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Upper Swan Valley Historical Society



Jody Wolff is a Valued Volunteer

Jody Wolff at home with her cat J.C. The cat is perched on a stool Jody made from an old oak barrel.

Jody Murphy Wolff grew up in Great Falls, Mont., and at her family’s homestead in the Highwood Mountains, where her father taught her to drive a 1947 Willys Jeep, when she was five years old! Jody has one sister and two brothers. After high school, she worked for a few years at a punch board factory in Great Falls, but soon had enough of that. Jody first came to the Swan Valley in 1975 to visit her sister who was working at “The Youth Camp,” as it was locally called, which was a facility for incarcerated youth at Goat Creek. Jody hadn’t intended to stay in the Swan Valley, but she got a job caulking and oiling log homes. And she met Ken Wolff, her future husband. Continued page 3

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Winters Were Long and Often Bitterly Cold From Gene Miller’s Memoirs My Growing up Years in the Swan Valley, 1939-49 Courtesy of Gene Miller

Alvin Eugene “Gene” Miller “made his appearance into the world” in 1936 during an “… early November blizzard that blew into the Flathead Valley.” His parents were Joe Miller and Mabel Kauffman Miller. “In the spring of 1939 grandfather Kauffman had bought a place near Condon. My parents and I moved there to take care of the place and raise cattle. It was the Hull homestead, so we always called it the Hull Place.” Smith Flats School Gene attended the Smith Flats School from 1941 – 1950. The log cabin school sat about a half mile from the county road that ran along a small Forest Service landing field. Standing in a forest of virgin ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine and Douglas fir, it housed students in the 1930’s into the early 1950’s. A short distance from the school down off the plateau ran the Swan River. In springtime the snowmelt would cause the river to cascade over its banks and lick the bottom of the hill just below the school. In the middle of … tall pines was an opening large enough to make a small softball diamond. First and second base were ponderosa pine trees. Third base and home plate were Smith Flats School 1949. Back Row: Nancy Clothier, Linboards lying on the da Conkling, Shirley Krause, Donna Lanegan, Mary Lou ground.… In winter Krause, Gene Miller, Richard Lake, Jamie Hollopeter. time after a snowfall, Second Row: Martha Hollopeter, Marion Harmon, Catherine Wise, Sherry Lanegan, Ted Harmon. Middle: Gwen the field became a Kauffman. Front Row: Butch Harmon, Earl Wise, Chuck “fox and goose ring,” Conklin, Jerry Krause, Donald Lanegan. which was a tag game. Continued page 2

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Winters Were Long and Bitterly Cold, from page 1 The playground was just west of the school. Also west of the school and west of the playground was a barn, as some children rode horses to school. Parents whose children road horses supplied hay. The horses were watered at the river, tied and fed in the barn during school hours. The road from the county road to the school came from the east.… Just across the road north of the school stood a log wood shed which valley people would fill with fire wood cut and split to fit the wood stove used to heat the school when needed, especially in the wintertime. The schoolhouse itself was made of logs… Along the west wall were 3 windows. On the east wall were 2 windows with a chimney in between. A barrel stove stood near the chimney, along the east side. Bookshelves were on either side of the south window on the east side…. About 15 feet southwest of the school stood a cast iron pump over a well. This was the school’s water source, and we had to pump vigorously on the handle to draw water from the well. The year I started the first grade, there When the water was hot, we were only 5 students in school, 3 of us took it out and poured it were 5 year-old boys, Jamie Hollopeter, over the pump ... Dick (Richard) Lake, and myself Gene Miller who turned 6 during the school year. The other 2 students were a boy Leroy Lake in 5th grade and a girl in the 8th grade. (There was no kindergarten program at this time.) The 8th grade girl, Lucille Haasch, was the teacher’s assistant. She took care of us first graders when the teacher, Florence Holmes, was busy with other things. ... We took turns carrying in wood and water. When the weather turned cold we would need to start a fire and melt the ice in the water on top of the stove. When the water was hot, we took it out and poured it over the pump to thaw it so we could pump more water. It always took some time to get the school house warm so we could start classes, as the woodstove was our only source of heat. Since we had a woodstove, we frequently had soup or hot drinks at lunch. Our teacher was also the bus driver. She would come around and pick us up in her Dodge sedan and would return us in the evening. Activities Christmas was always a big event. We students would sing and put on plays or puppet shows. Everyone in the community would attend. They all brought treats to share. The school was filled to standing room only. After the program, the adults would visit and we kids would run around and fill ourselves with goodies. Life was primitive in the Swan Valley during these years of the 1940’s. Distance between homes was several miles and the roads were dirt and seldom graded. The traveling speed was about 30 miles per hour. There was only one small store and gas station within 30 miles. It took 3 hours to drive to the nearest town of Missoula or Kalispell. Mail was delivered only twice a week, on Tuesday and Friday. There was no electricity or telephone services. All heating was done by wood and light was a candle, a kerosene lamp or lantern that burned white or lantern gas. The lantern had a mantle and would make a brighter light but it took more fuel. Another big community event took place each year in January or February. This was cutting and hauling ice from Holland Lake. Not having electricity, or access to propane gas, most families in the valley had an ice box in the house to keep food cool in the summer. Ice blocks were kept in an icehouse till ready for use in the house. The men would use saws to cut the Continued page 6

