My Forty Years Scribblin's
Interviews
A Long Look Back

In this interviewed, written in 1994 and published in the July-August issue of The Montana Journal, Albert and Nell DuMontier share their many memories of Arlee.


Albert DuMontier's memories go far and deep. As a small boy he heard his grandfather, Napoleon DuMontier, tell of leaving his home in Quebec in 1854 to come up the Missouri by boat to Fort Benton. Later he journeyed on to Virginia City and Bannack where he helped the Vigilantes rid the area of its lawless element, including Sheriff Henry Plummer.

Albert's ancestors homesteaded in the Burnt Fork, near Stevensville, where Al was born in 1904. The family moved to Missoula and the Jocko Valley in the early 1900s. Al's father, Fred DuMontier, had a contract to haul bricks from the brick yard at DeSmet to pave Higgins Avenue. He also "broke the first ground" at the sugar beet factory. After moving to the Jocko, he cut all the grain around the valley for three years and filed on a homestead on Valley Creek. Al remembers riding to school in 1913 and 1914 in his father's Valley Creek school bus: a team of horses and a wagon. Al's father also worked on the Indian Irrigation Project where they ran into complications. One farmer, Newman Blodget, wouldn't give permission to dig ditches across his property. However, when Blodget was called away one day, the crew "hove to," and when the farmer came home, they were half way across his ranch, men, work teams, ditches, and all.

Young Albert grew up in the Jocko Valley and saw the town of Arlee develop. He remembers a livery stable, a branch of Alec Demers' mercantile business. He thinks the first post office was in Alec Demers' store. There was "Old Man Collum," a watchmaker with white hair and chin whiskers who also sold ice cream cones, candy, and magazines.

Mrs. John Morkert baked fifty loaves of bread a day to supply Demers store and earned $400 to buy a piano. When the "Great Depression" landed, she could get only $59 or two sewing machines, a small payment for the nine months of hard work required to pay for the instrument. She took the two sewing machines and gave one to each of her daughters.

Billy Orville built a hotel fronting on the road to the railroad depot. The hotel was later owned by Mrs. Jenny Memory, who had a special place in the town, being the only resident who could lay claim to having spent her younger years as a dance hall girl in the Yukon. Later, after Tom Helean built the new road through town, Mrs. Memory had the two-story hotel moved a short distance and turned around to face the highway. The project was accomplished by one man with one horse, and it took two weeks. The hotel was said to have a small stove in each room.

At different times there were two blacksmith shops, two pool halls, barber shops, butcher shops, restaurants, and two general merchandise establishments. "Butch" Larson, entrepreneur, built and ran a store later operated by H.L. Haines, William Boyer, and Harl Bruner, to name a few. Mr. Haines, it is said, began operations with a $40 investment which he built up to a million-dollar business, expanding to several other towns. Several logging camps in the surrounding area helped to keep these businesses going.

About 1914-15, Albert and "every kid in town" was on hand to help the Demers move into their new store. The proprietors set mouse traps on top of the candy buckets to protect their merchandise! The vacated building was sold to Harry Fitzgerald who operated a movie theater and dance hall which burned about 1920. A new one was built and operated by John Morkert. After several years and a change of ownership, this building also burned, taking a restaurant and barbershop with it.

John Hertzog built the "White School House" for elementary students. Some years later, the "Brown School House" came along for two years of High School. Upper classes were obliged to go out of town to graduate. Albert remembers that the basement was dug by volunteer labor—about twenty-five men with picks and shovels. His father, Fred, hauled all the dirt away with two dump board wagons, emptying the loads on the county road half a mile away. The resulting gymnasium was not regulation size, and "we skinned our elbows on the concrete walls," but Arlee usually won the home games because the visitors, not being used to playing in such cramped quarters, overshot the basket. Kids of that day were going to school on foot, on horseback, or by horse and buggy, until school busses became motorized. The first of these was a truck with canvas covering and a stove to keep them from freezing.

Albert ranched most of his life in the Jocko Valley, starting with rented land and later buying land of his own. He managed to include some road building, logging, cutting Christmas trees for market, and working on the Kerr Dam. He raised his four children in the valley. He and his wife, Nell, attained the age of ninety in 1994 and now make their home in Missoula.