Saturday, March 5, 2011


Throughout the summer of 1921 the weekly newspaper harangued it's readers, urging them not only to support their town, but to boost it in anyway possible. Because the Larson brothers had strong ties to the county seat where the newspaper was published. some neighbors figured the editor was boosting for the business they were in the process of establishing in Noxon.  When considered along with the latest news, a simple analysis of the editor's rhetoric supported their theory,
"Larson Brothers have completed the excavation and are now hauling gravel to construct their new cement basement under their store."1.
  • "Don't be a knocker. Knockers are no good to themselves or the community either."
  • "Community co-operation and working together as one man is the only way that good results can be accomplished"
  • "Trade at home"
  • "Figure with your local merchant before sending your money elsewhere"
  •  Be a booster of everything that will be a help to the town,"
  • "Make it a point to tell strangers about your town and the things that make the town possible,"
  • "Treat your neighbor as you would like to be treated,"
  • "Pull together in all activities that will promote good and better conditions"
  • "You will be better citizens for it."2.
The Higgins family, gathered for an outing at the Caspar Berray homestead on Bull River. Note the jacket hanging on the picket garden fence. The early spring day must have been warm but the grass is still short. Probably early May. Courtesy Maxine Higgins Laughlin collection.
On July 8, 1921 the newspaper tantalized readers unfortunate enough to have missed the moving pictures shown in Thompson Falls with an account of it,

"Chas. Ray was presented in the feature, "Hay Foot-Straw Foot" and not only the work of Mr. Ray but that of his supporters were above the average. The comedy "Uncle Tom Without The Cabin" was unusually good. A packed house (at the Rex in Thompson Falls) greeted the new management and with reduced prices that they are offering and the good pictures we predict that they will not be disappointed in future audiences. Friday and Sunday night shows. Coming this week the great Houdini, the handcuff king in his great thriller, "The Grim Game". The Son of Tarzan was 'coming soon.'
Two weeks later, the July 21 published an account of what the unidentified writer declared a 'historic' event, and indicated that a Noxonite whose name is lost to history submitted the story.
"Noxon saw the greatest day in its history on the 4th. So many people gathered. When the westbound stub arrived, it seemed as if the whole of the populace of Thompson Falls were aboard ... the one outstanding feature of the day was the presence of the Thompson Falls Band.
"This was the first Band to ever favor us with presence and the hills yet re-echo the harmony they brought to our little village. The two baseball teams, which played on the local diamond, re-wrote the Declaration of Independence by mercilessly pounding the ball all over the field.
"The score between Clark's Fork and Thompson teams was 18 to 19 favor of the former. The Noxon and Whitepine teams did almost as well with a score of 11 to 14 favor of Whitepine.
"The (Norton) pavilion which will be our new hall when completed was the scene of probably the largest, happiest dancing party every gathered in the County. Our facilities for accommodating such a large crowd were hardly ample, but the spirit of our visitors was one that would leave an inspiring recollection with all."
Merchandising and mechanization bombarded the homesteaders during 1921, via advertisements in their weekly newspaper.
  • A Fordson tractor, with plow, disk, and harrow could be used to harvest, thresh, bale hay, saw wood, pump water, grade, pull stumps, fill the silo, grind feed: A bargain of labor saving at only $625. Spokane Merchants are to come in a special train of Pullmans during their seventeenth annual trade tour. Leaving Spokane at 7:30 a.m. and can only stop twenty minutes (at Thompson Falls). Be sure to come. Newspapermen will travel with them. The itinerary includes overnight stops in Polson, Missoula, and Wallace, ID.3.
Good times awaited everyone who attended what possibly was to become the most attended event in the county: The County fair at Plains was expected "to be a hummer." Those in charge of arrangements declared the best circus touring this summer would be at Plains, Montana on September 22, 1921. Buildings were put in shape and newly painted, and a frontier celebration second to none with well-known riders would entertain everyone.
"Scott's Greater Shows will be on the fair grounds each day and on the streets at night. This is the largest carnival in the state, consisting of five high-class shows, ferris wheel, merry-go-round, dance hall, electric city and thirty-five concessions.
"Bring your autos and camp. NPRR is granting the same one-half fare rates for the round trip as were in effect last year; $1.50
"Send or bring your exhibits, and go yourself and spend three profitable and enjoyable days. Music by the Paradise, Thompson Falls and Plains bands."
Just before fair time, on September 15, the newspaper carried shocking news. The most horrendous scandal to hit the new motion picture industry rocked the nation. Motion picture comedian, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, was charged with murder of 23-year-old Virginia Rappe, film actress. Death was caused by peritonitis.4. (Wikipedia, Reams of newspaper copy were written, followed by several books telling the story of depravity, booze and sex.

