Friday, March 4, 2011


Hardly a settler in northwestern Montana was imune to feeling pangs of helplessness when they read accounts of suffering in countries far removed from their mountainous valleys. After all, every year when winter snowfalls deepened a sense of unease and uncertainty beset neighbor isolated from neighbor, on homesteads joined only by rude roads. One sage described them as, "strung together like beads on a fragile strand." So, although fall still flung its tapestry of colors over mountain ridges, their fragile existence could also soon be captive to nature's whim, like the lives of those they were reading about.

October 2, 1919
Russians are dying of starvation. As winter howled across their land, herrings were selling for 200 rubles each and potatoes were 110 rubles a pound. Milk cost 80 rubles a pint, and meat was unobtainable. The Russian citizens were being waylaid and murdered, their flesh sold for food. It was a horrible time. America sent food.
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Caption: Storekeeper Bob Larson with the milk cow he and his wife, Ann, kept in the 'back 40' east of the noxon schoolhouse. 1928-29. Courtesy Bobby Cluzen collection.

When spring sun thawed the frozen ground again, the settlers thoughts turned again to raising as much food as possible. Many homesteaders hoped to not only grow enough for their yearly needs, but also bring from the fertile lands enough to earn them a tidy sum of cash. The following article let them know they weren't alone and raised their hopes.

April 22, 1920
"About fifteen people from this section attended the farm bureau meeting at Heron ... the farmers here are hoping the standardization and co-operative marketing of potatoes will prove a success. This territory raises good spuds every year."
Readers "should hear the man from Bonner county, Idaho, who is taking the lead in raising fancy seed potatoes there; should make plans in the future to have the same varieties of seed and some one chosen to direct in collecting and grading the spud crop raised."

Heron and Whitepine residents paid heed. Eagerly they began work with the Farm Bureau to standardize potatoes grown in the county.

Eighteen people at Heron are trying to get seed of the Idaho Rural potato to plant. At Whitepine, the Idaho Rural along with the Green Mountain variety are to be tried to see which does best. Bonner County Farm Bureau made a survey through the rural schools and found that the farmers of the county were growing 46 different varieties of potatoes making it difficult to find a market.

The Idaho Rural and the Netted Gem were chosen by Bonner County,
"because there is a big demand for seed of these varieties in southern Idaho and other potato districts." John Phillips is putting in a big field of potatoes along the "Route of the Great Big Baked Potato".1.

Frank Berray discing the garden spot in Bull River valley. Frank and Evelyn moved back to his parent's homestead after Frank's mother, Julia, died, so they could help Caspar 'Cap' with ranching. Jim, Cap's brother, also lived there. Courtesy Frankd and Evelyn Berray collection.
Howard Jenkins worked growing spuds in Noxon for Weare. The ground was nothing but a patch of Canadian thistles so Weare mulched sawdust in.
"I was afraid the spuds would get woody", Howard said, and plowed the spuds under. Weare got mad and ended their association.*2.
Patrick Duffy seeded several acres trial ground to alfalfa. He took great care with the inoculants, and just before this rainy time, should get good results.
"Many who come in here from alfalfa districts say we will have that crop as one of our most dependable when the country is older but as yet only a few have given it any kind of a trial and the results have always been in favor of the inoculation."*3.

Season followed season and by early winter ranchers needed hay to feed their cattle until after high water receded and grass grew the following year. Ranchers in Bull River knew their meadowland would be inundated by snowmelt water that rose high enough that they could rowboat across fencelines, to visit neighboring homesteads. The cost of hay limited the size of cattle herds, even in years when they harvested a bumper crop. Even though cattle were turned out to forage on public forest lands, feeding months were September to late May, or even until July, depending on the weather. Only fools predicted weather, but cattle owners either bought hay or sold down their herd as necessary.

