Wild West Outlaw, Ike Gravelle

Here’s an outlaw story about Helena, Montana that I’d never heard before.

This Ike character took on the railroad company and hatched a plan to hold the rail lines around Helena ransom. Pay up or they blow up. Of course the rail companies didn’t pay up. So Ike here started to blast the tracks in random places, trying to be taken seriously. Well, they did take him seriously. But they didn’t ever pay him.

He was a one man operation and so was always going to be near the scene of the crime. The law caught up to him. He was spotted preparing to lay another bomb by a rail worker who followed him home.


Upon being detained, the suspect was indignant, insisting that he was an honest rancher named “J.H. Plummer.” The suspect was brought to the Lewis and Clarke County Jail, where he was positively identified as Issac “Ike” Gravelle, a criminal well-known in Helena. Defiant as ever, Gravelle denied his identity even in the face of his former penitentiary warden, a Mr. McTague, who wasn’t one bit fooled.

Someone stashed a gun for him in the courthouse and shot his way out into the street, but he didn’t make it very far. He either killed himself while cornered or he bled out from another man’s bullet.

Either way, it was a violent end to a violent man’s life.

I’m reading so much about violence in the world these days and I find myself moved to outrage by modern tales of horror. Reading about Ike Gravelle made me wonder if through the lens of time, all violence can be transformed into something romantic or quaint. Is violence always a part of a founding mythology of a place? Why do I get excited to read that this happened in my home town? Wild West mythology fascinates me but on its face it’s actually horrible! If this happened last week wouldn’t I feel only fear and outrage?