15 December 2008

John L. Clarke's First Oil Painting

Real Oil Painting by Indian Louis W. Hill Discovers Red Man Artist in Glacier National Park.

[The talent of John L. Clarke, grandson of pioneer fur trader Malcolm Clarke and his Piegan Blackfeet wife, as a master wood-carver is well known. This story from the Daily Missoulian of 24 March 1912 is far less known.]

This is the unvarnished story of John Clark[e], a halfbreed Glacier park Indian. He never had seen a pot of oil paints, but he was a born artist and came into the light of things artistic with nature as his only teacher. Like all prodigies John, of course, remained to be discovered and the brush paints had to be furnished him before it really became known that he could reproduce in oils the marvelous scenic beauties which charmed him in his Rocky mountain environment.

Louis W. Hill is president of the Great Northern railway, but he lives his soul-life painting landscapes out in Uncle’s Sam’s mountain wonderland—Glacier national park.

One day, after traveling over the picturesque trails, Mr. Hill noticed his Indian guide sitting outside the Swiss chalet sketching with a stub lead pencil upon a rough board.

“What are you making, John?” he inquired, looking over the Indian’s shoulder.

“Huh, no make—just putting down what Great Spirit heap up hisself,” said John, intently adding the finishing touches to the outline of Two Medicine Falls, with the imposing mountain background, just as the eye sees it in the distance, looming up beyond the pretty waterfall, through the narrow vista which the fir-lined creek leaves open to the turbulent stream’s glacier source at the “top of the continent.”

“Superb!” exclaimed the amazed white critic, who had enjoyed the tutelage of some of the world’s most renowned scenic artists.

The red man was enthusiastically bombarded with a volley of eager questions concerning technique, etc. All of which was as Greek to the absorbed Indian sitting there using his lap for an easel. Simplified explanations of the white man only brought a mile over the bronze face. The Indian more astonished his admirer with the childlike statement that he liked the mountains and streams much, and just marked out the pictures of his eyes as a pastime.

Mr. Hill said no more to the guide because the fellow couldn’t talk art, but the artist-railway magnate did a lot of thinking that day, during the ride back over the trails to his private car at Midvale, Mont., the eastern gateway to park. Before leaving for St. Paul he again broached the subject to the redskin. John,” he said, “I’ll send you some paint and I want you to do that eye picture over for me on canvas.” The Indian looked rather puzzled, at first, but Mr. Hill finally made him understand just what he wanted. So, on returning to St. Paul, the railway chief ordered some paints, brushes and pieces of canvas about two and one-half by five feet sent to the nature artist up in the Rockies.

Just after Christmas Mr. Hill was busy at his desk pouring over matters pertaining to the operation of his great transcontinental railway when an express package was handed him. He unrolled it and was suddenly taken back to “God’s Own Country,” as he expressed it. There, before him, was Two Medicine falls and surroundings in the mountain fastness, clothed in all the radiance of its gorgeous, natural garb.

The original color painting, beautifully framed, now adorns a place in the costly art collection of at the Hill mansion on Summit avenue, St. Paul.

[Source: Missoulian Daily 24 Mar 1912, p. 12]

The Falls of the Missouri and The Birth of Great Falls

by Ken Robison

[Partially adapted from the writings of Martha Edgerton Rolfe, Great Falls’ first woman settler]

We take for granted and under appreciate the majesty of our river, the mighty Missouri River. Early pioneer residents knew they were at this unique place because of the river and its spectacular falls and giant springs. They proudly showed the falls, the springs, and the river to every visitor. Great Falls was the new “Niagara of the West,” the Cataract City.

From its founding in the spring of 1884, the town of Great Falls grew very slowly. The arrival of the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway in 1887 (later to become the Great Northern Railroad), greatly accelerated the growth of the town as dams were built to supply power and smelters and refineries to provide jobs. The founding settlers of Great Falls came from every direction, with some from established communities of Fort Benton, Helena, and the Sun River valley. Other early settlers came from the Midwest, Canada, and the East, while many came across the Atlantic Ocean as immigrants to this new land.

The first woman settler in Great Falls was Mrs. Martha Edgerton Rolfe, daughter of Montana’s first territorial Governor, Sydney Edgerton, and wife of founder Paris Gibson’s surveyor and lawyer, Herbert P. (H. P.) Rolfe. This remarkable woman, Martha or “Mattie” Rolfe, wrote about the fledgling little city in articles carried in the important Montana News Association historical series as inserts for Montana’s weekly newspapers. These stories were written under Martha Edgerton Plassmann using the name of her second husband, Theodore Plassmann. In 1939 after Mattie’s death her daughter, Mrs. Edith Maxwell, assembled a tribute to the early settlers of Great Falls, based on her mother’s observations. This was published in Great Falls Yesterday under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the New Deal. This account is partially adapted from the various writings of Martha Edgerton Rolfe Plassmann.

The spot on which one day the city of Great Falls was to be located is a beautiful and picturesque place on the bend of the Missouri River just below its confluence with Sun River known by the native Indians as Medicine River, where the foot of Long Pool widens to form lake-like Broadwater Bay. It is just above Black Eagle Falls, the first of the series of magnificent falls that give the town its chief reason for being. The site lies on a gentle slope rising from the river bank to the plains east and south with a charming view of the valley of Sun River and the distant Rockies to the west. Tall bluffs on the north and west follow the course of the river except for a break formed by Sun River valley.

The banks of the Missouri were lined with cottonwood trees, willows, and small brush, and the land north of lower Central Avenue was a grassy marsh. There were innumerable springs bursting forth from the east and south slopes and on the bottom lands. White Bear Islands lay in Long Pool above the mouth of Sun River. Gravelly Prospect Hill, called Lookout Butte by the Blackfeet, was south, and north across the river was Indian Hill, later known as Smelter Hill, where stood a tepee sheltering an Indian lookout who watched the movements of the buffalo herds and was on the alert for the approach of an enemy.

Where the Missouri narrowed below Broadwater Bay to form rapids in its rock ledges, its course became shallow and was used by countless herds of buffalo as a ford. Down the river on its south bank was the Giant Springs remarkable for its beauty and volume of its flow, the largest freshwater spring in the United States. The mystery of its source was long undetermined, though it is now known that Giant Springs has probably existed since the last ice age. The springs are a terminal point of the Madison aquifer, which begins about 75 miles south in the Little Belt Mountains. Sulphur Spring on the north bank, across from where Belt creek enters the Missouri, was a favorite watering place for wild game, and Indians used its waters for their curative powers.

The most remarkable and interesting features of the place were, the five falls of the Missouri, in the order of their occurrence: Black Eagle, Colter’s, Rainbow, Crooked, and Great Falls. From time immemorial the river in this lonely spot had dashed over the precipices in clouds of foam and spray and presenting a spectacle of beauty and grandeur scarcely rivaled in nature.

It seems strange that this region, so attractive in appearance, lay so long untouched by white civilization; that no trading post or mission was planted there or that no small settlement grew beside the ford. The explanation may lie in the fact that it was far from the chief “highways” of pioneer days and did not form a link between any considerable centers of population. Soil and grass conditions were not as favorable close to the site as in valleys such as Teton, Chestnut, and upper Sun River. Hostile Indian tribes met in battle here on the trail to buffalo, which also may have deterred the missionary and the settler from locating at this place.

Where Great Falls is now, immense herds of buffalo in former times crossed the Missouri on their way from the high plains along the east front of the Rockies to their summer grazing grounds in the Judith Basin and the Musselshell valley and were in turn followed by the Blackfeet tribes which lived on the plains east of the Rockies, and the Salish, Kutenai, Nez Perce, and Pend d’Oreille tribes from the valleys west of the Rockies on their hunting expeditions. The fording place, where the Great Northern railway bridge crosses the river directly above the first rapids was the only shallow crossing for nearly 40 miles in either direction and was marked by deep-worn trails. The Gros Ventre and the Crow frequently came north to hunt the buffalo when they returned to the northern plains. It was inevitable that the region near the ford should be the scene of many bloody encounters between the hostile tribes which met here.

The Indian tribes far down the Missouri told Lewis and Clark of the falls, describing the cottonwood tree with the black eagle’s nest in it on the island below the uppermost falls. When their expedition reached the vicinity of the falls they portaged from the mouth of Belt Creek to a point opposite White Bear Islands above the present city where they made camp and celebrated the Fourth of July in 1805, the first ever commemorated in Montana. The Lewis and Clark portage route is now commemorated by the Great Falls Portage National Historic Landmark.

The expedition spent much time mapping and examining the surrounding country and the falls, and a number of mishaps and adventures took place during their stay. Sacagawea, the famed Indian woman, became dangerously ill while in camp at the mouth of Belt Creek, but found relief by drinking the water of the sulphur spring near the opposite shore of the Missouri. She, her husband, Charbonneau, and Captain Clark were exploring the banks of the Missouri just above Great Falls when they were overtaken by a terrific rain and hail storm. They took shelter under some shelving rocks when a wall of water rushed down it. Clark saw it in time to save himself and Sacagawea, burdened with her child, and with the help of the terrified Charbonneau brought them to safety, although the water was waist high before they could scramble up the steep side of the ravine. As it was they lost some articles of value. Clark’s compass was later recovered, but his umbrella which he must have cherished highly to have carried it on the long and arduous expedition was lost forever unless some future explorer unearths it from the mud at the bottom of the ravine or from the debris on the banks of the Missouri. The expedition attempted to construct a boat of skins stretched over an iron framework, but were compelled to give it up as a failure. White, or grizzly bears which abounded in the trees and brush of the river banks made hunting extremely hazardous, and several of the men, including Captain Lewis, narrowly escaped death in their encounters with the ferocious animals. The members of the expedition made two canoes from cottonwood logs, deposited the iron boat frame and a few other articles in a cache on a bluff near the islands, and set forth on their journey up the river.

A half century later, in 1854, Governor Isaac I. Stevens, while exploring this region for a practicable northern railroad route, examined the falls and their surroundings and described them in his painstaking reports. A member of the Stevens expedition, 1st Lieutenant John Mullan, was commissioned to build a military road from Fort Walla Walla to Fort Benton in 1858. He made a preliminary survey through the site of Great Falls for a route up the Missouri, but abandoned the project because of the difficulties of building through the Missouri canyon. In 1859-60, Lieut. Mullan completed construction of the Mullan Military Wagon Road linking Fort Benton to Walla Walla. The Mullan Road from Sun River Leaving to Fort Benton lay well north of the Great Falls area.

The military explorations of Captain William F. Raynolds in 1860 covered the upper Missouri region, but only touched upon the river at widely separated points. One of these was at the falls of the Missouri where he noted the black eagle and its nest in the tree on the island below the first of the series of falls and decided it must be the same which was described by Lewis and Clark.

The Northern Pacific railroad, advancing through North Dakota was ready in 1872 to extend its surveys from the base of the Rockies to Bismarck. Thomas P. Roberts, a member of its staff of engineers, was detailed to make a reconnaissance from Three Forks down the Missouri to Fort Benton to ascertain its capacity for navigation by light draught steamers. On July 27, 1872, the party set out in a 24-foot boat to map the course of the river, determine its flowage and take sounding for depth. Mr. Roberts writes interestingly of the noteworthy landscape features a number of which he and his party gave names. From Half Breed rapids to a mile below the mouth of Sun River, the Missouri passes over the flat bed of what was once an arm of Glacial Lake Great Falls, with a hardly perceptible current. This stretch of calm water with a channel depth of ten feet throughout, Mr. Robert’s party named Long Pool and considered it the most striking feature of the upper Missouri. The expedition reached the lower end of Long Pool on August 6th, remaining there for several days to await the arrival of a wagon and ox-team from Sun River to transport the equipment over the 20-mile portage. Instructions were to survey for a railroad around the falls if the upper river was navigable. The reconnaissance showed that light steamers could pass over it if wing dams were constructed to deepen the channel where islands divided the flow, and the boats were cordelled over Half Breed rapids. They surveyed a line for the projected railroad and made an examination of the falls. Roberts saw a large cottonwood tree with its top broken off on the island below Black Eagle Falls. “Among the branches still remaining is a black eagle’s nest. When I first approached the place, riding, and appearing on the bluff above it, an old eagle sailed out directly toward me and soared immediately over my head, so close that I became alarmed for the safety of my hat. After a moment’s survey it lighted on a jutting rock within a hundred feet of me, where it remained until one of the men coming up discharged a pistol at it before I could stop him. He missed the eagle. As I had a good opportunity to judge the age of this bird, his feathers being soiled, torn and otherwise old looking, I came to the conclusion that probably he was the same eagle, whose nest in the same position, on the same island, was seen by Lewis and Clark in 1805. . . The sight of this eagle was to me one of the most peculiarly pleasant incident of our reconnaissance.”

The incidents that led to the establishment of a city at this spot were told by Paris Gibson, its founder, in an article written in 1890: “In the spring of 1879, [when Paris Gibson resided in Fort Benton] while stopping at Fort Shaw for a few days, I saw for the first time a copy of Lewis and Clark’s expedition and noted with much surprise its description of the falls of the Missouri river.” Although Gibson resolved to visit the falls as soon as possible, it was not until the summer of 1881 that he, in company with H. P. Rolfe, explored the area of the falls of the Missouri. Gibson realized that Rolfe, the lawyer and surveyor, was the man he needed to lay out and help establish the city of his dreams, a ‘Minneapolis’ on the Missouri. In May 1882, Gibson and Rolfe made camp under a big cottonwood tree, just below the head of the rapids, and “devoted a few days to a careful exploration of this great water power, of which but little had hitherto been known. There were no settlers here at that time save one Lucus Caranza, who occupied a small cabin on the west side of the river, and who had evidently selected this place because it was one of the most solitary, out-of-the-way spots in this part of Montana.”

Paris Gibson had been an early settler of St. Anthony Falls, Minnesota, from which Minneapolis grew, establishing the first flour mill and later, a woolen mill. The panic of 1873 swept away his property and he came to Fort Benton, Montana in 1879 to rebuild his fortune in sheep ranching. He and his partner Henry McDonald, brought in one of the first bands of sheep in northern Montana. It is not difficult to understand why, as one of the first to use the water power developed at St. Anthony, Gibson’s imagination was immediately captured by the possibilities of the immense power which might be produced at the falls of the Missouri. In addition, although Gibson does not credit them, both John K. Castner founder of Belt and Robert Vaughn of Sun River promoted the possibilities of the area to him. Gibson continues his story, “I was so impressed with the belief that an important city could be built here that I decided at once to take steps to acquire the water power and the most important lands at the head of the falls for townsite purposes. It then became apparent that a man should be found with large resources and who at the same time was a believer in the possibilities of the far west.

“In looking over the field it occurred to me that James J. Hill was the man . . . As I had known Mr. Hill since we were young men, I immediately opened a correspondence with him as to the falls of the Missouri enterprise, which resulted in a meeting with him in St. Paul on November 25, 1882, only months after I first examined the falls [in detail].
“I had in the meantime secured nearly all the essential or vital points around the falls and at the head of the rapids. A notable feature of this meeting was that it did not occupy more than an hour, during which time Mr. Hill examined my maps and listened to my report as to the water power, coal, iron and other resources of the surrounding country.
“A short agreement was made in duplicate, in which our mutual relations to the enterprise were stated, and equipped with a large amount of land script I was, after a few hours, on my way back to Montana. Doubtless my ability to acquire a large tract of land in a solid body at the falls of the Missouri was due largely to Mr. Hill’s prompt action at the time, as it enabled me to survey and locate the most desirable tracts before our plans were known to the public . . . Mr. Vaughn and surveyor Rolfe were the only persons in Montana besides myself who at the time knew for what purposes these land entries were being made.”

When Gibson first saw the future site of Great Falls, Lucas Caranza, or Conance, as it is spelled in the land office records, was the sole resident. There was, however, a lumber yard, with George Wood in charge, established by A. M. Holter & Bro. in 1881 on the west bank of the Missouri directly below the mouth of Sun River. The company had a sawmill at Stickney Creek and rafted the lumber down the Missouri to the Sun River yard which was to serve the needs of Fort Benton and the settlers in the surrounding country. They took a section of desert land extending from Sun river down the west and north bank of the Missouri for two miles, but failed to get water on it so let it go by default.

Other settlers had come and gone. Robert S. Ford had taken a claim about a mile west of the Missouri and north of Sun River, and Colonel Broadwater had had a claim near Ford’s in 1872 close to the junction of the two rivers, but neither made final proof. In 1879 Wyllys A. Hedges made an entry on the land relinquished by Broadwater and had acquired title to it on November 20, 1880, the first homestead in the later limits of Great Falls. Robert P. Walker took up a desert claim on the west side in 1880, obtaining title to 160 acres of it as a homestead 20 June, 1884.

In August of 1882 Paris Gibson, with Sidney Edgerton, Charles Gibson and H. P. Rolfe made final selection of the site and made a preliminary survey of the town preparatory to placing script on it and in the winter, after Gibson had formed a partnership with J. J. Hill, it was secured by soldiers’ script and additional land was filed on.

Among those who settled on land included in the townsite in 1882 were Charles Gibson, Frank Pottle, James Kelly, Tim Collins, George B. Rivers, David Wallace and Lucas Conance. Most of the land was taken as timber claims although they were entirely destitute of trees, the remainder represented homestead entries and desert claims. On January 23, 1883, the greater number of these claims were relinquished by the settlers and obtained by Hill and Gibson by the use of soldiers’ script. Through an act of Congress, veterans of the Civil War could secure additional homestead lands and were not required to live on them. It was a common practice of land speculators to buy up this script to gain possession of large tracts of land along railroads. It is probable that “Red Mike” Hendrickson, Pat Hughes, John Woods and John Hackshaw, whose names do not appear in the land office records but who were among the earliest settlers, held as squatters, without giving notice of entry, the land they settled on for Gibson until he had the script to secure it.

Title to government lands could be gained in several ways. A timber claim must be located in forest land; a homestead required residence and planting a specified number of acres to crops; a tree claim, that water must be brought on the land by a ditch. A squatter was one who settled on new or unsurveyed lands which entitled him to certain rights as a locator.

In July-August 1883 H. P. Rolfe led a team on the ground again to make the final surveys. The survey team included Rolfe as chief engineer and leader of the expedition, Frank Potter, John Woods, James Mattson, David Archer, and cook Norman Jones. In the words of David Archer:

“We left Fort Benton with a team and wagon loaded with all the necessities of making a prolonged camp, including a large tent and a small row boat. We followed the old freight road that went to Helena and Virginia City and which I had been over fifteen years ago. When we got to our destination, we were on the west side of the Missouri River. We put hobbles on the horses and left them and the wagon on that side of the river and took everything except a couple of sacks of oats, across the river in the boat and on a raft, that we made. We could look across the river, most anytime while we were working, and see that the horses were all right, as the whole area was flat and covered with Buffalo grass. We would row across the river, each evening and give the horses a feed of oats so they would stay around the wagon.
“There was not a building, of any kind, where the City of Great Falls stands today. There was, however, one small log cabin near the Giant Springs but this area was not included in the original townsite. It was my job to drive the stakes and I drove a numbered stake at every corner of every block in the original townsite. We were about equally divided in our opinions as to the future of Great Falls. Personally, I could not see that it would ever have a chance to amount to anything and based my reasoning upon the fact that there were no railroads and the big falls would prevent the steamboats from ever coming any closer than Fort Benton, so it looked to me that if there was to be a city it would have to be Fort Benton. Anyway I was only here for what wages I could earn and did not have any money to invest in city lots.
We found rattlesnakes to be very plentiful here and all of us had many close calls of being bitten. I killed twenty four of them, during the six weeks that we were on that job.”

Johnstown was a hopeful settlement on the west side, later the site of the Great Northern roundhouse, consisting of a stopping place and a barn. This place was named for John Largent, the well-known pioneer, and was conducted by E. B. Largent. C. N. Dickinson, who paid his first visit to Great Falls in the summer of 1883, found Rolfe’s camp on the south bank of the Missouri (later the site of Black Eagle Park and now Memorial or Centene Stadium), and the crew surveying at Giant Springs. George Chichester came this spring and took up a ranch on the site of the Ayrshire Dairy. The nearest post office was Ulidia, an evanescent village across the river from today’s Cascade, and the postmaster journeyed to it once a week to bring the mail to the people at Great Falls.

Johnny Wood built a log cabin on Tenth avenue south in the autumn of 1883, and in the next spring the fledgling townsite of Great Falls began with Fort Benton carpenter Josiah Peeper building a small 14 x 20 feet fir log cabin at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifth Street [later 500 Fifth Avenue South]. This cabin was the first permanent residence built in the new townsite of Great Falls. Today, this little cabin has survived the years, fires, demolition permits and is known as the Vinegar Jones Cabin. The city’s first residence now stands in a place of honor in Gibson Park.

In May, 1884, H. P. Rolfe brought his family from Fort Benton to move onto their pre-emption claim, in what is now known as the ‘Rolfe Addition.’ Mrs. Martha Edgerton Rolfe described their life in the fledgling town:

“Our [claim] shack stood near the intersection of Twenty-sixth street and Third avenue south. It was an unsightly structure, built of rough boards, sides and roof covered with tar paper, giving it a funereal appearance. Its situation in part atoned for the shack’s deficiencies, as it commanded an extensive view, from the Highwoods in the east, to the curve of the Belt mountains, to the far-away Rockies, shutting off the head of the verdant Sun river valley in the west. The only disfiguring feature in the landscape was constituted by the few small, board shacks, glaringly yellow in the bright sunshine, where dwelt a few homesteaders on part of the present city’s site. All of these were men, and none had their families with them, the majority being bachelors. . . .
“To cross the river, a crude ferry was provided at the upper end of Broadwater bay. There was also said to be a ford somewhere near the bridge, but I never saw anyone attempt its passage, although at low water, this might have been feasible.
“Most of the supplies for the pioneers of Great Falls, came from Helena or Fort Benton, and were brought by wagons when ordered by individuals. There being no place to store them, and no ice for their preservation during the hot summer months, but small amounts were kept on hand. Careful planning was required on the part of Great Falls’ sole housewife to avoid a famine, neighborly borrowing being out of the question.
“Fresh meat was rarely obtainable and then only when a small amount was brought in for sale by Chris Dickinson. Bacon and ham were the stand-bys, and for vegetables, potatoes now and then. I do not remember seeing any fresh fruit that season, but dried fruit took its place.
“There were no wells or springs, with the exception of Huy’s spring, a small brackish pool west of us and some distance away. All water was brought in barrels from this spring, and had to be used sparingly. It was unfit to drink, but we drank it, notwithstanding.
“The road leading to Belt and the Highwoods was about were Second avenue south is now, and was not far from our house. Our lamp, after nightfall, served as a beacon light for the belated travelers over this highway, for which they often expressed themselves as being grateful. Roads were not so good then as now, and in the shadows cast by twilight or moonlight were deceptive. It was difficult to tell whether one was driving on comparatively level ground, or if the next revolution of the carriage wheels would lead to a drop of several feet; and over a stretch of prairie it was hard to steer one’s course, after twilight or darkness obliterated all landmarks.
“The wildness then of the country about Great Falls may be judged when it is known that a small herd of antelope passed our house almost every evening, on their way to drink at Huy’s spring. Once, when we were at dinner, an antelope stationed himself not a stone’s throw from our window, and watched us curiously as we do the animals at a zoological park. He did not seem in the least frightened, but examined us at leisure before joining the rest of the herd.
“I had brought some fine Plymouth Rock chickens from my former home at Fort Benton. They were of frying size, and we expected them to furnish a welcome addition to our limited food supply. Alas for our expectations! At midday a coyote trotted over the hill from Boston Heights, and slaughtered them right and left before we put it to flight.
“Our shack was lined with sheeting in the laudable effort to render it more presentable. A pack rat approving of it, established himself behind the sheeting. There it raced up the sides and overhead, making a tremendous racket that was not conducive to slumber. It became a general nuisance until--yes--and after a dose of strychnine had ended its life. We found it when it made its presence evident, this time silently, behind the lining of our dining room.
“Mosquitoes swarmed to such an extent that we were forced to fight them day and night, and men wore nets over their heads, and gauntlets on their hands while working.
“Rattlesnakes abounded. None came into the house, but they were plentiful without. Other varieties of snakes were numerous, and there one summer’s day, I first saw a blue racer. For an instant it shone like a jewel in the grass, then vanished. I do not like snakes, but that one excited my admiration. It was beautiful.
“In July came terrible hail and thunder storms. The hail cut the tar paper roofing, and the sun when it came out, completed the business of melting the ice, and continuing the shower within the house, when outside the storm had ceased.
“There was no monotony in this kind of life, but it was lonesome with no other woman within many miles until my cousin, Miss Sarepta Sanders came to file on a claim beyond the townsite. Our family consisted beside my husband and myself, of a young girl [Lelia Rolfe], a niece of Mr. Rolfe, who later became Mrs. Silas Beachly, and our four children [Mary Pauline, Harriet Louise, Helen Marston, and Lucia Ione], the youngest but three months old.
“All that summer the surveyors were at work. streets and avenues were defined, although invisible to all others. Stones marked their beginning, and it was edifying to be told, when riding along a grassy expanse, with not a vestige of wheel tracks, or even a path, unless one made by buffalo, ‘This is Second Avenue North and (consulting a map) oh, yes, Second Avenue North and Eighth street.’ We tried verily to see it, but couldn’t although we seemed impressed.
“By this time, it was common knowledge throughout the state that it was proposed to build a city that would bear the name of Great Falls, and the news was met with an almost universal shout of derision. ‘What is there to make a city at that point?’ it was asked. ‘The coal mines of Belt, or the silver mines of Neihart? They are too far away. As for agriculture, in that vicinity, there is but little and the cattle men do their trading at Helena or Fort Benton.’ But what the pioneers of Great Falls lacked in numbers, they more than made up in faith. Not for one instant did they permit themselves to doubt they were laying the foundation for a great city. Most of them were men of education, and endowed with imagination, which was surely needed in this instance.
Mattie Rolfe concluded her account: “Picture if you can, the broad sweep of country lying between the bend of the Missouri and the hills to the south, and extending to the upland where lies Boston Heights, this covered with high grass, and with no trace of human habitation save a few board shacks, and you can readily understand the residents of other towns regarding the Great Falls proposition as a colossal joke.”

C. N. Dickinson’s tent and two Townsite company’s tents were erected close to the old ford near today’s Mitchell Pool. These signs of progress added to the illusion of a city and must have impressed empire-builder James J. Hill with the scope of the enterprise when he came in June of 1884 to look his investment over. He stayed but one day but that was sufficient for him to inspect the falls, Giant Springs, and the coal prospects at Sand Coulee. Coal was a vital necessity to the railroad he planned across Montana which otherwise would be compelled to haul supplies of it for great distances. The great beds of good, bituminous steam coal at Sand Coulee doubtless did more than anything, except the potential water power of the falls, to induce Hill to build his rail line to Great Falls. When he left he gave assurance of this, and the town began to develop in earnest. Although Paris Gibson believed what Hill saw at Great Falls that day was the beginning of his plan for a transcontinental railroad, but it is a matter of record that Hill earlier had that in mind when the Manitoba railroad was organized, and planned at that time to ask Congress for half the Northern Pacific land grant to the Rocky Mountains.

Other cities of Montana had their beginnings in the turbulence of the gold discoveries or as stopping places on the trail from one mining camp to another. Some became ghost towns, while others found new sources of mineral wealth, or developed with the settlement of agricultural lands and the advent of the railroads, and achieved a certain orderliness. All started as a huddle of cabins beside the trail or close to the diggings, their streets mere paths which following the lines of convenience.

This was not so with Great Falls. Wide streets arranged in gridiron fashion, expansive grounds for parks, the railroad right-of-way and yards were all platted before a building was erected. those who came in the town’s infancy intended to make their homes here and shared with its founder a great faith in its future. The early residents were of a type unusual to western towns, a large proportion being young people of education, of business and professional classes, who set high standards for the embryo city which never failed to amaze the eastern visitor who expected to find a village of uncouth frontiersmen. The geology, botany, ornithology, agricultural and stock-raising potentialities, the history and scenic values of the surrounding country were studied by men trained in the sciences who proclaimed their discoveries to the world as well as to their fellow citizens. Everyone was informed as to the advantages of living in so remarkably endowed a city. Small wonder that the neighboring towns were envious, yet skeptical, grown weary of its boasting, and were inclined to scoff at its pretensions, dubbing it “The Future Great” and The City of Wind, Water, and Future.” Unlike many boom towns, however, its boasting was justified and time would prove that many of its most extravagant dreams would become true.

The year 1884 saw other limited building, board shanties being the prevailing type of architecture. George E. Huy’s shack followed Rolfe’s, then the Townsite company built an office opposite the site of the Park Hotel, and Walker and Carter opened a restaurant built of boards and canvas. Ira Myers brought a portable sawmill and commenced operations at the present location of the city water works. On October 22nd Murphy & Maclay opened a store, built by Whitman G. Jones, with W. P. Wren in charge.

Mrs. W. P. Beachly, who came with her husband on July 18th, noted there were only two other women here at that time, Mrs. Rolfe, who came in May and Mrs. William Wamer, proprietress of a lodging and boarding house constructed of boards and canvas at the corner of Third Avenue and Third Street South. The Wamers put a roof on a shed to provide sleeping quarters for the Beachlys.

In the spring a raft of lumber from Holter’s mill went over the falls and was lost. The water being very high and swift, the men in charge could not stop it when it reached the Sun River yard. The horses and wagon were shoved overboard and saved, and the men managed to swim ashore.

Across the river the rival town of Johnstown began to loom up. A store and restaurant were added to its facilities and a regular stage service began with service to Sun River, the “jerky” coming through every other day. Soon Johnstown acquired the first post office.

Great Falls became a voting precinct of Choteau County, and the first election was held in the fall with H. O. Chowen, George E. Huy and James Walker as judges. John Higgins, son of Mr. and Mrs H. H. Higgins, was the first child born in the fledgling town in 1884. By winter the population was down considerably from the high during the year of about 150, as the H. P. Rolfe and others took their families back to Fort Benton or Helena for the hard winter.

The following year, 1885, there were signs indicating the permanence of the town. In January the citizens of Great Falls petitioned the county authorities at Fort Benton for a division of Great Falls school district to form a new district at at the townsite stating there were 17 children of school age in the town. Professor O. C. Mortson and Major Fields drove the 50 miles to Fort Benton from Sand Coulee, then a settlement of ranchers on Sand Coulee Creek below Gerber, to protest the division. They held that while the district as a whole could support two schools the population of Great Falls was too small to provide revenue sufficient to build a school house and support a school. Despite the opposition division was effected, and Great Falls became school district No. 9. A log school house was built during 1885 and stood for many years at the corner of Third Avenue and Fifth Street South. Rev. James Largent served as teacher, and there was an average attendance of 40 children after the school opened in the fall of 1885. The first trustees were Paris Gibson, H. P. Rolfe, and J. T. Lee, while Silas Beachly was clerk.

Whitman G. Jones, the contractor, began construction of the first flour mill in the fall of 1884 for Chowen and Jamiston on the river bank just south of the east end of the old wagon bridge on First Avenue North. Ed Canary built the foundation, and Charles Remp, George Armstrong, Norman M. Jones, and John Amons were employed in the construction. A grand ball was given on March 17, 1885, to dedicate the mill. The building had a roof, but the glass for the windows had not arrived so burlap was tacked across the window frames to keep out the cold. The rough floor was covered with canvas for dancing. Vade Hull of Sun River brought an orchestra composed of soldiers from Fort Shaw to provide the music. There was a large crowd despite the cold weather, with many coming from Sand Coulee and Sun River, and they danced until broad daylight to celebrate Great Falls’ first ball. When the flour mill was completed that fall, machinery was bought in from Minneapolis, shipped by train to Helena and transported to Great Falls by freight wagons.

Will Hanks, publisher of the Sun newspaper at Sun River, moved his plant to Great Falls and began publication of the Weekly Tribune, the first newspaper on May 14th, 1885. Its columns were filled with informative articles boosting Great Falls and the resources of the region. In the winter of 1885-86 the Holter company in association with others put a ferry across the Missouri to meet the needs of increased traffic.

A large crowd assembled at the school house on Christmas night to witness the distribution of presents from the Christmas tree among the little ones. The popular verdict was that it was a success in every way with about 50 children present. The day was perfect, bright and warm, and among the adornments of the school house were pansies that had been gathered that morning from the only bed in town. The school room was tastefully decorated and the Christmas tree, with its weight of presents, glistened and sparkled in the light of numerous wax candles. The exercises performed by the Sunday school scholars were excellent. The vocal music rendered by Mr. and Mrs. Will Junkins was highly appreciated by all present. Old Kris Kringle in the person of Professor O. C. Mortson, was alike the delight and fright of the little ones, but his impartiality in the distribution of the presents among them soon dispelled their fears, and all went “merry as a marriage bell.” Among those who participated were Rev. Largent, Philip Gibson, W. I. Hickory, S. A. Beachly, Albert J. Huy, Mrs. Largent, Mrs. Pratt, Mrs. Ladd, and Mr. and Mrs. W. F. Junkins.

During the winter of 1885-86, news came that a railroad line, the Montana Central, was being surveyed from Helena through Prickly Pear canyon and that it was a subsidiary of the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway Company. The Northern Pacific, its competitor, had already looked over northern Montana as a field for future expansion, and it was necessary for Hill and his associates to move quickly to secure this route which was essential to their projected transcontinental railroad. Colonel Dodge, their representative, had selected the route and the work of surveying and construction under Colonel C. A. Broadwater was rushed. Meanwhile Hill had secured a right of way across the great Indian reservation, which occupied all of northern Montana east of the Rockies, and was perfecting his plans for the extension of the Manitoba to Great Falls.

In April, 1886, A. Nathan established a men’s clothing store on Central Avenue between Park Drive and Second Street near the Townsite company building. E. Rubottom opened a paint shop and store, later known as the Como, and William Albrecht built a furniture store that continued in its original location, 111 Central Avenue, into the 1940s. During the summer of 1886, Edward Simms came from Sun River with his new bride Elizabeth, the first black Americans to settle in Great Falls.

