Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Thomas Livingston Correspondence 1863

This is just a short tale of something that happened during the Civil War. It has to do with the practice of Confederate troops killing prisoners of war. One Union commander found a way to stop local Confederates from doing just that. Below is the correspondence between that Union commanding officer and the Confederate commander.

In May of 1863, near the town of Sherwood, Missouri, an exchange of letters took place between Union Colonel James M. Williams, 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, and Confederate Major Thomas R. Livingston, commander of the "Partisan Rangers". The letter is in regards to the treatment of captured black Union troops held by Major Livingston's command.

In the letter to Major Livingston, dated May 26th, 1863, Colonel Williams states:

"I desire to call to your attention to the fact that one of the colored prisoners in your camp was murdered by your soldiers. And I therefore demand of you the body of the man who committed the dastardly act. And if you fail to comply with this demand, and do not do so within forty-eight hours, deliver to me this assassin, I shall hang one of the men who are now prisoners in my camp."

On May 27th, 1863, Major Livingston responded:

"I confess my surprise that an officer of your rank should have fixed such conditions to your demand as you are doubtless aware that the one who committed the offense charged is not a member of any company over which I have any control, but was casually at my camp and became suddenly enraged and an altercation took place between him and deceased which resulted in a way I very much regret, and that said offender's whereabouts are to me unknown, consequently making it impossible for me to comply with your demand."

After receiving Major Livingston's reply, it's said Colonel Williams realized that the Confederate Major was not taking his demands to heart. So with that, Colonel Williams used another tack in his effort to convince the Confederate commander that his behavior of killing prisoners of war would not stand.

Colonel Williams ordered that one of the Confederate prisoners in his possession be shot and that prisoner's body be returned to Livingston personally while under a flag of truce. Colonel Williams' orders were carried out within a matter of thirty minutes. And right after that, he informed Major Livingston of his action. 

It's said that that ended the practice of the Confederates murdering prisoners of war black or white. At least that was the case in Missouri since Major Livingston's command never again murdered Union prisoners.

So who was Confederate Major Thomas Livingston?

Major Thomas R. Livingston was a "Border Ruffian" or "Bushwhacker" who murdered blacks and Republican abolitionist without hesitation. In the 1850's, Livingston was made a Captain of a "Border Ruffian" unit which was tasked with the defense of western Missouri against Kansas Jayhawkers. 

Jayhawkers were militant bands affiliated with the free-state cause during the Civil War. They were marauding gangs who were guerrillas. But make no mistake about what they did, they more than not fought pro-slavery groups such as the "Border Ruffians" or "Bushwhackers" in the Kansas Territory.  

At the start of the Civil War in 1861, Livingston joined the Confederacy by joining the 11th Cavalry Regiment of the Missouri State Guard as a Captain. As a Captain, he commanded a Confederate cavalry battalion which became known as "Livingston's Rangers." As insurgents creating chaos and death, they were authorized under the Partisan Ranger Act of the Confederate government to conduct guerrilla attacks. Because the Confederacy knew there was no way for them to conquer and hold Missouri, their plan was to destroy and terrorize Missouri using guerrilla warfare.

Livingston entered Jasper County, and then over into Arkansas and Indian Territory. Union Colonel James M. Williams, 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, was advised of Livingston's policy of shooting Union prisoners -- especially black Union troops who he had a personal grudge against. Because of his actions which was seen as barbarism even by the standards of the times, he was labeled an "Outlaw Bushwhacker."

On July 11th, 1863, Livingston led his Partisan Rangers northeast to Stockton, Missouri, with the plan of capturing Union supplies at a small Union garrison there. His unit of 250 cavalry surprise the town. Against them was 20 Union militiamen who sought cover in the town's courthouse. Those 20 made a stand and actually survived against overwhelming odds.

In fact, during the attack, one soldier in that group of 20 Union militiamen, of those who were holed up in the courthouse, actually shot Livingston out of his saddle. Soon after that, thinking their leader dead, Livingston's men retreated.  

After the fight, the 20 Union militiamen emerged from the courthouse. It's said it was then that they looked over the dead Confederates and found the wounded Major Livingston. Some say he reached for a rifle as they approached him. Others say he tried to get to his feet. Other say he simply laid there in pain begging for help. Fact is no one really knows what happened to make those Union militiamen shoot Livingston to pieces, but they did just that. And some say, it was done to make sure he was dead.

