19 February 2010

When Fuel Famine and Flood Harassed Old Fort Benton

A Woman’s Perspective of Life on the Frontier: The Fort Benton Years of Martha Edgerton Rolfe--Part III
By Ken Robison

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

Mrs. Martha Edgerton Rolfe, daughter of first territorial Governor Sidney Edgerton and wife of adventurous Herbert Percy or H. P. Rolfe, left a remarkable account about life Fort Benton in its transition years from lawless whiskey trading post of the early 1870s to transportation hub by the end of that decade. In Part I, published in The River Press, Mattie, as her family called her, wrote about the hazardous trip the Rolfes made by stage from Helena to Fort Benton arriving December 8, 1879. Part II presented Mattie’s observations as she and her family spent their first year at the head of navigation on the Missouri River. Mattie now continues her narrative of life in Fort Benton:

The winter of 1880-81 in Montana was one of unparalleled severity. The cold weather set in about the first of November and continued until the first of February except for an all to brief chinook during the first week in December, which preceded a heavy fall of snow that isolated Fort Benton, where I was then living, from the rest of the world.

By November 17, according to the River Press of that day, the Shonkin was frozen solid, and a week later it notes the Missouri river was also frozen, and that the “cold snap froze up the printing office.” During this extreme cold the government thermometers registered at one time 59 degrees below zero.

The snowfall, like the cold, was unprecedented. It continued until the ground was covered from three to seven feet in depth. Cattle, deer, antelope, and other unsheltered animals were frozen to death or perished from starvation. Travel became impossible.

W[orden] P. Wren, who was then in charge of Murphy-Neal Co., in Fort Benton, had occasion to go in January to Sun River on business. On his return journey by “jerky” as the two-seat coach running between Helena and Fort Benton, and sometimes on other stage routes, was called, the driver lost his way, and for two days and a night wandered through the snow after leaving Reinecke’s place [on the Sun River], before he reached Fort Benton with his hungry and half-frozen passengers, they having had but one meal during that time. From Reinecke’s to Fort Benton was ordinarily a journey of less than ten hours by coach.

It was not alone travelers who were sufferers because of the heavy snowfall; the citizens of Fort Benton found their fuel supply rapidly decreasing. Wood rose to $12 and $13 a cord, and soon could not be purchased at any price.

The situation was the more alarming because of the intense cold that showed no signs of modifying. Those who had laid in enough fuel to last through an ordinary Montana winter were the most fortunate, although it was evident, unless there came a change in the weather, they, too, would have to utilize whatever would burn and keep them warm, as others were already doing.

Wherever possible, several families went in together and pooled their fuel supply. Our own small roof during this period sheltered three families. The cold being almost unendurable, the men were compelled to do most of the cooking for our household, as they were more warmly dressed than the women. But even they could stay but a few minutes at a time in the kitchen that was built of boards, lined with paper, and impossible to comfortably heat in such weather.

Finally our wood gave out, and we began to tear down our fence. Others had long before resorted to all sorts of experiments to keep warm. When everything without doors had been used, including fences, and small buildings, furniture was then broken up and burned. Murphy-Neal Co. burned a large quantity of rancid bacon they fortunately had on hand. how the other large firms managed to tide over this period is not a matter of record.

Fort Benton was then a military post, with Colonel [Edward] Moale, brother-in-law of General Gibbon, in command. In their extremity, the citizens of Fort Benton turned to him for relief, which he was only too glad to give if it lay within his power to do so. He telegraphed to Washington, explaining the situation, and from there received permission to share the large amount of wood at the post with the needy inhabitants --that is to say, with everyone living in Fort Benton, for all were fuel paupers.

Scarcely was there a prospect of the fuel famine being ended, when the residents of this sorely tried town ere called upon to face another danger, that threatened its very existence. A wind came out of the southwest, and within a few hours the thermometer indicated increased warmth of over 60 degrees. The River Press of Feb. 2, 1881, says: “Benton is swimming, water running in the streets and ditches being cut to drain it into the river.” The chinook had arrived and brought with it real summer weather. The snow did not disappear gradually, but suddenly melting, poured down the hillsides surrounding Fort Benton in torrents of muddy water, covering the sidewalks, and making the town look as if it were a part of the river, which it soon threatened to become.