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The Gathering Place:

Swan Valley’s Gordon Ranch Progress Report

Benjamin B. Holland, age 21. Koessler Collection

Benjamin Holland, and son Charles, were the first to file for homesteads in the Upper Swan Valley. They built cabins in the late 1880s and established a ranch in the large meadows to the west of the lake which was soon named after them. The ranch became known as the Gordon Ranch. According to the Daily Interlake in 1882, Ben and two others were guiding hunters and prospecting in the South Fork from Holland prairie. The meadows were a good gathering place for people to graze their horses before going into the high country, according to historian Audra Browman. The USVHS’ newest book, The Gathering Place: Swan Valley’s Gordon Ranch, is scheduled for publishing in 2017.

Recipe Ronda Feucht’s Swan Valley Wild Huckleberry Cordial From The Huck Book, page 110 4 parts vodka 3 parts fresh hucks 2 parts sugar Combine ingredients. Shake often until sugar is dissolved. Let stand in a cool dark place about three months. Strain and serve over ice. Delish. Wonderful in the cold winter months.

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Who We Are Officers

Steve Lamar, President (406) 754-2745 Neil Meyer, Vice Pres. (406) 754-2265 Fern Kauffman, Chair/ Secretary Katharine Beers, Treasurer

Board of Directors

Sharon Gressle Jenny Kauffman Colleen Kesterson Helene Michael Barbara Raible

Directors At-Large

Horton B. “Tony” Koessler Henry Pennypacker Jr.


Anne Dahl

Program Coordinators Susan Novosel Anne Dahl

For more information contact any of the Society’s officers or directors or write:

Upper Swan Valley Historical Society PO Box 1128 Condon, MT 59826 News & Notes is created and distributed by the Upper Swan Valley Historical Society. Become a member, donor, or volunteer. By supporting us, you will receive this newsletter. USVHS welcomes all volunteers! If you would like to volunteer contact President Steve Lamar, 754-2745, or Colleen Kesterson, 754-2377. Your support is greatly appreciated!


Valued Volunteer Continued from page 1

Ken and Jody carved antler belt buckles, jewelry and other items for sale. Jody made feather earrings. They opened a shop called Moose Feathers and More at their home on Kraft Creek Road. They also restored furniture for clients and made furniture from recycled wood. By 1986 they had started rehabilitating injured birds, especially eagles, because so many eagles were killed or injured each winter scavenging deer carcasses along the highway. At first they housed the injured birds in the greenhouse or in dog crates on the porch. They kept a seagull in the bathtub. They established the Grounded Eagle Foundation (GEF) in 1988 and began building enclosures and flight pens, calling the facility The Raptor Room. The construction went on for years. Jody and Ken shared the work of caring for the birds. Ken would take injured birds to schools and organizations around the state for educational purposes. Ken and Jody once took a young golden eagle to a hospital in Great Falls for a cornea transplant. The anesthesiologist said the eagle required seven times more anesthetic than a human would need to keep it unconscious during the surgery. Jody taught herself to use a computer by producing The Raptor Room News, which Swan Valley resident Suzanne Vernon originally published for the GEF. The newsletter had a readership of about 600 people. Jody coordinated the Swan Valley bird counts, 1990 to 2015. From five to 20 people would count birds on the same day around the valley about seven times each year. Jody recorded the data, some of which was shared nationally and internationally. The GEF closed in 2009. Jody says, the highway department now protects far more eagles than in the past by removing deer carcasses for composting. Jody was asked to produce the USVHS’s News and Notes, and the July 4th Celebration Program, which she did as a volunteer for about three years until 2014. She still helps to sort and mail the publications, and serves at the Museum a few times each summer helping visitors learn about and enjoy the valley’s history.

