5 Stars for Sketch of Bannack Era Founder of Montana

5 Stars for Sketch of Bannack Era Founder of Montana

Synoptic Text is pleased to have received a Five-Star rating for one of its publications, A Sketch of Francis McGee Thompson, a Founder of Montana.

Although the rating is anonymous and made without a review, hey, we’ll take it!

The Sketch is a slender and fast-reading little volume about a very surprising man. For someone we never heard of, he sure was in the middle of many exciting and important events in the founding of Montana. Rich Aarstand, Senior Archivist at the Montana Historical Society says, “Perhaps no single pioneer left such a lasting mark on Montana as Francis M. Thompson.

Francis McGee Thompson (1833-1916) came to Montana in the gold rush of the 1860s. He was an investor, adventurer, and explorer with the American Exploring and Mineral Company. He settled in Bannack where gold was being mined along Grasshopper Creek. Bannack became the first capital of the Territory of Montana.

Although he remained in Montana only a few years, he packed in a deep involvement with many people. He figures prominently in Bannack events and the foundation of Montana.

Amid rampant crime and social conflicts, Thompson got along with all sides including Union-loyal Republicans, Confederacy-sympathizing southern Democrats, Civil War draft avoiders, “Pike’s Peaker” veteran miners, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Freemasons, the irreligious, road agent robbers and murders, Vigilance Committee vigilantes, and the chief justice of the territory.

Besides prospecting for gold and running a general merchandise store, Thompson lobbied personally in Congress in Washington, D.C. for the creation of the Territory of Montana. He was a member of the upper chamber of the first legislature of the Territory of Montana. He was close friends of Chief Justice and later Governor Sidney Edgerton and Wilbur F. Sanders, head of the Vigilance Committee and later first U. S. Senator for Montana. He was bridesmaid for Electa Bryan in her wedding to Sheriff Henry Plummer, though he did not want her to marry him. He lived with Plummer at the time of Plummer’s arrest and hanging by the vigilantes on suspicion of being the secret head of the road agent criminals. He brought the first printing press to Montana, printed a small newspaper and government documents such as mining claims, designed the territorial seal that became the state seal of Montana, initiated legislation to create the state historical society, and was one of its incorporators. He probably was the only teetotaler in Bannack (once the whole territorial legislature conspired to get him drunk, but he escaped) and, though an avid hunter, possibly the only man who walked unarmed in Bannack during the reign of terror of the road agents.

Governor Edgerton appointed Thompson Commissioner of Emigration for Montana. He fulfilled those duties in New York City promoting western emigration and investment in Montana.

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