What effect the thaw had upon the roads leading into town can readily be imagined. They were afloat, and it would be some weeks before they would be in a condition for travel. Less wood was needed now the weather was milder, but the tock at the post could not last indefinitely, even if the money was available to buy it at twenty-five dollars a cord, to which price it had risen. Meanwhile the chinook blew and blew.

The streets dried and became passable, when it was noticed the ice in the river gave signs of weakening, and it soon became dangerous to cross it, and communication with the other side was cut off. At length the ice began to break up, and it was hoped the river would be clear enough to permit the ferry to operated before many days.

Then came the startling news near nightfall of a lovely spring-like day, that the valleys of the Teton and Marias rivers were flooded, and an ice gorge had formed in the Missouri above the town. The business section of Fort Benton, and many of its homes were situated on low ground, but little above the river at high water. if the gorge did not give way, this part of the town would certainly be washed away.

Had we been saved from freezing, now to be drowned? It certainly looked like it. My own home would be in the direct course of the flood that was imminent if the gorge resisted much longer the hammering of the great blocks of ice that swept down against it. These, arrested in their progress, piled up and helped strengthen the dam.

Many, who like ourselves lived in the lowlands, fled to higher ground for safety. Among these was Colonel James Stanford, his wife and infant son. We foolishly remained. Again we numbered three families, who decided to brave the flood together, as we had formerly endured the cold. But we did not sleep--only the children slept, happily unconscious of the danger--while we waited calmly whatever fate had in store for us, not because we were courageous; it was the thought of how cold and uncomfortable it must be out there on the hills, and we had been cold so long.

We sat about the fire indulging in gloomy suggestions of what might happen. As our house was at the upper end of town, it was near the gorge. Every few minutes one of the men left our circle to go to the narrow place between the hills where the gorge had formed, looked it over, and returned to give us his opinion of the situation.

But our men were not the only ones who were anxiously watching the rising water. Those others, whose wives and children were in safety on the hillsides, knew if the flood came it would sweep away their homes and all they contained. As for our group by the fireside, it never occurred to us that should the gorge break, it would be impossible for any one to warn us in time to permit of our escaping. We thoroughly enjoyed the bliss of ignorance, which in this case meant comport, and a roof over our heads other than the sky.

Some time after midnight the latest visitor to the gorge hastened back with the joyful news that the ice had given way; the river running free, and all danger was over. On hearing this, the refugees on the hills went back to their homes and for a few hours until morning came, the weary citizens of Fort Benton slept peacefully after their long vigil.

[Sources: “When Fuel Famine and Flood Harrassed Old Fort Benton in Montana Newspaper Association 10 March 1924 by Martha Edgerton (Rolfe) Plassmann; Memories of a Long Life by Martha Edgerton Rolfe Plassman]

12 February 2010

The Benton Chinese Persevered and Worked On: The Celestial Kingdom on the Upper Missouri—Part III

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

[This article was published in the 24 February 2010 Fort Benton River Press]

Throughout the 1890s the Chinese in Fort Benton and Choteau County grew in numbers and persevered. In June 1891 an unusual marriage license was issued in Fort Benton for Lee Pack Foet, “formerly of China, and Miss Long Hair, a native American, one of the first families of the Gros Ventre reservation.” The bride, Miss Longhair, 19 year-old daughter of Gros Ventres parents Bad Dog and Nice Woman, married 22 year-old Lee Pack Foet, son of Lee Foet. The wedding took place in Chinook, then part of Choteau County, with Justice of the Peace William T. Richey officiating and his wife, Fannie Richey, and Chinese Sum Land witnessing the ceremony. Lee Pack Foet lived at Fort Belknap at the time.

