My Forty Years Scribblin's
Historical Accounts
The Hub of the Blackfoot Valley

This piece, written in 1993 and published in the March-April 1994 issue of The Montana Journal, gives a brief history the town of Ovando.


Ovando, once a typical "Old West cowtown," was founded by Ovando Hoyt, who built a store and post office there about 1880. It grew to become a small oasis in the Blackfoot Valley that Captain Meriweather Lewis had named "The Valley of the Knobs." Having once studied medicine, Mr. Hoyt was often referred to as "doctor", and his capabilities proved to be of great value to the settlers who flocked into the area during homesteading days.

Ovando's first school, a little log building, opened in 1884 and housed half a dozen students. The furniture was homemade by Ovando Hoyt. Music for early social gatherings was also homemade by "Doctor" Hoyt and his violin. Ovando Hoyt was the town's first postmaster, holding the position for many years. Mail first reached the valley from Helmville by snowshoe, horseback, stage and freight wagon, once a week.

As the central source of supply, Ovando's business section grew to include a couple more grocery stores, hotels, and livery stables to accommodate customers who came many miles for necessities. There was also a drugstore, barbershop, meat market, church, town hall, jail, blacksmith shop, the usual small town saloons, a dance hall, and, yes, a brothel or two.

Merchants Jakway and Faust became pillars of the community, their suppliers being the freighters who made runs from as far away as Deer Lodge through mud, snow, or choking dust. The Jakeway and Faust Mercantile stocked just about anything settlers might need, including two coffins waiting in the basement.

The first white baby born in Ovando was Bessie Young, in 1882, the daughter of Joseph Young, an early day homesteader.

The first U.S. Forest Service office in Montana was located at Ovando and was called Lewis and Clark South, when settlers still traveled by horse and packstring through the (now) Bob Marshall Wilderness, north to Glacier Park. In contrast to all this, as many as 200 Indian tepees could at times be counted from near the Ovando townsite. Buffalo once trampled the grass where the little metropolis' streets took shape and five buffalo skulls were unearthed in excavating for the Ovando fish hatchery.

Still a reliable mode of transportation in the late 1920s.The Blackfoot pioneers were a hardy lot. They worked hard, and they played harder. Fourth of July celebrations lasted all day and all night. Festivities included horse racing and bucking contests out on the open prairie. There were greased pole climbing and greased pig contests, shooting contests, speeches, and boxing, all punctuated by bursts of firecrackers.

The only fence at the time was at the cemetery and, as one lady said, "At least the dead in the cemetery were protected, but the living surely were not!"

In 1919, a fire destroyed a large part of the town, and the seven buildings lost were never rebuilt.

Today, the little oasis of Ovando quietly rests from the rigors of its youth.