By LaVonne Limpus-Jurack
The first substantial gift given to the Central Montana Foundation, an organization which currently gifts over $200,000 to community projects annually, was given by local legend Colonel Joe Montgomery. His gift of $3,500 in 1984 was just one of the substantial investments he made in central Montana—and not all of them were monetary.
Colonel Joe was a Spanish-American War veteran whose popularity as a stagecoach driver, saloon owner, politician, and purveyor of lore has helped his legend live on with the locals.
His first claim to fame was being a member of the most famous of all the units fighting in Cuba, the “Rough Riders.” This was the name given to the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry under the leadership of Theodore Roosevelt in May of 1898.
The book Colonel Joe, the Last of the Rough Riders was published in 1977. At the time Joe was 100 years old. Author Claudia J. Brownlee writes Joe’s biography while hearing it directly from the centenarian. These are his personal stories of the Custer family, Calamity Jane, and his reverence for Teddy Roosevelt. It includes tragic, humorous, and eye-opening retellings of his life in Montana, as an original settler, starting at the tender age of 16 (in 1892) in the gold mine town of Kendall. The book contains many more of what the author calls, “hot-stove stories.”
Montgomery lived to be 107 years old, making him the last of the original Rough Riders. And while he rubbed elbows with the likes of the Rankin family and the first families of Montana, he was more amused with telling yarns. The focus of these stories was one close to his heart—the wild, untamed West of Montana in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century. Some of his tales could be referred to as “bathroom humor,” while some lilted with the poetry of one who has seen the best and the worst of humanity while scratching out a new, exciting (and at the same time, terrifying) life in the Wild West.
Brownlee suggests Colonel Joe’s “stories and legends deserve a place in every American history collection, for captured (here) is the very essence of our national heritage.”
We continue to tell the tales of our local legends long after they are gone so that we might remember the events that brought us here.
We feel certain that Colonel Joe Montgomery would be very happy with his initial investment.