The following is a compilation of stories about Louie and Charley Mollman as recalled by Bud Cheff, Jr. whose family purchased land from them about 1866.
Note: the name MOLLMAN (pronounced “Molt-le-men”) was a French word that the Jesuits used, meaning, “they were pliable or easy to work with.”
Louie Mollman (1836-1929) was the son of Pierre Gouche (meaning “Left-Handed Peter”). Pierre (or Peter) was born at the Cauhnawaga Mission in Ontario Canada and came to the Bitterroot in the 1830’s from Canada. He was Iroquois and a member of the original Iroquois who moved west following the French and Indian Wars. Only four Iroquois remained with the Salish (Selis) in the Bitterroot, and Pierre was one of them.
Pierre was instrumental in bringing the “blackrobes” to the Bitterroot. He had made four trips going back east and on his last (in 1839) he returned to tell everyone that they were coming. Pierre married a Pend d’Oreille woman from the Mission Valley area and also had a daughter, Susan (or Suesan), and a son named Charlie (1835-1926). Tragically, Pierre was killed in 1856 when his horse stumbled and fell as they were running elk in the Big Hole Valley. His sons, age about 18 and 22, were with him. After that, his wife returned with her family to the Mission Valley so she could be close to the St. Ignatius Mission.
Louie and Charley learned cattle ranching and farming from their father, who had learned it as a youth at the mission in Canada. When his family returned to the Mission Valley, they brought their father’s cattle and were the first Natives to herd black cattle in the area. In the early 1860’s, they made their home at the foot of the Mission Mountains where they put in irrigation ditches from Mollman Creek to irrigate their meadows. In 1919 they filed on water rights from Mollman Creek for their ranch and were considered ahead of their time compared to other Natives on the Reservation.
Louie and Charley never gave up traditional way of living. Louie was the bow and arrow maker for the Pend’d Oreille (Qlispe/Kalispell) tribe, and both He and Charley were excellent bowman. Some of the old hunters didn’t want to run buffalo close to Louis because it was said that his arrows often went clear through a buffalo, and if you were riding on the far side of the buffalo he was shooting at, his arrow might pass through the buffalo and hit you or your horse. Louie and Charley used mostly flint arrow points, but they did not make the tips themselves. They had certain places they could find the points after a hard rain. Louie said that the old people that were here before them made the flint points. Louie also made long, hand-whittled fishing poles that he sold or traded to other Natives to use on the lakes or rivers. He liked to fish and when he got too old to go on the hunts he spent a lot of time fishing.
Louie was fond of Bud Cheff Sr., who was about 8 years old when he gave him some of his bows and arrows. Louie called him his “Little Canadian Cousin” because they both had roots in Canada. As a child, Bud couldn’t resist taking them outside and shooting them, playing with them so they don’t have any left; however, Joe McDonald has one of Charley Mollman’s bows and some arrows, which are on display at the Ninepipes Museum. Louie gave Bud Sr. the red shield before he passed away, as well as the moccasins (though Bud Jr. doesn’t recall whether those were given to his father or his aunt).
Shortly before he passed away, Louie fell off of his room and broke his hip at his home at the foot of Mollman Pass Trail, one-half-mile from Bud’s grandparents house. He used his mirror to signal to Bud Jr.’s grandfather, who stopped what he was doing to check out the glare. Bud Sr’s sister Bernida, only about 11 at the time, drove Louie to Ronan to the hospital.
Mary Katherine (1874-1952), another daughter of Louie and Philomie Mollman, grew up learning the traditional way of Native living from her parents and Uncle, Charley Mollman. “Mary was known for her skill in tanning hides and making and beading buckskin items. She was an excellent horse woman and participated in many celebrations and parades too.” recalls Bud Cheff, Jr. “She sponsored the New Year Winter Jump Dance each winter for years in the 1930, and 40’s.”
Mary was married to Stousse in her younger years but had no children that lived into adult hood; however, she liked children and liked to tease and scare them as well as make gifts for them. She was also a companion of Philip Pierre and Clara Paul for many years as they gathered and hunted in the wilderness mountains.
Mary is shown on the 1940 census next to Bill Engler’s grandparents (the Landquist’s). It was about this time that she made a coin purse for Bill’s uncle Clarence Landquist. She also made some infant moccasins for Bill when he was 3, just before she passed away. They are both on display at Ninepipes Museum in the new exhibit about the history of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribe.