The Epic Career of Bozeman’s First Newspaper Man
BY GARY FORNEY
‘Wicked’ Tom Baker hibernated in a drift…during the winter [of 1864-65]. Tom was not at all wicked those days, but as he has been a newspaper man since, that may have got its work in on him.
The Madisonian, December 26, 1874
While newspapers may not always represent the opinions held by the majority of a commun-ity’s citizens, they certainly offer a reflection of a community’s culture—at least as viewed through the eyes of their respective publishers and editors. And at no time and place may this have been more pronounced than during the infancy of the Montana Territory. The grand struggles throughout the territory for political power and financial wealth often resembled the bare-knuckled prize fights that took place in several of the mining camps, and much of this history can be found among the now fragile pages of newsprint. Montana’s early papers were a wonderfully eclectic blend of news, rumor, entertainment, and libelous assault.
The territory’s papers regularly featured boldly written editorials that would today send legions of attorneys into a feeding frenzy of litigation. A special level of rancor seemed to be in order, however, when addressing the perceived shortcomings of a rival editor. One example is that of Thomas Deyar-mon, editor of the Madisonian, who set his sights on two editors in the same column of one issue “for excruciating attempts at low vulgarity—destitute of wit, pith, point, or application—the Times and Courier, both weakly Bozeman prints, can skunk all the one-horse journals in America. Both…seemingly, are edited by inordinate dangfools, whose only virtue is to lie hard and often.”
The personal lives of the early territorial editors were often as interesting and colorful as their writing. Reflecting the diversity of the thousands of men and women streaming into the territory, those who served as newspaper editors came with some of the same dreams as those who worked in the mines and were Montana’s first merchants, ranchers and farmers. While each of these editors is deserving of tribute, following is a brief biographical sketch of a man who was in the vanguard of Montana’s Fourth Estate.
“We are, it is well known, Democratic in our political faith; but it has never been charged, we believe, that we have pursued our convictions to the extreme of illiberality. Party bigotry and prejudice we are opposed to in all parties….”
Pick and Plow, December 31, 1869
Horatio Nelson Maguire was arguably the most experienced and perhaps the most tenacious of the Montana Territory’s early newspaper men. He was born in Kentucky in 1837, but his family soon thereafter relocated to Allen County in northwestern Ohio. By 1850, his father had died and Horatio’s name does not appear on the county’s census report; which does include his mother and three brothers. It may be assumed that Horatio was living at the time with a relative in the Detroit area, in that, by 1854, he had entered the newspaper profession as a typesetter with the Detroit Free Press. Maguire would use the skills he learned with the Free Press as his ticket to travel widely and frequently. Between 1855 and 1859, he worked with newspapers in Chicago, Omaha, St. Louis, Memphis, New Orleans (including an assignment to Nicaragua), and Denver. By 1859, he had arrived in Utah where he briefly worked as the editor of The Valley Tan; the “Gentile” newspaper in Salt Lake City. Maguire continued his westward journey via San Francisco (where he was on the staff of the Visalia Delta) and in 1860 served as an editor and publisher of the Daily Morning News in Portland.
Despite what must have been a lucrative and promising future in Portland, Maguire’s urge to see what was over the next hill lured him into the new gold rush towns of the Idaho Territory. His first stop was at Lewiston, the newly desig-nated territorial capital, where he served as editor of The Golden Age. Maguire would later write a rather unflattering review of what he dubbed the “city of cotton,” characterizing it as a “seething cauldron of crime, vice, degradation and wretchedness.” In 1864, when Idaho’s legislature voted to move the territorial capital to Boise, Maguire correctly anticipated that decision would stifle Lewiston’s future and, with little regret, determined that it was time to once again look for greener pastures.
The Golden Age ceased publication in early January of 1865, and by April of 1866 Maguire had not only arrived in Helena, but so sufficiently established himself that he was elected to serve as secretary for the first Territorial Convention of Montana. As a result of this appointment, Maguire has been regarded as one of the men most likely to have had possession of the constitution that the convention delegates drafted in their optimistic anticipation of statehood. The delegates also direc-ted Maguire to make arrangements for the constitution, and the proceedings of the Convention, to be commercially printed and distributed by July 1, 1867. In what seems a very uncharacteristic failing for Maguire, the historical document was never published, and its fate must rank among the grand mysteries of Montana.
During the late summer of 1865, Maguire was hired to assist with editorial duties at the Montana Post to compensate for the increasingly debilitating illness of Thomas Dimsdale. Although he may have been a skillful newspaper man, Maguire’s political sympathies did not align with those of his publisher. Before the close of 1866, Maguire had moved back to Helena and was again in the newspaper business as a partner and co-editor (with Peter Ronan) of the newly established Rocky Mountain Gazette. In addition to his newspaper work, Maguire also found time to co-author two books; one of which was with Neil Howie, a prominent Vigilante and the United States Marshal for the Montana Territory.