Ben and Alex Lapeyre’s drugstore, then in a building two doors east of Beachly’s store, celebrated Independence Day by opening its doors to the public. The first prescription they filled was written by Dr. J. H. Fairfield and was for an ointment to treat the burns incurred that day by a youthful celebrant, Herman Nebel, who was Great Falls’ first newsboy. Other events of the day were the races held on the river bank west of the present Milwaukee station, the dance given at the Park Hotel in honor of its opening, and the flag raised before the hotel that had been sewed on the first sewing machine in town.

Keen interest was aroused in 1887 in a proposed new county of Cascade to be formed from portions of Choteau, Meagher, and Lewis and Clark counties. The population of Great Falls reached 1,200 at the beginning of the year, and the town initiated a movement to make it the county seat. The bill was presented at an extraordinary session of the Montana legislature convened by Governor Leslie. The measure met with considerable opposition from residents of Sun River and the towns of Fort Benton and Helena, but it passed. The first Cascade County officers, whose terms began December 19, 1887, were: commissioners, Charles Wegner, J. A. Harris, T. A. Wall; sheriff, George Steele; treasurer, Arthur E. Dickerman; county clerk and recorder, James W. Matkin; probate judge, H. P. Rolfe; assessor, Richard T. Gorham; county attorney, George W. Taylor; superintendent of public instruction, Bessie Ford; coroner, J. H. Fairfield; public administrator, J. W. Stanton. The county offices were in the Minot block at 203 Central Avenue. T. W. Wall failed to qualify as county commissioner and E. R. Clingan, a businessman of Belt, was appointed to fill his place.

The St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway Company, which since the latter part of April had been pushing its extension westward from Minot, North Dakota, reached Great Falls on October 15th in record-breaking time. The event, so long awaited, was celebrated in fitting style with a parade depicting the trades and industry of Great Falls and Sand Coulee, sports including a boat race, sparking oratory, fireworks on Prospect Hill, and ending with a grand ball and supper. The depot was a railroad car set on the prairie near the present fair grounds. The railroad approached it by the high bench north of town through Wild Horse Lake rounding the bluff known now as Hill 57, but then jocularly christened “Jim Hill.”

This momentous development in the history of Great Falls was described in The Leader forty years later as follows:

“Forty years ago today, Oct. 15, 1887, a Great Northern engine, approximately one-third the tonnage of the oil burning locomotives now used, puffed importantly to a stop across the river from the present depot. It tugged a number of old fashioned passenger cars, bearing railway officials and important personages from the east. The train was the first regular one to come to Great Falls from St. Paul.
Every person of the 3,500 population of this city turned out to give a grand welcome to the first train. Numbers crossed the Missouri by means of the ferry boat then used. The first wagon bridge was not built until the following year.
With headquarters at the old Park hotel, a frame structure just completed and standing where the present Park hotel is now located, a group of business men planned the first gigantic celebration ever held in this city. ‘Jerries’ who had helped build the road vied with citizens for places in the ‘big parade,’ and the surprise of the day came when a number of horse drawn floats commemorating the coming of the railroad took their places at the head of the parade.
Indians, cowboys, gamblers, prospectors and many visitors from Helena and other towns, who had come here by saddle horse and buggy, continued the celebration far into the night. Six-guns boomed as celebrators ‘fanned’ their hammers. Officials and citizens made speeches.
The next day the railroaders were back at work laying track on the Montana Central grade to Helena, which had been built the year before. Work was done as quickly as possible. It was all labor and team work. The end of rail was laid in Helena on Nov. 19, 1867. Jim Hill came to Great Falls and stopped long enough to present a special train to the citizens of this city that they might attend the ‘coming of the railroad’ celebration in Helena.
Actual track construction of the line to Great Falls and Helena began at Minot, N. D., nearly 642 miles from Helena. The Great Northern was then known as the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba railway. Workers laid an average of 3.19 miles of track a day, 3,300 teams and 8,000 men worked on the grading, while 325 teams and 650 men handled the track laying.”

The Montana Central effected a junction with the Manitoba here when the railroad bridge was built across Sun River, and was competed to Helena on November 19th after overcoming a difficulty in crossing the Northern Pacific tracks there; the two railroads not viewing the matter eye-to-eye. Work immediately began on the branch line to Sand Coulee to make available its coal supplies for the railroad, and on the railroad bridge across the Missouri which would unite the lines.

A toll wagon bridge, a subsidiary enterprise of the Hill interests, as indeed were most of Great Falls’ early industries, was begun late in 1887. Two flat boats loaded with cement and tools for the bridge left Townsend about the first of October, negotiated Half Breed rapids without great difficulty but encountered trouble in the shallow steam channel near Ulm.

During the delay the men were employed in quarrying rock at that place for the bridge piers. Earlier in the year Nicholas Hilger’s steamer, “Rose of Helena,” made several trips from the upper end of the Gates of the Mountains to Great Falls at the rate of twelve miles an hour downstream and four miles an hour upstream.

The coming of the Manitoba greatly reduced stage traffic and routes but brought one important line into existence, that extending from Great Falls to Billings by way of Lewistown which tapped the rich Judith Basin territory. This line was operated by the Montana Stage company with Ed E. Corbin as superintendent.

Sandstone quarries at Fields and Ulm producing excellent building stone, a new Goodrich lumber yard, Holter’s lumber yard and newly established planing mill, Myer’s planing mill, and five brickyards supplied building materials for the rapidly growing town.

The Presbyterian Church, organized the preceding year with 13 charter members including Mr. and Mrs. W. P. Beachly, M. and Mrs. W. F. Junkin, Mr. and Mrs. James A. Walker, Frank Gehring, and John D. Ross, erected the first church building in Great Falls in 1887 at the southeast corner of First Avenue and Seventh Street South with Rev. John Reid, Jr., as pastor.

A water supply system was inaugurated under the management of Manery and Peiper, its mechanical equipment consisting of barrels hauled by wagons and a pail fastened to a long pole to dip water from the Missouri. A volunteer fire company, formed in January, 1888, pressed into service the water wagons as the need arose. The wagon first to reach the scene of the fire received a prize of $5 which gave color and zest to the performance.

Dunlap’s store, the first to sell groceries exclusively, located at Third Avenue and Second Street South; Kenkel’s shoe store; the Cascade Stables build by A. W. Paul; the Cascade Laundry at 117 First Avenue North, S. R. Jensen and F. G. Johnson, proprietors, were new commercial establishments. Sidewalks made their first appearance extending with but few breaks for a block or so on each side of Central Avenue’s business district.

On June 16, 1888, The Great Falls Leader began operations as a weekly newspaper. Under manager and editor H. P. Rolfe, Great Falls now had a Republican newspaper strongly advocating woman’s suffrage and political and social equality for black residents and other Republican principles. By October 21, The Leader had grown to a morning daily and for many years Great Falls had dueling newspaper editorials with the Democrat Tribune representing the interests of Paris Gibson and the Townsite Company and the Republican Leader. Upon the untimely death of Rolfe in March 1895 of typhoid fever, Mrs. Martha Edgerton Rolfe became the first woman editor of a daily newspaper in Montana.

Great Falls was incorporated as a second class city October 4, 1888. Paris Gibson was the first mayor and the council chambers were in the Minot block. The town acquired a jail, Episcopal and Methodist churches, the Milwaukee Hotel, some substantial business blocks among them being the Dunn, Phelps, Kingsbury and Collins blocks, and a fine brick school building, the Whittier, at the northeast corner of Third Avenue and Eighth Street North. Some residents felt the school board had erred in placing it so far from the settled districts of the city.

The Montana Smelting and Refining Company began the construction of a silver-lead smelter, under the management of H. W. Child, near Giant Springs in March 1889 and started operations in October. Brick from Great Falls and Helena was used in its construction. Coke from Pennsylvania, charcoal from Wolf Creek, and coal from Sand Coulee were used as fuel and provision was made for the future use of water power. The water supply was brought by ditch from Giant Springs. Silver-lead ores from Neihart and Barker formed the bulk of those treated and were supplemented by ores from Coeur d’Alene and British Columbia mining districts. J. L. Neihart, of his name-sake town, brought the first load of ore to be reduced in the smelter. There was fierce competition with the silver smelter at East Helena, belonging to the Helena and Livingston Smelting and Refining Company, which caused both companies to lose money. In 1891 the two companies consolidated under the name of the United Smelter and Refining company. The bullion, an alloy of gold, silver, and lead was sent to the company’s plant at South Chicago, Illinois, for refining. The smelter at Great Falls closed in 1899 when the properties passed into the hands of the American Smelting and Refining Company. Nothing remains today of the plant, the attractive offices or residences, which once made it a show place.

