Joseph Kinsey Howard, Greatest Fellow from Great Falls

Joseph Kinsey Howard, Greatest Fellow from Great Falls

Joe Howard 1

Joe Howard in his apartment in Great Falls, sometime in the 1940s.


The best history book about Montana was not written by an historian.

Instead, it was written by a journalist. This has ever since caused much rancor, outrage and gnashing of teeth among more toothless competitors.

The newspaperman was named Joseph Kinsey Howard and the book he wrote in 1943 is Montana High Wide and Handsome. It has remained in print ever since, which is a real accomplishment, given that 50% of most  books disappear about ten years after their publication and 99% within ten years of their author’s death.

Howard wrote Montana High Wide and Handsome while working as an editor for the long-defunct Great Falls Leader, the evening paper in Great Falls, Montana. At that time Great Falls was the second biggest city in the state, with a population of about 50,000 people.

The book is categorized as Montana History because that’s where it fits on the bookshelves. But in fact, it is not strictly a history book, as Howard himself explains in the Acknowledgements and Bibliography in the back:

I have not attempted in this book to write a “definitive history” of Montana, whatever that would be. I am a newspaper man, not a historian. Some incidents which seemed to me to be significant, or perhaps just fun to tell about, have been selected for discussion; others, perhaps equally important in a full history, have been merely touched upon or even ignored.  

And so Montana High Wide and Handsome is witty, charming, attentive to detail, and above all, stupendously readable. Howard was a gifted writer who worked both as a stringer for Time magazine and regularly sold fiction pieces to the popular magazines of the day, including Collier’s, Coronet, Look, and Life. (Magazines, for all you young ’uns out there, were the disposable reading materials people liked to look at and share before Mr. Al Gore invented the Internet.)

Joe Howard was a famous character in his time, even in Great Falls. As a young man in the 1930s he organized The Great Falls Newspaper Guild, the first successful union for newspaper writers in the Rocky Mountains and the only one in Montana. More than half of the 14 “big” newspapers in the state were owned by the Anaconda Copper Company (The Company), the Great Falls papers stood apart for their size and influence. The Company kept a tight leash on information about its operations in Butte and its political shenanigans in Helena and did not appreciate nosy newspapermen with their radical ideas about paying fair wages along with good working conditions.

Yet criticizing The Company in his newspaper and in Montana High Wide and Handsome became one of Howard’s hallmarks. (His skills as an analyst and writer scored, because, shortly after the book’s success, Howard’s friends witnessed a sizable check sent to him by The Company. There was no letter or note of explanation attached; it was clearly a taste of Things that Might Be if he were ‘nicer.’ Howard laughed and  tore it up.)

Howard enjoyed socializing with other writers in Great Falls, including his fellow Tribune editor Alfred Bertram “Bud” Guthrie, who would win a Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for his novel The Way West, as well as later authoring the screenplay for the 1953 classic western Shane, with its immortal line that “a gun is nothing but a tool.” He was also friends with the author Mildred Walker, wife of Dr. Ferdinand Schemm, the parents of Ripley Schemm (Mrs. Richard) Hugo, who would influence another generation of Montana writers in turn from their home in Missoula.

A slight man who drank and smoke much more than he should have, Howard succumbed to a massive heart attack in 1951 while working on the roof of his rustic cabin nestled along the Teton River west of Choteau. He was 45 years old.

About twenty years after Montana High Wide and Handsome came the first “definitive history” of Montana, written by Howard admirer K. Ross Toole. After him came the even more definitive Montana: A History of Two Centuries by Michael P. Malone, Richard B. Roeder and William L. Lang.

Howard’s legacy continues to be important enough to be disparaged. I have twice personally witnessed the wrath of his detractors. In 1990, as a cub reporter in Havre, I heard Richard Roeder give a lecture at the H. Earl Clack Museum. He took time out in passing to sneer at Kinsey as a “so-called historian.”

In 1999 the Montana Historical Society arranged a conference devoted to Kinsey’s legacy. There, a right-wing University of Montana history professor named David Emmons came out with a full-fledged assault on Howard, asserting bizarrely that Howard “didn’t give a damn about working people.”

When I challenged Emmons to prove his thesis, he stalked off-stage in an how-dare-you sulk. More than a month later, I received an insulting letter from the offended doctor. He’d tracked down my personal address in Roswell, Georgia where I was working at the time. Emmons presented a list of union strikes that occurred in Montana as “evidence” of the deficiencies in Howard’s character. His organizing a newspaper guild didn’t count, Emmons sniffed, because they were “just a bunch of scriveners.”

