Sunday, January 23, 2011


Quinn's Cut on the NPRR between Noxon and
Heron. Courtesy Clayton Bauer collection.
 Each winter snow slides thundered down the nearly perpendicular slopes of the ridge scouring long fingers of timber from the top to the bottom. Tremendous strips of rock were bared, sculpturing the hillside to the bench of fertile soil about a half mile wide, which was called 'Smead's Bench', bordering the river. Stands of timber between the scoured areas emphasized them making it seem as though the mountain was created with accordion pleated folds of green. A few places, the rocky mountain crowded sharply to the river's edge.

West of town, where the railroad had blasted a byway through one such place, was called Quinn's Cut. The supply road wound high above it, narrowly skirting the timber on one side while the edge bordered the dizzying heights of a rocky embankment a hundred feet and more above the tracks. Teamsters cursed their horses and prayed for luck traversing it. Boulders bounded down periodically, especially after heavy rains or winter thaws when snow lay deep enough to scrub the horses bellies.

East of town a narrow cleavage had been blasted through rocky pinnacles. George Goode built a wagon track up over Tuscor hill west of Noxon on the south side of the railroad tracks. In several places the rugged trail skirted the railroad line but on this hill blocks and tackle were required to hoist wagons over it. More often the wagons would check first at Trout Creek to see there were no trains coming then continue westward, traveling alongside the narrow roadbed beside the railroad tracks. At Tuscor they checked again before bumping along to Furlong where they could reconnoiter before going further to Noxon and then to Heron.

Portions of this old rail supply trail were impassible most of the year. Upon these thin trails and the railroad line depended the settlers only link with the world for supplies and news.

1903 was the beginning of the silent movies. 'The Great Train Robbery', an adaptation of fiction to screen by one of Thomas A. Edison's staff started the public flocking to early theaters known as 'nickelodeons' because the price of admission was a nickel. No theaters existed at Noxon yet, but the Northern Pacific railroad offered easy transportation to Missoula or Spokane where the new 'fad' could be experienced.

A ferry operated across the Clark's Fork upstream from Noxon near the mouth of Swamp Creek. Nottingham operated it from the north side of the river. Even after cars made their entry to the valley, this rancher would haul his team of horses across the river to pull the cars up and over the rugged Tuscor Hill. $5.00 a car was the charge. Because he had this income more than one penniless neighbor was envious and stories arose that Nottingham carried his gold off in the woods and buried it alongside a stream. Smeads, downstream six miles, still had a ferry and a wee bit of town. Griffin operated a ferry at Noxon. It was a big barge-like affair, guided by a cable across the strong current. One spring, high water snapped it's moorings, sending it charging downstream, lost to the river.

The ferry at Noxon that transported people and their teams, and whatever products they bought or sold at Noxon, across the Clark's Fork River. Courtesy Ruth Mercer McBee collection.

According to Clifford Weare, the railroad depot at Noxon had been unmanned and vacant since 1903. Transients had used it as needed, chopping up the floor for firewood. Settlers wanting service simply flagged it to stop at the little clearing by Weare's Post and Poles store.

The railroad lists no station agent in 1904 nor one until January of 1906 yet trains continued to stop there to take on water and fuel. The newspaper said that with the lower freight rates, the disappearance of Eastern cedar, and the continually increasing demand continued to expand the market bringing thousands of dollars into the county.

Likewise, lumber also could be shipped profitably to Eastern markets, a thing which was not thought of a few years ago by Montana lumbermen. Prosperous times were at hand, they predicted.2.

Hobos were often problems to the little settlements. Problems, no matter of what sort or to whom they occurred, were met head on and quickly dispatched. J. H. Hise, watchman at the Vermillion NPRR bridge had to use a "44" to persuade a hobo to 'vamoose' when the hobo built a fire under the wooden bridge and pulled a gun on the watchman when Hise ordered him to extinguish it.3.

Altogether eleven new families from Iowa and Nebraska arrived in Noxon between April and May 1905 to locate on homesteads. The rain showers which fell between intermittent sunny periods seemed exceedingly gentle to those used to the torrential downpours of the Middle Western states. Less acceptable was the cold air which descended from the snowcaps on peaks not too distant keeping the nights cooler than they were used to. They quickly began building houses, barns and chicken houses.

The reasons that brought them varied. Someone the preceding winter sent greenery from the valley to Sheldon S. Brown in Iowa for Christmas decorations. He was so impressed by them he moved his family to Noxon the following spring. He located west of town at the base of the sloping mountains on the south side of the river where they built a large two story frame house, cleared land and planted potatoes. Soon they piped fine spring water into the house.

