Sunday, June 21, 2015

Helena: The Hanging Tree, Part ll

Hanging Tree
In Part l of this post the Lawless days during Helena, Montana’s gold rush era is recounted. The community had a Hanging Tree were more than eleven men were hanged by vigilantes in the mid-1800s.

In 1875, a Methodist minister, Reverend W.E. Shippen who owned the land where the large Ponderosa pine Hanging Tree was located arranged to have it chopped down.

Despite a public outcry, he followed through--most likely to get rid of this macabre symbol from a time when citizens in the community took the law into their own hands.

By the1880s homes were being built in this area.

In 1900, a workman digging in a backyard in the area near where the tree once stood discovered a grave. In 1931, yet another grave was found close to the first.

It is believed these were the bodies of two men who were hanged. The boots worn by one identified him as James Daniel who was hanged in 1866. It was his body, Mary ‘Molly” Sheehan (Ronan) saw hanging from the tree. Ronan’s account is shared in Part l of this post.

The hanging of James Daniel
Residents for the past 145 years who live near where the tree once stood state “intense emotions” linger. They feel that many of the men who were hanged do not rest in peace.

The earliest encounter with a ghost happened in September of 1872 before the tree was chopped down. A resident had stayed late to finish his work.

It was dark and snowing when he headed home. But a strong force compelled him to change directions, and he found himself standing in front of the Hanging Tree. What follows was published in a letter to the editor of the Rocky Mountain Gazette. It is a wordy account, so it is paraphrased.

"As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see the trees stark and lifeless outline. He spotted the form of a man. He was hanging a few feet below a lower limb.

After a momentary panic, he regained his composure and moved closer to the tree. The figure was dressed in black clothing, and his back was turned away from the witness.

The man saw no rope extending from the limb. The figure was suspended in mid-air. He saw the form was not solid but instead was transparent.

Suddenly the figure raised its arms and changed position. He could now see its face--it was ghostly pale. The apparition spoke two words, “October 7th and then disappeared."

With this initial sighting, some feel this set the other spirits that were hanged “free.” This is believed because for many years people have experienced strange events in the neighborhood.

One house along Hanging Tree Gulch Rd today.
Activity encountered includes: voices heard outside at night, footsteps in people’s attics and marbles found in homes as well as their gardens.

This last is connected to David Hilger and his friends playing marbles under the Hanging Tree--which is described in Part l.

The Jones family who lives in the area state they do not believe in ghosts but every time their daughter visits them she hears the voices outside.

One house in the neighborhood was remodeled recently. A crew of workmen who applied new drywall and plaster left soon after to let the walls dry. When they left the house, it was locked securely, and no animals were inside.

When the workmen returned, they found “claw-like” scratches marring every wall. The plaster had to be reapplied.

Herb Dawson, an architect, has experienced several odd things in his home located in the Hillsdale area. He, like many others, has found the mysterious marbles throughout his home and on his front porch.

One of his most frightening experiences occurred as he was stripping the paint from his parlor’s woodwork. A knife on the mantle behind him flew across the room and hit the wall inches from his head.

Hector Cano and his girlfriend live near Herb Dawson. He has also heard things he cannot explain. One night while lying in bed, a noise woke him up.

He saw his wife’s son from a previous marriage standing before him. This boy was saying, “Get away from me. Get away from me!”

Cano asked him what he was talking about and as he looked up he saw a tall bald man with four others standing behind him.

The tall man was trying to get hold of the young boy.

Hanging of Compton and Wilson
Click to enlarge
In Part l of Helena: The Hanging Tree, more information about the hangings is shared.

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