Year of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Department or School/College
Department of History
Ken Lockridge, Louis Hayes
Bannack, Henry Plummer, Historiography, Mythology, Social Banditry, Vigilantes, Virginia City
University of Montana
In the winter of 1863-1864, the Montana vigilantes hanged over twenty men in and around Bannack and Virginia City, including the region's elected sheriff, Henry Plummer. The mob claimed that these men were members of a highly-organized Road Agent Gang. While no evidence of this organization of highwaymen exists, the episode endures in the popular history of Montana; this thesis explores four elements of the legacy of this episode. First, it presents a biography of Henry Plummer and brief summary of the organization and actions of the Vigilance Committee. Second, it establishes an historiography of the episode; it couches the changes in the presentation of the myth within larger national conceptualizations of violence and the rights of the accused. Third, via sociological and anthropological theories about civil violence, it explores the social and cultural context in which this series of violent incidents occurred. Finally, it places the myth of the Montana vigilantes within an overarching national mythological and ideological framework that grew out of the collective colonial experience. This final chapter includes a theory as to why the vigilantes are regarded as heroes in the region; through a reinterpretation of Eric Hobsbawm's theory of social banditry, this chapter argues that the vigilantes fit the description of social bandits, and this contributed directly to their reputations as heroes. Overall, this thesis encourages a more nuanced analysis of this popular regional myth and discusses why it may have been remembered as it has.
Thomasma, Melissa Poindexter, ""The Lawmen Faced the Outlaws, No Badge Upon a Breast:" Historical Memory and the Legacy of Henry Plummer and the Montana Vigilantes" (2010). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 7.
© Copyright 2010 Melissa Poindexter Thomasma