George Ives & the Vigilante Movement in Montana

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George Ives & the Vigilante Movement in Montana


July 30-31, 2007.

We are staying in Cameron RV-Park & Store in Cameron, Montana. Cameron is a STORE located 10-miles south of Ennis in the Madison Valley. The Cameron RV-Park is about 12 sites located behind the Store & Saloon (the social gathering place for miles around). The PPA campground is nothing fancy but for the PPA price of $12.50 for FHU it is just fine. The view over the Madison Valley and mountains surrounding Virginia City is worth the $12.50.

For those of you that are not familiar with PPA (Pass Port America) it is an organization you can join for less than $50 per-year. Campgrounds that belong to PPA offer 1/2 price discounts. That kind of savings can quickly add up. While participating PPA parks generally have some restrictions on dates the PPA offer is valid, or possibly days of the week the discount is valid, or perhaps the number of days that the PPA discount will be honored the discount is genuine. Many times PPA campgrounds are new campgrounds that need help in getting established. Other times PPA campgrounds may be on the outskirts of town instead of in the "prime" location thus they need to provide an incentive for campers to stay with them. Whatever the reason PPA campgrounds generally provide a much cheaper option. PPA is the only campground organization that I think is worth the cost. PPA does not have a gimic. What you see is what you get. Once you join they send you a directory listing all participating campgrounds. The PPA directory is the FIRST directory we check when trying to locate a place to spend the night. You can join PPA by calling 228-452-9972. If you decide to join PPA, it would be nice if you gave them my number "R-0156251" as the PPA member that told you about PPA. In return PPA will give me $10 cred toward next years membership. I will thank you in advance for that kindness. Thank you.


Site of Trial and Hanging of George Ives Dec. 21 1863

Site of Trial and Hanging of George Ives Dec. 21 1863


We spotted this sign in Nevada City. Until seeing this sign neither of us had ever heard of George Ives. However, George was the catalyst for the Vigilante movement that became the "LAW" in Alder Gulch.


Ives was tried and convicted of robbing and killing the popular young Nicholas Tbalt. The trial took place outdoors in December in 1863. Note that 1863 is smack in the middle of the Civil War and is before this area was even a Territory.

It was a time before government and law and order arrived in the "frontier" and Alder Gulch was indeed the frontier in 1863. Now, lets get back to the story of George Ives.

Two wagons served as the judge's bench and witness box. Twenty-four chairs from a nearby hurdy-gurdy house seated the jury. The trial lasted three days. Ives was found guilty and hanged from the rafter of an unfinished building after the jury deliberated less than an hour.

Ives was tried and convicted of robbing and killing young Nicholas Tbalt. This was the beginning of Vigilante "Law and Order" Justice in Alder Gulch.

Testimony established that Nicholas Tbalt had sold a span of mules to his employers, Burtchy & Clark, who paid him and asked him to retrieve them from where they were boarded. Tbalt took his gold with him, He rode to Dempsey's Ranch for the animals. When Tbalt did not return Burtchy and Clark assumed that he had left with their gold and the mule team, they soon found that they were mistaken.

As it turned out Tbalt had gone for the mules, and was murdered, robbed him of his money and the mules.

Ten days later Nicholas Tbalt's's’s body was brought into Nevada City on a wagon. William Palmer traveled to Virginia City and informed Tom Baume, who at once went down to examine the scene and where the body had been found.

At the trial Ives accused Long John Francks of the crime.

However, Ives contradicted himself at his trial, this time stating that Aleck Carter was the murderer. The jury patiently listened to all the testimony and found that it was George Ives that committed the crime.

Long John said, on his examination at the trial, that "he did not see the shots fired, but that he saw Nicholas coming with the mules, and George Ives going to meet him. Not long after that Ives rode up with the mules", and said that "the Dutchman would never trouble anybody again".

