Cabin Fever
Breaking Ground
Early Day Freighter

By Marge Benefiel, Missoula, daughter of Bert and Nettie Eldridge. As told to Mildred Chaffin.


Young Bert Eldridge went to work on July 7, 1908 freighting supplies from Helmville to Ovando for the Ovando Mercantile owned by Jakways and Faust. Jakways lived on a ranch at Woodworth, managing the stage coach, horses and ranch hands. Faust ran the Mercantile.

Eldridge acquired six head of horses, a Studebaker wagon and a trail wagon. He was paid by the hundred weight, the round trip being sixty miles. In wet weather, the roads turned to gumbo. In the dry days of summer and fall, the roads turned to choking dust. While Bert was on the road his young wife, Nettie, baked and sold bread and washed clothes by the old reliable wash board for "the elite" of the valley.

Sometime during that same year Bert took over the stage route. Deep snow that winter kept freighters hard pushed to get supplies to the store. The stage was replaced with an open bob sled. Fierce winds blew the road shut behind the sled so that new tracks had to be broken each time it went out.

In April 1909 the Eldridges moved from Ovando to Woodworth where overnight stops were then made and the new run began. Here, too, Nettie did laundry for the lumberjacks and in September they delivered a four-horse wagonload of butter, packed in fifty-pound tubs, to the Missoula Mercantile. The Eldridge family, like others who worked on small farms throughout the area, enjoyed red-bellied trout from Monture Creek. Two hundred yards away, the irrigation ditches were full of pan-sized fish.

When the couple returned from their "butter run" Bert left the stage and freighting job and went to work for a crew that was running a telephone line survey. In October of 1909, they left the Blackfoot Valley to return to the Bitterroot to help Bert’s parents care for two abandoned grandchildren. Nettie ended her story saying that life became one task after another and the days were never long enough to get all the work done.