From there, he and the other dead Confederate invaders were buried in a mass grave. With Major Livingston's death, his leaderless battalion disbanded. And while it is said that some of his men may have fought on with other Confederate guerrilla groups bend on pillaging, burning, and murder, there were those who celebrated knowing that Livingston's guerrillas would not bother anyone again.

Tom Correa

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Gilleland's Civil War Double-Barrel Cannon

The story of the double-barreled cannon has to do with an experimental weapon during the Civil War. Of course, while that's true, the concept of such a field piece goes back to an arms maker in Italy in 1642. That particular gun maker did in fact cast a double-barrel cannon which was intended to be fired simultaneously. It was designed to fire two cannonballs linked by a chain from its side-by-side barrels. The rounds were to act as a mower or sickle to cut down enemy soldiers as if they were wheat. Imagine that!

In 1862, an Athens, Georgia, dentist by the name of John Gilleland, no relation to Georgia dentist Doc Holliday, raised money from Confederates there and cast a double-barrel cannon. It had twin side-by-side 3 inch bores. As with the Italian gun maker's design of 1642, Gilleland's cannon was designed to simultaneously shoot two cannonballs connected with a chain. For things to work out without a hitch, simultaneous ignition was key. The powder in each barrel had to ignite at the exact same moment in time to have things go well. An instant off in either barrel meant trouble. 

April 22nd, 1862, was the day of the first test of the Gilleland cannon. It's said that his double-barrel cannon was aimed at a couple of upright poles. The poles were going to be used to gauge the effect of the shot so that it could be accurately measured. Well, as with the best laid plans of mice and men, the powder ignited unevenly. 

Because of that and imperfections in the casting process, the twin barrels gave the connected balls a spinning movement in a direction other than where the targets were located. Witnesses reported that its rounds "plowed up about an acre of ground, tore up a cornfield, mowed down saplings, and then the chain broke, the two balls going in different directions." 

And no, things didn't go any better during the second test. During its second test, the chain broke when the barrels ignited a second or two apart and subsequently shot that chain over the horizon. Witnesses during the second test reported, "The thicket of young pines at which it was aimed looked as if a narrow cyclone or a giant mowing machine had passed through it."

On its third and last test, when fired, the chain snapped almost instantly. With that, one cannonball slammed into a nearby cabin and took out its chimney. The other cannonball took off in a whole different direction and killed a cow. 

So believe it or not, during those tests, the Gilleland cannon mowed down trees, cut through a cornfield, and showed that it was capable of taking out a cabin and killing a cow who wasn't a threat to the Confederacy. Were those trees, cornfield, cabin, or that cow even near the intended targets of Gilleland's double-barrel cannon? No. Not even close. In fact, none of those things including that poor cow were reported to be anywhere near its actual targets or impact area. 

Because it was such a failure, the Confederacy didn't want anything to do with it. In fact, no matter how much Gilleland tried to pawn it off on the Confederates, no one in the South's military wanted it. But its rejection wasn't the end of the story of Gilleland's double-barrel cannon. The folks in Georgia agreed to use if as a blank firing signal cannon to be used to warn the city of Monroe in the event of approaching Union troops. 

On July 27th, 1864, Gilleland's double-barrel cannon was actually fired once for just that reason. It was on that day when there was a report of several thousand Union troops being sighted approaching Monroe. The Gilleland cannon was loaded with shot but not cannonballs, it was readied and fired to signal the city that Yankees were advancing on Monroe. The cannon's signal did in fact incite mass hysteria in the city of Monroe. The hysteria died down and calm was regained in the city later when it was found that the reported sighting of Union troops turned out to be false. 

While that was the last time it was fired, today Gilleland's double-barrel cannon is on display in front of the City Hall of Athens, Georgia. As part of the Downtown Athens Historic District, it's said to be one of the city's most popular and well-known attractions there. 

And while Gilleland's double-barrel Civil War cannon never saw battle, and is today a very popular landmark, the folks in Athens, Georgia, found it fitting to point it facing north when they positioned it in front of their City Hall. Though it never used in battle, some say it's pointing North as a symbolic gesture of defiance against the Yankees that it was built to fight. Of course there are those who say the Yankees probably had spies in the South who reported how it was useless weapon all the way around. Unless of course the target was something other than what was being aimed at.  

