05 January 2011

Some Fun with the Giant Spring

Settlers Were Scarce and Homes Scarcer in Great Falls in the Year 1886. By Martha Edgerton Rolfe Plassmann.

Great Falls is undoubtedly the only city in Montana which originated in a well-matured plan and not from accident. It sprang into being at the behest of one man and its growth was expedited by a loyal corps of fellow workers. They were pitifully few, the pioneers of Great Falls, probably not more than 50 in all. These differed radically on questions of politics & religion; and the relative merits of St. Paul and Minneapolis; but they were a unit so far as the embryo city was concerned, and they labored early and late for its advancement.

The site was ideal—every one admitted that; but it was not more so than that of many other towns in our state. More than scenic attractions were required to build a large city. It was necessary to impress the world at large that this particular spot constituted the natural center of vast resources which sooner or later would be tributary to it.

In a former article, I have told how the paper city was advertised by its devoted adherents, it falling to me to steer the romance. The country at large was not then so thoroughly Babbitized that romance, not restricted to sex, had no place in it.

Celebrates Wedding Anniversary. It was in 1886 the incident I am about to narrate occurred. It is personal in character and only permissible because it was amusing. The young people living here at the time, having learned that the 8th of August was Mr. Rolfe’s and my 10th wedding anniversary, asked us to celebrate the occasion by giving a house party. None had ever been given here, for the very good reason no shack but ours was large enough to entertain even a small company.

We readily consented to this proposal and at once volunteers began to lay a dancing floor and to make other preparations for the coming event, while keeping an eye on the weather, trusting it would be fair. Then it happened. It was announced that the only tinsmith in town, and whose take it was to prepare the appropriate presents was not fully recovered from his late oblations to Bacchus. Would we postpone the party until he sobered up? We certain would, and did.

Nevertheless the day must be celebrated in some manner. We decided to drive to the Great spring, where our rare social gatherings were held. This being before the appearance of automobiles, time was required to get there in a cart drawn by a slow, but perfectly safe horse.

It was about noon we arrived, to find the others were there before us. Charles Webster, then editor of The tribune, and Del Chowen had their lunch laid out, and were nearly ready to fall to when they paused to welcome us to share their meal. This we declined, having come not to picnic but to have another view of the spring.

That summer, Herbert Chowen, we were informed, with his characteristic love of the beautiful, had set out on the island some coleus; castor oil beans and other decorative plants. We stopped momentarily to examine them and then went out to the end of the board walk where the spring discharges its waters into the Missouri.

Find Beer in Spring. Close to the walk I spied a couple of bottles of beer placed there to cool. I picked them up and holding them aloft, called the attention of the young men to the lucky find. At once there were loud cries of “Put them back! Put them back!” in tones that admitted of no argument; so put them back I did. This, remember, was long before prohibition was the law of the land.

This preface, although long drawn out, like those of Bernard Shaw’s was necessary in order to understand the sequel.

Two or three weeks after our visit to the spring, my cousin, Starr Carter, handed me a paper and with a merry twinkle in her eyes, said “Read that!”

I needed no second command to do so. Opening our only paper, The Weekly Tribune, I found a scholarly article on the Giant spring by one of our scientists—Fred Anderson. It opened with a verse from my poem, already published in these columns, and then proceeded to describe the spring; its algae and cress, the native variety found there before the introduction of the familiar kind. He then stated that in his opinion, the spring was the outlet of a subterranean stream, either a branch of Belt creek or of the Missouri. This view to my knowledge had never before been made public. It was a fine article; the best that has ever been written about the spring. I, under ordinary circumstances, would simply have laid it aside for future reference, had my eye not met a sentence I interpreted as a challenge.

The verses on the spring, as I have previously explained, were published anonymously. Fred commented on this, and called attention to the line “Crystal clear its unknown depths are,” and proceeded to prove this an inaccuracy, as with a line and two-foot rule, the depth could easily be ascertained, although the author, he said, evidently id not know this.

Well, it is true, I didn’t. But it furnished inspiration, and I could not leaver it unanswered. Supplied with pencil and plenty of scrap paper, I sought a quiet spot suitable for concentration. This I found, if I am not mistaken, in the back yard at the wood pile, just at sunset when, if ever, one is likely to be in a poetic mood, and evolved the following under the heading as given by the Tribune.

“The Source of the Spring. The latest theory founded upon recent important discoveries. The Tribune’s late scientific article again excites the poetic muse of ‘M.’

A farewell poetic infliction.”

With plummet and line I have sounded the pool,
I’ve measured its depth with a two-foot rule,
And proved, though I long have suspected the fact,
My muse on occasion might not be exact.

Still seeking for knowledge I crossed to the isle
And thence to the platform to dream for a while.
Surrounded by foam-crested wavelets that sung
Of caverns long traversed, and hills whence they spring.

While musing, I tested the excellent greens,
Admired the mint, and the castor oil beans,
The clusters of coleus scattered around.

The riff in the rocks I examined with care
When to my great wonder I chanced to find there
What to men of science may seem very queer,
Side by side snuggly hidden, two bottles of beer.

The inscription they bore showed plainly to me
The source of this underground river to be
Not in the Belt mountains, but much farther east,
At the outermost bounds of Wisconsin at least.

And what to a scientist seems stranger still,
The remarkable river must flow up hill,
For hundreds of miles, to being to us here
These stranded brown bottles of Milwaukee beer.

When completed, the lines were sent to our sole newspaper, where the title “True Source of the Spring naturally attracted the attention of the editor, promising as it did, the presentation in verse of some original idea regarding its origin, or the restatement of Anderson’s article in another form.

The office force of The Tribune was not large in those days, and all of its members gathered around Mr. Webster, to hear him read the contribution aloud.

He had not read far, before he exclaimed with a hearty laugh, “Now I know who wrote ‘The Spring,’ mentioning my name, and then went on with the reading. As it’s conclusion, Fred Anderson, who was standing near, moved by the literalness of the true scientist, and with a worried look on his honest face, questioned “But does she believe it?” [sec. 2, p. 1] [Great Falled Tribune Daily 14 Apr 1929]