Harmon’s Histories: A.A. White set the standard for courtroom defenses in Kalispell trial
By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current
If you should happen to ride your horse into a Kalispell saloon and are arrested for disturbing the peace, we have a perfect defense prepared for you, courtesy of Colonel A.A. White of St. Paul, Minn., who used this very strategy in court in 1917.
By way of background, Almond A. White (1844-1930) was a native of Whiting, Vermont.
As a land promoter in the early 20th century, he bought considerable property in the West, including many "villa sites" around Flathead Lake.
The Anaconda Standard newspaper reported, “The colonel believes there is no more beautiful country lying out the doors than that found along the shores of Montana’s greatest lake, and he has backed his sentiment by investing a large sum of money there in real estate.”
White would take prospective buyers on tours in his “white launches and white automobiles.” He even employed a gentleman in a “white uniform” to make the sales pitches. He was somewhat successful in the venture, but a considerable number of those lakefront lots eventually “were acquired through tax sales.”
But let’s get back to Colonel White’s day before the judge.
He “arrived in court five minutes before the trial hour, after an arduous trip from Polson, and gave notice that he would take a nap until court opened,” according to the Columbian (Columbia Falls) newspaper.
The city attorney called the bar owner and bartender to the witness stand. Both testified that Colonel White had, indeed, ridden into the bar ... but that he “disturbed no one’s peace.”
Colonel White then “asked for three minutes to state his case.”
The Columbian reporter covering the case said Colonel White “arose and removed his coat, revealing a monstrous pistol holster and a long knife hanging to his belt,” and proceeded to address Police Magistrate Eugene McCarthy, as follows:
“Oh, most holy and mighty supreme judge of my offense, I humbly implore you to forgive my transgressions of the holy ordinances of the wise men in council in this metropolis of the Flathead. I am prepared now to receive my sentence from your honor.”
“I alone am responsible and not these honorable gentlemen whom you have charged with me.”
“While turning to the livery stable, my horse, strong bitted, smelled the Kalispell bar. He was thirsty and he smelled water and bolted through the door, beyond my control. I am sure he thought the place was a barn.
“When the horse got inside, he saw what he thought was a manger; the bartender set out a bucket of water for the horse. The horses ridden by these other gentlemen got beyond their control and followed mine into the place. I must take the responsibility of being the ringleader.
“That was the first time I ever was in a barroom in Flathead County. I implore your honor. I am 74 years old, and I never was arrested before in my life; give me a good stiff fine and let the others go. I understand the city treasury needs the money, so go as far as you like.
“However, I am not sure I will pay the fine. I might as well go to jail. I am retired and on a vacation. I might as well spend it in jail.”
“Magistrate McCarthy then declared he would find the defendants guilty as charged and that he would fine Colonel White $50 and the four others $25 each,” the Columbian reported.
Colonel Almond A. White lived to be 86, dying in France.
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at email@example.com. His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.