Monday, February 28, 2011


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Caption: Henry and Bessie Knott home on Lower River Road near heron, Montana. Circa 1902. Courtesy Henry and Bessie Knott collection. 

While serving in the Montana Senate, John F. McKay, a sawmill owner from Noxon, repeatedly introduced a workmen's compensation bill. The Senate defeated every chance of such a bill, and brought McKay hot attention from the corporations. McKay's outspoken public criticism resulted in large corporations trying to have him impeached and impeachment proceedings were initiated.

The motion to defeat him was rescued by one vote on his behalf, which was mustered largely by the Governor's intervention with the Senate. Old-fashioned orator, Idaho Senator Barrow, a dynamic speaker, inspired McKay. Jeanette Rankin, one of the first women legislators, and young, handsome Mike Mansfield, used to visit the McKay family.

John F. McKay, Editor of the Sanders County Independent Ledger in 1920, threw his overwhelming support to the democratic candidates endorsed by the Non-partisan League.*1.

Campaign advertisements boosted the nomination of Herbert hoover for President of the U.S. on the Republican ticket and throughout the year, McKay published stories reflecting his viewpoints in the weekly newspaper,
"A man who has had experience in handling big, knotty problems in a successful way; has been proven and enjoys the real confidence of the peple of the country; who does not talk much but delivers the goods; is an American of Americans whom the entire world respects; is a business man who will give the country an administraion based on sound sense; a man whom the overs can unite on and say, 'his views are my views; his opinions my opinions; he is not a professional politician but a man who believes this country should be put in smooth running order."*2
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Caption: Mary loved playing with her camera, posing anything she cuold find for her photographs. Here's the family dog in the master's chair, complete with corn cob pipe in his mouth. Circa 1918. Courtesy Mary Easter Younker collection.

April 29, 1920

 "Montana has spoken at the primaries in no uncertain terms," Editor McKay wrote. "Hiran Johnson swept the state four to one. Montana people are, as a whole the most progressive, up to date Americans under the Stars and Stripes and the vote is proof of it. They want a man of action, unafraid, and outspoken in his convictions and Howling Hi – as our Democratic friends like to call him – has such popularity in his own state that all the attacks on him haxe (sic) increased it among his own people in California … He is not a dreamer, an idealist or an internationalist, but a straight forwards American …
"Hoover received a fair vote in the Republican primaries. Why this happened is one of those unexplainable things in American politics. His home was in England for years. He never voted in America. He did international work during the war. He was with Wilson in the adoption of the League of Nations without reservation … A few months ago he did not know whether he was a democrat or a republican and still he receives republican votes …"

Non-Partisan League candidates swept the county and state again in primary elections with a record number of votes being cast. Politics remained a hot topic all summer. Shortly before election time that fall speeches were in the headlines again. Editor McKay duly reported them in the September 23, 1920 issue of the Sanders County Independent Ledger,
"Mr. Wheeler made it very plain that the issue of this campaign was … a fight between the producers and the consumers on oe side and the Montana Development Association, the profiteers and the big interests on the other. He laid particular stress upon the profiteers, how they had exploited the people during the war and how they were still doing it …" Burton K. Wheeler, a Non-Partisan League supporter, said, 'Senator Henry L. Myers action shows that he is still serving the copper interests of the state.'"

In late September, C. R. Weare, manager of the cooperative store at Noxon, The People's Commercial Store, attended the huge rally held at Plains, Montana, for Burton K. Wheeler, the Democratic candidate for governor.*3.

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Caption: Seventeen year old Christie Agnes May; 20 year old Ruth May Melberg; and 19 year old Eva Fisher pose for this portrait. Courtesy Ruth McKay Tauscher collection.

October skies unsheathed torrents of rain on political contenders and while deer curled into beds of golden tamarack needles just back of town in the fog shrouded mountains, settlers donned woolens, snapped open umbrellas and made their way to Noxon with horse and buggy or auto to make news headlines.

October 21, 1920


Candidates Deliver Splendid Speeches in Which Campaign Issues Are Clearly Stated – League is Assured of Big Majority in West End.