T E. Collins, Ira Myers and E. G. Maclay received a franchise for a water system in 1889, sold later to the Great Falls Water Company. The company immediately began the construction of a plant and built seven miles of mains and about 70 hydrants. It was re-organized under the Great Falls Water Power and Townsite Company which had, in 1890, built a dam at Black Eagle Falls and leased 6,000 horsepower generated by the new dam to the Boston and Montana Smelter. They enlarged and improved the works, increasing the capacity to 11,000,000 gallons per day. The plant was sold to the city in 1898.

In 1889 Thomas Couch, general manager of the Boston & Montana Consolidated Copper and Silver Mining Company with important mining interests at Butte, selected Great Falls as the site for a new reduction works. The inducements were the abundance of water and cheap water power, as well as the proximity of the Belt and Sand Coulee coal mines. The construction of the smelting works started in early 1890 and treatment of the company’s ores began at this plant in March. A refinery was added in 1892 to produce copper in commercial form. In 1910 the plant became the property of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company.

The Boston and Great Falls Electric Light and Power Company, organized in 1890, was the first to use the power from Black Eagle Falls for city lighting and street railway purposes.

In 1890 an African Methodist Episcopal (A. M. E.) Church congregation was organized, and in July 1891, an A. M. E. Church opened at 916 Fifth Avenue South with Rev. J. H. Childress, as pastor and Ed Simms, A. W. Ray, and William M. Morgan, as trustees. Ray and Morgan has served with the 25th Infantry Regiment “Buffalo Soldiers” at Fort Shaw before coming to Great Falls. This black church was rebuilt at the same location in 1917 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Black residents were segregated in the lower Southside of the city, could not join labor unions, and were restricted from many jobs. Despite this, with the support of the Republican Party, blacks progressed in several remarkable ways. In 1892 a young black, former buffalo soldier George Williams, was named one of four members of the Great Falls police force. Two years later, A. M. E. Church trustee William M. Morgan, was nominated by the Republican Party as one of two Great Falls Township Constables. In November 1894, Morgan went to bed after working that day as janitor at the Cascade County Courthouse and woke the next morning to learn that he had been elected Constable.

In 1891 the Belt Mountain branch of the Montana Central was extended to Neihart and Barker, and the Great Falls and Canada branch of the Manitoba, a narrow gauge line, was built to Lethbridge to tap its coal fields and to connect with the Canadian Pacific, and a short line was extended to the Boston & Montana Smelter.

Businesses that located in Great Falls in 1890 were: P. J. Rogan’ grocery store on Fifth Avenue South between Fifth and Sixth Streets; the Hub established by Andrew Thisted and T. W. Brosman; Troy Steam Laundry; Hammond Lumber Company, at Ninth Avenue North and Tenth Street; and the Great Falls Iron Works, under the management of L. S. Woodbury, at Eighth Avenue and Third Street North. In 1892 Kenneth B. McIver started the Jersey Dairy on his ranch six miles west of town; A. P. Curtin open a furniture store in the McKnight block, managed by D. R. Edwards; and Gust G. Minter opened a tin shop. The Paris Dry Goods store and the Royal Milling Company, connected with the Washburn-Crosby Company of Minneapolis and managed by W. M. Atkinson, were founded in 1893.

Great Falls had many community activities in the early nineties. The Northern Montana Fair Association had a race-track on the west side. Other sports were represented by tennis, cricket, bicycle, and baseball clubs, and the Minneshosho Boat Club. The Board of Trade was the forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce, and a Mining and Immigration Association organized to bring most of the early foreign workers to the city. Labor organizations were strong, and wages were good for the times.

Culturally and socially, Great Falls showed advancement. The Grand Opera House was formally opened on January 4, 1892, by McKoe Rankin and company with the performance of “The Canuck.” The Valeria Public Library, named after Paris Gibson’s wife and opened in 1886, was turned over to the city in 1892 with Miss Wightman (Mrs. H. P. Brown), as librarian. Excellent school facilities kept pace with the city’s grown. By 1893 there were six school buildings and a high school building was under construction. The first high school class graduated that year with four graduates: Gertrude Anderson; Lula Armstrong; Maud McNeil; and Josephine Trigg. Ten churches were operating by 1893 and two hospitals, one, the Columbus Hospital, in the Boston & Montana addition and the other, the Great Falls Hospital, on Central Avenue at 33rd Street. Secret societies flourished as well as social clubs like the Caledonian, Rainbow, and University clubs. Women’s interests were represented by church societies, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and several literary study groups. The Woman’s Suffrage movement was centered in the Political Equality Club, which with other suffrage clubs in the state made a strong fight to secure passage of a woman’s suffrage bill in the legislature in 1894, but were defeated. The state society of the Sons of the American Revolution was organized at Great Falls on February 22, 1895, and selected Judge C. H. Benton of Great Falls as president. A Free Silver Club formed at the same time and became active in promoting one of Montana’s foremost minerals.

Great Falls was never a frontier town in the same sense that Helena and Butter had been, yet it met with economic reverses as serious and overcame them with the indomitable courage deeply-rooted in the pioneer communities of the West. In common with all the rapidly expanding West the panic of 1893 was a serious blow to the town which had not developed its resources on a self-sustaining basis and was largely dependent on Eastern capital. Its fortunes reached a low point in 1895. The fall in the price of silver had greatly curtailed the mining and milling operations in Neihart, Barker, and Great Falls with a consequent reduction in their payrolls. The nation-wide railroad strike of 1894 severely injured the community so dependent on that industry. Wool reached its lowest price since the industry was established in Montana. Banks closed, businesses failed and private fortunes which had been amassed in the few short years since the founding of Great Falls vanished at a stroke. Great Falls received its first great set-back.

In the same spirit that they had dealt with problems in founding the city, its early settlers made the best of the existing situation and turned their attention to building a foundation for the future. To develop the land resources of the surrounding country, an agricultural society was formed on January 5, 1895. Discussed at the initial meeting were the irrigation of arid lands, the improvement of beef and dairy strains, the need for a local cheese factory and creamery, the planting of hard wheat for flour mills and barley to supply the breweries in place of the oats and soft wheat which were at that time the chief grains produced in the region. It was emphasized that 30,000 pounds of butter and great quantities of eggs, potatoes and other commodities were shipped in from Minnesota and North Dakota, amounting to half a million dollars a year to supply Great Falls. An effort was made to move the Montana State Fair from Helena to Great Falls, and failing this, plans were made for a county fair in October. The street railway company’s car barns, pavilion, and lighting facilities were used, and the the first Cascade County Fair was a success.

Cattle from northern Montana topped the Chicago market and brought the highest price in four years. The Burlington Railroad, then building its extension westward, was expected to come by way of Great Falls up the Sun River valley and over Cadotte’s Pass before the year ended. J. T. Armington of Great Falls and S. S. Hobson of Utica began constructing a telephone line from Great Falls to Lewistown, and Ira Myers applied for a franchise to build a city system that would provide service at half the rates of the Bell Telephone Company. Coke from the Belt ovens was tested in the Anaconda Smelter and found satisfactory which meant the assurance of another industry in addition to the territory tributary to Great Falls. The Boston & Montana Smelter began work on the addition of a large refinery to its plant in Black Eagle. The federal government appropriated $20,000 to build wing-dams on the Missouri River above Great Falls to deepen the channel for navigation purposes. A recurring dream since the settlement of Montana Territory had been to solve the problem of transportation through the mountain barriers between eastern and western Montana by a waterway on the Upper Missouri from Townsend to the mouth of the Sun River, and this was the final effort in that enterprise. The work, begun in April, furnished employment for forty to fifty men. Dams were constructed at Wicker’s Island, at White Bear Island, and at Fox’s Island half a mile above White Bear Island. Another wing-dam was built above the first great bend of the river to deepen the stream at that place.

The year 1895 marked the close of the first chapter in Great Falls’ history; her infancy was past. There were many indications that a new era was dawning. The encroachment of sheep and homestead farming spelled the doom of large open range cattle ranching. Ranchers that did not cease operations altogether were restricted to privately owned or leased land and to raising hay to replace the open free grazing. The railroads brought an influx of settlers to homestead “free” land suitable to farming. The homestead era began.

A little thing signifying that the old order had changed was that in that year the copper penny made its appearance in Great Falls. The Leader of June 29, 1895 editorialized that the old settlers viewed with disfavor the introduction. “One result of the hard times is the invasion of the West by the cent. So far we have been spared this infliction but we are surrounded by the enemy and cannot hope to escape much longer. Oregon is importing cents and they are in use in Minnesota. The good old days are departing. Scarcely a vestige of them remains. In those happy days now gone forever such a thing as “change” was unknown. Whatever was bought, a newspaper of pins or a sack of flour, the buckskin bag of gold dust was drawn from the purchaser’s pocket and carelessly thrown upon the counter. The fortunate merchant would then unfasten the string that bound the scales . . . After this gold age was past came the reign of the “two-bit” translated into a quarter of a dollar which it represented. Nothing smaller than twenty-five cents was then current. The nickel succeeded the “two-bits” and is still with us. We cling to it lovingly and shall not give it up without a struggle.” Since H. P. Rolfe died in March 1895, this editorial was written during the tenure of Martha Edgerton Rolfe as editor and manager of The Leader.

