Saturday, 14 June 2014

Vigilante Trail to the Paradise Room 6

The second woman was made an honorary fireman in Virginia City. Like Doc Holliday and Sheriff Henry Plummer, and the buffalo, she had tuberculosis, and like Calamity Jane, she loved travel, and men, and exaggeration. Like me, she wanted to be a writer, but other things got in the way.
Adah Isaacs Menken was the highest earning actress of her day. Her origins were obscure, but her real name was likely Ada C. MeCord, born in 1835, in New Orleans, of Auguste Théodore and Magdaleine Jean Louis Janneaux, both mixed race Louisiana Creoles. Ada was raised as a Catholic, fluent in French and Spanish, and danced in the ballet of the local French Opera House as a young girl. After a performance in Havana, where she was crowned ‘Queen of the Plaza,’ Ada left dance on the stage, for the stage, first in Texas. She married a musician named G.W. Kneass. This lasted less than a year. In 1856 she married another musician Alexander Isaac Menken, who took her home to Cincinnati. Here, she converted to Judaism, and changed her name, adding an ‘h’ to her first name. She published poetry and articles on Judaism in The Israelite in Cincinnati, and in the Jewish Messenger of New York. Although divorced by Menken, she never abandoned her adopted religion. In 1859, she married a popular Irish-American prizefighter named John C. Heenan, by whom she had a son, who died soon after birth. She met Charles Blondin, famed for having crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope, and the two had an affair on a vaudeville tour across the country. Adah had suggested she would marry him if they could perform a couple's act above the falls but Blondin refused, saying that he would be ‘distracted by her beauty.’ In 1862, Adah married Robert Henry Newell, a New York humorist who had published most of her poetry. In 1866 she married a gambler, James Paul Barkley, whom she left while pregnant. She went to France without him, and gave birth to Louis Dudevant Victor Emanuel Barkley; the baby's godmother was the author George Sand. Louis also died in infancy.
Adah’s career path had a similar trajectory. Early reviews remarked on her ‘reckless energy.’ She cultivated a bohemian and at times androgynous appearance. Her first New York play, The French Spy, was highly disregarded. The New York Times described her as ‘the worst actress on Broadway,’ and the Observer was only slight more complimentary. She is delightfully unhampered by the shackles of talent.
Her business manager, Jimmie Murdock, knew she had little acting ability, but offered her the ‘breeches role’ (that of a man) of the noble Tartar in the melodrama Mazeppa, based on a poem by Lord Byron. At the climax, the Tartar was stripped of his clothing, tied to his horse, and sent off to his death. The audiences were thrilled with the scene, although the production used a dummy strapped to a horse, which was led away by a handler giving sugar cubes. Menken changed the stunt. Dressed in nude tights and riding a horse on stage, she caused the sensation that would bring her success. She went on to play the role in San Francisco and Paris and London. Here, she responded to critics of her costume by remarking that it was ‘more modest than ballet or burlesque.’ Nonetheless, the controversy made it into the pages of Punch.

                          ‘Here's half the town - if bills be true -
                           To Astley's nightly thronging,
                           To see the Menken throw aside
                           All to her sex belonging,
                           Stripping off woman's modesty,
                           With woman's outward trappings -
                           A barebacked jade on barebacked steed,
                           In Cartlich's old strappings!’

Adah attracted a crowd of male admirers, including Charles Dickens, the humorist Tom Hood, and the dramatist Charles Reade. She had affairs with the English poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, and Alexandre Dumas, the French novelist more than twice her age.
In 1867, as she reentered England, her tuberculosis entered her abdomen. She was forced to stop performing, and her fame and fortune evaporated into pain and poverty. She returned to Paris, where she died the following year, at the age of 33. I am lost to art and life. Yet, when all is said and done, have I not at my age tasted more of life than most women who live to be a hundred? It is fair, then, that I should go where old people go.
Her only book, Infelicia, a collection of 31 confessional free verse poems, heavily influenced by her Judaism and her association with Walt Whitman, was published several days after her burial in Montparnasse cemetery. Most were about a woman’s struggle to find a place in the world.
My own true love was struggling with whatever had entered her eyes. The semitrailer that passed, while she was rubbing them, just about blew us off the road.
The big sky had filled with cotton cloud billows, and the prairie was rising into hills of sage and conifer. We had driven past the Lure Me Inn, at Ennis, and the Water of the Gods Hot Springs, in Norris, and the biggest American flag I had ever seen. Just outside of Harrison was another indication of where we were. We eat beef in Montana. I teased Robyn about her pronunciation. Mon-taw-na.
“It sounds more beautiful when I say it.” She said. There's two theories to arguin’ with a woman.  Neither one works.
We arrived at the Lewis and Clark Caverns towards the end of the afternoon, just before they closed, and just in time for the last tour. Our guide was a bulky girl, with so many multiple piercings along the margin of her left ear, she must have needed to sleep on her right side. I asked her how she liked being a park guide.
“It’s hard to get a good job in Montana.” She said. But she was good at what she was doing, and ushered us through the constricted apertures and large caves of the monument.
“It starts off small but it doesn’t last.” She said.
“Like me, when we were first married.” I said, before a well-placed elbow found my ribs. We followed a steep descent into molten minerals, moulded into extraterrestrial intraterrestial organic organ pipes and pillars, icicles and waterfalls and coral gardens and cathedral candelabras, wedding cakes and treacle and skeletal skyscrapers. Our echoes entered the largest cavern at the bottom, moments before we did. It was magnificent.
“We call this the Paradise Room.” She said. “You can see why.”
The sky was still black and angry when we emerged, but the storm had let everything go when we were underground, and our tires  were like rattlesnakes, hissing all the way down the mountain.
The wagon landed on the open plains again. Just on dusk, we arrived at a junction. If you come to a fork in the road, take it. We would do even better. We were heading to three of them.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Vigilante Trail to the Paradise Room 5


