Seems like every state has a storied law enforcement agency. Here we have the Texas Rangers. In Montana it was the Vigilantes. I recently ran across an interesting story about the Montana Vigilantes that was formed in December 1863.
But first, here’s a glimpse of what they faced in 1863. Outlaws, robbers and murderers ran rampant in the Montana Territory. What courts there were had very limited power in remote mining camps. Mostly justice (if any could be had) came about through what was called miners’ courts and was mostly very weak and the rulings difficult to enforce.
A group of men from three of Montana’s major cities held a clandestine meeting in John Lott’s store in Virginia City and formed this secret organization. Over the course of two years their numbers rose to over two thousand men. The Vigilantes’ main goal was to rid the territory of an outlaw gang called the “Innocents.” They dispensed harsh justice to undesirables of the young Montana Territory.
In the first two months of 1864, they hung 24 men. Pretty busy it appears.
Seems the Vigilantes would paint the numbers 3-7-77 on homes, fences, tents and other things as a threat. If the person didn’t leave, they dealt with them violently and swiftly. No one ever got a second threat.
The meaning of the numbers is a mystery. Some say they represented the exact time period that the Vigilantes gave their targets to get out of town – 3 hours, 7 minutes, and 77 seconds.
Another interpretation is that the numbers were a grave’s dimensions: 3 feet, by 7 feet, by 77 inches.
Still another school of thought is that it was a code used by the Masons.
The Montana Highway Patrol still uses the numbers today. The patch on each lawman’s shoulder sports 3-7-77. The department also paints it on the rear panel of each patrol car.
To the lawmen of today it represents “Serve and Protect.”
While there’s no justification at all for vigilantes, neither could a man couldn’t stand by and let evil take over without doing something to root it out. Evil is like a poison; it destroys and eats at the fabric of society.
Do you have any opinions?
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