Harmon’s Histories: Election fatigue the same in 1916 as it was in 2016


By Jim Harmon

The election is finally over and here are the day’s headlines.

“The Catholic ladies cleared $167 at the dance given election night.”

“Charley Nordgren had the misfortune to get his hand caught in the cog wheels of a threshing machine on election day, severely crushing three fingers.”

“Bread at the Big Store Grocery Department is wrapped in waxed paper and is received fresh daily.”

“Anyone having fat hogs for sale, should see E. E. Durst.”

Those were the big stories in the Ronan Pioneer on November 10, 1916.

Oh, I nearly forgot. There was also this: “President Wilson has carried California and has been re-elected.”

California provided the 13 votes that put Wilson over the top in the Electoral College. The press of the day proclaimed it was “an election which has been unparalleled in American history.” (If they only knew what would happen 100 years later).

Thanks to Wilson’s landslide victory in Montana, incumbent Gov. Stan Stewart narrowly defeated his Republican gubernatorial challenger, former Helena Mayor Frank Edwards.

Democrat Henry Myers was re-elected to his U.S. Senate seat, as was incumbent Democratic Congressman John Evans. But the winner of the other “at large” seat in the U.S. House grabbed all the headlines. It was Jeanette Rankin, the suffragist, who noted, “I may be the first woman member of Congress… but I won’t be the last.”

Missoula County also went almost entirely Democrat in 1916, with the exception of the state legislative seats. There, four Republicans and only one Democrat were sent to Helena.

Perhaps voters then, as now, were tired of all the campaigning, because much of that week’s paper was devoted to non-election happenings, including farm and ranch updates.

Experts predicted the year’s wool crop would hit 25 million pounds and be worth nearly $8 million. Others said next year’s grain crop should be the largest ever.

There was also auto news.

Motor-tourism was becoming huge. Colorado had just issued a report that motorists dropped $12 million in that state last year. With the construction of the park-to-park highway system, Montana was expecting thousands more auto-tourism dollars, too. A Billings auto wholesaler, F. B. Connolly, urged the state to do everything it could to make motorists welcome in Montana.

The paper even carried a series by Charles M. Russell.

The week’s installment was entitled, “The Trail of Reel Foot, A Montana Trapper’s Story.” Seems “Reel Foot” had a bit of a handicap, or is that foot-i-cap? He had one foot pointing one direction, the other pointing in the opposite direction. As a result, writes Russell, “After studyin’ the tracks awhile they decide the old man’s right. There are two one-legged men travelin’ in opposite directions.”

Then, there was the story from Anaconda.

“Ole and Ole,” a circus act, had just finished an engagement at the Montana State Fair. The first “Ole” was Frank Johnson. His partner, the other “Ole,” was a checker-haired dog.ole-ole

Sadly “Ole” died at an Anaconda rooming house while waiting for news to arrive from his booking agent of their next engagement. The other “Ole” stood guard, not allowing anyone near the late “Ole.” “The letter (from the agent) came the day after Ole’s death.”

Oh, this final item.

F. N. Aldrich wants to buy some chickens. Old or young. Doesn’t matter.

That’s the news from Ronan.

Jim Harmon is a retired journalist whose 50-year career included nearly three decades at KECI-TV, Missoula in roles ranging from news anchor to weather forecaster. In retirement, Jim is a landscape gardener and history buff who’s spent years reading historical micro-film newspapers. You can read his weekly history column at the Missoula Current.