Many frontier towns did not employ lawman. When the crime-rate increased dramatically some towns formed Vigilante Committees. Vigilante justice included whipping, banishment and death. One of the first Vigilante groups formed was in San Francisco in 1851. After hanging several criminals were hanged the committee was disbanded.

In May 1863, Henry Plumber was elected sheriff of Bannack . Unknown to the people of Bannack, Plummer was the leader a 100 man gang that were involved in local robberies. The gang wore ties in a special knot to identify fellow members and called themselves as the "Innocents". Crime in the town increased dramatically and in during the first couple of months after he was appointed, more than 100 citizens were murdered. A Vigilante Committee was formed and eventually a member of the Innocents confessed that Plummer was the gang's leader. On 10th January, 1864, Henry Plummer was lynched by the vigilantes.

A gang of criminals led by Frank Reno caused havoc in Indiana in the period following the American Civil War. In 1868 the Southern Indiana Vigilance Committee published a leaflet warning that they would take revenge if the Reno brothers continued to break the law.

Allan Pinkerton discovered the Reno gang planned to rob another train near Seymour. When the train was stopped, instead of gold, it contained Pinkerton and his men. After a gunfight the Reno brothers tried to escape from the scene of the crime. Three members of the gang were captured and lynched by a local vigilante group. Frank, William and Simeon Reno, as well as Michael Rogers, Miles Ogle, Charlie Anderson, Albert Parsons and Charles Spencer were also captured.

On 12th December, 1868, 56 hooded men entered New Albany jail. Frank Reno was the first to be dragged from his cell to be lynched. He was followed by his two brothers, William and Simeon. Another gang member, Charlie Anderson, was also hanged in the prison.

Primary Sources

(1) Southern Indiana Vigilance Committee, poster published in 1868.

We deeply deplore the necessity which called our organization into existence; but the laws of our State are so defective that as they now stand on the Statute Books, they all favor criminals going unwhipt of justice; a retrospective view will show that in this respect we speak only the truth.

Having first lopped off the branches, and finally uprooted the tree of evil which was in our midst, in defiance of us and our laws, we beg to be allowed to rest here, and be not forced again to take the law into our own hands. We are very loth to shed blood again, and will not do so unless compelled in defence of our lives.

We are well aware that at the present time, a combination of the few remaining thieves, their friends and sympathizers, has been formed against us, and have threatened all kinds of vengeance against persons whom they suppose to belong to this organisation. They threaten assassination in every form, and that they will commit arson in such ways as will defy legal detection. The carrying, out in whole, or in part, of each or any of these designs, is the only thing that will again cause us to rise in our own defence. The following named persons are solemnly warned, that their designs and opinions are known, and that they cannot, unknown to us, make a move toward retaliation.

Frank Reno, Clinton Reno, William Reno, James Greer, Stephen Greer, Pee Johnson, Chris Price, Harvey Needham, Meade Fislar, Mart Lowe, Roland Lee, William Sparks, Jesse Thompson, William Hare, William Biggers, James Fislar, Pollard Able.

If the above named individuals desire to remain in our midst, to pursue honest callings, and otherwise conduct themselves as law abiding citizens, we will protect them always. If however, they commence their devilish designs against us, our property, or any good citizen of this district, we will rise but once more; do not trifle with us; for if you do, we will follow you to the bitter end; and give you a "short shrift and a hempen collar." As to this, our actions in the past, will be a guarantee for our conduct in the future.

We trust this will have a good effect. We repeat, we are very loth again to take life, and hope we shall never more be necessitated to take the law into our own hands.

(2) Leavenworth Times (26th August, 1869)

Pond City this morning, about two o'clock, John Langford was taken out by the Vigilance Committee to be hung for his

crimes. On ascertaining his certain fate, he told them he did not want them to hang him, and that he would hang himself; so he pulled off his boots, put the rope around his neck, climbed the tree and jumped off. Before doing this he acknowledged to killing six men, and said if he had had his fate postponed a few days he would have killed as many more. On being requested to make his peace with his Maker, he replied that if he had a Maker it was a damned poor one, as he had experienced considerable trouble in the last few years. He also said he would meet them all in hell, but none of them should gain admission except with hemp ropes ornamenting their necks. Langford was about twenty-two years old and was half Indian. He had led a desperate life all over the border.

(3) Governor Thomas Osborn, letter to Charles Bassett, Sheriff of Ford County (24th April, 1876)

This will be handed to you by Mr. R. C. Calleham, whose son, John F. Callaham, was executed by mob violence in your county, on the 8th. He visits Ford County for the purpose of making a thorough investigation of all the facts and circumstances attending the death of his son. He claims that there is no doubt of his son's innocence, and if this claim is correct the atrocity of the crime - an utterly law-defying one at the best - certainly demands the attention of all law-abiding people, and more especially of the officers to whom is entrusted the execution of the law and the preservation of the public peace.

I trust that you will extend to Mr. Callaham all the "assistance, counsel and encouragement which it may be in your power to extend. There must be an end to mob violence in this state, and local officers exercising vigilance and energy in its suppression and punishment may rely upon the Executive for support and assistance. Let me know in what manner I can be of service in bringing to justice the perpetrators of this recent outrage, and I shall not be slow in responding to any practical suggestion. In the meantime I trust that you will do everything in your power to facilitate the inquiry which Mr. Callaham proposes to institute.

(4) Charles Bassett to Governor Thomas Osborn (28th April, 1876)

Through what little information I gave him and his own exertions he has ascertained the fact that his son, John Calleham, was at Dodge City, on the 3rd day of April 1876 the day on which we held our municipal election. It appears from the statements made by the Sumner County and other papers that the horses were stolen on the 30th, and that the parties in pursuit followed the thieves a distance of 30 miles. The theory is that if the deceased John Calleham was here on the 3rd day of April that it would be physically impossible for him to have stolen those horses. Several Citizens of good standing are willing to qualify that they spoke with him on the 3rd of April, at Dodge City. If he was one of the thieves the time given him to travel over 300 miles of ground was 3 days from the night of the 30th of March to the morning of the 3rd of April. I do not hesitate to say that this fete could not be performed by any one horse or horseman in the time given, especially as the ground was so soft, as to leave an impression, so plain that it could be followed at a very rapid gait.

To be brief I am now of the opinion that the man was innocent of the crime alleged, and for which he has suffered death. Mr. Calleham wishes me to go to Sumner County and arrest the parties interested in the hanging, but without the assistance of the executive department I am totally unable to do anything, as I am in a poor fix financially to undertake so lengthy a journey.

(5) John Wesley Hardin, Life of John Wesley Hardin as Written by Himself (1896)

In the year 1873, and in fact previous to this date, there existed in Gonzales and DeWitt counties a vigilant committee that made life, liberty, and property uncertain. This vigilant band was headed by Jack Helms, the sheriff of DeWitt, and his most able "lieutenants were his deputies, Jim Cox, Joe Tomlinson, and Bill Sutton. Some of the best men in the country had been murdered by this mob. Pipkin Taylor had been decoyed by them at night from his house and shot down because he did not indorse the killing of his own sons-in-law, Henry and Will Kelly, by this brutal Helms' mob. Anyone who did not indorse their foul deeds or go with them on their raids incurred their hatred, and it meant death at their hands. They were about 200 strong at this time and were waging a war with the Taylors and their friends.