                        ‘The bigger a man's gun the smaller his doodlewick.’
                                                                          Calamity Jane

Robyn and I had thought the Big Sky boast on the license plates was a Montana myth, until it opened up before us. We were looking farther and seeing less of anything but heaven and earth. I wanted to be the first to view a country on which the eyes of a white man had never gazed and to follow the course of rivers that run through a new land. The grey ribbon went to infinity, through a fabric of gold and dotted green, and the hazy purple crenulations along the fringes of our vision. We rode in the direction it was going.
Those who had written the history of the Old West hadn't paid more much attention to the women that had come through it. But there were three that, in their own unique way, defined the eras they lived in. All three had the wanderlust, two had ordinary lust, and one had a drinking problem.
Calamity Jane was afflicted with alcoholism, but her vices were the wide-open sins of a wide-open country – the sort that never carried a hurt.
Her father died, soon after they left Virginia City. Jane took over as head of the family, loaded up the wagon once more, and took her siblings to Piedmont, Wyoming. She took whatever jobs she could find, a dishwasher, a cook, a waitress, a dance-hall girl, a nurse, and an ox team driver. In 1870, she signed on as a scout at Fort Fetterman, Wyoming. Jane claimed that she served under General George Armstrong Custer, but she claimed a lot of associations and adventures that remained unsubstantiated and, in some cases, were contradicted. One verified story was her swim across the Platte River, and a ninety-mile ride at top speed while wet and cold, to deliver important dispatches for General Crook's detachment on the Big Horn River. The closest she probably got to Custer was during the 'Nursey Pursey Indian Outbreak' of 1872, near present day, Sheridan, Wyoming, although she likely didn't meet him. One of her claims was the manner in which she acquired her nickname.

   ‘It was during this campaign that I was christened Calamity Jane. It
    was on Goose Creek, Wyoming where the town of Sheridan is now
    located. Capt. Egan was in command of the Post. We were ordered out
    to quell an uprising of the Indians, and were out for several days, had
    numerous skirmishes during which six of the soldiers were killed and
    several severely wounded. When on returning to the Post we were
    ambushed  about a mile and a half from our destination. When fired
    upon Capt. Egan was shot. I was riding in advance and on hearing the
    firing turned in my saddle and saw the Captain reeling in his saddle
    as though about to fall. I turned my horse and galloped back with all
    haste to his side and got there in time to catch him as he was falling. I
    lifted him onto my horse in front of me and succeeded in getting him
    safely to the Fort. Capt Egan on recovering, laughingly said: “I name
    you Calamity Jane, the heroine of the plains.”’

But in 1904, the Anaconda Standard published a quote from Captain Jack Crawford, who had served under the generals that Jane claimed to have taken orders from ...never saw service in any capacity under either General Crook or General Miles. She never saw a lynching and never was in an Indian fight. She was simply a notorious character, dissolute and devilish, but possessed a generous streak which made her popular. Others maintained that she had obtained her sobriquet as a result of her warnings to men that to offend her was to 'court calamity.' While she worked as a scout at Fort Russell, Jane also found 'on-and-off' employment as a prostitute at the Fort Laramie Three-Mile Hog Ranch.
In 1876, Calamity Jane settled in Deadwood, South Dakota, where she worked, on occasion, as a prostitute for Madam Dora DuFran, and later, as a cook and laundress, for the same patron. She became friendly with Wild Bill Hickok. She later claimed that he fathered her daughter, and that she attacked his murderer with a cleaver, although this is likely fabrication. Hickok, for his part, was not as enamoured with Jane, and apparently went to great lengths to avoid her. Jane lived in the Deadwood area for some time, and at one point she saved several passengers of an overland stagecoach by diverting several Plains Indians who were in pursuit. The driver, John Slaughter, was killed during the pursuit, and Jane took over the reins and drove the stage on to its destination at Deadwood. In late 1876, Jane nursed the victims of a smallpox epidemic, with much kindness and compassion.
In 1893, Calamity Jane started to appear on stage in buckskins, in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, as a storyteller. Unlike Annie Oakley, her performances involved no sharpshooting or roping or riding, merely the recitation of her adventures, which metastasized with each telling, in colorful but clean language. But she began to live up and down to her name, about six months after her participation in the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. Depression and drinking had driven her colorful language increasingly profane, and ended her career as a stage performer. She died of pneumonia in 1903 and, in accordance with her dying wish (and possibly as a final piece of mischief from his friends), was buried next to Wild Bill Hickok in Mount Moriah Cemetery, overlooking the city of Deadwood.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Vigilante Trail to the Paradise Room 4

On May 26, 1864, Lincoln establish the Montana Territory, carved from the Idaho Territory he had preciously chopped from the Dakota Territory, in order to establish a territorial court, and restore order. The capital moved from Lewiston, to Bannack, and then a year later, to Virginia City, with Martha Jane Canary.

   ‘In 1865 we emigrated from our homes in Missouri by the overland
    route to Virginia City, Montana, taking five months to make the
    journey. While on the way, the greater portion of my time was spent in
    hunting along with the men and hunters of the party; in fact, I was at
    all times with the men when there was excitement and adventures to
    be had. By the time we reached Virginia City, I was considered a
    remarkable good shot and a fearless rider for a girl of my age. I
    remember many occurrences on the journey from Missouri to
    Montana. Many times in crossing the mountains, the conditions of the
    Trail were so bad that we frequently had to lower the wagons over
    ledges by hand with ropes, for they were so rough and rugged that
    horses were of no use. We also had many exciting times fording
    streams, for many of the streams in our way were noted for
    quicksands and boggy places, where, unless we were very careful, we
    would have lost horses and all. Then we had many dangers to
    encounter in the way of streams swelling on account of heavy rains.
    On occasions of that kind, the men would usually select the best
    places to cross the streams; myself, on more than one occasion, have
    mounted my pony and swam across the stream several times merely
    to amuse myself, and have had many narrow escapes from having
    both myself and pony washed away to certain death, but, as the
    pioneers of those days had plenty of courage, we overcame all
    obstacles and reached Virginia City in safety. Mother died at Black
    Foot, Montana, 1866, where we buried her.’

Calamity Jane's mother had died of 'washtub pneumonia.' By the time she buried her, the placer gold had been all but extracted, and the miners were moving towards Helena, and Garnet. By the 1870s Montana was experiencing a sort of Pax Vigilanticus, due to its reputation for summary execution and the migration of most of the criminally undesirable. The Montana Vigilantes became an admired group in Montana history. Their secret motto, 3-7-77, is still on the badges, patches, and car door insignias of the Montana Highway Patrol.
By the time that Robyn and I tread the boardwalks of Virginia City, it was a different kind of highway robbery. The cowboys emerging from the Star Bakery were morbidly obese waddlers, holding out their dominant hands, in supplication to the signal, missing on the open plains. Swayback horses, hitched up for the ‘pony rides,’ beside the parked SUVs, were secret casualties. No more buffalo would pass before the blown out windows of the rusted Pullman cars. They, and the wagon days of the Wells Fargo stagecoaches, had become the empty shell casings of a more authentic era. The Fairweather Inn had a vacancy. Metal tills inside the general stores, with their scrolled embossing, rang up silence. Red, white and blue stars and bars drooped from their banners.
The bare-breasted paintings that hung over the bottles, inside the bars, suffocated beside the Cowgirls are Forever signs and moose heads. Sun-bleached skulls and antlers hung nailed to square wooden facades, and a lone white tipi stood against the thyme and sage, and the big blue sky above the ashen ridge. I asked the trolley car driver if there was a place for a picnic. He grinned through his sunglasses.
“Best picnic spot in the world.” He pointed. “Down by the crick.”
Robyn and I drove up past the Brewery, with the wagon and Old Glory outside, and turned down into a gulch. There were big old trees for shade, a babbling stream for coolness, and soft grass and rocks and birdsong for contemplation. And there was one picnic table, which I claimed with our French picnic basket. Robyn had made steak sandwiches from the Silver Mill leftover steak, crosscut sawn from the sinew of the Philipsburg night before.
In 1907, a former vigilante showed the residents where George Lane was buried. The exhumed remains included a petrified clubfoot. It was initially kept in the courthouse, but later moved to the Thompson Hickman Museum in Virginia City, becoming one of the Museum’s most important exhibits.
We left Virginia City with a homemade ice cream, like the one that Sheriff Plummer would have had. The colder it gets, the harder it is to swaller.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Vigilante Trail to the Paradise Room 3

    ‘People love westerns worldwide. There's something fantasy-like about
     an individual fighting the elements. Or even bad guys and the
     elements. It's a simpler time. There's no organized laws and stuff.’
                                                                                  Clint Eastwood

