Sam Gordon told the story of life in old Milestown

By: 
Amorette Allison
Star History Columnist

Sam Gordon looked a bit like a bulldog. He had a large head and one of those wonderful Victorian mustaches. At least he had the mustache in his later years when he set out to record the history of the town he had come to call home.

Born in New York, of Irish parentage, in 1843, he took to the newspaper business at a very young age. This information comes from his own biography in The Yellowstone Journal’s 1900 “Illustrated and Historical Edition,” which he wrote himself. He had been the editor of The Journal for some years.

In his biography, he described arriving at three o’clock in the morning to his papers so they could be delivered to doorsteps by breakfast. He described a ritual that no longer exists, folding the newspapers. “Those were the days of expert folders,” wrote Mr. Gordon, “who, by dexterous manipulation of the limp sheet, made it respond like a thing of life to every motion.”

It was also a time of rather florid writing styles. 

He moved to St. Paul, Minn. in 1858, following the popular movement west. In St. Paul, he took up a position in a dry goods store as errand boy, “later being advanced to the more honorable vocation of selling calico.”

When the Civil War broke out, Gordon returned to his first love, journalism. He worked for a national newspaper called The Independent. The editors were Henry Ward Beecher and Theodore Tilton, names mostly forgotten now but of towering importance in that time. 

He worked as a copy boy running between desks, carrying stories typed or handwritten to the editor and then down to the pressroom to be set in lead type.

The names Horace Greeley, William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips will have to be “Googled” by most readers to appreciate who they were but even to work as a copy boy for such giants of journalism was a privilege “still cherished,” said the 1900 story, “as the most valued of his career.”

Still the West called to many adventurous young men and Gordon became a quartermaster’s clerk at Fort Abercrombie on the Red River of North Dakota. It did not appeal and Gordon returned to civilization and a job of private secretary to a wealthy gentleman of St. Paul. 

It was that connection, however, which would lead him west again.

In January of 1881, he came to Miles City representing his employer’s business interests. For some reason the crude little town, which had just barely come into existence, appealed to Sam Gordon. He resigned his position and joined the early Miles City mercantile firm of Broadwater, Hubbel & Co.

That job didn’t very last long. A fellow named W. D. Knight had started up a newspaper in Miles City called The Yellowstone Journal

In 1888, Gordon became the sole of the owner of the paper and, as the 1900 edition noted, “still is today.”

Gordon was a widower. His grown son was in charge of the business office of the Journal and his daughter and niece kept house for the Gordon men. “It would be manifestly improper,” said the 1900 edition, “ to exclude from the family circle “Jim” and “Dixie,” two canines who have vested rights in the Gordon home.

Gordon was also the first city clerk of Miles City and early records of those meetings were kept in his hand.

Perhaps Gordon’s even greater contribution to Miles City was a light-hearted history he wrote of his adopted community, 1918’s “Recollections of Old Milestown.” 

The rare book, an original of which sells for around $1,500 or so today, if you can find one, told the rest of Miles City’s history, up until the modern day of 1918, when automobiles ran up the streets and most houses had electric lights and telephones.

It is a delightful book and anyone interested in the history of Miles City should track a down copy — either an original, a reprint or online — and learn the truest version of life in old Milestown, as written by the eloquent Sam Gordon.

(Contact Amorette Allison at 406-234-0450 or mcreporter@midrivers.com.)

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