(insert picture)
Caption: Sheldon S. Brown homstead west of Noxon near Smeads Bench. Circa 1910. Courtesy Margaret Larson Cluzen collection.

Their friends, W. W. "Alfred" and Lena Baxter came on the same train. The men rode in the boxcar of the train with their furniture and all the painstakingly selected equipment for homesteading to keep it safe. Baxters purchased the 160-acre homestead on Pilgrim Creek, owned by Jas. Wagner. A big ring of rocks in about a fifty foot circle sat in an open area not far from the cabin they built on the creek about three miles south of town. They believed Indians had made it.

Baxter had been a freighter when Custer was killed. One of his horses was killed in a railroad accident near Noxon and the NPRR made good his loss, paying for the horse. With them was their young and very beautiful daughter, Ethel. Piles of chestnut curls adorned her regal head. White lace ruffles circled the high collar and the long mutton sleeves of her white blouse. A long dark skirt was nipped in smoothly around her tiny waist.

Ethel Baxter. Circa 1909. Courtesty Clayton
Bauer collection.
 Brown was a railroad man. They also wanted school for their three daughters, Zella, Madelaine and Cora. (*Madelaine remained in Noxon, married Marienus Larson, raised a family and is buried in the Noxon cemetery. Their daughter, Margaret Larson Cluzen, remained at Noxon and is buried in Noxon Cemetery. One of Cluzen's sons, Bob, is one of the rare third generation descendants of homesteaders to stay at Noxon. Zella grew up, married Mr. Jamison, raised a family and later moved to California. Cora moved to Clark's Fork, Idaho.)

On Pilgrim Creek, more families were taking up land. Charlie Fulk, John Fulk, Albert Sandy and Axle Norman, a Swede, moved onto land in the narrow canyon where Baxters and Hays were located. John Fulk could be seen hauling lumber to Noxon on big logging sleds during the winter months. His wife, Alice, was from Missouri. They had nine children. (*Their daughter Ethel stayed at Noxon, married Bill Greer, and had three children before divorcing him. She later became Mrs. 'Strawberry' Bartholomew. They are buried in Noxon Cemetery.

Ethel's three children, Goldie (Greer Dobravec) Mary (Greer Millar) and Dan Greer also stayed. Mary  left the valley only for a short time with her husband. Goldie left only while she served in the armed services during World War II, before marrying Joe Dobravec. She was Noxon Postmistress for over thirty years. Dan spent most of his life in Noxon as well, and carried the mail from the railroad to the post office until the government no longer sent it by rail.)

In 1905 Mr. and Mrs. St. Clair were settled on Pilgrim Creek, too, when the Saturday night woodsmen dance held in Noxon was a great success. It was well attended from neighboring towns as people came in by train and wagonloads. The music was good and dancing continued until the wee hours.

Downstream at Heron, the old custom of hanging May baskets was revived one Monday night. The young girls made pretty baskets of crepe paper, filled them with wild flowers and candy and hung them in the dusk of the evening on their favorite boys door. Much fun and pleasure was derived from the old custom.4. Everett Jenkins and Minnie Hagerty of Heron were married and set up housekeeping Heron.5.

Upstream at Thompson Falls Marion Larson, the head rustler for the Thompson Falls Mercantile Company, became the proud possessor of a new Crawford bicycle and was trying some fancy stunts much to the delight of his friends. George. S. Good purchased one of those fine light spring wagons of Racine make, shipped in by Thompson Falls Mercantile Company.

E. C. Crosby and Napoleon Laramie spent several days driving cattle down from Bull River, their attention given to the problems involved in getting the wild range animals through the woods, crossing Bull River a couple of times, then ferrying them across the Clark's Fork River at Smeads, rather than to discussion of the IWW, politics and the wars which had been decimating Europe for some time.

But at the tie camps, the lumber camps, around the pot bellied stove in the Posts and Poles Store and in the saloons the following editorial was one of much discussion.
"To our way of thinking it will be infinitely better if the entire Orient should be taken in charge by the rising young nation (Japan). The virile, vigorous and ambitious spirit of the Japanese, their intense energy and their practical civilization will be of immeasurable benefit to the people of the east. We need not worry ourselves over what we are pleased to call the spread of paganism. The paganism of Japan is infinitely better for humanity than the dark savagery of Africa or the scarcely less savage Mohammedanism of Asia. There is no danger that Christianity will suffer in the end..."
There, of course, were those who advocated America's involvement. Generally they wound up fighting, either verbally or with "fisticuffs", with those who opposed the nation going to bat for any of the nations involved, especially the Japanese.

