By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current
It’s a dilemma, a predicament, a quandary – and it’s all Ed Kemmick’s fault.
I had planned to share one of my favorite old newspaper stories with you this week.
But then this Kemmick fellow, at Last Best News, announced his decision to cease “running any more fake news.”
So here I sit, on deadline, with a great story to share, and now I have to grapple (or is it graupel?) with a dilemma. Of course it may not really be a “dilemma” – an English teacher of mine, many decades ago, had a thing with the overuse and misuse of the word – so perhaps it might simply be a “pickle.”
The problem is, I can’t swear to the veracity of the story in question.
On the one hand, it’s plausible – given what little I know about the St. Regis area.
On the other hand, it does sound a bit farfetched. Just a bit.
This endless tug-of-war, this synapse skirmishing, is beginning to hurt my brain.
While one (that’s me) cannot be careful enough in these troubled times to avoid “fake news,” one (yes – me, again) could argue that this story was written over 100 years ago, at a time when surely there was no such concern over fraudulent, fabricated fakery in the news biz.
OK, I’ve delayed long enough. I have to make a decision.
With apologies in advance to Mr. Kemmick, I’m going ahead with the story.
You be the judge.
This is it – unedited in any way by me – straight from the local paper in Missoula on February 28, 1894.
“It is not often that your correspondent attempts anything in the line of journalism, and it is not among the impossibilities that the Missoulian and its host of admirers will be just as thankful if, after this effort, I should retire to my lonely hut in the back woods and never again attempt to make myself heard in this direction.
“There is not, as might be expected, any news of a general nature transpiring in this out-of-the-way place worthy of mention.
“At this season of the year we have nothing but snow and ice and lots of them, but I, personally, had an unusual experience a night or so ago that has worried me not a little and, owing to its exceeding peculiarities, I believe that it might prove interesting enough to the Missoulian readers.
“On Friday night tired and worn out through overindulgence in dancing affairs and the banquets which are so numerous in this mountain retreat, I quenched my thirst with a couple of glasses of sparkling St. Regis water, blew out the gas and crawled into my downy couch.
“Shortly after midnight I was awakened by a cold breath on my burning cheek, and setting up beheld, to my horror, a huge kangaroo hopping around the room.
“The animal must have measured, when standing erect, fully 11 feet in height. His tail as it wound around the little room, could not have been less than 19 or 20 feet long; his ears, sticking up like a government mule’s, were certainly not less than 2 feet in their extreme length, and the sharp, glistening toenails, for which these animals are famous, were in this instance fully 9 inches in length and seem to me to possess the strength of a woodman’s axe.
“All of this I hastily surveyed while conjuring in my mind some means of winning the battle that I knew was bound to occur with my decidedly unwelcome visitor.
“I have a fine collection of guns and other weapons hanging on a rack directly over my couch and I reached up and took down the first rifle my hands came in contact with. It happened, however, to be an old three-barreled muzzle loader that had been made to order for Kit Carson, and not been loaded for over 70 years.
“The kangaroo took in the situation at a glance and sat down on his haunches in the middle of the room and gave vent to a series of short, grating laughs so peculiar to the animal in his native clime.
“He or she, however, evidently concluded to take no chances, as guns that are never loaded are always the most dangerous, and, doubling itself up as much as possible, made a leap for the window.
“The animal’s tail, in switching around to get in line with its body, made a half hitch around my right leg and I was quickly dragged to the window.
“I caught hold of the lower sill and hung on for dear life, the animal pulling one way and your unfortunate correspondent the other.
“The night was a cold one, and by a superhuman effort, I managed to hold on against the superior strength of the animal, until its tail froze solid and broke off, when the animal bounded away into the darkness of the night, and I fell back on the floor, limp and faint.
“This tale, or tail, may seem hardly worthy of belief, but I still preserve about 6 feet of the kangaroo’s rear appendage which I shall bring with me on my next visit to Missoula, and will probably present it to Bob Foster, as I believe it will make a most acceptable addition to his already famous cabinet of curiosities.
“I was unable to do this for a time, but am informed by no less a personage than a prominent railway official who visited St. Regis yesterday, that a monster kangaroo, in fact the largest of his species in existence, had escaped from the circus which was wintering in California and when last seen was rapidly making tracks in a north-westerly direction, and I do not entertain the slightest doubt that my visitor of Friday night was the same animal, who favored me with an impromptu call on his way to the North Pole.
“I desire to state, by the way, that I had not been to Superior or Saltese, for several days prior to this incident, neither had I been drinking anything stronger than St. Regis water, which I am informed is chemically pure, nor had I been, during the previous week, perusing any of Violet Gleamer’s Saturday gush and salaciousness. – Kangaroo Joe.”
So, there you have it – unabridged, unedited, just as it appeared in 1894.
Surely, you’ll agree with me that such a story, albeit unsubstantiated, is absolutely plausible, therefore likely absolutely true.
After all, it was in the paper.
I rest my case.
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.