HISTORY OF RAVALLI COUNTY
Big Hole Road : Story of the first automobile
trip across the Big Hole Road in 1914.
Sula is located at the south end of the valley, on the East Fork River,
and is 16 miles from the Idaho border on Highway 93. It is known historically
as Ross' Hole because a Hudson Bay fur trader, Alexander Ross, spent the
severe winter of 1824 in the area. Sula is best known for being the place
where the Lewis and Clark expedition met the Shoshone Indians. Sula was originally
settled by Jacob Wetzsteon and his large family of sons and daughters.
Darby is located 19 miles north of Sula on Highway 93. It was first
settled in 1882 and on July 4, 1888, the valley's southern-most town, officially
became the town of Darby. It was originally called Doolittle, then Harrison,
because there was already a Montana town named Harrison, the local postmaster,
James Darby, sent in his name. The name was accepted and the town became
Darby. At that time, the town consisted of a general store, saloon, livery
stable, and a boarding house. The town grew, and at various times, there
was a bank, drug store, newspaper, theater, bakery and doctor's and dentist's
offices located in Darby.
Probably the main reason for the changes in Darby businesses
was a fire that swept through the town, destroying everything except the
old Miles building on Main Street. It was later remodeled and became a grocery
Darby began as a mining and fur trading town, gradually
changing to logging, agriculture, and cattle ranching. In 1910, Tiedt, Gus
Gorus, Ostragren and Boyd Gibford had successful apple orchards around the
town of Darby. In 1917, Darby became incorporated and James W. Piece, the
local blacksmith, became the first mayor. In 1930, Darby had the first all
woman town council in the state.
Electricity came to the town in 1932, the water system
in 1959, and the sewage and sanitary lagoon in 1963. U.S. Highway 93 because
Darby's main street in the mid 1930's.
In early days, there were several small schools in the
Darby area, usually within walking distance of each small settlement. Darby
began with a typical one-room school. It now has a large school complex with
a high school, junior high, and elementary school and two gymnasiums.
Grantsdale was founded by Henry H. Grant whose family traced their
ancestry to General Ulysses S. Grant. Henry Grant came to the Bitterroot
Valley in 1884, to a 160-acre farm on Willow Creek, east of Corvallis. Later
he sold that land and moved to the Skalkaho area where he purchased a grist
mill and several hundred acres of land. He remodeled the mill and produced
quality flour with the brand name of "Home Favorite." In 1885, the town was
surveyed and platted, at the request of H.H. Grant, and thereafter the town
was known as Grantsdale. On the property, he built a 2-story hotel where
he lived with his wife and 10 children, and rented rooms and served meals
H.H. Grant was very concerned with educational affairs
and served on the Board of University Regents for Montana. During the years
from 1891 through 1895, there was much discussion concerning the placement
of the units of the University system. Grant wanted the State College at
Grantsdale and offered to donate land for the college, but politics entered
the picture and Montana State College was located at Bozeman, and Montana
State University was placed in Missoula.
Hamilton, the county seat, is located 18 miles north of Darby, on
highway 93. It was established by Marcus Daly, the Butte copper mining magnate,
in the late 1880's when he came to the valley in search of timber to supply
his copper mines on the east side of the Continental Divide. He purchased
small sawmills west of the present site of Hamilton to serve his timber operations
and established the town to serve the mill. Marcus Daly began buying land
in the valley in 1886, and, in 1887, he purchased 28,000 acres of land on
which he built his summer home and his Bitter Root Stock Farm. The farm was
devoted to his hobby of breeding and racing thoroughbred horses.
In 1890, Marcus Daly brought James Hamilton and Robert
O'Hara from Minnesota to plan and develop his dream town. Daly named the
town for James Hamilton, and Robert O'Hara was named the first mayor
when the town was incorporated in 1894. Hamilton was a "company town"
revolving around the activities of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company (ACM)
and the Bitter Root Stock Farm. Most of the residents worked for the Daly
enterprises, living in "company" homes and shopping in "company" stores.
