The Provenance Of Missoula’s Elitism

by Travis Mateer

In today’s post I’m going to connect an English aristocrat and a US intelligence agency to some well-known Missoula surnames, specifically Merriam and Talbot. This will be VERY informative, especially in light of what’s happening with the Missoulian building, where the 20th century medium of narrative control once rolled off the press.

Before getting to the historical part of this post, here’s the latest from Wags Capital regarding its local developer, WGM, wussing out on a public meeting next week:

The plans for a $100 million redevelopment along the Hip Strip remain uncertain after the group designing the buildings canceled a public meeting, saying the project should not be finalized after a controversy over one of the developer’s online messages.

Yet, developer Aaron Wagner said the project will continue to move forward, just without the local firm.

“They have not even been awarded the project yet,” Wagner told the Kaimin. “We are still moving forward, nothing is being stopped or even delayed.”

Yep, full steam ahead, and The Wags wants you dumb locals to know that it’s going to be EVEN WORSE now that you pissed off this former linebacker douchebag:

Without the local firm, Wagner said he would likely contract with another group from out of town. 

“They felt the heat and were apprehensive about the relationship with me personally,” Wagner said. “What I tell people is, ‘Look, you guys want locals, but the pressure against me is doing the opposite.’ Now we are going to have an outside group that might not understand the goals and needs of the community.”

The bold part of the above quote is Aaron Wagner’s understanding of how “people” in Missoula expect development to happen, but since “pressure” has emerged from an angry public tired of condos and endless gentrification, The Wags is threatening to bring in some outside development group. What an asshole.

But this post isn’t about outside assholes brashly plopping condo towers along riverfront property, it’s about narrative controllers with names like Talbot and Merriam, and the entitlement they seem to be operating on when it comes to transforming Missoula into an elitist playground for wealth.

First up, the Talbot name.

Yes, this picture from the Missoulian shows Pete Talbot’s hand on a ballot box, but it’s his dad and the hidden hand of the CIA that I’m more interested in.

Before becoming the publisher of the Missoulian, Pete’s dad, John, worked for the CIA. I had no idea about this intriguing connection until I ran across this interview from 1975. Here’s the note at the beginning of the interview that details this connection:

Note: John Talbot worked for the CIA before joining Lee Enterprises in 1957 in Wisconsin at the State Journal. He later worked Muscatine, Iowa, before becoming business manager and then publisher of the Billings Gazette. He was publisher of the Missoulian and operations manager for the western division of Lee Enterprises before retiring in 1980.

Cool! Now I’m beginning to understand Pete’s love for democracy, it must come from his dad’s work with the CIA, an agency known for its loving spread of democracy around the globe.

While this connection is fascinating, I’m actually more interested in the impact of H.G. Merriam on Missoula, but before we get to him we need a quick primer on Cecil Rhodes from wikipedia:

Cecil John Rhodes PC (5 July 1853 – 26 March 1902) was a British mining magnate and politician in southern Africa who served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896. An ardent believer in British imperialism, Rhodes and his British South Africa Company founded the southern African territory of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia), which the company named after him in 1895. South Africa’s Rhodes University is also named after him. He also devoted much effort to realising his vision of a Cape to Cairo Railway through British territory. Rhodes set up the provisions of the Rhodes Scholarship, which is funded by his estate.

For a little more context on what Rhodes and his fellow British elitists were up to, here’s some info on the Fabian Society:

The Fabian Society was founded on 4 January 1884 in London as an offshoot of a society founded a year earlier, called The Fellowship of the New Life, which had been a forebear of the British Ethical and humanist movements. Early Fellowship members included the visionary Victorian elite, among them poets Edward Carpenter and John Davidson, sexologist Havelock Ellis, and early socialist Edward R. Pease. They wanted to transform society by setting an example of clean simplified living for others to follow. Some members also wanted to become politically involved to aid society’s transformation; they set up a separate society, the Fabian Society. All members were free to attend both societies. The Fabian Society additionally advocated renewal of Western European Renaissance ideas and their promulgation throughout the world.

H.G. Merriam–the grandfather of Engen’s Communication Director, Ginny Merriam–was a member of the FIRST CLASS of Rhodes Scholars. I discovered this little factoid in a book published by the Missoulian in 2000.