Our route took us south, towards the no organized laws and stuff. We passed through purple flowers, and Twin Bridges. There was the Blue Anchor Bar, and a mural of the Twin Rivers Fishing Co. Lewis & Clark fished here.
Outside the Ruby Valley Gun Club was a big truck with a gun rack and a bumper sticker. I hunt with a Labrador retriever. Which may have partially explained the three deer carcasses on the side of the road, beyond the ‘Happy Trails’ sign, dead as a can of corned beef. Some trails are happy ones, Others are blue. It's the way you ride the trail that counts, Here's a happy one for you.
Visitors fall in love with Montana in the summer. Snow can fall any month and usually will. Eighty per cent per move away within five years of purchase. Some of the ones that stay may be found in the taverns, like the Sump Saloon and the Stockman’s Bar in Sheridan, Heart of Ruby Valley…this community supports our troops, and Chick’s Bar in Alder. In May 1863, a group of prospectors, heading towards the Yellowstone River, were forced to retreat to Bannack by a party of Crow warriors. Their return would change their lives, and the course of American and World history, when Bill Fairweather, joking he might find ‘something to buy a little tobacco with,’ stuck a pick into the ground near Alder Creek.
Robyn and I followed the ‘This way’ sign out of town, and the Vigilante Trail towards Virginia City. Miles of silence and emptiness, in all directions, eventually arrived at a two-storied log roadhouse, with hitching posts and a veranda and balcony around the back.
“Robber’s Roost.” I said. “The hangout of the Innocents.”
“Who were they?” Asked Robyn.
“Montana’s most notorious criminal outlaw gang.” I said. “During the height of their activity during the gold rush of the 1860s, there were over a hundred of them, and as many men were killed resisting their holdups. Watchmen in the mining camps and gambling dens would tip off the Innocents about gold shipments, but it was its leader that made the gang most unusual.”
“What about him?” Robyn asked.
“Henry Plummer.” I said. “He was the sheriff.”
“Were they ever caught?” Asked Robyn. The first westerns had four standard scenes- a bar, a stagecoach, a holdup and a chase.
“Oh, that was coming.” I said. “In spades.”
A big-bellied motorcycle couple parked their bike in front of the next marker. Ghost mansions of sunburned wood, surmounted by cupolas and widow’s walks and weathervanes, were surrounded by sage, and the wagons and railroad ties and the steam machinery which extracted the gold ore that made their wealthy widows possible. The chapel between Nevada City and Virginia City was closed. Cowboy Church Services.
Most of the story of Virginia City occurred within one year. On May 14 1863, just after Bill Fairweather’s discovery of ‘something to buy a little tobacco with,’ in Bannack, Henry Plummer was made its sheriff. Henry had come out from Maine to the goldfields of California, eleven years earlier, at the age of nineteen. He did well. Within two years he owned a mine, a ranch, and a bakery, and within three, was the sheriff and city manager of his town, and had lost an election as the Democratic nominee to the State legislature. In 1857, he shot the husband of a woman he was having an affair with, and was sentenced to ten years in San Quentin. However, he was pardoned after serving only two because, like Doc Holiday, he was suffering from tuberculosis, and because of his ‘good character and civic performance.’ Two years later, he shot William Riley, a San Quentin escapee, while trying to make a citizen’s arrest. The killing was accepted as justified, but Plummer was advised to leave the state. After he cut down another man in a gunfight in Washington Territory, Henry decided to get out of the violent towns of the gold rush, and return to Maine. He got as far as the dock for the Fort Benton steamer on the Missouri River, when he was offered a job by James Vail, to protect his family from Indian attacks at the mission station in Sun River, Montana. Plummer accepted, as did Jack Cleveland, a horse dealer who had known Henry in California. Unfortunately, both men fell in love with Vail’s sister-in-law, Electa Bryan, at the mission. Fortunately, she accepted Plummer’s proposal of marriage. Unfortunately, Cleveland forced Henry into a gunfight in a crowded saloon in Bannack, and was killed. Fortunately, the residents not only deemed it an act of self-defence, they elected him sheriff. Or maybe it was unfortunate.
On June 16 1863, another township was formed a mile south of where Bill Fairweather’s pickaxe had landed. It was initially called Verina, after Varina Howell Davis, the first and only First Lady of the Confederacy. The Civil War was raging and, despite the fact that the town was in Union territory, the local resident loyalty was thoroughly confederate. A territorial officer from Connecticut objected to the name registration, and recorded it instead, as Virginia City, not making total sense, since Virginia had seceded, still a Dixie city in a Yankee territory. Within weeks Virginia City was a gold frontier boomtown, bereft of law enforcement, and full of saloons and uneducated fortune-hunters wearing firearms as standard attire.
The first Episcopal communion service in Virginia City welcomed Baptists, Methodists, and Lutherans to the Lord's Table. Thomas J. Dinsdale, late of Oxford, was being paid two dollars per child a week for teaching school, before he found better employment as editor of the Montana Post. By contrast, in Virginia City alone, $600,000 worth of gold was being extracted every week. In today's dollars, that was the equivalent of $30,000,000 per week or $1.5 billion a year, all of which was threatening to go to the Confederacy. Abraham Lincoln, to ensure that this new wealth would flow instead into Federal coffers, immediately removed the gold towns from the old Dakota Territory, and into the newly formed Idaho Territory, consisting of the present states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, with its capital at Lewiston. He appointed W. W. Wallace as the Governor and his friend, and one of the founders of the Republican Party, Sidney Edgerton, as Chief Justice.
It was still a lawless free-for-all, and Henry Plummer was earning his pay, and possibly more. The only court system available for the residents of Virginia City were the informal miners' courts, limited to the resolution of small disputes, and not set up for major crimes. The fiasco of a trial of the perpetrators of the murder of J.W. Dillingham was typical of the time. Like the dentistry, it was held outside, more because of the fact that every resident took part, than the ambient light. In the end all three defendants were released. The first, Charley Forbes, was freed after a sentimental speech he made about his mother. The other two, Buck Stinson and Haze Lyons, were convicted and sentenced to be executed. However, at what would be a very public hanging, friends of Stinson and Lyons convinced the crowd to vote again. Two attempts at counting were made. In the first, those voting ‘hang’ were to walk uphill, while those voting ‘no hang’ were to walk downhill. This method was rejected for reasons that are still not clear. The next attempt had four men form two gates and the gathered citizenry would cast their vote by either walking through the 'hang' gate or the 'no hang' gate. The condemned mens’ friends simply walked through the 'no hang' gate repeatedly, casting enough multiple fraudulent votes that enabled the two murderers to walk free. People gotta talk themselves into law and order before they do anything about it. Maybe because down deep they don’t care.
Thomas J. Dinsdale, late of Oxford, paid two dollars per child a week for teaching school, wrote: Another powerful incentive to wrong-doing is the absolute nulity of the civil law in such cases. No matter what may be the proof, if the criminal is well liked in the community 'Not Guilty' is almost certain to be the verdict, despite the efforts of the judge and prosecutor.
Robyn and I walked by the marker of the hanging that made Montana. Site of trial and hanging of George Homer Ives December 21, 1863 - Most extraordinary trial in history. This one was also held outside, for three winter days. George Ives was a bold and brutal member of the Innocents, and had killed a young German immigrant named Nicholas Tbolt.
But there had been a new development since Dillingham’s murderers had been freed. In late December, while Sheriff Plummer was away, a group of local residents spawned the formation of a secret Vigilance Committee, with an established set of ‘regulations and byelaws.’  It was a Neighbourhood Watch, with guns and ropes. The founders consisted of Unit commander Sergeant James Williams, Field commander James Liberty Fisk, Nick Wall, Wilbur Fisk Sanders, Alvin V. Brookie, John Nye, a sadistic executioner named John X. Beidler (who delighted in strangling rather than hanging his victims), and Paris Pfouts, an anomalous secessionist  Freemason, who later became Mayor of Virginia City.  
Before long, the Montana Vigilantes had more than one thousand members, almost all of them Republican Mason Unionists. Almost all of their victims were non-Mason, Democrat Secessionists. Confederate conspiracy theorists still charge that the Vigilantes were formed more for the purpose of diverting gold to the Union cause, than for establishing justice. Virginia City gold won the war for the North.
The Committee called their enemies ‘villains,’ and galvanized the population by inventing the myth of the ‘road agent,’ the hypothesis that a ‘secret society’ of thieves, tipped off by townspeople in league with them, waylaid unsuspecting travellers, miners and transporters of gold and supplies, murdered them, and made off with their property.
While the vigilantism was still in its initial stages, Clubfoot George Lane, a former horse thief reformed as a boot-maker at Dance and Stuart’s store in Virginia City, concerned about the increasingly arbitrary manipulation of what was passing for justice in Virginia City, rode off to Bannack to inform Sheriff Plummer of the George Ives trial, aiming to convince Henry that Ives deserved a civilian tribunal.
But while the sheriff was still away, the Vigilantes hung Ives, and two of Plummer’s deputies arrested Lane as ‘a road agent, thief, and an accessory to numerous robberies and murders on the highway.’
“If you hang me.” Said Clubfoot George. “You will hang an innocent man.” But the Vigilante Committee found him guilty anyway, and sentenced him to death. Lane appealed to his employer at the boot store to confirm his innocence. Dance said he couldn’t vouch for his other activities.
“Well, then.” Asked Lane. “Will you pray with me?”
“Willingly, George.” Said Dance. “Most willingly.” And suiting the action to the word, dropped upon his knees and, with George and Gallagher kneeling beside him, offered up a fervent petition in behalf of the doomed men. As Clubfoot George was led out to the gallows, he turned to a friend who had come to see him executed.
‘Good-bye, old fellow.” Said Lane. “I’m gone.” And without waiting for the box to be removed, he leaped from it, and died with hardly a struggle… perfectly cool and collected... thought no more of hanging than the ordinary man would of eating his breakfast. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Boot Hill cemetery, with the other executed men, and 'fellers that pulled their triggers without aiming.'
The Montana Vigilantes summarily executed people using, as the sole evidence, the testimony of others facing their own imminent executions. At one point the Committee assembled a force of over 500 men, and sealed off Virginia City in order to catch gang members. Over the next month, the movement degenerated into a campaign of terror that still haunts the state. The vigilante committee arrested and passed sentences, from execution to flogging to banishment. Twenty-four men were hanged, some in the basement of Joe Griffith's general store, the last having done nothing more than express an opinion that several of those hanged previously had been innocent.
Before one man was hanged, he told the crowd that sheriff Henry Plummer was the ringleader. Suspicions had already been raised, when two residents who had been held up claimed that they had recognized him during the robberies, and when another had confronted him about the danger of the roads, Henry had offered to return some of his money. Plummer was arrested, and attempted, unsuccessfully, to bribe his captors.
The gallows on which Henry was hanged had been built by his own request during a previous case. On January 10, 1864, over five thousand people assembled to watch him and the other alleged gang members meet the rope. He was hanged without the drop, and the noose placed behind the head, not to the side, which would have broken his neck and caused an instantaneous death. With his preexistent tuberculosis, he likely died from a slow and agonizing suffocation. The two youngest members of the Innocents were spared, one sent back to Bannack to tell the rest of the gang to leave, and the other to Lewiston, to do the same. There were river steamers there, that could take then to the Oregon coast, at Astoria. Whether the historical revisionists and the Freemason conspiracists like it or not, the large gang robberies of gold shipments ended with the deaths of Plummer and the others.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Vigilante Trail to the Paradise Room 2

