There’s a new breed of outlaw on the Hi-Line. On Oct. 23, the Phillips County Museum in Malta reported a century-old pistol, on loan from the Montana Historical Society, missing from its collection. The gun is an ivory-handled Bisley Colt .45 that once belonged to legendary cowboy and outlaw Dutch Henry Ieuch.
“[Ieuch] did a lot of cowboying along the Hi-Line in the late 1800s and early 1900s. When times got tough, he turned to outlaw games,” says Montana Historical Society Public Information Officer Tom Cook. “He’s one of the last desperados in Montana.”
Cook says the gun is worth “many thousands,” but that its historical value is irreplaceable. “Our main role as the Historical Society is to get [the gun] back to the people of Montana,” he says.
The Society is offering a $4,000 reward for the gun’s return and has also contacted gun-collector groups to narrow the possibility that the thieves might sell the pistol. “There’s a large market for weapons that can be traced back to outlaws and cowboys,” Cook says. “It’s not like trying to sell a [stolen] Renoir, but it’s not that easy.”
The Phillips County Sheriff’s Department has two suspects—one man and one woman—whom they are trying to identify. The individuals registered at the museum under fictitious names, says Phillips County Undersheriff Scott Moran, and may have left behind a palm print and a partial fingerprint. Currently the Sheriff’s Department is viewing convenience-store videotapes “up and down the Hi-Line” to try to locate the suspects, Moran says.
He adds that this is a higher-profile theft than his department normally encounters. A few years ago, though, there was a theft of moccasins from the same museum.
The historical society loaned the pistol to the Phillips County Museum in 2000 to help celebrate Malta’s heritage as the northern outlet of what was once called the Outlaw Trail, according to Cook, which ran down to New Mexico.
“Security is generally really, really good, particularly at museums in Montana,” he says. So far, these thieves have just been pretty good as well.