Horse race at Noxon, racing from east to west. Circa 1890s. Courtesy William Finnigan collection.
Perhaps the biggest economic boon to the communities came from the NP railroad when they allotted $500,000 for work in Sanders County in June 1905. Gutherie Bros. of St. Paul was awarded a contract to cut down the grade between Cabinet and Heron. The newspaper noted,
"The expenditure of such vast sums will mean lively times this summer for Thompson Falls, Trout Creek, Noxon and Heron,"
It also meant an end to having to keep an extra engine at Heron during the winter to help pull the trains over the steep state line grade.6.

Apparently the item was not entirely accurate as a week later came the news,
"D. Twohy of the RR contracting firm, Guthrie and Twohy Bros. was in town several days this week making arrangements to do the work of lowering the grade east of Noxon. They have put in a camp about three miles east of here and will soon have another about one mile east. Two steam shovels have arrived and will soon be working full blast. They will employ about 200 men."
In a couple of weeks they had,
"14 civil engineers here going over the proposed new line east of here ... determining the exact location."
Although the $500,000 may have been spent in Sanders County, the work was by no means confined to the grade between Cabinet and Noxon. Improvements were made along fifty or more miles of NPRR track.

When Guthrie and Twoey were building the road between Noxon and Furlong, a town six miles west of Tuscor, on the south side of the Clark's Fork directly across the river from where McKay creek enters, they had a tough gang on. Clifford Weare recalled their robbery of his store one night.
"I was just closing up. I had the money in my pocket and had just set down my big Rochester lamp. It was one of those with the round wick. these three guys came in. One of them stood by the door and one of them come over and said, 'We want some tobacco.' "
I said, 'All right. How much you want?'
"He just reached over the counter and grabbed it and said, 'I'll take a pound of it. And we want some cigars, too.'
"I asked who was going to pay for it.
"He says, 'I'll pay for it.' And he pulled a big gun out of his pocket.
"I was right at this Rochester lamp so I just went, whoosh, and blew it out. They was nearer the door and in the light. I was in the dark. I run for the other end to get a gun but they couldn't see what I was doing. They all went out the door at the same time. They thought I had a gun right there, you know!
"I ran and grabbed a .38-55 Winchester I had in the backroom and went out the back door and came around the building. I was ready to shoot! That was the only time in my life I'd of shot someone if I'd a got the chance. But they'd made their get-a-way. There wasn't a soul in sight."

Heron baseball team. Back row, left to right, Kruger (county agent) Adolph Schwindt, Louie Matteson, Marion Cotton, Jack Jenkins, York Lyons, C. Willard, Dr. C. Scoffield. Front row, Don Maynard, Eddie Nadeir, B. Vogel, C. Langley, Bob Jenkins. The team won 7 games, lost 3. Circa 1910. Courtesy Bob Jenkins collection.
* * * * *
The same men who were opposed to getting involved with Japan showed their civic pride by sponsoring and encouraging local baseball teams. Noxon's team got new suits and were eagerly practicing for they were to "cross bats" with Thompson Falls on the 4th of July for a $25 purse for the winning team. The match did not come about, but some Noxonites took the train to Thompson Falls to join in the national holiday festivities that were concluded by a gala ball held in the new dance hall built by C. A. Doenges.

Marion Cotton married Miss Lilly Jenkins from Heron and took his bride to his ranch on Bull River oblivious to the unpleasant weather that first week in July which brought a plague of hobos to Noxon and the other towns.7.

C. E. Crosby, road supervisor from Noxon, went to Thompson Falls trying to arrange for the opening of a road up Pilgrim Creek. Until now the homesteaders had had to wend their way over a crude trail, skirting rocks, windfalls, and holes.8. The county commissioners were as slow about allowing roads in the west end of the county as they were about funding schools, and tight with the taxpayers dollars.

William Walker was one of Noxon's prominent businessmen, proprietor of a saloon on the flat bench east of the depot. Sam J. Higgins, the cedar post contractor at Heron, had C. E. Shively, blacksmith, come from Thompson Falls to shoe a large number of his horses. Stub Doyle left town very suddenly one Wednesday night. His departure was at the insistence of Mr. Greer and for good cause, a girl problem.9.
Log barn on Laramie's Bull River homestead. Jim Finnigan, Dennie O'Brian (derby hat and suit), Kat, Mollie, Charlie, Miggie, Geraldine, and baby Clark. May 9, 1914. Courtesy William Finnigan collection.
'Near the end of July forest fires were burning in all directions in the west end of the county. Rains were the only hope. Perhaps they drove into Noxon,
"a demented man (who) has been running around ... for several days. He cannot tell where he came from nor what his name is. He was first noticed Thursday wandering about and showed up again Saturday with only his trousers and shirt on."
Cases of 'demented men' were a common occurrence and more often than not were the result of heavy and sustained drinking. Many not only lost their minds, but their lives as well. Their bodies were found either out in the forests or run over on the railroad tracks.10.