While sentiment was hardening against the Chinese statewide, their number in Fort Benton and the new towns of Havre and Chinook was increasing. This was due in part to active use of the old Whoop-Up Trail for smuggling operations. On the 5th of August 1891, lightning struck and killed freighter Gus Brede during a violent storm. The first report reaching Fort Benton was that Brede was hit by lightning while sitting on a wagon between two Chinese, who were unhurt. The River Press editorialized “It seems a great deal like discrimination for a streak of lightning to dodge nine Chinamen in order that it may get a whack at a smuggler. It may be, however, that of the ten evils it chose the lesser.” The Press went on to headline “He’ll Smuggle No More. Chinese Contrabands Will Have to Find Another Pilot [than August Brede] Across the British Line.”

Contrary to the Press’ rumor, the county coroner found that Brede was alone on the wagon seat with nine Chinese concealed in the wagon bed, being smuggled from Fort Macleod to Fort Benton. Eight of these men were captured and deported to China via San Francisco. The men were held in jail in Fort Benton for ten days, the mandatory time allowed in which to make an appeal. The ninth man, Sing Lee, proved that he was a legal U. S. resident formerly residing in Fort Benton and Fort Assinaboine, and consequently was discharged. Sing no doubt had been along to select locations to distribute his contraband countrymen. Brede clearly had a racket going for some time, smuggling whisky into Canada and returning with smuggled Chinese. Earlier he had been fined $1,000 by the North West Mounted Police for smuggling whisky into Canada, and his outfit had been confiscated for smuggling Chinese into the United States by customs collector Jere Sullivan in Fort Benton.

The Great Falls Leader provided insight into these smuggling operations when it reported, “It has been common talk on this frontier for some time that the Chinese were coming into the British possessions to the north of us and were securing entry into the United States through Montana teams. The Celestials being well provided with money were able to pay handsomely for their overland trip and it is reported that $75 per head [the price was elsewhere reported as $15] is what it is worth to a teamster and guide who will undertake to pilot the Chinamen past the custom officers and deliver them at some point on the line of the railroad traversing the central portions of the state.”

Testimony at the coroner’s inquest provided further insight from Chinese witnesses. Brede with his human cargo hidden in the covered wagon had left Lethbridge five days before his death and reached a point just south of the Teton Bridge. When Brede was struck by the lightning, the Chinese panicked. Farmer Sam Heron, then stock inspector for Choteau County, arrived on the scene and discovered the tragedy. The Chinese had not yet recovered from their panic, and their superstitions were so great that Heron had trouble getting help to load Brede’s body in the wagon.

In the aftermath of the Brede smuggling episode, Jere Sullivan, Collector of Customs for Montana and Idaho, asked for the right to appoint a force to patrol the Canadian line to prevent the influx of Chinese from Canada. Sullivan planned to establish a system similar to the mounted police of Canada with twelve to fifteen armed men. Sullivan argued “With all its force of mounted police Canada is unable to totally suppress all whisky smugglers who attempt to enter that territory, and much less can one man, with a couple of deputies, stay the host of Chinese who are constantly streaming across the border into Montana and Idaho. Once these Mongolians succeed in getting into this state it is next to impossible to prove that they are illegally here, or, in fact, to even find them.” Sullivan’s plan for Montana’s Mounted Police did not happen.

By the dawn of the 20th century, the attitude in Fort Benton toward the Chinese was mixed with some advocates and many detractors. An insightful report by a special correspondent of the Great Falls Tribune is fascinating, “The ministers of Great Falls are losing a whole lot of good material by the dictum of the labor unions excluding Chinese. The Benton Chinese have begun to take kindly to the gospel and both the Episcopal and Methodist churches have flourishing China Sunday school classes. It is our custom to name Chinese servants after the man they work for and one can imagine a stranger’s feelings hearing ‘Charley Duer’ or ‘Doc Frields’ or ‘Tom Cummings’ or some other prominent citizen instructed in the elementary principles of the sermon on the mount, etc.”

