was the infamous symbol of the Vigilance Committee
during the Old West
. People who had the mysterious set of numbers '3-7-77' painted on their tent
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 say 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. 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.
- Recently it has been suggested that the numbers have Masonic origins in that they represent the history of the Masonic vigilantes. The numeral "3" represents the three founding members of the Bannack Masons, the "77" represents the number of original Bannack Masons, and the "7" represents the number of the original vigilantes.