December 16, 1920
"The People's Commercial Company has just delivered a car of hay to its patrons. We understand the retail price was $27.00 per ton. This is the second car of hay unloaded here during the last few days and although this is a good hay country, it cannot be said that the community is suffering from over production.
"It might be well if farmers around here would lay off the posts and ties for a year or two and plant sufficient hay to take care of the needs of the community."
March 3, 1921
A new creamery was opened at Plains with a gala event: music by the school band, ice cream, cake and buttermilk were served. Speeches by the state Dairy Commissioner, President of the State Dairymen's Association and by Senator Joseph M. Dixon marked the occassion.
"This company started business in Sandpoint, Idaho, about six years ago, taking over a poorly equipped, run down creamery that had been a failure. Under the direction of Guy S. Helphery a successful business has been built up and several additions have been made to the creamery building.
"From the first this creamery has had the confidence of the Sanders County farmers. The cream checks sent into this county often totaled over ten thousand dollars per month ... Included in the equipment is a 1,000 pound Victor churn, two 300 gallon Jensen cream ripeners, one Creamery Package continuous ice cream freezer, a simplex butter printer, a 36 bottle Babcock cream tester, a can dryer and steamer, a ten horse power motor and a 25 horse power boiler, and equipment for making acid salt and moisture tests. A complete cold storage plant will be installed later."
Creamery prices ... butterfat, sweet cream ... 54 cents; butterfat, sour cream ...52 cents.

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Caption: Amateur photographer, Wallace 'Wally' Gamble focused his camera on scenes in the Bull River valley between 1935-1950. This herd of cattle graze lands adjacent to the old Bull River Ranger Station. Scenic Chicago and St. Paul Peaks rise in the background. Courtesy Wallace 'Wally' Gamble collection.

March 3, 1921
"George Phillips of Noxon had two cars of good potatoes and like everyone else was up against it to find a market for them. These potatoes however, were of the Netted Gem variety and he had taken a prize with them at the State Fair.
"Mr. Phillips heard there was a good price for Netted Gem seed in the Yakima Valley and went over to investigate. There he sold his potatoes for $2.50 per hundred delivered at Yakima which makes him about $2.00 per hundred f.o.b. Noxon.
"Mr. Phillips reports certified seed is selling at even higher prices and that there is an almost unlimited demand for good Netted Gem seed in Yakima valley. Next year he expects to go after the seed game right and get his potatoes certified."



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Caption Betty Berray, granddaughter of homsteaders Caspar and Julia Berray, herds this band of sheep during the mid-1940s. Courtesy Wallace 'Wally' Gamble collection.

In September 1921, J. H.Harker of Heron reported he has had to build a new barn to hold his hay crop. He proudly proclaimed that all 75 tons of hay in the barn was raised between the stumps on his stump ranch west of Heron.*4.

For the next six years agriculture inched forward. The new 1927 law on licensing and inspection of cattle caused concern. People wanted to know how it would affect them if they killed and sold meat.

"All meat that is killed and offered for sale must be inspected and stamped before the same is sold. The hide must accompany the meat and must be inspected at the same time." was the heart of it, plus, every butcher would pay $5 every January and every meat peddler would pay $100.
Fred Bennion, county agent leader for Montana met August 3rd at Plains with Sanders county bankers and farmers. Great diversity "along the river" made arranging an economic conference difficult.
"Conditions differ along the river so one conference will not do for the whole."
Mr. Sherman Johnson, State Economist from the Agricultural Economics Department of the State College spent a week touring the county, also, talking to farmers in each section.

F. J. Kershisnik, Sanders County Agent's advice was sought regarding planting and selling certified Bliss Triumph seed potatoes.
"I hope you decide to put in Bliss Triumph and endeavor to certify them because I think that your section is as well or better suited to raising seed potatoes as any in the state."*5.
Kershisnik's bulletin to farmers in January 1929 said,
"Just received another shipment of coyote poison and am sending you 100 cubes, enough for 100 baits. This is different from any we have received before but is used the same way." He included instructions and blanks for reports, "send reports in promptly as future issues of poison depend on how we report now," he urged them.*6.
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Caption: Jim Berray, 1880s homesteader in the Bulll River valley, with his brother Cap Berray's granddaughters, Kay and Betty Berray. Circa 1942. Courtesy Frank and Evelyn Berray collection.

