During his time as the sheriff of Bannack City in Montana, Henry Plumber is said to have been the leader of an outlaw road agent aging known as the Innocents. Today, they are more commonly referred to as the Plummer Gang.
The Plummer Gang targeted travelers and gold shipment between Bannack City and Virginia City, Montana. A gold rush had started in Western Montana, and miners were digging up thousands of ounces of gold.
The Plummer’s gang engaged in numerous criminal activities all through Bannack, Virginia City, and all the surrounding areas. At its peak, it is reported that the gang had over 100 members. It had its headquarters at Rattlesnake Ranch, about twelve miles from Virginia City.
The gang was well organized and used secret code words to identify members.
The Plummer’s gang is blamed for the death of over a hundred people and the theft of a huge amount of gold from transporters between Bannack and Virginia City. To be efficient in its operation the gang had its watchmen working in gambling and mining offices so that they could provide accurate information on the date and time gold was to be transported. In addition, it operated in small units to cover several routes so as to maximize on the cache they took.
In 1863 the rate of crime and violent robbery had more than double within the region. Many of the residents got frustrated with the situation. They decided to form vigilantes committee to help combat the robberies.
The Vigilantes began by arresting three men in December 1863 in Nevada City (a boom town downstream from Virginia City) who was suspected to be members of the Plummer gang. One man was hanged while the other two were banished from the area.
The following months the vigilantes arrested over a hundred men on suspicion of being members of the Plummer Gang. Most of the arrested men were executed while a number were run out of towns on the threat of death if they returned.
At this time a number of victims of the robbery also reported to have identified Henry Plummer during the robberies. This made a lot of people begin to suspect the sheriff to be part of the outlaw gang terrorizing the residents. In hindsight, it all made sense because as sheriff he had an intimate knowledge of all the comings and goings of the area.
Eventually in one of the suspected member of the gang pointed to Henry Plummer as the head of the gang during one of the executions held by the vigilantes. This confirmed the suspicion that indeed sheriff Henry Plummer was an outlaw.
Hanged at the Gallows
In January 1864 Sheriff Plummer together with two of his deputies were arrested by the vigilantes on suspicion of being members of the gang and executed. Plummer was hanged on the gallows he had built as a sheriff of the town.
The Vigilantes then killed several other suspected members of the Plummer’s gang until the governor voiced his concern over the killings in the area.
All in all, this was a rowdy time to live in the Wild West. Life was cheap and death was easy.
Also Read: The Lost Cabin Mine in the Bighorn Mountains
Henry Plummer was a very enterprising man. In the few years he was in Bannack he managed to amass a fortune for himself. He had a gold claim and was by no means a man of small means. But what has been of great interest to many people over the centuries has not been his personal wealth but his hidden treasure from the hundreds of raids that he was involved in.
When Plummer was accosted by members of the vigilante committee on suspicion of being the leader of the innocents, he is said to have bargained for his life claiming that if given two hours on a horse he will bring back gold equivalent to his weight.
The vigilante didn’t listen to his pleas but instead hanged him without ever revealing where he had hidden the gold.
On the Hunt for Plummer’s Treasure
Upon his death, people begun search all around Bannack and the Alder Gulch area in search of the hidden Plummer’s treasure. Over the years a number of people have come forward claiming to have found the gold, but no evidence has been produced to support these claims. Up to this day, people are still out there trying to find this hidden Plummer treasure.
It has been featured in several publications but it is still one of Montana’s most popular unsolved mysteries of the early days.
Also Read: The Wild History of Virginia City, Montana
And: Metal Detecting in Montana – Coins, Relics & Buried Treasure
Historians believe there are more hidden treasures in the region between Bannack and Virginia City that people pay attention to. Did Henry Plummer bury his stolen gold in one place, or did he bury several caches in different locations?
Of course it wasn’t just Plummer that was getting rich by stealing gold from the miners. His gang members were getting their cut too!
Given that most of these gang members were hanged without revealing where they buried their loot it is still possible that some of these treasures are still hidden in the region. In fact, some of the reported discoveries of the Plummer’s treasure could be a treasure hidden by any other of the members of the gang that were killed by the Vigilantes.
Treasures Hidden for Safety from the Gangs
When you consider how dangerous overland travel was at the time, it’s not too hard to imagine that other miners would also cache their gold to avoid theft.
The road between Bannack and Virginia City was so difficult to travel, with so many robberies occurring night and day that it seems reasonable that miners would cache their gold for safety. I would bet that at least a few hidden caches can be found in the caves surrounding the area.
With such a wild history, it seems reasonable that there are still many, many buried caches of gold out there.
Between Alder Gulch and Rattlesnake Creek, the value of gold that came out of the region has been estimated at over 100 million dollars. I would bet that there are at least a few million dollars-worth of placer gold that lies buried in the surrounding area waiting to be unearthed once more.
Next: Metal Detecting for Relics in Old Mining Camps