A Decent Orderly Lynching: The Montana Vigilantes

Overview

The deadliest campaign of vigilante justice in American history erupted in the Rocky Mountains during the Civil War when a private army hanged twenty-one troublemakers. Hailed as great heroes at the time, the Montana vigilantes are still revered as founding fathers.

Combing through original sources, including eye-witness accounts never before published, Frederick Allen concludes that the vigilantes were justified in their early actions, as they...

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A Decent, Orderly Lynching: The Montana Vigilantes

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Overview

The deadliest campaign of vigilante justice in American history erupted in the Rocky Mountains during the Civil War when a private army hanged twenty-one troublemakers. Hailed as great heroes at the time, the Montana vigilantes are still revered as founding fathers.

Combing through original sources, including eye-witness accounts never before published, Frederick Allen concludes that the vigilantes were justified in their early actions, as they fought violent crime in a remote corner beyond the reach of government.

But Allen has uncovered evidence that the vigilantes refused to disband after territorial courts were in place. Remaining active for six years, they lynched more than fifty men without trials. Reliance on mob rule in Montana became so ingrained that in 1883, a Helena newspaper editor advocated a return to “decent, orderly lynching” as a legitimate tool of social control.

Allen’s sharply drawn characters, illustrated by dozens of photographs, are woven into a masterfully written narrative that will change textbook accounts of Montana’s early days—and challenge our thinking on the essence of justice.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
A respected former reporter and editor who wrote 1994's well-received Secret Formula on the history of the Coca-Cola Company, Allen here treats quite a different subject: vigilante activities in Montana in 1864. The initial actions of the vigilantes were widely reported and approved at the time, but their subsequent legacy is largely ignored or unknown. A solid addition book to the limited number of histories of this movement, this book is valuable partly for its examination of the legal and cultural underpinnings and circumstances of vigilante activity, such as the limited and often ambiguous powers of the territories and the role of Civil War partisanship. Allen makes interesting connections and comparisons with the contemporary struggle to decide how to respond to terrorists and what legal rights and status to assign to them. The book reads reasonably well and is well grounded in both primary and secondary sources. Of particular interest to libraries in Western states but also to collections strong in Western history or criminal justice.-Charlie Cowling, SUNY at Brockport Lib. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806136370
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2004
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 1,399,101
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Frederick Allen is a former political editor and columnist with the Atlanta Constitution and commentator for CNN. His history of the Coca-Cola Company, Secret Formula, has been translated into seven languages. Atlanta Rising, his analysis of the forces that shaped modern Atlanta, is taught at several colleges. He and his wife, Linda, divide their time between Atlanta and Bozeman, Montana.

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