The current bridge wasn’t put in until 1999. Before that there were bridges and even the remains of bridges. No matter what is there, however, the evil remains.
David Curran is a good source for this. As you might remember from the chapter on Montana ghosts, he wrote Ghost Stories: True Hauntings in Montana and updated it in 2011.
One story that caught my eye was called “The California Street Bridge” and it’s the last in the book.
Missoula’s OK Corral
“One guy had punched another guy in the men’s room. The punched guy had fallen, hit his head, and died. We thought, oh, well, there are murders here too. But it wasn’t long before someone else was murdered in the same bar and not long after that someone else was murdered there.”
This was in the 80s. I’d never heard of that bar before so I looked it up.
Sure enough, in October 1985 a man named Michael James Feeley “died after being hit several times in the head during a bar room accident at the OK Corral in Missoula at 2 a.m. Sunday.”
Dallas Williams of Missoula was charged with the murder. He was just 30-years old.
The OK Corral Bar was located at the corner of California and River Roads…right where bikes go by the current graffiti wall.
In January 1986 there was a story in the Spokane Chronicle saying that residents of Missoula’s West Side were complaining about the OK Corral “after the second death in two months occurred there.”
Kenneth Clairmont was “stabbed to death in the parking lot outside the bar” on a Saturday night. He was just 19-years old and as the article says, it was just two months after Feeley was killed.
John Thornton, a 27-year old from Missoula, was charged with the crime.
Lynn Fleming said “it’s the worst bar in town” and that she’s “seen people practically kill each other.” Her fiancé said he didn’t mind the place.
By 1985 Curran had first heard of the California Street Bridge, at the time nothing more than “old pilings” that crossed the river and that you could see from the Russell Street Bridge. It also happened to be near the OK Corral.
An Evil Presence
One incident that stuck in Curran’s mind was when he was told that two planes had crashed into each other over the bridge, “the pilots parachuted out” but then “got tangled with one another on the way down, landed on the bridge and died.”
Curran got more interested in the strange bridge and its history after some young kids were playing on the ice near it and one fell in and died. He found out that “the tribes who lived in the area were constantly warring, taking prisoners and torturing prisoners.”
It’s from that time period that the true nature of the evil at that part of the Clark Fork River becomes known to us. Curran tells it like this:
“In the 1800s a brave and his wife had been captured. They began torturing the wife in front of the brave, putting her eyes out, and horribly mutilating her. The brave roared insults and got his captors so mad they killed him outright.”
Curran feels that this incident “is a little more befitting the violence lingering in the area.”
I decided to look more into the bridge myself.
The Modern California Street Bridge
That need was met in 1996 when the city started a study and environmental assessment of the area. Construction of a new bridge started in 1998 and it was completed and opened to the public by October 1999.
The new and current bridge spans 400 feet of the river.
Incidents have continued at the bridge, however.
The Homeless Veteran Killing
Salcido had graduated from Sentinel High School in 1971 but had since given up the “workaday moil,” his family said, in favor of a simpler life. That life pretty much consisted of “his box of Top tobacco, a can of suds and a worn Western paperback – he favored Louis L’Amour.”
Salcido had served in Vietnam and didn’t ask for handouts while roughing it through the tough Missoula winter.
On December 6 Salcido was minding his own business while crossing the bridge when 20-year-old Dustin Strahan and 18-year-old Anthony St. Dennis caught sight of him.
The two had been getting drunk on vodka on the bridge when Salcido came by around 10 PM. St. Dennis had been convinced he was going to jail anyways and he wanted to take his frustrations out on someone.
So the two young men beat and stomped Salcido to death. Salcido’s body was “beaten so severely his own brother did not recognize him.”
St. Dennis was a student at Hellgate High School and “within 14 hours” the two men had been arrested and “charged with deliberate homicide for allegedly stomping Salcido to death.”
The Missoulian reported that “in a sad irony, St. Dennis had recently become affiliated with the local homeless shelter that nurtured Salcido on occasion.”
That year in America there were 122 attacks on the homeless and twenty of these resulted in a death. One came to Missoula that night.
In July 2014 a body of a 60-year old man was found in the water near the bridge. The darkness in the area had claimed another.
The darkness and the evil that permeates that area of the Clark Fork River will likely continue.
So next time you read a story about a crime near the California Street Bridge, perhaps you’ll have an idea as to what may really be going on.
“Body recovered from Clark Fork River near California St. bridge.” KECI NBC Montana. 24 July 2014. Web. Retrieved 16 February 2016. http://www.nbcmontana.com/news/body-recovered-from-clark-fork-river-near-california-st-bridge/27131238
Curran, David F. Ghost Stories: True Hauntings in Montana in 2011. DF Curran Productions. 2011.
“Merit Award: Special Purpose. California Street Bridge.” Modern Steel Construction. July 2000. PDF Report. Web. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
“Michael James Feeley.” Find a Grave. Web. Retrieved 16 February 2016. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=35126698
“Residents complain of bar where two have been killed.” Spokane Chronicle. 2 January 1986. Web. Retrieved 16 February 2016. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1345&dat=19860102&id=JXVhAAAAIBAJ&sjid=t_kDAAAAIBAJ&pg=1672,338043&hl=en
Scott, Tristan. “Missoula: Locals remember murdered homeless man.” Missoulian. 13 December 2007. Web. Retrieved 16 February 2016. https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/12/13/18466740.php