Power, Thomas C. (Thomas Charles), 1839-1923

Alternative names
Birth 1839-05-22
Death 1923-02-16

Biographical notes:

Thomas Charles Power was born at Dubuque, Iowa, May 22, 1839, the son of Irish immigrants, Michael W. Power and Catherine McLeer Power.

In 1867, he travelled up the Missouri River to Fort Benton, Montana Territory and opened a general mercantile firm in partnership with his brother, John W. Power. T.C. Power and Brother and I. G. Baker and Company dominated trade and freighting on the northern plains by the mid 1870's. In connection with this trade, T.C. Power and several associates were charged by the United States government with fraud. His associates were sent to prison but Power was exhonorated.

Power was also active in politics. As a Republican, he served as a delegate to the abortive 1884 Constitutional Convention, ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1889, and was selected one of Montana's first U.S. Senators in a bitterly contended election in the Montana legislature.

Thomas C. Power married Mary Flanagan at Dubuque, Iowa, in 1867. The couple had one son, Charles Benton Power. T.C. Power died at Helena, Montana, March 16, 1923.

[For a longer biographical sketch see MC 55].

From the guide to the Thomas Charles Power papers>, 1867-1950, (Montana Historical Society Research Center)

Thomas Charles Power was born at Dubuque, Iowa, May 22, 1839, the son of Irish immigrants, Michael W. Power and Catherine McLeer Power. He was raised on the family farm near Dubuque. The eldest of four children, Power contributed heavily to the work on the farm while completing the rudimentary education offered in area schools. In his teens, Power attended Sissinawa Mound College, in Wisconsin, where he studied science and engineering. After three years of study, but without graduating, he returned to his home and taught in rural schools near Peru, Iowa, during the years 1858-1860. In 1860, Thomas Power accepted a job with a survey party for the federal government and spent the next four years surveying for government and private firms in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, and eastern Montana. In 1865, he settled in Nebraska, first working as a carpenter, and, in 1866, he became a minor partner in a wholesale merchandising firm supplying several frontier areas.

This investment, and his familiarity with the West, led him, in the following year, to locate at Fort Benton, Montana Territory, head of navigation on the Upper Missouri. With the stock of goods he brought with him, he opened a general mercantile firm in the spring of 1867. His younger brother, John W. Power, followed with a further stock of goods later that spring, and Power's initial company, T.C. Power and Brother, was formed.

T.C. Power's firm was ideally located, for not only did it trade with residents of the locality, the military garrison, and Indian tribes of the region, but as head of navigation on the Missouri, Fort Benton offered unique advantages of supply and served as the hub of a freighting network to the towns and camps of the isolated Territory. Power rapidly exploited his situation and, in 1868, began supplementary overland freighting operations while expanding the range and quantity of his merchandise.

T.C. Power and Brother and the other large Fort Benton firm, I.G. Baker and Company, dominated trade and freighting on the northern plains by the mid 1870's. A significant portion of the business of these firms was in the fur and hide trade with Indians of the region and other hunters, an involvement that coincided with the period of slaughter of the northern buffalo herd. The hide trade, and, later, buffalo bones made up many of the down river cargos in the 1870's and early 1880's.

The rapid expansion of the Power and Baker firms caused them to invest in the construction of the river steamer Benton, to supply goods for their operations and to carry gold, silver, hides, and other products down river. This investment, in 1874, resulted in the formation of the Fort Benton Transportation Company and in subsequent years other steamboats were built or purchased to expand this facet of the trade. In the late 1870's, Power purchased Baker's interest in the steamer line and continued its expansion until the firm dominated the Upper Missouri commerce in the years remaining before railroads reached the region and effectively ended river transportation. As an adjunct to his steamer and freighting interests, Power, in 1879, formed the first of several stagecoach lines which served much of northern and central Montana and, eventually, linked with the transcontinental Northern Pacific Railroad at Billings.

While retaining his investments in the Fort Benton area, in 1878, T.C. Power settled pemanently in Helena, by then Territorial capital, and later State capital, and rapidly emerging as the focus of Montana's finance and trade. Having centered his business interests at Helena, Power became active in the capital's economic, political and social life. He maintained several commercial firms, built and operated the American National Bank, and speculated in real estate and regional mining companies.

T.C. Power's entrepreneurial interests were extremely broad; he founded or invested in over ninety-five companies in the course of his active career. During the period 1880-1920, in addition to major interests in merchandising and transportation, he invested in cattle and sheep ranching, real estate throughout the northwest, lumbering, coal mining, electric power generation, hotels, automobile distributing, military and reservation supply, agricultural implement sales, banking, grain milling, municipal water supply, metals mining, oil, and irrigation.

An interest in politics paralleled Power's diverse business career. A lifelong Republican, he was an active supporter of the Territorial and State party, as well as contributing to and involving himself in national party affairs. He served as a delegate to the abortive 1884 Constitutional Convention, but chose not to run for the 1889 Convention which resulted in Montana's statehood. Power was defeated in the first state gubernatorial election, in 1889, by Joseph K. Toole, the Democratic candidate. In 1890, he was selected by the divided First State Legislative Assembly as one of four senators, two from each party, to fill Montana's two seats in the nation's upper house. Power and the other Republican chosen, Wilbur Fisk Sanders, were seated by the Republican-controlled U. S. Senate over the bitter opposition of the Democratic contenders. Power's service in the Senate, 1890-1895, was creditable, with concentration on the State's major interests: the free coinage of silver, irrigation, the disposal of the public domain, and the wool tariff. T.C. Power's one term in the Senate ended his active involvement in politics.

Thomas C. Power married Mary Flanagan at Dubuque, Iowa, in 1867, just prior to travelling to Montana. The couple had one son, Charles Benton Power. T.C. Power, still in active control of his varied financial interests, died at Helena, Montana, March 16, 1923.

Charles Benton Power was born at Dubuque, Iowa, November 9, 1868, the son of Thomas C. and Mary Flanagan Power. His early life was spent at Fort Benton, Montana, center of his father's financial interests. He moved to Helena with his family in 1878. There he completed his early education in the public schools of the community. In 1888, C.B. Power received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Georgetown University, Washinqton, D.C., and later completed a supplemental Bachelor's degree and a law degree at Columbia University, in 1891 and 1893.

C.B. Power returned to Helena, Montana after completion of his education and entered the practice of law. He joined his father, in 1895, in the management of the Power business interests in Montana and the northwest. In 1923, after his father's death, C.B. Power succeeded to ownership and operation of the remaining firms. During his business career, C.B. Power's interests remained primarily in merchandising and real estate, but he also invested in oil, hotels, agriculture and mining.

C.B. Power married Mable Larson of Helena, in 1901. The couple had three children, Margaret, Charles B., Jr., and Jane Elizabeth. Mrs. Mable Power died in 1918. In 1944, C.B. Power married Pauline Ely. Charles Benton Power died at Helena, November 15, 1953.

From the guide to the Thomas Charles Power papers, 1868-1950, (Montana Historical Society Research Center)


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  • Retail Trade
  • Mines and mineral resources--Montana--Cascade County
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