My Forty Years Scribblin's
Interviews
Settlers Come to the Blackfoot

In this interview from 1961 or '62--published in Montana's Little Legends(1963)--Cora Young Hanson and Charles "Kid" Young, two off-spring of the earliest settlers in the Ovando area, provide insight into those far away days.


Two contributors were Mrs. Cora Young Hanson, of Spokane, and her brother, Charles "Kid" Young, of Ovando, Montana, two of several children of the family of Joseph and Mary Young who came first to Lincoln Gulch, from Pennsylvania, in 1875. The family's next move was to McClellan Gulch, where Mrs. Hanson (Cora) was born, then on to Mt. Pleasant and Belmont, where Joseph Young became superintendent of the Drum Lummon mine, located near Marysville. They remained at the now forgotten town of Belmont until Mr. Young's health failed and the family moved once more in September of 1882, making Cora the first little white girl to live at Ovando.

When the Youngs arrived by covered wagon to take up residence at Ovando, they found only two bachelors, Dave and Con Coughlin; but soon there came a second family, William Dilts and his wife, Julia. Three more daughters arrived at the Young's homestead cabin, Bessie being the first white girl born at the little town in the rolling Blackfoot Valley hills.

"There was as yet no doctor or midwife in the area," Mrs. Hanson relates, "and my father delivered each of his own children, even to giving them their first bath."

"When our family first settled in Ovando," Mrs. Hanson recalls, "it was commonplace for the Indians to set up tepees on our land. Father had difficulty in making them understand they must not tear down our fences and go through our grain fields and Mother regarded them with some apprehension, though we youngsters had no fears—ran foot races and played with the children. One little girl taught me to shoot a bow and arrow.

Playthings, as we think of them today, were almost nonexistent and the Young children were delighted when, one evening, the Indians brought in a little fawn. They had killed its mother for food and Mr. Young gave them fifty cents and a pound of coffee for it. Mrs. Young made it a flannel collar with a small bell attached and they now had a playmate.

"Our first doctor," Mrs. Hanson tells, "was Elijah Hoyt, brother of Ovando Hoyt, for whom the town was named. In later years a midwife from Helmville came to assist at confinements, a Mrs. John Moore."

During this time families came but did not stay. Mrs. Hanson's first recollection of a permanent family was that of Daniel Jones. Daniel Jones' son, Albert, married Emma Jean Armstrong, of Iowa. She was the first person to die at Ovando. There was no undertaker. Friends took care of the dead, and caskets, for some time, were homemade.

As always, with small, or new communities, entertainments were wholly a community affair. At Ovando's dances and surprise parties music was furnished by Doctor Elijah Hoyt and his violin.

"Mrs. Malinda (Aunty) Newcomb, sister of the Hoyts, may be credited with introducing the dandelion into the Blackfoot Valley," says Mrs. Hanson. "She brought them from England and planted them carefully in her vegetable garden."

One spring when Mrs. Young was ill she sent her daughter Cora to ask for some dandelions for greens. "Aunty complied but sparingly," said Mrs. Hanson, "remarking that if Mrs. Young would wait just a few years there would be plenty for everyone!"

Ovando's first school, Mrs. Hanson remembers, was built in 1885, a log building on the flat near Warren Creek. Again, we hear of the versatile Dr. Hoyt, for he and Joseph Young made the desks and benches. School, at that time, was held in the spring and summer months only and consisted of the teacher, Miss Gertrude Galbraith, and eight pupils. Miss Galbraith married B. Lee Kelly, of Deer Lodge, and five children were born to them, one of whom, a daughter, Jeanette, became the original "Betty Crocker" of General Mills.

"The little log school house also served as the first church," Mrs. Hanson says, "services being sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Jones." The first minister was Rev. Wadsworth who, after services one Sunday, had joined the Jones' for dinner. While at the table, Mrs. Jones gently chided the good man about some phase of his behavior.

"Why Mrs. Jones!" he declared. "I'm as sure of going to Heaven as I am of eating this piece of meat."

But the poor man soon had reason for doubt, for that instant a piece of meat fell from his fork and was gobbled up by their watchful dog, Bruno!

Sunday School was instituted by Mrs. Adelbert Armstrong, Mrs. Hanson recalls. And the Armstrongs' son, Victor, became a missionary. His son, also named Victor, became President Eisenhower's personal helicopter pilot.

The "ounce of prevention" technique was employed in the Young family. Sulphur and molasses, plus a pinch of gunpowder, was taken twice daily for a period of two weeks each spring.

"As a special treat, Mother would dose us with hoarhound and sage tea. And regardless of the weather we went into long woolen underwear in October and 'itched' until the first of May."

Chores always came before amusement at the Youngs' ranch but the children had homemade sleds, although they some times found elk hides more suitable for sailing over the drifts. They also rode the range, and practiced roping on the milk cows, being sure that "Dad didn't find out how we acquired our ability."

"'One day," says Mrs. Hanson, "Mother sent brother Will and me to deliver some fresh-baked bread to a neighbor, Trapper Smith. His little log cabin had a dirt floor and we found him busily making a pot of soup at his stone fireplace. We inquired as to what kind of soup he was making and he pointed to three skinned beaver tails on the bare board table. We didn't stay for lunch."

