Creator: Anonymous


Provenance Note: An original handwritten reminiscence, with no author identification, along with a typed transcript of the same, were donated to Special Collections by Merrill G. Burlingame of Bozeman, Montana, sometime prior to 1978.


Historical Note: Merrill G. Burlingame (1901-1994) was a professor of history at Montana State University and an avid collector of historical documents for his own research. Many times during his career he donated some of the material he had collected to various institutions such as the Museum of the Rockies, the Montana Historical Society, and Montana State University. With these donations, Burlingame would sometimes provide provenance information, but just as often not, as is the case with "The History of a Bridle: A True Story and Confession of Road Agents and Horse Thieves in Montana." A 45 page handwritten manuscript done in pencil on highly acidic paper, "The History of a Bridle," came into Burlingame's possession sometime around 1955. He considered the essay important enough to engage Mrs. Rosemary S. Barnett to transcribe the document that year, but by the time he donated the piece to MSU Burlingame provided no more information other than the identity of the typist. As a result the MSU library staff erroneously listed Mrs. Barnett as the author when the essay was described in the public access catalog. The original manuscript itself could possibly be a transcription from another source, but the handwriting does not appear to be Burlingame's and there are no clues as to where such a source might have been consulted.


Content Description Note: "The History of a Bridle" is a narrative of Montana's vigilante activity starting in 1864, although it appears the document was composed much later in the nineteenth or early twentieth century. The unknown author, writing in the first person, describes his trip from Denver to Virginia City in the spring of 1864 in company with a mule train laden with supplies for a mercantile operation. At one point of this journey the author claims to have ridden on the overland stage line and identifies "Rowdy Pete" as his driver. After working a claim in German Gulch, the author describes a horseback trip to Atchison, Kansas in 1865, and his return to Helena, Montana in 1866. The narrative thereafter describes a great deal of vigilante activity primarily in the Helena area, although the chronology of the events is not always apparent. Most of the participants are identified by initials only, and their organization is identified as the "3-7-77 Committee." The essay apparently takes its title from the description of a hair bridle fashioned by an outlaw named "Henry" serving his sentence in the territorial prison. The original essay and its typed transcription have been placed in separate folders.

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Updated: 4/22/22