Tom Correa 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Joshua Abraham Norton -- America's Self-proclaimed Emperor Of The United States

I was in a conversation recently, and we were talking about Hawaiian history. Our conversation had to do with the surrender of the Queen in 1893 then again in 1895, the fact that the Queen attempted a coup to overthrow her own brother, and how the United States didn't even want Hawaii.

I was asked about a group in Hawaii that wants to return things to the days when the islands were ruled by an absolute monarchy. An absolute monarchy is a form of monarchy in which the monarch holds supreme autocratic authority. That would mean that the King or Queen would be free from any authority. Absolute monarchies are usually hereditary monarchies. They don't believe in subjects having even the slightest rights that Americans citizens see as being basic to our existence.

In monarchies, Kings and Queens believe they were chosen by God and the people answer to them. In contrast, in a representative republic, the politicians voted into office must answer to the people. Under a monarchy, the people are subjects without any rights. In a representative republic, the people are citizens with rights. These are huge differences.

While obviously such a return is the wishful thinking of power-hungry individuals, we can be thankful that such a thing will never happen since the residents of Hawaii are citizens of our 50th state. But that doesn't mean that there aren't people living in the state of Hawaii who claim they are in fact today's "Hawaiian royalty" and want to see a King or Queen on the thrown there.

As for the wannabe Hawaiian monarchs and their desire to rule the islands as was done over 130 years ago, I have to admit that whenever I think of American citizens declaring themselves some sort of royalty, including "Hawaiian royalty," I think of Joshua Abraham Norton.

Joshua Abraham Norton was known as "Emperor Norton." He was a resident of San Francisco during the California Gold Rush. He became quite the celebrity after proclaiming himself "Norton I, Emperor of the United States" in 1859.

Of course, we all need to remember, just because someone declares himself or herself "royalty" doesn't make it so. In Norton's case, that certainly didn't make it so. But frankly, that didn't matter to Norton -- especially after he started making a living off his new found royalty.

Joshua Abraham Norton is believe to have been born in England on February 4, 1818. Though born in England, he is said to have spent his early life in South Africa. It's believed he left South Africa and sailed to San Francisco in late 1849 after inheriting a large sum of money when his parents passed on. 

He arrived in San Francisco as a businessman at the age of 31, and established himself as a prominent citizen. Things changed for him a year or so after arriving when he supposedly lost everything making bad investments. While trying to recover, it's said he was connected with this and that business deal but failed to recover his losses. 

It was about then that he disappeared for almost eight years. In reality, after he filed for bankruptcy, it's said that he went from being a prominent member of the San Francisco business community to living at a working-class boarding house and working menial jobs to feed himself.

He reappeared seemingly out of nowhere in September of 1859. It was at that time that he proclaimed himself "Norton I, Emperor of the United States." Yes, he declared himself the "Emperor of the United States." And just like other make-believe monarchs, he even created his own royal uniform. Yes, with ceremonial sword and all.  

San Francisco has a long history of embracing the strange, the eccentric, and swindlers. Like those with worthless royal titles in Los Angeles and New York City today, Norton was perfect for San Francisco upper-class who saw him as a fascination, a novelty, a curiosity, someone to fawn over. Fact is he gained a sort of celebrity status, and the people in San Francisco went crazy over him.

Norton found his self-proclaimed royal status a lot better than simply being a down and out businessman. San Francisco's upper-crust paid him to appear at their social events, everyone did him favors, people provided him with a hotel room and even servants from time to time simply because it was believed that's what a man of "royalty" deserved.

Why? Well, mostly because he was entertaining while being extremely harmless. People support such non-sense for one reason of another, and in Norton's case he seem to add a needed diversion from the world. This was a period in American History when tellers of tale tales were prized for the entertainment value. In fact, telling tall tales was how Mark Twain got started.

Besides, people there liked him. They actually helped him keep it all going. They allowed him to think he was royalty even when they knew full well there's no such thing in America. Yes, all in the exact same way that some have allowed people in Hawaii, Los Angeles, and New York City to continue calling themselves "royalty" when in fact America does not have, nor recognize, royalty among our citizens.

