My Forty Years Scribblin's
Interviews
These Changing Times

In this 1961 interview--published in Montana's Little Legends(1963)--Mrs. Rachel (Sperry) Grace recalls the pioneer days in the Blackfoot Valley.


Mrs. Rachel Grace a daughter of pioneer C.B. Sperry, for whom Sperry grade was named, remembers the Blackfoot Valley when life there was quite different. Mrs. Grace says she saw Missoula once before she married, making the trip there by stagecoach with her mother, to be treated for jaundice and snow-blindness when she was a child of six. Though it was but a few miles from their home at Sperry grade they spent the night at the Clearwater stage station at the confluence of the Big Blackfoot and Clearwater rivers, in order to get an early start the next morning.

The stage station, constructed of logs, consisted of stables and an inn with accommodations for travelers. There was a change of horses at the Potomac station, another change of horses and lunch at the Twin Creeks station, then on to Missoula, a distance of some fifty miles.

Arriving at Missoula they took a room at the Rankin House which looked out on the Missoula river, where the Montana Mercantile now stands. The other side of the building looked out on the present M.M. parking lot where tepee smoke spiraled upward from among a gathering of buggies and wagons of a band of Flathead Indians for whom it was a favorite camping spot.

It seems that one thing that has NOT greatly changed are boys. While modern day little brothers hide under the sofa, Mrs. Grace remembers when young men came courting her sisters, her brothers busied themselves out of doors, changing the buggy wheels about, attaching the smaller front wheels to the back axles and the larger, back ones to the front, so the swains were obliged to ride homeward under the winking stars with the front end of the vehicles tilted uphill.

Covered wagons passing through often camped on the Blackfoot River and the Sperry family enjoyed their visits.

The Blackfoot Valley once harbored rustlers and when the Sperry family came to look for land their horses were stolen, which, in those times, left them in a bad situation.

Though she was rather small at the time, Mrs. Grace remembers Ovando Hoyt and his store, for which the town was named, because he lifted her to the counter and fed her "washboard" candy. She also remembers one teacher, Maggie Jensen, because she had the prettiest hat-pins.

Jakeway and Faust, General Merchandisers, stocked everything, she tells—even a coffin. And Ovando boasted, besides its general store, a drug store, a bank, a hotel, and five saloons. Kilburns had a very modern store with a delivery wagon which made delivery twice a week.

Large bands of Indians on hunting excursions traveled through the Blackfoot and camped along the river near the Sperry place. Mrs. Grace tells of an instance near the turn of the century when Sophie Moiese visited the Sperry's while on her honeymoon, very proud of her necklace of several yards of safety pins.

During the fires of 1910, she relates, "It grew dark in mid-afternoon. We hung wet flour sacks over the open windows to filter the smoke from the air so we could breathe, and a welcome snow storm put the fires out—in August."