The dream which in 1884 created the city of Great Falls beside the mighty cataracts of the Missouri, had by 1895, been in large part realized. It had weathered the crises of its youth and was established on a firm foundation. With the courage and faith in its ultimate destiny as evinced by the pioneer founders, the early settlers of Great Falls now faced the boundless prospects of the new horizon.

“On the wings of lightning”: John Mullan With the Stevens Railway Survey Expedition

By Ken Robison

This continues the series of historical sketches by historians at the Joel F. Overholser Historical Research Center in Fort Benton.

During the period 1911-12, Editor A. L. Stone of the Daily Missoulian newspaper wrote weekly articles about the pioneers of early Montana and their escapades. The articles, titled “Following Old Trails,” proved so popular that Stone was encouraged to publish them in a book. In 1913 Following Old Trails was published with many of the articles printed for posterity. Among those left out of the book was a fascinating account triggered by an 1883 letter sent by early explorer Captain John Mullan to pioneer Frank Worden in Missoula. This letter caused Stone to write the following article about the “Historic Trailblazing” of then Lieutenant John Mullan during 1853-54:

There lies on my desk, as I write, a letter which is old but which has preserved through 30 years its interest and which, viewed in this long perspective, seems even more impressive, probably, than it did when it was received in Missoula in the spring of 1883. It is a letter written by the man who made the first exploration of the western Montana mountain passes to ascertain the feasibility of railway construction which should unite Puget Sound with St. Paul—Lieutenant Mullan.

The letter was written after the retirement of this renowned trailblazer. He had an office in Washington at the time and the communications was addressed to F. L. Worden, the founder of Missoula, and one of the comrades of Lieutenant Mullan during the years he spent in this region. The letter was, primarily, a business communication, but it contains a few paragraphs which are historically interesting.

“You say: Just to think that 20-odd years ago, you and I were struggling through Hell Gate canyon, never dreaming of making the trip in Pullman sleepers. Now my dear Sir, permit me to say that, if there was ever any conviction firmly lodged in my mind, it was the conviction that the day was coming when a line of Pullman sleepers would cross down through Hell Gate canyon. With me it was more than a dream—it was a conviction. It was for that purpose that our surveys were made and our wagon-road construction was conceived and, under my direction, were executed and, while there were plenty of persons who, 25 or 30 years ago, conceived that I had a mania on wagon roads and railroads, yet I thought I could see in the distance, coursing across the plains from Minnesota to Oregon, by the northern route through the Mullan pass and down the Hell Gate canyon, this same line of Pullman sleepers, making an overland trip from St. Paul to the Columbia in five days, so that now, when we are on the eve of realizing, the benefits of this overland construction, you can well imagine that my heart wells up with gladness at seeing realized one of the fondest germs [sic] of my life and fulfillment of so many years of hard and patient toil in the mountains, where I was so largely a pioneer, 30 years ago.

“I watch constantly the developments in your section of Montana, because there is no strip of the continent to which I am more wedded than the strip which includes the Rocky mountains of Montana, particularly the Bitter Root valley, my home in ’53-4, and your town of Missoula, where time and again I have camped with not a house within 100 miles and where I crossed the Hell gate river in ’54 amidst circumstances that vividly call to mind the dangers and disasters attending my little party while crossing the swollen stream during the June and July freshets of ’54.

“When I took hold of the celebrated land case of the settlers in the Bitter Root valley against the N. P. R. R. Co., in which I succeeded in wrestling from said company that entire valley and dedicating it to the permanent homes of the settlers then residing therein, it is no want of modesty in me to say that I threw into said case my whole spirit and zeal, because of the attachment I had for the early pioneers in that valley, which is the gem of the mountains.

“I look forward to the completion of this road at the end of the next six months, and it is not impossible at that time, I shall visit your section of the country on a flying trip to the Pacific, and, if not then, at some future time when it will suit both my convenience and my business.”

When I started to copy these paragraphs, I intended to reproduce only the first two, as they deal with the blazing of the trail which Mullan explored and established but the rest of the letter seemed to me so characteristic of the writer, as I pictured him from the descriptions which I have had from those who were his intimates and from what I know of his work in this region.

Missoula and the Bitter Root country have and always should have a lively local interest in Lieutenant Mullan. During all the years of his exploration and in the subsequent construction period, he made his headquarters in this region. His first permanent winter camp was Cantonment Stevens located near where Corvallis now stands. From there he conducted his reconnaissance to ascertain the depth of the snowfall, on the mountain passes and his observation of altitude. His construction camps were located all the way along the river between Missoula and the summit of the Coeur d’Alene pass.

It is the testimony of those who knew Lieutenant Mullan intimately, confirmed by the deliberate judgment of Governor [Isaac I.] Stevens, and borne out by the accuracy of the reports which he made, that he was an indefatigable worker, a conscientious zealot and in inspiring enthusiast. The second paragraph of his letter, which I have quoted, substantiates this verdict; it shows the earnestness of the man and reveals the sincerity of his purpose.

The first trail which the Stevens explorers were shown by the Indians was that which led from the Bitter Root up the Blackfoot, across the Cadotte pass, to Fort Benton. This was the Indian trail to the buffalo country; it was the route which the red men recommended to the pioneers in the quest of a way across the mountains. It was the natural way, perhaps, but it did not suit Lieutenant Mullan. He felt certain that there was an easier crossing of the divide and he looked about until he found it. And so we have the Mullan pass.

It was in 1853 that the Sevens expedition made its first trip through this region. It purpose was twofold. The exploration was expected to develop a northern transcontinental route and Governor Stevens was laying the foundations for the treaties with the Indian tribes which would make the construction as peaceable as possible. The second expedition entered Montana from the west, two years later, and it was crowned with complete success; we have seen how satisfactorily Governor Stevens dealt with the Indian tribes on both sides of the range.

Upon Lieutenant Mullan devolved the responsibility of the exploration of the region which is now western Montana. He explored every Indian trail he could find; he took observations and made careful measurements; he studied the Indians, the animals, the vegetation, the water supply—there was nothing which was overlooked which could in any way contribute to the useful information regarding the proposed railway route.

How thoroughly he labored and how successfully, is best told in the report which Governor Stevens made to the federal government and which comprises one of the most valuable contributions to the early historical records of this region. This report is voluminous and is prepared with the careful attention to detail which was characteristic of Governor Stevens. These paragraphs deal with that part of the work of Lieutenant Mullan which was local to Missoula:

“Lieutenant Mullan having learned from the Indians and half-breeds of the mountains the existence of a pass leading directly to Fort Benton, through which wagons could be carried with little of no difficulty, determined upon its examination, and if practicable, to test it by bringing wagons from Fort Benton to Bitter Root valley. With this view he started from Cantonment Stevens on March 2, 1853, for Fort Benton, following the Hell Gate valley to its junction with that of the Little Blackfoot; thence along the left bank of the Missouri to the Gate of the Mountains, when he crossed the river on the ice, and following along its right bank, reached Fort Benton on the morning of the twelfth. He found from 12 to 15 inches of snow on the main divide of the Rocky mountains, little or no snow in the valleys or on either slope. He found the route until reaching the Gate practicable and easy, but here the road passed over a succession of difficult pine-clad hills that precluded the possibility of a wagon route, save at great expense. The character of the country and the views of the Indians all went to show an easier location to the north, which would turn this detached bed of mountains and reach the foot slope of the divide by easy grades and little or no work. Completing his preparations, he left Fort Benton on the morning of March 14 with a loaded wagon drawn by four mules, and keeping on the high plateau near the route of the expedition of the preceding year, found a level prairie road from Fort Benton to Sun river. Thence to the Dearborn, keeping some miles to the south of Donaldson’s [Lieut. A. J. Donelson] trail, the route was excellent. From this point, keeping some distance west of [Civil Engineer A. W.] Tinkham’s route, in 15 miles he reached the valley of the Little Prickly Pear creek, which was half a mile wide, and well wooded. Up to this point he had met with no difficulty, but found an easy practicable wagon road, a measured distance of 124 miles from Fort Benton. Here the fallen timber in the valley of the Little Prickly Pear creek was the first obstacle met with. Selecting a suitable camp on this creek for his party, he set his men to work clearing the timber for a track, which for a short distance followed the valley bottom; but finding, as he ascended the valley, the timber becoming somewhat more dense, which involved a greater amount of work and time in its removal than he had at his disposal, he preferred taking the southern slope of a hill, and, gaining the top of a high plateau, follow this through the longer of the two routes.