Allowing the "royalty" shtick to keep going is how a lot of such things continue to manifest themselves. In the case of so-called royalty today, whether it's getting people to contribute their money to a "foundation" run by "royals," or to get people to contribute their money to a group touting the need of funds for "official state business" of "the Kingdom," people calling themselves "royalty" are not above taking money from others.

Not everyone accepted what Norton was selling without questioning what he was all about. But then again, that was part of what made him a curiosity. People wanted to know what made him think he really could be Emperor Of The United States. As for profiting from his behavior, when you think about it, it was probably no different than today since both the wealthy aristocrats and merchants alike capitalized on his behavior. It's true. It didn't matter to them what his reasons were, there were people in San Francisco who milked it for all it was worth.

Citizens of San Francisco celebrated Norton's "imperial presence." The high-brows used Norton's royalty and notoriety by inviting him to events. His invited presence at a soiree was used to show off their supposed blue-blood pedigrees and taste for the avant-garde. He really was seen as a charming eccentric.

Of course, there were those who saw Norton as being very profitable. That's why merchants loved him. While we think of things like souvenirs as being a modern occurrence, they're not. In fact, San Francisco merchants loved his celebrity status so much that they sold all sorts of souvenirs bearing his name and face. One quick thinking entrepreneur wanting to cash in on his self-proclaimed royalty actually created fake currency with his likeness and issued it in his name.

Tailors wanted to dress him and restaurateurs sought him out to have meals at their establishments, all free of charge of course, just so they would be able to publicize his being an honored visitor of their establishments.

San Francisco newspapers also saw him as a gift when trying to sell papers. As with tabloids today who carry what some former-royal from England says about something or other, the newspapers in San Francisco jumped at the chance to publish his declaration of a secondary title as "Protector of Mexico" in 1863. They also carried Norton's proclamations, such as when he decided to order that the United States Congress be dissolved by force. 

So was he a con artist or simply insane? Was it all a scam or did he really believe that he was what he claimed he was? Some hold to the theory that he went from successful businessman to bankrupt, and that drove him insane. But since he didn't really profit monetarily from his declaration of being Emperor, what were the reasons for his deciding to proclaim himself "Norton I, Emperor of the United States?" 

There is a reason that I keep mentioning the possibility of he being a con artist. There have been a lot of people in the world who have scammed others by pretending to be royalty. If Norton was a con artist, he wasn't the first to try to pull off a royalty fraud to bilk people out of money. There have been a lot of others who have tried to claim the status and wealth of royal families.

Take for for example, Anna Anderson who professed to be Princess Anastasia Romanov. In 1918, Russian Bolshevik revolutionaries murdered the entire Romanov royal family. Of course that small fact didn't stop people from spreading the story that the Princess Anastasia was spared and swept to safety. Anna Anderson showed up years later claiming to be Princess Anastasia, the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia.

Anastasia was the youngest daughter of the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, Nicholas II and Alexandra. She along with the rest of the Romanov royal family was murdered on July 17th, 1918 by Communist revolutionaries in Yekaterinburg, Russia. They were all dumped in a shallow grave, but the location of her body was not known until 2007. 

Anna Anderson turned out to be a real con artist who had used several different names. She was a Polish-German factory worker from Pomerania, and probably the best known impostor of several other impostors who showed up over the years trying to make claim to the Romanov name. In her case, she migrated to the United States and died in 1984. 

Karl Wilhelm Naundorff was a German watchmaker, but he went down in history as a German swindler who went to his grave insisting that he was the eldest son to the King of France. His story started out when he arrived in Paris in the 1830s and immediately claimed to be Prince Louis-Charles, the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Of course King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were beheaded when they were executed for treason by guillotine in 1793 during the French Revolution.

The French people were suspect of Naundorff from the start since several men had already come forward to say they were the long-dead eldest son of the King of France. But, while that was the case, Naundorff did win over many high profile figures and kept up his claims, even as he was branded a fraud. Believe it or not, after being expelled from France, Naundorff moved to the Netherlands where he was known as Prince Louis-Charles. He was able to convince people there of his claim. With that, he lived the life of a royal. Well, in reality, he lived the life of an exiled prince until his death.

