Sunday, January 23, 2011


Bull River Ranger Station, circa 1912-15. Pauline 'Lena' holding Grace, with Blanche and Stella in front yard, and Coyer beside the Ranger's headquarters.

Mrs. Pauline  'Lena' Gordon's garden, the outhouse and clothesline at the Bull River Ranger Station. Courtesy Granville and Pauline Gordon collection.

Gordon's garden at Bull River
Ranger Station.
The Montana Gold Mining and Milling Company consisting of three claims three miles north of Heron had been located in 1908. As the forest service struggled along in 1912, Heron was in the news heavily again with twelve men employed and "a wagon road all the way from the mine to the railroad station." Vermillion River mining interest was holding up strong as well. The Gold Hill Mining Company claims, developed between 1910 and 1912 on the Vermillion River about one and one-half miles upstream on the east bank, yielded four ounces of gold and one ounce of silver from 7 tons of ore the next year.1.

Blanche, Stella and Grace Gordon on pony
at the Bull River Ranger Station. Courtesy
Granville and Pauline Gordon collection.
At the north end of the Bull River valley, in the Kootenai River valley, the newspaper told readers that James A. Coram, "the well known mining magnate of Boston, accompanied by his son and Mr. Wood, one of his counsel from his head offices in Boston, have been visiting the Kootenai Falls ... he intends to soon commence building one of the biggest power houses in the northwest at Kootenai Falls.
"The power will be used for transmission to the Coeur d'Alene mining country, to the country tributary to Spokane, and for all northwestern points."
Those in the Clark's Fork valley who had never journeyed the thirty miles north to view the Kootenai River learned from the newspaper,
"As is well known Kootenai Falls is one of the finest water powers in the world. The Kootenai river is the biggest river in Montana, being bigger than the Missouri, according to U.S. Government measurements of streams, has a big fall, with rapids above and below, and all of which occur within a short distance of less than one half mile making it one of the easiest propositions to create power known to exist."
Coram had been working on developing it for several years. Miners in the Vermillion and the west end knew it could mean power to finally develop the minerals they believed waited below the surface to enrich them.

(insert picture)
Caption: Teams and loggers at Donlan and Moderie sawmill at Heron, Montana. Courtesy W. R. 'Chuck' Peterson collection.

Joseph Moderie, associate of Senator Ed Donlan in the lumber and logging business at Cedar Spur for a number of years, established a new camp on Elk Creek near Heron in 1912. They expected to have a "run of from three to five years with their mill."1. Holtzlander's sawmill was also doing well on Elk Creek.
Holtzlander sawmill on Elk Creek near
Heron, Montana. Courtesy Georgia Knott
MacSpadden collection.
Sunny May days, and miles of water surging powerfully through the ninety miles of valley until it emptied into Pend Oreille Lake, tantalized Mr. Hebgen, President and Manager of the Madison River Power Company, and his entourage as they camped at Thompson Falls in the private railroad car. The newspaper editor enjoyed printing every detail,"Washoe", belonging to John D. Ryan. Ryan, president of Amalgamated Copper Company, the Butte, Anaconda and Pacific Railroad hosted the director of the Chicago, Milwaukee and Puget Sound Railroad, and the party of capitalists and financiers, who were planning a "power plant to develop 46,000 horsepower may then be enlarged to 66,000.
"We are ready to go ahead with the plant at once," they said. "Among the towns likely to be supplied with electricity are Plains, Paradise, Trout Creek, Noxon, Cabinet and Clark's Fork."1.
 Coram, the water power magnate involved on the Kootenai Falls project, and his associates were back of the project
"and have secured all water rights on the Clark Fork; necessary rights-of-way secured from Thompson Falls to Spokane, some 156 miles, and it is the plan of the company to bring practically the entire current generated to this city (Spokane) ... 100,000 horsepower ... and have rights along the river which will enable them to manufacture several times that amount when needed."2.
B. B. Bunn started his new sawmill up for it's first run in June and planned the ordering of his new buggy and harness from Spokane the next month; St Clair's had Don Maynard working in their sawmill; B. Andrews and Weare began the seasons cut of logs at the Western Montana Lumber Company. Fifteen to twenty men were employed in the mill cutting about 65,000 feet per day. They had four million feet of logs to cut. Thomas Horn, from Midway, Wisconsin, was the sawyer. s lumbering continued to expand around Noxon Eugene Green was setter in Clark's sawmill on Pilgrim Creek.

