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