As for his true identity, Naundorff's relation to the royalty of France would be in question for more than 150 years. But, as with the case of Anna Anderson who professed to be a Romanov, years later the advent of DNA testing revealed the truth. Her DNA was tested and it was found she was not related to the Romanov royal family. As for Karl Wilhelm Naundorff, his DNA proved he too was a fraud and was not related to Marie Antoinette. Both were impostors.

Whether it's wishful thinking by a handful of people trying to pass themselves off as actually representing a fictional royal Hawaiian nation, or someone like Joshua Abraham Norton who proclaims himself the Emperor of the United States on a September day, there are all sorts of con artists and delusional people out there. 

As for whether he was simply eccentric to the point of really believing that he was some sort of fictional Emperor of the United States? Who knows why he did it. And as for those like myself who wonder if he simply woke up one day to suddenly find himself a royal who could issue proclamations pertaining to the building of bridges and more? Again I say, who knows. I don't know if anyone will ever know Norton's true motives other than getting the attention he wanted.

Again, that takes us to the question of motive for other so-called royals out there. For example, there's a group of self-proclaimed Hawaiian royalty in Hawaii. That group wants to "restore relationships with royal houses around the world, especially among those nations that recognized the independence of the Hawaiian Kingdom."

Okay, so they want to restore the Hawaiian monarchy to the throne. Of course it doesn't matter that the Hawaiian Kingdom is as dead as Julius Caesar. It doesn't matter that the last Queen who tried to overthrow her own brother was also overthrown later. Nor does it matter that the United States only annexed Hawaii after it was being threatened for annexation by other foreign powers at the time. None of that matters to delusional people who haven't realized that the world has outgrown such rulers a long time ago. While they might not like it, the world has progressed.

People don't mind governments that are governed. People don't want to be ruled -- especially by people who have no idea how it is to live in a world where you are not pampered royalty. There is a reason the world has fought against monarchies. Most have been tyrannical. The signing of the Magna Carta proves that monarchies only change at the point of a sword, or by overthrow for the good of everyone.

The days of Kings and Queens setting themselves above the people are thankfully gone. And for those who pretend to be royalty when they are in reality just plain old citizens, I really believe they are sort of like actors at a costume party all playing bit parts that they've created for themselves. 

The sad part is that the truly delusional ones really believe they are better than others, that they really see themselves as Kings and Queens chosen by God. In Hawaiian history, the people never had the right to vote even during the royal elections. And really, why would anyone want to return to the days when the monarchy ruled and the people had no rights and no voice. What's that all about? 

Royalty today, like that in Great Britain, is great for tourism the same way that Norton was great for selling souvenirs in San Francisco from 1859 to 1880. Sadly, for San Francisco that all came to an end on January 8th, 1880, when Joshua Abraham Norton collapsed on a corner in the city of San Francisco and died. Most believe he died of a massive heart attack. 

What people may find interesting is that even though everyone there knew darn well that no one could be "Emperor of the United States," no differently than how we know that we shouldn't take seriously people pretending to be members of a royal family that's long gone, more than 10,000 people lined the streets of San Francisco to pay their respects at Norton's funeral. And believe it or not, legendary writers such as Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson actually immortalized him by making him the basis of characters in their books.

Seeing how he was admired, I really understand why it's said that Joshua Abraham Norton was special in a city that was finding itself. We can call him quirky, a little crazy, a half a bubble off plum, delusional as all get out, or mad as a hatter. And really, all of that might be true. He may have really believed that he was what he said he was. Of course, if that's so, than I say so what!

All in all, Emperor Norton got the attention he wanted, gained a sort of celebrity status, and reaped the admiration of thousands. Some say he did so to became a San Francisco fixture without personal gain or harming others in the process. While I might not agree with that, and really think he really was some sort of a nut and probably a con man, no one will ever know the truth of his eccentric behavior. We will never know.

Tom Correa

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Americans Always Help During Disasters

In March of 2017, wildfires swept across Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. Dry conditions and high winds drove fires across what was later learned to be over a million acres. Besides the absolute destruction of homes, barns, businesses, the fires wiped out pastures and hay fields, But worse of all, it claimed the lives of seven people and killed an untold number of cattle.

Ranchers were in bad straits after wildfires swept through the Great Plains. That fire left in its wake a trail of loss, tragedy, devastation, death, and despair.

