Thomas, 2, 5, 66 

Cowan, David, 100, 102, 103; 

verses by, 101, 102 
Creighton, John, 42, 195, 196 
Crow Indians, 1, 2 

Dakota Territory, 107 

Dance, Walter B., 117, 259, 260 

Dance and Stuart, 28, 169, 182 

Dance halls, Virginia City, 207- 

Dancing school, Alder Gulch, 

Davis, Jeff, 13, 22, 23, 123 

Daylight Creek, 12, 16, 17, 18, 
62, 69, 74, 258 

Daylight Gulch, 17,256 

Deer Lodge, 35, 45, 97, 123, 124, 

Dempsey's Cottonwood Ranch, 
28, 32, 46 

Denver, 107, 109, 167, 173, 174 

Deyarmon, Tom, 163, 196 

Dillingham, 33, 47 

Dimsdale, Thomas J., 24, 123, 
144, 179, 214, 221, 222, 225, 
254, 255; character of, 138- 
139; as editor of Montana Post, 
139-141, 156, 179; on quartz 
prospecting, 272-273, 274; 
quoted, 78, 80, 156, 160, 173- 
174, 182; singing school con- 
ducted by, 154; theater lauded 
by, 223-224, 229-230; Vigi- 
lantes of Montana written by, 

Donner's Pass, 14 

Dorris, George P., 16 

Douglass, Belle, 227 

Drake's Plantation Bitters, 256 

Driggs, "Yankee," 215 

Duncan, Hugh, 202 

Dwyer, Billy, 222 



Edgar, Henry, 2, 5, 7, 8; gold 

discovered by, 3, 4 
Edgerton, Sidney, 15, 16, 20, 21, 

23, 32, 120, 123, 124, 126, 127, 

141, 144, 260 

Egnell's stagecoach line, 185 
El Sol Saloon, 99 
Elephant Corral, 50, 69, 249 
Ezekiel, B., 130 

Fairweather, Bill, 2, 6, 7, 11, 50, 
65, 67, 185, 256; gold discov- 
ered by, 3-4, 5 

Fairweather Mining District, 7, 8, 

Fenian Society, 24 

Fergus, James, 8 

Fetterman massacre, 114 

Fiske, Captain, 188 

Flint Creek, 12 

"Flour riots," 181-182 

Forbes, Charlie, 33, 34 

Fort Benton, 14, 107, 110, 111, 
112, 148, 149, 150, 259, 261, 
262, 263, 264, 266 

Fort Galpin, 260 

Fort Hall, 14 

Fort Sheridan, 262 

Franck, Long John, 37, 38, 41, 
43, 44 

Freight, conveyed to Virginia City, 

Gallagher, Jack, 33, 35, 48, 49, 

249 and n. 
Gallatin County, 132 
Gallatln Valley, 148, 167, 193, 


Gem Reading Room, 69 
Gem Saloon, 69, 75, 220 
Gernhart, W. F., 206 
Gibson, 52 
Gilbert, W. S., 134 
Gilbert's Brewery, 82 

Giorda, Joseph, 200 
Gohn, George, 134 
Gold dust, as medium of ex- 
change, 171-175, 177 
Goodrich's Saloon, 29 
* Granite Creek, 7, 17, 66 
Grannis, John, 9, 13, 49, 154, 159 
Grant, Johnnie, 14 
Grasshopper Creek, 6, 14, 28 
Graves, Whisky Bill, 28, 45 
Greenbacks, used in Virginia City, 

175-176, 177 
Grim, Sim, 206 
Gurney and Company, 168 

Hall, Amos, 152, 153 
Hammond, Dan, 242 
Harper s Magazine, 143 
Hastings, miners fooled by, 103 
Hauser, Samuel T., 134, 260 
Hayne, Julia Deane, 227 
Helena, 78, 88, 130, 132, 184, 

202, 267, 273, 284; as capital 

city, 132; stagecoach to and 

from, 187, 189, 193; telegraph 

line to, 196 
Helena Herald, 141 
Helena Independent, quoted, 131 
Hell Gate, 14,49, 193 
Helm, Boone, 48, 49 
Hermit of Daylight Gulch, 256 
Higgins and Haggedorn, 170 
Highland District, 7, 10, 17, 53, 

109, 153 

Hilderman, George, 37, 38, 44 
Holladay, Ben, 186, 187, 188, 

189, 265 

Holter, Anton, 31, 69, 86 
Hosmer, Judge, 51, 52, 93, 94, 

Hough, A. M., 74, 77, 201, 202; 

quoted, 76, 158 
Howe, John, 71,95 
Howie, Neil, 179 



Hughes, Barney, 2, 5, 7, 67 
Humboldt River, 14 
Hunter, Bill, 28, 48, 49, 53 
Hynson, George, 220 

