First of all, I spent the weekend in Helena, and visited the Montana Historical Society. That’s where most of the information will be coming from this week.
So what’s on the agenda? Take a look:
- Tom Stout
- The Yellowstone Pipeline's Troubled History
- The Montana Historical Society
- The Montana Historical Society Research Center
- The Coolest Room in Montana
- Famous Montana Celebrities #6
As you can see, it’ll be a busy week. I know you’ll be entertained and informed, and that’s exactly what Montana writers have been trying to do for decades.
One of the more interesting of them was Tom Stout. He was a reporter in Montana for five decades and also served the state in Congress. I pulled out his file on a whim this Saturday while I was at the Historical Society, and it was pretty clear that the information wanted to be shared. Here we go.
Tom Stout: A True Montanan
Tom Stout was born in New London, Missouri, on May 20, 1879. He stayed in his home state, graduating from the University of Missouri at Columbia around 1900. He turned right around and began teaching law at the school until deciding a move out West would do him good.
He chose Montana and the Great Falls Tribune had a good story on this on February 17, 1957:
“He counted his money carefully, secured a few railroad folders, read the various excellencies of the trains that ran northward and westward, and consulted the local ticket agent, who had been his friend from boyhood days.
‘I desire to go somewhere,’ Tom said.
‘Where?’ asked the agent.
‘Oh, I dunno; want to go about thirty-seven dollars and forty cents worth.’
‘It’s immaterial to me. Pick out some good place that is thirty-seven-forty from here.’
The agent pondered, and consulted schedules.
‘I can sell you to Boise, Idaho,’ he said, ‘for the whole thirty-seven-forty, or I can land you in Billings, Montana, for thirty-four-eighty.’
‘Gimme Billings,’ said Tom, ‘I may want to eat.’”
Now that his hunger was satisfied and he had a little money in his pocket once again, Stout walked down the street, once again looking for work. He spotted the Billings Times, headed on inside, and with his previous “schoolteaching background and ability to make a logical sentence, it seemed as good a place as any to stop.”
The Billings Times job lasted a little longer than the cement shoveling job, but not by much. By May, little more than a month after starting, Stout pulled up stakes and headed to Lewistown and the Lewistown Argus. He became city editor, in large part because the Billings Gazette’s John Gilluly had recommended him. In 1903 Stout “coached Lewistown’s first gridiron squad,” although he didn’t recall them ever winning a game.
Stout lasted at the Lewistown Argus until 1904 when he started up the Fergus County Democrat with Harry Kelly. It was a weekly paper until 1916 when the Associated Press started, something that provided local reporters a lot more material with which to fill their papers. The paper became a daily and changed its name to the Daily Democrat News. In 1918 Stout bought out Kelly’s interest and had the paper wholly to himself.
Being an editor and publisher helped Stout get his word out, and it was a short time later that he got into politics. Well, it wasn’t quite as simple as that. The truth is that Tom Stout got into Montana politics because of a coin toss. In 1910 “the Fergus County Democrats found themselves without a candidate for the State Senate,” the Great Falls Tribune reported in 1957. “Gene Lane and I flipped a coin. I lost, so I ran and somehow got elected.”
Stout must have done a good job because he was chosen as the candidate for Montana’s second U.S. House seat, which the 1910 Census had deemed necessary. The state had moved up to 376,053 people from the 1900 census’s 243,329 people. Stout and seven other men jumped at the opportunity, but the newspaperman beat them out.
The Democrats were the big winners nationally and in Montana in 1912, and in more ways than one.
That extra House seat meant more representation and Tom Stout won it handily, picking up 25,891 votes with fellow Democrat John M. Evans coming in second at 24,492. Republican Charles N. Pray came in third with 23,505, meaning his two terms in Washington were finally coming to an end.
Tom Stout’s time was just getting started, for he was reelected in 1914. In 1916, however, he decided not to run again. Maybe he saw that Jeanette Rankin would likely win, or maybe he just missed Lewistown and writing the news. His time in Washington was up.
In 1924 Stout served as the chairman of the Democrat State Central Committee. He got a position on the Montana Public Service Commission in 1932. In 1942 he ran again for the legislature, this time the Montana House. He served in the 1943, 1945, and 1947 legislative sessions.
Journalism was in his blood more than politics by this point, however, and Stout decided to go to work for the Billings Gazette in 1947, a job he’d hold until 1960. He died in Billings the day after Christmas, December 26, 1965. He was 86 years old.