The Chinese Exclusion Act, passed by Congress in the 1880s, restricted immigration and froze the Chinese community in place, preventing it from growing and assimilating into U.S. society. Another federal law, passed in 1891 required all Chinese to register and be photographed, and by early 1894 Fort Benton’s photographer Dan Dutro recorded photographing 21 Chinese in Fort Benton, 18 at Fort Assinniboine, 14 at Havre, and 9 in Chinook. In February 1894 29 Chinese registered in Fort Benton and about 50 overall in the county.

Despite the setbacks, the Chinese in Benton worked on. Those running the laundry on St. John Street in Fort Benton opened a branch washhouse in Havre with two of their number moving to the railroad town to run the operation. The Press noted, “The gentle Mongolian has not only adopted the American customs, but is getting onto the ‘branch’ business.” Lee Gee bought the popular Enterprise Restaurant from Sing Lee and continued the business “at the old stand.” Lee Gee went back to China in October 1891 to visit relatives. By the following June, he was back in San Francisco, returning to Fort Benton in late July. In an 1892 ad in the River Press, Lee Gee & Company, proprietors of the Enterprise Restaurant, charged 50 cents for meals and 50 cents for lodging with board six dollars per week. His ad emphasized that the “popular restaurant” had fresh oysters in season. Later that year the Chinese laundry on St. John was gutted by fire although a week later Joseph Milligan was repairing the building owned by G. F. Deletraz.

Poor construction and deterioration of the wooden buildings occupied by several Chinese businesses seemed to plague them. In March 1894 the Press reported, “The ‘devil’ of which the superstitious Chinese complained so bitterly seems to have followed them to their new quarters. The Chinese left the Deletraz building two weeks ago, giving as their reason that the ‘devil had set it on fire twice, and they moved into the Huston brick [building], corner St. John and Main [probably the first part of the Hagen block], where they again started a laundry. At about one o’clock Tuesday morning the large frame wash room adjoining the brick was noticed to be in flames, as was also the log house used as sleeping apartments by the Chinese. The flames quickly communicated to the main building, but were gotten under control by the hose company before much damage was done to the brick structure. The wooden buildings were a total loss.”

In April 1895 the Chinese community went out to the cemetery one morning and left a supply of cigars, candles and other luxuries on the graves of their departed countrymen. The Press reported “Some irreverent American small boys will probably appropriate the mementoes before the resurrection of the dead, this being the result of such proceedings for some years past.” That same year the Press reported, “One of the meanest jokes we have heard of was recently played in this city upon a Chinese cook who is also running a chicken ranch. A party made nightly raids on the Chinaman’s hen roost, and then turned the plunder over to the heathen to be dressed and cooked, and up to date has eluded detection.”

Only a few letters have been found from or to the Chinese in north central Montana. When Fred C. Campbell became Superintendent of the Fort Shaw Indian Industrial School in 1898, he brought along Joe Ling to cook in his household. Although the Campbells departed Fort Shaw in 1908, Joe Ling stayed on with new Superintendent John B. Brown. In 1910 F. C. Campbell sent a remarkable letter to his long-time Chinese cook, “Dear Joe,” urging him to come cook for Campbell at the Fort Peck Agency, and concluding “A great many of your friends down this way have been inquiring if you are coming. I feel sure you will like the work and the people.” Overall, the letter read like correspondence between two friends, perhaps not surprising since F. C. Campbell proved over several decades to be a strong advocate for Native Americans in Montana.
Another fun and fascinating letter was sent by the smuggler Sing Lee at Fort Leavenworth October 28, 1898, to Charles E. Conrad. The letter reads, “Dear Sir I have send Hung letter to him nearly a months ago but still have no answer come to me yet. I want to know that you have hear from him yet? If you can not find him and if you want a good cook I will get you one. I left Montana about five years I did not make enough of any thing. I am hardly could make my living here if there is any things that I could do to make living there please let me know? Yours truly [signed Sing Lee]” Perhaps this letter explains why Sing Lee was augmenting his income by helping smuggle his fellow countrymen into Montana—he needed the money.

