The Vigilante Parade
THE FAMOUS MONTANA HISTORY PAGEANT
BEGAN IN 1924 TO PREVENT SCHOOL VIOLENCE

Vigilante Parade Float on Main St., May 12 1950



COLLECTION OF BOB & SUSIE LINDEBERG

Around the turn of the 20th Century, Helena High School had a tradition called "The Senior-Junior Fight". It was a bloody and destructive springtime affair, the object of which was for the juniors to take down and desecrate a senior-class flag, which seniors would run up a flagpole located between the High School and adjacent Central School.

The fighting got so bad that the School Board eventually had the flagpole removed from the grounds. The problem was that seniors in subsequent years simply ran their flag up the pole located atop the High School building, and the fight continued on the roof.

A crackdown came, and all aspects of the event were banned from the school grounds. This had the effect of spreading the conflict all over town, with a further escalation in violence and property damage.

Authorities tried organizing alternative senior-junior competitions over the years, including a baseball game, a tug-of-war and a wrestling match. These events were seen by students as being too tame and controlled.

There were other unauthorized student actrivities during those years, including "Sneak Day" in which truancy was widespread, and "Old Clothes Day", when students would wear ragged clothes stuffed with hay and straw. There was also "Costume Day", which was held only once, but likely furnished the basic idea for the Vigilante Parade.

In 1924, meetings between students and administrators set into motion a plan for the parade: a grand pageant of historical floats, involving almost every student in a creative competition, and having at its heart the theme of the tough pioneer spirit.

As former (1907-1933) HHS Principal Albert J. Roberts said in a 1939 Helena Independent story about the origins of the parade:

"This parade, so little thought of at the time, and then only as a splendid substitute for several lawless activities, has more than any other Institution distinguished the city of Helena and its high school. From It also thousands of our citizens have obtained a knowledge of the life and customs, of the thrilling story of the early days in the Treasure state."

Because so many photographs of the parade have been taken over the decades, those presented here are necessarily limited to a representative sample. If you have good color photos from the 1940s-60s, or an unusually interesting parade photo, please let me know.

 

1928/29 "Wolf Creek Fire Department" Novelty Entry


COURTESY OF SHANNON MATTHIES-CALLAHAN



Four Photos from the Early 1930s

 

"Montana - The Land Before You"
Winner of the 1949 Vigilante Parade Hllger Sweepstakes Prize


COLLECTION OF BOB & SUSIE LINDEBERG

The float was by Diana Connors, Bill Bradford and Bob Painter. Diana, dressed as Sacajawea, points to the Land of the Shining Mountains, showing the way to explorers Lewis and Clark, Bill and Bob.




"Road Agents" Float, Sixth and Main, May 12 1950


COLLECTION OF BOB & SUSIE LINDEBERG

 



"King Winter" Float, Sixth and Main, May 12 1950


COLLECTION OF BOB & SUSIE LINDEBERG

 


"Prayer by Jedediah Smith" Float, Sixth and Main, May 12 1950


COLLECTION OF BOB & SUSIE LINDEBERG

 


"Tribute to the Pioneer Mother" Float, Sixth and Main, May 12 1950


COLLECTION OF BOB & SUSIE LINDEBERG



Queen's Float, Sixth and Main, May 12 1950


COLLECTION OF BOB & SUSIE LINDEBERG




1953 Floats
Collection of Kennon Baird

CLICK ON IMAGES TO OPEN BIG VERSIONS IN NEW WINDOWS

The sweepstakes winner for the 1953 Helena High School Vigilante Parade was "Buffalo Trading and Pressing of Skins at Fort Lewis", by Jean Painter and Nancy Lichtwardt. It was chosen for authenticity, originality and interest. It rated tops among 174 entries.



1967 Sweepstakes Winning Float

This early Yellowstone Park train won the Sweepstakes prize in the 1967 parade. It was created by Steven Moody, Robert Yerby, Neil Horne, Jerry Schutt, Steven Mackey, Robert Salisbury, Daniel Hollow, Robert Olson, Robert Robinson, Bryant Reber and Dennis Ellington. The prize was 150 silver dollars. Photos courtesy of Steven Moody. Thanks, Steve!





 


Video clip of the 1972 Vigilante Parade

 
COURTESY OF KITTY ANN QUIGLEY TAALER

From the promotional film "Helena-City of Gold", produced in 1973 by the Helena Chamber of Commerce.

 

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