Marcus Daly began the development of an valley irrigation
network that gave rise to the "Big Ditch Boom" which ran from 1906 through
1915. This grandiose irrigation and land development scheme was promoted
by Chicago developers, Sam Dinsmore, W.I. Moody, F.D. Nichols and L. Burns,
who invested in the building and management of the Big Ditch irrigation system.
The ditch company had acquired much of the land to be irrigated and would
have purchased more, if the state owned land in the Three-mile area (west
of Stevensville) hadn't been priced so high ($10 per acre).
Slick salesmen and misleading literature promising fertile
land and a good climate for growing fruit trees (mainly apples) attracted
many unsuspecting farmers. Prospective buyers came by train, were wined and
dined, and taken on tours of the speculative fruit orchard land. The prospective
buyers were told they could make $4,000 a year (a lot of money in those days),
but failed to mention how many years it would take before a producing orchard
was established. Farmers planted acres of trees but the irrigation system
installed by the speculators did not provide enough water for the trees to
survive and most of the trees died. After a short time, many buyers realized
they would not be able to make a living, so they walked away from their land
to find other employment or moved away.
Bitter Root Orchard history
After running out of accessible timber, the Anaconda Copper
Mining Company Mill closed in 1915. By 1917 the irrigation district and speculators
were having financial problems and the boom went bust. The economy went into
decline but Hamilton survived due to timber production, dairy farms, and
farms producing fruit, berries, vegetables and potatoes. The biggest boost
to the valley economy came when the U.S. Forest service employed many people
to oversee thousands of acres of government owned forest and the Rocky Mountain
Laboratory was established in 1927 to research the cause of Rocky Mountain
Corvallis, originally called Sunflower City, probably because the
good fertile soil grew sunflowers, was later named Chaffinville. It is located
in the heart of the valley, about 6 miles north of Hamilton on the East Side
Highway. The East Side Highway was once the main route through the valley
and on the way to the Daly Mansion from Missoula. The present U.S. Highway
93 was originally the railroad bed for the Northern Pacific Railroad. The
tracks are now located east of the East Side Highway.
Corvallis is one of the oldest communities in the state
and was founded in 1866 by a settlers from Kentucky and Missouri. Slack,
Mitchell, Strange, Goff and others, led by Ellijah Chaffin, moved to the
valley by wagon train from Oregon. Ellijah Chaffin was the first to arrive
in Corvallis with his wife Margaret (Mitchell) and their children in 1864.
They stayed the winter then went on to Oregon to see if he liked it better
there. From Oregon, he led a wagon train back to the Bitterroot Valley. Coming
with Elijah and family were: Catherine & William (Billy) Strange; Cortez
and Sarah Jane (Strange) Goff and son Willie; Elijah's brother Amos; Milton
Chaffin and family; Ison Robinson; Bill East; Sandy Cowan; John McCarty;
and Mr. and Mrs. Sylvester Strout. Ellijah and Milton Chaffin settled in
the "Sagebrush" district, located 5 miles north of town, then, in 1867, they
moved to farm land near Corvallis, where most of the Chaffin descendants
Tom B. Rollins was the first post master and established
a store in 1869. He operated the store until he went broke, and was succeeded
by William McWhirk from Missoula. A man named Blake operated a blacksmith
shop and "Doc" Tibby ran a saloon. Farming was the main source of income
with farmers growing a variety of crops. One of the remaining apple orchards
is the Swanson Orchards which originated in 1908 and is the largest orchard
in the Bitterroot Valley. A few farmers raised sugar beets from 1918 to 1919,
but the primary crop was wheat. Several factors led farmers to quit raising
sugar beets. Grain prices were high and there was a market for grain during
WWI. The distance from the fields to the rail road, located on the west side
of the valley, was too far for the farmers to transport more than one wagon
load of beets per day, which didn't make the crop economical for the farmers
to continue raising beets.
