Wednesday, February 16, 2011


When World War I took men from the valley, and news of world events frightened them, the settlers turned increasingly to religion. Until then, church services were only sporadic events, often from the railroad depot platform. Even Thompson Falls, with its greater population, was not a Mecca for churches.

Services at Noxon began to be a twice monthly event when Rev. Wilder Nutting of Thompson Falls held preaching services at the schoolhouse in Noxon.*1.

Under the Methodist Episcopal Church service plan for Sanders County, Wilder Nutting, Pastor, would preach every other week in Noxon at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and again on Friday morning.*2.

A number of children were baptized.*3. A few settlers took their religion seriously and ladies had been meeting in various homes since the early 1900s.

Foremost among the early women striving to bring Christianity to the fabulous valley were Annie Pringle, Maude Larson, Mary Knutson, Mrs. F. I. Divers, Fannie Hampton and Mrs. S. S. Brown, all of who wanted their families to know the Lord.

Annie Christina Copeland was born eight miles east of Windsor, Ontario, Canada on December 4, 1879 to parents who were both ministers of the gospel. Both her mother and her father, who was also a carpenter, astronomer and violinist, passed on to this second of their seven children a strong love of music and faith. In addition to singing and playing the organ in the Presbyterian Church, Annie's poetry and articles were published.

After she married Harry Howard Pringle at the age of 17, homesteading brought them to property on Pilgrim Creek one and a half miles from Noxon. Life dealt Annie several severe blows, which took her from Noxon at times.

The loss of her husband to alcoholism; two babies who were kidnapped by church members into whose care she'd given them when she herself was hospitalized in Canada, were burdens on her soul. She became a registered nurse and midwife.

When she returned to Noxon a few years later as Mrs. Burnard Winter, minus two of her little girls, she was much in demand as a nurse, midwife, doctor and minister. Annie was licensed to sign birth and death certificates and laid out the dead, dressing them for burial. She conducted services for them, sometimes outdoors, at other times, in Noxon's little frame schoolhouse or at the cemetery.*4.

As accidents happened in the woods and mine, the young and old were dying without ever having been baptized. This bothered these young mothers.

The service of only an occasional minister passing through wasn't sufficient. The summer of 1916, after Rev. Lang, who had been a Noxon schoolteacher for part of one year, left, Annie gathered a number of the families together on the banks of the Clark's Fork River. There she baptized them and their children in the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Included in the throng that warm day were three of her daughters, Thelma, 15; Doneita, 11; and Bernice, 7.

Long rides, some by horse drawn sleigh over the rough mountain snow, some on horseback through the dark forest nights, to deliver babies or tend the injured or ill were part of her chosen profession. Often when she'd delivered a child there was no one to whom she could entrust the care of baby and mother until the mother was able to be up and about.

Sustained by her faith in God, Annie stayed to cook, do the housework and, often, to make up articles of clothing for babies who had no clothing whatsoever prepared for them. Because of the poverty in many of the homes she served Annie often received nothing save a wan smile and grateful thanks instead of the fee usually charged.

Returning home empty handed, she patiently explained to her waiting children why there wasn't money for things they wanted, urging them to pray for those less fortunate than themselves.*5.

Mary Knutson also dedicated a great deal of her energies to bringing culture and religion to Noxon. She was alarmed at what her sons might be learning from the Chinese and children whose parents held a variety of religious views.
"My parents came from Norway," Rhoda Knutson said. "My Dad came from Norway first. And Mother had relatives in Fargo, North Dakota. They were neighbors in Norway, was how they met. And they were kind of sweethearts in Norway.
"Well, when he got to working on the railroad, Dad sent Mother money to come to Fargo, to her relatives. She came and got a job, working there before they married.
"Mother whistled for programs at school. She had a beautiful voice and was a very pretty lady. She was also very religious. She went all out for the church. Collected money for the minister and did anything like that. She was a very good person and she was a very attractive person."*6.
Annie contrived with Maude Larson, wife of the storekeeper, to start a Sunday school in one wing of the schoolhouse. With help from virtually all the community ladies, bake sales and social events raised the money to buy the first Sunday school songbooks. They also bought and distributed forty bibles, nurturing Christian concepts to take root and flourish in the tiny hamlet in this unsettled wilderness of Montana. Soon The Christian Endeavor Society was organized, too.*7.

One spring afternoon in 1920, the Noxon ladies church club gathered in Mrs. S. S. Brown's parlor and read with interest about their neighboring town's achievements.

