God created mankind with an urgent compulsion to defend himself from all threats to his life, which is only sensible if His creation was to survive. That means mankind must have food, water, and shelter. One must add money (or some substitute) to the list since money is required to survive. (Sex is probably the second strongest urge of man, but that’s another article.)
Societies’ laws must reflect the fact of man’s basic urges. That is why it is not wrong to kill in defense of one’s own life or the life of others, especially family. When taking a wife, a man is obligated to be the protector as well as partner, parent, and provider. That’s one reason why every man should own a gun and know how to use it and be willing to use it if necessary.
This truth goes back to ancient Jewish law that gives a homeowner the right, even the duty, to kill a person during a night home invasion since he can expect the most dangerous intent. At night, a homeowner has limited knowledge of the threat to the family, while he can make a fair assessment of the threat in the daylight. However, if it is the daytime, a homeowner must try not to kill an intruder.
Moses instructed in Exodus 22:2-3, “If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.”
So, a homeowner can kill any night intruder since he does not know how dangerous the thief is. For sure, he is in the home for nefarious reasons, so he can be shot, and the shooter goes free. The thief got what he deserved. If he were not in another’s home, he would be alive. He did not exercise common sense and paid with his life.
Unbelievers and nonthinkers always quote Christ’s command about turning the other cheek. That seems to be their favorite verse after, “Judge not.” It’s one thing to turn your other cheek to de-escalate a situation but another when a brute is swinging a ball bat at the head of your wife or child.
Many laws come from this principle: stand your ground, citizens’ arrest, involuntary manslaughter, etc. This principle has numerous ramifications, such as vigilante committees, bounty hunters, posses, Guardian Angels, paladins, Robin Hood, Superman, etc.
The need for law and order is seen in a ship’s captain since sailors were often on the sea for months or years at a time. In the event of any problem, the captain’s word was law.
In recent years self-defense has been much in the news, especially with the Kyle Rittenhouse and the Ahmaud Arbery cases. People or groups that don’t care for or believe in self-defense or personal accountability have often used the word vigilante, especially if a minority person is the culprit. According to Merriam-Webster, a vigilante is “a self-appointed doer of justice.” The true vigilante was a rough, sometimes crude, but fair-minded man who stood ready in the night to visit violence and judgment on those who would do harm to the young, helpless, and innocent.
It seems most far-leftists believe minorities can do no wrong, and if perchance they should, it was Whitey’s fault. It is racist to hold a minority to the same standard Whites are held to! Wait a minute, isn’t that racism? All sane and honest people would agree.
However, vigilantes go back to ancient times. The first recorded case seems to be when Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family and their food supply were taken by rogue kings. Abraham and his trained militia of 318 servants chased the thieves almost to the city limits of Damascus, Syria. Lot and his family and all their goods were recovered.
During the 12th century, the Knights Templars protected travelers to the holy land. It wasa Catholic military order founded in 1118, headquartered on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It became a wealthy, powerful Catholic order famous for its financial acumen, military prowess, and protection of pilgrims. After Muslims lost control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, many Europeans were determined to visit the Holy Land but traveled through Muslim-controlled parts of Europe. The Knights Templars provided them safe travel.
There were great swaths of territory in America’s earliest days without any kind of law and order. Each family was on its own. That’s why every family had a musket over their fireplace or in the corner. People had to keep the peace whenever men gathered to start a community. When one man or group of men took advantage of others, the good guys often formed a vigilante committee to handle the bad guys until an official could be hired for that purpose.
Settlers from eastern cities in the late 1800s needed protection. One of the essential needs was law and order on wagon trains during their long trek from St. Louis westward through vast territories of dangerous savages and organized evil men. Wagonmasters had enormous authority since there was no established law for vast stretches of land. As travelers settled in areas along the way, they created vigilante committees since there was no authority for hundreds of miles. Additionally, many private groups such as bounty hunters, private guards, Indian scouts filled the gap until the law came to the towns and cavalry forts were built.
Historian Carl Coke Rister declared, “[T]he vigilantes unquestionably served the frontier well in ridding it of desperado control. They bridged the gap between the lawless frontier and the orderly communities, which came later.”
The vigilantes consisted of noble good guys, ne’er-do-wells, misfits, average individuals, etc.; and through it all, much good, as well as some harm, was done.
One vigilante was Doc Holliday, made famous in movies and television. During an interview in The Daily Denver Times, June 15, 1886, Holliday said, “The claim that I make is that a few of us pioneers are entitled to credit for what we have done. We have been forerunners of government. As soon as law and order [were] established anywhere, we never had any trouble. If it hadn’t been for me and men like me, there never would have been any government in some of these towns. When I have done any shooting, it has always been with this in mind.”