Since Ginny Merriam, like our Mayor, worked at the Missoulian before taking control of local government, it makes sense that Ginny is the one doing the writing in this book about Grandpa. Here is the part about H.G. Merriam bringing the Rhodes brand of British elitism to Missoula:

H.G. stepped off a train at the depot at the north end of Higgins Avenue in 1919, ready to take on the chairmanship of the English department. He brought with him his wife, Doris, and two degrees from Oxford, where in 1904 he had been in the first class of American Rhodes Scholars.

He was surprised to find UM had sent no Rhodes Scholars to Oxford from 1905 to 1919, and became the secretary of the Montanan Rhodes Scholar Selection Committee. UM to this day has a strong presence among Rhodes Scholars, an effort H.G. Shepherded long past his retirement in 1954.

This local history–connecting wealthy British socialists and the CIA to surnames like Talbot and Merriam–should give readers a better understanding of the entitlement our local elites feel toward using their tax-paying citizens subjects as flesh-ATMs for their social engineering projects.

It should also provide a hilarious backdrop to the claims of total powerlessness and impotence coming from our Mayor-for-life and his elitist cronies.

Thanks for reading, serfs!

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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9 Responses to The Provenance Of Missoula’s Elitism

  1. TC says:

    I imagine all the virtue signaling Lib Elite (like Talbott and Merriam) will pretend to be offended by Wags taking on an outside Firm to help them redefine Missoula. Perhaps they’ll even shutter “Lordie Me” before collapsing upon their fainting couch.
    However, Mad Dog Linebacker Wags is only following the City’s playbook. Here in Missoula we are currently being redesigned (via Engen/Buchanan) by a firm from Florida. We are being coached up regarding homelessness by a firm from Portland (cause Portland had it figured out) and our construction downtown is being done from a firm from Bozeman (that how gentrification can produce the next Jackson Hole). There are other examples of our own City/County turning to outside “expertise” to show us local Gumps what we really need here.
    So as big a (…..) as Wags is – he is only following the example that our local government betters have demonstrated.
    As for WGM, this is the most puke inducing. They definitely showed their Wokeness by cancelling a “meeting”. However, you can be sure that before this project is done they will worm themselves back up to the money trough. If Wags wont give them money the City (via Engen and a Council member that works for WGM) will make sure they are made “whole”

    • Ha ha ha ha!!! Right on. I understand what you mean by Lib Elite, but I do wish that we’d settle on some term that doesn’t feed the mythology that the Extreme New Urbanist/Neoliberal/Identity politics of the Engen Regime represents “liberalism” as is popularly (largely inaccurately) understood to be a “Left” or egalitarian ideology. Personally, I deem many members of the regime (Heidi, & Bryan, for example) to be “boutique liberals,” the contemporary manifestation of the Limousine Liberal. You know, like VonLossberg ramming hyperdensity down out throats, then retiring from the Council so he can kick back on his family’s 200 (or is it 2,000..I forget which) acre ranch. The local Dems are full of these folks. These are in general the ones who dig Hillary Clinton, who is, as anyone who has come up against her ruthless oppression knows, closer to being a Fascist than a liberal and is the face of American neoliberalism. They are the arrogant, dominant core of the Democratic elite who are want to frequently proclaim themselves as “progressives” while they usurp, undermine and co-opt progressivism and cooperate with the Republicans to maintain the idiotic duopolist party system that serves Big Capital and thwarts popular majority rule.

      WGM, being the local go-to agents for big capitalists salivating over the opportunity to remake Missoula in the image of Travis’ Lego City (a brilliant, living sculpture of phantasmagoric reality testing), and the most competent design/engineering/general contracting powerhouse in town, had no choice but to “improve optics” by appearing to distance itself from Wagner, a caricature of all he represents who is single-handedly capable of uniting both the politically illiterate and the diverse ideologues in common revulsion. A meeting intended to ‘get people to warm to the project’ could not be held on the heels of Wagner’s fortuitous verbal flatulence which appears to be uncontrollable, like a form of Tourette’s Syndrome. No sooner did WGM announce cancelation of the meeting, than Wagner went off again, essentially vowing to inflict the project upon us by any means, and saying that he’ll retaliate for community animus toward him, by dumping “local” WGM and bringing in an out of state powerhouse to front for the investors. I’d love to be privy to the phone calls between Berquist and Wagner.

  2. webdoodle says:

    Great find on Talbot! The timing on his moving to Lee Enterprises lines up with Operation Mockingbird precisely. I look forward to listening to the interview.

