Jim Murray was known to be cunning, ruthless and eccentric. He built a financial empire during the heyday of the Wild West. His interests in mining, banking, real estate, and private water works covered eight states. He wore his guns in clear site and would often say, “what’s mine is mine, and I’ll have it if I have to go to hell for it.” He ended his life in a sprawling mansion along the Monterey Coast in California. During his life, he was deeply devoted to his partnership with John Maguire that spanned 40 years.
Here are a few of the colorful characters that experience the Montana wilderness with Jim through the turn of the century and into the Progressive Era:
John Maguire pioneered theater in the Wild West. His first plays benefitted Colonel Custer’s troops on the high plains of North Dakota (he later performed a benefit for the widows left behind after the Battle of Little Big Horn). Maguire’s greatest feats were building a world-class Opera House in the Montana wilderness, and bringing the finest plays and performers from New York City to remote mining cities of the Northwest. Maguire dreams were made possible by Murray’s financial contributions. Maguire was also active with Murray in the Irish Nationalist movement, and in national politics. He lived with Jim during the last two years of his life, and was buried close to Murray’s estate in Monterey California. Murray built a large monument to mark Maguire’s grave site, and bought a plot to be buried by his side.
William J. Penrose: Murray once said that “a person that does not have enemies is not worth having as a friend.” He was probably speaking about Penrose when he made that statement. Penrose came into Butte, Montana in the 1880’s and became very close the miner’s union. He earned their support in a Senate campaign that one him a seat in Helena. He later voted his conscious and crossed the Union leadership. He was murdered in the streets of Butte, Montana after midnight. Was it a Union hit, or the act of a jealous lover that he had just visited?
Fat Jack was colorful character that worked as a barber and then as a hack driver in Western Montana. He knew Jim Murray for over 40 years. They often teamed together to rig a bet in their favor. Murray bought Fat Jack his best carriage – one that he would later use to transport two presidents and numerous other dignitaries.
Sarah Murray was the first of Jim’s wives. She was the daughter of a circuit Judge in the Western territories. Murray started his practice of hiding properties under family members with Sarah. He also used her son and brother to help with the family business. Murray ended their relationship by paying her to leave town and marry another man.
Mary Coulter Smith Haldorn Murray was the second of Jim Murray’s wives. Twice divorced, she provided Murray with social connections to many wealthy families in Chicago and San Francisco. Her scandalous background, and a secret daughter, never surfaced during her marriage to Jim.
James E. Murray was a nephew of Jim. When James’ father died on the east coast, Jim took in the family and funded all his nephews and nieces education. James attended New York University Law school. During his time in New York, he had season passes to the theater and open tables at all the finest restaurants. When he graduated he worked for Jim to protect his mining interests in Court and later served as his uncle’s main political operative. Mary Murray and her son (Stuart Haldorn) were his bitter rivals in the fight for Jim’s multi-million dollar estate. James tried to prove that the marriage was a sham and that Mary was entitled to nothing. James’ continued the family legacy of radicalism for 26 years in the U.S. Senate.
Frank “Sandbar” Brown started his life in Montana after serving in the Confederate Navy. He first worked as a trapper, but like many changed jobs often as civilization came to wilderness. He worked as a prospector, law officer, and editor and publisher of a newspaper. He knew Murray for over fifty years and left much of his written correspondence with Murray to the University of Montana. Their relationship had many ups and downs.
Edgar S. Paxson painted sets for John Maguire and worked out of a studio in the basement of Murray’s Opera House. Paxson was most famous for his painting of Custer’s Last Stand. He was a good friend of Sandbar and they were founding members of the Society of Montana Pioneers.
The Copper Kings: Augustus Heinze, Marcus Daly and W.A. Clark were all partners with, and litigants against Murray at one time or another. The editor of Heinze’s paper once said of Murray, “Had he lived in the time of Drake and Raleigh, he would have been a buccaneer.”
Miners Union: Murray was a staunch advocate of fair wages for miners, although his disagreed with the Union if they tried to tell him whom he must hire. Murray funded a newspaper that was a voice for labor during the economic colonization of Montana by eastern capitalists. That paper was shut down by Omar Bradley during World War I as it was deemed a threat to National Security.