Longtime Missoula journalist and broadcaster Jim Harmon recently did something he’d never done before — he wrote a book, one that shines a light on his profession and Missoula’s rough and tumble days of the late 1800ss. The result: a page-turner that brings our history to life. For years, Jim Harmon wrote a weekly column in the Missoula Current called Harmon’s Histories, and it’s proof that old reporters never die — they just find new things to write about.
“I needed to find a hobby, so I started looking through microfilm newspapers at the library and just was bitten. It was so incredible to watch these stories unfold by journalists in the 1860s, 1870s and what the subject matter was and their writings and their style, I was just hooked," said Harmon.
What those reporters or "Quill Drivers" often wrote about included murder, prostitution and drugs. Missoula was a rough place in the 1800s with a reputation to match.
“In essence, this was the most evil town in Montana. People were not only being murdered but all the prostitution on Front street and associated areas," said Harmon.
The book is called "The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was" — a title picked by Jim’s grandkids. That is a story about Coyote Bill who prowled the Rattlesnake area. But the book talks about the social events, landmark moments, and human-interest stories.
“My endeavor here was to find real stories. What was it like to pick up a newspaper in 1870 and read about the community, the events, and the people," said Harmon.
Like the story of a group of men who decided to ride their bikes from Missoula to Hamilton on upaved roads while drinking themselves silly. There's the tale of the kangaroo in Saint Regis, and even a connection to Jim’s own family in the early days of Libby where his dad and grandfather encountered a character named Dunn Creek Nel.
He read hundreds of old Montana newspaper articles and county records, reading about the days when the city council was not that civil, dieting advice, shopping and Missoula’s famous fire horses.
"It brings history to life. These are wonderful stories that happen to include historical information. But they’re stories," said Harmon.
Because of the pandemic, Jim couldn’t have the usual book readings and signings so he went door to door around Missoula, asking businesses if they would carry his book.