Thursday, March 3, 2011

Montanans Intimate History

Montana - land of Glacial Lake Missoula, Native Americans, explorers, fur trappers, prospectors, claim jumpers, steamboats, railroads, con-artists, timber barons, homesteaders, murderers, lumberjacks, transients, promoters, forest service, community clubs, plus bootleggers and schemes of every nature imaginable! BEHIND THESE MOUNTAINS: history at its most intimate roots.

Volume I begins 10,000 years after the greatest flood catastrophe the world has ever known carved the Clark's Fork River valley and sculptured rugged mountain ranges from the bottom of Glacial Lake Missoula.

Long before the arrival of the fur trappers and traders, pre-history man and Indians descended from the mountain peaks and ridges to roam the valleys and canyons, living in harmony with nature.

The Clark's Fork River flowed through the Cabinet and Bitterroot Mountains, channeling the rivulets that formed headwaters of a vast network of tributary creeks and rivers. Watered copiously, rich stands of timber grew and helped secret precious minerals within the craggy peaks. The region became home to animals with luxurious furs, and offered enormous water resources.

During territorial days these water routes, trails, and the fur-bearing animals were of great importance to our nation. David Thompson and the trappers of the Northwest Company carried away the prized furs, scoring a victory over their bitter rivals, the Hudson's Bay Company.

Early prospectors flocked through the valley, intent on beating their competitors to gold strikes hundreds of miles east of the valley, and were soon transported by steamboats, that were followed by the Northern Pacific and Great Northern Railroads.

Faced with the mountains, beset by the weather, burdened with lawless men, the Northern Pacific Railroad Company won its hardest, most costly challenge during construction of their entire transcontinental line, and left behind the most grisly era in the valley's history.

Meticulous research and documentation bring the intimate history of northwestern Montana, sixty miles south of the Canadian border, vividly to life. A singularly independent and resourceful people struggle to tame this remote wilderness. Those who settled between 1882 and the turn of the century were a tough, determined hardy breed.

When the United States Forest Service arrived in 1906, their fight to stay and survive braved challenges in addition to weather and isolation in the timber rich canyons. The holocaust of the 1910 fire seared all impartially. Sixteen years of recovery followed before the next catastrophe belted them. World War I is on the horizon as Volume I ends. (249 photographs)

1917 was greeted by Sanders County Montana settlers branded by a civil war only a half century past, frantic gold rush days, followed rapidly by railroad expansionism, and unheralded greedy commerce. Eager as they were to improve their way of life, "government by the people" held unknown risks.
Gradually, in 1917, organizations for progress began to form. Transportation and bridges became priority goals.

World War I crashed into their lives and sprinkled in its wake a "new generation" and fostered political upheaval across the nation, and splintered these tenuous organizations. Civil defense groups, gun registration, and food shortages spawned Non-Partisan Leagues, Cooperatives, Red Cross and Defense
Councils, fracturing the first fledgling organizations.

Behind the snow shrouded peaks, the fabric of life rewove a new design. Prohibition superseded the "new arrivals" as the best means of importing cash to the valley. Timber continued to be the export crop, most of it transported out of the valleys along the Clark Fork River in great annual river drives, or in boxcar loads of hand split cedar posts.

The thrill of automobiles arrived, replacing horses for transportation within the valley, but the Northern Pacific Railroad remained the preferred means of travel beyond the mountains ramparts. Prospectors and miners continued exploration, finding deposits, shipping rocks for assay, and some tosmelters. Developing none into paying propositions.

From a polyglot of politics, government grew. Homesteaders flowed in and out of the valley like the tides of the seas, each wave depositing something to the richness of the culture. Stores, schools and saloons began and ended. Indians used the valley and it's resources less and less.

1917 to the mid 1920s was a challenging era in a challenging landscape beholden to unpredictable weather conditions. Because of the multitude of overlapping influences, Volume II and Volume III cross back and forth over these years as the story unfolds. (200 photographs)

While political beliefs were shaping and reshaping the country, county, state and federal government activities wielded major influences. Agriculture began to augment timber as an economic base. Ranchers grew cattle, hay spuds and families. As timber and loggers flowed through the valley, changes also trickled in. Some of each stayed.

The United States Forest Service, which had established tenuous roots against strong opposition, gained ground after the 1910 fire threatened not only their existence, but the very sustenance of life for
everyone in the valley. Slowly Forest Service ideology spread like a rapacious weed whose flowers bring beauty while its roots infiltrate the environment. When preservationism butted heads with financial solvency, settlers quickly innovated ways to use this new partner to their own advantages.

Living conditions improved abreast with timber and agriculture markets. social activities and community culture became more complex as education, religion and gathering places expanded.

World-wide events affected valley residents mainly through economics. When timber didn't sell, times were lean. As tourism money flowed past the valley on the wheels of the automobile, the government was enlisted to funnel it in.

Highway building was added to bootlegging and the new arrivals as the newest enterprise. Nevertheless, as the decade of the 1930's loomed on the horizon, those who'd come to the valleys behind these mountains, couldn't rub two nickels together to leave them.

Montana is a captivating land. All who came felt its spell: Those who came, set deep roots, and reveled in the simple way of life amid the mountain splendor; those entrapped by poverty into a way of life whose quality lay in the beauty and bounty of the mountains and its people; and the government, who owned most of the land. (253 photographs)

Volumes I, II, and III contain personal anecdotes of life during the mid-1800s to early 1930s. Let yourself be captivated, too.

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