Henry Plummer -
Sheriff Meets a Noose
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One of the most colorful characters of the
Plummer, allegedly played both sides of the law during his short twenty-seven
years. Though for more than a century he was thought to have been guilty
of numerous crimes and rightly hanged in
Montana, today's historians question whether or not he was truly guilty of the crimes he was accused of.
Born in Addison, Maine in 1832, to William Jeremiah and
Elizabeth (Handy) Plummer,
he was the youngest of seven children. His father, older brother and
brother-in-law were all sea captains and
Henry was expected to follow in
their footsteps. However, the young man was slight of build and
consumptive, making the rigors of the sea trade too much for him to
was a teenager, his father died and the family began to struggle
financially. Just two years after the
began; Henry promised his widowed mother that he could help the family by
making his fortune in the West.
In April, 1852, nineteen-year-old
Henry sailed from New York on
a mail ship to Aspinwall, Panama, traveled by mule train to Panama
City, then boarded another ship for the rest of his journey to
California. Twenty-four days after his departure, he arrived in San
Francisco. Gaining a job at a bakery,
soon earned enough money to move on to the mining camps of Nevada
County, about 150 miles north of San
About a year after his arrival in
documents show that he owned a ranch and a mine outside Nevada City,
Some twelve months later, he traded some of his mining shares for the
Empire Bakery in Nevada City. By 1856, the local residents, so
impressed by the young man, persuaded him to run for sheriff. At
the age of 24, he became marshal of the third largest settlement in
The young marshal was well liked by the
Nevada City citizens and respected for his promptness and boldness in
handling his duties. He easily won the re-election in 1857.
But, shortly after the election, he killed his first
man. At the time, Henry was said to be having
an affair with the wife of a miner by the name of John Vedder and when
he was confronted by the angry husband, the two competed in a duel,
for which, Henry obviously won.
Plummer was arrested and
tried in a sensational, emotionally-charged case that went twice to
California Supreme Court before he was finally convicted of second
degree murder and sentenced to ten years in
California’s infamous San
Quentin Prison. He began to serve his sentence on February 22, 1859
and local residents quickly petitioned the Governor for a pardon,
Henry had acted in
Among his comrades behind bars was
Skinner, serving time for grand larceny, who would later be connected
with Plummer again.
served time only until August 16, 1859 when he was released due to his
tuberculosis and pressure on the Governor by the petition.
After his release,
Henry returned to Nevada
City, to the bakery and became an avid customer to the many brothels
of the settlement.
Before long, he was penniless and soon joined a group of bandits intent
upon robbing area stage coaches. In one such incident, the stage
driver got way with his passengers and cargo, but
was arrested. Standing trial for the attempted robbery, the former
sheriff caught a reprieve when he was acquitted due to lack of evidence.
Lawrence & Houseworth, 1866.
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But trouble had begun to follow
around and soon he was caught up in a brawl over a "painted
lady” with a man by the name of William Riley. When
Henry shot the man on October 27,
1861, he was once again arrested. This time he escaped prison by
bribing a jailer before he could be tried and fled for
Along the way, he met another
by the name of Jim Mayfield, who had alleged killed the sheriff of a
Both were obviously
wanted men, and the ex-sheriff sent word to
newspapers that both he and Mayfield had been hanged in Washington. It had the desired effect, curtailing the need for the desperadoes to
constantly look over their shoulders for the pursuing posse.
In January, 1862,
landed in Lewiston,
a woman companion and registered at the Luna House. Working in a
casino, he soon ran into his old cellmate, Cyrus Skinner, and other
individuals destined for the gallows in
such as Club Foot George Lane and Bill Bunton.
Forming a gang, the
like-minded men began to rob the local families of the area mining camps,
and especially targeted the gold shipments traveling the roads from the
mines. Somewhere along the line,
Plummer abandoned his mistress, a woman with
three children who had to resort to prostitution to feed herself and
family, and finally died an alcoholic, in one of the seedier brothels in
began to roam the area between Elk City, Florence and Lewiston. In
he killed a
saloon keeper by the name of Patrick Ford. When the saloonkeeper
kicked Plummer and some of his friends out of the
then followed them to the stable where he fired upon them.
returned fire and killed Ford. When some of Ford’s friends began to
form a lynch mob, Plummer
hightailed it out of there and headed east to
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