Preserved for Posterity, at Age 89, One Year Before His Death
BY PAT HILL
Andrew Garcia arrived on the scene in Montana as the days of the Old West were in their final decades, yet he embraced the West fully and became one its most legendary and colorful personalities. The adventures he recorded in manuscript form were eventually published as the popular book Tough Trip Through Paradise, a work that became a cult classic among devotees of the West and attracted the attention of filmmaker Robert Redford. Garcia himself, the Montana Pioneer has now learned, was captured on film in 1942, at the age of 89, the year before his death.
Tough Trip Through Paradise, 1878-1879, chronicles Garcia’s adventures, exploits, and heartbreaks in Montana territory during those two years, at a time when the wild and free life was giving way to the cow and plow. The book is an autobiography of sorts, edited by the late Ben Stein (Livingston resident and state senator), first published by the Houghton-Mifflin Publishing Company of Boston in 1967. Much of the book examines the travels of Garcia and his Nez Perce wife, In-who-lise, whom Garcia met, married, and buried (after she was killed by Blackfeet Indians) in that relatively short time span of 1878-79 that the book examines.
The 16 millimeter color film featuring Garcia (The Parade of Pio-neers, now on DVD), retrieved from the vault of the Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building in Helena, records the arrival of members of The Society of Montana Pioneers and the Society of Sons and Daughters of Montana Pioneers at their 1942 convention in Helena. Among the parade of distinguished guests, dressed in suits, ties, and fine dresses, arrives a tall man with a long graying beard and shoulder-length hair, clad in a buckskin jacket and wearing an extremely broad-brimmed leather hat. It is Andrew Garcia, looking somewhat out of place among the convention-goers, although the leather-clad pioneer is obviously quite respected by the other members of the organization. He is later shown posing with a small group of fellow pioneers. A gentleman who seems to be organizing the event approaches Garcia and pats him on the shoulder deferentially. Another takes time to shake his hand and pose for the camera. Though not a member of the Society of Montana Pioneers, Garcia strove to attend their gatherings.
“The [Society of] Montana Pioneers held conventions annually from the time they were formed in 1884 until 1962, when eight of the original members elected to dissolve the parent organization,” current Sons and Daughters of Montana Pioneers President Dale Wostrel told us. “The last president of the Montana Pioneers, Mr. Lumen W. Allen, the last surviving Pioneer, passed away on February 19, 1970 at the age of 102.” Wostrel said that The Society was formed in 1892 and met with the Montana Pioneers at their conventions until the parent organization was dissolved.
“The Montana Pioneers were the people that made Montana what it is today,” said Wostrel. “They were not only the gold miners, homesteaders, ranchers and farmers, but they were the politicians, lawyers and businessmen.” Presidents of the organization included notable Montana names like James Fergus, Granville Stuart, William A. Clark, Wilbur F. Sanders, and Conrad Kohrs.
Wostrel said that The Sons and Daughters of the Montana Pioneers still get together annually.
“Each year we have our two-day meeting in a different city,” he said. “We have historians give talks and we make a donation to a history organization in that city. The past few years, we have local people talk about how their ancestors arrived in Montana.”
Andrew Garcia arrived in Montana Territory around 1876, where he worked for the U.S. Army as a herder and a packer at Fort Ellis, just east of Bozeman. A Texan of Mexican heritage, Garcia followed the cattle herds north to Montana Territory. Few references are made to him in publications of western history. That may be just how Garcia wanted it. Stein related Garcia’s reluctance to have his story go to print in the book’s introduction:
“Several interested people tried to help him put his work into publishable form…He resisted all offers…His greatest fear was that his story would be appropriated for the western fiction market. He died in 1943 without having seen any of his work in print.”