On August 1st, ninety five percent of the telegraph operators on the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific railroads went on strike. Local freight and passenger service came to a standstill. The greatest interference in schedules was on the Idaho division with some of the fast trains being delayed five hours where the striking operators had turned the signal boards or opened the circuits.

In most of the small one man stations the offices were closed and the wire leading from the line to the instrument in those station was cut. The railroad expected to have more operators on within three days but the strike lasted three weeks.12.

In August, Ed Hampton's big horse, Frank, was drowned crossing the river at Smeads, and the fine milch cow brought out from the east by S. S. Brown was killed on the railroad tracks. Evans was cutting a fair crop of hay and James Griffith was working on Dan DeLongs place. Laramie was also putting up hay on his Bull River ranch. Miller was still cutting the road to Lyon's mine. Mrs. James Bauer, her daughter and several friends made up a fishing party to Bull river to enjoy the truly fine weather of early August.11.

On August 25, 1905 the newspaper reported,
"The steam shovel on the (rr) construction work east of here was buried by a slide - everyone escaped. Thirty to sixty days yet before work will be pushed, on account of the necessity to use donkey engines instead of steam shovels on the work."
Beautiful young Ethel Baxter and Mrs. C. R. Weare flagged the train and took it to Spokane, Washington together where they enjoyed the fair and shopped for items to fix their boxes for the upcoming social.

1st NPRR signal maintenance crew at
Noxon. 1. Don Maynard; 2. Alex
Peterson; 3; _; 4. Joe Bedard
(or Girard) who worked in a store.
Courtesy Don Maynard collection.
Dan DeLong's new residence on his ranch two miles west of Noxon was completed in October with the exception of installing a bride due to arrive from the east soon.

At the urging of the timbermen the NPRR depot was remodeled.13. A warehouse was added to provide for inbound and outbound freight. The station was being made a regular agency for the transaction of freight, passenger and express business. H. H. Pringle was elevated from day operator to Station Agent in January 1906 and put in charge of the Noxon station, a move the company came to regret.
"He was quite a boozer and he couldn't tell his money from the company's so he got fired after a bit," Clifford Weare said.
Pringle only stayed on the railroad payroll until the following July. Railroad records also list M. F. Mellen as arriving in Noxon in 1906, employed as station agent. Soon O. C. Matheny replaced him. Matheny remained until 1920.

The Thanksgiving day box social in the new schoolhouse raised enough money to buy a new organ for the school and the snowy weather brought an ultimatum to her timberman husband from Mrs. Fulk: "Move us to town for the winter so the kids can go to school."14.

The railroad telegraph line was repaired in November and thirty men arrived to work on the railroad grade. Before the year ended there were 200 men working on the railroad grade. With more homesteaders settling on the north side of the river, a ferry was urgently needed. So William Anderson built one but on December first, the breaking of a brace under the new ferryboat that he just completed quite seriously hurt him. This made a short delay in putting the ferry into operation. (Spring high water broke several ferries loose and they were smashed by the Heron Rapids and the Cabinet Gorge, forcing the homesteaders to replace them.)

At the same time some of the Bull River ranchers were engaged in building a large raft at Smeads making it more convenient to get supplies up to their remote homesteads. Probably Jack Armstrong was among them as he had a logging camp on Bull River that winter.

With nothing more than trails existing, getting supplies to the ranches was more than a little difficult, making one more problem to be conquered. Isaac Engle felled trees, dynamited rocks, burned stumps and shoveled dirt to create a road to his ranch on Rock Creek giving settlers along the creek a chance to get their supplies in by team instead of using a pack horse or back packing them.

  1. Oral history, Blanche Gordon Claxton.
  2. Sanders County Ledger, April 7, 1905.
  3. Sanders County Ledger, May 1905.
  4. Sanders County Independent Ledger, May 5, 1905.
  5. Sanders County Independent Ledger, May 26, 1905.
  6. Sanders County Independent Ledger, June 23, 1905.
  7. Sanders County Independent Ledger, July 7, 1905.
  8. Sanders County Independent Ledger, July 7, 1905.
  9. Sanders County Independent Ledger, July 21, 1905.
  10. Sanders County Independent Ledger, July,1905.
  11. Sanders County Independent Ledger, August 4 & 11, 1905.
  12. Sanders County Independent Ledger, August 4, 25, 1905.
  13. Sanders County Independent Ledger, October 6, 1905.
  14. Sanders County Independent Ledger, November 23, 1905.

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