Thomas Francis Meagher

HELENA – Montana’s Big Sky Country is home to many larger than life personalities…men and women who, mostly for better, but sometimes for worse, have helped shape our history.

One of the most colorful and mysterious of those individuals…Thomas Francis Meagher, acting governor of the rough and tumble territory called Montana from 1865 to 1866 and 1866 to 1867. He replaced first appointed Governor Sidney Edgerton and then Green Clay Smith.

Talk about colorful. Meagher was a member of the Irish Uprising of 1848. Sentenced to hang by the United Kingdom, his sentence was commuted to banishment to Tasmania, Australia.

From there, he escaped to New York, where he mad a name for himself as a lawyer, journalist and orator.

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Meagher commanded the “Irish Brigade” during the Civil War as a Brigadier General, where he was known for his exceptional bravery.

Meagher was appointed in 1865 as Governor of the Territory of Montana. It was a land filling up with prospectors seeking gold in places like Virginia City and the famous Last Chance Gulch of Helena. Parts of Montana were governed by Vigilance Committees, as well as reeling from the rifts incurred by the Civil War.

Meagher tried to move the territory toward statehood, with mixed results.

On July 1, 1867, 150 years from this coming Saturday, Meagher disappeared off a riverboat on the Missouri river. His body was never found.

Some claim Meagher was assassinated. One witness said he saw Meagher jump from the boat. Others speculate he was ill at the time, or perhaps intoxicated.

In any case, his disappearance is a truly a made in Montana mystery.

“People came forward and claimed they knew things and whether any of those people were telling the truth,” said Ellen Baumler, Interpretive Historian with the Montana Historical Society.

“From this distance it’s just hard to say. Even when it happened it was hard to tell. And there was just so many volatile personages that were involved it’s very, very difficult to sort the truth out.”

A new exhibit featuring Meagher will go on display this Saturday at the Montana Historical Society.

Also this weekend, a new festival will take over the Capitol Lawn starting Friday going through Saturday to celebrate Meagher.

150 years after the Irish patriot’s death, MeagherFest ’17 will commemorate the life and legacy the first acting territorial governor.

The Deputy Ambassador of Ireland will be in attendance as well as the Council General of Australia signifying the impact Meagher had across the world.

There will be live music, dancing, demonstrations, reenactments, kid’s activities and more.

There will even be an interactive play in the old Supreme Court chambers where the audience will decide the verdict on Meagher’s death.

Mike O’Connor of the Thomas Francis Meagher Association promises that there’ll be something for everyone at the festival.

“Bring your lawn chairs, we have all the three local brewers involved,” said O’Connor, “They’re brewing a Thomas Francis Meager beer special for this event.”

For more information click here.