Trolls have existed for as long as they’ve built bridges to hide under. The works of great men cover them over. Clark, Citizen United for Himself

William Clark, one of Montana's three copper barons

William Clark, one of Montana’s three copper barons

William A. Clark was one of Montana’s so-called copper kings. He was richer than you or I will ever be, although he is now dead and we are not, so we’ve got that on him. On the other hand, you and I shall also be dead one day. Bummer, man.

The reasons Mr. Clark got so rich was 1) drive, ambition and hard work; 2) a mountain of Montana minerals; 3) unscrupulous cunning and greed.

Someone somewhere estimated that William A. Clark was the 50th richest American who ever lived. His yearly income in 1920 was said to be $12 million, at a time when a well-off doctor or lawyer earned $4,000 a year. He used his fiduciary deposits to build the largest, most opulent mansion on New York City’s Fifth Avenue. It was so sumptuous it was awful so they had to tear it down a few years after he died. There might be a Walmart there by now who knows.

His daughter Huguette lived for several years in that mansion, then had a good look at it and moved out. She died in 2011 at the age of 104. She owned many homes and mansions, scattered throughout the country, but had no children. Instead she had a large collection of creepy dolls, like the ones in they had in the Twilight Zone.

Clark started out as a Good Guy. He moved to Montana and lived among the people he employed, even if he did live in the nicest mansion on the block. A self-made man, he began modestly, working as a transport driver, bringing stuff like eggs from Salt Lake City to the Montana mining fields, where eggs were worth their weight in copper if uncracked. Instead of spending his money on booze, women and philosophy textbooks like most miners, he saved it and invested. Soon he had enough money to buy a bank, and then it was goodbye blue collar, hello golden calf.

Clark quickly bought up a vast collection of mines, smelters, electric companies, railroads and newspapers throughout Montana. He attended Rich Guy Only Clubs all over the place, why not he had his own fancy train, and expanded his holdings to mines in other western states.

Still, Clark identified with his workers and supported the miners’ unions. Imagine that. He paid good wages too, once thwarting an attempt by out-of-state mining companies to cut Butte workers’ salaries from the outrageous $3.50 a day to $3.00., a rate the U.S. Chamber of Commerce weeps tragically for.

Mr. Clark’s two competitors for Montana Copper King were Marcus Daly and F.  Augustus Heinze. More about them later, but take it from me, they pretty much all hated each other, the way Geraldo Rivera hates Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Daly ruled his fiefdom from Anaconda while Clark fiefed in Helena. Both based their operations in Butte, where they ran competing newspapers. Even then power meant media.

Clark was very active in Montana politics as a Democrat, although back then Democrats were more like Republicans are today and Republicans were more like today’s Democrats. That’s why we need history so pay attention.

It was Clark’s obsession with being a senator from Montana that changed him from being a Good Guy into a Bad Guy. He tried three times before succeeding. The first time he got caught, in 1899, he just handed out naked money. How could he know that one of his bribees, State Senator Fred Whiteside from Flathead County, would be so stupid as to refuse to take a $30,000 payoff? Honestly! Some folks are like that but not me.

The reason Clark thought he could buy his way into the Senate was because this was before 1912, when they passed the 17th Amendment, you know, the one that allows for direct election of U.S. Senators? Back then they were appointed by state legislatures. Clark’s thinking was that if you couldn’t buy your way in, what’s the point? Money is just speech after all. This is why to this day Clark is a hero to any party that will take the money and drink the tea.

Incredibly, even though there was a public furor with all sorts of horrified publicity across the country, the 1899 Montana legislature bent over for Clark and appointed him Montana’s second senator. They even booted out Sen. Whiteside for being a pesky goody-two-shoes.

Clark later admitted he’d spent at least $272,000 to “campaign” for his Senate seat that season, maybe as much as $400,000.

But the battle wasn’t over. When Clark went to Washington D.C. to swivel around in his chair and drop a loogie or three in his spittoon, Republican forces led by Marcus Daly and sitting Senator Thomas Carter demanded the Senate as a whole refuse to seat Clark. They were suspicious about illegalities. So the next year, 1900, they had a big investigation that went on for months. A number of embarrassed Montana legislators had to explain in public how they could afford their spiffy new buggies and whitewall whippersnappers. Before the commission could issue a final report, Clark fixed them all by resigning on May 15. End of Round One.