The civic administrators of Butte were clearly putting on a new kinder, gentler face, with just enough arsenic to let them have beautiful complexions. The ‘thousands of historic commercial and residential buildings from the boom times, which, in the Uptown section, give it a very old-fashioned appearance’ had resulted in Butte’s ‘recognition and designation in the late 1990s as an All-American City… In 2008 Barack Obama spent his last Fourth of July before his Presidency campaigning in Butte, taking in the parade with his family, and celebrating his daughter Malia's 10th birthday.’ Bill Murray owns the Copper Kings baseball team. Butte is the home of the National Center for Appropriate Technology. An EPA operation for the environmental cleanup has made Butte and environs that largest Superfund site in the country. Jack Nicklaus designed the ‘Old Works’ Golf Course, a big reclaimed championship venue ‘hole-in-one’ for the effort.
Which brought Robyn and I to the Berkeley Pit, the one big hole in Butte, and the serenity of the water, if that’s what it was. Take 5 in our beautiful picnic area. The cute little rust bucket mining cart at the entrance was full to the brim with columbines and carnations and pansies and other recent immigrants. It cost two dollars to get in to the south wall observation deck, lined with barbwire.
There were buttons to press, for information. Berkeley Pit is the largest pit lake in the You-knighted States. It is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the area. In its time, Berkeley Pit was the largest truck-operated open pit copper mine in the country. All the things you’d expect the buttons to say, but none of the things they needed to say. Like the thousands of homes that were destroyed to excavate the pit. Or like when ARCO shut down the pit in 1982, it also shut down the water pumps in nearby mines, which caused the toxic stew acidic heavy metal pit lake of arsenic and cadmium and mercury sulfate to form and rise, and like how its still rising, and like in 2020, it will overflow and start to run downhill- 30 billion gallons of poison. Or like how, for more than a century, the Anaconda smelter released 36 tons of arsenic every day, 1540 tons of sulfur, and huge quantities of lead and other heavy metals into the air; like how mine tailings were dumped directly into Silver Bow Creek, creating a 150 mile plume of downstream pollution; or like how livestock and agricultural soils had been contaminated, all the way down the Deer Lodge Valley; or like, nothing was done about the unsafe tap water in Butte and no serious effort was made clean up Berkeley Pit until the 1990s. There is now life in the pond- water striders and a new iron-eating algae, discovered in 2000… Or like the flock of 342 migrating snow geese which selected the pit lake as a resting place, and dissolved on contact. The broadcasts across the water, if that’s what it was, are designed to scare them away.
Butte is the hometown of Evel Knieval Days, but that doesn’t seem as dangerous anymore. The fourteen passengers and crew of the airplane crash into Holy Cross Cemetery, arrived at death and devastation in Butte, four years before Robyn and I did, more slowly. The books and movies about the town are telling- The Killer Inside Me, Runaway Train, Lonesome Dove, Sold Me Down The River, The Last Ride, Don't Come Knocking, Red Harvest, Empty Mansions. Robyn and I were headed south, to another kind of ghost town, but we would need to pass through one more Butte copper tragedy, on the way. The giant letter ‘M’ of Montana Tech was carved into the hillside, upstream from the highway signs leading out of town. Adam and Eve’s lingerie at next exit… Drink it. Drive it. Crash it. Can you live with it? In Whitehall we discovered that we could play Keno at the town pump. The locals were pulling weeds by hand.
“They’ve got time.” Said Robyn. A Mad Max black mariah flew by us, in the haze through which the Tobacco Root Mountains rose, on our left. Real flocks of birds flew and landed, in flocks. Rare swaths of green and the cheese wheel hay bale progeny of their nurturing, contrasted against the yellow and blue of the rest of Montana. Homesteads of dust and rust and dereliction, windmills with missing vanes, took us from earth and water to earth and fire. And water again.
The town was named Silver Star, and there was one on the weatherworn shack on the edge of it. It said ‘Open,’ and ‘Gifts,’ but we didn’t find either. What we did find were rows of massive double-spoked metal wheels, twenty feet and more in diameter, and the western script explanation along the highway.