It is interesting also to note that African American J. P. Ball photographed Tu Hang, C. E. Conrad’s Chinese cook in the late 1890s. Perhaps the same man, Charlie Hung, also cooked on ranches in the area at this time.

The Chinese presence in Fort Benton continued and in June 1899 Wing Lung & Company opened a new laundry on Front Street next to the Owl Barber Shop. The next February a couple of Chinese opened a restaurant in the Magnolia Saloon building, next to Thielbar Brothers. By June 1900, 39 Chinese resided in the Fort Benton, and were operating washhouses, restaurants, the ever-present opium dens, and were in demand as gardeners and as cooks on area ranches. Ling Wock cooked at the Culbertson House, and Gee Ak and Lee Sam were partners in a laundry employing six other Chinese. Aum Lum cooked for Thomas Clary, while Frank Lee Hung operated as a silk and tea merchant. Gee Lee with brothers Lung Lee and Him Lee and partner Poy Lee operated a restaurant in the Culbertson Block employing young Sing Lee who had apparently returned to Montana by then. Laundryman You Louie employed five other Chinese in his business.

Overall, Choteau County had 86 Chinese in 1900 with Havre having 25, Chinook 13, Big Sandy 4, Harlem 1, and Fort Benton 39. The new Teton County, by then split away from Choteau, had 16 Chinese residents. Great Falls still had no Chinese, strictly enforcing its self imposed exclusion policy although within Cascade County there were Chinese residing in Sun River and Belt.

Ranchers in the Sun River valley and Fort Benton areas sought the services of Chinese cooks as status symbols in the community. Four successful ranchers in the Shonkin range had Chinese cooks. John Woodcock employed young California-born 23 year-old John Charles as cook on his ranch. Charlie Hung, born in China in 1863, immigrated to the U.S. in 1879, and cooked for James Patterson. Ah Jim, born in China in 1863, immigrated to the U.S. in 1875, and cooked for W. P. Sullivan. Ah Ling cooked for Charles Lepley. Ah Ling was born in China in 1857 and immigrated to the U. S. as a boy of ten. In addition from photographs held in the Overholser Historical Research Center we know that Joseph A. Baker had Chinese cooks “Jim” and “Toy” at various times, and that “China Boy” cooked at the Milner-Sullivan Ranch at Square Butte. Years later, Frances Ameilia Babcock recalled, “So many people in Fort Benton had Chinese cooks in those days. Mrs. Joe Baker, who was one of the Conrad girls, had a marvelous one, who used to send to China for their Christmas candy, nuts, fruit, and sauces.”
Fort Benton historian Jack Lepley recalls stories his mother Margaret told him about her childhood on the George and Louise Patterson ranch in the household with a Chinese cook. Their cook Charlie Hung would often laugh and tell young Margaret, born 1894, “when I go back to China, I take you with me.” They would all join in the laughter and treat his comment with the sense of humor believed intended. This went on for several years until Margaret was about seven years old and Charlie Hung decided to return to his home in China. One day Hung announced that he was ready to take Margaret with him. It began to dawn on Mrs. Patterson and Margaret that Charlie seriously wanted to “buy” Margaret and take her back to China with him. He was not at all happy when his offer was turned down, but Margaret Patterson remained on the ranch and later married Charles Lepley.

One studio photograph of a Chinese man in the collection of our Overholser Research Center has fascinating insight written on the back. The image taken by photographer John G. Showell shows “Lum,” no doubt Lum Crum, cook for Sheriff Thomas and Mary Clary. Also written is “Lum was one of about 5 Chinese taught English by Mrs. Buzzell, wife of Methodist minister. According to her daughter Esther Buzzell Turner, Lum and the others came to the Buzzell home in Fort Benton 1 or 2 evenings a week to learn to read and write English about 1900.” One can only imagine that this related to earlier reports that by this time some Chinese were attending church services in Fort Benton. Imagine Chinese Sunday School in the Methodist Church on Sunday mornings and English lessons at night at the home of the Methodist minister.

