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There was nothing to do, but just keep going

By Jill Evans, Administrator of the Stumptown Historical Society

It is difficult to imagine the level of difficult challenge that early pioneers faced. I could not describe the experience of just getting here better than one of our first loggers did.

“W.O. Hutchinson described his own fairly typical journey from Michigan to Whitefish Lake……I arrived at Whitefish Lake on November 14, 1890. My brother Joe had been here two months. I left my old hoe in Michigan on November 6. I went north to Mackinaw Strait, from there to Duluth and Minneapolis, from there I took a Northern Pacific train to Ravalli, which is about 35 miles south of Flathead Lake, and it took five days to make the trip.

Early homestead on Whitefish Lake. Photo from the Stumptown Historical Society, Whitefish History, Whitefish Photos, Whitefish Museum

“At Ravalli I bought a stage ticket to the foot of Flathead Lake, There were five stages leaving that morning but they were so heavily loaded that several us had to walk. The first day we traveled to the present day of Ronan, there were no beds so we were forced to sit up all night. During the night it snowed about twelve inches, with sleighs replacing the stages. At noon we reached the foot of Flathead Lake where Polson is now and took a steamboat to Demersville. (4 miles SE of Kalispell).

The next morning I got up early and started afoot for Whitefish Lake, carrying a heavy suitcase and a rifle. There was no snow until I got to the timber line, about five miles south of whitefish. It was said to be twenty-five miles from Deversville to Whitefish Lake and people had already begun to settle along the road. When I arrived at the Henry Good ranch I took a wrong turn and came north. I then followed a trail through the woods towards Whitefish. After walking about a mile and a half I came upon three men building a log cabin in a meadow. One of then was A.N. Smith, later county commissioner of Columbia Falls. He told me that it was about a mile an a half to the trail to Whitefish Lake. I made two attempts, but both times came out to the Whitefish River, so I went back to where they were building the cabin and Mr. Smith showed me over to the lake read. I was surely warm and tired when I got there, as I had then walked twenty-five miles. It was sundown, and I was still three and a half miles from the lake: however there was nothing to do except keep going.

The trail passed a small log cabin with some hay in it. I thought for a few minutes that I would camp there for the night, but on second thought I decided to go on and see what I could find. I had gone only forty rods when I found my brother and two other men working on his cabin, about a half mile south of the Lake. I was then dark, so we came down to the lake to a cabin where John Morton lived. He was the first to locate in the Whitefish Lade country, having built his cabin just west of the outlet of the lake. He was from Michigan, not far from where we had lived, and I had known him there.

“I was pretty tired from my long hike and slept well that nite. When I got up the next morning, the sun was coming up over the mountains by the canyon making the peaks of the Whitefish Range a beautiful red. There was a dead swell three feet high rolling down the Lake. I went out and sat on the shore of the lake, admiring the scenery for two hours. Never had I seen anything so beautiful.”

It is men like this upon whose shoulders we stand and to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. They had the courage to go into the wilderness to forge a future for themselves and create the beautiful town of Whitefish for all of us.

Stump Town to Ski Town book from the Stumptown Historical Society, Whitefish History, Whitefish Photos, Whitefish Museum

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.

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