"Through a drizzling rain and mud to their knees, a large and enthusiastic crowd gathered at Noxon to hear the county candidates endorsed by the Nonpartisan and Labor leagues.
"The first speaker of the evening was William Strom, candidate for clerk of the court. Mr. Strom, in a clear logical way, indicated the issues of the campaign. "He showed how big business was making a vicious struggle to retain its hold upon the political power of the county and state. He was frequently interrupted by applause. He read from the campaign poster of the republicans their plea for Americanism and then smilingly asked, 'Since when did entrenched privilege become Americanism?'
"The next speaker was J. W. Florin, candidate for county assessor. Mr. Florin showed comparative figures and offered items of fact which should satisfy every unbiased person of his worthiness of the responsible position he holds.
"His whole term of office was a continued struggle to force the big interests to pay their just share of taxes. He gave due credit to the assistance given him by the other county officers and wound up saying that so long as the state board of equalization was controlled by a deep sympathy for big business, the county assessor was going to have hard sledding.
"Mr. Florin was followed by Fred S. Hougland, candidate for sheriff. Mr. Hougland, who had been known as a republican, satisfied his hearers that a good reason existed for his change to the Nonpartisan league. He outlined how he, with four million others in 1912, abandoned the republican party for the progressive ticket. He pointed out how … 250 men controlled both the old parties. "He said, 'From the moment I read the program of the Nonpartisan and labor leagues, I was satisfied to help enact the principles into law.
"Mr. Hougland ended by telling how he had worked in the mines, and condemned the rustling card system inaugurated by the big mining companies, where a man must give his measurements just the same as if entering prison – fingermarks, height, weight, and everything down to a mother's middle name.
"He said if a man had ever been in a strike or active in a political way against any of the big mining companies he was compelled to work for, they would 'blacklist' him until liberty in the big mining camps was a thing unknown.
"He was frequently interrupted by applause, his keen understanding of the political issues involved, together with his very logical way of explaining them making him one of the favorites of the evening. (American Economic Review, Vol. 10, Dec. 4, 1920, pp: 755-775,
"A.M. Johnson, candidate for clerk and recorder showed very clearly why certain interests were fighting him. He exhibited claims audited by him which resulted in a saving to the county of more than $319.00. He read from affidavits furnished by Commissioners Maynard and McKay and by a representative of The Ledger, B. F. Bales.
"These affidavits showed clearly that there was no foundation whatsoever for the charges which came out in the Plainsman (a competing newspaper in Sanders County) that he had asked or solicited any increase for The Ledger. He was very frank in his statement regarding his allegiance to the nonpartisan and Labor Leagues …
"Mr. Little followed, vowing he 'had no short roads to build nor favors to repay; that he would listen always to the welfare of those who were trying to develop the county by clearing land, building homes and making the county a better place in which to live.'
"A. A. Alvord, candidate for county attorney, and the last speaker, said, 'A well known Noxon republican in talking of the Nonpartisan gathering and its speakers, predicted that their candidates would sweep the county, voicing as they do the subconscious protest against the profiteer, which is finding its way into the breast of every thinking man."

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Caption: These two kids should be identifiable from the hats and their guns. Circa 1920. The chinking in the log house is tight, indicating good care, but the grass by the back stoop grows wild almost as though the house was unoccupied. One more mystery from Essie Thompson Mercer's era in the Bull River valley, Courtesy Ruth Mercer McBee collection.

Many readers of the platforms of the political party enjoying national prominence following the war perceived seeds of socialism in the speeches. Here in the Clark's Fork valley, as all across America, a struggle was being waged that could change and shape the future as irreversibly as the civil wars had. With great care they considered that statements put forth by the Editor in the Sanders County Ledger on October 21, 1920,
"In order to accomplish these ends, the Labor League pledges itself to cooperate with the organized farmers and enact into law their demands as expressed in the platform of the Nonpartisan League."

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Caption: Cute black bear in the washtub, circa 1918, at Elmer Easter ranch near Cabinet, Idaho, Bonner County. Mary Easter Younker collection.

Harding and Coolidge were the Republican candidates. Election judges at Noxon: Dan Coan, Albert O. Sanda, Earl Engle, U.E. Ellis. Clerks: Marineus Larsona nd Donald L. Maynard.

Although Noxon did cast the majority of their votes for democrats for nearly every candidate on the ballot, the majority was very small in most cases. The Republicans took virtually every office, national, state and county. 1920 was very definitely a Republican landslide year.

  1. Bibliography John Francis McKay, by Ingrid Sundgaard McKay, copyright 1986) 1922 John Francis McKay was primary candidate for Congress; 1924, write-in campaign by Federation of Labor for Congress; 1926 Third Party ticket for State Senate; 1928, Candidate for State Legislature; 1930, Candidate for Montana State Senate.; 1932 Third Party Ticket - candidate for Governor, Washington Program of Government Projects for the Unemployed, and so on during the rest of his long life.
  2. Sanders County Independent Ledger, April 22, 1920.
  3. Sanders County Independent Ledger, September 23, 1920.

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