The Fourth of July in Whitefish, Montana
By Jill Evans, Administrator of the Stumptown Historical Society
In the days before penicillin, when inoculations were something new, there were frequent epidemics and people were in continuous fear of them.
Until 1908, celebration of the Fourth had been well intentioned, but disorganized. Families had picnics, there were sometimes fireworks, there were bands and patriotic speeches in the ball park. In 1906 the band marched from town to the lake, and a six-mile gasoline launch cup race was won by Judge Joseph Reed and J. A. Tillett. In 1907, however, nothing had been planned, and many actually traveled to Kalispell to get any celebration at all. This disappointed many and hurt their pride as well. In 1908 the town decided on a “real” celebration. It lasted three glorious days!
LOG ROLLING AT CITY BEACH, 4TH OF JULY, 1923
Whitefish Pilots of the time, edited then by E. A. Southwick and C. E. Clemens, ran banner headlines beginning June 19, and according to their after-the-event issue of July 10, everybody had one whale of a good time. This is evidenced also by the fact that when contacted only a few years ago, some Whitefish oldtimers still remembered it as one of the memorable events of their long lifetimes.
Festivities were opened by the city’s band and patriotic speeches in the ballpark, which was then on the “outskirts” of town at Columbia Avenue and Second Street. The rest of Saturday was primarily for children and athletes. The Columbia Falls baseball team failed to show for the scheduled game in the morning, so kids’ races and competitions of all kinds for all ages were held then, with prizes for all winners. There was also a tug-of-war between railroad firemen and brakemen. By four o’clock the Columbia Falls team had arrived, so the game commenced, and Whitefish joyfully clobbered Columbia Falls 19 to 8.
The next day, with similar joy, Whitefish beat Libby 10 to 1.
Most of Sunday, however, was spent at Point of Pines, where there were boat races, swimming, dancing, and family picnics. The only semi-failure of the entire day’s festivities was that the crowd wanting to go to Point of Pines had been underestimated, so that boats going there were too few and badly over-crowded. Many citizens had to cool their heels on Whitefish dock for some time before catching a ride, and many a sandwich was surreptitiously sneaked from a picnic basket before ever boarding a boat.
The biggest and most memorable day was the last one, Monday, the sixth. All arrangements for this day had been turned over to the Japanese contingent in town, and they “went all out”. Japanese athletes were brought into town from the length of the Great Northern railroad tracks, where they were working as laborers, and there were wrestling matches between those who came from east of Whitefish and those who came from the west. There were also expert jiu jitsu demonstrations. In the evening there was a “pyrotechnic” parade with 250 Japanese lanterns and gifts for everybody. Afterwards it came out that this one day’s events had cost $750, and the Japanese footed almost the entire bill.
In fact, expense was the main reason that the big event was not repeated the following year, when the celebration was limited to one day and a display of fireworks-which had to be called off because of rain! In 1910 emphasis was on a “sane” (and economical) Fourth instead of a memorable (and expensive) one.
See more of their story in the Whitefish museum, located in the Train Depot.
Note: The quoted material is taken from Stump Town to Ski Town, by Betty Schafer and Mable Engelter, written in 1972 and reprinted by the Stumptown Historical Society in 2003. It is available for sale in the Whitefish Museum located in the Train Depot or for purchase online.