December 22, 2016

Carnival of Spoils 1893 - Locating State Institutions

by Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Services Technician

Most Montanans have heard the story of the capital fight.  With the coming of statehood, the competition for state capital was fierce.  None of the seven contending cities won a majority in the first vote in 1892, so a runoff vote between Helena and Anaconda was announced for 1894. At this point, the contest escalated becoming part of the feud between copper kings Marcus Daly (Anaconda) and William Clark (Helena).  After a contest costing around three million dollars [1], the vote in 1894 declared Helena the state capital by about 2,000 votes.  However, the capital was only one state institution to be created in the aftermath of statehood.  The 1893 legislature proposed, argued, and finally located a number of state institutions, including the state prison and educational facilities which included a state university, an agricultural college with experimental station, a mining school, and a normal school.

“The carnival of spoils goes merrily on.”  This description from the Weekly Tribune of Great Falls on February 10, 1893, vividly describes the energy with which the legislature debated the placement of state institutions.

Educational Facilities
The Columbian
January 19, 1893, p.2

The location of the state’s educational facilities (state university, agricultural school with experimental station, school of mines, and normal school) drew the most controversy.  Two competing groups argued over the fundamental question of whether state institutions should be colocated or separated.  While originally the consolidationists wanted all state institutions located in the same city, they quickly decided to make their stand over the location of the four educational institutions.  Their main argument held that consolidated schools would reduce duplication of facilities and faculty.  Instead of separating these schools resulting in multiple tiny institutions competing with each other for funding, their vision was of a single institution serving all of these needs.  They accused their opponents of serving their local interests at the expense of Montana’s greater good.

Senator Paris Gibson of Great Falls led the consolidationists with energy and determination, always claiming that he was putting the best interests of the state above any other consideration.  His goals are called into question by the consistent impression that while claiming not to care where the consolidated school is located, the end goal was making Great Falls the consolidated location.  Many of the communities supporting consolidation indicated that they wanted it in Great Falls.  On the day the Senate debated the University Bill (SB 3), the first of the education facilities to come up for vote, Senator Gibson proposed an amendment that “Missoula must donate to the university 160 acres of land and $40,000 as an endowment fund”.  Later in his speech he offered on behalf of a consolidated university at Great Falls, 320 acres and $100,000 as an endowment fund.[2] Senator Elmer Matts, leading the segregatists, called Gibson’s amendment and speech an ambush intended only to delay the bill.  Both the amendment and the consolidationist cause failed, and the legislature proceeded to locate state institutions across Montana.

Even as the battle between consolidation and segregation waged, cities vied for state institutions.  The most heated of the educational fights was over the agricultural college.  The debate between Bozeman and Miles City came down to altitude.  Whose elevation was better for the experimental station: Bozeman at ~6000 ft or Miles City at ~2000ft?  The placement of the agricultural college influenced that of the normal school as well.  At various times Dillon, Livingston, Twin Bridges, and Deer Lodge were reported as wanting the normal school.  As the contest came down to Dillon and Livingston, the common refrain against Livingston was best summed up by the Red Lodge Picket “if Bozeman gets the agricultural college the normal school will hardly be located within twenty five miles”. [3]

State Prison
With statehood, the prison at Deer Lodge was transferred from federal to state control.  However, during the 1893 legislative session, Billings put up a strong challenge.  Since the Deer Lodge facility opened in 1871, overcrowding and maintenance had been continuous issues. [4] (Historic Structures Report Montana State Prison, prepared by James R. McDonald Architect, prepared for Powell County Museum and Arts Foundation, Deer Lodge. 725.6 M14h)  Billings advocates argued that Billings could build a new prison at less than the cost needed for upgrading and expanding the Deer Lodge facility.  Billings sweetened the deal by offering land and money even offering to pay the cost of transporting prisoners to the new prison.  The question of why Billings went after the state prison as opposed to one of the other state institutions is an interesting one.  The Anaconda Standard suggested one possible reason on January 15, 1893.  “As for the penitentiary, Billings wants it and wants it bad, not so much because she considers it a very desirable institution or especially beneficial in a pecuniary sense, as because she thinks it will insure the coming to Billings of the Burlington railroad, which otherwise may give her the slip.” The legislature declared that both cities would have a state prison:  the Western State Prison at Deer Lodge and the Eastern State Prison at Billings. Problems arose soon after when lack of funds put building plans in Billings on hold.  Due to the Economic Panic of 1893, the state treasury found itself unequal to the task of funding two prisons.  In 1896, the Board of State Prison Commissioners recommended that the Legislature “should make an appropriation to complete this building at once or else dispose of the materials and supplies on hand.” [5] The next report mentions using materials from the Billings facility at Deer Lodge. The Eastern State Prison was no more.

Other Institutions
While some cities lost the institution of their choice to another city, Boulder ran into a different problem.  At the beginning of the session, Boulder wanted the insane asylum.  However, as The Anaconda Standard explained on January 15, 1893 “there seems to be an impression that there is no need of haste in locating the asylum as the contract of Mussigbrod & Mitchell has still some time to run.” Eventually Boulder changed focus and obtained the State Deaf and Dumb Asylum (now Montana State Training School).  Both Miles City and Twin Bridges, who had lost their first choice were awarded other institutions, the Montana State Reform School (now Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility) and Montana State Orphans’ Home (closed in 1975) respectively.

How many of us can imagine these institutions being somewhere else?  How many of us can imagine these cities without their institutions?  Sometimes decisions of the past seem inevitable, but really they were decisions made by people.  What decisions of today will seem inevitable in a hundred years?

Works Cited
[1] Montana: Stories of the Land, Chapter 10, p195
[2] The Yellowstone Journal. February 3, 1893, p1.
[3] Red Lodge Picket. January 21, 1893 p2.
[4] Historic Structures Report Montana State Prison, prepared by James R. McDonald Architect, prepared for Powell County Museum and Arts Foundation, Deer Lodge. Call Number: 725.6 M14h
[5] Sixth Annual Report of the Board of State Prison Commissioners of the State of Montana. For the Year 1896. Helena: State Publishing Company, 1896, p21. Call Number: S353.39PR 1873, 1891-1906.

Additional Resources:
Laws Resolutions and Memorials of the State of Montana Passed at the Third Regular Session of the Legislative Assembly. Butte City: Inter Mountain Publishing Company, 1893. REF345.12M76