Henry Plummer (1832-1864)

Although Henry Plummer had lived in the West for more than ten years before he made a name for himself in Bannack City, Montana, not much is known about him before his arrival. He seemed to leave it for others to find answers to who he was and how it all began. There are several biographies on Plummer, but none with definitive results. This much is certain…

Plummer came to what was then Idaho Territory and defeated Jefferson Durley to become the sheriff of Bannack and the surrounding area. During his tenure as sheriff, it is believed, he was also the ringleader of a gang of road agents who were famous for the terror they brought to Bannack and nearby Virginia City… until they were caught by the Vigilance Committee.

Henry Plummer was no common criminal, as he was a member of the executive board of the Nevada County Democratic Organization, considered one of the more powerful California political groups. Twice elected city marshal of Nevada City, California, he once was nominated by the Democrats to run as state assemblyman and was only defeated by a slim margin.

Even as the vigilantes of Bannack City were set to hang Plummer there was a degree of respect for their captive, which made them reluctant executioners. Plummer was known as a man of intellect in the community, polished, genial and affable. His last words were, "Give me a long drop so that I may die quickly."

On a cold, moonlit night on January 10, 1864, Plummer and two of his deputies – Buck Stinson and Ned Ray – were executed by hanging in association with the gang of road agents.

Soon after the vigilantes had executed the majority of the road agents in that extreme corner of what is now Montana, complete law and order came quickly as Montana officially became a territory in May of 1864.

As a historic re-enactor I have portrayed Henry Plummer for the last 30 years, and I’ve found that Plummer is not only notorious in the history of Montana but is the kind of mysterious character that comes to mind when speaking of early day cowboys and the Western mystique.