Idaho Billiard Saloon, 175 
Idaho Hotel, 69, 126, 127 
Idaho Statutes, 106 
Idaho Street, in Virginia City, 70, 

Idaho Territory, 1, 5, 6, 11, 14, 

15, 16, 26, 106 ff., 133 
Independent, Helena, quoted, 131 
Ives, George, 27, 28, 29, 31, 32, 

38, 39, 40, 41, 42; execution 
of, 43-44 

Jackson Street, in Virginia City, 

70, 71, 72, 205 
Jefferson County, 123, 124 
Jefferson River, 100, 118, 258 
Johnson, Andrew, 143, 147 
Johnson, Leander W., 52 
Johnston, Dick, 226 
Judd, 99, 100 
Junction Mining District, 8, 17, 

39, 131-132, 170 

Kearsarge lode, 278 
Kennet lode, 97 
Kensler, Toussaint, 116 
Kercheval City, 260, 261 

LaBarge, Captain, 223 

Lane, Club Foot George, 28, 38, 

48, 249 
Langford, N. P., 22, 123, 134, 

Langrishe, Jack, 100, 227, 228, 

229, 230-231 
Last Chance Gulch, 88, 169, 202, 

273, 274 
Leviathon Hall, 181, 182, 219, 

220, 222 

Lewis, W. H., 149 
Lewiston, Idaho, 15, 106 
Lincoln, Abraham, 16, 22, 23, 226 
Literary and Debating Society, 


Lorrain, John Baptist, 116, 117 
Los Angeles, 107 
Lott, John S., 44, 45 
Lyon, Hays (Haze), 28, 33, 34, 


McCarthy's Express, 186 

McClellan Gulch, 88 

McClure, Colonel, 117, 190, 281; 

quoted, 122, 125, 154, 158, 

169, 176, 279 
McClurg, J. E., 138 
McFadden, "Bummer Dan," 32 
Me Veal, E. W., 182 
Madison County, 118, 123, 124, 

131, 132, 272 
Madison River, 62, 78, 258 
Madisonian, 104, 256; quoted, 

131, 157, 161, 163, 164, 165, 


Magruder, Lloyd, 109 
Maguire, John, 198 
Mammoth, the (gaming house), 

Mannheim's Brewery, 20, 71, 82, 


Marias River, 260 
Marley, Patsy, 217 
Martin, James, 223 
Masonic Hall, 171 
Masons, 45 
Meagher, Thomas Francis, 117, 

125, 126, 143, 144, 145, 151; 

enmities incurred by, 145, 146, 

147; errors made by, 145-146; 

as military adventurer, 148- 

149; opposed by Sanders, 145, 

146-147, 151; and report of 

jump into river, 150 



Meagher County, 132 

Melodeon Saloon, 127, 222, 224, 

Mercury, in amalgam with gold, 

Mexican Bull Fight (1864), 213 

Miller, Jim, 86, 177-178, 227, 
230, 283 

Miner's Ten Commandments, 88 

Mississippi River, 258 

Missoula County, 124 

"Missouri Admiration Society," 

Missouri River, 2, 14, 15, 108, 
111, 192, 258, 259, 260, 261, 
262, 264, 266, 269 

MonidaPass, 113, 191 

Montana Democrat, 141, 255; 
quoted, 101 

Montana Post, 61, 64, 65, 67, 69, 
73, 75, 76, 83, 85, 86, 87, 93, 
118, 119, 124, 125, 284; Blake 
as editor of, 147, 196; Chinese 
ridiculed by, 238; dance halls 
attacked by, 208-209; Dimsdale 
as editor of, 139-141, 156, 179; 
on flour prices, 179, 180, 181, 
182; plays reviewed by, 228- 
230, 231; quoted, 21, 23, 51, 
71, 96, 97, 108, 137, 162, 182, 
194, 213, 228; telegraphic serv- 
ice to, 196 

Montana Territory, 16, 89, 119, 
120, 143, 274, 275; stagecoach 
lines in, 184-195; tax collections 
in, 135 

Montana Theater, 223 

Montanian, 255; quoted, 154-155, 
161, 164, 165, 166,231,239 

Moore, Isaac, 174 

Moore, William, 28, 29, 35 

Moose Creek, 283 

Morley, James, 50, 58, 59, 259; 
quoted, 54-55, 106, 137 

Muleskinner, 109 

Mullan Road, 107, 117, 118, 119, 


Mulqueen, John, 200 
Munson, Judge, 146 
.Murat, "Count," 173-174 
Musselshell River, 260, 261 