However, no insights into the influences national news may have had on the people who lived, loved and worked in western Sanders county during these changing times are known. Recollections of small details merely provide glimpses into their daily lives, but rare mention is made of happenings outside their realm. Besides, they had events in one community along the Clark's Fork River or another, plus their own share of scandals to dwell on, although mostly of a minor nature.
Miss Madelaine Brown "was miss pretty", Maxine Higgins said. "Madelaine was just as thin as a rail when she was a young woman. And I can remember her getting off the train there. Oh, she always dressed so nice and was the best dressed woman in town."5.
At Heron, Mrs. Louise DeLong took many jobs to make ends meet on her Elk Creek homestead, including cook at a big camp of miners at Murray, Idaho. She took her son, Dan, with her to wait on tables, peel spuds. Somebody there took them for a drive to see the 4th of July celebrations.
"The highlight of shopping trips to Sandpoint for Louise was getting a quart of ice cream, take it to the park, and enjoy it," Dan said.
"We went to Aunt Bess' practically every Sunday in the summertime. Bess always had an icehouse full of ice and a big, hand-crank ice cream freezer. We'd crank it up and Aunt Bess'd make a big chocolate cake and we'd have cake and ice cream."6. Bess was Bessie Knott, Georgia's mother.
Alfred Younker, who lived at Cabinet, Idaho, went to work for NPRR after his return from WWI, and Mary Easter fell in love with him. In 1921 the young couple took the train to Sandpoint, got married and returned home to a celebration dinner at her parent's farm. Then they settled into their first boxcar home, assigned to Alfred at Heron, Montana.
"Every 2-3 years we were moving," Mary said. "We lived in railroad boxcar houses. He was third trick operator.
"They're very long and you had your furniture strung lengthwise. They were very comfortable. We called them boxcar homes. Of course the section men lived in the section house. But operators lived in these.
"A fella by the name of Satere was the agent, a little small man. When we first got married the job went right to Heron for a while. Living quarters existed there. The one we lived in was an old one remodeled and permanent.
"We had an outdoor privy, no bathroom. The one at Noxon - it was a long freight car going one way, then they built a shed for sleeping our children in the back. Then in the long area there was such a big space that there was easily a bed, a dresser at the end, then as you came out we had a heater and a sitting room.
"That's the way the one boxcar was, then another was attached to it to form an el shape. There was a dining room table, a partition and the kitchen. Always a coal stove that was hot fire. Then at the end Art built in a shower stall. We bucketed water in the early years.
"My Dad, Elmer Easter, was known all up and down the valley. A farmer, he milked 15 or more cows and kept 15-20 beehives. He liked his beekeeping and sold buckets of strained white honey from fireweed.
"It was real white honey, not much clover or alfalfa then. He had a hand-turned extractor that held a whole section of honeycomb. It wasn't small. And he sold combs, too. It took longer to build the little square combs so that was fancy honey. Those just in the screens weren't fancy. They sold it by the hundreds of pounds. Everybody knew Elmer Easter for his honey."7.
Everyone had a cook stove. And every cook stove required a woodbox. Maxine Higgins clipped and saved a popular poem about the woodbox, but didn't save the title or author's name,

"The woodbox ... "
"And the poker hung above it and the shovel hung beside.
"And the big black cook stove grinning through it's grate from ear to ear,
"Looked as if it really loved it like a brother through the year.
"Flowered oilcloth tacked about it, all it's cracks and knotholes hid
"And a pair of leather hinges fastened on the heavy lid.

"And there was no bottom in it. Or at least, it seemed that way,
"When the order came to fill it, or you ran outdoors to play.
"When the days were long and lazy and the noons were hot and still,
"And the locust in the pear trees started up his planning mill.
"And the drumbeat of the breakers was a soothing tempting roll.
"And you knew the gang was waiting by the burning swimming hole.

