PURSUING PHOTOS AND PROSE
With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles, and an Airstream Travel Trailer
©Bert Gildart: According to Nan Worel, a waitress at a restaurant in Montana’s Virginia City, the numbers 3+7+7+7 once had–and still have–immense meaning. 3+7+7+7 was the Vigilante Code, “The Code of Law and Order.” If an undesirable neighbor or road agent found those numbers written in blood or red paint on their doors the message was a warning: Leave and don’t come back.
The message also carried with it a time line. Add 3 plus 7 plus 7 plus 7 and that was the number of hours (24 hours) that person had to leave under his own power.
WARNING WENT UNHEEDED
On January 14, 1864, five people were warned, but because they refused to depart they met their demise at the end of the rope. They were buried, according to Nan, in a grave 3 feet wide, 7 feet deep and 77 inches long.
“You can see those graves on Boot Hill located on a hill overlooking what is today our quaint settlement. They are the graves of George Lane, better known as Clubfoot George; Jack Gallagher; Frank Parrish; and Haze Lyons. We know they’re there because six months later town’s people dug up the grave of Clubfoot George, and cut off his foot. It’s in our county museum, and you can see it.”
Today, the Montana Highway Patrol adopted these numbers to honor the First Law and Order brought to the State of Montana.
We meet Nan after driving 72 miles from West Yellowstone. During the night it snowed hard closing much of the park. In a day or two, when roads are cleared, park passes will reopen–but after a week, it seemed that it was time for us to leave. As those of you recall who read my blog on Grant Kohrs , Virginia City, Montana was part of our scheduled trip.
Because the 72 mile road to Virginia City was wet and the temperature hovered between 31 and 36 degrees, we held our speed to about 50 mph, and when I looked at the gauge that measures miles per gallon, I was amazed to see that our Dodge 2004 pickup with its Cummings Diesel engine registered a whopping 17.2 miles per gallon. That’s better than I’ve ever done, but then I’ve never driven a sustained 50 mph. Because I feared patches of ice, that’s the way I drove while towing our Airstream to Ennis, Montana, located just 14 miles from Virginia City.
Because I once produced a book on Montana’s Missouri River, I was familiar with some of the attractions of Virginia City. The settlement is located high in the state’s Gravely Mountains, which form some of the headwaters of the Missouri River. Waters here also feed Alder Gulch, once described as the “The greatest natural sluice in North America.” Miners flocked here and the restaurant in which we found Nan and all of her history is the same saloon I visited years ago for my book. I’d heard the bar contained historic furnishings, and they’re still there.
Behind the counter where Nan now stood was a huge old bar. Years ago I was told the bar was brought up the Missouri River by steamboat to Fort Benton, located just below Great Falls, Montana. From Fort Benton the bar was transported by ox-drawn wagon to Virginia City–about to become the state’s first, but short-lived, capitol.
TWO STROBES BETTER THAN ONE
Nan had an interesting story to tell and I wanted to photograph her telling her story in front of the historic old bar, and did so with two Nikon SB-8OO strobes to better light such an expansive area. The strobe on the camera served as the master strobe and wirelessly triggered the strobe Janie was holding. The two-strobe-lighting technique is one I’ve used for years but Nikon made my job a little easier when they introduced their wireless flashes.
Virginia City is one of two historic settlements still remaining in southwestern Montana; the other is Nevada City, located just two miles north of Virginia City. Though never as large as Virginia City, it, too, had its violent side and on December 21, 1863, George Ives was hung after what history recalls as one of the nation’s most extraordinary trials.
We plan to spend several days here learning more about Montana’s early and quite violent history. Our friends (see previous posting) Rich, Eleanor and Emma Luhr are parked next to us in an Ennis, Montana, campground, and they, too, seem intrigued by all they are seeing.