by Palmer Parker Woods III
The Henry Plummer search is a long and largely barren tale which took much time but resulted in little that I could add to the already known.
Basically, Plummer was a courtroom hanger-on and a gambler who showed up in the 1850s in Nevada City, California. Apparently he operated a bakery and hung out in the Hotel Parie -- a wooden one-story hotel where he operated a gambling table.
Later, Plummer was appointed City Marshall by the Sheriff and in that position captured one of the more dangerous criminals. This man escaped and, in an unsuccessful attempt to capture him, the Sheriff was killed. Plummer was suspected, but a case was never made.
About 1860, Plummer rented his house, which was built on a steep slope, to a gambler named Vedder. When Vedder was out of town to visit his daughter, Plummer went to his former house. He had not been there long when Vedder returned and, trying to ascend the stairs to the house, was shot by Plummer. A newspaper story reported that Mrs. Vedder then went out the street-level door and began shouting "Plummer killed my husband". Plummer was found guilty and, on appeal to the Supreme Court of California, was sentenced to San Quentin where he stayed about six months.
It was reported later that Plummer worked for George Hearst guarding silver and gold shipments from Hearst's mine in Nevada (money that financed his son's newspaper career). From there Plummer went to the Idaho Gold Fields where he was a professional gambler. He was headed north to catch a boat on the Missouri when he married Electa Bryan and returned to Bannack City, Beaverhead County. where he was elected Sheriff of the county and later Sheriff in a neighboring county as well. It was in that position that the local vigilantes hanged him.
Here is where the mystery thickens: A California newspaper writer, Maurice Kildare, wrote a biography of the California career of Plummer (which I used along with copies of the Virginia City Democrat and Virginia City Republican as source material). Kildare wrote me that one of the vigilantes, X. Beidler, struck Plummer in the mouth when he was saying that he would tell the names of the people behind the robbing and killing of miners. The story continued that Beidler then strangled Plummer. The end of this tale that Kildare wrote me, was reportedly told to Kildare by an old man who rode as a guard on a large gold shipment to the mint in Salt Lake City, Utah. This was, also reportedly, sent by merchant vigilantes who were not miners.
This makes some sense when you factor in the Civil War (war between the states) the fact that miners were southerners of military age and that the vigilantes were northerners. One other thing -- the captain of the vigilantes, a Sergeant James Williams, had been released from the Union Army for no particular reason and a local lawyer who was a self-appointed judge of the miner's court was also released from the Union army.
Williams later purchased a large ranch with money which just "showed up." He was found dead in a field due to a massive overdose of belladonna -- deadly "nightshade."
A part time teacher and newspaper writer, Dimsdale, later wrote an official story of the vigilantes after they had threatened instant death to anyone who revealed the actions of this group.
My only contribution to this story was to trace down the final story of Electa Bryan Plummer. A number of stories were written, but apparently what happened was that Electa's sister and her husband, James Vail, who had come from Ohio with Electa had operated a farm in the Sun River Valley to teach wheat farming to Indians; and in 1862 moved to Bannack to operate a boarding house. When Plummer was killed they moved to near Waconda in South Dakota with Electa -- or the Vails moved there first and were followed by Electa. While in South Dakota, Electa married James Maxwell, who had been injured; Electa moved with him and his five daughters into Wakoda. I met the children and grandchildren of one of the daughters, the Slatteries, on their large wheat farm. I was shown Electa's grave along with that of Mr. Maxwell and their five daughters. One final mystery was that an eighth grave of a "son" but no other information mentioned a son, although the Slatteries said that Mrs. Electa Plummer Maxwell had no children by James. One story said that she was pregnant when she left Montana. Could be of no real importance since he died young and childless.
So, you see -- nothing there to justify a biography since I don't even know where Plummer came from. (Other historians have found that Henry Plummer was born 'William Henry Plumer' near the town of Addison, Maine in 1832.) [See "The Vigilantes of Montana; 1864 Revisited" or "Vigilante Victims" by Ruth Mather and Fred Boswell on its own website according to Louis Schmittroth.]
One far-out clue was a story told by a girl of Bannack -- Mathilda Dalton Thibideaux who wrote that she had recognized Plummer from Wisconsin and that those Plummers had come from Maine.
I traced land records, newspaper stories and census records; and found that two Plummers had moved from Western Maine to Wisconsin in 1849 where one of the two brothers was a local civil official; and that a son of about 15 or 16 had left for the gold fields. He wasn't a Henry, but it is a possibility -- perhaps a probability -- that he was the same.
When Sam (Eskin) stopped over at our house up the Rattlesnake in the 1960s and he sang "Henry Plummer's Grave" , by Tiger Thompson. (Editor's note: we are appreciative to the folknik and Faith Petric for sending us the page from the San Francisco Folk Music Club's March-April 1970 newsletter which published Tiger Thompson's song. Later, Tiger Thompson and his wife came up from California a couple of times to visit us . (Tiger was interesting, himself -- a former electrician in the Butte mines he got a journalism degree at the University of Montana and went on to "organize" the newspaper unions in San Francisco. He confessed he was "one of the last Wobblies".)
Aloha kaua. PPWIIIEditor's notes: Our thanks to Louis Schmittroth at the Henry Plummer site at Athabasca University in Canada for the picture of Henry Plummer from "Vigilante Victims" by Mather and Boswell.
An e-mail from Mr. Schmittroth advises that a lot of the legend that Parker Woods writes "has a lot of misinformation in it" and suggests we "take a look at the website. Henry Plummer was innocent."
We are appreciative of this feedback and know that Mr. Woods will welcome it as well. LCG.
Copyright 1997 by Casa Chia Library
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