Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Christies Recall Some Butte Adventures

Longtime Butte residents Colin Leys Christie and his wife, the former Ruth Lindsay, reminisced on the occasion of their seventy-fifth wedding anniversary in 1972. Ruth was the daughter of Judge John Lindsay who came to Butte in 1895 as legal counsel to Marcus Daly. Lindsay was later one of Butte’s two district judges. Christie was the son of Alexander Christie, a partner in Leys Jewelry, a family business established in 1888. Colin Christie became a certified gemologist and was the manager at Leys. The Christies told reporters that the key to their successful marriage was a long engagement; theirs lasted four years. When they finally tied the knot in 1912 at the Lindsay home at 831 W. Granite, the famed hack driver Fat Jack delivered the bridegroom and his best man to the wedding.
Ruth and Colin had vivid recollections of childhood in Butte. Colin’s parents were Scotch and tight with their money, so he never had an allowance. When a fossilized mastodon was unearthed during the excavation of Hamilton Street, the construction company charged ten cents for a look at the skeleton. Colin didn’t have a dime, so he never got to see it. And Ruth remembered that the children had to wear scarves over their faces because of the heavy sulfur in the air, and horses wore bells to announce their approach.

This c. 1920s photograph of North Main in Butte shows Leys Jewelry in the lower right corner. The sign is still faintly visible on the side of the building. Photo courtesy Ghost Signs of Butte.
Christie’s uncle, James Leys, started the jewelry business in a log cabin and later moved to Main Street. When the Centennial Hotel burned, it prompted a third and final move to 20 N. Main. The business had its ups and downs. During Prohibition, bootlegging tenants rented rooms above the store and did $1,000 in damages. Then robbers drilled a hole in the floor and stole $2,000 worth of watches. And Christie recalled giving away two thousand white roses when the store remodeled after World War II. After a long business life, Leys closed when Christie retired in 1965.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Boxcar Adventure

Emma Gardner was a homesteading wife who came with her husband and children to the brand-new town of Ryegate in what would later become Golden Valley County. Like many families during the homestead boom, the Gardners came by boxcar. It was a seven day trip from their home in Minnesota, and the boxcar was loaded with all their earthly possessions including chickens and cows, furniture, children, and the family dog. Traveling in a boxcar in warm weather, especially with livestock, could be very uncomfortable. The boxcars were unbearably hot and stuffy, and so most families kept their big doors at least partially open so the fresh air could circulate. At one point, the train slowed down to travel up a steep grade. The dog decided to seize the moment and jump out of the car. Not only did he jump out, he took off running like mad across a field. The children were screaming, thinking that they would never see their pet again. Mr. Gardner did the noble thing and jumped out after him. Emma and the children lost sight of them both. The children began to think they would not only lose the dog, but maybe their dad, too. However, the dog was finally captured, and Mr. Gardner ran with him in his arms back to the train. But the train was starting down the other side of the grade, and it began to pick up speed. Mr. Gardner made it back to the train, but his own boxcar was way up ahead. As the train rumbled past, he had no choice but to toss the dog into someone else’s open boxcar. He hopped on the speeding train and, according to the family, hopped from car to car until he got back to his very anxious family and told them the dog was just down the way. The next time the train stopped, the Gardners collected their pet and all ended well.

A locomotive pulls boxcars across green horn trestle on Mullen Pass west of Helena. Photo by F. J. Haynes.
Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, H-3202

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Photo: Watermelon

Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, PAc 82-23.42
Nothing says "summer" like a juicy watermelon. The women who enjoyed this one are, unfortunately, unidentified.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Camp at Last Chance

After the four discoverers staked their claims at Last Chance, Helena’s early story continues. The Georgians christened the new diggings “Rattlesnake District” for the snakes that were everywhere. A monster rattler with ten buttons on his tail, nailed to a post, warned of the danger. A monstrous grizzly bear that made nightly visits at the gulch’s south end, gorging on the chokecherries along Last Chance Creek, inspired the name Grizzly Gulch.  The howling and barking of wolves and coyotes, discoverer Reginald Stanley recalled, “made the nights hideous.”

