The Blackfoot Sends You Greetings - Christmas 1949


Last updated 1/1/2020 at 7:10am

Courtesy UBVHS

Robert Fisk and a group of young Lincon girls pose for a photo in front of the Pig and Whistle, located where Lambkin's now stands, in the early to mid 1940's.

Editor's Note: In 1949, Robert Fisk of Lincoln produced a small pamphlet with a deep green cover, a greeting from the Blackfoot Valley for the holidays. Seventy years later, to bid farewell to 2019 and welcome 2020, we've reproduced it here in coordination with the Upper Blackfoot Valley Historical Society.

To recount the story of the Big Blackfoot, the chronicler would have to dig into many ponderous tomes in order to cull out the data both before and after the taking over of this part of the Western Hemisphere under the Louisiana Purchase.

For a long, long time prior to this real estate deal, this was on enormous wilderness, little explored, the home and hunting ground of many Indian tribes and, later on, the trappers of the Hudson Bay Co., the American Trading Co., and Astor.

One day, a century and a quarter ago, Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States, summoned Captain Meriwether Lewis and told him to look the ground over end see whether Uncle Sam had bought "a pig in a poke," as the opposition to the purchase had it. Being a soldier, Captain Lewis packed his war sack and, with Captain Clark and a small party of recruits, set sail up the broad bosom of the Missouri, embarking at Port St. Louis.

It took two or three years of wandering back and forth across this vast hinterland to discover that it was a Paradise on Earth, a vast and immensely rich frontier, in dollars worth many times its price.

To settle it? And how? The Red Man claimed all the land as his own and resented the White Man's encroachment. Only large and well-equipped wagon trains could hope to run the hostile battle lines, and some of these were overcome and massacred.

Years passed before the White tide dominated. The War Between the States was fought before there was any great influx of adventurous home-seekers. Begun, it proved to be an irresistible tide and settlement was on.

To some this period - the sixties and seventies - was referred to as "The March of Empire," while others have described it as "The Coming of Civilization." With the fabled Pot of Gold dazzling their eyes and spurring them on, the long wagon trains swept across the prairies and mountains, fighting their way when they had to, but resolutely pushing their way into the Golden West. Up the waters of the Missouri chugged a long line of flat-bottomed, paddle wheel steamers bringing other Argonauts and trading post supplies. From the south the pilgrims utilized the narrow-gauge Utah Northern, then building north from Ogden.

Yes! The March was on!

But Civilization - peace and security - did not come until later years when an outraged citizenry took up the cudgel of the Law and cleaned the slate. Into all camps and communities had migrated a horde of renegade desperadoes to whom murder and robbery were laudable crimes and to be condoned and not punished.

No! Civilization did not come to any part of this frontier until one day when Justice tore the blindfold from her eyes and, with brandished sword, rallied an army of her own to the cause of Law and Order. The soldiers of Grant and Lee, Sherman and Johnston, Sheridan and Pickett -Yank and Johnny Reb - joined ranks and from their Vigilante organization, with its awesome Skull and Crossbones and its mystic 3-7-77 warning, came the inkling that the Law was on the way, but only after Sheriff Henry Plummer and all his murderous gang had danced on air.

As settlers poured in, they spewed out over the land, invading those mountain areas most likely to hold the yellow treasure so avidly sought. It was a mad scramble, a stampede from place to place, too often based on an unconfirmed rumor, with all its attendant hardships and suffering.

From the head of navigation, the prospectors had to follow the long-established Indian trails and those who come to the Blackfoot crossed the Rocky Mountains into the West over the same trail used by Lewis and Clark and dedicated to them. Later on, a road was cut out over Rogers Pass, and, still later, after Last Chance Gulch had cost off its swaddling clothes and become Helena, a second road was cut out over Flesher Pass. Over this road come supplies for the mining comps of Lincoln and McClellan. And still later, after the discovery of the Penobscot mine at Stemple, a crude third road come over the Divide.

What more need be said of the settlement of the Blackfoot Valley? Except, perhaps, to say a word for the hardy souls who gave up the frantic search for gold, and turned to its good earth for the riches Dame Fortune had denied them. None of them are left and of the generation they begot, all too few are here to respond to Life's roll call.

For six decades, it was a Happy Valley, its people busy, its hospitality unbounded, where the latchstring hung outside for friends or strangers to pulI. Horses and cattle grazed and multiplied in the deep grasses on a hundred hills. And all about towered majestic mountains, whose timbered slopes fed the springs that made a hundred rills and brooks laugh and sing as they poured their torrents into the Mother River.

The tales that were told around Helena firesides of on evening were as wondrous and mind stirring as those which recounted the deeds of fabled Paul Bunyan and his blue-eyed ox, Bess. They were the tales of those men who had come, had looked on the valley in all its beauty and enticement and had then gone forth to spread the word, that others might in turn shore in its pleasures.

And then the second invasion began. It was a matter of days - not on hour or so as now - to span the mileage from Helena. A good team was needed sometimes four to master the then rough mountain roads. A first-night camp was on Virginia Creek below Gould Gulch. Then over the Stemple Pass, down Poorman and in the afternoon the venturesome explorers burst out into the valley and had their first view of the Promised Land - of rugged snow - covered fingers pointing into the blue sky, of heavily timbered slopes of pine and fir and tamarack, seamed with the wrinkles of deep ravines, with their fire scars covered by the greens of Dame Nature's making.

Those were the real days, the true days. Jogging along behind a slow-moving team, the kaleidoscope of mind was ever turning toward new vistas and the memory picture book was storing the scenes away never to be forgotten.

In the yesteryear of Life this should have been called Peaceful Valley. There were no snarling sawmills to disturb the quiet, no grinding stamps milling ore, no cars or trucks speeding up and down the roads, tainting the air with exploded gas fumes, no bawdy words or drunken fights. It was indeed a peaceful valley, a decent one.

Few of those who visit the Blackfoot today - perhaps one person in each thousand - ever get to know or understand its mysterious lure. The secret places, with their tumbling waterfalls, their foaming brooks, their sapphire lakes, their natural game "licks," their cathedral-like cliffs and vast amphitheaters of vale and hidden park, will only be discovered by those who "fork a horse" and take to the trails, mostly those of game, that wind and twist over hill and vale. And to those understanding ones will be unveiled the secrets and mysteries of the silent mountains.

Kipling, in his "Explorer," wrote:

"One everlasting whisper day and night

repeated -- so:

'Something hidden. Go and find it.

Go and look behind the Ranges –

Something lost behind the Ranges –

Lost and waiting for you. Go!'"

And that is the spur that drives you on over the horizon of tumbled mountains, ever seeking for the unknown, the secrets of the lovely hills and the Rockies' towering peaks, listening to the roar of falling waters and the gurgling of the brooks, while all about the forests echo the calls and noises of its furred and feathered denizens.

Then comes the night. The human boiler has been recharged against the coming of another day. Wearily you stretch out in the glow and warmth of a log fire and, with pipe adraft, you watch the red flames dance their mad fantasies while you dream the dreams of bygone years and the joys they brought to you. The silence of the night shutters off your earthy vision and you look upward to where the Street Lights of Heaven are being turned on and you wonvder at the glory of it all. Another day and

"Night draws back the curtain from her door

And Dawn peeps forth

With merry laugh to wake the land."

That is the Blackfoot, where the trials and heartaches of Life are forgotten in the peacefulness of its silent grandeur - a panacea for all one's ills.

Robert L. Fisk



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