On the Reservation
By Mary-Terra Berns
When I came across Plummer in Lalia Boone’s 1985 book, Idaho Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary, I wondered why the early residents of this one-mile-square city in the middle of the Coeur d’Alene Reservation would memorialize a robber and murderer by naming their town after him. Lalia Boone, a former University of Idaho professor, suggests in her book that the outlaw Henry Plummer, who had a hideout near the current townsite, may have been its namesake. I thought maybe Henry Plummer was some kind of Wild West Robin Hood, which might be an explanation, but naming a town after an outlaw wasn’t typical, and I was motivated to investigate Henry Plummer’s story, and perhaps find out where his hideout was located.
A book first published in 1987 titled, Hanging the Sheriff: A Biography of Henry Plummer by R.E. Mather and F.E. Boswell, and a search on the internet acquainted me with the man. Henry Plummer arrived in California from Maine in 1851 and immediately purchased a ranch and a mine near Nevada City, northeast of San Francisco. He was elected town marshal in 1856 and managed the position well for someone in his early twenties. However, in 1859, he was involved in a convoluted event concerning an abusive husband and his wife. Plummer shot the husband and, after some legal back and forth, was convicted of murder. Although many thought he was innocent, he became prisoner number 1573 at San Quentin.
He was released early for health reasons, but continued to experience misadventures in Nevada City and elsewhere in the West. Ultimately, he settled in the town of Bannack, Idaho Territory (now Montana) in 1863, where he was elected sheriff. At that time, he also supposedly became the leader of a group of outlaws called Road Agents who robbed and murdered miners. The authors of Hanging the Sheriff found no evidence to support this claim, but in 1863 a group of vigilantes hanged Plummer as well as twenty-one other men suspected of belonging to the rogue gang.