By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current

Hundreds of trout, dozens of grouse, hail the size of eggs, watermelons stolen from an old man, naughty boys disrupting the singing school, a sure way to improve school boys’ spelling, a screeching brass band and a bit of Irish humor.

Those were the August headlines in Missoula newspapers in 1874.

It seems the streams of western Montana were boiling with trout that summer, “more abundant and more easily caught ... than any other previous season." One newspaper clipping claimed “a good angler will take 200 fish per day out of Race Track or upper Warm Springs creeks.”

Meantime, with “the game law having expired, grouse and chickens were being slaughtered by the hundreds.” On one Sunday in August alone, Missoula-area hunters “brought in 150 birds.”

Weekly Missoulian 8-20-1874
Weekly Missoulian 8-20-1874
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The Missoula Coronet Band drew rave reviews during much of the year. The group, under the direction of Professor A.B. Charple, added more instruments in 1874, making it an eight-piece band.

In September, the musicians paraded through the streets to much applause, but folks on the far edge of town requested the band come a bit farther east next time.

There was, however, one soul in town who wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper that there was much to be said for peace and quiet!

“If there is anything under the canopy of the heavens to awaken the higher and holier attributes of sinful human nature, and to make a man talk back to his widowed grandmother, it is the remorseless, long winded, atrocious frauds of wind instruments (and) yelping coronets!”

The weather was scorching in August of 1874, causing local farmers to bring their “little brown jugs to town for the universal antidote against heat and cold, dryness and thirst, good health and poor, snake bites and all the ills that flesh is heir to.”

When rain did come, it was in the form of thunderstorms. One such storm on the west edge of Missoula (about where Costco is today) dropped hail stones “as large as hens eggs.”

Weekly Missoulian 8-26-1874
Weekly Missoulian 8-26-1874
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It demolished vines, tomatoes and cabbage patches. Even cattle in the area were bruised and swollen after being pelted by the hail.

Meantime, while Miss Sims prepared for her classes at the local select-school, there were more than a few stories locally, and from across the country, that would give her or any school teacher pause.

Some miscreant boys were admonished in the local paper for constantly throwing rocks. It’s a “bad practice,” warned the newspaper editor. “The habit is reprehensible and should be looked after by parents.”

Some other boys reached new lows by raiding the garden of “Mr. Woods, an infirm old man,” to steal one of his largest melons.

“The person who would steal the productions of his labor,” wrote the paper, “just at the time it is ready for market, is mean enough to steal the prayers from a dying sinner.”

Weekly Missoulian 2-26-1874
Weekly Missoulian 2-26-1874
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Further, some “naughty boys (at a private school), instead of paying proper attention to their lessons, as all good boys should, persist in slyly shooting off firecrackers and throwing beans at the girls, to the great annoyance of the Professor!”

Setting aside the miscreants of the day, the newspapers of 1874 did offer the jokes of the day.

We leave you with this: “An Irishman, being asked in court for his certificate of marriage, showed a big scar on his head about the size of a fire shovel.”

That sounds like proof positive, your honor!

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 best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.

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