In March 1901 Joe Yu, a Chinese who had cooked for a number of parties in the Benton area during the previous ten years, died of pulmonary oedema. The funeral was held from Wolff’s undertaking rooms with “the local celestials turning out in force.” Joe Yu was about 50 years of age and had lived in the United States for over 25 years.

In October 1901 Lee Gee, who had owned the Enterprise restaurant most of the time for the past fifteen years, sold out to Lee Hing and left for China along with a party of other Benton Chinese including Gee’s two brothers. The Great Falls Leader covered their departure, “Speaking of the Chinese party that left Fort Benton last week for China, an old-timer who is well informed on such matters said that the three Lee brothers had been thrifty almost beyond belief. ‘They came here only six or seven years ago,’ said he, ‘and two of them ran a little restaurant while the other farmed a small truck patch, and yet I know that they took $31,00 [sic apparently $31,000] to China with them, and they made it here too, every cent of it. That is what I call thrift.’” The Leader concluded, “Lee Gee, the eldest of the trio, said that they intended to return to their native province in China, build houses and live the rest of their years in ease and plenty.”

That same month, October 1901, Mar Joe, a Chinese who had been in Fort Benton just a month was arrested by Customs Inspector E. A. Ringwald for violating the Chinese exclusion act. The U. S. Commissioner granted him ten days to prepare his defense. While Mar Joe remained in jail, it was discovered that he was wanted by Canadian authorities at Fernie, British Columbia, and they offered a $500 reward for his arrest, although the nature of the crime was not known. After a ten-day delay, Mar Joe was escorted west by Inspector Ringwald and Deputy Marshal Wall for deportation to Canada.

More troubles arose from the Chinese exclusion act for a man in Fort Benton in January 1902, when Louis Kim, alias Ung Toy, was arrested. One evening Henry Hagen noticed smoke coming from under the sidewalk in front of the old Magnolia saloon building on Front Street, recently vacated by the St. Paul restaurant. Hagen could not locate any fire and despite a thorough wetting with a hose, the volume of smoke did not diminish. He then got Marshal Sneath, who finally located a trap door in a lean-to kitchen at the rear of the building. On raising it a Chinese man was found in the cellar, and a fire he had made on the floor accounted for the smoke. Kim had been working at Tong Chong’s restaurant for about six months and was evidently prepared for quite a stay, as he had bedding with him in his cellar dwelling. Louis Kim was lodged in jail for ten days while Inspector Ringwald investigated. The finding was that Kim’s paper had been issued in Buffalo, Wyoming in April 1893, but had not been re-registered that November when a new exclusion law as passed. Louis Kim was released and allowed to remain in the country, but he was fined $8.50 for the bonfire. Louis Kim died in Fort Benton just five months later.

Sam Lee’s laundry at the corner of Main and St. John’s was closed for quarantine most of the month of February 1902 when clothing from Mrs. William Morrow’s home had been taken there. The board of health discovered that young Harry Morrow had come down with a mild case of varioloid, smallpox in a previously vaccinated patent. By the end of the month all the clothing at the laundry had been fumigated and the quarantine lifted much to the relief of the hard-pressed laundry.


(1) Identification Cards Similar to This One Issued in San Francisco Were Issued to Chinese in the United States during the 1890s. (Ken Robison Collection)
(2) Chinese in Choteau County Were Photographed during the 1890s. Lum Crum, cook for Sheriff Thomas Clary was photographed by John G. Showell. (Courtesy of OHRC)
(3) Charles E. Conrad’s Chinese cook Tu Hang photographed by Famed Black Photographer J. P. Ball in Helena. (Courtesy of Thomas Minckler Collection)
(4) Chinese Gardens Area on the 1902 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map (Ken Robison Collection)

Lieut. John Mullan's Montana Explorations in 1853-54

Remarkable Work of Lieut. Mullan, Who Blazed Trails Ahead of Railroad; Called Pathfinder to Pacific Ocean. By Martha Edgerton Plassmann Daughter of Governor Edgerton.

Two men were examining the Mullan memorial at Missoula near the railroad station. One said: “Who was the Mullan; an Irishman, or a Scotchman?”

