Captain Williams joined us in the music room to welcome visitors to his town, and let us know that there seemed to be a bit of unrest in the community. Jim Brady and a man by the name of Murphy had been having some disagreements during the summer days and Captain Williams of the Montana Vigilantes warned us he wasn’t sure if trouble might break out. But he encouraged us to follow him into 1864.
He left the music room and soon after we followed, a group of tourists, kids and adults. We were out of the music room and let our eyes adjust to the darkness, which was illuminated every so slightly by the lanterns our two tour guides carried. We moved forward but stopped where Captain Williams and another man discussed the bad blood brewing between Murphy and Brady.
Farther away, around the corner of the building that served as a jail, we could hear raised voices. As we followed the lantern around the corner and down the street to stop in front of the saloon, the voices rose and fell. It became apparently quite quickly that one man, Murphy, had imbibed in too much whiskey. As three men played a card game out front of the hotel, Murphy flapped his jaw inside yelling, or rather slurring his comments.
We moved on down the street passing a house where a young mother was doing her best to convince her three young children to get into their beds. As we approached the end of the block, we heard music coming from the large house ahead and across the street. An older man sang “Shenandoah” only to be interrupted by shots fired behind us, back down by the saloon. A woman flew out of the house, past the singer and ran toward the sound of the shots screaming at the top of her lungs making a path through our tour group as she went to see if it were a relative who had been shot. Finding it was not anyone from her family, the woman, again screaming, raced back through our tour group toward the house.
Now the action really picked up as a wounded man was carried to a front porch, the midwife moved that direction (the doctor apparently being out of town), and the Vigilantes quickly apprehended Murphy.
We rounded the corner and went up the street as this living history play continued to unfold. When the action moved one direction we followed. We witnessed the trial and the hanging of Brady, then saw the wounded man Murphy as he lay writhing in pain from being shot in the stomach. Just when we thought things would settle down, two mean burst out of a canvas wall tent, one shooting at the other. And there before our eyes another of Nevada City’s residents “died.”
All too soon the lantern tour and trip back in time to 1864 Nevada City, concluded and we returned to the music room.
This is living history at its best, playing out before your eyes and making you feel as if you are truly witnessing history.
Nevada City is a Montana State Heritage Commission site. The buildings are all authentic structures (or representative of authentic structures) from the frontier era that have been moved to Nevada City from all across Montana. The living historians who recreate these scenes during the periodic lantern tours or who just generally “populate” the town are present weekends throughout the summer.
“The Women of the Gulch” is the theme for interpretation at Nevada City the weekend of Aug. 24 and 25. There will be another Lantern Tour on Aug. 31 where the “residents” of Nevada City will no doubt play out another of their historic stories. Throughout Labor Day weekend the big theme will be “Jack Slade’s End.”
I met the character of Jack Slade while on my own trip to Nevada City. He came into the saloon, where I was learning the card games (it is a tough job, but somebody has to do it). This man who was a superintendent of the Overland Stage Stations and who had his various altercations with Jules Remi down in Colorado leading ultimately to him killing Remi and then cutting off his ears, was, shall we say, rather inebriated by the time he came into the saloon. He was shooting off his mouth and Captain Williams, who happened to be there at the time hauled him outside and called for his wife Virginia to come and get him.
Virginia, for whom the Virginia Dale Stage Station in Colorado is named, was beautifully attired and astride a good looking horse. She rode up to the staggering Jack, leaned over from her sidesaddle and took hold of his own ear to take him walking down the street.
That’s the last I saw of them in Nevada City on my trip, but the word is, he will be back for Labor Day and may get another dose of medicine.
Later in the season the living historians of Nevada City will have a program on “Winter Apples” Sept. 7-8, one on Trails End Sept. 14-15, and a final program “All Hallows Eve,” Oct. 25-26.
During the weekend of Sept. 19-22 a tri-regional meeting of living historians will be held in Nevada City and the word on the streets indicated such folks as Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley, and a host of other “characters” could show up.
Lodging opportunities in Nevada City include the hotel and cabins, plus the Just An Experience Bed and Breakfast.
This is one of the finest opportunities in the West for you to escape into the past for a few hours or more. ❖