I’m about a quarter Irish, myself, but like the sign in the bar last night…everyone’s ‘Irish for a day’ on St. Paddy’s.
And what a day it’ll be!
Here in Missoula we have a parade at noon, and I doubt the drinking’ll stop until I get off work at 2.
That’s been the story of St. Patrick’s Day for over a century here in the Big Sky State.
Yes, we have a proud Irish heritage.
Let’s discuss that a bit.
First of all, let's wish a 214th birthday to Montana mountain man, Jim Bridger...born on this day in 1804. He got up into Montana in the 1820s and died in Kansas in 1881.
You'll remember from the film The Revenant that he was the one that etched the circular-image on the canteen.
One of the earliest instances of the Irish taking charge in Montana was with Thomas Meagher.
The guy got involved in the Irish Revolution in Britain in 1848, was kicked out of the country and sent to Australia.
He married a woman down there, had a kid, and in 1851 abandoned them both for a ticket to New York. There he became a dilettente, married-up, and eventually got into the Civil War.
He did a lot in the war, and as a prize for his service, ol’ Abe Lincoln appointed him territorial governor of the Montana Territory. It was 1865. A year later he was dead.
I wrote a whole chapter on this guy in my book Priests and Prospectors.
One of the men that served under Meagher in the Irish Brigade in the Civil War was named Major James W. Drennan.
He saw action at Gettysburg and later took part in the Indian Wars beginning in 1866 in Missouri. He served in the Great Sioux War, seeing action in the Dull Knife Fight in Montana in 1876 and getting wounded later at the Battle of Slim Buttes. Later he’d serve in Montana’s regiment in the Spanish-American War.
By the time the 1930 Census came out, Montana had 17,940 people of Irish descent…or 7.7% of the state. Canadians were the largest foreign-born group, with 13.5% of the population hailing from there.
Prohibition was already 10-years-old by that point. Historian Mary Murphy writes of this in her essay “Gender and Prohibition in Butte, Montana:”
“Historians and other investigators have observed that Irishmen traditionally used drinking as a safety valve for sexual tensions, the depressions of poverty, the frustrations of parental authority, and their hatred of the English. As long as he did not threaten his family’s income, a hard-drinking boy was admired by his peers or treated with maternal affection as ‘the poor boy.’”
Governor Forrest Anderson was born in Helena on January 30, 1913, the son of a Swedish immigrant father and an Irish immigrant mother. Sadly, he’d kill himself in 1989 with a shot to his cancer-ridden stomach.
And that’s all I have for you when it comes to Montana’s Irish history.
Please be safe out there tonight, and have fun.