Harmon’s Histories: Magpies, moonshine bedeviled Bozeman 100 years ago this month
By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current
Moonshine, magpies, trolley tracks and a new theater headlined the news 100 ago this month in Bozeman.
Quite a crowd gathered on May 8, 1923 to watch officers dispose of “40 gallons of moonshine whiskey by pouring it down a manhole near the courthouse corner.”
The illegal brew was discovered in Claude Solt’s automobile, and ‘ol Claude subsequently pleaded guilty to “possessing and transporting” the moonshine.
So down the drain went the whiskey.
It must have been a rather potent potable, a severe and powerful aqua vitae.
For, as the Bozeman Courier reported, “Scarcely had the officers finished their unwelcome task ... two autos collided at almost the very spot where the booze was destroyed,” prompting the question: “Were the fumes that strong?” Apparently so!
Meantime, the sheriff and his men discovered some rather powerful moonshine in a car occupied by a couple of locals, Fred Gerson and John R. Ogden. The booze, said Sheriff Jim Smith, was “100 proof (but the car) was “just a Ford.”
Meantime, the accursed, godawful magpie was fodder for many a headline in the same local paper 100 years ago.
The Courier labeled the magpie as “perhaps the worst bird nuisance that is to be found in the valley.”
“Small chickens, lambs and pigs, turkey nests, and even grown cattle are often destroyed by these birds.”
So the locals organized a contest. “Substantial prizes will be given to those destroying the most birds and eggs.”
Boys ages 12 to 19 were challenged to turn in “either magpie heads or eggs, the heads counting three points each and the eggs one each.”
The newspaper tutored those whose magpie-knowledge was limited that the “magpie is a robber and thief. He kills young chickens as well as young songbirds and game birds.”
“Those who love the songbirds ... should never let a chance go by to kill a magpie, for no bird life can exist where magpies are found.”
About the same time, in downtown Bozeman, the new Rialto theater was nearing completion at the site of the old Power Implement store. The original Rialto had been located in the town’s old municipal theater.
Mac McCune was appointed manager of the new facility at 10 West Main Street.
“Although not as large as many moving picture houses in the state, there will be none more complete or have such artistic fittings as the new Rialto,” according to McCune.
The seating capacity would be 450.
In front of the new Rialto, the streets were being torn up to remove the no-longer-used trolley tracks from the prior century.
“The passing of the Gallatin Valley railway brings to the old-timers the memory of the building of that line that today bears the name of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railway (CM & SP).”
Local farmers had originally paid co-op subscriptions to fund the electrified line – the Gallatin Valley Railroad (GVR) - which was designed to help get their produce to market.
To have the CM & SP then buy the GVR made “many a former stockholder in the Gallatin Valley Railroad wonder where their hard-earned investment money went to.”
Given today’s traffic and parking issues in downtown Bozeman, one wonders if keeping the tracks for a trolley system might have been a good idea.
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.