July 28, 2010

A Polish aristocrat in Montana

One of the most fun things about being an archivist is the unexpected things you discover. I was cataloging a trivial little item (SC 473) consisting of an 1894 application for a position as City Engineer of Helena by a man named Michael A. Meyendorff. (ho-hum)

Well, I decided I needed a little information about Mr. Meyendorff. Wow! Turns out he was the son of a Polish nobleman, Baron Meyendorff. In the early 1860s the Baron and his sons, including 13 year old Michael, took part in a failed uprising against the Russian occupiers of Poland. They were all arrested and sent to Siberia. When they were released several years later, Michael came to the United States and studied engineering at the University of Michigan. In 1876 he came to Helena and briefly ran a cigar store before being hired by the U. S. Assay Office. In 1894 he was indeed hired as City Engineer (as our little item had indicated). He later went to Denver where he was a fraud investigator for the U.S. General Land Office. He got involved in all sorts of controversy because of his pursuit of fraud among coal operators.

All this because of a silly little item in the archives. Who would have guessed that such an fascinating man lived quietly in Helena in the 1890s?
[Image from Univ. of Montana digital edition of Leeson's History of Montana, p. 745]