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Whitefish – The First Decade

By Jill Evans, Administrator of the Stumptown Historical Society

An excellent picture of Whitefish life during the first decade of the twentieth century is drawn by two ladies who were young then, Mrs. Ed Motichka and Mrs. Carl Walters. Mrs. Motichks, in an interview with the Whitefish librarian, detailed what she called “The Hard Times,” and “The Nice Things,” of the old days. What she describes is typical of many a frontier community, but it is Whitefish she is describing:

Hard Times:

“The woodbox that was never full for long and the hard work splitting wood and carrying it in. That water pail that was always empty when one needed a drink and the water that had to be pumped by hand and carried from the well or creek. The water that had to be heated on the stove to do the washing, using a washboard and rubbing the clothes by hand. Also wringing the clothes by hand, making our own soap from tallow and waste grease. The floors to be scrubbed on hands and knees with a scrub brush and lye, the endless ironing with sad irons located on the cook stove, butter to be churned, Bread made, and the endless baking. The baths to be taken Saturday evening in the wash tub by the kitchen stove.”

“The cows, pigs, and chickens to be taken care of by the women while their husbands were off at the lumber camps, perhaps gone all week. The deep snow to be waded through in winter and the ice to be chopped so that the stock could get a drink…”

“The men getting up before dawn to curry and brush and feed their horses and get them harnessed so they could be at camp before daylight. Some men in those days took better care of their horses than they did of their wives, horses were real valuable in those days.”

“The clearing of land which all had to be done by hand and team…(The men) staying away from home and family maybe weeks at a time, sleeping in bunkhouses on bunks built against the wall with only boards with a straw tick, using sometimes the same blanket that was used during the day to cover their horses when they came in sweaty from a haul to the camp landing.”

“The flies and yellow jackets in the cook house with a yellow jacket or fly in the pie for extra good flavor.”

“The lumberjacks who spent their last nickel for a bottle, never remembering to buy themselves a warm pair of socks or mittens…”

"The times when the camps closed down and there was little to eat except maybe fat pork, beans, deer meat…”

“There was little to make life easy for a woman. To set up housekeeping in those days she had only a one-room cabin, cook stove, a home-made table and a couple of benches which served for chairs, a washboard and tub, a few dishes and a kettle or pail to cook coffee in, a bunk built in the corner, no mattress, a feather bed if one was lucky, otherwise a straw tick filled with straw, home-made comforters, sheets made out of flour sacks, curtains at the windows made out of flour sacks, or calico, a broom made out of fine willow branches.”

“In winter, water froze setting a few feet away from the stove, and many mornings there would be a covering of snow near the door, which blew in during a blizzard. A hole under the cabin served as a cellar where the vegetables were kept or anything one didn’t want frozen reached by a trap door in the middle of the floor, a lantern and lamp…if one ran out of kerosene, one used a candle or went to bed when it got dark or just had the light from the fireplace, if one was lucky enough to have one.”

“The men and women worked long hours and the work was hard, but even at that they were happy and raised their children There were no delinquent children in those days. Papa and mama believed in using the strap or willow switch when needed, and children knew they were loved even though paddled now and then. Everyone took their children with them when they went places in those days.”

“Later men and women working in the fields together gathering the harvest…the threshing machine and threshing crew to thresh the grain in the fall…the high straw stacks and the big dinners mama and the neighbor ladies cooked for the men, getting up before daylight so the men could start threshing by daylight.”

Nice Things:

“…at the ball park on Sunday, tables laden with all good home-baked goodies, the children playing games, the men playing horseshoes or baseball, the ladies just visiting…”

“The school programs at Christmas or last day of school…dressed in stiffly starched dresses mama had spent hours ironing, highbutton shoes, pretty ribbons in our hair”

“The dances held at the different homes or the schoolhouses; the children were never left home in those days-babysitters were unheard of… Everyone took something for lunch and they danced until the wee hours of the morning, many walked, had no horses to drive. The women curled their hair, using a curling iron heated in the lamp chimney, and if they had no powder, cornstarch worked very well with a little dash of cinnamon. Sometimes there were fist fights between the young blades and the lumberjacks from across the river over who was to take the prettiest girls home.”

“The; quilting bees held in neighbors’ homes in the afternoon when the work was done, the little girls busy playing house with broken pieced of dishes and an old spoon or two, the young boys teasing the girls and showing off. “The house-raising when the hired girl and one of the lumberjacks got married and set up housekeeping in a little cabin, the chivari in the evening, and the goodies brought by the older married women.”

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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Whitefish Train Depot is the home of the Stumptown Historical Society, Whitefish History, Whitefish Photos, Whitefish Museum

Stories like this one and many others are available in living color at our muesum, located in the historic Whitefish Depot. Visit us to explore more about Whitefish and its storied past.

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