Nelson, A. J., 219, 220 

Nelson Gulch, 65 

Nevada City District, 8, 16, 17, 
21, 37, 38, 39, 64, 82, 88, 129, 
169, 171, 179,200,270 

New Orleans, 262 

Nichols, Dr., 96 

Nick, Big, 280 

"Nightherd," 94-100, 102-105, 
142, 156 

Northern Pacific Railroad, 270 

Norwood, William, 226, 228 

Octoroon, The, Hosmer's, 94 

Ohio River, 259 

Ohlenhausen and Co., 169 

Old Brod, 81,256 

Oliver, A. J., 84, 187, 192 

Oliver and Company, 27, 87, 184, 

185, 186, 189, 193 
Omaha, 268 
O'Neil, Hugh, 69, 218, 219, 220, 

221, 222 
Ophir, 260 

Oregon Territory, 14, 107 
Oregon Trail, 14, 113, 114, 115 
Orem, Con, 70, 81, 127, 140, 217, 

222, 224, 227; in boxing match 
with O'Neil, 69, 218-221 

Orr, Frank, 280 
Orr, Sample, 244 

Overland Stage Line, 186, 188, 

Pacific Railroad, 107 
Palmer, William, 37, 38 



Parish, Frank, 28, 48 
Paunceforth, George, 227, 228 
Peabody and Caldwell, 185 
People's Theater, 75, 226, 227, 

228, 251 
Pfouts, Paris S., 25, 45, 48, 133, 


Pfouts and Behm, 182 
Pfouts and Russell, 168, 169 
Pine Grove District, 7, 17 
PingChong, 187 
Pizanthia, 47 
Plank-walking, 215 
Planter's House, 71, 77, 126, 129, 

144, 171 
Plummer, Henry, 26-35 passim, 

38, 39, 40, 46, 253; execution 

of, 47 

Pony Saloon, 128, 173 
Potts, Governor, 132 
Price, Sterling, 122 
Prickly Pear, 10, 23, 185 
"Pumpkin pilers," 56 

Quartz mining, 177, 271-282 

Ramshorn Creek, 28 
Ramshorn Gulch, 66, 271 
Ramshorn Mountains, 37 
Rattlesnake Ranch, 28, 46 
Rattlesnake River, 2, 6 
Ray, Ned, 28, 33, 47 
Raymond, Sarah, 157 
Reeves, Charlie, 29, 35 
Reid, Lemuel, 9 
Riley, Joe, 219 

River transportation, 258-270 
Rockfellow, John S., 70, 76, 86, 

111, 127, 133, 169, 171, 175, 

178, 179 

Rockfellow and Dennee, 169, 182 
Rocky Mountain Gazette, 141 
Rodgers, Harry, 2, 4, 5 
Rogers, Isaac, 92 

Romey, Lucien, 82, 134 
Ronan, Peter, 200 
Rourke, Constance, 94 
Ruby Canyon, 120 
Ruby Mountains, 78, 253 
Ruby River, 63, 258 

Sacramento, 107, 192 

St. Joseph, 108, 112 

St. Louis, 259, 261 

Salmon, Idaho, gold strike at, 191- 

Salt Lake City, 15, 16, 24, 109, 
112, 114, 178, 216, 264; stage- 
coach to and from, 185, 186, 
188, 191, 192, 269; and tele- 
graph line, 195 

Salt Lake Road, 119, 180 

Salt Lake Vedette, 221 

San Francisco, 107 

Sanders, W. A., 71 

Sanders, W. F., 32, 33, 38-45 
passim, 118, 121, 125, 130, 
150, 195; as Dimsdale's friend, 
141, 142; Meagher opposed by, 
145, 146-147, 151; stagecoach 
used by, 187, 189 

Sawyer, Captain, 113, 170 

Scheffler's Brewery, 82 

Senate Saloon, 188 

Shades Saloon, 222 

Shebang Saloon, 215 

Sheehan, Mollie, 200, 248, 249, 
250, 252 

Sheppard, Billy, 226, 227 

Sherman, William T., 148, 149 

Short, S. S., 283 

Silver Bow, 88, 186 

Silver City, 186 

Simmons, Lew, 2 

Sioux Territory, 113, 268 

Skaggs, Anna, 32 

Skinner, Cyrus, 28 

Slade, J. A., 50, 249, 250 



Smith, A. M., 81 

Smith, Green Clay, 147, 149, 150, 


Society of Montana Pioneers, 120 
Soda Springs, 14, 113 
South Cheyenne River, 113 
Spivey, Henry, 41 
Stagecoach lines, 184-195 
Star Restaurant, 20, 70 
Steele, F. R., 271 
Steele, William, 8 
Stein, Nat, 186, 225 
Stinkingwater River, 2, 27, 46, 

