The Swan Range -- Books and Stories by Carol Buchanan

The Vigilantes of Montana

I write historical fiction and nonfiction about the Vigilantes of Montana. In my view, the Montana Vigilantes were, for the most part, men who were forced to make dangerous decisions where ruffians ruled and murder was tolerated. I write stories of people forced to make dangerous choices where justice and forgiveness collide. courage, faith, and hope. My first four novels, The Vigilante Quartet, tell about Montana's Vigilantes. (See the covers at left.) This group of men risked everything their lives and futures, and perhaps their very souls to break a conspiracy of robbery and murder that plagued a region where gold lay in the streams, but ruffians ruled and murder was tolerated.

Once they established law and order, they kept it until the creation of Montana Territory in May 1864. Even then, they were the only law in existence, because Chief Justice Hosmer did not arrive until October. Even then, there was no code of law until the Legislative Assembly met on December 12, 1864, and began to write Montana's first codes of civil and criminal law.

Keeping the peace in the face of millions in gold, with no laws to restrain human greed, and a wilderness to hide in required the courage to make the tough decisions and act on them, the faith in the triumph of good over evil, and the hope that future generations would find them faithful to their trust.

Writing Montana's Vigilantes

Montana history comes into our curriculum in the eighth grade. The summer before I went into the eighth grade, my parents took me on a statewide history tour - both Montana history and their personal history. We visited the gold country, Alder Gulch and Bannack, then ate dust northeastward across the plains to Malta, where my grandmother homesteaded on the Milk River in 1900.

One evening in Virginia City, I walked up the hill to the Hangman's Hangman's BeamBuilding, so named because they hanged five men at once from a single beam. As I stood looking up at it, reading the list of names, the old building spoke. The ropes, long gone but weighted down with bodies swinging from their nooses, creaked against dry wood.

That trip sealed my fate, though I wasn't aware of it until much later. At the time, I was stunned into a silence that lasted until the end of the century, when I felt free to answer the call to write Montana's Vigilantes.

The Books of the Vigilante Quartet

From one novel, God's Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana, have come three more. As I finished that first novel, I realized there were far more stories to be told about the Vigilante era in Montana's history than I will live to write. After The Devil in the Bottle and Gold Under Ice, I set to work on the fourth Vigilante novel, The Ghost at Beaverhead Rock. I expect to publish it in 2014, the 150th anniversary of Montana Territory.

The central character in all four Vigilante novels is Daniel Stark, a young lawyer from New York who joins the Vigilantes in order to save lives, among them his own. It turns into a crusade to establish the law in a time of war.

Dan and the other men and women in Alder Gulch must dig into their core to find the courage, faith, and hope as they are forced to make dangerous choices to survive.