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Isdell Mercantile, Pony Montana

Hi there- Bette Hardwick here from sometime in the 1920s. You know…Sherilyn’s Gal Friday.

I pulled a bit of research off Sherilyn’s desk. She’s writing a series set in Montana in a small mining town called Pony Gulch.

Now, Pony Gulch is actually a real place so there are lots of archival photos, reference books, and oral histories for her to rely on as she builds the fictional world for her books.

Here are a couple of photos of Isdell’s Mercantile, in Pony, Montana, right there on Broadway Street.

The modern photo shows the condition of the building now.

This archival photo was taken in the late 1800’s, about thirty years before the 1920s when the Moonshiner Mysteries series is set.

The Mercantile was established in 1869 with the motto “We sell everything from a toothpick to a house…”, which is a line I’m sure Sherilyn is going to use somewhere in the series.

The Isdell Mercantile Company (IM Co.) was created in 1869 by N. J. Isdell in the town of Pony, Montana. Once called the “metropolis of the Madison Valley” by the Madisonian, Pony was a boom town created by major quartz discoveries in 1875. The mercantile was incorporated in 1892. By 1900 the town had a schoolhouse, bank, newspaper, hotels, and several saloons.

This growth, made possible by wealth from local mining operations, allowed the small store to prosper. The Isdell Mercantile provided hardware, mining supplies, and various dry goods to the community. The town, which once had a population over 1,000 in 1900, currently has less than 200 people. The mercantile went out of business when the quartz mining was halted in the Pony area.

Mr. Isdell was a prominent Pony businessman, civic leader, and founder of the once-prosperous Isdell Mercantile Company that had stores across Montana.
Some might think it sad to see the dreams and ambitions of a man now crumbling, but they will live on in some form with the characters and places in Sherilyn’s books. That’s why she takes such care in making them as accurate as she can, given she’s writing fiction. It’s a tribute to those that came before—whether buildings in Philadelphia (Bootlegger series), Florida (Rum Runner series), or Pony, Montana (Moonshiner series.)

I peeked over her shoulder while she was writing the scene where Delores Bailey (the moonshiner) comes into the Mercantile for the first time.

“Isdell’s Mercantile smelled of sugar, wool, and leather. Shelves held copious items, including shoes, work boots, overalls, stationery, soaps, polish, and home items such as kitchenware and lanterns. Wooden barrels were filled with taffy, salt crackers, rice, and anything else one could need. In the corner nearest the counter, a shiny black Singer sewing machine was on display. Mr. Isdell was with a customer, so I occupied myself by scanning the rolls of fabric on the shelf behind her. There were several heavy wools: a forest green, dark blue, charcoal gray, and black. After the man left, Mr. Isdell bustled over, wiping his hands on his shop apron and asked what he could do for me.”

I’m sure there will be a few other research tidbits falling off the corner of Sherilyn’s desk (I’m not snoopy- just curious!) that I’ll be sharing with you.

Oh, and before I go, Sherilyn would want me to mention that there’s a very active group of Pony residents working hard to preserve their history. Right now they’re working on saving the school roof. It’s a big responsibility as there are so few folks living in Pony anymore, but what they lack in numbers they make up for in grit and heart. You can check them out here at the Pony Homecoming Club.

1 Comment

  1. Keay Dobson-Golletz says:

    How exciting! I love the name of the town, « Pony Gulch, » as both words conjure up a certain flavour of the setting. I am wondering if Sherilyn was familiar with an old dry goods store in Brandon, Mb…Mutter’s. As a child, I loved going in there, and IM sounds just like the same sort of place! Good memories. Looking forward to reading more of SD’s works, as I am a bit behind in my collection…

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