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Hamilton in the 1890's

By Connie Delaney

Hamilton Fair Grounds

The beginning of the Hamilton Fair Grounds was a colorful tent city in 1913.

Ravalli County purchased the present day fairgrounds from the Stock Farm for $9,750 on June 6, 1913. The area was just under 40 acres.

The project was managed by J.E. Totman, president, James F. Torrence, secretary and H.H. Grant, treasures. The first project was to construct a grandstand and race track. A two-year loan for $3,000 was acquired from a local bank and a flurry of activity in sued in preparation for the first fair in October.

Today the Safeway building is located on the ground where the old grandstand stood. Part of the uncovered grandstand was moved to the new ground location and is still there today.

The week before the fair in 1913, huge tents were effected giving an appearance of a white tent city. Tents measuring over 300 feet in length housed fair exhibits. Altogether there were 5 large tents.

The paddocks on the east side of the fairground contained 30 box stalls, and there were 2 sheds for the sulkies. The race track was a half mile circular track marked by tall white posts for the furlongs. It was quite a sight for the new, flourishing town on Hamilton.

There was a twelve-round boxing event held in the Lucas Opera House. It was the feather-weight championship of the northwest.

Tickets for the "Great Ravalli County Fair" were $1.50 for four days. If you couldn't afford the full season ticket, a day pass was available for fifty cents. According to the records, the first fair was well attended, making it a success. The Ravalli County Fair remains an annual event today in the 21st century.

Colorful Hamilton

In the 1890's Hamilton was a roaring frontier town. The town hosted twenty one saloons and a very popular "red light district," otherwise known as the "badlands."

The Sanborne Fire Insurance maps of Hamilton during 1892 and 1893 title numerous female boarding houses on the north side of town. Houses of ill fame were outlawed in Montana in 1895, but apparently it took several more years for the news to reach Hamilton!

In June, 1912, the city council reviewed a petition to rid the city of a particular house on North 3rd Street that was being used for immoral purposes. After a lively discussion a majority of the council indicated that it would take no stand. They felt that if the house were removed the inmates would simply move to another location and it was best to keep the "fleas" in one place.

The Madams of the north end were Mammy Smith, and Kate Mitchell. Regular dancing events were held in the sporting houses. The girls (among them, French Lil, Netty, and Big Lil) put on a lively show and were quite talented singing and playing the piano. It is said that the girls behaved themselves very properly when going to town, and never frequented the many saloons.

There was also a darker side to the "row." Opium dens caused more trouble than the houses of ill repute. both amongst proper Hamilton citizens and the girls themselves. At least one young lady committed suicide, and the headlines of the day reflected a definite sadness through the town over the event.

In 1913 there was an attempt to turn Mammie's house into a chapel. As you can well imagine, Mammie stormed into the Hamilton newspaper office voicing loud objections. Here's her colorful quote: "They are saying I'm rich! Who could get rich in Hamilton? I came here with $6,000 and I only have a little more after all these years. Byt the time the city gets its 'rake off', and I pay the girls' fines and doctor bills! Well, I believe in the Lord - but my rooms into Faith Rooms!"

Calamity Jane

Calamity Jane was once a "Bitterrooter". Calamity Jane was Jane Burke, born Mary Jane Canary in Missouri in 1852. An article from the Bitter Root Times of 1896 recounts that Jane Burke and her husband ran a cafe on Main Street. A few days before leaving town Calamity had a good fill of whiskey and got involved in a big fight where she broke windows, kicked over tables and blackened both eyes of her cook. She boasted that she wanted to take on the strongest and biggest "Bitter Rooter!"

 

* Research for these articles through "It Happened in the Bitter Root" by Ada Powell. Available at the Hamilton Library.



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