Plummer’s Treasure

Sheriff Henry Plummer

Sheriff Henry Plummer

Did a crooked sheriff hide a treasure of stolen gold near Bannack, Montana?

When gold was discovered in Alder Gulch, Montana, in 1863, hundreds of prospectors descended on the boomtown of Bannack. Among them were outlaws, eager to collect their share of the spoils.

In the spring of that year, a group of such outlaws called the Road Agent Gang nearly wiped out the prospectors. It’s been said they stole more than a thousand pounds of gold in nuggets, coins, and gold dust.

Henry Plummer, the town sheriff, was an ex-convict and secret leader of the gang. According to author and historian Dick Pace, Plummer had been released just four years earlier from a brand new California prison called San Quentin:

“Henry Plummer was a very pleasant looking individual. He was the only man in Bannack, practically, that always tipped his hat to a lady when he saw her on the street.  Well, you could call him the consummate conman of his day, so he was able to con people into thinking he was a competent man to be the sheriff. And, of course, he knew that being a sheriff would give him a perfect cover.”

Plummer and his gang targeted miners trying to transport their gold to a major railhead.�
It’s estimated that in four months, Henry Plummer and the Road Agents killed more than 120 miners and stole what today would be $6 million in gold.

Plummer’s gang targeted miners transporting gold

Plummer’s gang targeted miners transporting gold

Finally, in December of 1863, the gang went too far. A well-liked young man was cruelly murdered by the Road Agent Gang. One of the local ranchers found the body and brought it into town. Dick Pace said it was the final straw:

“They formed a posse and during the next six weeks the vigilantes were picking people up, giving them a trial. And we know they hanged about 22 men, at least.”

When the outlaws were caught, they started pointing fingers. One Road Agent about to be hanged identified Henry Plummer as the gang’s leader. The vigilante posse raced to Plummer’s house.

Only seven months after the Road Agents had begun their reign of terror, Henry Plummer marched to a scaffold he himself had built in his role as sheriff. But before he was hanged, he made an unusual request; if given two hours on a horse, he would return with his weight in gold. The vigilantes had already heard enough. Henry Plummer hanged without telling anyone where his treasure was buried.

Immediately after his death, prospectors started searching for Plummer’s booty. According to local historian Jim Edwards, two mysterious gold hunters may have found it in the early 1900s:

“They went into the local store that had a vault and asked if they could leave this box in there all night. And one of the men stayed there riding shotgun on the vault. The next morning they disappeared. Nobody knew who they were or where they went or what they dug up.”

Even if one box of Plummer’s gold was found, there’s probably a lot more out there.  Two local men have been hunting for the treasure for years. Bill Jappe said he and his partner are confident that Plummer’s gold still lies buried somewhere in the area:

“Nobody would bury their eggs in one basket. He was the sheriff of both counties at the same time, so it’s understandable that he has someplace where he has access to it. I bet there’s a thousand pounds or better in different places, maybe from Virginia City to Bannack.”

Perhaps the location of Plummer’s buried gold will never be found – if it was ever there in the first place.