The Red Corner brings to light a nearly forgotten chapter of Montana's
history when communism gained a foothold in state politics during the 1920s and
1930s. Verlaine Stoner McDonald used newspaper accounts, oral histories, FBI
reports and even internal communist party files to research her book. She
unearthed a colorful newspaper war, farm labor activism, communist picnics and
youth organizations, ugly corruption, and scandal.
McDonald's journey into history of the Communist movement in the region began in 1985 when a hired man came across some old newspapers on her family's farm. One of the papers, published in nearby Plentywood in 1932, bore the headline "Vote Communist Tuesd'y, Nov. 8."
Although she had lived in Sheridan County most of her life, McDonald only began to discover the radical history of her community as she read through the yellowed newspapers: "When I attended school in the 1970s and 1980s, the county's Communist movement simply was not discussed, certainly not in classrooms and never in polite conversation."
At the heart of the story are newspaper man and communist organizer Charles Taylor and his comrade, county sheriff Rodney Salisbury, who allegedly combined graft, prostitution, and bootlegging with his politics.
For nearly two decades, Taylor's organization held sway over politics in northeastern Montana through his flagship newspaper, The Producer's News, which for a time was an official organ of the Communist Party USA and had readers across the nation and internationally. Taylor and some of his cronies were even elected to the Montana legislature.
Other newspapermen like the pugnacious Burley Bowler, editor of the Antelope Independent, opposed Taylor and the radicals. Eventually, Bowler's editorials, the strong ties to religion that most immigrants had, and other factors contributed to the rejection of the Communist movement in northeastern Montana. By the late 1930s, people were trying to put the past behind them.
Verlaine Stoner McDonald is a professor in the Department of English, Theatre, and Speech Communication at Berea College. She grew up on the Sheridan County farm homesteaded by her great-grandparents and now lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her family.
"With local savvy and the detective skills of a first-rate scholar, Verlaine Stoner McDonald splendidly re-creates the "Red days" of radical politics in the Depression-hit farm country of northeasternmost Montana. This extraordinary chapter of Montana history, little known at best and often deliberately obscured, at last has found its clear true voice."
- Ivan Doig, author of Bucking the Sun: A Novel and This House of Sky: Landscapes of the Western Mind
The Red Corner can be ordered directly from the Montana Historical Society by calling toll-free 1-800-243-9900 or by shopping online at the Museum Store.