By Jim Harmon

April First Foolishness
April First Foolishness

It’s April Fools’ Day! All I ask is that you remember this is a history column, not an advice column. Here we go.

It was promising to be a lovely spring day in Butte. A man, out for an early morning stroll, noticed a hat sitting on the sidewalk at Broadway and Main. It brought back childhood memories.

He hadn’t kicked a hat since he was a child. He surveyed the scene. “The street was bare of spectators,” or so he thought. He apparently was too deep into his childhood fantasy to “notice a bunch of urchins peeking out of a doorway across the street.”

“He imagined that his old athletic development which made him so good in college sports was as effective as ever.”

Billings Gazette clipping April 2, 1907
Billings Gazette clipping April 2, 1907

As reported in the April 2, 1907 Billings Gazette, “His soul aspired to kick the hat over city hall. So he drew back 20 paces and went at the hat like a steam engine.”

“His foot doubled up like it was made of rubber, the bricks under the hat were jostled forward a little, and the sensation that shot through his nerves told him that he had crushed his foot and smashed his leg and jarred his spine for life.”

“The next instant he was rolling over and over in the mud heaps gathered by the street cleaners and howling like a monster of the deep, and the wicked urchins in the portal of the store opposite were doubled up in spasms of laughter.”

“His howls got him arrested by a policeman, who thought he was playing an April fool joke, and later he was sent to the hospital. He will never kick a hat again - not on the first day of April.”

Thankfully, that sort of stunt was not typical on April Fools’ Day (or All Fools’ Day) in history.

An item in the Circle Banner newspaper (Circle, MT, April 4, 1919) recounted a more common celebration: “Miss Edith Olson and the Mesdames Anderson, O'Keefe, Stephens, and McCann entertained a large party of their friends and acquaintances at an April Fool party given in Anderson's hall.”

Everything associated with the party was “purposely misspelled – (even) the decorations in the hall, where a number of signs such as 'Injoy yurself", "Hav a Gude Tim," etc. were hung around the room.”

Clipping - Circle Banner newspaper - Circle, MT April 4, 1919
Clipping - Circle Banner newspaper - Circle, MT April 4, 1919

When it came time for supper, “the gentlemen each had to perform some stunt such as to kneel, stand on a chair or whistle, until the lady, whose card of instructions corresponded with what they were doing, came and led them away.”

“A delicious lunch was then served which was followed by some April Fool candy which the ladies passed. The candy, which was made of raw dough and pasteboard covered with chocolate looked very natural and fooled nearly everyone in the hall.”

Of course, the invention of the telephone brought out even more pranksters, dialing random numbers at 4 o’clock in the morning. On the other end, a sleepy voice would attempt to say, “Hello,” only to hear “April Fools!”

Then there were always those who would fill the sugar bowl with salt, or rub soap on the lip of coffee cups.

The April 2, 1907 Billings Gazette newspaper noted, “There would be money, horseshoes, and other valuables nailed to side walks. Last night in front of the Northern hotel a man stood with a string attached to a pocketbook lying on the sidewalk.”

“A prominent citizen walked up to one of his friends and offered him some candy from his pocket. It was filled with soap. Another person bought some sausage at a local meat market. It was full of hot pepper.”

“One election day, a man had lots of fun with people who went into the city hall to vote. He had a thread drawn through his coat like a raveling. Nearly everyone who saw it would try to take it out, and the result was they had yards and yards of thread - 200 yards.”

“And there were scores of other tricks. Everybody took it good-natured and remembered it was the first day of April, and the fool had to have a chance.”

And now, as Elvis would say on April 1st: Prank you, prank you very much!

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