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Ellie Greenough is new USVHS board member Ellie Greenough, having recently retired as the Swan Valley’s postmaster, agreed to replace Colleen Kesterson on the USVHS Board of Directors. Ellie worked at the Condon Post Office as Postmaster Relief for 20 years and as Postmaster for the past 11 and a half years. She Ellie Greenough at has lived in the Swan the Swan Valley Museum, 2016. Valley for 39 years.

Colleen Kesterson at the Swan Valley Library 2016.

Colleen Kesterson, an USVHS board member, 2013-16, is the new librarian at the Swan Valley Library. She is also a reporter for the Seeley Swan Pathfinder. With these two jobs taking much of her time, Colleen decided not to renew her board position this December.

Raffle Winners

President Steve Lamar takes an imaginary call on the 57 Chevy Belair telephone during the raffle drawing.

The USVHS 2016 raffle drawing took place October 20 at the Annual Meeting. Winners:  Storage shed, Cathy Sanders  57 Chevy phone, Paul Kauffman  Painting, Phil Russ  Antique trunk, Jenny Rohrer

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Art and History Meld at Tour of the Arts Over 100 visitors from up and down the valley and as far away as the Flathead came to the Swan Valley Museum October 8 for the annual Tour of the Arts.

Top left: Stained glass artist Georgina Staggs in the Swan River Tavern. Top right: Sharon Gressle, Sharon Lamar, Sheri Burden and Lynn Perry in the Swan Valley Museum. Bottom left: Photographer Steve Ellis and visitors in the Smith Creek School. Center: Stained glass art by Sheri Burden. Bottom right: Paintings by Sharon Lamar in the Swan Valley Museum.

Thank You Volunteers And All Who Have Donated Items for Displays

What is it?

The USVHS has outstanding volunteer support. Thank you to all our seasoned museum-staffing veterans and all our new volunteers who are interested in our area history and museum and are valuable assets! This is awesome for our community. We REALLY appreciate all of you! We are also VERY grateful for people who have donated artifacts, memorabilia and items for our history displays. Our membership today stands at over 200. We had 127 people volunteering a total of 5,526 hours in 2015. The Upper Swan Valley Historical Society is TRULY a community endeavor.

From the Neil & Dixie Meyer collection

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Swan Valley students tour the Swan Valley Museum Right: Todd Townsend, Swan Valley Elementary School P.E. teacher, watches as Kindergarten and 2nd grade students draw their ideas of Western themes Below: 3rd-5th grade students on the porch of the Whalen Homestead Cabin hear stories of Grandma Whalen as told by Sharon Gressle, a Whalen family member.

Right: Jenny Kauffman works with junior high students who used cameras to capture images representing Western themes.

Photos of western themes captured by students, with the goal a selecting a photo for the SVES year book: Left, Cap Laird at Lindbergh Lake exhibit, by Christopher Auchenbach. Center, Montana brands, by Kyla Conley. Right, Wagon wheel and boots, by Kase Anderson.

Above: In the Smith Creek Schoolhouse, Sharon Lamar talked with 3rd-5th grade students about what it might have been like to learn in one of the Swan Valley’s oneroom schools.

Heard during the school tour “ Can we bring our parents here?”

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Winters Were Long, from page 2 ice into large blocks. Then with tongs, chains and trucks they would haul the ice blocks out of the lake. These blocks were put on a truck and hauled to ice houses where the ice blocks were buried in sawdust, which kept the ice blocks from melting until late summer time. When the ice in the icebox melted, we would go to the icehouse for more. Cutting ice on Holland Lake in 1924-25. The practice continued into the 1940s when Gene Miller was a boy. Koessler collection

from the creek or the well. We used this water for all our needs, as for drinking, cooking, hand washing, and bathing. Bathing was done once a week in a big metal tub. Usually the water was used by more than one person. Water was also needed for dishwashing and laundry. For many years, mother washed clothing by hand on a wash board. The chickens and rabbits also needed water. The cattle and horses could get their water from the creek, if the ice was broken for them. Other chores were carrying wood for both stoves. This chore was mine as soon as I was old enough to carry wood. Whenever it snowed there were paths to shovel. These paths went to the outhouse (we had no indoor plumbing), the chicken house, the barn, the woodshed and the well. The biggest job was shoveling the driveway. On the longer paths as those to the mailbox and bus stop, the snow was just tramped down, and we walked over the top. By springtime, these paths were difficult to walk on. Printed with permission of Gene Miller

Most families had one or two milk cows and chickens to provide milk, cheese, cream, butter and eggs. The icebox in the house would keep them from spoiling.

