Gary Cooper

Gary Cooper

For thousands of years, many groups of Native American peoples have lived within the boundary of what we call Montana. They included the Crow, Cheyenne, Black Foot, Assiniboine, Gros Ventres, Kootenia and Salish peoples.

The portion of today's Montana, which is on the east side of the Great Divide, came to the United States with the Louisiana Purchase. However, the ownership of the part of Montana which is on the west side of the Great Divide was in contention with the British until the Treaty of Oregon in 1846.

Before Montana became a U.S. territory in its own right, Montana was bounced about from the Oregon to the Washington to the Idaho and the Dakota territories. Montana became a territory May 26, 1864.

Montana became the 41st state on Nov. 8, 1889, with the acceptance of a state constitution by both the citizens of Montana and the Federal Government.

One of Montana's favorite sons was Frank James "Gary" Cooper, born on May 7, 1901 in Helena. Frank and his older brother, Authur, began their education in Montana. They learned to ride horses, hunt and fish on the family's 600-acre ranch.

Both parents were from England. Charles was a lawyer and rancher and would become a member of Montana Superior Court. Their mother, Alice, wanted her boys to have an English education. In 1909, she took them to Bedfordshire, England and enrolled them in the Dunstable Grammar School. In 1912 they returned to Montana.

When Coop was 15 he was injured in an automobile accident and went to the ranch to recover. His dad enrolled him in a high school in Bozeman, Mont. where he became interested in the arts.

For two summers Coop worked at the Yellowstone National Park as a tour guide-bus driver.

In February 1924 Coop went to Chicago for a month looking for work as an aritst. He returned to Helena and soon sold editorial cartoons to the Helena Independent.

In the autumn of 1924, Coop's father left the Montana Superior Court and he and his wife moved to Los Angeles to manage two estates for relatives. They invited Coop to join them.

Soon after he arrived, Coop met friends from Montana who were stunt riding in the silent movies. They introduced Coop around and he began working as a stunt rider. Coop regarded the stunt riding as dangerous and cruel to the horses. He paid for a screen test and hired a theatrical agent. The agent discovered there was another actor using the name Frank Cooper. She suggested that Cooper take the first name "Gary" after her hometown of Gary, Ind.

Well, the name change was magic… Gary Cooper was the winner of three Academy Awards and a star on Hollywood Boulevard.

Gary Cooper was politically conservative and a founding member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals along with Hedda Hopper and John Wayne.

In 1951, Gary Cooper was filming, "High Noon." The film's screenwriter, Carl Foreman was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Foreman had been a member of the Communist Party. During the filming, Foreman and Cooper had become great friends. Cooper defended Foreman. John Wayne and others of the Alliance threatened to have Cooper blacklisted.

Gary Cooper had a lot to lose, but Frank James "Gary" Cooper risked it for a friend.

In 1960, Gary Cooper was treated for cancer. In January the family vacationed in Sun Valley. Coop and friend Ernest Hemmingway hiked through snow for the last time.

Cooper died on May 13, 1961.

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