Downstream from the steamboat port of Fort Benton, the currents of the Missouri River find ways to hide a mystery from the night.
Montana Territorial Secretary, Thomas Francis Meagher, has disappeared late at night outside of Fort Benton. In the absence of the Territorial Governor, he is the acting governor.
What has happened to Meagher on this quiet evening on July 1, 1867?
Traveling by steamboat, Meagher appears to have fallen overboard. His body is quickly swallowed up by the Missouri River’s unforgiving waters, never to be seen again.
No one really knows what actually has happened, or better yet, they are keeping quiet about the dark happenings on this July night.
Meagher is known to be a heavy drinker. Is he killed in an accidental drowning when he mysteriously falls overboard?
Or did he succumb to suicide provoked by disillusionment with his shattered, personal dreams?
With many enemies, perhaps Meagher is murdered aboard this steamboat, and his body is forgotten as it conveniently floats far downstream in the swift currents of the river.
This “immortal” Irishman’s life is honored with a high degree of irony. In an unusual tribute for a relatively unknown man with a dubious past, a statue of him is erected in 1905 and placed on the grounds in front of the State Capitol in Helena. In the central region of the state, Meagher County is named for him.
Here are a few additional facts about Thomas Francis Meagher:
He is born in Ireland in 1823.
As an Irish nationalist, he participates in the Rebellion of 1848 and is sentenced to serve in a Tasmanian prison. However, he escapes in 1852, and eventually ends up in the United States.
During the American Civil War, he joins the Union Army as part of the “Fighting 69th” Irish Brigade. He rises to the rank of brigadier general.
Following the war, his dreams take him to the Montana Territory. In his future, he hopes to build an Irish-Catholic colony and pursue a career as a U.S. Senator.