Case File: Bannack Treasure AKA Plummer's Treasure
Location: Bannack, Montana
Description: Bannack is a small ghost town in the Bitterroot Range in the Southwestern tip of Montana. A few ghost stories are connected to the structures here. The treasure is said to consist of more than a thousand pounds of nuggets, coins and gold dust.
History: Since 1864, treasure seekers and fortune hunters have been searching for the treasure of Sheriff Henry Plummer in the hills around Bannack, Montana. Plummer had been the ringleader of a gang that robbed and killed miners, stealing their gold in the process. The gang hid the gold somewhere in the remote area outside of Bannack. Immediately after his death, prospectors began looking for Plummer's buried treasure.
In the early 1900s, two mysterious gold hunters found something. According to historian Jim Edwards, the men went to the town of Ennis, bringing a box with them. They went into a local store and asked if they could leave their box in the store's vault overnight. One of the men stayed there "riding shotgun" on the vault. The next morning, they disappeared. Nobody knew who they were, where they went, or what they dug up. Some have speculated that they dug up Plummer's gold.
However, even if one box of Plummer's gold was removed, much more might remain. Two local men, Scott Jones and Bill Jappe, have been hunting the treasure for nearly five years. They are confident that the gold still lies buried somewhere in the Montana hills. They believe that it is located somewhere between Virginia City and Bannack.
Background: In 1863, twenty-six years before Montana was admitted to the Union, gold was discovered in part of the territory known as "Alder Gulch". Hundreds of prospectors showed up, each trying to claim his share of the spoils. Word spread quickly about the discoveries of gold. This attracted large gangs of outlaws around mining camps. Many of these gangs resorted to violence in order to get the gold.
In the spring of 1863, the Montana prospectors were nearly wiped out by a brazen group of outlaws called the Road Agent Gang. They reportedly stole more than 1,000 pounds of gold, nuggets, coins, and gold dust. They were secretly led by Henry Plummer - sheriff of the gold boom town of Bannack, Montana. The people who elected him had no way of knowing that he was an ex-convict. Ironically, he had been released just four years earlier from a brand new California prison: San Quentin.
Plummer was considered to be a very pleasant looking individual. He was apparently the only man in Bannack who always tipped his hat to a lady when he saw them on the street. He was also able to con people into thinking he was a competent man to be the sheriff. He also knew that being a sheriff would give him the perfect cover for whatever illegal activities he wanted to do.
Plummer's targets of choice were miners trying to transport their gold to a major rail-head. During a four-month period in 1863, it is estimated that Plummer and the Road Agent Gang killed more than 120 miners. At the same time, they stole gold valued today at over $6 million. The townsfolk of Bannack had no idea that their chief law enforcement officer was in reality the ringleader of the Road Agents. For eight months, his secret identity remained hidden.
Finally, in December of 1863, an incident in Bannack put the first crack in Plummer's carefully constructed facade. A well-liked young man was cruelly murdered by the Road Agent gang. One of the local ranchers found the body and brought it into town. The residents of Bannacks were enraged; several of them formed a posse and searched for the killers. During the next six weeks, they tracked down the outlaws. Each of them fingered others. The vigilante posse, armed with their new information, rounded up the rest of the gang.
Finally, when a Road Agent named Red Yeager was about to be hanged, he dropped a bombshell, naming Plummer as the gang's ringleader. The vigilante posse immediately went to Plummer's house. Based on Yeager's confession and some other information from the gang, Plummer was sent to the gallows. On January 12, 1864, only seven months after the Road Agents had begun their rein of terror, Plummer was marched to a scaffold he himself built in his role as sheriff. Before he could be hanged, he made an unusual request. He asked to be given the chance to show them where he had hidden the stolen gold. However, the posse denied the request and he was hanged.
Investigations: Treasure hunters Scott Jones and Bill Jappe have spent several years trying to look for the treasure. They believe that it is located somewhere between Bannack and Virginia City, another town that Plummer was familiar with.
Extra Notes: This case originally ran on the May 2, 1990 episode.
The ghosts of Bannack are described in the book, "The National Directory of Haunted Places", by Dennis William Hauck.
- Henry Plummer at Wikipedia
- Bannack Treasure at Unsolved.com
- Henry Plummer at Legends of America
- Henry Plummer's gold puts local actors on television
- Sheriff hanged by vigilantes won’t get state pardon
- Historians challenge romantic view of state's history of vigilante justice
- Vigilante ghosts guard Montana's first town
- The legend of Henry Plummer
- Henry Plummer at Find a Grave