63, 84, 253 

Stinkingwater Road, 3 1 
Stinson, Buck, 29, 33, 34, 47 
Stonewall Hall, 69, 81, 93, 127, 

143, 215 

Stuart, Granville, 175, 180, 187 
Stuart, James, 2 
Stubbs, Moses, 81 
Summit District, 7-8, 83, 109, 1 16, 

118, 131, 153, 158, 182, 202, 

Sweeney, Mike, 2, 4, 5 

Tbalt, Nicholas, 37, 38, 41, 42, 

Telegraph line, to Virginia City, 


'Telephone, whispering," 197 
Theater, in Virginia City, 75, 223- 


Tilton, 76, 127, 134 
Tobacco Root Mountains, 1, 2, 

38, 271 

Todd, George, 197 
Toll roads, 116, 118, 119, 120 
Tongue River, 113 
Tootle and Leach, 71, 169, 182 
Torbett, A. M., 199 
Tribune, New York, 117; quoted, 

Trowbridge, Charles, 128 

Truckee River, 107 

Trumbull, Lyman, 146 

Tufts, James, 274 

Tuttle, Bishop, 74, 76, 85, 102, 

103, 203-205, 207, 229, 241; 

quoted, 77, 203, 204, 211-212, 


Union Pacific Railroad, 115 

VarinaCity, 12 
Vedette, Salt Lake, 221 
Vigilantes, 44-53, 146, 248, 249 
Vigilantes of Montana, Dims- 

dale's, 139 

Virginia City, 14, 15, 16, 17, 32, 
65, 126, 284; boxing matches 
in, 216-222; as capital of Mon- 
tana, 124, 126-132; children of, 
246, 250-257; Chinese com- 
munity in, 20, 212, 232-245, 
250-251; churches in, 199-203; 
craftsmen of, 82, 83, 84; danc- 
ing as pastime in, 153, 154, 
207-208; description of, 68-80; 
divorce rate in, 158, 159; 
drunkenness in, 204-205, 209, 
210-211, 212; fire hazard in, 
135, 136; "flour riots" in, 181- 
182; freight conveyed to, 107- 
113; gambling in, 205-207; gold 
dust used as money in, 171-175, 
177; greenbacks used in, 175- 
176, 177; incorporation charter 
as political issue in, 133-134, 
135; lawyers in, 38; merchant- 
speculators in, 167-171, 173, 
179; named by Bissell, 12-13; 
"Nightherd" in, 94-100, 102- 
105, 142, 156; outlaws executed 
in, 48-49; Plummer's gang in, 
33; political activity in, 122- 
137; population of, 18-20, 24, 



170, 202; post-Civil War ani- 
mosities in, 21-24, 122-123, 
125; prices and wages in, 85- 
88; prostitution in, 211; social 
life of, 153-156; stagecoach to 
and from, 184, 185, 186, 187, 
188, 190, 193, 194, 195; Sun- 
day in, 198 ff., 202, 207; tax 
issues in, 133-135, 136-137; 
telegraph line to, 195-197; 
theater in, 75, 223-231; and 
toll road to Summit, 116, 118; 
wages and prices in, 85-88; 
during winter, 91-93, 153, 176- 
177, 209; women employed in, 
156-157; women's fashions in, 
160-166; see also Alder Gulch 

Virginia City Post, quoted, 173- 

Virginia City Telegraph Associa- 
tion, 197 

Virginia City Water Company, 62 

Virginia City Water Ditch Com- 
pany, 63 

Wagner, Dutch John, 47 
Walla Walla, 14, 109, 111 

Wallace Street, in Virginia City, 
16, 17, 48, 68, 69, 72, 83, 99, 

113, 122, 127, 129, 211, 214, 
246, 247 

Ward, Professor, 82 
Washington, D.C., 15, 16, 21, 

145, 146 

Water transportation, 258-270 
Waugh, DeWitt, 81, 220, 223, 

225, 226, 229 
Wells Fargo Company, 189 
Welsh, James P., 206, 207 
Western Union Company, 195 
White, C. W., 82 
White, John, 6 
White Pine Lumber Company, 31, 


Wigwam Creek, 131 
William's Gulch, 271 
Williams, James, 40, 44, 45, 46, 


Wilson, Charles, 52 
Wilson, Judge, 39, 40 

Yaeger, Red, 45, 46, 49 
Yellowstone valley, 1, 2, 79, 113, 

114, 259, 266, 267,268,270