Napoleon Laramie at Laramie's cabin on Bull River. Courtesy Frank and Evelyn Berray Collection.

A mid-July fire in Bull River burned W. A. Laramie's house and all his ranch buildings. E. B. Clark sold his hotel to Granny and Pauline Gordon and moved to Thompson Falls where Burt Sinclair was showing off the first automobile in town, a 20 horsepower Reo Runabout.3.

Blanche, Stella and Grace Gordon. Courtesy Stella and James
Bauer collection.
The sudden move from the Bull River Ranger Station to the large hotel in Noxon was one of excitement and apprehension for the little Gordon girls, Stella, Grace and Blanche. When they were allowed to keep their dog and pony the wrench of leaving behind their mother's huge garden and flowers and waving goodbye to friends was softened.

Bill Geske arrived in Noxon from Avon, South Dakota and began cutting ties. He could make good wages selling them at 14 cents for good firsts and 8 cents for seconds. Tom Corbett was lost in the valley near Whitepine. He'd been on a weeks-long drinking spree in Thompson Falls that left him demented. Tom sobered up, got out to the logging camp, then went crazy and started running around naked. His friends caught him and tried to help him. But he escaped partly clothed and disappeared into the forest. Search parties were formed and although they searched extensively for him, he was not found until two months later "where he laid dead on the cold hard ground."4.

John McKay's log chute on Smeads Bench. 1912-15.
Courtesy William Finnigan collection.
 Reforestation of 2500 to 3000 acres of the burned mountain slopes near Heron on Elk Creek kept 90 men clambering up the steep slopes, hodag in hand. Step three strides, swing the sharpened square bladed pick-like tool, biting it deeply into the soil, insert the seed, step the hole shut, take three more strides and repeat. By days end they were char blackened, aching, and ready for the sack, to tired to read the newspapers telling them a proposed road to Yellowstone Park would go through Hope, Clarks Fork, Heron and Noxon while travelers to Glacier Park would be routed around, over a road through Bonners Ferry and Libby. But the roads were only proposed. For now wagon trails, walking and horseback were their lot.

In 1912 Weare built a log chute on the hill east of Noxon on the north side of the river to dump logs in the river and float them to his sawmill boom at Pilgrim Creek. There were two small cabins there at the time, built with square nails and presumed to be old tie hacker's cabins. Weare moved a camp of men into them to cut logs for him, allowed no liquor and used lots of tinned milk in their meals.

Weare and Andrews had fifteen to twenty men employed in the sawmill they'd built in 1910 on the east side of the mouth of Pilgrim Creek. A railroad spur line to it was called 'Weare's Spur'. The planner cost $3,500 and Divers, the planner man, was a good operator. When a Negro went to work for them Weare put him to work with a Swede. But they wouldn't work together so the Negro quit and went to Spokane and became a Redcap in the NP railroad depot, calling himself George White. The sawmill cut about 65,000 feet per day of which three carloads were sold in Helena. Ed Donlan in Thompson Falls took three carloads.

Thomson and Metheny were both railroad men. In the summer the bridge and ballast (B & B) gang, a roving crew consisting of 60-70 men, brought their supply cars and camp cars (boxcars) to live in. These were parked on a railroad siding in Noxon while they worked through from Paradise, east of Plains, Montana, westward to Spokane.

John McKay began logging on Smead's bench, a heavily timbered section on the hillside back of Smeads. Nineteen million feet of 12-inch lumber was used building a flume one and three quarters of a mile long to bring his posts down to the railroad spur. It took four men eight days to construct it, at a cost of $450. It replaced letting logs down the steep terrain with a donkey engine.

McKay put in a sawmill at Smeads, too, and built the first road connecting Noxon and Smeads. Two railroad spurs were at Smeads. John Erickson, a big, hard working, hard drinking Swede who was making posts for McKay, could split out 600 posts on a good day, quite a feat even for those days of prime cedar stumpage and strong, brawny men. Bob Crossman worked in McKay's sawmill and Zin Coza was a 'skinner' for him. One season 248,000 poles were taken out at Smeads.

