Lot 42 of 96:
Pencil Sketches belonging to Montana Vigilante  

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Lot closed - unsold
$50,000 - $80,000

Pencil Sketches of Montana

Mathews, Alfred E.

New York

Published by the Author



[3] leaves, [63]-95 pp. With 31 lithographed plates, 4 of them folding including the frontispiece. 33.5x25.5 cm (13¼x10"), original cloth lettered in gilt on the front cover. First Edition.

One of the great books on Montana, with exceptional provenance. Mathews' striking views of Montana were some of the earliest on-the-spot drawings of that territory to be reproduced lithographically. Streeter says that "Mathews' views of the Montana frontier are the best of the period." This copy once belonged to Ross Deegan, with his pencil ownership inscription on the title page. Deegan was a founding member of the Montana Stock Association, and an avowed advocate of taking such actions as necessary to protect ranchers against the depredations of horse and cattle thieves - the vigilantism personified by "Stuart's Stranglers" in the early 1880s. In an article in the Missoula Current, historian Jim Harmon relates "Ross Deegan, a prominent member, wrote a letter to the Helena Weekly Herald, published January 30, 1879, calling for action regarding cattle and horse theft. 'Will our Legislators grant us such a law … or shall we be compelled against our wishes to become judges and executors of what we deem a proper penalty for the commission of such infringement upon the rights of property? Stockmen are law-abiding citizens and heavy taxpayers, and are undoubtedly entitled to proper protective legislation, and when this fails who can blame them for destroying the vampires that are preying upon their material interests?' Five years later, vigilantes with the 'tacit approval' of stockgrowers took action." Although there is no "proof" that Deegan was a vigilante himself, the gentlemen who made up the membership of the Association took pains to maintain their innocence, and he undoubtedly encouraged and approved of, if not directly participated in, the vigilante actions. In addition to the book, the lot includes:

  • An original "3-7-77" skull and crossbones placard, on the back of which is written in pencil "Helena Montana 1878." It is undoubtedly of the period, lithographed on stiff paper (some soiling, 1" tear in top margin). 3-7-77 was the symbol used by the Montana Vigilantes in the 19th century. People who found the numbers '3-7-77' painted on their tent or cabin, or were presented a placard such as this, knew that they had better leave the area or expect to be on the receiving end of vigilantism. The origin and actual meaning are obscure, one theory being that the numbers represent the dimensions of a grave, 3 feet by 7 feet by 77 inches. Today, the numbers are used on the shoulder patch of the Montana Highway Patrol, who claim they do not know the original meaning of the symbol, though the Association of Montana Troopers website says "Regardless of its meaning, however, 3-7-77 is emblematic of the first organized law enforcement in Montana."
  • Cabinet card photograph of Ross Deegan, a young soldier in uniform, a copy photograph of an earlier tintype or cased image, on the back of which is a typed label reading "Captain Ross Deegan, Helena MT 1830-03-24 to 1890-01-31 great-great-grandfather of E & M." There are several old pencil inscriptions as well. Imprint of Taylor, Helena, Montana.
  • Cabinet card photograph of Ross Deegan in middle age, on the back of which is a typed label reading "Captain Ross Deegan, Helena MT 1830-03-24 to 1890-01-21 great-great-grandfather of E & M," and pencil inscription "Col. Ross Deegan Michael J. Keefe's great grandfather." (crease to image).
  • Carte-de-visite photograph of an adolescent, on the back of which is a typed label reading "Ross Edmund Deegan 1865-04-14 to 1955-03-20 Helena. WCDK's bro." Pencil date 1879, imprint of Bundy and Train, Helena, Montana.
  • Menu/program for a meeting of the Montana Society of New York at Delmonicos, Oct. 16, 1905, illustrated with 2 mounted views of Helena, Montana, in 1866 and 1867. The main course was roast pigeon.
  • Stock certificate in the Helena Hot Springs and Smelter Railroad Company. Unused.
  • The ownership signature on the title page of the book reads "Ross Deegan, Helena Montana 1869"; additional small signature on front free endpaper, "Your D(?)., R. Deegan, December 1869"; on the same leaf, in a larger hand, "Winifred C. Keefe, Helena, Montana, 1890." Winifred was Ross Deegan's daughter.

Lot Amendments

Expertly and very sympathetically rebacked; the folding plates with expert repairs at the folds, one with a marginal chip replaced; some modest, most marginal soiling in places; a very nice copy of an important book, with superb provenance.

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