Club Foot George's Club Foot
Virginia City, Montana
Virginia City is a small tourist attraction town in southwestern Montana, preserving the frontier atmosphere of the Wild West, with original-appearing buildings, stage coach tours, even an old opera house. For a brief decade it was the capitol of the Montana territory before it moved to Helena, but it is most remembered for its early lawlessness and procession of colorful characters.
One such character was "Club Foot George" Lane.
Virginia City was a crossroads for troublemakers, bushwhackers, and miners looking for a fight. A group of Masons, Republicans, and Northerners that called themselves "the Vigilantes" became overzealous in keeping the peace -- as vigilantes inevitably do -- and hanged plenty of maybe-not-guilty people in the mid-1860s.
Club Foot George was hauled out of the "Dance and Stuart" where he was staying (It still stands on the main drag). Along with four other suspects he was hanged in Virginia City on January 14, 1864. The five were buried in a makeshift Boot Hill above the town, the graves unmarked.
Years passed, but the story of the big execution was repeated over and over. Locals who were interested in the tale -- perhaps trying to settle a saloon story dispute -- decided to confirm it by digging up the remains of the five men.
The mummified club foot of George was found and was put on display. It can still be viewed today, in the Thompson Hickman Library/Museum, swaddled in burlap and sealed relic-like within a glass dome. It is probably the most treasured possession of the town; you can even buy postcards. The museum has made an effort to collect other items owned by Club Foot George, including his cane (he was lame with the club foot) and straight razor.
The rest of the museum offers the usual small town assemblage of antiques, documents, and oddities. In among the delicate period china and memorabilia is a petrified cat. According to the helpful exhibit label, the cat had "crawled under a house being built in 1868 and was found there some years later by Mrs. Emslie."
After visiting the town, tourists head up to Boot Hill, for a nice view of the landscape and the remaining graves. It was Virginia City's first cemetery. The "Dalton" markers are those of a local family, not the notorious Dalton gang.
It is here where the five men were unearthed, and where, for brief time, the club foot thought it might find eternal peace.