    Missoula has a long history involving the CIA and Military Intelligence, mostly due to the Japanese\Italian\German internment programs during WWII, the Smoke Jumpers/Air America, the Hmong relocation after Vietnam, but also the American Wars in Asia dept at UM.

  3. Great research and revelations on the lineages of Talbot and Engen. I find it a very useful literary device for getting across a concept, though being too conclusionary regarding ancestral infuence would be a mistake. For example, one might write that my three decades representing capital defendants and fighting capital punishment is explained by my having a great uncle who was executed by the State of Missouri. That woud be erroneous; he lived, murdered (purportedly) and was put to death long before my birth, and I do not recall his name which was related to me many years ago. (I do want to research his life and death, which would entail digging through musty records in humid courthouse file rooms, tracking down shirt tail relatives and evading tornados. A Gonzo jouranalist would be an asset. Road trip?).

    I think you’re too harsh on the Fabians, who must be be viewed in context. They were a progressive, egalitarian force in the classist, Monarchic nerve center of the world’s most vast colonial empire… a nation that still embraces the dichotomy between “commoners” and elites, that has an upper chamber of parliament comprised of Royal appointees, with both legislative powers and the power to overturn court decisions, whether petitioned to do so, or not. The Magna Charta, deemed the basis for due process and inviolable rights of individuals, was extracted from King John not by pitchfork-wielding masses of feudal servants, but by wealthy lords desiring not democratic rule, but a sphere of autonomy within which to maximize their comfort and wealth derived from their administration and exploitation of lands whose title ultmately reposed in the Soveriegn, i.e., the monarch. Each liberal democratic change there has been fomented by “elites.” As industrialization transformed the feudal society into a capitalist empire, Marx and Engels predicted that social revolution would occur in England first. That was a logical prediction, but did not prove accurate.

    Cecil Rhodes was, of course, a dickhead. The dickheadedness doesn’t detract from the worthiness of the Rhodes Scholar tradition, although if it would mean free education for all I’d sack Rhodes scholarships were I Grand Poobah.

    The dope on John Talbot was interesting; I’d heard it before but forgotten. I recall when he took over as Missoulian publisher. I was, as I recall, in 5th or 6th grade at Rattlesnake Elementatry School (K-8), circa 1968. His daughter Deborah (now Tester’s Missoula field representative) was a year ahead of me. Talbot represented a decidedly elite conservatism, and Deb assumed a posture more aligned with hip liberal/social libertarian, quasi-countercultural, antiwar political and generational forces, and what was then called the “ecology” movement, that thrived in Missoula (though not without firm and ubiquitous, sometimes institutionally violent, opposition). In this, however, there was a certain air of snobbery, as the girls in that herd (who grew long, wavy or frizzy hair and wore cowbells) deemed themselves smarter and cooler than others (and they were, though their alloofness and air of snobbery distinguished them from the genuine countercultural article). I liked Deb, though, and knew her better (though not really well) in high school at Hellgate, where the fringes of intellectual/dramatic/cannabis cultire cliques overlapped. I fancied a mutual friend/schoomate who was daughter of a UM political science prof who wanted Montana to change to a parliamentary system. We were mutual friends also of a classmate who, a couple years out of high school, was murdered in D.C. in a seedy motel room by a John, after having been recruited by a pimp who groomed girls right here in Missoula, first meeting them in such plkaces as the old Top Hat.

    Now, as for Pete Talbot, he’s a fixture of the Msla. Democratic Party Establishment though he deems himself a bona fide progressive. He joined the other self-proclaimed progressives who, by one vote, essentially purged me from the Democratic fold by declining to endorse my Ward 1 candidacy, though they unanimously endorsed one of my primary opponents whose Treasurer was Checota’s wife and whose endorsement speech was given by a woman who praised her for being so helpful in buying up North Side houses to accumulate as rentals. My nomination motion was made by the Chair of Montana Progressive Democrats — an organization in which Pete (and the gaggle of Hillbots who waged the defamation campaign against me) also belong. Pete and said gaggle loathe said MT Progressive Chair, who sued the Dem Central Committee in the wake of improprieties and anti-Sanders chicanery peroetrated by Third Way corporate Dems who infiltrated and took over the Executive Board, undr a Chair who was on Third Way’s payroll. The morning after I was given the equivalent of the old USSR “delete him from the photographs of the Politburo”
    treatment, Pete messaged me repeteadly, saying that if anyone other than the MT Progressive Democrats Chair had made the motion to endorse me, I’d have been endorsed. There’s some “cancel culture” for you.

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