In February of 1869, Maguire left the Gazette and founded his own modest weekly Helena paper which was known in its inaugural issue as the Helena News-Letter. In a case of incredibly good timing, Maguire sold his interests in the paper in mid-April…just two weeks prior to one of the great fires that plagued early Helena. Unfortunately, however, the fire destroyed the building where Maguire was living at the time and a manuscript he was preparing on the history of Montana was lost. It is also interesting to speculate upon whether the original Montana constitution may have been included among Maguire’s possessions that were consumed by the fire. Never-theless, Maguire accepted this setback as a sign that the time had come to move on to yet another venue.
“Maguire was a man of considerable dignity, a man of very fine feelings and very much a gentleman…[but] he was inclined to be too verbose for the best type of newspaper man… [and] inclined to paint the future in the rosiest of colors.”
Early Newspaper Men of Montana, Matthew Alderson
At a Christmas Eve dinner and dance attended by 150 couples, that Maguire immodestly reported as “the most brilliant and fashionable ball ever given in the Territory,” the imminent launch of Bozeman’s first newspaper was announced. Maguire published the first issue of the Pick and Plow on December 31, 1869, and declared that, while its political affiliation was with the Democratic Party, its mission would be “to make it the special organ of the farmer and stock-raiser.” In addition to recipes, tips on how to prepare roof shingles and cure gapes in chickens, the first issue also included a poem written by Thomas Francis Meagher, the territorial secretary and acting governor who had mysteriously disappeared at Fort Benton in July 1867.
Maguire quickly became a zealous promoter of his new home, which attracted some good-natured chiding from a professional colleague. Robert Fisk, editor of the Helena Herald, noted in that publication on September 15, 1870, that “the vis-ionary moon-calf who edits the Pick and Plow, has been taking the census of Bozeman…and finds that Marshal Wheeler, instead of giving that town a population of 168, should have [reported] 781, a difference of 563. As Maguire is known to be practical in his views, and correct in all his statements…we suggest that the Marshal make out an amended return so as to conform to the report of [Maguire’s]. The Marshal also made a mistake in not appointing ‘Mac’ as one of the census-takers. He would have swelled the population of Montana to sixty or eighty thousand.”
The Pick and Plow was a popular addition to Gallatin County, and would quickly grow to have a circulation of 1,500. Yet, in addition to his duties as publisher and editor, Maguire also advertised his services as Notary Public and Real Estate Agent, and still found time to frequently contribute articles for other publications, including such national periodicals as Harper’s and The Saturday Journal, in which he often used the pen name Ira Hegnum. In a letter to his brother, William Alderson noted that he was working with Maguire, “some of whose productions you may have seen in Harper’s,” and opined, “[he is] a fine writer, but visionary in many respects.”
It isn’t certain whether he was seeking to take advantage of a financial opportunity or simply couldn’t resist the lure of another gold camp, but Maguire closed the Pick and Plow in July of 1871. Maguire sold his printing equipment to L. M. Black, who, in turn, leased it to Joseph Wright, who had worked with Maguire, and would subsequently establish the Avant Courier. Follow-ing the sale, Maguire moved to the new mining camps of Nevada. Predictably, he once again affiliated with a fledgling newspaper and briefly served as editor for the Pioche Daily Record (Ely, Nevada) before returning to Bozeman in 1873.
From the time of his return in the summer of 1873, Maguire dedicated his interests over the following three years to the development of Bozeman, the practice of law, and to life as a married man. Matthew Alderson recalled that his father performed the marriage ceremony, in the Alderson home, between Maguire and Miss Lelia “Lillie” Gray. Matthew opined that Lelia was “one of the most lovely women who ever set foot in Montana.” Horatio and Lelia would grow their family to eventually include three daughters.
In November 1873, Maguire was elected Probate Judge for Gallatin County and, in February 1874, a Bozeman City Commissioner. He was also a central figure in the organization of the Yellowstone Wagon Road and Prospecting Expedition, whose directors included such prominent Bozeman residents as Nelson Story, Daniel Rouse, Lester Willson, and Perry McAdow. In 1875, after having practiced law and served as a probate judge for approximately two years, Maguire was admitted to the Montana bar. He proudly carried the moniker Judge Maguire thereafter.
None of the honors, commercial and professional interests, or his marriage, however, had cured Horatio Maguire’s wanderlust, so he left Bozeman for the gold strike camps of the Dakota Territory in the spring of 1876, and by the end of the year became a partner in a fledgling law firm in the legendary gold camp of Deadwood. His life there as an attorney apparently didn’t take hold, and he soon returned to the newspaper business. Over the next several years Maguire served as the editor and publisher of the Black Hills Pick and Plow, the Black Hills Central News, and the Black Hills Journal and he wrote three books about the Dakota Territory. One of Maguire’s many acquaintances in the Deadwood area was another former Montana resident, Martha Canary—better known as Calamity Jane. Whether intentionally or not, Maguire’s frequent mention of Jane’s exploits in his books and articles boosted her notoriety to a national audience. Included in one of his books was a fanciful engraving depicting a purported incident during Jane’s career as an Indian scout that was captioned: Calamity Jane the Beautiful White Devil of the Yellowstone. Maguire would also write that Calamity “was indignant over the reports that she was a horse thief, a highway woman, a three-card monte sharp and a minister’s daughter. She says all these are false, the last especially.”