"Louder than the locust humming, louder than the breakers roar,
"You could hear that woodbox screaming, 'Come and fill me up once more.
"How the old clock ticked and chuckled, as you let each armful drop,
"Gloating. Another minute, and you're nowhere near the top.
"In the icy winter mornings when the bed was snug and warm,
"And the frosted windows tinkled 'neath the fingers of the storm.

"And your breath rose from the pillow in a smoky cloud of steam,
"Then that woodbox, grim and empty, came roaring through your dream.
"Came and prodded at your conscience, shrieked in aggravating glee,
"'Would you like to sleep this morning? You get up and tend to me!
"And how plain it is this minute. Shed and barn and drifted snow,
"And the slabs of oak are waiting, piled and ready in a row.

"Never was a fishing frolic, never was a game of ball,
"But that mean, provoking woodbox, had to come and spoil it all.
"You might study at your lessons and 'Twas full, and full to stay.
"But just start an Indian story and 'twas empty right away.
"Seems as if a spite was in it, and although we might forget
"All the other chores that plagued us, we could hate that woodbox yet.

 "And when we look back at boyhood, shaking off the cares of men,
"Still it comes to spoil the pictures, screaming, 'Fill me up again'."8.

Bob Jenkins is splitting wood blocks while his son, Merle 'Toad' Jenkins moves the dragsaw for another cut. They're working in Rock Creek, Sanders County, Montana. Circa 1930s. Courtesy Stewart and Agnes Hampton collection.
Clayton 'Clate' Bauer and his dad using the latest in 'mechanized' woodcutting, Jame's dragsaw.
Fred Minear did his share of filling the woodbox, before he could escape to spend a day with his dad, where he augmented his schooling. 
"My dad and I we were down on the ranch here taking care of the garden while Clifford was out," Fred said.
"Cliff was in the timber business yet, and he was out around doing every doggoned thing. He'd come home and we'd help him put up hay.
"But one time Bill Ellis' horses, I think it was Bill Ellis', had a team of horses. They were a nice team. There were more than two horses but they all got into the garden. And my dad was really upset over that because we'd been pampering that thing [Weare's garden] along. Cliff'd come in and help us irrigate and so on. So we went in there one morning and here the horses were.
"Cliff said, 'I'll fix that!' Cliff was one fella to take a shotgun to his horses. One night a horse got away from him and he said, 'It made me so mad I went in the house and got my shotgun and fired out in the brush in the dark, at the horse. And darned if a pellet didn't hit that horse in the eye and blind it!'
"Well, anyway, Cliff says to Ethel, his wife, 'When those horses come outta here you blast 'em!'. So we went out. My dad and us we rounded up those horses. I remember when they were coming through, Ethel was afraid she was gonna miss them. They were running high lope. She blasted one with a shotgun right broadside and darned near killed him.
"You know, we'd shoot 'em a ways off so that the pellets wouldn't do much damage, break through the hide maybe, or sting 'em. And then they wouldn't come back, we hoped. That was the idea. But anyway, that horse was hit hard in the lungs.
"Afterwards when we walked to work, walked clear over from Noxon, coming by, that horse would be over along the railroad tracks, just sick.
"Well, Ellis was pretty sure who did it. And he and Cliff had quite a set to over it. And I didn't get in on it.
Dragsaw being used to cut buckskin tamarack (fire killed timber) into wood blocks in the Bull River valley. The gasoline-powered saw was too bulky and awkward to replace the crosscut saw for bucking saw logs. It was a forerunner of the chainsaw, though. Circa 1918. Courtesy Harry and Sarah Tallmadge collection.
"One day Clifford took my dad and I way up the river, rowing in the boat. We come to the log boom and had to get over that log boom, and I don't know, something up there he wanted to see. And he wanted to take us along. He rowed us; he was a powerful man; and he rowed us up the river.
"'Hey, the attorney from Thompson's gonna come down and ask you fellas something about those horses,' he said, and told me exactly what to say. So I says, 'ok'.
"Well, Alvord was the attorney. It used to be either Alvord or Ainsworth. Alvord was the attorney. He came down and we were over in the pool hall. We were over at Maynard's. That's where they told us to meet. So he come down. [on the train from Thompson Falls.]
"Alvord didn't say very much to me. And actually I didn't ... I saw the horses as they left where I was, but they'd gotten way over and I didn't see Ethel when she shot at them. I heard the report all right. And I knew she'd shot at 'em. But …
"He asked me a few questions and I just answered what he asked me. And I didn't see it done. I didn't see it done. That was all there was to it. The horse finally survived, but Bill said he never was able to work the horse."9.
Wedding picture when Alzire Bauer married
Chess Greer. Courtesy Clayton Bauer
Charlie and Essie Mercer moved from Bull River into Noxon that year, into the house Frank Parrott built. They raised three kids, all born at Noxon. Mary Anna (January 30, 1922), Ruth D (February 28, 1923), and Charles Hamilton (March 2, 1928).10. And Thelma Pringle married Elwood Ford Harvey, Sr. (known as Ford Harvey), a twenty-five year old logger, in 1921, just as she turned legal age.
