Chances are we’ll never know what became of Pvt. T.E. Haines after he got shot in the foot in World War I.
It happened on this date, June 17, in 1917. Haines was in a gunfight, but not with the Huns in France. The first American troops wouldn’t arrive there for another week.
No, Haines did battle on the homefront with a couple of suspected dynamiters near the Milwaukee Railroad tunnel beside the Milltown Dam east of Missoula.
The tracks don’t run through Tunnel 16½ any more but it still stands, a future trail connector in Milltown State Park. It had been just a few months since the Milwaukee’s electrified locomotives began gliding through it pulling freight and passenger trains, powered by monolithic substations of Primrose west of Missoula and Ravenna, 30 miles to the east.
Tunnel 16½ had been a late addition to Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad line, made necessary in mid-construction after the great flood of 1908 damaged Sen. W.A. Clark’s new hydroelectric dam. A rail route around the face of the bluff had to be scrapped due to Clark's "extensive additions and improvements at the south end of the dam," a story in the Feb. 5, 1909, Missoulian explained
Haines’ Company E of the Montana National Guard, the Second Montana infantry, had been detailed in May to guard the tunnels and bridges of western Montana against subversive activities. The headlines of the day roiled with frightening suspicions of sabotage and mayhem created by union activists and German sympathizers.
So it must have been with a certain degree of apprehension that Haines greeted the sight of two men approaching him late that Sunday night. One was dark and short and wore a blue serge suit. The other was tall and thin and wearing a light suit. Both had on felt hats. The short man carried a rifle, the taller one a revolver.
“The two men opened fire on Haines when he ordered them to stop,” the Monday Missoulian reported. “Two dozen shots were exchanged before Haines fell wounded. The assailants, who are suspected of an attempt to blow up the tunnel or the dam, escaped before other militiamen were able to come to Haines’ rescue.”
Haines fired at the flashes of the supposed dynamiters’ guns. A later search of the ground indicated that he failed to hit either. Haines’ wound was dressed by Dr. E. F. Conyngham, the county physician, before he was taken to St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula.
Haines was mentioned just once more in the Missoulian, on June 18, 1937, in a “What Missoula Was Doing On This Date in 1917” column.
It’s not known if he left with Company E in early August, first for Fort Harrison near Helena, then to training in California, and finally in December to France as part of the 163rd Regiment.
According to Haines’ enlistment record, he was a banker and already 38 years old in 1910 when he signed on with the Second Montana in Miles City. He was perhaps among those in Company E called to Butte in 1914 to deal with labor violence, and to the Mexican border in 1916, when Pancho Villa threatened to attack Douglas, Arizona.
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The Missoulian had noted the lot of the lonely, lowly railroad guard a few weeks after the Second Montana arrived in western Montana.
“Little glamour lightens the watches of the Montana guardsmen who are posted in details at railroad bridges and tunnels through this mountain country,” the Missoulian noted on June 3, 1917. “No bands are there, no flying colors, no cheering crowds. Not even action is afforded for relief. But the boys out there in the hills are doing for their flag a ‘bit’ which is greater for its dullness.”
The reporter went on to describe the scene a few nights earlier at the Northern Pacific station, when a crowd gathered to cheer a squad of Missoula boys headed for training at Fort George Wright in Spokane.
“Unnoticed on the platform were two guardsmen from Fort Missoula, bound for a dark, lonely camp in the wilderness. These boys were not heeded as they heaved their guns and heavy packs up the car steps; the cheers were all for the new recruits,” the story said.
The two had been assigned to guard the Marent Trestle in Evaro Canyon, where they would be “spending lonely vigils in the woods, often in a cold rain, that war preparations may not be delayed by destruction of a transportation route.”
On July 1, 1917, the newspaper relayed a plea from the Northern Pacific and Milwaukee roads for magazines and books for such soldiers.
“Possibly, if we can give the boys some good reading material they will not seek other attractions, to their detriment,” NP ticket agent Kimball said. “Even Montana scenery gets monotonous when it is thrown in your face for every one of your waking hours, and the approach to a bridge or tunnel opening on a mountain side is rather bare of social recreation."
The Missoulian, in the earlier story of the two soldiers assigned to Marent Trestle, went so far as to quote Rudyard Kipling’s 1901 poem “Bridge-Guard in the Karroo,” written during the Boer War in South Africa. It ended:
More than a little lonely
Where the lessing tail lights shine.
No — not combatants — only
Details guarding the line.