What is it? Answer

Day to Day Chores …When winter set in, there were many chores to be done. In the Swan Valley these years, winters were long and often bitterly cold. Chores included feeding the cattle and horses morning and evening, also milking the cows. After milking the cows, the milk was separated with a separator into skim milk or cream. We did not get water from a spigot. Water was carried

They are O.M. Franklin Serum Company cattle de-horners in two sizes. Neil & Dixie Meyer Collection

A Montana Community Foundation grant funded a new display case. Thank you.

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USVHS Recent Accomplishments 

Volunteer appreciation potluck .

Museum opening day, May 28.

Smith Creek School opening

Whalen Homestead Cabin opening.

Continuing donation of artifacts.

Digital archiving of historic resources.

Rustic Log Home Builders exhibit.

Laird Lodge exhibit.

The Gathering Place, Swan Valley’s Gordon Ranch in progress.

USVHS Priorities The USVHS priorities continue to be the preservation and promotion of the cultural heritage of the Swan Valley. As such our focus is on: - Discovering and assembling records of historical work. - Providing educational outreach and research opportunities. - Preserving historical sites that have unusual significance.

Projects: 

The Messerer Trapper Cabin renovation.

Sawmill exhibit completion.

Blacksmith, tack and tool exhibit.

A storage shed.

The Gathering Place: Swan Valley’s Gordon Ranch book.

How You Can Help see page 8.

A note from a donor "I’ve had two opportunities this year to visit the museum. The work on all of it has paid off. What a fun place to wander around. …See you soon or next spring.”

Swan Valley Museum Open in Winter By Appointment

Call (406) 754-2745 or (406) 754-2238 Summer: Memorial Day — Labor Day Thursday through Sunday, 12pm - 4pm

Recorded at the Condon RAWS station: 6.47 inches of rain in October 2016. Is it a record? From Tom Cook



L to R standing: Charles Holland, his wife Dolly, and his sister, Alta (Holland) Peterson. Koessler Collection

Support the discovery, collection, interpretation and preservation of local historic and cultural resources. We thank you, and future generations will thank you, too!! The Upper Swan Valley Historical Society is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt non-profit corporation. Federal Tax ID #77-0666044. Contributions are tax deductible in accordance with IRS regulations. Contributions will be acknowledged by letter. Please make all checks payable to: Upper Swan Valley Historical Society, Inc., POB 1128, Condon, MT 59826 Name:_________________________________________________

MULTI-YEAR PLEDGE: 3 YEAR_________ 5 YEAR________


Total pledge amount $________ Amt paid now $___________


Choose payment schedule: Annual:___ Quarterly:___ Monthly:____

Tel._______________________Email________________________ ANNUAL MEMBERSHIP: July 1—June 30

Undesignated contribution or pledge: ____

Individual: $25___ Family $35___ Business: $100___

Contribution or pledge designated for: _________________________

CONTRIBUTIONS: Amount—$_______________ Memorial:___ In honor of:___

SIGNATURE_________________________ Date:_______________


How Can You Help? Keeping the Swan Valley Museum open requires a team of dedicated volunteers, inspired members and consistent financial support in order to have a viable operation and be able to pay the many expenses such as electricity, heat, maintenance, insurance, taxes and upgrades. To this end we are actively growing our membership and inviting new donors along on our exciting journey. As the saying goes “many hands make light work” and this endeavor is no different. We invite you to begin, or continue, your support of the USVHS through membership, volunteering or donations (one time, monthly, yearly or lifetime options). We are proud to call Swan Valley our home and look forward to preserving our rich history! Thank you for making a difference! Please contact Steve Lamar, President at (406) 754-2745 or info@ We thank you for your generous support.

Winter 2016 2017  

Upper Swan Valley Historical Society

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