The big gold strikes at Bannack in 1862; Alder Gulch in 1863, which late became Virginia City; Last Chance Gulch in 1864, which became Helena and Confederate Gulch (Diamond City) in January 1865 which produced some $10 million in gold annually, brought a lot of change to Montana. It also attracted a number of outlaws including Henry Plummer’s gang. This led to the formation of the vigilantes and eventually gave rise to formation of a government in Montana.
Handsome Henry Plummer was a ladies man, lawman and politician in California during the Gold Rush. He was also crooked as a dog’s hind leg and after ten years of evading the law and escaping punishment he headed for Montana, arriving around 1862. Well-liked by Montanans, he settled in Bannack and was elected sheriff which gave him cover for his other occupation, that being the leader of a notorious gang of outlaws known as the “Innocents” who spread terror throughout southern Montana, robbing and murdering more than a hundred people. The settlers of Bannack and Virginia City were fed up with the lawlessness and organized the vigilantes who launched one of the most famous lynch-law campaigns in American history, hanging dozens of outlaws. On January 10th,1864 Sheriff Plummer was caught and hanged from the gallows he’d built.