Born in Savannah, Missouri, Joseph Kemp Toole began life on May 12, 1851. Attending public school in St. Joseph, Missouri, he graduated from Western Military Institute in New Castle, Kentucky during 1868. Following graduation, he read law for a time in the offices of Webb & Barber.
At the age of 18, Toole booked passage on a steamboat and traveled to Fort Benton, Montana, arriving in the spring of 1869. There he boarded the tri-weekly stage to Helena, at that time, a five-year-old territorial town. Here his studies continued as he read at his brother’s law firm and passed the Montana Bar in 1871. After becoming Edwin’s partner, the firm’s name was changed to Toole & Toole.
Joseph’s political career began in 1872 at the age of 21. That year he became District Attorney for Montana’s third judicial district and served until 1876. He was next elected to represent Lewis & Clark County in the Montana Territorial House of Representatives, serving from 1879 – 1881. After that, he was president of the Territorial Council from 1881 to 1883.
Toole was next elected as a Democratic delegate to Helena’s State Constitutional Convention in 1884. Though ratified by the territory’s voters, Congress would not recognize Montana’s constitution. During his time of service in the 49th and 50th Congresses, Toole continually spoke up on the subject of statehood for Montana.
Following admission to the United States, Joseph Toole became Montana’s first governor. Inaugurated on November 8, 1889, he served until January 1, 1893 and weathered a number of Montana’s most distressing times. In late 1889, the state’s first Legislature was deadlocked between the Democrats and Republicans.
In 1903, Toole was faced with one of the most unwinnable situations a governor would likely encounter. Amalgamated Cooper Company, a huge Eastern-based organization, found itself in a squeeze by the last, and most crafty of the famous Copper Kings in Butte, F. Augustus “Fritz” Heinze. Fritz first claimed the copper he possessed had surfaced on land he recently purchased. He later hired miners to dig diagonally into mines belonging to Amalgamated in an effort to pilfer additional ore. He also “bought” two of Butte’s judges to rule in his favor during the lawsuits Amalgamated presented. The miners of Butte admired Heinze’s spunk; but would soon regret doing so when Amalgamated struck back.
On October 22, 1903, Amalgamated totally closed down shop in Montana. Mines, smelters, refineries, lumber camps and timber mills throughout the state immediately ceased to operate. As a result, between 15,000 and 20,000 Montanans suddenly found themselves in the unemployment line.
Following the shutdown, Amalgamated demanded Governor Toole call a special session of Montana’s legislature to review and pass the “Fair Trials Bill.” This bill was designed to allow one party of a lawsuit to cry “Bias!” and obtain a replacement judge. Toole stood fast on resistant grounds for a few days, but later caved to Amalgamated’s demands. When he did, the company immediately returned the laid-off bread-winners to work. Historian Harry Fritz of the University of Montana later stated, “Amalgamated was pretty heavy-handed, but consolidation was probably necessary for successful copper mining to continue in Butte.” Rather than holding a grudge against the governor, Montanans re-elected him to office
On January 7, 1901, Toole returned to the office of governor, serving as its fourth occupant. He was re-elected again in 1905 against his wishes. He retired from office on April 1, 1908 due to ill health. Had he completed his final term, Toole would be the only Montana governor to have served three full terms.
After leaving office, Toole returned to his law practice and divided his time between his homes in Helena, Montana and San Francisco, California. He died in Helena on March 11, 1929 at the age of 77 and was buried in the city’s Resurrection Cemetery.
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The final causes which shape the fortunes of individual men and the destinies of states are often the same. They are usually remote and obscure; their influence wholly unexpected until declared by results. When they inspire men to the exercise of courage, self-denial, enterprise and industry, and call into play the higher moral elements – such causes lead to the planting of great states, nations and peoples. That nation is greatest which produces the greatest men, and its safety depends, not so much upon methods and measures as upon that true manhood from whose deep sources all that is precious and permanent in life must at last proceed. Such a result may not be consciously contemplated by the individuals instrumental in the production of a great state or nation.
Progressive Men of Montana