Thelma's mother, Annie Pringle Winter, was a nurse who instilled in her children a 'love of Godliness, beauty, love and cleanliness.' Thelma helped raise her little sisters, helping to keep them clean and cheerful. She often carried one or another on her hip, sustaining a permanent pelvic tilt from it.
"Thelma was particularly interested in art, geology, and astronomy and published articles on geology and astronomy," Sybyl Smith said. "She also wrote and published a book, I Believe You, Grandma, plus a book of poetry.
Thelma credited her mother, Annie, for the fact that she emerged from a difficult childhood relatively unscathed and possessing some knowledge of the finer side of life.11.
John Francis McKay was Sanders County Commissioner, and editor of Sanders County Independent Ledger in 1920, when the Democrats endorsed the Non-Partisan League.
McKay was an organizer for the Non-Partisan League, and moved to Whitefish, Montana with his wife and four children where he published the Whitefish Workman's Paper for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Fireman.
The 1921 railroad strike made earning a living for him and his family almost impossible, so the McKay family returned to Noxon in 1921, when he sent his wife and children to a homestead ranch in Noxon, where a meager existence could be carved out with the help of his father-in-law.
By then their children numbered six. The ranch he took had originally been Art Raynor's homestead, but Raynor sold his relinquishment to McKay for between $600-$800. McKay proved it up and began intermittently logging out of Government Creek.
"He built a sawmill on Government Creek," Maurice McKay said.
"Originally Fanslow ran the mill on arrangement, sawing the logs into railroad ties and bridge plank. It was a small sawmill and the output was rough-cut timber. They did the logging to the mill.
"Then my father started logging. There's a period in there that's hard to account for because I'm a little lost whether it was before or after. (In 1923 John Francis was in Great Falls, trying to gather money to continue a labor paper. Sharing the same commitments and philosophies with the Non-partisan League, he became an organizer for the party and the I.W.W. in central and eastern Montana. McKay had the charismatic power to hold an audience and he spoke about issues that had the dreams and expectations of every citizen of the country.)
"It seemed to me that from there my father started logging out of Government Creek. Something tells me that's not correct because, even though we logged up that creek for several years, the first time we went up on Government Creek I was only about four years old. But you see, back and forth there, was an intermittent thing.
"On-going living in Noxon was from the time we went up Government Creek which was 1922 and we continued to log and mill on Government Creek.
"Grandfather May hauled logs. He was a cook in the forest service for every summer. Originally the sawmill was operated by a fellow named Fanslow. We brought him there on an arrangement where we did the logging and took the logs to the mill and he sawed them into mainly railroad ties and bridge plank. It was all rough-cut stuff. It was a small sawmill. I recall he never could get the saw through a full length of a sixteen foot log."12.
"Logs shot down from up on top of the hill down to the mill in the log chute. The mill was about, oh, at least a mile up the canyon, if not more. They hauled the lumber from there down. "At one time that was called McKay Creek and then they finally changed McKay Creek (name) to the creek, originally known as Dry Creek."13.
Hardships and tragedy weren't strangers to the settlers, and the majority of families faced at least one if not both, and coped with their burdens as best they could.
"My mother died in January, 1921. She'd done a self-inflicted abortion," Maxine Higgins said. "My dad held her while she bled to death in the tub. There wasn't anything at all he could do. Just hold her and cry. There was no money, no doctor. Nothing.
"Dad left. He sent me to Aunt Phoebe for a year so I went to school one year in Noxon. In the new brick school opened in 1922. It had three grades to a classroom.
"We spent the winter in the converted Saint's Stables, which had been made into a three-room house. Aunt Phoebe and Harley and Billy and I and their three kids, five of us. Five kids. Oh, god, that's when I had my hair cut the first time, too, because aunt Phoebe had to comb my hair.
"I remember the summer I stayed with aunt Phoebe there at the ranch after my mother died. I remember us kids getting out and walking those log booms out in the Clark's Fork River. They came back from town and caught us! We all got lined up and got our legs paddled with a willow switch. Being the oldest, I was the number one on the totem pole. And they was real mad, and by the time he got to Shirley and my little brother it didn't hurt so bad."14.
"Oh everybody had horses. There wasn't any other way to get around," Bob Saint said.
"Everybody that had a farm, that's what we always called them, there wasn't anything such as ranches, they were all farms. But everybody had a team and probably one or two saddle horses.
"The Gordon girls were real good horsemen. You never saw them with a saddle. They were bareback riders and they could really handle stock. Grace probably rode most graceful of the whole bunch. But Stella was quite a horse lady in her early years. Gordon's moved to their farm in 1922.15.

