Harriet Garth

Harriet Garth May 12, 2018

Harriet Garth: 

Fire And Love (Montana)

May 12, 2018


Harriet Helene Garth arrived in Virginia City, Montana, in the early 1970s via Beaumont, Texas, and Aspen, Colorado. When Harriet passed away at 68 from an accident on May 12th in Beaumont, it was a huge loss for that city, for Virginia City, and for all of her friends here and around the world. I was fortunate enough to get to spend most of the last 30 years of her life with her.

Petite and beautiful, funny and wise, Harriet was a traveler and a photographer, a hugger and a seeker, an astrologer and wannabe matchmaker, who rarely met a person who didn’t like her. At five feet tall, she was small and passionate and could make you a close confidante for life, or, on the flip side, bristle up to about six feet of serious trouble and be an implacable foe. At 105 pounds wringing wet, 100 pounds of it was heart, and she needed all of that fire and love for the paths she chose.

Her family moved to Colorado in 1965 and by 1971 she had decamped to Montana with a tribe of other Aspenites. Harriet spent most of the next 15 years in VC and also the Heron area. The latter was one of the favorite times of her life, but also ultimately too difficult to continue. She and her Montana-native boyfriend John Tange returned to living in Virginia City and ultimately also spent part of each year on the Big Island of Hawaii, dividing their time between growing food, running a deep-sea fishing business, doing earthmoving work, keeping horses, and playing in the mountains and on the ocean. The locals called her “Minnie” on the Big Island, “Fireball” in Montana, and “friend” nearly everywhere she went.

The very young death by cancer of her father, whom she revered, was a defining tragedy in her life. It was followed by another one when John Tange died in a motorcycle accident before he turned 40. Harriet moved back to Colorado and we began living together, and continued to spend part of every year on her property in Montana. She managed her various business interests very successfully, contributed generously to a wide variety of causes in Montana, Virginia City and around the world, and reconnected with her mother in Colorado and her family in Texas. 

We traveled a lot for my writing and she took photos that accompanied my stories and books. Her enthusiasm and personality helped us make the kind of true human connections with people along the way that are the essence of great travel, good storytelling and, most importantly, a rich life. But during all of the magic and adventure her life encompassed, her years were shadowed by loss. 

She had a young, unplanned pregnancy and at her parent’s insistence gave her daughter up for adoption. It haunted her even when, after 40 years, her daughter got in touch and they reunited. In addition to her father and boyfriend’s deaths, a number of other close friends passed prematurely. And after we parted, in just the last six years, she lost four of the most important women in her life, including finally her mother. 

Some good came from it all with her being there for her mom’s last years, and getting to spend more time with her wonderful and supportive family. But ultimately and heartbreakingly, Harriet still had more loss to come – her own life, far too early. I always assumed she’d outlive me by 20 years, as she should have. Instead she slipped and fell on her home’s patio and hit her head on a flowerpot, dying instantly. The news struck many of our lives with that same terrible, bolt-from-the-blue suddenness. She and I had stayed in close contact, but once again I knew I’d been negligent about letting someone know how much I loved them before it was too late. 

We both always had a deep affection for Yellowstone Park and the volcanoes of the Big Island: raw, elemental, molten places where the creation process is ongoing and the energy fields are as palpable as sunlight. She said they made her feel more alive than any other places on earth. I do not think it’s entirely a coincidence that right around the time of her death, Yellowstone’s biggest geyser became more active than its been since they’ve kept track of such things, and Pele started some hard raging in Hawaii. The planet is aware when it loses an irreplaceable human.

Jay Cowan

Add Article to Front Page Categorized News

More Information

The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

Cori Koenig, editor:
Susanne Hill, billing: 
Ad orders, inserts, classifieds: 
Comment Here