My Forty Years Scribblin's
Historical Accounts
Told in the Bitterroot

Written in 1961 or '62, published in Montana's Little Legends (1963), this is a history of the Chaffin and Gregg families. The Greggs were Mildred's mother Edna Johnson's grandparents. The house burned down several years after this was written.


Among the first white settlers in the Bitterroot Valley were the Chaffin families. Four brothers, Elijah, Anthony, Milton, and Amos, we are told by Glenn Chaffin, began the covered wagon trek with their families, at Fort Scott, Kansas, bound for Oregon.

Arriving at Bannock, Elijah, who was wagon master, was persuaded by a Dutchman named John Slack, to come to the Bitterroot Valley where they established a small settlement near the present town of Corvallis, calling their little town Chaffinville. A year later, brother "Lige," grandfather of Glenn, journeyed on to Oregon, but stayed only a few months, returning to the Bitterroot in 1866. On the return trip, Elijah's wife gave birth to a baby.

At this time there were but two or three other white families in the Bitterroot, but all four brothers remained to establish permanent homes.

The Chaffins were progressive men, we are told; strong for education and organization. Elijah is credited with establishing the first school district, near Corvallis, and organized and became president of the first Grange.

About 1870 people began to move into Grantsdale. Marcus Daly had purchased a large amount of timber in the area but after some difference of opinion with Grant, founder of Grantsdale, Daly decided to build his own town, which was known for a time as "The Big Corral." In 1893 Daly's "Big Corral" became a town, taking its name from one of the surveyors, James Hamilton.

Tom Chaffin (3rd from right) pictured here during a sheep shearing in 1890. Tom (Allen Chaffin’s uncle and son of John S.) was a grandson of the first Chaffins to settle in the Bitterroot Valley.With the influx of homesteaders to the Bitterroot came the O.P. Greggs. Like the Chaffins, the Gregg family crossed the plains by covered wagon, stopping for a short time near Bonita. When they had almost reached their new home in the Bitterroot valley they attempted to ford the river between the village of Grantsdale and the present Charlos Heights, but the channel, deep and swift, upset their wagons and washed away nearly all their worldly goods. After they came to understand the Bitterroot River and her eccentricities they journeyed to Grantsdale for supplies by a more circuitous route fording where Hamilton was later founded, making it a round trip of approximately thirty-five miles; several times the distance by which "the crow flies."

However, after having established a comfortable home, water was to plague the Gregg family again. A cloudburst in the dark hours of a summer night swept down a gully behind the house. Water rushed in the kitchen door and tore up the woven rag carpet, raising its particular brand of havoc before pouring out the front way, swirling down the steps into the wagon road.

Mr. Gregg awoke and swung bare feet out into nearly knee-deep water to find that his treasured violin and case had wandered out from under the bed and was floating around like a small, lost craft. At daybreak, when the family joined forces to shovel out the deep deposits of silt it was noticed that the damage was not confined to the house, for their colony of bee-hives had been swept out into the meadow.

Indians were frequent visitors at the Gregg place. One morning a friendly Indian arrived early and was invited to join the family at breakfast. A plate piled high with biscuits, a standard item on the Greggs' morning menu, was politely passed to the visitor first.

"Goo-ood bread—Goo-ood bread," said the red man in deep throated tones. It is said that Mrs. Gregg was not pleased at his compliment and the family waited quite nonplused, while she flounced into the kitchen to mix and bake another batch. The guest had accepted the plate and emptied the entire contents—down the front of his calico shirt!

Mr. Gregg was proud of having "worn the blue" in the war between the states and was an ardent supporter of the Civil War Veterans' reunions when yearly encampments were attended by the whole family and most of the descendants. These affairs usually lasted four days with a program made up of speakers, meetings, and music. A barbecued beef headed the bill of fare and the campers were housed in tents. This writer, I am told, went along also, at the ripe old age of three months.

Eight children were born to Oliver and Cebrina Gregg, one of whom, Noah, at this writing, resides in a Hamilton rest home. And not the least of their accomplishments was their helping to rear ten orphans.

The old-old house still stands between Gold Creek and Charlos Heights. Many memories hover near—of a hop-vine shaded milk house—of the ice-house where children covered each other wet, cool sawdust to escape the heat of a summer day—of raiding the screened pantry, where squatted heavy crocks of comb honey and preserves—of bedding down on the front porch to the music of the crickets and waking to the song of the coffee grinder in the pre-sunrise hours and of roaming the apple orchard where one could scarcely put a foot to the ground through the carpet of fallen yellow apples.

"Grandpap" Gregg never told the children they must not do "this" or "that," but he had an ally in "Old Billy" a cantankerous ram who liked nothing better than upsetting people. If there was a place they must not go, or a tree they must not climb, he simply stationed "Old Billy" there. Being tethered did not lessen their respect for his malevolent eye and ready horns.