It’s very likely today that you can travel to graveyards throughout the Old West and find aging tombstones that have the message “died by the hands of the V.C.” carved into them. Perhaps you’ve seen them in your travels throughout the West if you’ve had an interest in genealogy and inspecting family burial plots.
I discovered just today, reading in Winfred Blevins’ “Dictionary of the American West” (I’ve mentioned the book before), that those tombstone messages carry an ominous history lesson. According to Blevins, the “V.C.” stands for “Vigilance Committee”: groups we have come to know as “vigilantes” — those people who took it upon themselves to hunt down the “bad guys,” and dispense the vigilantes’ version of justice — whether that was a shooting or hanging.
I encourage you to pick up a copy of Blevins’ excellent book. I don’t know, as I said earlier, whether it’s still in print. But if you’re interested in knowing more about daily life in the Old West, this book is worth searching for.
As for vigilance committees and vigilantes, there’s a fascinating study in that aspect alone of life in the Old West. Such groups were not necessarily “mobs” or a reaction to perceived fears and sudden violence. Often such groups were organized by small communities throughout the West when “lawmen” of an approved nature simply weren’t to be found. In fact, Blevins points out, in some areas of the West and some parts of the era, such groups were established by respected leaders in their communities.
I would welcome any comments from those of you reading this who may have run onto tombstones with the “V.C.” message, and those of you who may have done some study on vigilance committees and vigilantes in the Old West. Please share your knowledge with us!