Author of New Look at Montana Vigilantes speaks at Society October 7

The author of a new book that takes the history of the Montana goldfield vigilantes head on, and tells us what it says about us today will talk at the Montana Historical Society Thursday evening (Oct. 7) beginning at 6 p.m.

Frederick “Rick? Allen in his new book, “A Decent, Orderly Lynching: The Montana Vigilantes and Their Troublesome Legacy,? challenges readers to confront their own ideas about law and order and justice in the Old West as well as in the world we face today.

Allen has exhaustively researched Montana vigilantes for several years including some eyewitness accounts never before published.

After looking at the facts from both sides, Allen concludes that the vigilantes were justified in their early action, as they fought violent crime in a remote corner beyond the reach of government.

However, Allen in his book continues the history into the six years that the vigilantes refused to disband after territorial courts were in place.

“Reliance on mob rule in Montana became so ingrained that in 1883, a Helena newspaper editor advocated a return to ‘decent, orderly lynching’ as a legitimate tool of social control,? Allen said.

Allen is a former political editor and columnist with the Atlanta Constitution and a commentator for CNN, who now resides in Bozeman. He combines his skills as a journalist and researcher with his love for Montana history into an entertaining and informative book and talk.

He finds parallels and lessons from Montana’s early struggles for justice with the war on terrorism the U.S. faces today.

“Dead or alive. No phrase could be more evocative of the Old West than President George W. Bush’s famous statement of indifference as to the condition of Osama bin Laden upon capture,? Allen said. “And few phrases could be more morally ambiguous.?

The reason the vigilantes of Montana took action and enjoyed such broad support was a “simple perception that they had no other choice,? Allen concludes.

“It seems to me, as a student of vigilante movements throughout American history, and especially in the frontier west during the nineteenth century, that President Bush had the right instinct when he cast the question in terms of outlaw versus sheriff, white hat versus black hat, in an older time and place, on a bleak landscape of sage brush and alkaline desert,? Allen said.

However, Allen finds that seeking that kind of justice is not without problems.

“The vigilantes of Montana were not without flaw,? he writes. “They were susceptible to Lord Acton’s dictum, and power corrupted them to an extent still being debated today.?

As we place bounties on terrorist like bin Laden, and seek to try them in military or foreign courts, as with Saddam Hussein, Allen says we should consider history as we go about it.

“But capturing a wanted man alive did not work very well in the Old West in places that lay beyond the reach of government,? Allen said. “Today, that distinction includes the spider holes of Iraq and the caves of northern Afghanistan.?

The free talk begins at 6 p.m. Thursday when Allen will be available to sign copies of his new book, followed by his talk at 6:30 p.m.

Posted by on 09/24 at 09:56 AM






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