The first Protestant chapel in the valley was started
in Corvallis by Rev. William D. Lear in 1881. It was the Christian (Campbellite)
church then later was used as a community hall and meeting place for the
Corvallis Ladies Aid and Womens Club. The building is now an eating place
called "The Memories Cafe." It is decorated with old farm implements and
pictures of people, places and events of people who lived in and around Corvallis.
Otto E. Quast was instrumental for the re-introduction
of the cultivation of sugar beets in the valley in the late 1920's. He got
the agreement of the area farmers to commit a portion of their acreage to
sugar beets. By 1928 the rail road had been moved from the west side of the
valley to the east side, which reduced the time spent by farmers to haul
the beets to the rail road beet dump. The beets were taken to Missoula by
train to the Great Western Sugar Company refinery to be processed into sugar
and molasses. The beet tops were used for cattle feed. Quite a few Bitterroot
valley farmers prospered raising beets: the Hagen brothers, Jim Winters,
Gib and Morris Strange, Ed O'Hare, Norris Nichols, Albert and Joy Wood, Otto
Quast, and W.S. Bailey, to name a few.
During the 1920's, The Cheese Factory on the west edge
of Corvallis became the largest cheese factory in the United States. The
business moved to Stevensville in 1954. The building is now the site of the
Cheese Factory Garage.
Stevensville is the oldest town in Montana. St. Mary's Mission was
the first permanent white settlement in Montana and was established in 1841
by Jesuit missionaries. They were led by Father Pierre Jean DeSmet, who was
asked by the Salish Indians to come to the valley. St. Mary's was the first
church and the first school in the Northwest. The missionaries were responsible
for establishing agriculture, cattle raising, the first flour mill, the first
sawmill, the first distillery of camas root for medicinal purposes, and the
Major John Owen, a trader with the army, established Fort
Owen in 1850 and it served as a trading post for trappers, miners, settlers
and Indians for 20 years. Owen served as an Indian agent as well as being
a credit manager, banker and merchant. He kept a daily journal of life on
the frontier. In 1893, the legislature created Ravalli County from Missoula
County and was named in honor of Father Antony Ravalli. Father Ravalli was
an Italian, a Ferrarese, who was 15 years old when he entered the Jesuit
order and came to St. Mary's in 1845. He had knowledge of surgery, pharmacology,
medicine, and mechanics, as was versed in literature, the natural sciences,
and many other fields.
Stevensville was founded in 1860 by John Winslett and
others. He was a native of Georgia and came to the Bitterroot in 1865, after
spending several years in the California gold fields as a freighter and trader.
John Houk and John Winslett ran Stevensville's first general merchandise
store, which served as the polling place in 1867.
The first white woman to come to the valley was Mrs. George
Dobbins in 1861. Their daughter Lauretta, born in 1862, was the first white
child in the valley, and the first boy was Alec Chaffin, born in 1864, the
son of the Elijah Chaffins of Corvallis. The lack of material available to
make clothing was of great concern to Mrs. Dobbins, who came from the east.
She was even more concerned her that she could not buy stockings in the stores
so she had to make hers from gunny sacks because no proper lady would go
Edwin C. Smalley, a Stevensville druggist and a representative
to the Montana state legislature, introduced House Bill 16 to create "The
County of Bitter Root." It was to be taken from the south end of Missoula
County. The bill was passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor J.E.
Richards and Stevensville was designated to the the county seat. In
the general election ballot the election of November 1898, the people voted
to make Hamilton the seat of county government in Ravalli County.
