Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Captain James Williams

Pennsylvania native James Williams was the son of Irish and Welsh immigrants. The West lured him as a young man. In 1856, Williams was involved in the violent Border Wars in Kansas where he was a “Free State” man. He followed the rush to Pikes Peak in 1858 and came to Bannack with a wagon train from Denver in 1862. In the absence of a leader, the travelers elected Williams to lead the train and thereafter he was known as Captain, or Cap, for short. Cap Williams followed the rush to Alder Gulch in 1863. Then during those dark turbulent days of lawlessness, he again served as captain, this time of the vigilantes. When robberies and murders terrified citizens, Cap Williams stepped forward to lead the vigilantes in the capture and hanging of some two dozen suspected road agents during winter of 1863-1864.

Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 945-626
When this work was finished, Cap married and settled down in the emerald green ranchlands of Madison County’s Ruby Valley. But in March of 1887, searcher’s discovered Cap’s body hidden in a thicket. The newspapers reported that Cap had laid out his mittens and scarf as a pillow. He took a fatal dose of laudanum. He lay down knowing sleep would take over and the cold winter weather would do the rest. Some speculated that Virginia City banker Henry Elling was about to foreclose on his ranch. Others believed that his role as a vigilante weighed so heavily upon him that he could no longer live with the burden. Some however, had a different theory. Cap was a man of integrity, and he would never have willingly left his wife and seven children. Some believe that sentiments against Cap were still rife, and that he had enemies. Perhaps, they speculated, someone came along in the cold and offered him a fatal drink. A tombstone in a tiny burial ground today marks Cap’s grave. We will never know for sure what put him there.


  1. Ellen, you have a type - o on the year Cap came to Bannock. It was 1863.

    1. you have a type-o also. You spelled Bannack wrong