By Martin J. Kidston
Every town has a secret to keep one thats lost in time to fading memories and passing lives.
But under every forlorn secret lies the truth, the facts to which have been buried, entombed like the dead, ready to rise on a whisper in a haunting resurrection.
Stubborn is the soul of the imprisoned, and wicked are the cursed. So says history, so says legend, and so says our story, told in the past by one Miss Stratton, gentle wife of the good Jeffrey Stratton, and mother of none.
Both early residents of Havre, it is said the couple came west 12 years before the Milk River range was opened by the government to homesteading. However, as fate would have it, only one member of the fair couple would live to see history unfold as for the other, she would watch from beyond the grave.
Consider Sunday: The lords day for some, while to others, its simply a time of leisure and repose. And for the young Jeffrey Stratton, Sunday was a special day indeed.
Thus, in April of 1896, he dressed in his Sunday best with the vigor of a young fellow in his prime. But Sunday wasnt reserved for his good lord, nor his loving wife. Instead, Jeffrey had set the day aside for his favorite mistress, a petite madam indentured at Lake View Havres notorious house of pleasure.
Sitting on the shores of Halfway Lake, midway between Havre and the busy Fort Assiniboine, Lake View was a two-floor hotel, filled with prostitution cribs and racy endeavors. There, it provided the forum from whence its tantalizing maidens, clad in corsets and bonnets, could beckon the gentlemen out from town, and the soldiers in from the fort.
And young Jeffrey heard the call.
He prepared for his extramarital embrace and mounted his mule, thinking all the while that he had one up on his loving wife. But it seems his tailor made secret had been revealed by the misses, and while Jeffrey ventured out to Lake View to unite with one Goldie Parks, Miss Stratton, his wife, made plans of her own.
On April 18, 1896, Mrs Strattons plans had been passed into action, and were soon revealed in the headlines of the Havre Herald.
Goldie Parks, the paper declared, the comely, yellow skinned siren, received a bullet in the abdomen at the hands of a Miss Stratton.
It was a sad day indeed. The best of the best had fallen to a jealous wife and a sharp bullet. But to the horror of Miss Stratton, and the joy of many Johns, Goldie, it seems, wasnt quite dead.
Rather, the paper named Goldies chances of recovery as favorable, and as she lay in her room with the wound, Miss Stratton lay await in jail, where she would remain long after her conviction.
There, from behind bars and with an empty name, Miss Stratton could nary bare to watch as the romance between her husband, Jeffrey, and his lover, Goldie, rekindled. Undoubtedly, it drove Miss Stratton mad, and within a year, the poor woman fell, not to a bullet, but to a broken heart and a deadly bout of consumption.
But even in death, locals talked of how Miss Strattons jealousy failed to subside. Whispers ran wild, declaring that while Mrs. Strattons revenge upon Goldie had failed once, it was, and would continue to be, enacted many times over from her restless slumber in the netherworld.
Now, Goldie is gone, as is Jeffrey. But as for Miss Stratton, as they say, if at first you dont succeed, try, try again. And hence she does, sometimes late at night, where Mrs. Stratton, caged in her lifetime, now wanders freely across the hills and vales, searching for Goldie, searching for the infidel in marriage.
Apparently, theres no such thing as a well-kept secret. Mrs. Stratton, you could say, can hear it all, even to this day, and is keen on eaves dropping where gossip is among the days events.
Our second fable is that of a rugged crew a family, so to speak, and its rough and tumble life in the foothills of the Bear Paw Mountains.
Though the hills were bounteous and filled the familiys needs beyond reason, another need, it seems, was left unquenched, and could only be satisfied in the most gruesome way.
Enter the Andersons, family of three. Hard luck had left them with little, and history suggests their possessions were nothing more than a tent for a home, a rifle for support and a family bond for comfort.
But where the tent and rifle would survive, the family bond would not, and one would wander the wintry hills for centuries to come.
The story unfolds in the early records of Chouteau County, a large mass of territory in the early state of Montana, from which, Hill County emerged.
There, it seems, that in the early month of January, 1912, a trial occurred in which the Andersons son, James, and his loving mother, Mary, would take the stand in their own defense, and attempt to explain the untimely death of father and husband, Daniel.
B.L. Powers, County Attorney in the day, had accused the mother and son duo in the willful, wrongful and deliberate assault on and upon said Daniel, records suggest. The assault was found to have occurred days before Christmas, 1911, by and with a deadly weapon, a certain rifle, which was loaded with gun-powder and leaden bullets.
Testimony placed the long rifle in the hands of both son and mother, who, with malice, fired upon poor Daniel, thereby striking said Daniel with one leaden bullet, in and upon his back, thereby inflicting upon his body a mortal wound, of which wound, said Daniel, did then and there die.
The crime of murder was filed, shooting father in the back, leaving him for dead in the Montana winter and wilderness, and for what cause?
Suspicion abounds. Some have confessed an illicit relationship between son and mother Mary, one surpassing all boundaries of morality. Poor Daniel, it seems, only got in the way, hindering his familys eternal bliss and loving copulation.
But records are sketchy, not withstanding the test of time. However, where records have faltered, rumors have risen to fill the void, telling how, from testimony over the years, poor Daniel was betrayed, and remains restless to this day.
Shot in the back by the ones he trusted most. Left for dead in the hills in December, frozen and void of life. But though his life seeped into the snow and frozen wind, his spirit rose and remains captive to the events of that cold winter day.
Be careful where you travel, and who you trust. Chances are, Daniel is still dying to tell his story.