May 27, 1920
Historical bell from Virginia City
"There arrived last week by freight from Virginia City, Mont., a thousand pound church bell for the use of the Methodist church of this place (T. Falls). The bell will be placed in the church tower this week, and from now on it will call the faithful to divine services every Sunday.
"The sound of this bell floated only a short time ago over the graves of desperadoes that infested Montana in the early sixties and were hung by vigilantes, mainly through the effort of Col. Sanders, whose name our county bears.
"So our bell is an historical bell, and perhaps its sound will bring back former memories to those who have forgotten their religion and their church going habit and again get them into the habit of reaching for the Bible and hymn book."
The editor may have thought this an opportunity to provide a little background about how times had changed, or had simply been chatting with the writer of the Letter to the Editor that he also published in that week's newspaper. Or, maybe it goes to show how news raced through the communities ahead of the newspaper, allowing readers to comment on upcoming headlines.

Letter To The Editor May 27, 1920
"Alluding to the historic bell recently received and to be placed in the tower of the local M. Episcopal church, the writer is forcibly reminded of how times have changed.
"A good many old timers here will remember when divine service was held in a saloon which some kind hearted saloon keeper would turn over to any itinerant minister who had the heart to preach the gospel in this wild and wooly town which at one time had fifteen saloons and not a church building.
"There were no bells to call the attention of the motley crowd to worship. If we remember rightly Rev. Eastland, one of the early pioneer ministers, used to blow a horn to call a congregation together.
"On account of a horse race being staged one Sunday on the flat east of town the horn did not have the desired effect and only a few, very few, were in attendance during service. In his closing prayer the reverend gentleman addressed the lord something as follows.
"'Dear Lord, I tooted the horn as loud as I could to get them to come, but you can see with what result. Only the lame and the halt and the blind who could not get out to the horse race are present.
"'Have mercy on those blind, deluded fools that prefer a horse race to hearing the word preached to them, and also see to it that on the last day when Gabriel blows his trumpet that the sound will go as far as the flat east of town so that they will not altogether be left and will have some chance to defend themselves on the day of judgment.
"'And if you see fit, put it into the hearts of these people to get a bell as I am geting (sic) old and cannot blow as loud as I could a few years ago.'
"Shortly after, Judge W. C. Adams circulated a subscription paper and a bell was procured, the first one that came to this town. It was put in the belfry of the old school house where it still rests and is heard every evening warning the boys and girls to keep off the streets after nine o'clock P. M. Twenty five years ago this bell was used for school house and church and has done noble service."

Between births and deaths, weddings, christenings, baptisms and dedication of life to God was accomplished largely without the services of ordained ministers. At Noxon each was in the hands of mothers, for the most part; or teachers who heeded the urging of parents to bring culture and religion to their offspring.

Heron was more fortunate, having in their midst the relative of General Robert E. Lee, of Civil War fame, who held the strongest of religious ties to their background; Rev. Lee.

A number of Noxon people and vicinity attended the memorial services at their new cemetery, given by Rev. Lee of Heron the end of May.*8. The schoolhouse continued to be available to ministers, and  during the summer, 1920, the Methodist Rev. Lewis E. Metcalf was appointed to preach at Noxon and Heron.  The newspaper wrote,
"He can be called on for funerals and weddings."*9. From his Noxon schoolhouse pulpit, in the middle of August Rev. Metcalf preached his sermon, "The Spiritual Life as Compared to a Journey."*10.
Four months later, in December, the Noxon community gave a social to help pay their minister's salary, and gave him the $84 proceeds.*11.

  1. Sanders County Independent Ledger, April 8, 1920.
  2. Sanders County Independent Ledger, April 8, 1920.
  3. Sanders County Independent Ledger, May 13, 1920.
  4. Annie Copeland Pringle Winter, 1975 biography, Sybyl E. Smith, M.S.
  5. Annie Copeland Pringle Winter, 1975 biography, Sybyl E. Smith, M.S.
  6. Rhoda Knutson, tape-recorded oral history November 18, 1983.
  7. Annie Copeland Pringle Winter, 1975 biography, Sybyl E. Smith, M.S.
  8. Sanders County Independent Ledger, June 3, 1920.
  9. Sanders County Independent Ledger, August 5, 1920.
  10. Sanders County Independent Ledger, August 19, 1920.
  11. Sanders County Independent Ledger, December 16, 1920.
    • 1921 Noxon Church history. Source, Alta Esler, 1984. Land that had become Martin A. Larson's, for $125.00 from the NPRR on June 28, 1921 was filed Septemer 5, 1924 - Lot 11, block 3. Then on October 11, 1924 - Lot 11, Block 3 (warranty deed #115 Sanders County, Noxon) Martin Larson and Ann Larson to H. A. Larson, Maude Larson, R. E. Phillips, Vern Watterson, E. L. Lee and successors made the property church land.

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