Westward Ho: Newspaper story about Montana railroad tunnel workers, 1907-1909

+5 votes
65 views

Here's a newspaper article for Westward Ho! aficionados: "Gamblers, Wastrels and Lumberjacks: An Old Cemetery Gives Up Its Secret History," New York Times, December 14, 2019, online athttps://nyti.ms/2PPD06G (New York Times permalink URL)

The time period of 1907-1909 is more recent than the conventional scope for Westward Ho, but the subject matter is central to what the project was about. That is, immigrant workers from all over built a critical railroad tunnel and lived in a town (Taft, Montana) that epitomized the "wild" in "wild west" and was destroyed by fire the year after the tunnel was completed. The article is about the discovery of the cemetery where deceased workers were buried.

I wonder if anyone here has a family story about a relative who worked on the Taft Tunnel and lived (or possibly died) in Taft, Montana. The town is the subject of a Wikipedia article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taft,_Montana, a webpage at https://spokanehistorical.org/items/show/465 entitled "Taft: The Wickedest City in America," and other webpages. But I don't find any content on WikiTree yet...

in The Tree House by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
Fascinating.  I look forward to hearing more about what they discover.

Thank you, Ellen. This will take some research to find people to add the town and cemetery. At present, WikiTree has exactly one person categorized in Mineral County, Montana, a Harry Young Andersson who died in Deep Creek.

I suspect trying to identify a newspaper in the town or that serviced the town might be a way toward some initial information though the Times article mentions one book (doubtless another will follow in time).

Note: Mineral County was not formed until 1914, well after the demise of Taft. Taft was located in Missoula County at the time it existed. The town was largely uninhabited by the Big Burn in 1910. 9 Apr 1909 The Missoulian reported the town is mostly empty save 2 stores, 2 saloons, and a restaurant with those still remaining in the process of boarding up and leaving.

A few Taft residents that could be researched: Mr and Mrs W B Perkins; Dr L J Coria (physician for the CM&PS Railroad hospital - sued for incorrect amputation); Ben Denison was postmaster of Taft 1909; Pat Callahan; R. W. Day was engineer in charge of work at Taft 1909; Thomas C Kurtz; Angelo Stenoff died 27 Feb 1909 found dead at west end of St Paul tunnel and unofficially reported as murder.

The Missoulian, Missoula, Montana, 19 Mar 1909 identifies R. E. Ross as foreman for the Bates and Rogers Construction Company and will be in charge of work at "tunnel 19". 

It seems this story was running in Montana for some time: Clark Valley Press/Mineral Independent 11 Aug 2018.

3 Answers

+3 votes

It's not a pretty story but Taft, Missoula County, Montana is now in WikiTree via a German immigrant prospector named Henry Klockard. He was not interred at the Taft Cemetery so that cemetery category is not yet created.

by T Stanton G2G6 Pilot (133k points)
Good to see that Taft is on the map (after a fashion) here in WikiTree, T. It's evident that these workers had a stressful existence...

There may not be much opportunity for a cemetery category here, since the burials are unmarked -- and may not ever have been recorded.
I've not found record, as yet, of a newspaper in Taft but news from "up the mountains" seems to have been regularly carried in The Missoulian where I think a (painstaking) search may produce record of at least some interred at Taft. Searching the word Taft at this time produces a plethora of hits for a certain President who popularized possum and ran up the going price for a possum from 50 cents to $10 by pronouncing it good eating at a banquet.
+1 vote

That's high in the mountains, definitely not an easy place to get to back in the day.  That whole area was probably lawless... south of Missoula is Bannock, which is today a ghost town, but in its time had a bad reputation as well, and has the legend of Plummer's Gold.

by Rob Neff G2G6 Mach 4 (47.7k points)
+1 vote

I have access to the book "Year of the Fires" by Stephen J. Pyne.  It contains the names of some survivors, deaths, and some people requesting compensation.  One such person requesting compensation was Josef Omerza for the death of his son Carl of Croatia.  He was listed on the "published death lists."  When I googled the names I found the site: http://www.1910fire.com/  which has a list of deaths http://www.1910fire.com/victim%20list/victim_list.htm 

by Michelle Enke G2G6 Pilot (214k points)
The victim list has links to individual pages that have transcripts of newspaper articles and genealogical information.

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