Other miners joined the Georgians to pitch tents and mine claims during the summer of 1864.  Some stayed but more moved on, discouraged by the scant supply of water.  In mid-September, the first group of emigrants arrived with the Thomas A. Holmes wagon train from Shakopee, Minnesota. The train included several hundred men and fourteen women. Only half of their names were recorded. Many hailed from Minnesota, but emigrants also came from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and some were European-born immigrants. The incomplete roster includes a number of pioneers who stayed and became citizens of Helena. Among them were longtime Helena attorneys John H. Shober, his partner Thomas J. Lowry, and pioneer rancher Nicholas Hilger. John Somerville, who would soon play a key role in naming Helena, was also part of the group.

The hill in the center of this early Helena panorama, circa 1866, is where the fire tower stands today.
Sketch by A. E. Mathews. Montana Historical Society Research Center.
Most of the emigrants had no experience as miners, and the Montana Post poked fun at them, noting that they used blunt picks and worked “like chickens on a grain pile.” But some had good luck. John Marvin Blake of Wisconsin found one of the largest gold nuggets in the area, worth $2,300. With his fortune Blake studied dentistry in Philadelphia and returned to practice in Helena for fifty years. Others opened businesses and made places for themselves in the new community.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Real Last Chance Discovery Site

Today—July 14, 2014—marks the 150th anniversary of the discovery at Last Chance Gulch by "the Georgians." Reginald Stanley seems to have been the spokesperson for the group, and reading his account leaves little doubt about the location of the discovery site. However, back in 1920, a committee researched the discovery site and came to the erroneous conclusion that the its location was at Sixth and Fuller, exactly where the Montana Club is today. The Montana Historical Society was in on this “research,” and ignored Stanley’s recollection, the most critical and authentic evidence.  A plaque bolted to the building, placed by the Montana Historical Society in 1924, remains there today, identifying the Montana Club as the discovery site. However, Stanley’s description of the discovery leaves no doubt that the first gold was not found at Sixth and Fuller.

This painting, The Four Georgians, by Shorty Shope, was commissioned in 1952 by the Helena HS class of 1953. It now hangs in the Helena Regional Airport. 
Stanley returned to Helena in 1883 and walked the gulch, noting the discovery site was near where Samuel Hauser’s First National Bank then stood. Hauser located his bank there for a good reason. It was the territory’s first federally chartered bank and thus it was appropriate for him to build it where the fabulous gulch yielded up the first gold. It was a stone building with an elaborate imported lock system and a sod roof. In 1886, that building was torn down. The handsome Securities Bank Building on the north Walking Mall replaced the old bank. Over its entry are the dates 1866 for the founding of the bank and 1886 for the building of the new one. The Colwell Building immediately replaced the old bank at the south end of the gulch. The Colwell Building was originally called “Uncle Sam’s Block” for its association with the discovery site and the first federally chartered bank. Samuel Hauser could have corrected the research committee’s mistake, but he died in 1914. How soon we forget!
In honor of the 150th anniversary, a monument has finally marked the real site of the discovery at Last Chance Gulch.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Happy birthday, Helena!

This sign will be unveiled at the south end of the walking mall on the anniversary of the strike.
Helena's 150th birthday is on Monday. It was on that day in 1864 that the four Georgians struck gold at Last Chance. I'll be celebrating tomorrow (Saturday, July 12), and I hope you'll join me. I'm going to give a talk called "The Town that Gold Built" at the Montana Historical Society at 12:00 pm and again at 2:00 pm. The Society will be serving birthday cake and ice cream at 1:00 pm, and kids can pan for gold at a “mining camp.” Food vendors will be on hand, too, and there will be a drawing for free gifts. Plus, it’s Second Saturday at the Society, so admission is free thanks to our sponsor, Helena Community Credit Union.

The fun continues on Monday with the unveiling of a sign to commemorate the gold strike. The unveiling will take place at 5:30 on the walking mall by the library. See you there!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Grant-Kohrs Ranch

Johnny Grant and his wife Quarra, a Bannock woman, brought 250 head of horses and 800 cattle to the Deer Lodge Valley where they settled in 1859. Indians, Mexicans, Canadian Metis like Johnny himself, and whites soon joined the Grants in the Deer Lodge Valley. It was a lively, ethnically diverse settlement called Grantsville.

Johnny Grant
Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 942-460
Floods took the Grant’s cabin in 1861 and the family moved to the new settlement of Cottonwood. In the fall of 1862, Johnny Grant built one of the first clapboard homes in the territory for Quarra. Its twenty-eight glass windows, shipped at great expense by steamboat then freighted overland, were an expression of the Grants' wealth.