“In 14 miles, descending from this plateau, he reached the Prickly pear creek a second time, which here flowed through a small prairie bottom. This creek rises in the main chain of the Rocky mountains and flows through two gaps or passes of two low parallel spurs that run northwest and southeast. By following the valley bottom of this creek you avoid all steep ascents and descents, and reach the foot slopes of the main range, the only work required being that of removing the timber and the building one or more small bridges over the Prickly Pear Creek.

“Gaining a high point of the river it was seen that for 30 miles above the Gate of the Mountains, from the point where the Missouri breaks through the belt range between the two Prickly Pear creeks, the country is one immense bed of mountains, extending southward along the Missouri to its three forks for 150 miles, and 15 miles wide, making it necessary for a road to turn westward and northward of this range or bed. These mountains are mostly well wooded, with an abundant and large growth of pine, and the rock formation principally granite. In the preceding November Mr. Tinkham had very cold and snowy weather during his journey up this part of the river, but it did not continue, nor interfere with his crossing of the mountains. After the middle of March Lieutenant Mullan found no snow on any part of his route, and had beautiful weather on his return trip from Fort Benton. Even at this early day of the spring the grass in the bottoms was putting forth; and returning with the same animals that he had taken from Cantonment Stevens, they were fat and strong, and subsisting only upon the grass found at each night’s camp. Wood, water and grass throughout the whole distance, from Fort Benton to the foot of the divide, was found at suitable and convenient points, a measured line of 150 miles.

“From the small Prickly Pear creek to the divide the country was an easily rolling prairie, with occasional strips of timber on either side. On the seventh night from Fort Benton, including the time occupied in the making of the road, he encamped at the foot of the mountains. On the morning of the eighth day, he crossed the mountains with no difficulty whatever, found no snow upon its summit, and the divide itself nothing more than a low prairie hill. He says: ‘Indeed the ascent and descent were so exceedingly gradual that not only was it not necessary to lock the wheels of the wagon in descending, but it was driven with the animals, trotting.’

“For a railroad line it would involve a cut 100 feet deep and half a mile long, which was the measured distance from base to base. He hardly imagined that he was on the waters of the Columbia until he recognized the distinctive and marked features of the valley of the Little Blackfoot. Leaving the divide, he followed done the broad and easy valleys of the Little Blackfoot and Hell Gate to the junction of the latter with the Bitter Root, finding no difficulty along the whole line. All the streams being easily fordable at this season and the forest being open, with little or no undergrowth, required but little work. For a good and permanent road, to be traveled at all seasons, the bridging of the Little Blackfoot and Hell Gate would be required at all the present crossings.

“In 14 days from Fort Benton, he reached Cantonment Stevens with his wagon—thus proving the complete practicability; and having measured the distance by an odometer, found his line only 40 miles longer than that followed by Donaldson, through Cadotte’s pass.

“In view of the easy grade the small amount of work required at first, put it in good condition for an emigrant line, and to maintain it in that condition, the abundance of grass, wood and water, and its direct connection with practicable lines to the east and west, he regards it the best route he examined in the mountain region.

“Something more, however, is due both to Lieutenant Mullan and his party and the exploration to which he contributed so largely, than the foregoing narrative of his several journeys. In the establishment of his quarters, the management of his command, and in his intercourse with the Indians, he evinced the soundest judgment, and the whole sphere of duty was filled by him in a manner entitling him to the warmest commendation. I will now give a brief statement of some incidents connected with his post in the Bitter Root valley.

“On October 8, 1853, he established his camp 10 miles above Fort Owen, at a point where there was excellent grass, wood and water, and where, in consequence of its being a little removed from the Indian camps, he could better regulate the intercourse of his men with them; and in November, notwithstanding his trip in the meantime to the Jefferson fork of the Missouri, he succeeded in getting into a state of forwardness the erection of four log buildings for the accommodation of his party, one being a storehouse. Leaving a portion of his party behind to continue the work, he started for Fort Hall, and on his return found the buildings ready for his reception. This was all done by the labor of his own party, the only additional expense being the hire of some oxen to haul logs, and the purchase of hardware, not amounting in all $25. There was a corral attached for animals. To this post he gave the name of Cantonment Stevens. Thus a considerable cost was saved to the government in the way of rent, and there were simple accommodations provided for the use of any subsequent party employed in continuing the work of the exploration, or for the home of an agent sent to the valley to reside amongst the Indians. These considerations were dwelt upon by Lieutenant Mullan in his correspondence with me.

“By this time the Indians who wintered in the valley, the Flatheads and some lodges of the Nez Perce, had learned to place implicit confidence in him. I had requested that he should give much attention to Indian affairs, do what he could to impress them with confidence in our government, and especially, to devote his energies, in concert with Mr. [James I.] Doty at Fort Benton to prevent all difficulties between them and the Blackfeet. [Doty, a scientific man, was left at Fort Benton for the winter of 1853-54 to make meteorological observations and to conduct a census of the Blackfeet.], The Blackfeet, to be sure, were always the aggressors, and the proposed Blackfoot council, which I had gained the consent of all the Indians to hold, and which I had so strenuously and so successfully urged upon the government, was by both, constantly presented to the Indians with whom they were respectively in contact, as the most effectual argument to dissuade, in the one case, from aggression, and in the other, from retaliating with undue severity.

“Lieutenant Mullan, besides constant and judicious intercourse with the Indians, always assembled them in council previous to starting on any expedition, informed them of his probable absence, and gave them good advice in reference to their own affairs. They were very glad to have him mediate in their disputes, and they cheerfully acquiesced in his decisions. So much solicitude did he feel in regard to Indian affairs, that he incorporated the following in a special report: ‘They (the Flatheads) received the intelligence of the council with much joy and to the coming summer as the time when they are to date a new and happy period in their nation’s history.’ And again: ‘The report of the council at Fort Benton has spread throughout the whole Indian country as on the wings of lightning and has been received as a harbinger of glad tidings to all.’ I received from him, at every opportunity, reports in regard to the Indian tribes, which were of the greatest service, and which enabled me better to comprehend their feelings, wants, and the proper mode to manage them. The fact that he left the valley in the fall of 1854 with the sincere regret of all the Indians who knew or had heard of him, is the best evidence of his services in connection with them. Not one unpleasant thing occurred during his year’s sojourn in the wilderness which marred the propriety of the intercourse of his party with them, or tended to diminish his influence over them.

“The individuals of Lieutenant Mullan’s party had equal respect for him, and they were generally cheerful and contented, and prompt to perform their duties. Yet the party was at all times on short rations of flour, sugar and coffee, and much of the time lived exclusively on meat. I received many letters from him referring to the entire dearth of articles which, in settled communities are considered almost indispensable to sustain life, and urging the necessity of dispatching a train with supplies as soon as possible. Yet there was no complaint, and his cheerful spirit impressed itself upon all of his men. I had found it impossible to get off a train in the fall and winter, and one did not reach him till June. Some of the provisions left for him the previous fall were spoiled. He passed through winter and spring quite well on the allowance to each man of four pounds of fresh beef a day. The Flathead cattle keep in good order through the winter, and no difficulty was found in purchasing beeves at reasonable prices.

“I have deemed it a simple act of justice to this most promising and meritorious officer to say this much. His judgment and discretion were equal to his boldness and resource, which qualities had been exhibited not only in his winter explorations, but to those of spring, when the streams were up and hazardous crossings had to be made. He made remarkable contributions to existing knowledge, both of the snows and the geography of the country, at a season of the year and under circumstances when most men would have done nothing. I left with him in October nothing but disabled animals for every sound one was used in connection with other parties. The day after my departure he moved his camp to the best grass of the valley, and on the sixth day afterwards he was in his saddle, with a portion of his party going to the waters of the mission. And such was his promptness and energy throughout.”

A L. Stone concludes, “Western Montana owes much to the
devoted service of this man [Lieut. Mullan]. The whole west is his debtor, but that obligation seems to me to rest more heavily upon our neighborhood than upon any other. He was one of our people.” [Lieut. John Mullan, of course, later gained fame during 1859-60 when he led the expedition that built the Mullan Military Wagon Road from Fort Walla Walla to Fort Benton.] Missoula, April 20, 1912. A. L. S.

Sources: “Following Old Trails XLIII.—Historic Trailblazing” Daily Missoulian 21 Apr 1912; Reports of the Explorations and Surveys for a Railroad Route from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean; Life of General Isaac I. Stevens by Hazard Stevens.

Photos: (1) Lieutenant John Mullan

(2) Governor Isaac I. Stevens

(3) Cadotte Pass