3-7-77

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Another vigilante-related controversy surrounds the numbers 3-7-77, which vigilantes posted to warn (or scare off) their victims (see page 112 of the textbook for a graphic example). Why 3-7-77? Theories abound. Some speculate that the numbers "represented an exact period of time - three hours, seven minutes, and seventy-seven seconds - that the vigilantes gave their targets to get out of town or face violent retribution. Another common version has the numbers as the dimensions of a grave: three feet by seven feet by seventy-seven inches." (Frederick Allen, "Montana Vigilantes and the Origins of 3-7-77," Montana The Magazine of Western History 51 (Spring 2001): 5.) Frederick Allen rejects these theories, speculating that the numbers originated in Helena, where vigilantes were directing "some two dozen roughnecks to get out of town, using a $3 ticket on the 7 a.m. stagecoach to Butte, by order of a secret committee of seventy-seven." (Allen, A Decent and Orderly Lynching (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004): 356.) Most historians, however, associate the numbers with the Masons, since many Masons were involved in organizing the vigilantes. According to this theory, the three represents the number of Masons who attended the first lodge meeting in Montana in 1862. The 77 comes from the first Masonic funeral in the territory, when 76 Masons assembled to bury William Bell (the 77th mason at the gathering). According to historian Ellen Baumler, "There are numerous theories among Masons explaining the number seven in the warning. The number is significant in Masonic ritual, representing, among other things, the seven liberal arts." Other theories include the idea "that the seven represents seven Masons who organized the vigilance committee ... that the seven refers to the seven Masons who organized the short-lived Bannack lodge, or that the seven refers to the quorum of the Virginia City lodge." (Ellen Baumler, "The Masonic Apron of Meriwether Lewis and the Legacy of Masonry in Montana," Montana The Magazine of Western History 55 (Winter 2005): 57.)