Cabin Fever
Breaking Ground
Pioneer Families

© 1989 Mildred Chaffin

George Turrell, an early Blackfoot Valley homesteader, was a Civil War veteran who came to Montana during the gold rush days of the late 1 800s. Relatives believe that he was born of English immigrant parents. His mother apparently died quite young and the family later became separated. George was raised by a family named Heinbaugh. When he was a young man he joined the Union Army and was sent to Salt Lake City to help subdue the Mormons. Much later in his life, he read of his brother Robert’s death in a magazine. Reportedly, his brother was a Brigadier General who was killed at the battle of Bull Run. How ironic it was, though not uncommon, to have brothers on opposite sides in that conflict.

George married Mary Jane Astle, whose parents were also immigrants from England. Her father, according to records, was killed by the Mormons and her mother left Salt Lake in a covered wagon with her six children to follow the army and do laundry in exchange for their care and protection.

George and Mary Jane spent a number of years at Virginia City, Butte and Helena before moving to Ovando to take up a homestead claim in 1890 on the North Fork of the Blackfoot River. In the years to follow, he bought more land and developed a large ranch. Their children were Leonora (Nora), Marietta, Joseph, Virginia and Robert, and two who died in infancy. These little ones were buried on the homestead with a marker for their graves near the Blackfoot River. Marietta died a very young woman at the home of her sister, Nora Seely, at the Seely ranch where Camp Paxson is now located. According to information from an aunt, Mrs. Francis Turrell, many years ago the body was taken to Ovando for burial. While the team and wagon forded the Clearwater River 150 yards below the present bridge on the outlet of Seeley Lake, four men held the body above the wagon box and above the water.

According to Profile of Early Ovando compiled by Hazel Jacobsen, Joseph died while working on the Panama Canal. Virginia married Orville Muchmore of Missoula. Robert married Frances Lower of Butte and kept the Turrell Ranch until he retired and moved to Missoula. The marriage of Leonora and Jasper Seely joined two families who helped to make Montana history.