About The Author

Michael J. Finnegan

I am a retired FBI Agent who spent 20 years as a criminal investigator. I was a street agent and I worked Violent Street Gangs and Terrorism for my entire career. I retired in 2004 and wrote a play regarding the life of Thomas Francis Meagher which was produced at a local theatre in Pittsburgh. I knew only about the official story that Meagher had slipped off a boat in the Missouri River and had never been found. I didn't include that chapter of his life in my original stage play.

As a result of publication around the stage play, I was invited to speak on a panel after the rededication of the statue of Thomas Francis Meagher at the Montana State Capitol Building in Helena, Montana on July 5, 2005. This is a photo of me speaking at the old Senate Chambers in the State Capitol Building following the re dedication (ABOVE RIGHT).

After the re-dedication ceremony, I spoke with many individuals who told me that Thomas Francis Meagher had been lynched in 1867 and that his killing had been covered up. My natural investigative instincts kicked in and I began to research the topic. Numerous books have been written chronicling the life of TFM and I read all of them. The most recent, "The Immortal Irishman" (2016), by Timothy Egan, examined the circumstances surrounding the death of Thomas Francis Meagher and concluded that Meagher had probably been the victim of a political assassination at the hands of his arch rival, Wilbur Fisk Sanders. The circumstantial evidence points overwhelmingly to Meagher's murder in Fort Benton, Montana on July 1, 1867.

In addition to the evidence presented by Egan, there were two other suspicious circumstances surrounding his death which were not fully explored. The first was the killing, three weeks before Meagher's death, of a British Army Officer, Captain Wilfred Speer, who was shot in the head by a suspected Fenian Union soldier, Private William Barry, on the steamship Octavia enroute to Fort Benton. Speer had deposited $40,000 in Octavia's safe when he boarded in St. Louis, Missouri and approximately 100 US Army troops, many of them Fenians, had also boarded the ship at St. Louis. Speer was traveling to Fort Benton in the company of Green Clay Smith, TFM's appointed successor as Montana Governor. Speer had told Smith he was afraid of the Fenians. The Fenians were a secret society within the Union Army which was intent of returning to Ireland to liberate Ireland and Fort Benton was a potential jump off point for a Fenian invasion of Canada. In the previous year, June 6, 1866, US President Andrew Johnson issued a formal proclamation - Proclamation 155—Warning Against Participation in an Expedition Against North American Colonies of Great Britain. After Speer's death, it was documented "that a letter was found among the effects of Captain Speer from General Sheridan introducing him to Lieutenant Rankin, [Commander of Fort Buford, Dakota Territory], and requesting his kindest consideration and courtesy towards him." Additional documentation at the National Archives indicated that Private Barry was immediately released upon reaching Fort Buford, by his commanding officer, Lieutenant Horrigan. "Lieutenant Horrigan pronouncing Mr. Speer an impostor", he released Private Barry. [no further explanation provided] (Handwritten letter, Microfiche roll #539 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M-619)

Finally, there are no coincidences in intelligence operations, only overlooked facts. Paris S. Pfouts, the co-founder of the Vigilantes and who was personally present for the actual lynchings carried out by the vigilantes, met the Octavia when it arrived in Fort Benton on June 20, 1867. According to his autobiography, (Four Firsts For a Modest Hero, written 1868, Published 1968)) he deposited $20,000 in gold in the safe of the Octavia, and departed on the Octavia on June 25, 1867 with his family never to return. In fact, according to manifests for departing ships from Fort Benton during that time, Pfouts' family did depart on the Octavia. Paris Pfouts, however, did not depart with his family. Manifest records show he departed Fort Benton on July 3, 1867 on the Steamship “Amaranth”. TFM disappeared on July 1, 1867, and if Pfouts had $20,000 with him when he departed on July 3rd, it was probably for services rendered in the disappearance of TFM.

So with these investigative suspicions, I re-wrote my play ending with TFM’s murder. One person who helped me with my research asked only one thing – don't make it too dark. So I wrote my play as a musical. There is an original music score which, I believe, written and produced by gifted musical artists. Eventually, I would like to bring this production to Helena, NYC, Waterford, and Tasmania. What the heck, why not?

Finally, the Montana Freemason number 3-7-77 should remain over the door of the Helena Freemason Temple. It is their legacy. However, it should be removed from the arm patch of the Montana Highway Patrol. It is racist and an affront to the rule of law which Montana State Troopers swear to uphold. It is analogous to the Alabama State Police using the “KKK” emblem on their arm patch. If it is time for symbols of oppression to be removed from the public square, then it is certainly time for a symbol of vigilante justice to be removed from the uniform of trained professional law enforcement officers in Montana.

PS I 💗 Montana