This story was written more than 20 years ago as a tribute to law officers everywhere. It bears repeating.
Real heroes are people who do their duty with no particular fanfare. Such are the men and women of the Highway Patrol who travel thousands of miles in Montana as do the patrols in other Western states traversed by scarce, lengthy and lonely roads. These officers face danger on a daily basis while guarding the security and safety of the rest of us.
The story of Montana’s Vigilantes is written in history books,
It’s a tale of decent citizens ridding the land of killers and crooks.
In Virginia City and Alder Gulch, no honest person was safe,
Children killed, houses burned, terrified women raped.
A road-agent gang of brutal thugs stole whatever they would,
Led by a devil, Henry Plummer, a Sheriff folks thought good.
Soft spoken, a gentleman in his dress and yet with manner bold,
Plummer used his office to learn when freighters carried gold.
“The Innocents,” he called his goons, and laughed when miners died.
Hundreds of men were robbed and murdered, and grieving widows cried.
The awful carnage went unpunished, road agents ruled the land,
Till decent men were driven to muster a Vigilante band.
The call went out in Alder Gulch to men and women both,
A committee of twelve joined together and took a solemn oath.
To arrest the thieves and murderers and recover property stolen;
They pledged upon their sacred honor each to all beholden.
They vowed to never violate the laws or rights of man,
They made a secret pact, determined to carry out their plan.
To hold themselves to their standard of justice as given by God’s decree;
Witnessed December 23, in eighteen-sixty-three.
Then grim and stern the Vigilantes, captained by James J. Williams
Went forth in bitter cold of winter hunting evil villains.
3-7-77 found on tentflap, door or horse-drawn wagon,
Warned: Three hours and seven minutes and seventy-seven seconds
Leave the Gulch, get out of town, that’s what an outlaw got
Before a secret swift-moving band would bring the hangman’s knot.
(Some may claim the numbers mean a grave of final sleep —
Three by seven long, by seventy-seven inches deep).
In a matter of weeks, the Vigilantes cleaned the Gulch of scum
They tracked and hanged two dozen thugs; there was no place to run.
They set a trap for Henry Plummer and caught him in the act,
On January 10, of ‘64, Plummer’s composure cracked.
As the hangman’s noose closed on his throat, Plummer cried for his wife,
But the order, “Men! Do your duty!” ended Plummer’s life.
In less than a year, the Vigilantes’ onerous task was done.
And reasonable people could take up their lives, safe from a killer’s gun.
Then quietly, those men of duty went their separate ways,
Keeping the secrets of their gruesome task to the closing of their days.
Today, we salute the men and women of Montana Highway Patrol.
Like lawmen of old, they travel alone; to keep folks safe, their goal.
While guarding the peace, they wear with pride the Vigilante emblem,
A shoulder patch with the blazing numbers:
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So two weeks ago the president told us that the greatest threat to the United States is systemic racism. Last week he told the Europeans that the greatest threat to the U.S. is climate change.