Victor is located beneath the shadow of St. Mary's peak. It was originally
named Garfield, in honor of President James A. Garfield, by Frank Woody,
Missoula Probate Judge and attorney for the NP Railroad. It was later
renamed for Chief Victor of the Salish tribe. In the mid-1860's, A. Sterne
Blake and his Shoshone wife came to the valley and were among the original
founders of Victor. Blake was the first elected state legislator from Missoula
County, of which Victor was then a part. The town of Victor came into being
in 1881 because of the building of the Northern Pacific Railroad through
Missoula and the discovery of silver in the area. Silver fever became rampant
and several men who had mining experience realized access to a railhead was
needed to haul the ore to smelting facilities. During the winter of 1885-1886,
Christopher Higgins, Washington J. McCormick, and John Hickey pooled resources
to keep 4 teams of horses and teamsters to haul ore to the Missoula railhead.
By 1883, the Northern Pacific Railroad had reached Missoula
from the West coast. Because the NP Railroad charter prohibited its own building
branch lines, Samuel T. Hauser and others arranged to build most of the branch
lines in Montana and, after completion, were sold to the N.P. Railroad. There
was a great deal of speculation whether the Bitter Root track would be located
on the east side or west side of the river. The decision was made by Andrew
B. Hammond, a Missoula business man, and Samuel Hauser to lay the track on
the west side because Hauser needed the rails accessible to his silver mine.
The line was completed to Victor by 1887 and went on to
Grantsdale in 1888. The first depot in Victor was at the end of the town's
Main Street and the depot agent lived in an apartment upstairs. That building
was destroyed by fire in 1916 and the Northern Pacific replaced it with a
The first white people to visit the Victor area were members
of the Lewis and Clark expedition when they traveled through in 1805 en route
from Lost Trail Pass, at the south end of the valley, to Lolo Pass, west
of Lolo. Some of the earliest settlers in the Victor area were Bob Nelson,
Roswell Parkhurst, Thomas McMurray, J.P. Martens, Frank Ess, and Caleb and
Florence is located at the north end of the valley, about 2 miles
from the Missoula County line, and 20 miles south of Missoula. It was named
One Horse by the earliest settlers, but was later renamed Florence in 1880
for the daughter of A.B. Hammond. He was instrumental in opening the Bitterroot
Valley for lumbering and brought the railroad to the valley to transport
timber. A.B. Hammond was the founder and owner of the Missoula Mercantile
Company in Missoula.
Robert Carlton was a homesteader in the early 1860's and
started the community named after him. He built a grist mill, livery barn,
and trading post. As the population increased, a school, church, cemetery,
post office and depot made up the town of Carlton. Eventually, the town of
Carlton became part of the town of Florence.
For more history of the Bitterroot Valley, the following books contain a
wealth of information of valley history and the families who lived here.
Some of the books are available from the Ravalli County Museum
1. MONTANA GENESIS, a history of the Stevensville area of the Bitterroot
Valley written by the Stevensville Historical Society.
This book is presently out of print, but plans are to
re-publish. There are a few copies available for sale at the Museum in Hamilton.
2. THE VICTOR STORY, History of a Bitter Root Valley Town, by Jeffrey H.
3. BITTERROOT TRAILS I & II, published by the Bitterroot Historical Society
4. BITTERROOT TRAILS III, published by the Bitterroot Historical Society
5. SOME BITTERROOT MEMORIES 1860-1930, A Homey Account of the Florence Community,
published by the Florence Civic Club
6. THE SONG OF THE BITTER ROOT, Chaffin family and valley history
7. THE LIFE OF ABRAHAM STEARNS BLAKE - Montana Pioneer
240 pages (8 1/2 x 11"), heavy card stock cover with picture
of Blake. The book contains some genealogy, lots of pictures and many stories
of Blake and other Montana Pioneers. Contact:
265 NW Cornelius Pass Rd.
Hillsboro, OR 97124
or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Put in subject line: Blake Book
Note: THE TOWN OF RAVALLI IS NOT LOCATED IN RAVALLI COUNTY. IT IS LOCATED
NORTH OF MISSOULA IN MISSOULA COUNTY, BETWEEN ARLEE AND DIXON, ON HIGHWAY