Well, not always. Holliday was joined at the hip with Wyatt Earp. The latter was a saloonkeeper, gambler, horse thief, consorter with prostitutes, gunslinger, confidence man, and town marshal in Dodge City, Deadwood, and Tombstone.
Credit goes to the likes of Holliday, but he and his girlfriend, Big Nose Kate, were not exemplary citizens or role models for the youth of Tombstone. With the total absence of law, such people were necessary until a town or territory “grew up.”
Some villages eventually hired a sheriff, but that was later in their development. Many of the sheriffs were former gunmen with an unsavory reputation. The Pinkerton Detective Agency and Wells Fargo special agents were helpful to the cities and cattle companies in ferreting out crime inside the towns.
The bounty hunter found a necessary niche for himself until cities and counties were more settled, and like many sheriffs, he was often a reformed gunslinger. The same was true with the western paladin who was alleged to be “a leading champion and defender of a cause.”
In the mining camps in Alaska, California, and Nevada, the miners were the law since civilization was many days away.
In May of 1863, Henry Plummer was elected sheriff of Bannack City, Montana, a thriving gold area. Plummer was born in Maine and came west to make his fortune in the goldfields. With his unique position as an elected official, he is said to have organized a notorious outlaw gang known as the Innocents, more commonly known today as the Plummer Gang. The 100-member gang was headquartered at the Rattlesnake Ranch located twelve miles from Virginia City.
The Plummer Gang was blamed for the deaths of over a hundred people and the theft of a huge amount of gold from transporters between Bannack and Virginia City. The crime rate in 1863 was more than double that in the region, and citizens formed a vigilante committee to help curtail the crime.
In December 1863, the vigilantes arrested three men in Nevada City, near Virginia City. The men were suspected of being members of the gang, and one was hanged, and the other two were banished. More than a hundred men were arrested as being gang members, and most were hanged, and the others were run out of town.
At an execution, one gang member identified Sheriff Plummer as the gang leader, followed by his arrest and execution along with two deputies in January of 1864. Plummer had constructed the gallows as sheriff of the town.
Historians are divided on Plummer’s guilt. Some say he was not an outlaw, but a dedicated public official rushed to the gallows by irresponsible men. On May 7, 1993, a posthumous trial was held in Virginia City to settle the doubt. The jury split six to six, and a mistrial was declared. Henry Plummer would have gone free if the trial had been held in real-time.
True vigilantes always enforced the law but never for profit; they never wore masks and were not secretive. If the bad guys were caught killing, stealing cattle, etc., they were hanged on the spot, although sometimes they had a trial of sorts with the jury sitting in their saddles. No doubt there were mistakes, but that was the price to pay for law and order where people could walk in the parks and on the streets in safety. You know, the safety we have today in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, Baltimore, Seattle, Portland, Washington, DC, and New York City.
In 1981, Ken Rex McElroy was the town bully that none dared to confront in rural Skidmore, Missouri (population 284). He had been accused of assault, child molestation, statutory rape, arson, animal cruelty, hog and cattle rustling, and burglary. He had been indicted 21 times but always escaped justice using witness intimidation. Finally, a resident fatally shot McElroy in broad daylight after years of crimes without any punishment. Forty-five people witnessed the shooting, but everybody kept quiet when it came time to identify the shooter. The case is still open.
Like anything else, vigilantes can be misused, and innocent people are hurt or killed. Some uninformed people identify the KKK (formed by frustrated Democrats at the end of the Civil War) as an example of vigilantes gone wrong, but they don’t qualify. Vigilantes did not wear masks or belong to a secret society. According to Tuskegee University, using the Klan as a cover, angry bigots lynched 4,743 Blacks between 1882 and 1968 in the United States.
Some confuse a vigilante committee with a militia, but the militias maintain order like the National Guard. Vigilante committees were focused on criminal activity in the absence of official authority.
With all the violence, looting, and killing in American cities, fearful, angry, and disgusted citizens will feel forced to “take the law into their own hands” as local and federal officials refuse to provide law and order, often excusing the violence.
That has happened since the beginning of time. Count on it happening in America.
(Dr. Don Boys is a former member of the Indiana House of Representatives who ran a large Christian school in Indianapolis and wrote columns for USA Today for 8 years. Boys authored 20 books, the most recent, Reflections of a Lifetime Fundamentalist: No Reserves, No Retreats, No Regrets! The eBook is available at Amazon.com for $4.99. Other titles at www.cstnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at Don Boys, Ph.D., and visit his blog. Send a request to DBoysphd@aol.com for a free subscription to his articles and click here to support his work with a donation.)