“I don’t know,” the other replied. “All I’m sure of is that he built the N. P.” [Northern Pacific]

This is about all the average person has learned regarding one of the most remarkable pathfinders that ever helped to make this region a charted locality, comprehensible to the rest of the world.

It was in the spring of 1853 that Governor Isaac I. Stevens of Washington territory received the appointment to head an expedition to find a route for a railroad from the upper Mississippi to the Pacific coast, part of his duty being to make a thorough examination of the Missouri and Columbia rivers, which were then comparatively unknown.

Governor Stevens and the greater part of his company, went overland from St. Paul, but a detachment was dispatched by the water route to Fort Union, at the mouth of the Yellowstone river, there to join the rest of the expedition. It reached the appointed rendezvous ahead of the overland party, and with this detachment went Lieutenant Mullan, the first we hear of him.

On arriving at Fort Benton, Governor Stevens decided to arrange for a council to be held with the Flathead Indians, and sent Lieutenant to act as his envoy, the first problem being to find the Indians. Naturally it would be expected that he would go west, to their little village of St. Mary’s, or its vicinity. Instead of this he forded the Missouri about 500 years below Fort Benton and then went south, skirting the Highwood mountains, to the foot of the Belt or Girdle mountains, following the Shonkin part of the way.

He crossed branches of Arrow river; six branches of the Judith river, and then followed the latter to its head in the Judith mountains but saw no Indians, although buffalo, ducks and geese were plentiful. Thirty miles from the Judith mountains he crossed the Muscle Shell and going down that river a few miles, found the Indians and arranged for the council.

Hunting Ground of Indians. From this can be seen what an extent of territory was ranged over by the Flatheads when in search of game, always more plentiful east of the Rockies, and what risk they ran of attacks from Blackfeet, Assinniboines or Crows.

Returning from his interview with the Indians, Lieut. Mullan went to teh head of the Muscle Shell, crossed a ridge, and then went down Smith river to the Missouri, and from thence to the Bitter Root valley, where Governor Stevens had preceded him.

At the conclusion of the council, Lieut. Mullan, and from ten to fifteen men were left in the Bitter Root to protect the Flatheads from the Blackfeet, who made forays into the western country, not for game, but for horses. A Blackfeet is recorded as saying “I take the first Flathead horse I come across. It is sure to be a good one.”

Lieut. Mullan established his camp ten miles above Fort Owen, that his men might be far enough away from the Indians, not to have trouble with them, and having arranged for the building of houses during his absence, he called the Indians together to assure them that although he would be away for a short time, his men would protect them from enemies, as well as if he were with them. He then set out on another exploding trip, up the Bitter Toot to its sources, and over the mountains to the Wisdom, and Jefferson rivers, and then returned to his camp, which he had named Cantonment Stevens.

Between the last of November and the middle of December, 1853, Lieut. Mullan followed this same route he had gone over in October, and then continued southward to Fort Hall, on the Snake river. He found little snow, except on the summits of the mountains; there was none in the valleys to his great surprise. on his way to Fort Hall he passed what he called Market lake, giving it this name for the following reason. The lake gave every indication of being recently formed; that whole region having subterranean streams that often came to the surface. It was also evident that at no distant period this had been a paradise for game. Before the lake was formed, whenever the supplies of the trappers ran low, they would say “Let’s go to market,” and hasten away to the spot now covered by the waters of the lake, where vast herds of buffalo and deer roamed, and the hunters would soon replenish their larders.

In 1863 our wagon train passed this same lake, which was covered with what we though were ducks. Anything in the way of fresh meat was a luxury after a prolonged diet of bacon adn ham, and our men joyously anticipated the meal they would provide for us. There was no trouble in shooting the birds, and camp was close at hand; but we had ham, and not duck for dinner, as the birds proved to be little else but skin and feathers covering a framework of bones. It was not Market lake for us.

