It had to be one of the grandest Mondays in Missoula history, even if history took a beating.
July 5, 1915, was the last day of the first Missoula Stampede, a four-day event over the Fourth of the July weekend that featured (of course) the “most remarkable parade ever seen in Missoula.”
So the headline said in the July 6 Missoulian. The story downplayed what, 104 years later, seems like a most remarkable aspect. Grand marshal of the parade was Edgar S. Paxson of Missoula, with Charles M. Russell of Great Falls “as his companion.”
“Both are well-known artists,” a previous article noted.
The half-hour parade began and ended on the first block of South Fourth Street East, crossing the Higgins Avenue bridge going and coming.
Its historical theme was based on Missoula's 50th anniversary. Paxson (1852-1919) had recently finished the historical paintings that graced, and still do, the Missoula County Courthouse. And he’d helped supervise preparation of 12 floats that supposedly depicted scenes of western Montana history.
That’s where things got off track.
Paxson’s help in that role came from Arthur L. Stone, former Missoulian editor and dean of the new journalism school at the university, who had an enviable record of local history research. Joe Dixon was the third member. The former U.S. senator and future Montana governor, Dixon was owner and publisher of the Missoulian in 1915.
“There has been unusual care in the preparation of this parade, which, in its historical side, will be highly accurate,” Dixon’s newspaper wrote on parade day.
Be that as it may, no historian in the last 100 years has claimed that French trapper/explorer Sieur de La Verendrye came within hundreds of miles of western Montana in 1743. He perhaps entered the extreme southeast corner of Montana, far enough to catch sight of the Big Horn Mountains on the Wyoming-Montana border. He called them the Shining Mountains and his party are said to be both the first non-Natives to see the Rockies and the first to set foot in Montana.
That flies in the face of this narrative for Scene (Float) 1 at the Stampede parade: “Sieur La Verendrye and his little band of Frenchmen, with Indian guides, came as far into what is now Montana as the Gate of the Mountains, where the Missouri river breaks through the continental divide (sic), just east (sic) of Helena.”
A major swing and miss for Missoula historians.
Scene II featured “Sac-a-Ja-Wea,” the American Indian girl who accompanied and at times aided the Lewis and Clark expedition through Montana in 1805-06.
Sac-a-ja-wea, Missoulians were told in 1915, “was found by the explorers at Three Forks.”
Oops. Missed by another several hundred miles. A century and a bicentennial later, we still can’t agree on how to spell or pronounce her name, but the Lewis and Clark journals leave no doubt the explorers met the gallant young lady, heavy with child, during their winter stay at Fort Mandan in North Dakota.
Regardless, the Missoulian’s parade coverage dubbed the float dedicated by the Missoula Woman’s Club “one of the most attractive in the entire parade.”
Scene III depicted “The First Fourth of July in Montana," one day after Lewis and Clark split forces at Travelers' Rest. Lewis headed into Missoula, camping on Grant Creek. He had nine men with him. Clark went south up the Bitterroot with the rest of the company, including Sacajawea and her family, who therefore never set foot in what became the city limits.
Why, then, did someone let her and Charbonneau onto the First Fourth float with “Captain Lewis, Gass, Drewyer, (and) the two Field brothers?”
There were other gaffes: Father Pierre DeSmet “raised a rude cross of logs at old St. Mary’s near the present site of Stevensville” in late September 1841, not Aug. 12. Isaac Stevens negotiated the Hellgate Treaty at Council Grove west of Missoula in July 1855 with head chiefs Victor of the Bitterroot Salish, Michel of the Kootenai and Alexander of the Upper Pend d’Oreilles, as well as 15 others from those three tribes. It wasn’t with simply “Victor and his sub-chieftains.”
All that said, wouldn't it be fascinating to relive the Missoula Stampede parade of 1915?
Judge Frank Woody, the oldest man in Montana, had a float of his own. Emma Dickenson, called Missoula’s first schoolteacher and for whom an elementary school was named in 1960, rode the third-place float. They weren’t identified, but Indians “in all the bravery of native finery” were on the last float, which depicted Chief Charlo’s exodus from the Bitterroot in 1891.
There was no word that former U.S. Senator William A. Clark was in the parade, but he’d come down from Butte to visit the Stampede on Sunday.
Among other things, Clark told a Missoulian reporter of his first visit to Missoula 49 years earlier on his way to the West Coast. The futures of neither Clark nor the town were established. Now he was a multimillionaire who owned the city’s electric, light and streetcar systems, not to mention the Western Lumber Co. mill and the Milltown Dam east of town.
“When I first saw Missoula on that trip in the summer of 1866,” Clark said, “the possibility of being here again in 1915 to attend a Stampede, in a thriving city of 14,000 people, with two transcontinental railroads and paved streets and street cars and all the evidences of modern civilization, was about as remote in our minds as a trip to the moon would seem to us at this time 50 years hence."
Clark died in 1925. All other principals in the first Missoula Stampede were also long gone by the time man first walked on the moon on July 21, 1969, 54 years later. The Old Man missed by just four years.