My Forty Years Scribblin's
Interviews
There’s More Than Ghosts in Garnet

This interview was written in the early '60s and published on October 9, 1965 in The Missoulian. Ole & Marion Dahl relate their life in Garnet, MT.


A scattering of bleached, windowless buildings, crumbling with age and the weight of winter snows, meet those who visit the ghost town of Garnet high in the Montana Rockies.

However, it wasn't always so. Founded in the gold-fevered 1860s, Garnet had suffered one decline but was roaring again when Ole Dahl arrived in 1933 with his wife, Marian, and their two children.

During the depression, a miner making $2 a day was a lucky man and Ole had acquired mining interests. But, at Garnet as in all mining camps, liquor was considered one of life's necessities.

Ole became a proprietor of one of the thirteen saloons which flourished in this mountain town of 2,000 persons who lived in log cabins and tent houses some forty miles east of Missoula.

"The saloons made more money than the miners," Ole recalled in reciting an example of a woman who insisted that he favor her with a charge account.

"We are due to make a shipment," she told Ole in referring to gold-bearing ore from a mining claim. However, no payment was forthcoming. So Ole was forced to clamp down. Eventually, the woman came to Ole's place of business swinging an important looking pouch.

"Got my pulp today, Ole" she said. "Should be worth a drink, shouldn't it?"

Ole, as yet unschooled to the tricks of the trade, "guessed it should." However, he discovered that the returns from what had seemed a promising claim had netted the woman and her three partners ninety-five cents each!

"Nobody knows what the women of the mining camps went through," Marian recalled. She described the times children were barefoot and husbands "shot" their paychecks over the bar or in the cardroom.

"We scrubbed our clothes on the washboard," she explained. "And we baked our bread, sewed our garments, never dreaming of electric irons, electric ovens, nor automatic washing machines."

It had been the habit of the Dahls to pack and move out at the onset of winter. Sometimes they braved the blizzards in the mountain tops; once when Marian was enduring seventeen months with a broken knee in a wheelchair. The snow piled five to seven feet above the windows.

"Friends came to visit with snow-cats, and I crocheted a lot. But the more it snowed the more I cried," she said. The Dahls had wintered in Garnet four years previously after the loss of their son in a hunting accident.

Through the early years of World War II, Marian said, the women of Garnet put out their full share of Red Cross work meeting at the school house and catching up on their visiting as they stitched. But Garnet languished and died before the end of the world conflict. The Dahls were away for ten years but held their mining interests. Ole was unhappy until they returned.

They now live comfortably in a cabin which was once a rollicking dance hall. Inside, Marian's homemaking instincts are reflected in the varnished log walls, comfortable furnishings, crocheted handiwork, and a modern touch—a television set. Electricity is supplied by a power plant.

"Marian would never let me pipe water in the house," Ole tells.

"Why should I?" she counters with a tribute to her husband. "I've always had full water pails and a full wood box."

Ole still operates his saloon, but his merchandise has undergone a drastic change. He offers for sale a collection of beautiful rocks. And he satisfies the thirst of his customers over the counter and the old brass rail with ice cold soft drinks from the cellar.

Two or three other cabins are occupied at intervals during the summer months. Twelve years ago the Dahls were joined by another miner, Frank Kreuger, who lives nearby and digs away at his claim, the Yellow Bird. Like all who have gold in their blood—and gold in their hearts—Frank and the Dahls pin their hopes on the future although their most tender thoughts are of the past.

"We had a ski jump," Marian said, "and we had dancing every Saturday night until daybreak. Then the neighbors all furnished bacon and eggs for breakfast, after which we went back and danced until the men went to work Monday morning. When the orchestra passed out, we resorted to local talent."

Now, the orchestras are gone and Marian and Ole, who have been married forty-seven years, sit on their tiny porch and nod to the sightseers who brave the steep and crooked road to view the ruins of Garnet.

They are often joined by their neighbor, Frank, from "up the gulch." Sometimes the only sound is the whispering of the little stream which runs past their door and seems to sigh for the loss of its yellow treasure.