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When is Vigilantism Justified?— “Sky Determines”


I’ve often said that throughout all history “Sky determines” the rules men and their families have to live by when they move into a new place. The physical terrain; weather and natural enemies, define almost everything newcomers have to overcome when they encounter a new wilderness.

Vigilance committees arose out of the same sets of “Sky determines” circumstances that New Englanders and Virginians had experienced, only 250 years later. But they were not the same kind of people.

In New England and Virginia they built their towns and farmed their valleys with the notion that they would endure for generations. And most did, some for over 400 years now.

This map shows the original territories of the United States in 1787 at the time America became its own Republic (all the beige color on the right). Only about a half of those beige areas were states, but the other territories soon join them. By 1787 the original 13 colonies had matured for about 150 years, around five generations. And they were remarkably similar of the towns and counties in England from whence they came….except for that one glaring difference, which I mentioned recently;

Americans all owned their own property and wrote their own laws.

Those remaining territories in beige, from Illinois and Wisconsin to Mississippi, were populated by people who poured in after the 1787 Constitution because of the availability of new land in the “northwest”, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and the upper Midwest; while others, due to the invention of the cotton gin, moved South to  Alabama and Mississippi. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787, gave many veterans of the Revolution land grants for services rendered, and land to homesteaders at dirt cheap prices. There was a land rush, only it was orderly, in part because it was settled by orderly people, but also because the Land Ordinance of 1785 had “sectioned” the land into townships of 36 sq miles, into sections of 640 acres (a square mile).

All very civilized.

But all that land was under totally different “skies” than known in the east.

In fairly close order, taking a little more than a generation, came the opening of all that land west of the Mississippi River, beginning with the green, the Louisiana Purchase (1803), then the opening the Santa Fe Trail from St Louis to Santa Fe in 1821 (in the pink, a part of Old Mexico), for carrying  trade goods, then the Oregon Trail, by wagon train carrying folks from Missouri to the Oregon Territory, (in yellow) with entire families, emigrants to settle the fertile valleys along the Columbia River (1836-1869), plus several offshoots, depending on fights, then treaties with resident Indian tribes. In 1862 President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, similar to the Northwest Ordinance 75 years earlier, offering that green-shaded fertile prairie grass in between, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, the Dakotas, the richest farm dirt in the world, to be sold (actually given) to any family who could pay the $18 recording fee and settle a quarter-section, 160 acres, and make it work for five years.

Probably the loneliest  existence on earth. But the best property deal ever offered.


A hardy, hardy people, who despite their looks, could read, at least well enough to teach that young’n to write just a little. And inside that little house there was at least one book, mainly because that wagon trip west lasted no more than a week or two. The Oregon trek took 5 months, and most of their books ended up as toilet paper before they were halfway there.

These people didn’t live close enough to build a town so they could go there on Saturdays and get drunk and shoot the place up. And they didn’t have enough cash to bother about robbing. It would be years before their “sky” would determine they needed all the accoutrements of civilization.

As I said, probably the loneliest places on earth.

Finally there was the California Trail, from the East to the pink, 2200 miles overland, carrying a different breed altogether, mostly single men seeking their fortune, miners (plus assorted bad men) to the California gold fields, 1849-1859, and then later into the silver fields of Nevada in the 1860s and 70’s and other mining towns in the West. A different lot, these were hardier and rougher around the edges, pioneers of a different sort.

Under a totally different sky.

And in my generation this was all a standard part of our Western lore growing up, found in Hollywood films, television, comic books and even music, when there was still a “W” in C&W.

The Law, Vigilante-ism and Public Morality 

I recently covered this history discussing the importance of acquiring property in America compared to the rest of the world. Then I covered a 1960 California professor’s view of vigilante justice that fought back against much of the lawlessness of that era, beginning with the California Gold Rush, where vigilantes enforced laws, even strung up criminals, because local law enforcement wasn’t able to do the job. The tough men seeking gold, and the rowdies or mountebanks seeking to relieve them of it, far out-numbered the citizens we might recognize walking down the street in small-town Illinois today.

