3-7-77 was the infamous symbol of the Montana Vigilantes (Vigilance Committee) in Virginia City, Montana. People who had the mysterious set of numbers '3-7-77' painted on their tent or cabin knew that they had better leave the area or be on the receiving end of vigilante justice. To this day the numbers appear on the shoulder patch of the Montana Highway Patrol, who claim they do not know the original meaning of the symbol. It also appears on the flight suits of pilots of the Montana Air National Guard. It also appears on the Flight Patch of the Montana Army National Guard Medevac unit (C Co 1-189th GSAB - Vigilantes) Further, it appears under the bottle cap of certain varieties of Big Sky Brewing Company beer. Various theories have been put forth about its origin, among them:
- The oldest interpretation is that it meant that the criminal had 3 hours 7 minutes and 77 seconds to leave town.
- Another common interpretation is that the numbers represent the dimensions of a grave, 3 feet by 7 feet by 77 inches.
- The sum of the number 3+7+7+7 total 24, representing the criminal had 24 hours to leave town.
- That it was borrowed from California or Colorado vigilance organizations where member number #3 and #77 were authorized to carry out executions.
- Frederick Allen, in his book A Decent Orderly Lynching, claims the number means one had to buy a $3 ticket on the next 7:00 a.m. Stagecoach to take the 77-mile trip from Helena to Butte.
- May have something to do with the date March 7th, 1877; the numbers were first used in that decade and first appeared in print later in that decade of the 19th century
COMMENT - There is no historical evidence that the code, "3-7-77", was issued as a warning to anyone, especially for the purpose of vacating Montana Territory. The Montana Vigilantes held trials in absentia for accused outlaws and, if any were pronounced guilty, set about to punish them. They had only one form of punishment and that was hanging. The best interpretation of the origin of the vigilante recognition code is from ALVIN T. WESTDAL, P.M., Chairman Emeritus, Committee on Masonic Education and Research, as follows:
"Of 3-7-77 or 3-11-77, that "3" referred to the ancient - not less than three shall congregate to form a Lodge. "7" the number to make the Lodge perfect; or if "11" because eleven of the first twelve Vigilantes in Montana were Masons. "77" that seventy-six Masons showed up when N.P. Langford issued the summons to attend the first Masonic funeral for William Bell, with the deceased there was a total of seventy-seven Masons in Montana Territory at the first "census" of the fraternity."
- Long, Nick. Personal interview. 13 Aug 2009. Interview.
- Maclean, Norman (1992). - A River Runs Through It and Other Stories. - New York, New York: Pocket Books (Simon & Schuster). - pp. 33. - ISBN 0-671-77697-5.
- Allen, Frederick. A Decent Orderly Lynching. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.
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