My Forty Years Scribblin's
Interviews
Monkey Shines and Mud Fights

This article was published in Montana's Little Legends(1963). Charles and Daisy Durston, two of ten children of Edwin Durston, were interviewed in 1960. They recall life in the Mission and Flathead Valleys.


Being born in England didn't prevent one young man from becoming as hardy a pioneer as many another lad with the spirit of adventure. Edwin Ray Durston had spent his early life in Beloit, Wisconsin. After the Civil War had ended and Durston was discharged, he came west to Virginia City in the last quarter of the 1800s.

He married a girl from Butte and took her back to Virginia City to start their new home. A nearby creek, although supplying gold for the panner, had more than the yellow stuff in it. Before breakfast, on many a morning, the stream gave up a dishpan full of fish

Although the family later moved to Silver Bow County, Mr. Durston decided to take the trek north to settle on land suitable for farming. With this aim in view they moved into the Bitterroot Valley by way of the Big Hole country. They lived there a few years, then in August of 1890 they assembled their goods and using six horses and the ever-popular covered wagon, started for the Flathead Valley.

They forded the river at Lambort's Landing (later Polson) then headed north again along the west shore of the lake. During a stopover either at Elmo or Big Arm, three Indians decided they wanted those six horses worse than the Durstons did and stole them. A white man, seeing how upset Mr. Durston was, loaned him his horse to try and retake the horses. When Durston let it be known that he intended to shoot the offenders the white man offered to talk to the thieves, and, after a short powwow, returned with the animals. Later the family learned the white man was one of the culprits himself.

Some years prior to their arrival at Kalispell, six Indians had been hung from a pine tree about six or eight miles south of the town. A crowd of men from Kalispell formed the self-appointed law group, and horse stealing was the charge. The penalty was the usual one. To this day, some folks contend, a man will be hanged quicker in Montana for horse stealing than for murder.

In those days, if meal time or night found you away from home, and coming to a homesteader's place, found them away also, you entered the house and made yourself a meal from whatever was handy. If you spent the night, you left a note, and left the house in the same condition in which you found it. Another unwritten law was that if you came upon a man and woman on the trail, you never made the mistake of asking the man if the lady was his wife. You just took that for granted, if you knew what was best.

The Durstons got a homestead six miles northeast of Kalispell on Spring Creek. At that time the store and post office was at Four Corners, about three miles south of the present site of Kalispell. The men folks of the families around worked away from home, cutting wood, clearing land, or helping to harvest crops from fields already cleared.

Sometimes the river flooded in springtime and the people traveled by boat. One time the water ran through the Durston home and young Charles, not wanting to let such a wonderful opportunity pass, fished from his bed. The stream wasn't too deep, however, and the family never left the house. This was known as the Spring of the High Water, about 1896 or '97.

One day three Indians came to the house for food, and Mrs. Durston, afraid to let them in, set something to eat on a post outside the house. Her guests ate and left quietly. In later years the native folk would come to the house and ask for biscuits and were always given some.

Another time, relates a daughter, Daisy, a couple of Red Men walked into the home of a neighbor, Mrs. Charles Atteberry, who was alone. They brandished large knives and demanded that she cook them a meal. Though frightened, Mrs. Atteberry cooked for them, and after eating the food they left quietly.

Durston finally decided to start a wood lot and so was at home more. The family raised their own meat, had a big garden and made their own clothes. They saw deer and black bear constantly.

The older children went through the woods to school and once had the experience of having a mountain lion follow them. The elder Durston saw the tracks and went hunting the animal without success.

In the beginning Mrs. Durston held Sunday school in her home for her family of twelve. Later they attended Methodist Church in the Helena Flats Schoolhouse. Charles, one of the younger boys, relates how their home was the stopover place for traveling ministers. One man, he says, a J.M. Eastland, known as the "Sam" (psalm) singer, rode up on a horse one time. After the meal he dropped off to sleep in his chair, and young Charles proceeded to tie him up securely. Upon awakening, Eastland tried to rise. He did, chair and all, turning as "red as a beet." Father Durston began to remonstrate with his son, but Eastland took the boy's part.

Eastland was a circuit rider and at first he traveled on horseback, making the trip about once a month. Later he used a horse and buggy, and came every other week.

A family by the name of Kleckner lived next to the Durstons on the east. They had no children but owned two monkeys, Patty and Jack. Ed Durston had made pals of the two. He would get down on his hands and knees, and get the monkeys to climb up on his back, then would tell the two to "look for lice." Being well-trained little rascals, they really went to work, pawing youthful Ed's scalp and searching with a right good will.

Sometimes the boys would go picking wild raspberries nearby and Ed would call out for Patty and Jack. When the monkeys came they cut all kinds of shines and it was hard to tell which was the biggest monkey.

The Kleckner took a liking to Charles and offered to trade a team of big work horses for the boy, to no avail.

School took on a tone of excitement at times too. "One time," says Charles, "when I was small, the kids had a good fight. It was in the spring of the year, and there was lots of mud around. I stood on the porch, probably because I was too little, and watched the older boys throw mud at each other. They were plastered from one end to the other. The teacher really gave it to all of them. There wasn't one that didn't get a good licking. They even had to go get their own willow switches."

"One young lad," he went on, "was going to be smart about it and would hold out first one leg and then the other, saying all the time, 'Whack away, whack away.' The teacher made him stand so she could switch both legs at the same time."

Some other neighbors were the Daggetts and the Coles. They had settled in that locality before the Durstons arrived. Mrs. Cole used to make a lot of bread and jam and when the youngsters came to her house she would give them bread and jam according to their size. She reasoned that the bigger the child, the more bread and jam he could eat. Charles was the smallest, and got hardly any at all.

"And I could have eaten as much as the biggest one," he said.

Kalispell became a town around 1894 or '95. The first electric lights Daisy can remember was in 1898. Her parents took the entire family into town to see the wonderful sight.

Small Charles helped lighten the seriousness of life every once in a while. One young lad who wished to call on one of his sisters was really not welcome, and Charles knew this. But he also knew the caller brought candy. Wanting some of the sweets, he invited the young man into the house. The sisterly reaction to his hospitality was far from appreciative and he heard about it later.

When the reservation was opened to homesteading Bill and Ed put in their names but their numbers were never drawn. The drawings took place at Kalispell and Missoula.

Threshing at that time was not as convenient as it is now. In about 1911 Charles hauled water for a threshing "rig" west of town. He had to get off and open a gate at one place. There would often be buffalo there and sometimes he had to go through a whole herd. The animals, he said, would just stand there with their necks bowed at him.

Like all pioneers, they worked hard and played hard together, learned valuable lessons from the hardships, and had a good life.