Del Leeson of the Helena Daily Independent wrote a column in 1940 about the Commodity Cat. Now this cat was adept at breaking into the Lewis and Clark County jail. In fact she was so adept that one dark winter night the jailer put her out in the bitter cold seven times in a row, and still the cat stole back in. County auditor Bill Manning felt badly for the jailer and for the cat, and so he opened the door of the courthouse and invited her in. The cat’s whiskers twitched as she sniffed the stale courthouse air and made a beeline for the basement. In its dark depths the county stored surplus commodities—much like our present-day food bank—for distribution to needy families in the social welfare system. Somehow the cat knew that the ancient dungeon-like basement was overrun with mice, and she quickly earned her keep. Once she had cleaned up the basement mouse population, she was on the prowl for more. On the third floor she found a fertile field. WPA sewing classes met up there, and the ladies always brought their lunches. Crumbs and scraps tossed into a sack were tempting to mice. And the commodity cat soon crouched by the bag, waiting to pounce. Soon the third floor mouse population was also eliminated. But then, the commodity cat lost her freedom to roam the lofty halls. This was because, cuddled in a soft nest of old pants down in the basement, the commodity cat gave birth to four kittens.
These tiny little creatures were miniature carbon copies of their mother, black as coal, sleek and shiny. Although courthouse staff willingly adopted them, welfare employees thought the commodity cat should apply for aid for her dependent children. But that required proof of paternity. And the commodity cat wasn’t talking.