Round Two was where the real fun happened. So, Montana is chalked up to have two senators like everyone else, right? Only now there was one vacancy, thanks to Clark’s resignation. Governor Robert Smith hated Clark. But his lieutenant governor, A.E. Spriggs was on Team Clark. Smith was lured out of state by Clark associates, and Spriggs, who’d been gone himself, got back just in time to have Charlie Clark, William’s son, deliver his pa’s letter of resignation. Spriggs realized he had the legal authority to appoint an interim Montana senator. So he appointed William Clark. Why not? He already owned stationary with “Senator Clark” printed on it.

This ruse lasted just long enough until Smith got back. He cancelled the appointment and named someone else.

Round Three happened in 1900, which was also an election year. In between warming a disputed seat in the Senate, and resigning and being reappointed, Clark allied himself with the forces of Augustus Heinze. Heinze didn’t care so much about the US Senate, but he wanted control of the Butte-Silver Bow county offices. Clark agreed, threw his considerable media influences behind the deal, and the two copper barons outfoxed Daly. Clark got appointed Senator again and Daly surprised everybody by dropping dead on November 12.

So William Clark achieved his dream of becoming Senator William Clark. He celebrated by moving the hell out of Montana and never coming back. By the way, he was a lousy senator who didn’t accomplish a thing for anybody.

Mark Twain hated Clark. In a 1907 essay he wrote:

He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a ball and chain on his legs. To my mind he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed’s time.”

Twain, it must be noted, died a century before Donald Trump was invented.

William Clark’s debasement of Montana and American politics stands as a shining memorial to the punks who think Selfishness is a Virtue.

One last note about William Clark: His ahead-of-his time fashion sense. Clark’s influential Crazy Hair is everywhere these days, from homeless guys to mad bombers. Check out famous Unabomber Ted Kacynzski’s locks.

Ted Kacynski, fashion follower?

Ted Kacynski, fashion follower?

by Lance Grider

Granville Stuart, Pioneer or Flat-Out Rascal?

Granville Stuart

Granville Stuart, ‘Mr Montana’

Like many Montanans, my favorite pioneer is Granville Stuart. He was the first man to be called Mr. Montana, winning the title at an 1867 pageant in Bannock, mostly from points in the swimsuit competition. He won a sash, a cuspidor and a moosehead minus three points on the left rack.

Aside from cutting a dashing profile in his skivvies, Granville was a pioneering entrepreneur, amateur historian, conservationist, book lover, artist and vigilante. He was elected to the Montana territorial assembly five times and held several elective positions in Deer Lodge Valley.

I like Granville because he was not just a doer but a dreamer. Even after he’d done the Herculean task of traveling all the way from his home in Iowa to the gold fields of California in 1849, he failed to find any gold. Maybe it was because, as he admitted in his diary (published in 1925), he preferred to sit on the creek bed reading Lord Byron instead of panning for gold. Well who can blame him? Panning for crumbs of gold is hard, tedious work and we all know what a kneeslapper Childe Harald’s Pilgrimage is.

Having failed to make millions as a Forty-Niner, Granvy and his brother James headed back to Iowa via Montana, thanks to having no GPS. However, once there they heard about a local gold strike. The Stuarts realized the only sure way to make a fortune from the goldfields was to sell hamburger mixin’s to other miners. So Granville and James, and their partners, including fellow Montana legendary pioneer Samuel T. Hauser, started the DHS Ranch, a massive operation that  ran cattle all over the free rangeland of the territory, from the Deer Lodge Valley near Helena. While they didn’t get rich, they did get tolerably well-off. Thank you free government land!

In April of 1862, 27-year-old Granville married a 12- year-old Shoshone girl with the euphonious moniker of Awbonnie Tookanka who gave him 11 children, not all at once. She died 26 years later, in 1888, aged 38, of ‘puerperal fever’ a medical condition meaning she’d birthed too many frontier babies. Surprised?

The two decades between 1860 and 1880 were Granville’s salad days. He spent the time running cattle with his brother and friends and lynching the odd cattle rustler. He and his vigilante friends were known as Stuart’s Stranglers and most of the people they lynched probably had it coming. The Montana Stock Growers voted him president as a reward. They gave him a sash, a cuspidor and a moosehead minus three points on the right rack. See how things balance out?

The 1888 death of his common law Indian wife brought a great change to Granville’s life. So did his bankruptcy, thanks to the alternating years of drought and blizzard that ended the romance of the Montana range between 1885 and 1889.

Two years after Awbonnie’s death, Granville, age 56, snuck off and married Allis Brown (Fairfield), age 26, purtiest former school marm on the DHS ranch. The Ol’ Horndog had decided to marry Miss Brown without consulting the kids, who were vexed sore. The older ones considered their new mother an opportunist at best, and a prostitute at worst. Oldest daughter Mary, newly married herself at 18, wrote husband Ted Blue that Allis “is very pretty but did you ever see one that wasn’t?” By ‘one’ she didn’t mean bachelorette.