How the finished book came about is a story in itself. Stein wrote that he found the original manuscript in 1948, containing several thousand handwritten and typed pages packed in dynamite boxes and wrapped in the waxed paper that gunpowder is stored in. Stein claimed that Tough Trip Through Paradise comprised a number of Garcia’s unfinished writings, written in a style that “would go for pages with no other form of punctuation than a comma, and as he grew older he tended to ramble. So I have punctuated, and cut, and restored the material somewhat, but the words are all his.”
As the 1870s were coming to a close, Garcia interacted with some of the last free Indians on the Montana frontier in the unforgiving territory north of present-day Big Timber. He encountered Blackfeet, Bloods, Crows, Piegans, Crees, and Pend d’O’reilles, trading with them, and getting to know their ways and languages. The amorous Garcia earned the nickname the Squaw Kid, for his many exploits with native women, and took a Native American wife with whom he traveled the Montana territory, from the Big Hole to the Kalispell valley, before she was killed.
Garcia had also been keenly aware that members of his family didn’t want any connection with the manuscript or his Nez Perce wife In-who-lise, concerns he shared with historian L.V. McWhorter. His research on the Nez Perce Indians first brought him in chance contact with Andrew Garcia on the streets of Missoula in 1928. In a story about Garcia by Diane Smith published in the Winter 2008 edition of Montana; The Magazine of Western History, Smith reports that “This chance meeting…led to a lengthy correspondence between the two men. It also resulted in Garcia sitting down to write his life story.” Many of those letters are archived in the McWhorter collection at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.
“[M]y white wife and family are the only enemies In-who-lise has got,” Garcia wrote in one letter to McWhorter in December of 1931. “And her who is so good to me in everything else would rather pick up a rattlesnake than pick up a sheet of this story lying on the floor or anywhere else. Under those sorrowful conditions, I have had to write for more than two years, work hard all day around the ranch, and write till twelve o’clock at night and instead of receiving any encouragement I only receive blank silences about what I write…Hell will be a popping the day In-who-lise appears in print in the Garcia family…”
Eighty-two-year-old Virginia Anderson of Missoula told the Pioneer in a recent interview that she remembers meeting Garcia in her father Joseph’s Missoula law office, where he apparently kept portions of the manuscript away from family members not interested in the tale.
“He [Garcia] wrote it in pieces,” Anderson told the Pioneer. “He would write a few pages, stop by my dad’s law office, and ask my dad to keep them in his big old-fashioned safe. He never charged [Garcia] for storage over a several-year period…he kept stuff for lots of folks in that safe.” Anderson said she remembers Garcia not only for his pioneer appearance, but also for his odor.
“I was just a kid when he came to the law office,” she said. “He smelled so bad…he always wore smoked buckskins.”
Both of Anderson’s parents were also members of The Society of Sons and Daughters of Montana Pioneers.
“Dad was the one who did the legal work to get the [Society] building in Helena…to get that land transferred to the state for those buildings,” said Anderson. “Dad was very interested in Montana history…and very interested in Garcia’s story.”
Filmmaker Robert Redford set his sights on Tough Trip Through Paradise, as he has other great western stories (Jeremiah Johnson, A River Runs Through It). He approached Ben Stein in the 1970s, seeking film rights for Tough Trip. Stein was well known though around Living-ston as a lover of literature, and as a gentlemanly fellow who would speak his mind in no uncertain terms. Like Garcia himself, he did not want to leave Tough Trip to the whims of commercial exploitation, and he was suspicious of Hollywood. Stein, a family member told the Pioneer, blew off Redford, who later expressed his fascination with mountain men like Garcia in the form of Jeremiah Johnson, a film loosely inspired by the life of another Montana-based historical figure, Liver Eating Johnson. Given the film’s vague approximation of history, Stein’s suspicions seem to have been well founded.
Note: The Parade of Pioneers DVD covers 17 annual conventions of the Sons and Daughters of Montana Pioneers (1942-1963) and lasts over 1 hour. To purchase the DVD, send $20 to: SDMP, PO Box 2035, Helena, MT 59624.