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