Vigilante Days and Ways: The Pioneers of the Rockies

by Nathaniel Pitt Langford

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Vigilante Days and Ways examines the difficulty of living in the region that would become Montana and Idaho during the mid-1800s. The work highlights the bloody history of the area by focusing on robbers and other criminals who would lie in wait along the craggy landscape of canyons, gulches and mountain passes. Stagecoaches, pack trains, express messengers and miners were all targeted by robbers. N. P. Langford also looks at the equally bloody means of enacting justice when the criminals were captured, either by law or by vigilantes.

The California Gold Rush really was a bonanza. Between 1849 and 1855 the miners gathered more than $400 million dollars; once adjusted, it is a sum today reaching into the trillions. It was a social phenomenon marked by the carnivalesque. In his work Roughing It (1872) Mark Twain’s protagonist remarks as his brother heads West, “Pretty soon he would be hundreds and hundreds of miles away on the great plains and deserts, and among the mountains of the Far West, and would see buffaloes and Indians, and prairie dogs, an antelopes, and have all kinds of adventures, and may be get hanged or scalped, and have ever such a fine time, and write home and tell us all about it, and be a hero…”

Go they did to the Land of Golden Dreams, in the largest internal migration in American history, and the adventures and tragedies have created a large and memorable literature.