Through Parts 1–4 of this series, we have followed Henry Plummer’s story from his childhood back East to his final breaths taken in territorial Montana. At this point, you may find yourself making the assumption that you in fact have a relatively complete view of Henry Plummer’s character, actions, and motives; yet, this assumption would be incorrect. There’s a potential that you, like myself, have fallen victim to the danger of a single story … without even considering this to be a possibility.
The facts that we, and many others, have presented come primarily from two sources. The first of which is Thomas Dimsdale’s The Vigilantes of Montana. While this history is taken as one of the most reliable sources of Montana’s vigilante history, it was recorded and compiled by one of the leaders of the Vigilantes. It is not beyond reason to assume that Dimsdale colored the history in favor of his fellow Vigilantes, ensuring that Plummer and his alleged gang of Road Agents were remembered in a negative light. The other major source trusted for years is that of Nathaniel Langford who wrote Vigilante Days and Ways. Similar to Dimsdale, Langford was undoubtedly a participant in the Vigilante Movement. While these biased sources do not definitively prove Plummer’s innocence, it does cast doubt on his role in the crimes of which he was accused.
Now, let’s look at some of the “facts” …
In Part One, we explored Plummer’s life before he made it to Southwest Montana. It was here that we discussed his entry into a life of crime with the murder of the husband of a woman with whom he was said to have been having an affair. While this may be true, some records suggest that as the Sheriff of the area, he had responded to a call that this woman, who was in an abusive relationship, was in danger. He is said to have showed up at their house, not to engage in an affair, but rather to take her to safety away from the house where she had faced chronic abuse. Shedding additional light on the facts presented in Part One of this series, records show that during the time Plummer was allegedly committing murder with his gang in Idaho he was actually in California.
In Part Two, we looked at Plummer’s first winter in Bannack. Following this first winter, the population jumped from around 1,800 to an estimated 8,000! To say that the lawlessness in the region increased in the area is an understatement. Personal accounts of Plummer suggest that he was a man of repute. Thompson wrote Plummer was “a good looking young man of twenty-seven, polite, and of good address,” which does not seem to align with the suggestion that this massive increase in crime was due to Plummer’s own lawlessness.
Part Three provides a deeper look into Plummer’s character as he travels back to the Sun River Farm to retrieve Ms. Electa Bryan, his bride to be whom he met during his time at the Sun River Farm. In this installment, we see serious doubt being cast on Plummer’s motives by Electa’s sister Martha. As the story progresses, we see that Martha (and family) moves to Bannack and remains in the mining town even after her sister moves back East. Following Plummer’s death, accounts share that a distressed Martha went to fight for her brother-in-law, only to break down and proceed to faint at the news that she was too late and he had indeed been hung by the Vigilantes. If Martha could come around, who is to say that there wasn’t a side of Plummer that could only be confirmed by those closest to him? Also in Part Three, we see Electa take her leave – yet after receiving news of her husband’s death, Electa maintained his innocence.
Further, it is important to note that Plummer’s interest in Sheriff was not for monetary gain, and he was making the majority of his money (far more than he had imagined when he left the Sun River Farm) from his claims on the Dacotah. In his position as Sheriff he was compensated poorly and only served to protect the place he called home. In Part Four, we see the Vigilantes organizing themselves, ready to take justice into their own hands. Some records of the George Ives trial suggest that Clubfoot George Lane was sent to Bannack to warn Plummer of what was happening, and for whatever reason Plummer never received the message. Like the final testimony of Red Yeager against Plummer, this act by Lane had a significant impact on the outcome of the Vigilante spree that resulted in the death of countless men.
Are these discrepancies enough to cast doubt on Plummer’s guilt?
Although we may never know the truth of Henry Plummer’s history, we can agree that it is important to remember, as the saying goes, not to believe everything you hear – there are always three sides to a story: yours, theirs, and the truth.