Granville had decided he no longer wanted to be a roughneck rancher and father of nine mixed-blood children. Instead, he wanted to be a distinguished foreign diplomat with a young white wife and pomaded mustachios. It’s usually that or lead singer in a rock and roll band.

What happened to the rest of Stuart’s children seems to have been a matter of no concern to Granville. The four youngest children, Sam, 13, Edward, 9, Harry, 5, and two-year-old Irene, were shipped off to the St. Ignatius Indian School on the Flathead reservation. Within a few years of the family’s dissolution, oldest son Tom was committed to the state mental hospital at Warm Springs.  Sam drifted back to the cowboy life and earned some fame as an adult, getting himself featured in Life magazine.

Granville took home his World’s Worst Dad mug, and by 1891, was reduced to being a humble tenant farmer on a tiny slice of the same vast spread he’d once owned.

Lucky for him, friends and connections came through. Montana’s first Governor, his pal Joseph K. Toole, appointed him State Land Agent. Now preferring politics over the plow, Stuart began a letter-writing campaign to other friends, calling in chits on his past glory in the hopes of improving his economic condition. It worked. Granville had banked enough respect as one of the state’s pioneers to get appointed US ambassador to Uruguay, most vital of all our South American allies beginning with the letter U. He and the missus enjoyed two years livin’ la vida loca in Montevideo. He was apparently a good diplomat, with an annual salary of $7,500, but he still hadn’t learned how to handle money.

When President Grover Cleveland left office for the second time in 1898, so did all his sycophants. They had to, they had to make room for a new bunch of sycophants. While waiting for his next appointment to a foreign embassy whose name begins with a U-V-W-X-Y-Z to come up, the Stuarts returned to Montana. They opened a boarding house and gift shop in Butte. It’s closed by now. Still, it wasn’t enough to pay the bills, so Granville also got a job as head librarian at the Butte Public Library in 1905, retiring in 1914, nearly 80. If he’d had Wyatt Earp’s tenacity for self-promotion and whoppers he might have lived long enough to see the autobiography he had written made into a silent movie. We Montanans are too modest I always say.

Granville died of heart disease in Butte on October 2, 1918, at the age of 84.

Second wife Allis outlived her husband by three decades and died in poverty at a friend’s home in Hamilton Valley in 1947. Don’t let them tell you we don’t need Social Security.

by Lance Grider

The Improbable History of Montana: Introduction

Montana is the fourth largest state in the Union. At 147,040 square miles (or 380,800 sq km) it is two-thirds the size of France, although it is 95 percent less Frenchy.

The land that would become Montana originally belonged to the Native Americans. Then illegal European immigrants persuaded the Indians to cede their lands, mostly by shooting them. This was considered rude by the Native population, whose traditional ways only allowed ethnic cleansing free of guns and record keeping.

Some famous white people became early Montana tourists. For example, captains William A. Clark and Meriwether Lewis traveled through in 1805-1806. They gave the Indians cheap beads and tobacco. The Indians gave them friendship, food, and a warm place to stay for the winter. Oh, and syphilis.

President Thomas Jefferson hired Lewis and Clark. He wanted to discover what was Out Yonder so more people would be free to go there and open slave plantations. Jefferson funded his “Corps of Discovery” through taxpayer money. He had to, he’d massively and illegally spent the entire American treasury for three generations to come on the Louisiana Purchase. Liberals! However, back in them-thar days, if the American President said it was okay to do something, it was. Nowadays it isn’t, unless we get a Fox News host in the White House.

None of this mattered much to the first pioneers, who forgot about both Lewis and Clark and Thomas Jefferson . Pioneers are the guys who sleep through history class because they figure living it is boring enough. (A few years later, after he returned from his travels, and depressed that he was not mentioned in any history books, Meriwether Lewis committed suicide. Or did he? )

Montana was soon found to be chock full of minerals under the ground where the Great Spirit hid them. Gold was the favorite, but there was lots of other junk, including silver and copper and yogi berra sapphires. This is why we call Montana the Treasure State, and not because Fred and Wilma Treasure lived here.

White men went nuts over buried treasure and dashed out by the tens of thousands to dig it up so they could spend it on booze and whores, a dynamic part of any frontier economy. They built ghost towns all over the place so they could live better as ghosts like Casper.

Journey along as we explore more improbable facts about our Treasure State!