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Harmon’s Histories: Our readers share their connections to Montana history

Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at harmonshistories@gmail.com.

Here we are. Another new year: 2022!

With that, I am reminded that I’ve been doing this historical research and writing for the Missoula Current for nearly six years.

In all that time, the one thing I’ve failed to do is to share with you some of the reader feedback about stories that touched people’s lives.

Here’s an example: “Hello, I just wanted to say I enjoyed your 2019 piece on the old Missoula Hotel. William Kennedy was the brother of my great grandfather. Now that I am living in Missoula I was attempting to find the several hotels that he seemed to own or be associated with in the late 1800s. Looks like he had this one for a very brief time! Thanks for your dedication to historical Missoula.” Hotel Misoula story.

Drawing of the Hotel Missoula,  Missoulian, 5-1-1909

A reader question: “Hello Jim, Do you know if the Marx brothers ever played in Missoula?  In Harpo Marx’s biography, “Harpo speaks,” he says that they often played in Butte (before 1920). They were also playing on the West Coast during that time; Seattle is mentioned. They would have taken the train that could have taken them through Missoula.

According to Harpo, they used tourist cars which were part of cargo trains which often left them in train yards for a long time, often out of town and far away from the city. This would have been not that bad if they had a layover Missoula.”

Response: After checking newspaper databases (local to national), I can find no mention of Harpo or any of the Marx Brothers being in Missoula or anywhere in Montana.

Blue Parrot was Missoula’s original tea room, Missoulian  9-14-1924

Some reader feedback: “Hi Jim, A friend of mine recently shared your article regarding tea rooms in Missoula and greater Montana during prohibition years. The story was awesome!

“I wanted to make one point, and that is while tea rooms may have ended after prohibition, they made a comeback with both Butterfly Herbs and Lake Missoula Tea Company (our company and it functions more like a bar).

“Neither are exactly the model you describe in your article, but both are tea rooms. I think there is a tea “house” in Great Falls and also one in Billings. Thanks again, your article made my day!”

Thanks for the article: “Hello Jim, I’ve been reading through your Missoula Current articles and loving them, as well as learning a LOT!  Thanks very much for those.

“I really enjoyed the one on the Chicago Beehive store, since I’ve often wondered about the history of that place.

“The parent company of my company, if that makes sense, is in the old Tietjen home at 329 East Pine (across the street from the old Worden home).

Missoula Bee Hive Store –  1894 – University of Montana/Montana Memory Project

“When it was brought back to life after being a condemned funeral home around 1991, an ad for the store was found in the basement (along with many coffins, an enamel gurney, and many other odd things, a few of which survive to this day).  It’s now on the wall, which is why there are some reflections in the photo I’ve attached.”

Delighted reader: “I was delighted to read your July 6, 2020 Harmon’s Histories article.  My grandmother was an early student at Garden City Commercial College.

“You may enjoy these 1909 photos from her album.  Dated  March 14, 1909, they appear to be from a field trip or graduation event. On the back are names of all of the students and Professor Reitz.

“Due to the dressed-up attire of the students, and because one year later my grandmother, aged 20, was working as a stenographer at a mercantile in Great Falls, I deduced that these might have been graduation photos.

Missoula, March 1908

“Would the bridge in the second picture possibly be Ritz Bridge, built the previous year? Thank you for your article, and your interest in Montana history!”

Response: It is quite possible, even likely, the photos sent are of the Reitz bridge, but I have been unable to find similar photos containing a date or any way to verify that.

Question: “Hi Jim, I am a longtime Missoula resident recently transplanted to Portland to study historic preservation at the University of Oregon. I’ve enjoyed reading your column in the Missoula Current, and hope that you can help point me in the right direction for some resources for a term paper I’m writing on the history of the Beartracks Bridge.”

Response: The 2019 bridge story answers many questions.

JOHN X. BEIDLER – VIGILANTE, ca. 1875

Book recommended by author: “Hi, I enjoyed your latest article – (on X. Beidler). It puts the current Far West heatwave into perspective.

“I wrote three books about Liver Eating Johnston, wherein I discussed his “friendship” with Beidler. They were quite a pair.

“They worked together in a wood yard on the Missouri River, where they provided wood for the furnaces of paddle wheel boats like the Far West, etc. Anyway, nice article! Dennis McLelland.”

Rastas Reed feedback: “Rastus Reed (a character recounted in Harmon’s Histories by forester Jack Puckett) is my uncle (my mother’s brother); he was the oldest of 15 children.

“My mother was the 14th child, the 15th child (a boy) was born on Rastus’ birthday, which was September 26, 1892, the last child was born on September 26, 1922. Rastus served in the Navy in WWI; he left his mother’s home in Woodford County, Kentucky in 1933.

“My mother told me that he made moonshine, and was a hermit. The family was notified of his passing and was told he was found dead in his cabin. Thanks so much for the article!”

There have been many other letters from readers. Perhaps I’ll share them in another column in the future. Meantime, thanks for reading the weekly column, and – as always – I welcome any and all feedback!

Happy New Year!

Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at harmonshistories@gmail.com. His new book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is now available at harmonshistories.com.