Sunday, January 23, 2011


As snowstorms whitened the sweeping limbs of cedar and fir, clung to the nodding green spikes of hemlock, and stuck, wind-blown, to one side or the other of barren tamaracks, only a few gray hairs were silvering the heads of homesteaders around Noxon.

In those who'd stayed, a hardiness had been fostered, nurtured and soon would flourish into flamboyant controversy. For it was yet a young generation of settlers in 1916. The few oldsters, those whose roots reached back to 1861-65 and the civil war fifty-five years earlier, had by now reached their own maturity. Theirs was a maturity strongly colored by the politics of that earlier strife. How much it grew in their offspring was yet to be felt.

The majority of the homesteaders, though, had arrived in this new land within the past ten years as teenagers, or barely older. Many were immigrants or their descendents. As yet, no one political viewpoint had gained precedent over the polyglot of personal idealisms here.

Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog put a dream in each young heart, desires flamed, and hope made all things seem possible. Little boys flexed their muscles; young men combed their mustaches and went courting. Small girls played with dollies while big sisters arranged elaborate hair-do's, and check dress-hems to be sure they measured according to fashions dictums, not mother's or grandma's wishes.

The warm, close-knit feeling for ones neighbors, in town and scattered along wagon roads in the surrounding valleys, had grown slowly and painstakingly as settlers learned to understand and to trust each other. Often such trust was thrust upon them when illness or death invaded their privacy. At those times, the whole population pulled together. From their adversities had sprung at least recognition of the worth of individuals, even if it was sometimes grudgingly given.

As 1916 ended, the juvenile years of the valley's development were scarcely mid-way. The federal government, through the forest service, had been influencing development for only ten years. It's first tottering steps were still shaky, for it had barely been born when the 1910 fires had nearly extinguished it. Local government consisted of groups that formed only to face a common adversary, and then quickly disbanded. Already there had been several.

Soon the war would bring a new sort of banding together and propel development, in a horrendous, world-wide compulsive spasm of upheaval, from the sometimes petulance of juvenile to all the incomprehensible, vicious, traumas of unsettled adolescence, at a frightful pace.

But as 1916 ended, the valley could be still considered a "whole" society, consolidated in the major points of view, cohesive in their efforts for the betterment of the community.

The problems of politics, the war and prohibition were in the future. Laughter rang on the crystal winter air, over sleigh riding parties, skating parties, ice fishing forays, wherever they chanced to gather. It was good to be a Noxonite. It was good to be young or old in the valleys behind these mountains.

Mona Leeson Vanek created a 30-minute docu-drama video, Ranger Under The Influence, for the 17th annual Montana History Conference, Kalispell, MT, October 1990. Later, a Montana Committee From The Humanities grant paid for professional filming and recording her video. To meet grant requirements, Vanek revised and renamed her video, Aunt Lena, Cabinet National Forest's Unsung Heroine. Available on CD. Contact Mona Leeson Vanek, P,O. Box 128, Rockford, WA 99030; E-mail:

  • Tape-recorded oral history cited in Behind These Mountains, Vol. 1
  • US Forest Service images and pictures from homesteaders that are included in Behind These Mountains, Vol. 1.
  • Research provided by Mark White, US Forest Service Historian, Kootenai National Forest: Letters to Gifford Pinchot, August, 1907, et al. (Copies were then placed in Cabinet National Forest, Trout Creek District historical records.)
  • Dialogue assistance provided by Louella Springer, Heron, Montana.

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