That was the “sky” of the mining camps, where there would be no “talk of building a church” for several years

But the author of that book, Dr John Caughey, (a classical liberal, I think) then connected his ideas about vigilantism onto the era of Jim Crow in the post Civil War where the Ku Klux Klan acted as surrogates for local law to carry out their own campaign of fear and retribution against freed slaves as they tried to pursue life and property just like other Americans. Only they were denied it (for almost a century), and in some respects, still are.  Black citizens couldn’t vote unless they could pass a literacy test in Greek, or they couldn’t “let the sun go down catching them in downtown Tuscaloosa after dark”, or they couldn’t sit at the counter and enjoy a milkshake in Woolworths, or even go to the same Baptist Church as white folks, and certainly never smile and say “How de doo, Miss Ellie” to a white girl walking to town. There weren’t any vigilantes protecting against these outrages against blacks for the “vigilantes” had all been given hoods and pointed hats, paid for by people who ran the town, the county and even the state.

And many God-fearing good folks just hunkered down and kept their mouths shut until the 1960s, when it all fell apart. (A “sky determines” moment of another time, for later.)

Caughey even described a type of vigilante action in Boston for nearly a century; book banning. The Watch and Ward Society banned damned near everything in print that had that word “damn” in it; poetry, songs, stage shows. They forced bookstores to shut down, stage shows to close, and eventually forced a city code that allowed police to do their work for them by a less-than subtle tactic we know today as “canceling”.  “Banned in Boston” was a meme so popular around America that comedienne Rusty Warren did a comedy album by that title in 1959, her first big hit-LP, “Knockers Up” in 1963. It was very daring, so I snuck and bought a copy. But Watch and Ward first went after Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in 1872,and the works by Rabelais, Boccaccio, Aldous Huxley, even HL Mencken’s magazine, anything with even a scent of sexuality or hostility to self-righteousness. They had become the de facto censors of Boston, finally dying out in the 60s thanks to some free expression limitations imposed by the Supreme Court on local control of what can and cannot be sold inside city limits.

The paradox is that the “Banned in Boston” phenomenon helped spur the rise of the Free Speech Movement, which began with the Univ of California at Berkeley student takeover in 1964, which in a few short time would evolve into a Marxist front which, by 2017, would protest and deny speakers such as Ben Shapiro to speak at that very same university on that very same subject. In just 50 years. It’s as if modern arrogant, self-righteous Puritans, had simply dumped God for an ethos more akin to the Divine Right of Kings, which to some extent describes the modern Left to a tee.

Dr Caughey totally disregarded the types of “skies” all these events took place under, which I’ve discussed this, along with his early brand of liberalism elsewhere.

Vigilantism arose in towns where “sky determined” everything, especially when there was a noticeable absence of families; wives and children, with mostly single men; traders and miners, which we discussed more fully recently.

“Sky determined” everything.

And in the history of the world, Americans are the only people who had the chance to light out, time and time again, for nearly three centuries, and build from scratch places that are still on the maps, each under different skies, and to conquer those skies hostile environments.

We did “build that”! All of that. “We” even solved the mystery of the universe as to how a republic could be built by free men and then remain free. Barack Obama either lied to us when he said we didn’t build it, or was too stupid to know he was being lied to, or, more probably when they taught him this at Harvard, blinded by his desire to be accepted into the fraternity he now belongs.

Vigilantism can be either Good or Bad, and the only true test is the “Natural Law test”, survival-enhancing or survival-endangering, and the government did not fill in any of those spaces shown on that map. Those people in that shack in Kansas did. And sometimes, when bad men came along, some old retired Texas Rangers might just have to hang them.


Today’s sky is clouded by both mobs on the street as well as people dressed like politicians or corporate executives, managers of millions of dollars, or a college professor who hates people who began in sod huts.

Today their soldiers still come from both the top and bottom of the economic spectrum, children turning 20 who’ve never had to worry about meeting any overhead and never will, rich or poor, and have never heard the word “No”, nor suffered the simple pain of a stung butt, nor been taught to take note of those pioneer shoulders they’ve been standing on for 300 years.

Drugged out rich bratlings and ghetto criminals have been with us for 60 years, three generations. And many jurisdictions have been told to give them a pass.

We have to deal with each differently.


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