In March 1913 the Montana Gold Gravel Company, Butte, announced intentions to install expensive bucket dredges just above the cabins on 20 Odd Mountain on the Vermillion River at the first summer weather. Tests with a Keystone drill proved very satisfactory. Assays valued at $1.40 per yard from grassroots to bedrock. Abundant water to float the largest dredge built: The hydraulic horsepower of the Vermillion was estimated at 365 horsepower. The company acquired about 5,000 acres of ground on Vermillion. Gold was fairly coarse. T. S. Rodda and Thomas Evans, Butte, sold $3,000 in gold to Clark bank, reserving the largest nuggets.
* * * * *

Although jobs were plentyful making a living was still challenging. Frank Berray, rather small for busting out posts, or handling the heavy end of logging tried easier ways.
"Baker and I decided to raise hogs one year up on his place. So we built a pen out to the river's edge and bought us a couple of sows that were bred. Pretty soon he had hogs running everywhere. The river pen didn't work so good. They'd go to the river and swim on down to where the river made a ninety degree bend, forming a big hole, and then get out into the woods. We were rounding up hogs all the time.
"We decided that was enough of that so we built a boom across the river. That should stop them, we thought. Well all that happened was they'd swim to the boom. After a couple of them hung up on that and drowned we figured we better move them away from the river. Next we knew we had hogs running into the house every time the door was opened. That ended our hog farming."
Christmas, 1912 at Joe and Mres. Wagner's home.
Friends with them are unidentified. Courtesy Clayton
Bauer collection.
On June 26, 1914 the weekly newspaper printed a more provocative story when the Inter-State Power Company filed articles of incorporation. In addition to the newspaper telling readers the purpose of the company, it also divulged rumors.

Incorporation was, "for the transaction of a mercantile, industrial, manufacturing and mechanical business, and in connection with such business, to manufacture, make, create, produce, generate or otherwise obtain electrical power; to appropriate, locate, claim, purchase, divert, use and otherwise acquire water and water rights without as well as within the state of Montana; to construct dams, aqueducts, ditches, flumes, etc. ..."

It had hardly been two years since the readers had been told Hebgen had secured these same things and had great plans for hydro-electric power for the Spokane valley.
Joe Wagner. Courtesy Clayton
Bauer collection.
"It is rumored that the immediate purpose of this incorporation is to acquire the various water powers between here and the Montana-Idaho inter-state line on the Clarks Fork of the Columbia River.
"It is also reported that a crew of about 20 engineers is now engaged in surveying the lines of the land proposed to be overflowed by the erection of numerous power dams along this river, and that land so proposed to be flooded is being condemned for public use.
"It is further rumored that there will be one dam located near Belknap, one near the town of Trout Creek and one at or near Cabinet gorge or Heron, and possibly others at favorable locations between here and the state line.
"It is also assumed that this project is the hand of the Montana Power company, and it is no secret that the Montana Power company is finding more market and demand for power than they can supply with their present existing plants and are seeking other desirable sites with which to supply that demand.
"Parties who have received notice of condemnation proceedings are to meet here on the 30th inst, so it is stated, and make arrangements for settlement of claims.
"With new contracts and reasonably prospective contracts aggregating over 12,000 horse-power for 1914, and with the normal increase in it's profitable retail business the Montana Power company has practically all of its now available waterpower resources marketed and they must seek new fields to supply the demand.
"We are just beginning to realize that one of the greatest assets of Sanders county is her water power so advantageously situated as to be available for harnessing up for hydro-electric plants, and in a country where the demand will soon exceed the possible supply. Without a powerful financial company behind it these assets would continue to lie idle, as has been the case for the past generation, and we are most fortunate to have men of push, enterprise and money, like Senator Donlan and his associates, who can see far enough ahead, realize the magnitude and have the nerve to promote these enterprises," the newspaper informed readers.
The Inter-State Power Company, represented by A. S. Ainsworth began condemnation proceedings against John Pugh (and wife), J. Anna Kline, Lois Laffay (sic), John and Lottie Colbert, W. J. Johnson and J. P. Olson to get land near Heron for the proposed dam. H. O Bond, Esq., represented the people in District Court, 4th Judicial District, Sanders county. The power company won and the court awarded Pugh $892.50; Laffay (sic) and Kline, $2,362.50; and Colberg, Johnson and Olson $246.00. These amounts were later reduced under appeal.5.

