Monday, April 30, 2012

Baron O’Keefe

A canyon twelve miles west of Missoula bears the name of a colorful character time has forgotten. He helped build the Mullan Road and planted an orchard in Missoula County. Cornelius O’Keefe introduced the first farming equipment in Montana—thresher, reaper, and mower—and made a small fortune freighting his crops to local mining camps. Perhaps because he came from Ireland, his best crop was potatoes, which he sold by the wagonload to the potato-starved residents of Bannack and Virginia City. O’Keefe once had a lawsuit brought against him, the very first in Montana. When O’Keefe told Judge Henry Brooks he planned to represent himself, the judge took out a deck of cards, and shuffled them. “These are my credentials,” said the judge. “What are yours?” he asked O’Keefe. O’Keefe answered, “These are my credentials,” and punched the judge right between he eyes. The judge didn’t argue. O’Keefe was always known as Baron O’Keefe. Elected twice to the territorial legislature, he acquired the title when he had to sign the official roster. Instead of noting his occupation as “farmer,” this picturesque Irish gentleman registered as “land baron,” and Baron O’Keefe he was from that time on.

From Montana Moments: History on the Go

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