HELENA — For nearly a century marching bands, horses and log cabins have filled the streets of Helena for the Vigilante Day Parade.
Started as a healthy and safe alternative to the bloody “junior-senior fight”, the first parade was held in 1924 to celebrate Montana history.
The only thing that has ever stopped the parade from running was gas rationing during World War II and this year’s COVID-19 pandemic.
However, not even a worldwide health crisis prevented Helenans from honoring the parade and its history.
The Helena School District held a "Virtual Vigilante Celebration" for the students Friday afternoon where a “parade” of educators and administrators celebrated the students, thanked the community and shared their favorite memories from the past.
Helena High Assistant Principal Brian Kessler participated in the actual parade all four years of high school back when he was a student.
His favorite float wasa barbershop float he did his Freshman year with his friends. Kessler’s grandfather was a local barber and provided the chair for them to use.
Now that he’s an educator, he says he’s been consistently amazed by the students.
“I think our floats, from what I’ve seen the last five years, there’s been a lot of hard work put into the floats and our kids are doing a great job of keeping that tradition alive and taking pride of what they’re doing,” said Kessler.
Thousands of students have participated over the years, with floats themed around mining, wildland firefighting, Big Dorthies and even a few vigilantes just to name a few.
MTN Anchor Tim McGonigal rode on a float recreating the Helena High Football team’s ride through town after their 1932 championship back in the 1980s. He played the role of Coach Henry Fiske.
In the 2000s, MTN reporter John Riley helped create several floats, including a tribute to the U.S. Army's 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps a.k.a. “Iron Riders” based out of Fort Missoula. Riley never actually rode on a float since he was also in the marching band.
For those that participated in the Vigilante Day Parade, seeing the new floats every year conjures memories of the past, and good times spent with old friends.
Though the parade is not being held this year, the pride in our Montana heritage is still alive and well.
On Friday May 8 at noon, there will be a citizen organized “Vigilante Cruise” that will allow students to participate and honor the parade while social distancing.
MTN will have a stream of the 2020 Vigilante Cruise on our website that day.