Distinctly Montana Magazine

Distinctly Montana Fall 2020

Distinctly Montana Magazine

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w w w . d i s t i n c t l y m o n t a n a . c o m 67 I'd driven to Virginia City to meet with several well-informed local folks to get their take on 3-7-77—not that I needed reason to visit the area. It feels like going home; my roots run deep there. I'm descended from Dr. Don Lorenzo Byam, a judge at the area's first criminal trial and my great-great-great grandfather. As a Vigi- lante, he offered his home in Nevada City as a meeting place. If his walls could talk, I've always thought maybe we'd know the answer. "A popular theory is it's the measurements of a grave," Evalyn Johnson, author and archivist at the Thompson-Hickman County Library in Virginia City, said. "But no one knows for sure," local writer Angela Mueller added. "That's right," Evalyn said. She's pored over historical records for 20-plus years. "If it were written anywhere, I would have found it. I really think it is a Vigilante code. A secret code." "Like meeting and potluck dinner tonight at the lodge?" I joked. They were polite enough to chuckle. "More like a warning for the bad guys to get out of town: the Vigilantes are meeting, and when we do, you'll be sorry you're still here," Evalyn said. With that, we bounced popular theories off each other, sitting in the shade of Evalyn's 1879 home. For more than 100 years, the meaning of 3-7-77 has been the subject of debate and a dozen or more articles. To help you choose your favorite theory, here's the background: Dr. Byam planned to trade his stethoscope for a pickax and strike it rich. The area's first gold strike in Bannack lured Byam from Col- orado. Bandits jumped Byam's claim, so he moved with his family to Nevada City shortly after gold was discovered in Alder Gulch on May 26, 1863. Outlaws followed the money. While Dr. Byam was building his two-story log home and office on what is now Highway 287, a group of bandits, called the Innocents, was forming and seemed to have insider knowledge of gold shipments out of Alder Gulch to the banks in Bannack. With all his attention focused on the Civil War, President Lincoln had little time to send law enforcement to the area. As robberies and murders escalated, residents tired of the outlaws and soon took matters into their own hands by electing a sheriff and establishing miners' courts. "V IGILANTE TRAIL 3-7-77" HIGHWAY SIGNS GREET VISITORS TO VIRGINIA CITY. And 3-7-77 is part of the Montana Highway Patrol's logo. But what do we know of 3-7-77's origin? article and photos by TERESA OTTO 3-7-77 VIRGINIA CITY Warning or Whimsy?

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