Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of History

Committee Chair

Dan Flores

Commitee Members

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.



© Copyright 2010 Melissa Poindexter Thomasma