   These Sheave Wheels from the Speculator Mine were used to hoist the
   Bodies of the 168 miners who died in the Granite Mtn Disaster, June 8,
   1917. It remains the worst metal mining tragedy in US history. The
   Granite Mtn Shaft was burned out so rescue was through the Speculator,
   connected underground.
   Photos are welcome, but please stay away from Wheels or machinery.

At the time of the disaster, the Butte copper mines were operating at full wartime production. An electric cable was being lowered into the Granite Mountain mine, paradoxically as part of a fire safety system. When it fell as was damaged, a foreman went half a mile below the surface with a carbide lamp to inspect the damage. He ignited the oil-soaked insulation on the cable with his lantern. The fire quickly climbed the cable, ignited the timbers, and turned the shaft into a chimney. Flames and smoke and poisonous gas spewed through the labyrinth of underground tunnels, including the connected Speculator mine. Approximately 168 miners died in the ensuing blaze, most from asphyxia. Some did not die immediately, but survived for a day or two. Some wrote notes while they waited to be rescued. A few managed to barricade themselves within bulkheads, and were found after as long as 55 hours later, but many others died in a panic to try to get out. The rescue effort was frustrated by carbon monoxide, which stole the air supply. A fan, used to prevent the fire from spreading, worked for a short time but, when the rescuers added water, the water evaporated, creating steam that burned those trying to escape. Most of the victims were too mutilated to recognize.
In Montana, logs and haystacks and cattle brands and ingots bore witness, to the moral supremacy of hardware. The price of extraction was Big Sky high.

                ‘And you won't make a dime
                 On this gray granite mountain mine
                 Of dirt you're made and of dirt you will return
                 So while we're living here Let's get this little one thing clear
                 There's plenty of men to die, you don't jump your turn’
                                                         The Decemberists, Rox in the Box

Monday, 9 June 2014

Vigilante Trail to the Paradise Room 1

                         ‘Get the water right down to your socks
                          This bulkhead's built of fallen brethren's bones
                          We all do what we can We endure our fellow man
                          And we sing our songs to the headframe's creaks and
                                                         The Decemberists, Rox in the Box

