HELENA — One feature that's pretty hard to miss at the State Capitol is the statue of former Territorial Governor of Montana Thomas F. Meagher, which has guarded the capitol lawn since 1905.
A lot of statue-worthy people have come out of Montana over the years, so why immortalize Meagher?
"He was fighting for freedom for all of Montana. Not just a political party, but all of Montana," Helena Chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Mike O’Connor.
Freedom fighting was kind of a common theme for Meagher, first in Meagher’s native Ireland fighting against the British where he is still celebrated. In Ireland in 1848, a group known as “Young Ireland” attempted a rebellion in the country. They were led by Thomas Francis Meagher.
That same year Meagher was presented a tricolor, similar to the French tricolor, by a group of French women who were sympathetic to their cause. The green on the flag symbolizes Roman Catholics, the orange represents the Protestants and the white signified a lasting peace and hope for union between the two. That flag would eventually become the national flag of Ireland.
Meagher later immigrated to the U.S. and served as a general in the Civil War before making his way to Big Sky Country where he was thrust into the territorial governor position on two separate occasions.
"He wanted to do good for all of the people, and he would talk to anybody. And he had a lot of enemies, but he was willing to talk to them and I think we’ve lost that [in] this day and age," said O'Connor. "If you oppose somebody you don’t talk to them, Meagher talked to everybody."
Meagher died mysteriously near Fort Benton in 1867. Sometime in the early evening July, 1 1867 Meagher is said to have gone overboard a steamboat into the Missouri River. There is still much debate whether his death was an accident or foul play. His body was never recovered.
At a St. Patrick’s Day speech by fellow Irishman and Montana U.S. House Rep Martin Maginnis in 1869, Maginnis called for a statue of Meagher to be erected and the state’s large Irish population obliged.
“The people of Montana appreciated that, that there was somebody in government looking out for them,” said O'Connor.
Meagher’s famous equestrian statue on the front lawn of the Montana Capitol was created by Irish-born Chicago sculptor Charles J. Mulligan. It is designed as much a tribute to the many Irish immigrants who made Montana their home as it is to Meagher himself.
The Meagher Memorial Association raised $20,000 by public subscription to pay for the statue, which was dedicated on July 4, 1905, before a cheering crowd of over 1,500 people.