Speaker's Bureau: Christy Leskovar
Posted by Beth Oswald (+281) 15 years ago
The Miles City Speaker's Bureau will host two presentations of author Christy Leskovar's lecture entitled, "An Irish Doughboy from Butte in the 'Powder River Gang', The Montana Soldiers in the 91st 'Wild West' Division in the First World War" on Wednesday, September 24th. The first talk will be at a brown-bag lunch gathering at noon at Miles Community College in room 106. The second presentation will be at 7pm at the Custer County Art & Heritage Center.

Drawing from the riveting war narrative in her non-fiction book One Night in a Bad Inn, Leskovar will follow Irish doughboy Peter Thompson, her grandfather, from Ireland to the Butte mines to the bloody battlefields of the Western Front where he saved a man's life, at great risk to his own, and was decorated for doing so. She will speak about the heroism and tremendous accomplishments of the Montana soldiers and the horrors they faced in that brutal war. Two thirds of the men in Peter Thompson's regiment, the "Powder River Gang," were from Montana. They were part of the 91st "Wild West" Division. If you have a family member who joined the army in the First World War from one of the western states, chances are he was in the 91st, and this is his story too.

"For the war narrative, I wanted this to be the story of the foot soldiers. I wanted the reader to feel he was right on Peter's heels slogging through the mud in the Argonne," said Leskovar. "To do that, I needed ground-level details which are difficult to find." To search out the details necessary to give the story texture and depth, while keeping to the facts, Leskovar visited the battlefields in France and Belgium and combed through box after box of dusty archives at the Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania; the National Archives, Fort Lewis, Washington and the Montana Historical Society. Stowed away in those boxes she found memoirs, letters, operations reports, and the actual field messages and field orders written by officers right on the battlefield. She was even able to track down a 107-year-old former Montana soldier. Leskovar relied heavily on first hand accounts written by the soldiers. From all this, she was able to piece together a very vivid and personal narrative.

Leskovar will also speak about the turmoil at home in Butte during the war years-labor unrest, martial law, immigrant groups unhappy about which side we went in on-a fascinating and tumultuous time in American and specifically Montana history.

Christy Leskovar was born in Butte and raised in Kennewick, Washington. She graduated from Seattle University in 1982 with degrees in mechanical engineering and French. During a visit to her hometown of Butte in 1997, she learned startling news about her Montana ancestors, so startling it prompted her to abandon her engineering career, uncover the rest of the story, and write a book about it - One Night in a Bad Inn which was a finalist for the 2007 High Plains Best New Book Award.

This program is sponsored by the Miles City Speaker's Bureau including the Custer County Art & Heritage Center, Miles City Public Library and Miles Community College with contributions from the Montana Cultural Trust and American Association of University Women of Miles City. For more information, please contact the Art Center at 234-0635.
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10370) 15 years ago
It should be an interesting talk, wish I could take it in. My grandfather served in the 91st.

The Division's rally call was "Powder River! Let'er Buck!" Supposedly this came about in the fall of 1917 when a recruit arrived at the Division's boot camp at Fort Lewis, WA, in full cowboy regalia (chaps, boots, hat & all that). When asked where he was from he enthusiastically replied: "From Wyoming, Sir! Powder River! Let'er Buck!"

If you want to read up a bit before the talk, here's a brief item on the 91st in action during WWI:

Here's a longer piece:
The 91st Division Publication Committee. THE STORY OF THE 91ST DIVISION (1919).
Posted by Steve Craddock (+2741) 15 years ago
This looks like another great opportunity to be both entertained and educated at the same time.

I say "another" because I attended John Pugrud's fascinating talk on what happened at the Pentagon on 9/11.

Thank you Speakers Bureau, MCC, Beth and everyone else involved in bringing these unique and enjoyable learning opportunities to Miles City.

[This message has been edited by Steve Craddock (edited 9/19/2008).]
Posted by Beth Oswald (+281) 15 years ago
Bump-this is today!
Posted by Steve Craddock (+2741) 15 years ago
Christy Leskovar gave an amazing talk, folks. Only about 20 to 30 people were at the evening session (which was at the Custer County Art and Heritage Center - truly one of Miles City's gems). I hope the crowd was bigger at the noon session.

Why do I say this was an amazing talk?

Well, for one thing, Christy shared some facts that surprised everyone in attendance. Like this one: Butte was actually "occupied" by a US Army peacekeeping force for throughout WWI because there was so much discord between the pro-German, the isolationist, and the pro-English/French/Flemish elements of Butte's population -- which was largely comprised of people who had recently immigrated from the warring nations.

And this one: Marching off to fight in WWI may have saved the lives of many young men from Butte who faced high odds of being killed in the mines and who might otherwise have died in the 1918 Influenza which killed a disproportionately high number of young adults. Many young soldiers returned home only to find that their young brides and younger brothers, who often had stayed behind to run the family farm, had died.

Oh, and then there was this one: The large banner headline of the Forsyth paper the day that World War I broke out: Forsyth to Play Miles City in Baseball Game" -- below which, in much smaller print, was a story headlined "European Powers Falling Into War" (or something similar to that).

Even those interesting facts aren't what made the talk amazing. What made it amazing was how Ms. Leskovar shared these facts and many others so effectively that the audience was able to see the world through the eyes of an ordinary young man from Montana who was called upon to do extraordinary things. And the most amazing thing of all - the forces that shaped that young man's worldview almost 100 years ago turn out to be remarkably similar to those shaping our world today.

Anyway, I am very glad that Julie Leskovar came to Miles City to share the product of her eight years of dedicated research and writing with us --- and I want to thank the Miles City Speaker's Bureau for making this opportunity available - and all for FREE!


Oh - one more thing: Almost everyone at the talk bought Ms. Leskovar's book - One Night in a Bad Inn. Don't be fooled by the title - it has nothing to do with a horrible Motel 6 experience. The title is a metaphor for how a lifetime spent in frontier Montana compares to an eternity in Heaven. I've just read a few pages and already I'm hooked!

[This message has been edited by Steve Craddock (edited 9/24/2008).]