Copper. The water, if that’s what it was, mirrored a reflection of the hill above it, on its surface. Except for the scattered green of it. There was no green in the reflection. The water was here because of the earth that was here, and most of that wasn’t anymore. What had been a natural bowl sitting high in the Rockies, straddling the Continental Divide, the ‘Richest Hill on Earth,’ over a brief 125 years, became the most poisoned ground in America. The gold and silver mined here was almost ploughed aside by the advent of electricity, which exploded the world demand for copper. And where Robyn and I were standing, was where it all came out of the ground.
The tourist brochure had understated it a bit. Butte's urban landscape includes mining operations set within residential areas. There was only one congressman, in a state as big as Italy, and he had given away 44,000,000 acres of land to the Northern Pacific Railroad alone. The name of the game in Montana was, and still is, extraction. Between 1880 and 2005, the miners of Butte pulled out more than 9.6 million metric tons of copper, 2.1 million metric tons of zinc, 1.6 million metric tons of manganese, 381,000 metric tons of lead, 87,000 metric tons of molybdenum, 22,200 metric tons of silver, 90 metric tons of gold, and 22 billion dollars… set within residential areas.
The magnitude of the magnates, the three Copper Kings that championed the extraction, was evident on the land, thirty miles and 120 years away from our arrival in Butte that morning.
William Andrews Clark had begun to develop the silver and gold mines and mills before copper appeared on the radar. By 1876, Butte had a thousand inhabitants, and Clarke went on to wealth, and a desire to become a US senator which his newspaper, the Butte Miner, promoted. The members of the Montana legislature he bribed in 1899, didn’t get in the way. The second Copper King, Marcus Daly, had arrived in 1876 to inspect the Alice Mine for the entrepreneurial Walker brothers from Salt Lake City. Four years later he sold his interest and bought another mine, with investment money from several San Francisco moguls, including the father of William Randolph Hearst. In 1883 he filed a town plan for ‘Copperopolis, but eventually took the advice of his postmaster, and named in Anaconda. By the time that financiers William Rockefeller and Henry H. Rogers, two principals of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, teamed up to form the giant Amalgamated Copper Mining Co. In 1899, the air of Butte was filled with toxic sulfurous smoke. Daly responded with the construction of the tallest masonry structure on the planet, the 585-foot Anaconda smokestack, and smelter, the world’s largest nonferrous processing plant. The third Copper King, F. Augustus Heinze, had fought the dominance of Amalgamated but, when Daly died in 1900, the banker that picked up his widow, convinced him to sell out, creating a monopoly. The Anaconda Copper Mining Company, true to its name, swallowed everything in its path, expanding into the fourth largest company in the world by 1920. It doesn’t matter how big of a ranch you have…or how many cattle you brand… or how much money you’ve got… the size of your funeral is still going to depend on the weather.
The Copper Kings are long under the last ground they extracted, leaving a legacy of discarded towns, rivers that will forever run red, and a generation of old men on respirators. They owned the greatest mother lode the earth had ever seen, at the time the world wanted and needed it most- the world’s biggest silver mine, one of the biggest gold mines, nearly a million acres of timberland, and freely cut on another million owned by the public. They bought the Montana legislature for ten thousand dollars a vote. They had people they didn’t like shot by national guardsmen, or hung from their railroad trestles.
For a Sunday morning, the casino was doing a roaring trade. We drove through Anaconda quietly, past the JFK Bar and Big Jim’s Steakhouse and the Grizzly Den Motel.
The sun was shining, and the sky was clear and blue when we arrived into Butte. The only thing that told us it was Butte was the ‘Butte’ sign on the side of one of the old black mine headframes, and the names of the streets, on the steep hills into town. Galena. Copper. Granite. Mercury. Quartz. The tallest structures on Montanan Street were the closed church steeples, and the open ironies. I passed the Abundant Life Fellowships, and parked, to find one of my own.
“You sure its open?” Asked Robyn. “It’s Sunday.” I wasn’t sure, but it was open. We went inside the M&M Cigar Store. It wasn’t full and it wasn’t empty, and it used to be both. Behind the counter was the usual coloured neon Bud Light…Lite… Budweiser… Pabst Blue Ribbon. Baseball caps hung above the bottles in front of the mirrored bar, providing an illusion of plenty. A baseball game, America’s other pastime, went on obliviously on televisions, in high corners of the saloon.The sound of gambling machines spilled into the space, and away with the hopes of their patrons. Dingdingdingdingdingding…
The place was dimly lit by suspended ceiling lamps and wall sconce lamps, and an elderly man with glasses, manning the off-track betting booth in the back. I migrated to his story, and history. Jack had been a miner, laid off in 1980, when ARCO Atlantic Richfield, which had bought Anaconda and its mines only three years earlier, closed them all down because of lower metal prices.
“Three hundred miners lost the last 3500 dollars they had.” He said. “Investing in the new jobs they were promised. Don’t get me started.” But it was too late for that.
The mines of Butte had attracted workers from around the globe- immigrants from Cornwall, Ireland, Wales, Lebanon, Canada, Finland, Austria, Serbia, Italy, China, Syria, Croatia, Montenegro, Mexico, and all areas of the US. They brought their food into the ground, Cornish pasties, Slavic povitica, Scandinavian lefse, boneless pork chop sandwiches, huckleberry pie, and their politics back out. Butte became the ‘Gibraltar of Unionism.’ By 1886 there were 34 separate unions, representing six thousand workers. Violent strikes were inevitable. In 1892, the one in Coeur d'Alene prompted the miners of Butte to mortgage their buildings in order to send disorder support. The Western Federation of Miners was established in Butte the following year, and the Butte Miner’s Union became Local Number One of the new WFM. In 1903 the Socialist Party of America won its first victory west of the Mississippi when Anaconda elected a socialist mayor, treasurer, police judge, and three councilmen. After 1905, Butte became a hotbed for the IWW ‘Wobblies,’ the Industrial Workers of the World. None of this mattered to the Anaconda Company, who lynched an IWW board officer in 1917, and ordered company mine guards to shoot 17 strikers in the back as they tried to flee, in the Anaconda Road Massacre of 1920.
Organized Labor hadn’t occupied all the moral high ground. Their unions boycotted Chinese businesses in Chinatown, and the Chinese Exclusion Act stopped further immigration in 1882. Solidarity was an incompletely uniform and inegalitarian commodity.
But vice was equitable, and all-inclusive. In its heyday, Butte was one of the largest and most notorious wide-open copper boomtowns in the American West, where anything was obtainable. In 1893, Butte boasted 16 gambling dens and 212 taverns, including the M&M, and is still one of the few cities in the US where possession and consumption of open containers of alcoholic beverages is allowed on the street. When the miners emerged from below the city on a subzero day, their bodies emitted a puff of smoke, like they were appearing on a magician’s stage. The ladies are very fond of this smoky city. There is just enough arsenic there to let them have beautiful complexions.  
Its famous red-light district, the ‘Line,’ or the ‘Copper Block,’ was centred on Mercury Street, where elegant bordellos included the famous Dumas Brothel, near what is now Butte High School, Home of the Bulldogs. Behind the brothel was the equally notorious Venus Alley, where 6000 prostitutes plied their trade in small cubicles called ‘cribs,’ a mattress and washbasin in a single small room. When Carrie Nation came to town, one of its working ladies kicked her to the ground. A hermaphrodite named Liz the Lady charged for a peek below, but everyone could look up at the 90-foot Blessed Virgin Mary statue of Our Lady of the Rockies, built and lit by floodlights, dedicated to women and mothers everywhere, on top of the Continental Divide, overlooking the town. The brothels only closed in 1982.
I asked Jack if he thought his years of mining had left him anything durable.
“Silicosis.” He said. “And hate.”