There were a number of happy events, including births, and each was celebrated by nearly everyone in the community. In 1922 Minnie Jenkins had another son, Teddy, a lively and laughing child who delighted his brother John and his sister Ellen, along with everyone in town.16.

(insert photo) from pg 52 vol 2 thought to be Pauline Gordon
Caption: Essie Mae Thomson Mercer and baby, Mary Anna, born January 30, 1922. Courtesy Ruth Mercer McBeen collection.
The Sanders County Courthouse, in Thompson Falls, was also familiar to a number of Noxonites, other than those getting married or registering births. Disagreements often landed in court as neighbors sued each other, and  in the fall 1922 provided its share, for people to gossip about.

Geo. H. Buck vs H. A. Harris and wife  -- Judgment entered against defendant for $559.20.17. Mr. and Mrs. H. J. Beal, A. Baker Sr., Earl Engle and F. E. Harris and C. R. Weare were in Thompson Falls in October 1922.
"The contest case being heard this week before Judge Nippert, of James C. Saint vs, Frank Robinson is waxing very warm. Saint is trying to prove title to some land and Robinson contesting it."18.
  1. Sanders County Independent Ledger, June 2, 1921.
  2. Sanders County Independent Ledger, August 1921.
  3. Sanders County Independent Ledger, September 15, 1921.
  4. Sanders County Independent Ledger, September 15, 1921.
  5. Maxine Higgins Laughlin, tape-recorded oral history February 19, 1981.
  6. Dan DeLong, tape-recorded oral history May 26, 1987.
  7. Mary Easter Younkers, tape-recorded oral history February 8, 1988.
  8. Anon; Maxine Higgins Laughlin, tape-recorded oral history February 19, 1981.
  9. Fred Minear, tape-recorded oral history February 1, 1990.
  10. Ruth Mercer McBee, letter August 17, 1985.
  11. Thelma Pringle Harvey Adams, biography, 1975, Sybyl E. Smith, M.S.
  12. Maurice and Ingrid McKay, tape-recorded oral history July 1, 1987.
  13. "Pyatt took over the McKay sawmill up Government Creek. In the early '20's. And they were still running it when we left Noxon in '29 (1929). Pyatt came from there and built the mill up in Mosquito Creek. H.R. Bob Saint November 18, 1983.
  14. Maxine Higgins Laughlin, tape-recorded oral history February 19, 1981.
  15. Stella Gordon Dameron, oral history, 1972.
  16. Ellen Jenkins Innes, letter November 30, 1986. Ted and Betty Jenkins owned and operated the Waunegan Bar until Ted died of a heart attack in 1974 at the age of 52.
  17. Sanders County Independent Ledger, September 15, 1921.
  18. Sanders County Independent Ledger, September 22, 1921.

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