The Sanders County Independent Ledger published tantalizing predictions June 26, 1914.

"The development of water powers in the west end of the county means great things for that section. It means that cheap power will be available for pumping water from the Clarks Fork river onto the thousands of acres of tillable, level land all along the line between here and the state line.
"While the ultimate purpose of the construction of these proposed numerous power plants is undoubtedly for the furnishing of power for the electrification of the Milwaukee, Northern Pacific or other steam railroads, or for electric roads, at the same time cheap power will be available for the ranchers and the towns along the line; and in this electrical world and age this means everything in the way of advancement and development.
"The Thompson Falls plant is just a good starter, which will help the Great Falls plant in taking care of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul contract for electrifying the Rocky mountain and Bitter Root division of the railroad, for the 430 miles from Harlowton, Mont., to Avery, ID. The Thompson Falls plant will ultimately supply 20,000 horse-power to the Milwaukee and will take care of the heavy grades in the westerly end of this stretch. The total power contracted for by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railway is 26,500 horse-power, with an option on 40,000 horse-power additional. With it's 40,000 rate horse-power contracted for the Thompson Falls plant would be earning $1,000,000 net per year.
"On its share of the railroad contract the Thompson Falls plant will earn between $280,000 per annum. "In other words, this plant will be self supporting from the very beginning on its own local business, besides furnishing 15,000 to 20,000 horse-power to general circuit of the Montana Power Company.
"General Manager, Max Hebgen, estimates that by the time the Great Falls project is finished, early in 1915, some 35,000 of its rated 20,000 horse-power capacity will have been contracted for. "With its 90,000 horse-power fully contracted for - probably by 1918 - this plant should be earning close to $2,500,000 per annum.
"By January 1915 the mammoth new Great Falls project should contribute its first power ... the first division of the St. Paul railroad to be electrified will be the section from Three Forks to Deer Lodge, Mont., ... work is now well advanced ... will be running electric trains by the summer of 1915 if the equipment now being specified arrives on time."
So many years passed before these visionary plans began to be fulfilled that very few of the settlers who were residents in the valley in 1912 were alive to cheer. Of those who lived, experience had taught them that many of the earlier schemes had been just that. Schemes. Without too much basis in truth.

In January 1915 Weare had started a logging camp on Bull River, in Dry Creek, and Charles Ellis was making railroad ties also and "had a narrow escape. While coming down the bank to the ferry on the north side of the river with a load of ties his brakes failed. He nearly ran into the river as the road makes a turn near the ferry." Scalers for Dover's Lumber Company were busy scaling timber.6.

Weare and Andrews sold their Western Lumber Company sawmill to Ed Hampton, George Buck and Divers. Divers began building a spur to load posts out of the river at the boom near the mill.7.

A shingle mill was operating far up in the Blue Creek drainage. Blue creek flows into the Clark's Fork river a dozen miles downstream from Noxon. Wagonloads of shakes were hauled out of the forests to a tramway crossing the Clark's Fork River to be shipped out on the NP railroad from the loading spur near Cabinet, Idaho. The cable car was far out over the swift waters of the Clark's Fork the day the cables broke.
"Mr. Duffy had one of those tramway cages located down by the old Amos Riley place across from Duffy's and they were taking a team of horses across. A gas motor worked the cables carrying the car to pull it back and forth way up high over the river. The men used to cross back and forth on it traveling from Heron to the mine up Blue Creek, too. Anyway, there were two boys on it and Duffy's horses. The horses commenced to dance. The cable broke and the horses fell out into the river, killing them."8.
Swan Swanson had a shingle mill on Gold Creek, near the Idaho border and seemed to be having his share of bad luck about then.
"What cost so damn much was them fingers," he said. "Fellas cut their fingers off and I had to pay for it. They used to cost a thousand dollars a finger. After I paid for several of them I quit the shingle mill business."9.
Tight money across the nation hit the little community with hard times again. The price went out of logs and the sawmill on Blue Creek folded up. People tightened their belts and prayed not to lose their land to delinquent taxes. The only thing selling was railroad ties at 18 cents and 28 cents.10. Some men worked for the forest service making trails from spring until snowfall, and earning enough to keep eating. Glen L. Dodge was Ranger at Noxon in 1915. Strawberry was on another post drive from the Bull River country to Smeads Spur. Having worked two years previously on one other post drive, he was an experienced hand. The enormous drive was a sight to see with posts completely filling the mouth of the river so solidly that families walked across on them.

