Sunday, January 23, 2011


"Much of history is just gossip which has grown old gracefully."  Anon
Enjoy it!
Mona Leeson Vanek.

These Indians are from the same Indian tribe that inhabited the area when white men arrived in the territory. Courtesy 'Chuck' Peterson collection.

For time unknown the silence knew only the small noises of Indians and the few trappers who'd taken the beautiful pelts from trap-lines strung through the wild array of mountains where the Clark's Fork of the Columbia River carved a water route through northwestern Montana Territory. When the fur trade slumped, they left behind scant reminder of their intrusion.

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.

The invasion began in early 1882 when 7,000 men, seeming as puny as a horde of ants, brought axes, shovels, dynamite and determination to build the most difficult and expensive section of the 2,260 miles of Northern Pacific transcontinental railroad. They ruptured the peace by attacking the ramparts of timber and stone to carve a route through the lower portions of the Clark's Fork River valley. Every inch of ground they gained was a backbreaking victory, hard-won against challenging elements. And not always held. But each foot of steel track laid forebode the end of nature's reign. Railroad History –

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.

Interest rates soared, and lumbermen and miners went broke in continuous pendulum swings between solvency and poverty in an area that had no other permanent industry. Yet the region continued to attract people. People came with all their worldly wealth, went broke and left, to be followed by a new wave of dreamers seduced by the mountains.

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.

1 comment:

  1. I read the article in the Montana magazine about you and your book. My family used to live in Noxon, they moved there somewhere in the 1940's or 1950's. My Grandfather's name was Albert Klakken. His wife's name was Joy. I'd love to find out if you knew them.

    Theresa (Klakken) Torrance