Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hugh Kirk Plummer

This is another in a series on alleged vigilantes at the Cane Creek Massacre]

Having gone through the list of known vigilantes, I get to the first person for which the evidence of his participation is less reliable. From here on I run the danger of accusing someone of participating that had no real involvement. And yet to have been involved would not have held the same stigma in 1884 that it does today. Often these were "prominent men." And if there were any of the alleged vigilantes who were considered a pillar of the community it was Dr. Hugh Kirk Plummer. He was well respected, well educated, and well known. As a doctor, he frequently travelled around Lewis, Hickman and Perry counties to tend to the sick. If he were typical, he was paid very little for his services.

He was born in the Palestine community, Lewis County, January 20 1844.

During the Civil War, Hugh enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private in Company H, 19th (Biffle’s) Brigade, Tennessee Cavalry. His name is on the roll of Company E, same regiment, at the surrender of command by General Richard Taylor of Citronella, AL, May 10,1865.

Hugh married Mary Narcissus in Palestine, Lewis County, TN on Sept 25, 1866. He received his M.D. in 1867 from the University of Tennessee when it was still in Nashville. He practiced medicine in Lewis, Hickman, and Perry counties and before the birth of his last daughter moved his family to Linden TN.

The family attended the Methodist Church and Hugh was a member of several Masonic Lodges. He was also a member of the State Legislature from 1881 to 1883, representing Lewis, Hickman and Perry counties. He died in Linden TN on August 15, 1898. (Lewis County est 1843)

Several sources name him as being in the mob that came to the Condor home on August 10th, 1884.

Hyrun Belnap recorded in his autobiography the contents of a letter from John Garrett. The letter listed 12 names as being men in the mob. Dr Plummer is on the list, though in 1914, when the letter was written Dr Plummer was already dead.

Willard Washington Bean, recorded an interview in 1895 with John Anthony who had lived on Cane Creek near the Condor farm.

"The Condor boys decided to defend the Mormons and one of them grabbed a gun from over the door, but before he got a chance to use it, Doc Plummer, who seemed to be one of the leaders; shot him down."
John Anthony's testimony should be viewed with skepticism. He also claimed that the mob showed up in "white cap uniform." Of course, this was incorrect. The mob at Cane Creek wore colorful outlandish costumes, not the "white" that has become the well know image it is today. This error makes me seriously doubt John Anthony had first hand knowledge of the massacre, though not necessarily doubt his claim that "Doc Plummer" participated.

Another person Bean interviewed, identified only as Bill and who admitted he was not living in Lewis County when the massacre occurred, related the following:
"One of the Condor boys asked them what they meant by comin here with guns and reached for his rifle over the door, and while one of the mobbers wus grapplin with him for the gun, Doc Plummer shot the boy down. This was the match that touched off the powder."
It is hard to believe Bill's account since it was at best second hand, and quite possibly more distant than that. But we can certainly say he heard about Doctor Plummer's alleged participation and that it was considered common knowledge.

Miles L. Jones reported in 1934 that based on interviews with Ruben Mathis and Andrew Jackson Talley the following about the doctor.

"Someone was asked to go for a doctor, which they did, as he lived just a few miles from there; when they arrived at his house he had just unsaddled his horse that showed signs of having been recently ridden, and the doctor had not yet removed all of his disguise, and it was plainly evident that he was one of the mob. He responded, however, and pretended to give proper assistance to Sister Conder. He set her limb, but it afterwards developed that the leg was not properly set, and the bones were lapped an inch or so, and consequently she was crippled the rest of her life; she did, however, get able to walk around, and lived for nearly 32 years after the occurrence."
Dr. Plummer's name is never used in this version, but it is not unreasonable to assume about whom this story referred. There were a small number of physicians in rural Lewis County. And fewer who lived near the Condor home.

Using Jeremy Ricketts characterization of the typical vigilante, Dr Plummer fits the profile. He was a prominent member of the community who feels an obligation to the safety of the community. Of the all the members of the mob, he is the most likely to be motivated purely by the perceived danger presented by the Mormons missionaries rumored salacious intentions. The only surprise is that he easily believed the scurrilous stories for which there was no evidence.


Ardis Parshall said...

Very good of you to express a little uncertainty about men you aren't absolutely sure were members of the mob, but you do provide some significant support for the idea. I'm enjoying these vignettes of men who ordinarily aren't a part of Mormon history.

By this date, the term "white caps" or "whitecapping" was more generic than literal -- it could refer to anyone who came under cloak of darkness, however he might have been disguised, with the intent to intimidate. You remind me that I've got a tale to tell about 1898 Utah where the bad guys were just some drunk local farmhands, with no costume whatsoever, who threw a noose around a young man's neck and dragged him through the fields while yelling at him that he needed to leave their women alone. The newspapers repeatedly called them the "white caps" or referred to "the Mornoe whitecapping."

Just something to consider while your evaluating the testimony of one of your informants.

Another great post.

Ardis-the-clumsy said...

Sheesh, what typos! That's "Monroe whitecapping," and "while YOU'RE evaluating ..."

BruceCrow said...

Thanks for the tip. I had no idea that "white cap" had come to such generic usage. I'll have to go back a re-read the testimony with that in mind.

BruceCrow said...

The geatest danger is in relegating the people to the status of "outsider". That path leads us down to violence like the kind we see done by the vigilantes at Cane Creek, or the Iron County Militia at Mountain Meadows, or the US Army against the American Indians. None of these are excusable.

My intent is to remind us that the people on both sides are ... people, not outsiders. Violence in one instance does not excuse violence at another.

In Hugh Plummer's case, I believe he believed he was protecting his community. His action was still wrong.

BruceCrow said...

An interesting side note, the other day I found a reference to the Knights of Pythias Lodge building in Linden, Tennessee being named after Hugh K. Plummer. The note was from 1913. There is no such lodge today.