“Give me two hours and a horse, I’ll bring back my weight in gold”
Born William Henry Handy Plumer in Addison, Maine on 6 July 1837 (some sources say 1832), Henry Plummer became marshal and city manager of Nevada City in May 1856 (changing the spelling of his name at the same time). “He was not only prompt and energetic,” citizens noted, but “when opposed in the performance of his official duties, he became as bold and determined as a lion.”
He was re-elected the following year and began an affair with Lucy Vedder, a married woman. When her violent husband John Vedder found out, Plummer killed him on 26 September 1857. After two trials, Plummer was sentenced to ten years in San Quentin but was released in 1859, ill with consumption. He killed another man but was acquitted on grounds of self-defence. He joined a gang of road agents, tried to rob a Wells Fargo bullion express and was told to leave the state. In 1862 the soft-spoken Plummer moved to Bannack, Montana where gold had been discovered. He was elected sheriff on 24 May 1863. “No man,” a Sacramento Union reporter said, “stands higher in the estimation of the community than Henry Plummer.”
However. Plummer broke the law as often as he upheld it and crime increased in Bannack. That winter the stage was robbed twice, a man was murdered and an attempted robbery of more than $75,000 in gold dust from a freight caravan disturbed the peace. In late December 1863 a group of men calling themselves the Vigilance Committee formed in nearby Virginia City to take matters into their own hands.
Sunday 24 May 1863
At 10pm on 10 January 1864 the controversial Montana Vigilantes, armed with revolvers, rifles and shotguns, arrived at Plummer’s cabin where he lay ill. They blackmailed him into leaving the safety of his home by threatening to lynch a robbery suspect in custody. Plummer stepped outside and it was reported that he said, “Give me two hours and a horse, I’ll bring back my weight in gold.” Vigilantes surrounded him and marched him to the pine gallows up the gulch.
They provided no drop, but tied his hands, slipped a noose over his head, and gradually hoisted him until he slowly strangled to death. Thomas Dimsdale who in 1866 wrote a book entitled The Vigilantes Of Montana said that Plummer had been a “very demon” who headed a group that murdered more than 100 people. However, recent research has suggested that fewer than ten people were killed and that Plummer may have been completely innocent.