The house at the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Park, built in 1862, is one of the oldest frame homes in Montana.
However, with white miners came racial tension, ending the days when neighbors were tolerant of other cultures, Grant’s numerous wives, and inter-racial marriages. Indians ran off most of his cattle and an arsonist destroyed his best barn. Grant told the Montana Post that he wanted to take his children away from such a rough country. The valley was not safe for his family. Conrad Kohrs, whom Grant had several times assisted financially, purchased the ranch in 1866. Grant sold the buildings and their contents, including the house and many of the furnishings he and Quarra had purchased from the east and shipped at great expense. Grant took his children away from Deer Lodge in 1867, but Quarra did not accompany them. She died of consumption, leaving six children.

Quarra Grant's pierced tin pie safe, dating to 1864, is one of the original pieces in the house.
Conrad Kohrs soon brought his nineteen-year-old bride, Augusta, to the ranch. The furnishings reflect her elegant taste although a few pieces—rosewood parlor chairs and a pie safe—date to the time when Quarra Grant was mistress there. Kohrs pioneered ranch management and cattle breeding and became of the most important cattlemn of the nineteenth  century.  Ownership of the working ranch remained in the Kohrs family until the 1970s. Today a National Historic Landmark and National Park, you can visit the ranch and tour its beautiful home.

Monday, July 7, 2014

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream!

Summer makes you think of ice cream, but have you ever wondered where it came from?
It has a longer history than you might think. The Roman emperor Nero used ice brought down from the mountains to mix with fruit. In the seventh century A.D., the Chinese introduced milk and ice mixtures which were then brought to Europe. Sorbets and ices were popular at French and Italian courts. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Dolly Madison served “iced cream” at their tables. Home cooks and ice cream parlor confectioners would put a bowl of sweetened cream into a larger bowl of salt and ice and stir until it froze. The invention of the wooden bucket freezer and rotary paddles was a major breakthrough, and along with the first hand-cranked freezers patented in 1846 and 1848, ice cream making became easier.
An early advertisement for an ice cream freezer.
Ice cream was made from the very earliest days on the frontier. In 1865, the Montana Post advertised a Ladies' Ice Cream Saloon in Virginia City.

Advertisement from the Montana Post, August 5, 1865. Via Chronicling America.
In 1868, ice cream was a major part of the Fourth of July in Helena. On May 11, 1869, as the steamer Nile made its way to Fort Benton, the crew acquired a load of ice from Fort Peck. The steamboat stopped at the mouth of the Musselshell to buy cordwood from woodchoppers “Liver Eating” Johnson and X. Beidler. As was customary, the woodchoppers were invited aboard. It was Captain Grant Marsh’s birthday, and the cook made ice cream to celebrate. Neither Johnson nor Beidler had ever heard of it. They were suspicious of its coldness on a hot day, but they bravely ate their portions. And in 1872 at Urgam’s Occidental Restaurant in Deer Lodge, a plate of ice cream cost twenty-five cents. But it wasn’t until the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 that “walk away” ice cream was introduced. We have been enjoying ice cream cones ever since.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Friday Photo: Happy 4th!

Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, Lot 26 Box 8 Folder 5, Mines and Mining photograph collection
Happy Independence Day! This patriotic boy climbed into a bucket on the Montana Coal and Coke Company’s tram line in Electric, Montana.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Marie Gibson

Sixteen-year-old Marie Gibson’s marriage was on the rocks, so she joined her parents on their homestead near Havre in 1914. With the encouragement of neighbors, including legendary cowboy Long George Francis, Gibson began trick riding in local fairs and rodeos for prize money to help support her children. Her professional debut came in 1917 at Havre’s Great Stampede. She married for a second time in 1919. Her husband, rodeo veteran Tom Gibson, retired to the family homestead and Marie went on to travel widely, busting broncs overseas and back East.

Marie Gibson (center) gambles with fellow rodeo riders. Date unknown.
Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, PAc 2002-32.17
During a performance in England she so charmed the Prince of Wales that he presented her with a prize horse. Gibson earned many titles including World Champion Cowgirl Bronc Rider in 1924 and 1927. In 1933, Gibson made a successful ride on a wild bronc in Idaho. The horse was still bucking as the pickup man approached to take her off. The two horses collided, and Gibson’s horse lost his balance and fell on her, fatally fracturing her skull. Her hobbled stirrups prevented her from kicking free. Her son Lucien, then twenty-three, rushed to her aid, but it was too late. Gibson is buried in Havre where locals rightfully claim her as one of their own.