Gate Night was a Miles City tradition

In the early years of the last century, it wasn’t ghosts and goblins that worried the citizens of Miles City. It was gate theft.


Oct. 30 was called, depending on where you lived, Devil’s Night or Mischief Night or Gate Night. The pranks like tipping outhouses traditionally were played on the night before Halloween. 

In some communities, Gate Night  — when mischief makers absconded with fence gates — was very popular. Homeowners would actually remove their gates and store them securely inside. 

Fences were more popular than they are in modern subdivisions. Most yards and gardens were surrounded with some type of fence, declaring clear borderlines and keeping the neighbor’s cow out of your vegetables. 

Entrance was gained through the gate. The gate was symbolic of protection and home.

Or something.

For some reason, stealing gates was a widely popular activity.

It took some effort. Most gates were well-attached to their fences. You need screwdrivers, time and muscle to remove a gate. It was real work. Then you had to carry the gate — which was heavy and awkward — somewhere and hide it.

Or, if you lived in a community where there was a handy rail yard and the occasional empty box car or two, you stuck those gates in a box car.

According to legends and stories told to me in my youth by my grandfather and mother, Gate Night was a major effort in Miles City back in the 1920s. Kids would steal gates and pile them up on a handy boxcar. Supposedly, dozens of gates from Miles City ended up in Mobridge, S. D., where the Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul & Pacific railroad maintained another rail yard.

Or so the story goes.

Another story I heard from my elders was the cow in the principal’s office at the high school. Supposedly, a milk cow was persuaded to climb the stairs up to the principal’s office at Custer High.

The prank is that while cows will go up stairs with some encouragement, they are very, very stubborn about walking downstairs. 

Or so the story goes.

Pranks used to take time, effort and hard work to pull off. There was a wagon that was supposedly disassembled and reassembled on the roof of the high school. Not a little red wagon but a big farm wagon. Or so the story goes.

I have heard a lot of interesting stories over the years and some of them struck me as pretty unlikely. Then, while doing Stardust columns or other research, I discovered the stories were true, like a burglar that was shot and killed in the high school. 

Gate Night adventures, however, I have not been able to confirm. Nor the cow or the wagon.

Still, they make wonderful stories. And they very well may true.

Compared to a little toilet paper in the tree branches, those pranks of old took a lot more work and were probably worth boasting about for years afterwards.