These Indians are from the same Indian tribe that inhabited the area when white men arrived in the territory. Courtesy 'Chuck' Peterson collection.
For a short time in the mid-1860s, the Pend Oreille river route to the rich gold fields of Bannack and Virginia City funneled thousands of miners over sparkling waters through the narrow defile. The timbered slopes absorbed and hushed their transient sounds before reverting to the undisturbed domain of the wild creatures. But time was running out.
This spurred the beginning of man's struggle to settle in the mountains that housed some of the richest trapping, virgin timber, minerals, and hydroelectric power in the Pacific Northwest. Ambitious men envisioned its development... and were not above plundering it. In the first hundred years of their efforts to conquer the mountains, to prise from them more than sustenance, men warred against each other as much as against nature, cooperating only in the face of common adversity.
The heavily timbered canyons, populated by grizzly bear, deer, moose, fur bearing animals, and fish is the scene. The Bull River Valley, northeast of Noxon, Montana, links the Clark's Fork River Valley in Sanders County (60 miles south of Canada) with the Kootenai River Valley in Lincoln County (30 miles from the international border.)
The colorful, resourceful characters are real and rugged individualists. Early prospectors located vast mineral deposits, but like the fur trade and timber business that at first flourished, mining was negatively affected for decades by the nation's economic climate.
They were a tough, determined breed that settled in the Clark's Fork and Bull River valleys between 1882 and the turn of the century. When the United States Forest Service moved into the area in 1906, the homesteaders fight to stay and survive was no longer confined to beating the elements, and either helping or besting each other; they had government to contend with.
Slowly but unremittingly government grew. Private enterprise, at best risky and fluctuating, was squeezed to near extinction. The holocaust of the 1910 fire beset them. Surviving that, the advent of the automobile began to change their lives while only rude wagon roads and few bridges existed. As settlers struggled to improve that situation, they were soon confronted with the sacrifices exacted by World War I; the war that was to ensure their safety and pursuit of happiness forever.
They hoped only for the safe return of their sons, and for economics to stabilize enough to allow them to remain in these mountains. During the decade that followed, progress was challenged but moved inexorably forward.
Behind These Mountains is the intimate story of how they did it, what influenced them, what thwarted them, and what they valued in this pristine area in northwestern Montana's magnificent mountains. The three-volume series of regional history stops just short of the Great Depression era.
Behind These Mountains, Volumes 1, 2 and 3 were written to acquaint you with the wonderful, remarkably stoic people who found happiness and satisfaction in settling in Montana's shining mountains where the Clark's Fork River churns. The books are fully documented and contain original material to enhance your understanding of a little-known part of Montana - the western mountains and its pioneers.