These brothers roots are tied to Havre
July 30, 2002
The eyes of a 66-year-old man scanned the typed text in the large, burgundy, leather-bound book. His fingers flipped through the yellowed, but not even close to tattered, pages. A passage caught his eye.
"It says here that in November of 1922, someone could be fined $1,000 for anything he declared illegal," the man said.
The he is George Blake Bourne, Havre's mayor from 1922 to 1924. The book is a log of City Council meeting minutes from 1913 to 1927. The man reading them is Bourne's grandson, Bill Bourne.
Along with his brother, Jim, Bill Bourne is on a mission to learn about his grandfather, the mayor and former rancher of 60,000 acres in the Sweet Grass Hills.
The duo traveled more than 2,000 miles from their homes on the East Coast, flying to Billings, then driving to Havre. Monday afternoon, they sat in Havre City Hall continuing their mission.
Bill Bourne lives in New York City, where he works as a stockbroker and financial adviser. Jim Bourne, 69, retired from the New York Stock Exchange a dozen years ago. He lives in Greenwich, Conn.
For each of the last eight summers, the brothers have trekked to different areas of the country to check out some minor league baseball. Two years ago, they went to Washington state, last year, Iowa.
This year, they chose Montana.
"We're tourists during the day, but baseball fans during the night," Bill Bourne said.
This journey, though, is more than just a pursuit of America's pastime.
"This is a roots trip. We're out here to find out about our family," Bill Bourne said, thumbing through pages. "We just thought it would be interesting."
The brothers never met their grandfather, and their father died when Bill was 5 and Jim was 7. They've been delving into the life of George Blake Bourne since their first trip to Montana during the 1960s.
Back then, the Bournes explored all of the individual ranches on what was the 60,000 acres their grandfather owned.
George Blake Bourne was born and raised in Virginia. His parents died within a decade of one another. He was adopted at 17 by a Washington, D.C., couple.
How he came to Montana is an interesting story.
A 20-year-old George and his foster brother, James Hamilton, went to Montana one summer to fulfill a boyhood dream of working for a sheep rancher. They had always intended on returning home at summer's end.
But their employer went broke and had no money to pay them for the train ride home.
They were paid in sheep.
A year later, the pair were operating their own sheep ranch. The flock was wiped out by a snowstorm.
The Hamiltons hadn't heard from their sons for more than a year. They went west to find them.
John Hamilton, George's foster father, was a bank director. He found his sons digging post holes and rendering fat for a living.
He bought them a sheep ranch in the Sweet Grass Hills. Within two years, the ranch was 3,000 acres and rapidly expanding. It flourished in the 1890s, adding thousands of cattle.
Bourne's interests weren't confined to agriculture.
At 24, he opened the first post office in the Hills. In 1897, at the age of 29, he was elected to the state legislature as a member of the House from Chouteau County. He served for six years.
Bourne married Rosalie Marie Brawner in 1901. The couple had one child, James Edelin Bourne, Bill and Jim's father.
In 1903, Bourne became a senator from Chouteau County. He served for four years.
Bourne moved to Havre in 1913 to work as a bank cashier. In 1921, he was convinced by friends to run for mayor.
He promised strict enforcement of the law and that he would only hold the office for one term.
Bourne received a letter of support from the Ku Klux Klan for his efforts to clean up Havre. He heard complaints that the police chief was not doing a good job. He authorized raids on illegal gambling establishments.
After his term ended, Bourne was named president of Hill County State Bank. One particular customer was a man named H. Earl Clack.
George Blake Bourne died in 1931 from liver complications. Six decades later, his family is still fascinated with his life, his legacy.
"We always want to dig more," Bill Bourne said. "He was such an amazing man."
Tourists during the day, baseball fans at night.
Grandsons all the time.