My Forty Years Scribblin's
Interviews
Pioneer Thorns and Roses

In this interview, conducted in 1961 or '62 and published in Montana's Little Legends(1963), Mrs. Mae Schuman talks of life in early-day Superior, MT.


Mrs. Mae Schuman lends atmosphere to our tales of earlier days. She relates that her parents, the Tom Nichols, came to this country by the accepted mode of travel, a four horse team and covered wagon, "And Mother drove the surrey." After an enforced layover at Great Falls until the water went down, they forded the Missouri and continued on, to arrive at Superior in September 1889 in the middle of a snowstorm. There an Indian family named Lozeau, made them welcome and cleaned out a barn and shed to house the new family. Later, Mr. Nichols bought and operated the Halfway house at Cobden, near Superior.

Mrs. Schuman remembers seeing logging done with oxen. "Pyrtle and Lynch," she relates, "operated a sawmill across from our place and at the time, were just beginning to replace ox teams with horses."

The big Blackfoot Milling Company was then sending big log drives down the Clarks Fork river (then called the Missoula) from the Five Mile district and Superior. The Company owned a sawmill at St. Regis where the drives terminated and also operated a logging camp on the property of Paul Westfall, east of Iron Mountain, a little town on the Northern Pacific which has been absorbed in growing Superior.

Jack Shoblom, the late Missoula County sheriff, drove the paymaster around each month in a "surrey with the fringe on top" and the lumberjacks received their pay at the little towns along the line.

"He always remembered us kids and brought along a sack of candy" she tells.

Then the railroads began transporting logs to the mills and the picturesque lumberjack with his pike-pole was seen on the river no more.

"Dad hauled freight and passengers from Superior to Beech's mine, up Deep Creek about 1901 to 1904," she reports. There was a ten stamp mill there employing about fifty to seventy-five men. The Beech mine closed about 1903 and was taken over by Jim Finney, who died a few years later. The mine was not worked again.

Lee Brinser, another prospector, staked a claim three miles away but gave up the uneven struggle after ten years, and Frank and Willie Dubia took the claim. over, but they too gave it up as a lost cause. Many people put their hopes and all their worldly goods into mining. Most of them lived on sourdough and died on the job.

"In 1902," says Mrs. Schuman, "Dad converted a cow barn into a school house and hired a teacher, who lived in a tent. However, the poor girl wasn't very happy with her position; she was too afraid of Indians and "these wild people." School, for the next three or four years, remained in session but three months of the term. They were then aided in getting a school by the ACM or Anaconda Copper Company.

Life, for the pioneer, was not ALL thorns. One rancher in the valley married an Indian woman, to whom, it seems, had gone all the ambition in the family. The poor woman, after cutting the logs and practically building the cabin, obligingly passed on, leaving it snug and warm for the occupancy of a second wife.

"Our medicine? We were dosed with asafetida," she says, "and anyone knows that a patient dosed with asafetida, after a few applications, will make an effort to get well, in self defense!"

"Once, a man named King came and stayed for dinner, leaving us to weather a siege of smallpox."

Clothing a family of youngsters was ever a problem, and, she says, "We went barefoot in the summer because we had to."

About 1908 the ranchers in the Tarkio district were precipitated into a feud (Western style) when one rancher shot another's horse. One man was killed in the ensuing flare-up.

About 1912 five carloads of elk from the Yellowstone were planted on the Paul Westfall ranch at Ashmore, and fed hay all winter. In the early days there were no fish and game laws, but most people killed only what they needed and did not waste.

Mrs. Schuman tells of there being a town at Lothrop before Alberton was founded; and the same raging waters of 1908 that washed out the Higgins Avenue bridge in Missoula, also took the Lothrop bridge and Cobden ferry. She also remembers houses floating down the Clarks Fork river, and coops with displaced chickens teetering on top. As nature did not fit chickens for swimming, their fate can be imagined.