You had to be careful
walking the streets of Virginia City, Montana in early 1863. Murder and
robbery seemed a daily event after Bill Fairwether and his five cronies
discovered history's richest placer gold strike in nearby Alder
Gulch. Within weeks, over 10,000 gold hungry miners poured into the
The smell of easy gold brought thieves and murderers out of the
woodwork and onto the dusty streets of Virginia City, looking for an
easy way to steal a buck. They couldn't have chosen a tougher town
to pick on.
Prior to President Grant issuing a city charter, a merchant,
pioneer, mason, and cofounder of the town, Paris S. Pfouts acted as
mayor. Pfouts built the original mercantile building (that still
houses Rank's today) out of native stone and mud. On December 23,
1863, in the basement of that building, behind guarded doors, Pfouts
and a resolute group of men met and signed the famous Vigilante
Oath. They would not tolerate a terrified citizenry any
longer...even if the leader of the road agents was Henry Plummer,
Virginia City Sheriff by day.
The Montana Vigilantes hung Plummer and 21 members of his gang. Some
of them, on the corral post out back of today's Rank's
Mercantile. Mr. Pfouts' building eventually changed hands until
C.W. Rank purchased it in 1889.
Today, when you drive into Virginia City to shop at Rank's
Mercantile, you'll enter a living ghost town, frozen in time. When
the gold ran out, so did most of the people.
The incredibly well preserved Rank's Mercantile and Virginia City
offer a true glimpse into the old west Victorian era. Rank's
continues to sell the same clothing and gifts they offered nearly
150 years ago. And while you try on a new suit, you can gaze out the
back window at the old corral post that brought fear into the hearts
of every road agent around.