During the summer of 1915 there was talk of locating a smelter at Noxon. Nothing came of it. Just speculation and talk.11. Apparently nothing changed as a result of a letter Granville 'Granny' Gordon received from the Department of the Interior in 1915. The letter said that "the November 7, 1907 orders to withdraw Cotton's land from homestead entry were revoked on June 8, 1915." Perhaps the forest service just kept it confidential, although 'Granny' kept it in his papers.11a

Noxon in the winter. Circa 1910-11. Courtesy William Ellis collection.
Another happening outside the valley was to have long range effects. Max Hebgen, prominent man of the power company, died suddenly in Chicago. Many of his dreams of developing the power source of the Clark's Fork died with him.12.

At Noxon, settlers who dressed in warm woolens, high boots, and wrapped in blankets to ward off the wind as they crossed the ferry, attended the Farmers Institute at the schoolhouse December 10.
"Cooperation will never entirely eliminate the middle man," the speaker told them. "The cost of living will probably never be lowered."
He talked mainly about horticulture, and help on raising apples and on combating disease. Mr. and Mrs. Engle told him that yellow jackets had killed their orchard trees. The state horticulturist promised to come the next summer and investigate. He ended the institute by cautioning the farmers "not to believe everything a seed catalogue said".

The Noxon planing mill did not start up the last week in December as planned because the boiler was frozen, but the cold didn't prevent Mr. and Mrs. David Evans from moving onto their ranch just east of town. Hampton was logging the timber sale that went with the sawmill they were buying from Weare and Andrews, dumping the logs into the Clark's Fork River. During the winter, ice that broke loose upstream flowed swiflly down the river and took out the boom and all the logs. Everything. They never got any of the logs and Divers was bankrupted.13.

  1. Sanders County Independent Ledger, May 3, 1912; Bulletin 34, May 1963, Mines and Mineral Deposits (Except Fuels) Sanders County, Montana by F. A. Crowley; Joe Brooks, tape-recorded oral history, November 30, 1979, "The Montana Gold Mine (and Milling Company) was up above my old home on Blue Creek, on Middle Mountain about 600 feet up. According to stories they found some fabulous gold samples up there but nobody's ever seen where it came from. It was a company in Spokane, WA. My uncle and me took the contract (we came in 1916) to drive a hundred feet of tunnel. My mother said it was 1915."
  2. Sanders County Independent Ledger, May 10, 1912. The Inter-State Power Company Incorporation was to be for twenty years; Thompson Falls, the principal place of business; capital stock, $250,000.00, divided into 2500 shares of $100.00 each. Edward Donlan subscribed to 750 shares, I. E. Keith, one share and Andrew Peterson one share.
  3. Sanders County Independent Ledger, July, 1912.
  4. Sanders County Independent Ledger, July 1912.
  5. August 15, 1914 District court records, Sanders County courthouse, Thompson Falls, Montana. Of all these rumors and business schemes, only the dam and generating plant at Thompson Falls became a reality within the following twenty years, Montana Power becoming the owner.
  6. Sanders County Independent Ledger, January 15, 1915.
  7. Sanders County Independent Ledger, March 15, 1915.
  8. Lucy Allen Jenkins, tape-recorded oral history February 2, 1970.
  9. Swan Swanson, tape-recorded oral history January 15, 1970.
  10. Ira B. "Strawberry" Bartholomew letters to Mrs. Mona Vanek.
  11. Sanders County Independent Ledger, June 18, 1915.  11a. Mark White, USFS Historian, Kootenai National Forest, Libby, MT, research ca. 1990s.
  12. Sanders County Independent Ledger, October 22, 1915.
  13. Clifford R. Weare, tape-recorded oral history, 1970. Weare later sold the scrap iron from the mill for $1.500. Three million board feet of lumber was stacked in the yard when the mill was sold. It also remained after the fire and Weare sold it in Billings during World War I. The businessmen on the west coast wouldn't take the lumber because the docks were full of lumber. Weare's carloads were refused. Dockage had to be paid. So he secured a different freight rate to Billings and shipped the lumber there.

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