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Caption: Montanta Quarantine Station, located east of the Noxon bridge on Montana Hwy. 10A was built by Kenny and Mary Greer Miller, who operated it for many years when Montana required brand and disease inspection of all cattle being shipped out of state. Courtesty Norman and Betty Larson collection.

Predatory Animal Control instructions on operating a poison line:
"Equipment - a good rifle, an axe, good knife, good rope about 40 feet long for leading horses that will be used for bait stations, a gentle saddle horse or gentle team, light rig or sled if team is used.
"Talk to all stockmen and sportsmen around, collect as many old horses or other old, worn out stock as they are willing to donate. Horses are always preferable. Keep them fed and watered until needed for the poison station.
"Get permission for a place for a poison station. Try to get the best place where coyotes are feeding, away from tall brush and vegetation, at least 300 feet from anything that will conceal, so that the animals you shoot and poison can be found.
"Shoot the horse where you want to leave him. Cut out a piece of hide six inches square from the top of the hindquarter. Take your knife and haggle up the meat and stir about six measures full of poison in this place. The magpies will feed from this hole and in a few days you will have most of the magpies killed off. Continue along your line until you have out your entire bunch of horses, which have been collected for this purpose.
"After you have gone over your poison line several days and picked up the magpies and carried them away from the stations, and you begin to see signs of coyotes coming in to the stations, take your knife and open up the horse and cut out a large amount of fat. Cut up small pieces of this, not over an inch square, scatter out 50-75 of these, beginning at the horse, and back as far as sixty feet.
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Caption: Elmer Kurwitz and a coyote pelt. With him are daughter Donna Jean and son George. Circa 1940s. Kurwitz depended heavily on selling pelts to help eck out a living on his Bull River ranch. Courtesy Loren 'Lanky' Jamison collection.

"You should also cut up some of the loin meat the same size, and on the next trip see which bait they are taking. Do not get in a hurry to put out the poison. After you have all the stations fixed up this way, and the coyotes have begun to pick up these baits, they will begin feeding on the carcass, but ordinarily they will pick up all the little dummy baits that have no poison in them.
"It is better if they have eaten a lot from the carcass. Then make more baits, similar to the dummy baits, but make them very thin, about one inch square and half an inch thick. Split this bait the thin way almost in two, open it up, take one measure of poison, or if you do not have a measure, just what you can easily pile on a dime, put the poison in the center of the little bait and then close it together.
"Fat or lean meat should always be handled as cold as possible. Place out about 4 poison baits to each coyote you figure is feeding at the station, but scatter them around so that one coyote is not liable to find all of them before the others get there. Do not use more than one measure of poison to each small bait. Do not put poison in carcass. Small poison baits may be placed in the flesh where the coyote is eating, by cutting out a small piece of flesh and fitting in the poison bait."
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Caption: Charles Thomson with his gun, and Ruth Thomson with their horse and dog. Courtesy Hazel and Howard Ellingwood collection.

After finishing with the poison line, all poison baits were to be picked up and the stockman notified, telling them also that there is always the chance magpies might have scattered poison baits that you didn't find - so they can be careful with their dogs.
"Horse fat, pork fat, and pure lard with no salt in it, and smoked fish make the best bates. Lard is safest where there are going to be dogs in the early summer because it melts as soon as the warm days come and the horse fat and pork fat and fish will remain longer on the surface. Don't use tallow, which is too slow to dissolve in the stomach and animals will go a long way. Use your own judgment which bait the coyotes will take most readily."*7.
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Caption: Louise DeLong on her Elk Creek homestead, 1924, with her team all harnessed for a day's work. Born in England, Louise emigrated to the United States with her parents. She came to Heron, Montana with her mother after surviving the 1900 tornado which devastated Galviston, Texas. Courtesy Dan DeLong collection.

  1. Sanders County Independent Ledger, May 6, 1920.
  2. Frank Berray, tape-recorded oral history.
  3. Sanders County Independent Ledger, May 13, 1920.
  4. Sanders County Independent Ledger, September 22, 1921.
  5. Sanders County Independent Ledger, November 4, 1927.

6. Clifford R. Weare papers, letter January 18, 1929.
7. R. E. Bateman, Leader, Predatory Animal Control, Billings, MT, letter January 26, 1928.

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