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Book Review: “Wicked Bozeman”

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“Wicked Bozeman” uncovers crimes in Bozeman and the surrounding area. PHOTO BY LEONORA WILLETT

In her latest book, “Wicked Bozeman,” Kelly Hartman uncovers the diverse and exciting crimes that have occurred throughout the history of Gallatin County. Hartman, the curator of the Gallatin History Museum, begins her research using prison records dating back to 1893 and builds off this with her own deep dive into newspapers including the Bozeman Chronicle, Bozeman Courier, Republican-Courier and the Bozeman Avant Chronicle. 

Unlike two of Hartman’s earlier books that discuss murder, “Wicked Bozeman” is an all-encompassing look at mischief in the Gallatin Valley. The book is organized into sections of crimes, including bank robberies, forgeries, game law violations, sedition, burglaries and embezzlement.

Hartman offers a history of the Gallatin County Jail, the current Gallatin History Museum, depicting the lives of inmates when they served their time. The book detailscovers the daily lives of prisoners, including the living conditions as well as hobbies inmates picked up. 

Hartman begins with a summary of imprisonment in Bozeman, then proceeds to recount incidents of people deemed “insane.” Some were deemed “insane” due to unrequited love, while others were depicted as delusional. She also discusses workarounds during the time of Prohibition, which Montana enacted in 1919, two years before the national restriction. 

The chapter titled “Horses, Jewels and Bacon” is just what it sounds like. In one of the more humorous accounts in the book, three men were arrested for burglary, after the three reportedly had stolen “some bacon.” 

Two of the men involved were not sentenced to jail time, while the third had a past of burglary in Wisconsin. This was not the only food burglary of note. In 1932, there were multiple accounts of burglars stealing 23-pound rounds of cheese. 

One of the great mysteries discussed in the book has to do with prisoners escaping the Gallatin County Jail. In 1911, a new “escape proof” jail building was unveiled, only for many prisoners to escape. It was not until the jail became a museum in 1982 that the mystery was solved. 

While an exhibit change was taking place, a steam tunnel underneath a plank of plywood was discovered, thus explaining the exit path used by six prisoners. The escape path can now be viewed by visitors at the museum. 

Those interested in more information can visit the Gallatin History Museum located on West Main Street in Bozeman. The museum features a life-size Pioneer cabin, the infamous Big Horn Gun, as well as exhibits on women, agriculture, music and the history of the jail. 

Raised in Silver Gate, Montana, Kelly Suzanne Hartman is the curator of the Gallatin History Museum in Bozeman, Montana. Her books include “A Brief History of Cooke City” (2019), “Murder along the Yellowstone Trail: The Execution of Seth Danner” (2020), and “Murder and Mayhem in Gallatin County.” 

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