The Galt family slept their way to the top of Montana politics a century ago.
Today one of the clan got elected Speaker of the Montana House, Wylie Galt of Martinsdale.
Never heard of it?
400 people live there, and a guy that represents such a small minority will now have a huge say in Montana politics.
You can blame Jeanette Rankin for that, or more appropriately...her brother.
Without the Rankin’s, the Galts would be nothing. They’d still be cleaning cow shit off their boots before coming into the ranch they’re working for.
Keyword: working for - they didn’t own shit.
It was grandpappy’s cock that got them where they are today.
Now, what you don’t understand is that Jeanette was the black sheep of the family, and her brother - Wellington Rankin - was seen as their savior.
We don’t understand today how unpopular Jeanette was, and how much of a fluke it was for her to get in office.
Remember, she served just a single term before getting voted out. She was so unpopular that she was out of Montana politics for 30 years before another fluke got her elected again. Served a single term, again.
Her brother was another story entirely.
Wellington first tried for office in 1914, running as a progressive. He got wasted, and realized the GOP was the only route for him. Worked. In ‘20 he won the AG position, and got reelected in ‘24. His war record no doubt helped.
Anaconda Company hated him, calling him “Rankin at his rankest.”
Rankin promised that if he was elected he’d “reduce state expenses by removing the private telephone wire between the state house and the company offices.” Whether those lines actually existed or not was never proven, perhaps because Anaconda threw their support behind “Honest John” that year.
In case you didn’t guess, “Honest” John Erickson was a Democrat. Got a little too big for his britches in the FDR years and resigned during the last few days of his second term.
That’s how we got the Montana Cooneys - Frank Cooney was lieutenant governor at the time and got the top spot, quickly appointed “Honest” John to the U.S. Senate, and proceeded to serve out “Honest” John’s term until he died in office a year later.
Frank was Mike Cooney’s grandpa.
But let’s get back to the Rankins.
In 1928 Wellington tried for governor and lost in a landslide. He took a break for 20 years.
In 1948 he came back and ran for Senate, but it was Murray’s year.
Tried for the U.S. House two years later, won a crowded three-way primary, but lost in the general to Democrat Metcalf by 1,593 votes.
And this is where the Galts come in.
1950 would prove to be Wellington’s last race. He never again ran for public office after what must have been another in a long string of bitter defeats. There was a final bright spot in his life when he married Louise Replogle in 1956, a woman nearly forty years his junior.
“He didn’t seem that much older,” Replogle told the Big Sky Journal’s John Byorth in 2008. “We had all the same interests, and he seemed much younger.”
Wellington most likely enjoyed those last years, which also saw him become the largest private landowner in the state, “with more than 1 million deeded and leased acres of land and 27,000 cattle at his operation’s peak.”
He would die ten years later in Missoula, on June 4, 1966. He was 81 years old. His sister lived another 7 years, dying in 1973.
Now let’s focus on his wife, Louise Replogle/Rankin/Galt.
She was a smart woman. Got her law degree in ‘46 at the ripe old age of 23. Got the degree in Missoula at UM, and that fall she moved back to her hometown of Lewistown, defeated two men in the GOP primary, and got elected attorney for Fergus County.
Just the third woman in U.S. history to be named prosecutor. Quite an accomplishment.
A year later she rose to national prominence with her raid on slot machines, which the legislature had allowed despite anti-gambling laws under a non-profit exemption.
Wasn’t long before every store, shop and church in the state suddenly had a ‘non-profit’ spot laid out on its floor for the slot machines.
Louise put an end to that, no doubt earning her many enemies in the state, and quite a few allies as well. Three years later the state supreme court upheld her decision.
In 1951 she left the attorney’s office and joined Wellington’s firm. They knew each other - she’d beaten him once in court, and he bested her once as well.
Over the next 5 years he courted her, and in 1956 they were married.
Louise loved the horses, and a big part of her law practice had focused on ranching. They had 10 good years before Wellington died.
He left her ranches in Broadwater, Meagher, Park, Garfield, Rosebud, Phillips and Valley counties. She inherited 66 employees and tens of thousands of cattle. She got controlling interests in the Placer and Helena hotels in the capital, and perhaps the legislators who frequented them. Oil wells came her way as well.
A year after Wellington died, Louise married Jack Galt. Oh, and they had 7 kids...all named Galt.
He’d been one of the main ranch managers for Wellington. Once he married Louise his stock rose, and it wasn’t long before he was elected to the legislature. Ended up serving 16 years, even becoming Senate president in 1989.
No word on the cowshit on his boots, for he never would have made it so far without.
He died in 2007, and Louise passed in 2013.
Now today in 2020, one of the Galts is again in a leadership position in the legislature.
It’s interesting how close we are to our past, and yet so far away.