On the lam from authorities in California and Idaho, Henry Plummer traveled to Montana intent on heading back east once winter was over. However, in Fort Benton, he ran into an old friend and the two of them decided to try their luck in the virtually lawless town of Bannack. That would turn out to be a fateful decision.
Shortly after arriving in Bannack, Plummer formed a gang of road agents who called themselves the Innocents. The gang would grow to be so large, they initiated secret handshakes and signals so they could easily identify one another. Plummer’s gang is believed to have killed more than 100 people and stolen a vast amount of gold shipped between Bannack and Virginia City.
It was quite an efficient operation. The gang had agents working in the mining offices who informed them of the exact dates of gold shipments. In addition, the gang divided itself into smaller groups stationed along all possible gold shipping routes. At its peak, the gang had more than 100 members.
By 1863, the people of Bannack were desperate for someone, anyone to rein in the lawlessness. Surprisingly, they elected Henry Plummer as sheriff. Of course, Plummer did nothing about the Innocents, since he was one of them.
By all accounts, Plummer was a very pleasant looking individual. He was one of the few men in Bannack who always tipped his hat to a lady on the street. Of course, behind this facade was a shrewd individual who conned people into thinking he was an honorable sheriff.
As the rein of terror of the Innocents continued unabated, out of desperation, local residents formed The Vigilantes who meted out their own form of justice, hanging nearly two dozen men within a year. No trials were necessary. If the Vigilantes thought you were guilty, you were. It was the Wild West where life was cheap and easily extinguished.
Unfortunately for Plummer, before one of the highwaymen was hanged, he pointed the finger at the sheriff as being the leader of the Innocents.
While locals were divided over the guilt or innocence of Plummer, the Vigilantes weren’t. After an evening of heavy drinking, they corralled Plummer and his two deputies. In short order, the deputies were hung, spitting out expletives the whole time.
Just before the noose was tightened around Plummer’s neck, he made an offer to the Vigilantes. “Just give me a horse and two hours, and I’ll return with $100,000 in gold,” pleaded Plummer. He would then hand over the gold to the Vigilantes in exchange for his freedom. The Vigilantes ignored his offer, and he was hung from the very gallows that he himself had had constructed as sheriff. He was only 27 years old.
The Vigilantes then proceeded to kill several other suspected members of Plummer’s gang until the governor finally stepped in to blunt the power of the out-of-control Vigilantes.
Immediately after his death, prospectors of all sorts began looking for “Plummer’s gold.” They searched all around Bannack and the Alder Gulch area in search of the hidden treasure. Throughout the years, many people came forward claiming to know where the gold was, but none offered any proof of such claims. The legend of Plummer's gold lives on today with people still looking for this treasure trove based on old maps, folklore, word of mouth and “hunches.”