BUTTE, MT - Before the infamous Unabomber reigned terror on America for 20 years during the late 20th century (leading to his capture in Montana in 1996), there was "Montana's First Unabomber."

92.5 KAAR Country logo
Get our free mobile app

That's right: long before Kaczynski's reign of terror, Montana had its own early 20th-century bomber: Isaac "Ike" Gravelle. His explosive antics and dramatic manhunt are the stuff of legend, a thrilling chapter in the annals of Montana's wild history. What's interesting are the similarities between the two characters, even down to their eventual captures.

Let's take a look at the story of Montana's First Unabomber, Ike Gravelle.

The Making of a Bomber

The story begins in a lonely town in Canada. Born in 1857, Ike Gravelle lived life as a cowhand for ranchers before descending into the depths of crime. As Ike grew up, he worked less and less as a cowhand and more and more as a thief and burglar. Moving to Montana when he was 16 years old, he found himself drawn to the rough and tumble life provided by the American frontier. Early prison records from the late 1800s showed Ike being convicted of felony burglary.

Gravelle's rapid downturn into infamy started to rear its ugly head in the early 1900s. Being overcome by emotions of frustration and anger because of his perceived lack of luck in life and being driven by personal grievances, Gravelle began to construct crude bombs. Though seemingly motivated by similar reasons to Ted Kaczynski, someone who targeted individuals and institutions he blamed for societal pitfalls, Gravelle found himself motivated by a more personal touch. Ike's bombs were intended to disrupt the lives of those he believed had wronged him, a way to enact his vengeance.

92.5 KAAR Country logo
Get our free mobile app

The Explosions Begin

Gravelle's campaign of violence started with earnest intentions in 1903. His first targets were the railroads, which he saw to be the lifelines of Montana's swelling economy. Planting bombs on the Northern Pacific and Great Northern Railway tracks, he caused significant damage, panic, and terror. The bombs were an explosive wake-up call the residents of Montana, as terrorism of this magnitude had never been witnessed before in the region.

Every single blast sent shockwaves—literally and figuratively—throughout the Montana communities, and the country at large. The railroads in particular were crippled by the attacks, which deeply affected transportation and commerce all across America. For the first time, the comfortable and secure lives pre-modern Montanans lived were disrupted and threatened by Gravelle and his bombs.

The Manhunt

The bombings continued. Gravelle's foul luck seemed to be a myth, as he was almost picked off by a night watchman when the shots missed—while no serious efforts were made to catch the bomber. However, authorities began to experience immense social and dutiful pressure to capture the elusive bomber and sanctioned an official manhunt. This manhunt for Ike Gravelle became one of the most extensive and intense searches in Montana's history. Law enforcement agencies, railroad detectives, and local vigilantes alike banded together to track down the new-age terrorist.

This proved to be a more difficult task than originally expected. Gravelle, with his knowledge of the rugged Montana terrain, gave him a necessary edge to evade capture. Similar to the spooky urban legends that haunted the area, Gravelle became a ghost, manifesting solely to reign terror and subsequently fade into the winds of the Montana countryside. This only added to his desperately-sought notoriety, elevating him from truth to myth.

The Downfall

The bad luck Gravelle always thought he had finally manifested itself. In a dramatic turn of events, Ike Gravelle was captured in October of 1903, just months after his parade of explosions began. How was he caught? A writing sample, exactly how his spiritual counterpart would be captured 93 years later.

One may think that's where the story ends, but anyone familiar with America's obsession with criminal trials of infamous figures (see: OJ Simpson), Gravelle's story was only just beginning. The trial for Ike Gravelle was a spectacle for the state and country alike, drawing massive crowds and extensive media coverage. Eventually, Ike Gravelle was convicted for his crimes.

But before he could be sentenced, Ike's raging emotions to the driver's seat one last time. In August of 1904, while being transferred from his cell to the courtroom, Ike asked to use the bathroom. Inside, he found a revolver—presumably left by someone else in cahoots with the criminal. Gravelle escaped from the courthouse, fatally wounding a deputy and another man. Corned in Downtown Helena, Ike Gravelle eventually took his life into his own hands and ended his tirade once and for all.

He was 32 years old.


Ike Gravelle's reign of terror may have been brief, but it left a lasting mark on Montana's history. His actions served as a grim reminder of the potential for violence even in the most unexpected places. Today, Gravelle's story is a fascinating—if dark—chapter in the colorful tapestry of Montana's past.

As we reflect on the chaos he caused, it's a stark reminder of how a single individual can disrupt an entire community. Ike Gravelle, Montana's First Unabomber, remains a figure of intrigue—a testament to the wild and unpredictable nature of the human spirit. And the awful deeds that can seep from it.

Exclusive Photo Tour of Butte's Spooky Old Hospital

The Old St. James Hospital is iconic in many ways, but it's claimed to be very haunted as well. Turns out, it just needs a little love. Here's an exclusive tour of the famous "abandoned" building in Butte, MT.

Gallery Credit: Devon Brosnan

The 5 Highest-Paying Remote Jobs for Montanans

Sometimes it's time to make a change. There's no harm in that, and with these 5 remote jobs, you'll be a success in no time. All are entry level and have no educational or experienced-based requirements.

Gallery Credit: Devon Brosnan

Take a Look Inside this Riverside Montana Dream Home

Montana has a million things to offer, with the mountains, rivers, and all around natural beauty taking precedence. Now, get all those things and more wrapped up into one incredible property. Take a look:

Gallery Credit: Devon Brosnan

More From 92.5 KAAR Country