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No Kōrt: 1939

No Kōrt: 1939

June 1939. Custer County, Montana. "Cattle thief hanged in effigy along U.S. Highway 10 to provide Western atmosphere for tourists. '777' refers to secret password of vigilantes in 1864." Acetate negative by Arthur Rothstein for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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$500 in 1864

Is close to nine and a half thousand bucks today. Cattle rustling is serious business. As a kid, I recall being surprised that you could be put to death for stealing a cow.

Standard Spelling

The spelling and typography remind me of the Ozark atmosphere that was displayed for us tourists along old Route 66 in southern Missouri.

3-7-77: Vigilantism everywhere

The 1939 sign painter missed a number, but 3-7-77 is everywhere in Montana, including on the Highway Patrol uniform and Big Sky Brewing products.

There are various explanations for the numbers, which seem to have first appeared in Montana in 1879. A widely accepted theory is the dimensions of a grave, 3' x 7' x 77". Another is the date March 7, 1877, when one of several things relating to vigilantes or Masons may or may not have happened. A third explanation is that 3+7+7+7=24, the number of hours you were given to get out of town. A fourth is that a $3 ticket got you a 7-hour, 77 mile stagecoach ride from Helena to Butte.

The Montana Highway Patrol doesn't try to explain the numbers, but says that they were adopted to honor "the first men in the Montana Territory who organized for the safety and welfare of the people."

And not too far up the road

is the Kuster Kounty Kafe. It doesn't matter what you order, one way or another, you're gonna get calf fries. It's just another offering of western atmosphere for the tourists.

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