Tracks Montana Gold Rush
Perilous Passage takes readers along on a first-hand journey amid the hardships, violence and courage that marked the trail to the rich Montana gold fields of the early 1860s.
It goes into the world of the notorious Plummer Gang and the vigilantes formed to wipe it out, but much more, it is the story of the people who risked all to seek fortune in a wild land.
Edwin Ruthven Purple based the book on his personal experiences from 1862-1863 in traveling from Utah to prospect at Gold Creek and later at Bannack City in what became Montana.
Purple's manuscript, based on a diary he kept of his Montana adventures, languished until recently in the New York Historical Society where his family placed it after his death in 1879.
Kenneth N. Owens, professor of history at California State University-Sacramento, stumbled across the manuscript by accident a few years ago and edited it for publication. Owens's introduction and carefully researched comments throughout the book provide historical context and insights that add to its authenticity.
"The narrative that forms the core of Perilous Passage was a real find," said Martha Kohl, former editor of the Montana Historical Society Press. "Among other things, it offers another perspective on the most celebrated instance of vigilantism in Montana history."
The book also provides rich descriptions of the hazards of the trail, white-Indian relations, Mormon-gentile relations, and the culture of the boom towns of the Montana gold rush.
Purple knew the notorious highwayman Henry Plummer who was behind much of the violence and crime that led to the formation of the Montana vigilantes who eventually hanged him.
With detail and apt description, Purple recounts Plummer's vicious deeds as well as his personal demeanor.
"He (Plummer) spoke in a low, quiet tone of voice, a habit which never deserted him, even when labouring under such intense excitement as the Murdering [(sic)] of a human being must have produced," Purple wrote.
But he also recounts an apparently gentler side of Plummer in his observations about his marriage to Electa Bryan, who was known as a "girl of the deepest piety."
The book is filled with the names and activities of the people who played leading roles in the development of Montana Territory-Deer Lodge Valley—rancher Johnny Grant, early Montana pioneer historian Granville Stuart, financeer Samuel T. Hauser, and many others.
Perilous Passage: A Narrative of the Montana Gold Rush, 1862-1863 , was written by Edwin R. Purple, edited by Kenneth N. Owens, and published by the Montana Historical Society Press. It is 224 pages with 46 illustrations and available in hard cover for $25.95 and paperback for $15.95 and can be ordered from the Montana Historical Society Museum Store for $14.95 plus shipping by calling toll-free 1-800-243-9900.Order