Virginia City

Virginia City’s Wallace Street.

Courtesy of MHS

In the 1860s, Virginia City was a notorious collection of bushwhackers and rabble-rousers that terrorized local citizens. In an effort to thwart this den of thieves, leading members of Virginia City formed a “vigilance committee” in 1863. In just the first two months of 1864, the vigilantes hung 24 men, including presumed road agent leader Henry Plummer.

George Lane arrived in Virginia City in the fall of 1863. Even though he suffered from a congenital deformity in one of his feet, Lane had left the East to seek his fortune in the gold fields of California. After that didn’t “pan” out, he made his way to Virginia City. He soon found work in Dance and Stuart’s store, making and repairing boots and mending harnesses.

Prior to his arrival in Virginia City, Lane had twice been accused of being a horse thief in Idaho. After the second accusation, George left the area and he made his way to Virginia City. He soon came under suspicion after he had ridden to Bannack, Montana to inform Sheriff Henry Plummer of the trial of George Ives, accused of being a member of Plummer’s gang, the "Innocents." He also expressed his concern about the growing vigilante movement in Virginia City.

After returning from Bannack, he was accused by the Vigilance Committee of being a spy for Plummer’s gang. In January 1864, he was arrested and when he asked why, was told, “For being a road agent, thief, and an accessory to numerous robberies and murders on the highway.” The Vigilance Committee soon tried Lane and found him guilty. Along with four other convicted men, he was sentenced to be hanged.

Before his execution, Lane made one last appeal to his employer in a plea of innocence. Dance said that even though Lane was a fine worker, he could not comment about other activities George might have been involved in. Standing on a box with the noose around his neck, Lane spied a friend in the crowd and yelled out, “Goodbye, old fellow, I’m gone.” He then jumped off the box without waiting for it to be removed. The five men were buried in unmarked graves.

Forty-three years after the burials, local residents began to speculate about where Clubfoot George was buried. A former vigilante claimed he was pretty sure he knew the location of Lane’s grave. A body was exhumed and was easily identified as Lane due to his mummified deformed foot.

Apparently, desiring some kind of macabre souvenir, someone decided to cut off his clubfoot. It was placed in a jar and displayed for many years in the courthouse. Eventually, it made its way to the Thompson Hickman Museum in Virginia City, where it resided until 2016. It was at that point that distant descendants of Lane were able to claim the clubfoot under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

After the family took possession, the foot was cremated and the ashes spread at a ceremony on Boot Hill. But, all was not lost, at least as far as the museum was concerned. A 3-D printer was used to make an exact replica of the foot before it was incinerated.

So, if you visit the Thompson Hickman Museum in Virginia City, you’ll still be able to see a part of western history, albeit not an entirely real one.