Because of it's widespread destruction and shear magnitude, it was called the heartland's Hurricane Katrina. Of course, as was the case in other disasters in America, Americans came forward to help when Congress wouldn't because of political reasons. Knowing that the surviving cattle needing to be fed, ranchers and farmers from around the region starting donating hay and feed.

Since I'm been asked about my link to the WRCA Foundation, I want to take a minute to say that among the many who showed up to help was the WRCA.

The Working Ranch Cowboy Association was started in 1995 by a group of men and women from across the West who wanted to promote ranching on a National and International level. Among their goals was their desire to keep the American Cowboy lifestyle alive and well. 

Their focus is on the working ranch cowboy, and to do so the WRCA produces the World Championship Ranch Rodeo as a means of showcasing the skills of the working ranch cowboy.

But above all, the WRCA's events are used to raise funds for the WRCA Foundation. Their WRCA Foundation has a Crisis Fund that provides financial and other assistance to working ranch cowboys and their families who are suffering significant hardship and who are not otherwise able to provide for their immediate needs.

According to the WRCA, a working ranch cowboy is any person, male or female, who derives a significant portion of his or her income from taking care of cattle on a cattle ranch. Day workers are included. Of course, that's who were hard hit in March of 2017 wildfires that swept across Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. 

Whether it was the many many firefighters who rush toward the fire to try to contain the destruction, or the ranchers and farmers, friends and families, who stepped forward to help in the aftermath, Americans always help during disasters. We can all pray for those who were loss, pray for those who loss everything, and of course step forward and help in any way that we can. 

For me, I support the WRCA Foundation. I have for years in whatever small way that I can. Whether it's the WRCA or another organization, it's up to us to step forward to help during disasters. And by the way, think about this, many who don't have the money to make a donation, actually gave their time to help in the recovery efforts. 

Because helping is what real Americans do, they gave of themselves. God bless them for that. After all, all is appreciated. 

That's just the way I see it.

Tom Correa 

Friday, April 3, 2020

Montana's 3-7-77 Vigilantes

They are very ominous numbers: 3-7-77

When I was introduced at a speaking engagement in February, the audience was told that I would tell them what the numbers 3-7-77 means as related to vigilantes. Since I was there to talk about Vigilantes in the Old West, I thought about it for a moment and decided to cursory say that there were a number of vigilante groups that gave themselves some interesting names. Yes, including the 3-7-77.

So why didn't I talk about them more in depth? To be completely honest, I was pressed for time and I knew that there was not way of talking about the 3-7-77 in a sentence or two when I really wanted to cover so much in a short time.

My friends, the numbers 3-7-77 was the symbol used by a vigilante group in Montana in the mid to late 1800's. Of course just mention the word vigilante in Montana even today, and you would be surprised how many people there still think of men taking the law into their own hands, men with torches, guns in hand, a hangman's noose, midnight lynchings, Henry Plummer, and the numbers 3-7-77.

While we'll talk about Henry Plummer in another post, it's said that the outlaw who found the numbers 3-7-77 painted on his tent or cabin, or tacked to his cabin door on a note, knew real well that he better get out of town. If not, vigilantes will pay him a visit -- and he will have wished he left as he danced on the end of a rope.

So what was the 3-7-77? What did 3-7-77 mean? Well, historically speaking, fact is no one really knows what those very menacing numbers really stand for. That doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of theories about what they mean, it just means that it is a true Old West mystery. Like it or not, other than everyone knowing that they were part of a vigilante's call sign, there is only speculation when it comes to what the numbers really mean.

This may take a few minutes to explain, and you'll see why I opted not to tackle the 3-7-77 during that speaking engagement. It's simply not clean cut and dry as to where it came from, or what it was used. And yes indeed, there are all sorts of theories about the numbers, how they came about, and why they were used.

One theory says the numbers 3-7-77 represented time. This theory says that an outlaw was given 3 hours, 7 minutes, and 77 seconds to get out of town. That's supposedly the time that an outlaw was given to leave town after being warned to do so. So if a note was posted with the numbers 3-7-77 on a suspected outlaw's cabin door, or painted on his tent, then he know that he had precious little time to get out of the area before meeting the wrath of the local citizens committee.

Frankly, it could have said 24 and the person reading it would have known that the clock was ticking and he better leave. Of course if it did say 24, an outlaw may have took that as he still had a full day left. In the case of 3 hours, 7 minutes, and 77 seconds, there were no mistaking that time was fleeting.

