Friday, June 14, 2024

The bullets kept dodging me

by Margaret E. Davis
| November 6, 2022 12:00 AM

The third time's the charm.

After reading about an item in the museum at Eureka’s Historical Village, I had to see it.

The story goes that an 1880s hunter on the Tobacco Plains saw a deer and shot it. Then, as he was running up to his prize, another hunter was coming from the opposite direction. Both said they'd hit the target and, it turns out, that was true.

Their bullets met in the animal and fused together.

I always think a trip improves with some kind of grail, in addition to sightseeing. Whether it's finding the cheapest thali (a lunch special) in India or tango in Istanbul, I like to spike adventure with challenge.

You would think it'd be easy to see the bullets. I went in April when I thought the museum was open, but it was locked. I went in July on the way to a concert at Abayance Bay — still no dice. My mom went to the Eureka Quilt Show and she got to see the bullets! She sent me pictures, almost gloating.

Finally I called the president of the Tobacco Valley Board of History, Darris Flanagan, and gently asked when the museum might be open.

"Just call me," he said.

A few months later, I did. "I got hit by a bull, but I think I can make it down there to unlock the place," he said. So on a Sunday afternoon this fall, I spotted him gingerly walking toward the museum, keys in hand.

A writer himself, Flanagan also manages the family ranch. Although he still seemed sore from the bull (“we should have gotten rid of him last year”), he had a boyish grin and a love of history. When I asked how he became president of the board, he said, “Nobody else would do it.”

He peeled back the plastic covering the displays and in a handmade wood box sat the object of my long-held desire along with an account of the artifact and a pouch said to be made of the deer's hide.

As I was admiring the bullets, Flanagan began to dig through bound ledgers at the back of the museum. I'd told him about my grandparents, both of whom had spent their early years in Eureka.

He handed me a volume of Lincoln County school census records and I searched the lists of local kids, meticulously handwritten and noting age, names of parents and birthdate. Just as I was about to put the ledger away, I found entries from 1915 and 1916 and my grandfather, recorded at age 6, then 7. His sister, my great aunt Maxine, who was among the first women to earn a pharmacy degree at University of Montana, also earned a mention — at ages 3 and 4.

At those ages they were still some years away from their best squabble. Feisty Maxine once chased him around with an ax. He sought safety up a tree, which she began to chop down. All he could do to save himself was to pee on her. They ended up great friends, playing cards on camping trips and duets in their living rooms.

Here I’d found them on the page as little kids, after 107 years.


Margaret E. Davis, executive director of the Northwest Montana History Museum, can be reached at