Montana Street Justice

The lowdown on Montana’s most notorious lowlifes:

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by Eric Dietrich

Henry Plummer

In May 1863, Henry Plummer was elected sheriff of Bannack, the town that would become Montana’s first territorial capital. The following January, he was hanged on his own gallows by Vigilantes, who blamed him for organizing a criminal gang responsible for more than 100 murders.

The truth of his guilt is far from settled — though some say he shed some light on the matter when, approaching the noose, he offered to trade his life for his weight in gold from a hidden stash. When his effort at bargaining failed, he asked his executioners instead for “good drop,” meaning a quickly broken neck.

It’s unclear whether he got the swift death he wanted, but his corpse didn’t get to rest easy itself. His skull, stolen from the grave by a pair of drunken coal minors, is reported to have ended up displayed for several years in a saloon before disappearing.

Jack Slade

Jack Slade, another victim of Montana’s Vigilantes, had spent much of the late 1850s and early 1860s as a superintendent for stagecoach routes between the East and California. He developed a reputation for enforcing order with often-brutal methods — shooting and killing at least one subordinate, for instance.

After being fired by his employer for drunkenness, he ran afoul of Virginia City’s vigilantes in 1864, where he was lynched for disturbing the peace. [A metaphor for TCTV?] His widow, swearing that he wouldn’t be buried in this “damned territory,” shipped his remains to Salt Lake City with a keg of whiskey.

Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan

Harvey Logan, or “Kid Curry” as he is better known, came to Montana when he was 16. He led a reportedly lawful existence at first, trying his hand at ranching south of Landusky. That came to an end when a feud saw him shoot a saloon owner.

After skipping town for Wyoming, Kid Curry ended up as part of a gang eventually known as the Wild Bunch, along with George Parker and Harry Longabaugh, better known themselves as “Butch Cassidy” and the “Sundance Kid.”

The Wild Bunch’s string of legendary robberies included one of the most successful train robberies in U.S. history, when, in July 1901, they held up a Great Northern Railway train west of Malta, and got away with $41,500 in unsigned tender.

Kid Curry was arrested later that same year in Tennessee for forging bank notes. After escaping from prison in 1903, his path is somewhat unclear, but some say he ended up dying in a gunfight after a botched 1904 train robbery in Colorado.

Christopher William “Shorty” Young’

“Shorty” Young was broke when he arrived in Havre in 1894. Over the next 35 years, however, he built an operation that was said to rival the vice empire of famed Chicago mobster Al Capone.

After making enough gambling to buy out the boss he had operated a roulette wheel for, Young built up gambling and prostitution establishments, including the Mint Saloon and the Montana European Hotel and Grill, more commonly called the Honky Tonk. During the Prohibition, his ruthless “Havre Bunch” trafficked liquor from Canada through Havre, reportedly delivering to every state except Maine.

Young’s empire, however, began crumbling after Montanans voted to end prohibition in 1926, and he was raided by federal agents in 1929. When he died in 1944, only 50 friends attended his funeral. In an act of civic generosity, he left his property and remaining money to Havre’s “poor and needy.”

Ted Kaczynski

A one-time Berkeley math professor, Theodore Kaczynski came to Montana in the 1970s, living in a 10-by-12-foot cabin outside of Lincoln.

He acquired the nickname by which he is better known, the “Unabomber,” through a series of 16 mail bombs he sent between 1978 and 1995, killing three people and injuring 23, apparently in an attempt to protest the impact of industrialization and modern technology.

He was apprehended in 1996, after the FBI persuaded the New York Times and Washington Post to publish his 35,000-word manifesto on industrial society and his brother, David, came forward with his suspicion about the Unabomber’s identity.

Now 72, Kaczynski was sentenced in 1998 to life without parole and is held in a supermaxium security prison near Florence, Colo.

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