CRAIG, Mont. – More than 100 family, friends and former colleagues braved the heat Friday to dedicate a new Missouri River bridge to the late Gov. Forrest H. Anderson, an avid hunter and angler who could often be found fishing in the area.
Anderson, a Democrat who died in 1989, was also a state Supreme Court justice, attorney general, Helena lawmaker and Lewis and Clark County attorney.
He was remembered as a leader who took a bloated bureaucracy by the horns and reformed state government, a fearless attorney who walked into a prison riot alone and a self-reliant outdoorsman who spent long stretches in Montana’s remote backcountry.
“I might be biased, but I happen to think he was the best governor we’ve had,” said Montana League of Cities and Towns Director Alec Hansen, who served as one of Anderson’s assistants at the Capitol. “He was brilliant.”
As governor from 1969 to 1973, Anderson authorized the 1972 Constitutional Convention and implemented the new document after its ratification. He also combined more than 100 state agencies into 19 departments and dedicated more than 40 public access sites along the Missouri River.
Friday’s ceremony was held on land Anderson sold to the Department of Fish and Game for $1 to ensure other anglers had access to the river.
Speakers also remembered Anderson for his bravery.
“His gifts and lessons of courage and conviction … were just awesome,” said daughter Arlee Anderson.
As attorney general in 1957, Anderson was inspecting the Montana State Prison with the Board of Prison Examiners when a riot broke out at the Deer Lodge facility.
Bucking the advice of state troopers and the Montana National Guard, Anderson walked to the prison’s gates alone and said he wanted to hear the prisoners out.
“He had those prisoners on his side, and he walked out unscathed,” said former Assistant Attorney General Gordon Bennett. It was “an awesome, daunting thing to do.”
Anderson’s family plans to place a marker at the concrete span, and a nearby boulder adorned with plaques memorializes the local official turned state leader.
The $3.5 million bridge replaces a century-old span that now resides at the old State Nursery property in Helena.
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