The quill-drivers of early-day Montana documented it all – the swell-set entertaining lavishly, enjoying Herr Daniel Bandmann’s Shakespearean productions at the opera house, while the saloons and houses of Missoula’s “Midway Plaisance” gave the city a reputation as one of the worst places in the state for drug-related crime and murder.
Unfortunately we don’t know most of these early journalists’ names. It’s a shame – what great writers they were. Many of the more biting articles were likely penned by the editors of the papers but that will have to remain a mystery. There were no by-lines back then.
If you always thought history teachers and history classes were boring (with notable exceptions like U-M’s K. Ross Toole and a few others), you’re in good company with this author.
What follows is not a history book – It’s a collection of Jim Harmon’s short stories based on actual newspaper accounts from the latter 19th century in the Western Democrat, Northwest Tribune, Missoula Weekly Gazette and other papers. Also included are some tales passed along from family and friends.
You’ll meet characters like Missoula’s Coyote Bill and Libby’s Dunn Creek Nell. You’ll read about visiting celebrities Al Jolson and Mark Twain. You’ll likely be both impressed and troubled by accounts of progress and prejudice, while being delighted by quirky accounts of a kangaroo in St. Regis and chicken fanciers in Missoula – and, you’ll need to know the lingo of the day.
Jim Harmon is a retired journalist whose near-fifty-year career included three decades in Missoula, in roles ranging from TV reporter and news anchor to weather forecaster. In retirement, the Montana native is a history buff who’s spent a decade researching long- forgotten stories in Montana newspapers.
It started with an 1894 microfilm. “I couldn’t stop reading. I went through everything from the front page to the classifieds. Thirty old maids secured adjoining quarter sections in the Cherokee Strip. Harry Thompson’s nag was stolen. Then, there was the hilarious story of a local turkey heist – all this, on the front page!
“I discovered a Missoula and a Montana I’d never known – everything from train hijackings to a tongue-in-cheek society column under the non de plume, ‘Violette Gleamer.’ I was hooked.
“I started transferring the microfilm to digital files, cataloging the stories and sharing them with friends. In 2016, I began sharing them more widely through a weekly column in the Missoula Current newspaper (missoulacurrent.com). Readers encouraged me to put some of these long-lost gems into a book. So, here you are – 46 stories from Montana’s early days!”
Chapter 1 Coyote Bill – The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was
Chapter 2 Daniel Bandmann – Missoula’s Great Tragedian
Chapter 3 Dunn Creek Nell – A Most Cantankerous Woman
Chapter 4 Swede John, Rastas Reed & the Cedar Beasts
Chapter 5 Mark Twain – Takes a Wrong Turn on Way to Ft. Missoula
Chapter 6 Al Jolson – An Instant Hit in Montana
Chapter 7 Mary Gleim – Queen of the Midway Plaisance
Chapter 8 End of the Badlands – The Night the Red Lights Went Out
Chapter 9 Saloons – “Segar” Smoke, Stale Whiskey & a Fresh Croissant
Chapter 10 Gunfight on the Higgins Bridge – Train Conductor & Dentist Near Death
Chapter 11 Murder of a Native Son – Maurice Higgins Fatally Shot
Chapter 12 Train 58 Hijacked – Heads for Missoula at Breakneck Speed
Chapter 13 Scandal & Murder – The Bon Vivant Barber & the Deceitful Dressmaker
Chapter 14 The Missoula & Cedar-Creek Pioneer – Missoula’s 1st Newspaper
Chapter 15 Engine # 452 Arrives – Missoula Becomes a Railroad Town
Chapter 16 Rails Expand – To Bitter Root
Chapter 17 Snap & Prince – Missoula’s Famous Fire Horses
Chapter 18 The Bee Hives – Bargain Stores of the 1800s
Chapter 19 A Bridge – A Leopard Skin – A Dead End Street
Chapter 20 House Bill 105 – Missoula is Officially a “Town”
Chapter 21 City Council Civility Lost – “I’ll Mash Your Face, You Little Pinhead”
Chapter 22 Teachers Institute – Penmanship, Hygiene & Boys of Rawhidable Age
Chapter 23 Montana’s New University – 1st Graduating Class of Two
Chapter 24 The Janitor & The Football Team – The Beginning of The Griz
Chapter 25 Cat/Griz – Talking on the Sidelines Cost Griz the Game
Chapter 26 The Smart Set – Civility, Culture & Social Order in Early Montana
Chapter 27 The Bioda Club – Ladies’ Kazoo Orchestra
Chapter 28 Man In His Proper Place – A Columnist Named “Glitter”
Chapter 29 Violette Gleamer – Scandalous nom de plume Columnist
Chapter 30 Proper Etiquette – Never Pass Plate More than Six Times
Chapter 31 Helena’s Broadwater Hotel – Luxury and Comfort for the Elite
Chapter 32 Rag Time & Tango – Intolerable, Immoral Dances
Chapter 33 Hijinks – The Royal Order of Mystic Hijis
Chapter 34 Hijinks Gone Bad – The Great Turkey Theft of 1893
Chapter 35 Lou Lou – Lo Lo – Or, Lolo?
Chapter 36 What’s In a Name – Cracker City & Baby County
Chapter 37 Today’s Weather – Flies, Ants & Forecaster Fawcett
Chapter 38 Working Girl – The Curious Case of the Crocheted Tidy
Chapter 39 Polson’s Cowboy Band – Clarinets, Trombone & Six Shooters
Chapter 40 A Fowl Affair – The Great Poultry Show
Chapter 41 Baseball Fever – Potatoes & Rutabagas Fly Through the Air
Chapter 42 Dieting Advice – Walk in Snow, Move to Denver, or Commit a Felony
Chapter 43 Snake Oil – Restore Manhood, Clean Your Liver & Stave Off Insanity
Chapter 44 Bicycle Trip to Bitter Root – “God Bless The Man That Discovered Beer”
Chapter 45 The Garden City – Does Missoula Ever Giggle?
Chapter 46 A Cold Breath on My Cheek – A Kangaroo in St. Regis