Despite Maguire’s tendency to view most situations in the “rosiest of colors,” he was neither naïve nor unaware, and was unflinching in his efforts to boldly express his often unpopular opinions. In an article titled Destruction of the Last Great Buffalo Herd, Maguire scathingly denounced the “wholesale slaughter” of more than one thousand bison along the Powder River. Perhaps even more incendiary was his article entitled Indian Craft, in which he wrote: “The supposition that ‘one soldier is as good as two Indians’ is absurd. The truth is, the average Indian warrior…is as game as five soldiers.”
On February 18, 1880, Lelia Maguire, Horatio’s wife, died of pneumonia. In the announcement of her death it was noted that “The troubled found her a sympathetic counselor, and the sick an attentive and devoted friend. The loss does not fall alone upon the grief stricken family, but upon the whole community of Rapid City, who felt for her the highest esteem and respect.” Although a man of many other accomplishments and talents, it appears that serving as a single parent was more than Horatio could manage. In the late summer of 1880, the Madisonian noted that “Judge H. N. Maguire arrived [in Virginia City] from the Black Hills…bringing with him his three [daughters], who will be placed in the care of his sister-in-law, Mrs. Berry, of Meadow creek. He left for the East again on Wednesday.”
Maguire would return to Montana in March, 1883. As evidence of the high regard in which he was still held, he was invited by the city fathers of Bozeman to deliver the keynote oration at ceremonies marking the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad into the city. The Avant Courier declared, “Judge Maguire has few equals either as a public speaker or in the use of choice rhetoric” and that his speech was “heartily cheered.” In his remarks, Maguire prematurely declared: “In this favored land, thank heaven! the money tyrants are not yet supreme. Our natural resources are too varied, too vast, for monopolizing control.” Maguire went on to ambitiously predict that Montana “may henceforth look for such rapid increase of wealth and population [that it would become known as] the Empire State of the West.”
After more than twenty years chronicling the events of some of the West’s most notorious gold camps, Maguire’s affection for such a life finally waned. He left the Dakota Territory and briefly returned to Bozeman, where Matthew Alderson was now managing the Avant Courier. Alderson recalled that he hired Maguire to do some writing for the Courier and that “at this time he was a very ardent spiritualist.” Maguire soon left Bozeman to live in Oregon and Washington for the next few years, and devotedly pursued two causes that consumed him for the remainder of his life: spiritualism and the Populist Party. By 1886, Maguire was in Portland (where two of his daughters were living) and serving as co-editor, with Lucy Mallory, of two monthly papers, The World’s Almanac” and The Universal Republic. Maguire subse-quently moved to Springfield, Oregon, where he took a lead role in promoting settlement at a site known as the World’s Advance Thought Colony. The colony, and their associated monthly papers, espoused the causes of women’s suffrage, international peace, a league of nations, spiritualism, and various progressive measures then considered radical.
Retracing the trail of his youth, Maguire returned to Chicago in 1900, and became an active supporter of the presidential aspirations of William Jennings Bryan. Maguire extensively toured and made a number of speeches on behalf of Bryan. The last chapter in the life of this prolific writer and pioneering newspaper man came to a close on March 13, 1903, in Spokane, at the home of his daughter, Ida. His obituary poignantly reflected, “That Judge Maguire was not always absolutely correct in his arguments and conclu-sions nor wholly practical in all of his theories may be here admitted without detriment to the general character of the man…for he possessed, not only a vivid imagination, but a penetration into the future, and an optimistic turn of mind which enabled him to see the bright side…and realize the sunshine of cherished hopes and highest human aspirations….”
As new settlements continued to spring up throughout the Montana Territory, many of those commun-ities became the home of other newspapers—albeit some very briefly. And, despite their frequent stylistic shortcomings and blatant partisanship, these early papers were critically important communication links for the local communities. By the time Montana was granted statehood in 1889, the territory had been served by no less than forty-three newspapers. With few exceptions, however, most of the papers established during the territorial period had either closed or merged. Despite all the turbulence and fiery rhetoric of the early papers, though, the most controversial chapter of Montana journalism was yet to be written. The next generation of newspapers would be dominated by men who bought their printer’s ink by the barrel and sold their copper by the ton. Perhaps the darkest days in Montana’s history—and its journalism profession—would be when the smoke from reduction smelters would block out both the midday sun and Maguire’s vision of “cherished hopes and highest human aspirations.”
Gary Forney is a retired college vice president. He and his wife Cathy have lived near Ennis since 1999. His books include Thomas Francis Meagher, Irish Rebel, American Yankee, Montana Pioneer; Discovery Men, The History of the Alder Gulch Gold Discovery, and It Takes All Kinds, begun by the late Bozeman native, Dick Pace, and which profiles colorful characters from Virginia City’s past.