My Forty Years Scribblin's
Interviews
Day By Day Living Plus a Few Shenanigans

This piece was written in 1962 and published in Montana's Little Legends(1963). A glimpse of homestead life in the Mission, Blackfoot, Clearwater, and Bitterroot Valleys as told by Mrs. Edna Lindsay.


Some of our residents received harsh introduction to this country. Mrs. Jack (Edna) Lindsay, relates that she began the journey from Washington to Montana with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bert Lish, when she was three weeks old. Arriving at Dixon the party was obliged to ford the treacherous Flathead River. Mrs. Lish and a sister were not allowed to risk crossing in the wagons, but were sent on foot across the railroad bridge with the baby, Edna, who was carried on a pillow because her small body was so tender from the constant jouncing over hummocks and hollows that were the highways of the day.

They were almost across when the whistle shrilled. Mrs. Lish froze to the ties and dropped the pillow, baby and all.

The baby rolled down the embankment to the ground below and Mrs. Lish's sister pulled her off the track before the train went by.

"The wagons came through in good order," says Mrs. Lindsay, "but the cavvy of loose horses followed the bell-mare into a whirlpool and sixteen nearly indispensable animals were drowned."

Great-grandparents of Mrs. Lindsay were the Woodmans, who resided near Lolo when the women and children of the white families made their hasty exit to Missoula ahead of Chief Joseph on his historical march [1877]. The Woodman family, however, did not leave. Joseph's quarrel was not with the white settlers; he was very kind, Mrs. Lindsay's forebears told. He camped with his band at the Woodman ranch and obtained feed there for his horses.

Mrs. Lindsay, with her parents, spent some years in the Mission Valley and she recalls that her father and her husband's people furnished hay for the stage station at Post Creek. She also has many memories of the Blackfoot [Valley] when her family lived there. She attended the first school at Potomac located in the lower end of the meadows which are part of the Scheff ranch now.

She tells of a hair-raising incident when a man from MacNamara's Inn, on the river just below, had imbibed to the extent that he was left with an extreme case of d.t.'s. He came to the school house, a wild man brandishing an ax, and the teacher and pupils scattered like leaves in a whirlwind.

"Our parents," she remembers, "had to come and hunt us out of the woods."

An amazing amount of history was wafted away in smoke when the old two-story house at MacNamara's landing burned quite recently. The building served at different times as a saloon, a rooming house and a night club. At the time of the Lish family's residence at Potomac, two girls about Edna's age were living at MacNamara's; and these three constituted a crowd!

"We took a cowboy guest's white beaver hat and drew pictures all over it with ink," she confesses. "It took Mama quite a while to get us out of that!"

And once, while MacNamara's was operating as a rooming house the same three young ladies went up Union Creek and gathered a pail of frogs. Since the partitions between rooms came only slightly above eye level it was easy to climb on a chair and dump the contents of their pail over the wall—on top of a sleeping couple!

"Once we had a fancy school teacher," Mrs. Lindsay relates, "who allowed herself to be persuaded to go for a ride on a handcar. The hand-car managed to upset and break one of her 'high falutin' limbs."

Meanwhile, these Western-model "Katzenjammer" girls had filled her bed full of firewood and her escorts brought her home and dumped her unsympathetically on top of it, broken leg and all!

Mrs. Lindsay tells of festive occasions when the woods workers held contests at Salmon Lake, and the ACM (Anaconda Company) furnished long tables piled high with food for the enjoyment of contestants and spectators alike, before the railroad came up the Blackfoot. And many camps of Indians on hunting excursions dotted the Blackfoot and Clearwater valleys.

In Mrs. Lindsay's family there is a legend of her grandmother, who, on her way to Montana from Oregon, was accosted by Indians who planned to annex the lady's wagon and set her afoot. She drew back the canvas and persuaded one of the raiders to look inside the wagon where one of her children lay sick in bed. The Indian took one look, let out a mighty whoop and departed, his fellow warriors hard behind. They were well acquainted with the scourge of smallpox. The lady smiled and continued unmolested on her way. Her little boy had saved the wagon and the day with a well illustrated case of measles!

"Our favorite remedy," says Mrs. Lindsay, "was rock candy and camphor gum in whiskey." But she recalls one family who soaked buckshot in buttermilk and drank the liquid as a blood purifier.