The murder of Nicholas Tbalt and the trial of George Ives began the vigilante movement in Montana. When George Ives robbed and murdered Nicholas Tbalt and hid his body in the sage brush where it froze solid before being found and brought into Nevada City 10 days later. News that George Ives had been seen with the dead man's mules and had been heard to say that Tbalt would never trouble anyone again incensed citizens all along the 14-mile length of Alder Gulch. So incensed by this crime 25 men pledged mutual support to each other and rode out to capture George Ives. Remember that when this murder occurred Alder Gulch, indeed Montana was not a state or even a Territory. There was no "official" law on this frontier in 1863. Even so some would say the Vigilante Movement operated in violation of the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, habeas corpus, and other principles of legal hocus pocus found in civilized places covered by such.

The Sheriff back in Virginia City was sent for by friends of the murderer in order to save him from vigilante justice. During Ives' trial his "criminal-friends" tried to help him by planning for his escape, intimidating witnesses, making appeals to the sympathies of the jurors, and insisting that fine points of the law be observed. But Georges' cohorts held off on taking more drastic action until their leader "the Sheriff" arrived. Unfortunately, for George Ives, the Sheriff has heard rumors that a large body of vigilantes was also planning to come after "the Sheriff himself". Being more concerned for his own skin that that of George Ives he stayed away from the trial. As a result, George Ives was found guilty of murder and was hanged while vigilante guards with loaded shotguns prevented Ives' friends from rescuing him.

But this isn't the end of the story. The vigilante movement continued.

Miners of Alder Gulch suffered greatly when shipping their gold to Bannack on the only road available. Unfortunately, it was the road patrolled by the notorious Plummer gang (Road Agents). Keep this in mind because things are about the change.

On May 28, 1864 the Montana Territory was created out of the existing Idaho Territory by Act of Congress and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln. This changed things! Now Alder Gulch came under the jurisdiction of the laws of the United States. The first territorial judge of Montana, Sidney Edgerton, was appointed by then President Lincoln to preside over the rough tactics of the mining frontier. Edgerton formed the "Vilgilantes," an angry mob of miners, using guerilla tactics and given 'above the law' status.

Road Agents graves in Boot Hill above Virginia City, Montana

Road Agents graves in Boot Hill above Virginia City, Montana

The "Vigilantes" of judge Edgerton, killed many men in a flurry of hangings. A few incidents were downright lynchings.

Five men, perceived to be "Road Agents," were hanged together in Virginia City on Jan. 14th, 1864. They were: Haze Lyons, Boone Helm, Jack Gallagher, Frank Parish and "Clubfoot" George Lane. Their tombstones are the ones we saw on boothill above Virginia City.

Now you know the story behind those five marked graves in Boot Hill. But it isn't the end of the story, not by a long shot.

Plummer (the sheriff) himself was later captured and hung in Bannack. This is the "sheriff" that did not come to the rescue of George Ives because he was afraid of what the Vigilantes would do to him. As you can see he was wise to stay away from the George Ives trial but not wise enough to leave the area. The "sheriff" was also reputed to be the leader of the "Road Agents".

So far you have part of the story, --- the part that sounds noble. Some suggest the vigilantes had a more sinister motive.

They hold that the Vigilantes were part of the Civil War. It is common knowledge that there was constant contention of various sorts among the citizens of Virginia City and Alder Gulch. Wounded soldiers who completed their enlistment's, men from both sides, held strong opinions and expressed them. That is to be expected and their battles were part of the deadly Virginia City, Montana way of life.

But, was there more? The incredible flow of gold from the mines could easily support a war. In fact, it has been said that gold from Virginia City, Montana won the war for the Union. Alder Gulch yielded an estimated $30 million in gold in just three short years between 1863 and 1866.

There is some evidence that it was necessary to take strong steps to prevent any of that gold from going to the South and to assure that it flowed into the North to support the greenbacks, with which the Union purchased war material and paid salaries. It is possible that the Vigilantes played a major role in determining the outcome of the Civil War from out here in Montana.

The Montana Territory existed between 1864 and 1889 when it was admitted to the Union as the State of Montana on November 8, 1889.



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