My Forty Years Scribblin's
Interviews
Memories of Evaro

In this 1961 interview--published in Montana's Little Legends (1963)--Mildred's aunt Stella Johnson recalls the establishment and growth of Evaro.


This little town on the Flathead Indian Reservation border, fifteen minutes from Missoula, was once named Blanchard, for the man who operated its first post office. The name was changed, so the story goes, when a crew of Northern Pacific surveyors was working there. One of these men was allowed to name the new railroad station, and having lost a sweetheart in the east, he gave it her name, which was Eva Rowe. The name was later shortened to Evaro.

Mrs. Stella Mackie, and Oliver L. Johnson, a daughter and son of the late W. L. Johnson, an early-day homesteader, remember many incidents of the times. They recall when Fort Missoula was garrisoned with Negro soldiers. As children, they saw these soldiers on bivouac, being marched from Missoula to Polson, their supplies transported by mules and wagons.

Often their first night's camp would be made in the old school yard at Evaro and it was a rare treat for the residents when the soldiers would bring out the instruments of a forty to fifty piece band and furnish music after the evening meal.

The soldiers also came to the Johnson place to buy buttermilk. On one occasion Mrs. Johnson had made a big churning of butter and the cold buttermilk was drawn up out of the well. Several colored men stood around the back porch enjoying the refreshment, but one looked apprehensively out into the tall timber that surrounded the place.

"Evah see any bear aroun' heah?" he asked.

"Oh yes, we see them quite often," Mrs. Johnson replied. The four Johnson children watched in fascination from behind their mother's skirts as the black man rolled his eyes declaring "If'n I evah see dat bea'h, dat bea'h won't see no mo' o' me!"

In the late nineties, the family watched from the safety of their back porch in the moonlight while the current sheriff and two deputies apprehended about fifteen Indians for bootlegging whiskey back to the reservation from Missoula, a duty which at the time was "ticklish business" for the law officer. The Indians' horses were cared for in the Johnsons' corral until proper disposition could be made of them, and their owners were taken back to Missoula for trial, via the well-remembered "Midnight Train."

At the age of twelve, Mrs. Mackie had one of the "scares of her life" at Evaro. A neighbor, Mrs. Beebe, wished to make a trip to Missoula and asked Stella to stay with the Beebe children while she was away. Scarcely had the rattle of the buggy wheels died away when a band of Indians came by with buggies, wagons, and saddle horses, on their way to dig Bitterroots.

"Kid fashion, we called out to them," Mrs. Mackie relates.

However, the children soon regretted their act for one Indian left the cavalcade and made for the Beebe house near the road. The children locked the door and hid in terror.

The Indian, unable to open the door, searched the yard, and found a piece of wire with which he tried to pick the lock. Failing in this, he lay down in front of the house to sleep off an overdose of firewater. Unhappily for him, Mrs. Beebe changed her plans and returned a couple of hours later.

Now, this woman was of pioneer material. She too, searched the yard, and she picked up a spoke from a wagon wheel and proceeded to sober the Indian. He forgot all about being a big, bad Indian. In fact, he forgot everything in his hurry to get away from the white woman with the club; he roused himself and staggered away down the road. Shortly after, another band of his tribesmen came by and took him away with them.

"What we were most afraid of was that he would find his way around to the back door," said Mrs. Mackie. "We couldn't lock that door."

Children of the homesteaders were taught self reliance at an early age, and Edna, the eldest daughter, would ride, at the age of ten, the fifteen rugged lonely miles to Missoula returning long after dark with medicine for her sick mother. In her early teens she drove the same long, cold miles with four-horse teams and sleigh loads of baled hay.

On rare occasions when the Johnson children had the pleasure of going to town their favorite haunt was Bonner's grocery, located in what is now the Hammond Arcade building.

"Nickels were hard to come by," Mrs. Mackie relates, and she remembers with chagrin how she lost hers down the cracks of Missoula's board walks.

The advent of a circus was sheer wonder and when Missoula was to be favored with a performance an advance agent went through the country requesting permission to plaster barns and sheds with huge advertising posters, handing out free tickets to the owner for this favor. Most families, if at all able, made a point of attending, and Mr. Johnson led his excited little brood of four through the milling crowds, each with one small fist clenched around one tightly rolled umbrella.

Mrs. Mackie tells of one occasion "At the time of the big floods..." when she and a chum accompanied her father on a trip to Missoula by team and buggy. The first road meandered up the bottom of the Evaro canyon, narrow, rough, and boulder-strewn.

The same little stream which chatters sociably along the present oiled highway, also wended its merry way through the willows that edged the wagon road of 1908. Returning late at night they found the little stream transformed, in a matter of hours, into an angry, muddy river that covered the road and its boulders two feet deep.

Traveling became a complicated procedure, but the climax came when one of the horses stumbled over a boulder and went down. Hindered by the ensnaring harness, the animal was unable to regain its footing, so two young ladies in ruffles and bows, and high buttoned shoes, were obliged to "pile out" into the chilly ooze and hold its head above water until Mr. Johnson, fumbling in the darkness and the swirling torrent, could unbuckle the harness and let the horse get up. Both animals were turned loose to go home, the buggy was left waiting for the flood to recede, and its passengers climbed up the bank to grope their way homeward, on foot.

"Punishment?" says Mrs. Mackie, "Oh, we were usually locked in the cellar." The cellar, we are told, was cool and dark, covered over with earth, had double doors and was full of lizards. But the plan backfired. A little light filtered down through the ventilator and also through a crack at the door. The "culprit" removed the strings from the potato sacks and harnessed the lizards for horses.

Mrs. Mackie recalls playing with one of these reptilian steeds in the yard while a friend of the family, a man named Marcellus McClain, was bending over the well fastening a new rope on the well bucket. His shirt collar gaped at the back of his neck. Little Stella spied the opening, looked once at the lizard, and gave way to temptation. The little reptile scooted down the warm back, and "Marcellus came right out of his shirt!" she laughs. "And he took after me, crutches, broken leg and all!"

Her punishment, still remembered, was of more drastic nature than being locked in the cellar.

Eating habits of the day were somewhat different than of now, it seems. The hum of the coffee grinder echoed from house to house and foods were dried or eaten fresh in season. Which is to say there were no crisp heads of lettuce or strawberries in December.

Mrs. Johnson passed away leaving the four children when Jesse, the youngest, was quite small.

There was dissension, it seems, between small Jesse and the Evaro storekeeper and it flared into open, if temporary warfare, when the boy, out of pique, boosted his dog Bowser, up on this man's drying platform and walked him back and forth over his wife's white sliced apples. The storekeeper, understandably angered, shot the dog, but his wife in her compassion for the motherless boy smoothed the difficulties and averted further disaster.

Young Jesse died at the beginning of the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, but he had lived to stop a runaway team and sleigh that was dragging the storekeeper underneath, but not in time to save the man's life.