Prior to the opening of Ovando Hoyt's store the Blackfoot ranchers were obliged to make the trip to Helena twice yearly with wagons for supplies, the round trip taking almost a week. Mr. Young always brought back green coffee beans and Mrs. Young would spend all the next day roasting them in the wood-stove oven.

"That," says Mrs. Hanson, "was really coffee!"

Jakeways and Sloper were also early merchandisers in Ovando, and Henry Dixon built the first saloon. Above the saloon was the first town hall. Like most small communities, Ovando had two factions, each determined as to the location of the town. By a meeting and a vote it was decided to move "upper town" as it was called, from the "flat" to the present site, but some families left the Blackfoot Valley rather than move with the town.

Mrs. Hanson relates that her wedding to H.J. Faust, January 1, 1896, was the first and only wedding held in the town hall. Much later she became Mrs. Hanson, of Spokane.

Charles "Kid" Young, eldest brother of Mrs. Cora Hanson, has a variety of experiences to his credit, among them: miner, trapper, lumberjack, forest ranger, packer, his memories burn brightly after almost ninety years spent in these rugged Montana mountains.

"There were no ranchers at Lincoln until after '83," says Charles Young, who was a small boy when his parents came there from Pennsylvania.

"Then," he tells, "the rich ones had mowing machines and the rest of us cut our hay with hand scythes. Some folks went to Fish Lake, caught four or five hundred pounds of fish, then took them to Helena and came back with new mowers and rakes."

Charley Young followed mining for many years, working on Ogden Mountain and at now extinct Reynolds City. In the Alaskan gold rush he pulled a sled at fifty and sixty degrees below zero. At the Drum Lummon mine, of which his father was superintendent, he remarked that after blasting it would be hung with strings of wire gold.

He took part in the great log drives, when the caulk-booted lumberjacks rode the slippery timbers and broke up jams down the turbulent Clearwater and Blackfoot rivers to Bonner. And recalling his days as a Forest Ranger, he tells of being paid sixty dollars per month while he and two other men named Haun and Stranahan furnished their own nails to build cabins in which to leave a "grub supply" for future use.

He took the first survey crew into the South Fork of the Flathead country where Young's Creek and Young's Mountain, in The Bob Marshall Wilderness are named for him.

The people of the Blackfoot country relied on snowshoes for winter travel and Charley Young relates that at one time he carried the mail from Ovando to Woodworth and return, for a dollar each way.

"In the old days Indians were always hunting and tepees were everywhere," Mr. Young says. He tells of "scrimmages" between the tribes when they got into forbidden territory in search of game, or perhaps each other's horses, or even for war paint. Some materials for war paint were acquired from flowers, some from the soil, but yellow was hard to get, Mr. Young says, and the Flatheads often journeyed to the Missouri river country to procure it. This was Blackfoot territory and, said Mr. Young, "Beware if they ever got caught!"

Trapping, however, was his main interest and he spent many lonely winters outwitting the fur bearers.

"We got some mighty big grizzlies in those days," he reminisced. "As much as a hundred dollars for a hide." He remembers snow shoeing a hundred and thirty-five miles down the South Fork of the Flathead River to Columbia Falls in five days, early in the spring of 1908, with a little dried elk meat for sustenance.

"I always carried a needle and thread to sew my clothes together if they fell apart on the trail," he laughed. And he arrived in Columbia Falls with a six month's's crop of black hair and whiskers, and several thousand dollars worth of fur in his pack.

Miller and Lewis were fur buyers at Columbia Falls, but when "Kid" Young arrived Johnny Lewis was halfway across Montana on his way to New York. However, he received the telegram and returned to buy Charley's furs.

Charley had two trapper's cabins, one of which still molders in decay on Babcock Creek in the Wilderness Area.

Trapper's cabins were usually built near a large tree or other landmark with a door just large enough for a man to crawl in on all fours. Inside was a bunk, a table and a stove of some sort. Snow often obliterated the little shelter, so the trapper on locating his landmark, would begin digging where the door ought to be, burrowing his way like a badger, hoping a bear or wolverine hadn't gotten there first.

After one hard trip Charley arrived at his cabin wet from the snow, to find that the roof had leaked and his bed was wet, also. Thoroughly fatigued, he lay down anyway, and ended up with what he supposed to be pneumonia. Lacking other medication, he boiled spruce boughs and drank the bitter tea.

Charley Young and five other men hired out to chop the first road into the Seeley Lake and Swan country, as far as Lion Creek.

"It was at the time of the battle between W. A. Clark and the Marcus Daly factions," he said.

"Daly wanted the capital at Anaconda and Clark wanted it at Helena. And people rode out of the Flathead in wagons over those stumps, to vote," he says.

Reaching Lake Inez the road chopping crew ran out of supplies and a man named Courtney went out to shoot a deer, he remembers. But that day a group of Milwaukee railroad officials wheeled into camp.

"Were we glad to see them!" said Charley.

They told us that by night there would be two four-horse teams with supplies and a bunch of surveyors in camp.

The railroad was surveyed twice, he relates, but never went through. At the time of this writing Charley Young was ninety-odd years old, but still lived alone and held memories of the past as keen as the skinning knife he lived by.