Of course there is the belief that the numbers referred to paying a $3 ticket on the 7 a.m. stage for the 77-mile ride from Helena to Butte. Which if you needed to get out of the town of Helena, that was one way to do it. While it was only 70 miles from Helena to Butte, some say it was the stage from Virginia City to Bozeman. But then there's the problem that Virginia City to Bozeman is only 68 miles apart.

A friend from Montana told me that the $3 fair was a cut rate stage fair given to lawmen trying to get someone out of town. As for the 77 miles though, he was stumped about that since even the stage from Virginia City to Bannack was over 80 miles. So where did the 77 miles comes in? No one knows.

Another theory is that the numbers relate to something taking place there on March 7, 1877. There's ever the notion that the numbers relate to the first Masonic meeting in Bannack, Montana, which supposedly took place March 7, 1877. There are those who say many of the members of the vigilante committee there were Masons and members of that lodge.

The whole Mason connection to the 3-7-77 is also explained this way. That first meeting had 3 members present, they needed 7 for a quorum, and 77 is said to have signified the number of Masons who were later at the first activity in the Montana Territory. There's also the thought that the 77 has something to do a Mason member, William Bell, who supposedly had 77 mourners at his funeral. While that is interesting, I've haven't been able to determine who kept count, why someone would keep count, or if anyone can verify that the were that many mourners there.

Another theory is that the numbers 3-7-77 explains the vocations of men involved in the Virginia City vigilante group. That theory says that there were supposedly 3 lawyers, 7 merchants, and 77 miners in that vigilante committee.

I've had all sorts of reactions over this when I've talked to friends about it over the years. Some of my friends have said this sounds like the least believable of the theories simply because there were more than just lawyers, merchants, and miners in any given vigilance committee throughout the West. And frankly, they're right. Vigilance committees consisted of the adult men population in a town. They were in fact made up of men from all sorts of vocations. This is the not the least believable explanation of the numbers, but close.

The least believable explanation is the theory saying that the mysterious numbers originated in California and were thought to be connected to three members of California vigilante groups -- all three who migrated to Montana and joined the vigilantes there. This theory is perfect for those who believe in conspiracy theories. This is right up their alley. And as with any good scam, some truth is used to make it sound plausible.

The theory is that supposedly, the number 3, 7, and 77 corresponded to men who were in positions of authority in vigilante groups in California. The idea is that those three were somehow high ranking vigilantes and acted as judges. They are said to have passed judgement, authorized executions, and even directed the disposal of their victims' bodies. Que the ominous background music!

Why is it plausible? Well, it's true that the San Francisco Vigilance Committee of 1856 gave out medallions for their members -- and those medallions were numbered. So yes, the members of the San Francisco Vigilance Committee of 1856 had membership numbers. No one knows why they did that, other than that there were thousands of members.

Sure it's possible that other vigilante groups in California used membership numbers for their members, but frankly the San Francisco Vigilance Committee of 1856 is the only group that I know of who did that in California. The very large Anti Horse Thief Association was a vigilance committee out of Kansas founded in the late 1850's. That organization expanded over the years and may have given out membership numbers, but I don't know that for sure.

The idea behind those three California vigilante transplants is that vigilante members number 3, 7, and 77, were three prominent California vigilantes who arrived in to Montana and offered their "expertise." Some say that expertise was that of assassins. And believe it or not, this same theory is thought to apply to three members of a Colorado vigilante group as well. Same story, but different place of origin -- as many myths will do.

Do I believe that theory? No, I don't for a couple of reasons. First, let's remember that citizens committees, also known as vigilante groups, preceded organized law enforcement. Vigilantes were the law when there was no law. They utilized the hue and cry. They formed volunteer watches.

Second, after formal law enforcement was established, citizens committees stayed around to support lawmen -- and make sure they stayed above board. That goes to the reason that such groups rose up and took action even after the law was established. Citizens groups worked parallel with the law, supported the law, and helped to enforce the law. In fact, in most cases they were there to man posses, take after bandits, there to be used to supply extra guards when needed, to act as the local militia, to man the local fire brigade, and be used during a disaster.

