A Landing a Day

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Bannack and Virginia City, Montana

Posted by graywacke on June 13, 2018

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now pretty much a once-a-week blog), I use an app that provides a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”

I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town or towns I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location. 

To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is) please see “About Landing” above.  To check out some relatively recent changes in how I do things, check out “About Landing (Revisited).”

Landing number 2405; A Landing A Day blog post number 839.

Dan:  Today’s lat/long (44o 59.665’N, 112o 29.321’W) puts me generally in the southwest corner of Montana:

My local landing map:

My streams-only map shows that I landed in the watershed of Blacktail Deer Creek:

As you can see, the Creek makes its way to the Beaverhead River (4th hit); on to the Jefferson River (8th hit).  At the town of Three Rivers (not shown), the Jefferson hooks up with the Madison to form the Missouri (428th hit).

It goes without saying that the Mighty Mississippi is the mother ship (934th hit).

I really landed out in the boonies, and have no Google Earth Street View coverage of my landing.  Here’s an oblique GE shot, showing my location in the Blacktail Deer Valley:

Up near Dillon (past the green blob in the above shot), the Blacktail discharges to the Beaverhead.  Just before it does, I was able to get a Street View look at the creek:

Here ‘tis:

I moved the Orange Dude just a few miles north to get this view of the Beaverhead:

If the Street View shots seem of low quality, it’s because they were taken back in 2009, before many improvements were made by Google for their GoogleCams.  I think the area is overdue for a visit from a GoogleMobile . . .

So, I found the area to be pretty much hookless.  Dillon is the only decent-sized town, but there wasn’t anything of sufficient interest for it to gain titular status.  However, I did find some Old West shoot-em-up gold mining towns, my titular Bannack and Virginia City.

I found a write-up for Bannack that covers a bit of Virginia City history as well, from LegendsOfAmerica.com.  Here are some excerpts (a little long, but well worth the read):

By 1863, the settlement had gained some 3,000 residents and applied to the U.S. Government for the name of Bannock, named for the neighboring Indians. However, Washington goofed it up, spelling the name with an “a” – Bannack, which it retains to this day.

In addition to its reputation for gold, Bannack also quickly gained a reputation for lawlessness. The roads in and out of town were home to dozens of road agents, and killings were frequent. In January, 1863, Henry Plummer arrived in Bannack and just months later was elected sheriff in hopes that he might bring some peace to the lawless settlement. What was not known by the citizens of Bannack, was that Plummer would later be suspected of being the leader of the largest gang of the area road agents.

This group of bandits referred to themselves as the “Innocents” and grew to include more than 100 men. According to Plummer’s accusers, his contacts as sheriff gave him knowledge of when people were transporting their gold, which he would pass on to his gang.

In May, 1863 a group of miners discovered gold in Alder Gulch, about eighty miles to the east of Bannack. When they took their gold to Bannack to buy supplies word soon leaked out and many of the area prospectors headed to Alder Gulch, which would soon become the thriving settlement of Virginia City.

The road between Bannack and Virginia City became a very hazardous journey as the road agents targeted the travelers journeying between the two mining camps. The ambitious Sheriff Plummer allegedly soon extended his operations to Virginia City when he was appointed U.S. Deputy Marshal. Violent holdups became even more commonplace and about a hundred men were murdered during 1863.

By December, 1863, the citizens of Bannack and Virginia City had had enough of the violence. Men from Bannack, Virginia City and nearby Nevada City met secretly and organized the Montana Vigilantes. Masked men began to visit suspected outlaws in the middle of the night issuing warnings and tacking up posters featuring a skull-and-crossbones or the “mystic” numbers “3-7-77, which some have said was the measurement for a grave, 3 feet wide, seven feet long, 77 inches deep. While the exact meaning of these numbers remains elusive, the Montana State Highway patrolmen wear the emblem “3-7-77” on their shoulder patches today.

The vigilantes dispensed rough justice by hanging about twenty-four men. When one such man who was about to be hanged pointed a finger at Sheriff Henry Plummer as the leader of the gang, all hell broke loose.

The residents were divided on whether or not Plummer was part of the murderous gang. But, one night after heavy drinking in a local saloon, the vigilantes decided he was guilty and tracked him down. On January 10, 1864 fifty men gathered up Plummer and his two main deputies. The three were marched to the gallows, where the two deputies were hanged first. According to one legend, Plummer promised to tell the vigilantes where $100,000 of gold was buried, if they would let him live. However, the vigilantes ignored this as they gradually hoisted him up by the neck.

Interestingly though, even after Plummer and several of his henchmen were hanged, the robberies did not cease. In fact, the stage robberies showed more evidence of organized criminal activity, more robbers involved in the holdups, and more intelligence passed to the actual robbers.   Many historians today think that the story of Plummer and his gang was fabricated to cover up the real lawlessness in the Montana Territory – the vigilantes themselves.

The “3-7-77” notation is interesting.  From Wiki:

3-7-77 was the symbol used by the Montana Vigilantes in Bannack and Virginia City, Montana. People who found the numbers ‘3-7-77’ painted on their tent or cabin knew that they had better leave the area or expect to be on the receiving end of vigilantism. The numbers are used on the shoulder patch of the Montana Highway Patrol, who claim they do not know the original meaning of the symbol.

Various theories have been put forth about its meaning, including:

  • The numbers represent the dimensions of a grave, 3 feet by 7 feet by 77 inches.
  • Frederick Allen, in his book A Decent Orderly Lynching, says the number meant the person had to buy a $3 ticket on the next 7:00 a.m. stagecoach to take the 77-mile trip from Helena to Butte.
  • The number set may have something to do with the date March 7, 1877; the numbers were first used in that decade and first appeared in print later in that decade of the 19th century. The first Masonic meeting in Bannack, Montana took place March 7, 1877. Many members of this lodge were also the original Vigilantes.

Here’s some interesting naming history for Virginia City, from Wiki:

On June 16, 1863 under the name of “Verina” the town was formed a mile south of the gold fields. The name was intended to honor Varina Davis, the first and only First Lady of the Confederate States of America (wife of Jefferson Davis). Verina, although in Union territory, was founded by men whose loyalties were thoroughly Confederate. Upon registration of the name, a Connecticut judge, G. G. Bissell, objected to their choice and recorded it as Virginia City.

At least he didn’t name it Connecticut City.

I found a site with numerous lovely pictures of today’s Bannack, a ghosttown that is a tourist attraction.  Here’s a screen shot from the GhostTownGallery webpage:

I recommend you click HERE to peruse the many pictures on the website (by Daniel Ter-Nedden).

Virginia City is also a ghosttown that is now a tourist attraction.  Here’s a shot by Donnie Sexton from YellowstonePark.com:

I’ll close with this Google shot of the Beaverhead near Dillon by Sarah Coombs:

That’ll do it . . .




© 2018 A Landing A Day






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