March 27, 2015

A Life Through Newspapers: Andrew Jackson ("AJ") King

By Natasha Hollenbach, Montana Digital Newspaper Project Assistant

Historical newspapers can reveal people who were important in their time and place, but whom history has deemed unnecessary to remember. During the 1902 election, the Kalispell Bee ran several political cartoons directed at Andrew Jackson (AJ) King.

However, concerted searching through the Montana Historical Society catalog, Google, and revealed very little about this man. So an experiment was proposed. How much of AJ King’s life could be revealed using just Montana digitized newspapers available on Chronicling America? Using the advanced search, limiting to Montana and using “a j king” as the search term under "with the phrase," 163 pages were returned. These results ranged from 1892 to 1921 including papers from Libby, Great Falls, Anaconda, Cut Bank, Butte, Missoula, Helena, Havre, Glasgow and Fort Benton. While there was a surprising amount of information available, not all articles that mentioned 'AJ King' actually pertained to this AJ King. For example, during this period there was also an A (Alfred) J King in Missoula who worked for the Daily Missoulian. However, there is enough to provide a reasonable account of AJ’s professional life.

When Flathead County was created in 1893, AJ King was appointed county treasurer. He was elected to this position twice--first in 1894 and again in 1898. During the 1896 campaign, he was chosen as one of the delegates to represent the county at the Democratic State Convention. It appears to be his first attempt to expand his political career. In 1902, he ran for State Senate, but lost in an election that was a blowout for the Republican Party.

From the end of the campaign until he was appointed collector of customs in 1913, he appears only twice, both concerning land transactions. In 1910, AJ was one of the individuals who offered land for sale to the federal government that wanted federal buildings in Kalispell, Miles City and Bozeman. In 1912, the Libby Herald reported a land transfer from AJ to his son, Carlisle. In 1913, AJ was appointed collector of customs for Montana and Idaho with his headquarters in Great Falls, a position paying $3,500 per year for a 4-year term. He would serve two terms in this position (1913-1921). Over the next several years, most references to AJ are about smuggling activity. Because this was the time of prohibition, whiskey smuggling from Canada was a regular occurrence, with articles often describing how it was smuggled and the amount of liquor poured into the city’s sewer.

In addition to whiskey, a number of other items were smuggled from Canada during AJ’s tenure: horses (1915), grain through Scobey (1915), and a diamond worth $200 (1920). Nineteen-nineteen was a busy year for AJ. He spoke to the Woman’s Club in favor of the League of Nations; aided in a collection campaign for the Salvation Army; attended the state fair; heard President Wilson speak in Helena; attended a conference in New York; and visited family and friends in Kentucky and Nebraska. In 1920, AJ King's activities with the Democratic Party received significant coverage, as did his business affairs. The creation of two oil companies, Missouri River Oil & Gas Company and Cat Creek Devil’s Basin Oil Company, both had AJ as one of the primary owners. One story highlights a different aspect of his job. On May 14, 1921, he was in Boise, judging whether art imported from Europe for the new Catholic Church could enter the country duty free or if money was owed.

In late 1921, his term was up and a Republican president was in power. The last mention of him is November 21, 1921 in the Great Falls Daily Tribune, stating that he was moving back to Kalispell after buying the Ford Hotel.
Not only do these articles track AJ’s working history, they also provide insight into his family life. AJ’s wife was active in the social scene, as  found in articles about the Great Falls Woman’s Club, musical club, bridge club, and Ladies’ Auxiliary to the American Legion. She and AJ had two sons, Carlisle and Dean. When Carlisle returned from WWI, the event was recorded in the newspaper.

Several years later, when Carlisle stopped in Great Falls to visit his parents on his way back home to Seattle and, then, when AJ and his wife visited Dean and his family for Christmas, the newspaper reported it. In the last article about AJ, it mentions that part of the reason he chose to return to Kalispell was that his son, Dean, was County Attorney.

And, so ends a life through digital newspapers!