Vigilance groups were vigilant, and also there to right things when the law was inept and ineffective, were there when the law overstepped it's authority, when the law was corrupt, and when they saw the courts being corrupt or too weak to act to stop criminals.

The Ku Klux Klan has been called "vigilantes" but they are terrorists who were formed to terrorize and murder Republicans and freed slaves. Mob justice is often mistaken for that what citizens committees do. Vigilantism shouldn't be mistaken for the mob justice, but they are since both outside the law. The difference is huge. Mobs usually gathered to seek revenge or retribution -- even at the point of lynching innocent men.

True vigilantes, organized citizens committees, were the law when there was no law. They did what was needed before formal law ever arrived. Vigilantes were not terrorists, angry mobs, or assassins. And there is all sorts of evidence that vigilante groups, actually held trials when enforcing the law. In some cases like that of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1856, they held trials and actually let many go after finding them not guilty.

Of course, in other situations, like say when vigilantes hanged Killer Jim Miller in Oklahoma, they didn't need a trial because they knew who they were dealing with. He got off by intimidating witnesses, it's said he killed witnesses, and he evaded prosecution because he used pricey defense lawyers and technicalities to stay one step ahead of a rope and sudden drop.

As for the 3-7-77, there is the thought that the numbers 3-7-77 constituted the dimensions of a grave. Three feet wide, seven feet long, and seventy-seven inches deep. A grave which was supposedly waiting for the outlaw who was dumb enough to stay in Montana after being warned.

While I like to think that this is the answer to what the 3-7-77 really means, I have had a hard time finding any reference to such dimensions of a grave in newspapers or literature of that period. Fact is, as much as I believe that this really is what they ominous warning related to, most references to a grave was something like "six feet under."

There was once a superstition regarding the size of a grave. In fact, there was a "rule of thumb" that said graves should be as deep as the deceased is tall. With the average male of the 1800's only being 5 feet 5 inches in height, it makes one wander why would a grave be 7 feet long? Well, they aren't. No, just as they are not 3 feet wide or 77 inches deep.

Graves have traditionally been only 2 and a half feet wide, 8 feet long, and 72 inches deep. Yes, the traditional depth of a grave is 6 feet because that's what has been seen necessary for sanitary and health reasons. Some folks say it was that depth because most grave diggers only dug a grave to their height and a little more, Then there are those who say 6 feet was agreed to be a good depth to stop grave robbery or "body snatching" which was a real problem throughout the 1800s and into the early 1900's. Believe it or not, medical schools were notorious for hiring grave robbers to provide them with cadavers for study purposes. 

If you want to know why 8 feet long, especially since most people at the time were short. Well, the 8 foot mark includes the space for a headstone. Knowing this, the 3-7-77 figure for a grave may have simply been seen as round figures that sounded good. Frankly, it could have been any one of the theories that I mention above or something that no one knows.

In reality, it didn't matter what it meant back in the day. It really didn't since the 3-7-77 turned into an sinister warning and had its desired effect. It curbed crime and made outlaws skedaddle. In fact, it did that so well, while representing the first real law in Montana, that the numbers are used today on Montana Highway Patrol vehicles including their helicopter, and their uniform patches among other things.

Over the years, the numbers 3-7-77 became a warning sign, a set of frightening numbers that helped keep law and order back in a time when formal law enforcement was in its infancy.

As a tribute to those citizens who watched, those who were vigilant, the the numbers are used on the flight suits of pilots of the Montana Air National Guard, and the Flight Patch of the Montana Army National Guard Medevac unit. Also, the numbers appear today on the shoulder patch, vehicles, and even the helicopters of the Montana Highway Patrol.

As the Association of Montana Troopers web site puts it, "Regardless of its meaning, however, 3-7-77 is emblematic of the first organized law enforcement in Montana. The Montana Highway Patrol, in adopting this early symbol, honors the first men in the Montana Territory who organized for the safety and welfare of the people. For that same reason, the Association of Montana Troopers has carried on that tradition by placing the legendary 3-7-77 on their patch as well."

In Helena, the state capital of Montana, their annual Vigilantes Day Celebration takes place with events, music, great food, wonderful vendors, and a parade. It's a time for celebrating Montana history, but also a day that recognizes and keeps alive the symbol of that state's first law enforcement organization. It's a wonderful tribute to citizens who risked their lives to hold outlaws to account.

Tom Correa