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Ghost Riders in the Sky 4

                ‘Are magnesium and scorn sufficient to support a town,  
                 not just Philipsburg, but towns
                 of towering blondes, good jazz and booze  
                 the world will never let you have
                 until the town you came from dies inside?’
                                      Richard Hugo, Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg

“License and registration.” He held himself back behind her window, like no Canadian mountie would have felt the need. Even from where I sat, I could tell he was made of kevlar and brass and lead, and caution. She handed over the documents. He retreated to his black Mad Max mariah, the blackest flat black matte blackest thing I’d ever seen. The windows were tinted, like the heavy water in a nuclear reactor. A full ten minutes later, he returned the way he came. Maybe it was our BC license plate.
“Don’t worry.” He said. “I’m not going to give you a ticket.” I tried to reason with him.
“I’m sorry, officer, it was all my fault.” I said. “You see, I was getting her to hurry, so we wouldn’t be late for the Vaudeville in Philipsburg.” I could see him reconsidering.
“I get so confused between kilometres and miles per hour.” Said Robyn. “Here in Mon-taw-na.” He tried not to smile.
“Slow it down.” He said, and waved us on…the tortured try of local drivers to accelerate their lives.
We arrived down Broadway, the main street of Philipsburg, nearly the only street of Philipsburg, wide enough for a cattle drive.
“Probably why they call it Broadway.” Robyn said. Frontier buildings of orange brick, with black and white painted signs on square rooflines, GOLDEN RULE, HARDWARE GROCERIES, converged on a vanishing point, sidewalks lined with American flags and hanging baskets and lampposts and angle parking. In the centre of town was a single traffic light, suspended on wires arising from the four points of the compass. You walk these streets laid out by the insane, past hotels that didn’t last, bars that did…
“There it is.” I said. And there it was, in all it’s Georgian gingerbread glory, creams and forest greens and lichens and pinks and rusts, and spheres and squares, and angles and triangles, dentate and Dorian, rising into the big sky. The Broadway Hotel. I had written the owner, Sue, and asked her for a ‘quiet place to write.’ Her hesitant email suggested the kind of difficulty that was now taking place in the downstairs brewery. She had written something about giving us ‘the crosscut room.’ The keys were outside the back door, in an envelope. A large loud lady, from a similar utility vehicle, was storming about outside the locked entrance, something about her reservation.
“I didn’t actually cancel it.” She fumed. We offered to let her in.
“I’ll wait right here.” She said. And we crept by her, and down the hall to our room. It was small, and all the sharp implements on the wall were a bit intimidating. There was a big circular saw, and two crosscut saws, and a handsaw. A ceiling fan twirled above our heads.
“A man doesn’t want to lose his balance in the night.” I said. But it was clean and cozy, and topical, as Philipsburg had been logging as well as mining before we arrived. We had just enough time for a quick meal before the Vaudeville began, across from the crosscut, at the Silver Mill. One good restaurant and bars can’t wipe the boredom out… and the girl who serves your food is slender and her red hair lights the wall.
The tin embossed ceiling was bottom lit by suspended lamps. The girl who served our food was slender and her red hair lit the wall. My steak was served with a slice of orange. It was big enough to take half back to the crosscut room, and saw it up for the next day. We made the Vaudeville show, and it was entertaining enough, but there were more authentic diversions outside the theatre- a dance floor built on springs. The few tourists that weren’t still in the playhouse, were checking out the sapphire and silver shop windows. Buffalo Elk Venison Jerky… Try a Bung-Hole Driver only $5. Yep, only available here!
We returned to the Broadway to meet Sue in the rich red reading room, with the big floral centrepiece, and western memorabilia, and books. English Sue, who had married Jim, and had shared his dreams and offspring and, when everything went sideways, inherited the hotel that had ruled their lives, for twenty-five years. We asked about the large loud lady.
“She cancelled her reservation.” Said Sue. “I put them up in the house, but no matter what I do, they won’t be happy. The principal supporting business now is rage.
I asked about the possibility for future companionship in Philipsburg.
“The gene pool is rather small.” She said. the best liked girls who leave each year for Butte. Like the buffalo, I thought. Say your life broke down. The last good kiss you had was years ago…Isn’t this your life? That ancient kiss still burning out your eyes?            
And I left her and Robyn, to whisper secret veins of quartz in foreign accents.
One last walk around the town, before I began sawing logs in the crosscut room. Two smokers sat outside the White Front Bar. It was for sale, like everything else had been for sale in Philipsburg. The 1907 boom, eight going silver mines… Hatred of the various grays the mountain sends, hatred of the mill… two stacks high above the town, two dead kilns… in collapse for fifty years that won’t fall finally down…
A mewing cat, imprisoned on the high balcony of a deserted building, cried out to me, or anyone, ghost rider in the sky.
There were big Montana muffins for breakfast next morning, and coffee with Sue. She told us to check out the jail, and the noose, still hanging from the rafters. The jail turned 70 this year. The only prisoner is always in, not knowing what he’s done… The old man, twenty when the jail was built, still laughs although his lips collapse. Someday soon, he says, I’ll go to sleep and not wake up. You tell him no. You’re talking to yourself.
It was a sunny Sunday morning in the rest of the town, and it shone on the tipi and caboose and the log cabin with its chains-awed ogres outside. You might come here Sunday on a whim. A church bell rang. Only churches are kept up… Isn’t this defeat so accurate, the church bell simply seems a pure announcement: ring and no one comes? Don’t empty houses ring?
We said goodbye to Sue, and fired up the wagon. A-plowing through the ragged sky and up a cloudy draw. The car that brought you here still runs. The money you buy lunch with, no matter where it’s mined, is silver… all memory resolves itself in gaze…