My Forty Years Scribblin's
Historical Accounts
Early Day Transportation

This account was written in 1962 and published in Montana's Little Legends(1963). The first Forest Service employees came from hardy pioneer stock.


It has been said that the West was built on bacon and beans but the beans were not here for the taking and somebody had to bring home the sowbelly. That was where the freighter came in. Whether by wagon, with horses, oxen or mules, or by heavy-laden pack train, there was little humor to the life of a freighter—until it became history.

Many were the frostbitten hands and feet, and many an ear and nose turned up swollen and peeling from a bout with the frost-ridden air. Some old-timers rubbed kerosene on these extremities to ward off winter's nip and did not allow themselves the pleasure of thawing out by the fireside for fear of becoming "tenderized" and even more vulnerable to the cold.

In the spring it was quite another matter, with great globs of mud clinging to the already heavy wheels, the drivers often doubling up, hooking their teams to each other's wagons to get through a particularly bad stretch of road. In summer when the alkali turned to choking dust, mixed to a cake with sweat and baked on by a grinning sun—well, we just don't know how lucky we are!

We are told of a freighter forming a circle of his wagons and keeping his animals inside to safeguard them from the wolf pack at the night camps. There are those in the Blackfoot Valley who remember when one freighter was caught in a blizzard near Woodworth and was so badly frozen that he died.

The family of Irvin Sperry recall a story related by him, of an incident when he was freighting supplies to a mine near Lincoln. Two ponderous wagons were making their way up a narrow grade on Arasta Creek when they encountered a peddler known to many people only as "Frenchy."

Frenchy was a traveling man making his way about Western Montana for upwards of fifty years, supplying his customers with clothing. His earliest mode of travel was by horse and buggy. On this day, Frenchy came driving nonchalantly down the grade—until he came face to face with the Sperry wagons. The little peddler was an excitable man and the condition was aggravated by the fact that he had nowhere to turn.

The freighters were not excitable men, but one of their wagons carried a steam boiler consigned to the mine and the other was just as copiously laden. There was but one way to pass. Frenchy's horse was unhitched and tied below the road. The men lifted the buggy up the hillside and two of them held it there while one drove the wagons past.

Yes, our successful freighter must have been blessed with a "do or die" spirit. One of these was Jack Demers, who transported gold from Virginia City to California by pack train and whom, we are told, once "grubstaked" W.A. Clark, who discovered "The Richest Hill On Earth."

Jack Demers later settled in Western Montana and became the founder of Frenchtown, where he lies buried.