Followed De Smet’s Trail. On his return journey, Lieutenant Mullan passed, at High Bank creek, through the same canyon traversed by Father De Smet in 1840. He also went into the Deer Lodge valley, so named because of the many deer seen there , as well as antelope, while on the hillsides were mountain sheep and goats. It was a beautiful sylvan scene that Lieutenant Mullan gazed upon. Civilization has changed all this, destroying the luxuriant vegetation, poisoning the soil, and establishing a prison there.

This journey to For Hall and return to Cantonment Stevens occupied forty-five days, in which time a distance of seven hundred miles was covered; the mountains crossed four times, and this by four different passes, during the months of December and January, 1853-54.

It has been asked “Did Lieut. Mullan ever pass through what is now the site of the city of Great Falls?” The answer to this question is contained in the record of his explorations.

Learning from the Indians and others of a pass leading directly to Fort Benton over which wagons could be taken, Lieut. Mullan determined to try it. He left the Bitter Root March 2, 1854, going up the Hell gate to its junction with the Little Blackfoot and from there to the Missouri, and along the left bank of the latter to the Gate of the Mountains, where he crossed the Missouri on the ice. From this point he followed the right bank of this river to Fort Benton. He found the road good to the Gate of the Mountains, but from there it was hard traveling. This route must have taken him through or in the immediate vicinity of Great Falls.

Two days after reaching Fort Benton, he started back to the Bitter Root, going up the left bank of the Missouri to Sun river, thence to the Dearborn and Little Blackfoot, finding the road excellent all the way. Among other parts of Montana explored by Lieutenant Mullan during the following month was the Flathead river, and north to the Canadian line. this accomplished, he went into Idaho, then a part of Washington territory, of which his chief, I. I. Stevens, was governor. Either on his way to or from the clearwater, he passed by Lolo Hot Springs.

Tribute to Mullan. Governor Stevens states that he was most favorably impressed by the manner in which Mullan carried out the orders given him, and concluded by saying “Not one unpleasant thing occurred during his (Mullan’s) year’s sojourn in the wilderness which marred the propriety of the intercourse of his party with the Indians, or tended to diminish his influence over them.”

That the Indians did not like to have Lieut. Mullan leave the Bitter Root is undoubtedly true. But not altogether because of the well-merited affection they had for him. His presence there was a protection against the Blackfeet, who “were always the aggressors” and not withstanding the recently concluded peace with them, could not be trusted to abide by it.

In 1858 the government decided to build a wagon road from Walla Walla to Fort Benton, and Lieut. Mullan was chosen to put it through.

These explorations of Mullan’s may be tiresome reading for any who are unable to visualize this region as it was at the time they were undertaken. I can recall no wagon train from Fort Benton to Bannack in 1864, ten years after these journeys of Lieut. Mullan. Those who made the trip went on horseback, through the Prickly Pear canyon, Malcolm Clarke’s ranch, near the entrance to the canyon, was one of the stopping places eagerly anticipated.

All this country was a wilderness, relieved by a few missions, and the trading posts of the fur companies dotted hear and there. The Blackfeet, Assinniboines and Crows were powerful tribes, and none too friendly to whites. They roamed wherever their fancy led them. The Blackfeet went to the Judith Basin for game and berries; and into the Flathead domain to steal horses. The other tribes did likewise, only with a change of name of the invading territory and its occupants. Even at Indian agencies, those who had them in charge ere not safe.

How old-timers regarded the position of Indian agent at that time is illustrated by an anecdote. A pioneer was told of one agent who on a salary of $1,500 a year, managed, in the brief period of two years, to accumulate a fortune of $250,000. “that man had wonderful financial ability,” said the narrator.

“Well,” the other replied, ”when a man had a place like that he took his life in his hands, and had to do something to get even.”

Into such surroundings came Lieutenant Mullan, and bravely undertook the task alloted to him, carrying it through successfully often at a season when other men would have stayed in camp.

By studying his itinerary it will be seen that, although he did not build the Northern Pacific, those early explorations greatly excited its building, and also to construction of the Great Northern. [Montana Newspaper Association 4 Feb 1924 The Grass Range Review]