I hope 2021 will be a better year for the museum and for all of us. With Jo’s hard work and all the ones that pitched in to help, the museum made it through a difficult year in pretty good shape despite the Covid-19. The winter here on the ranch has been mostly uneventful. Some real cold then warm weather not much snow, but some hard winds that took down some big trees. The bears are of course asleep, but we are overrun with deer and coyotes. The coyotes come by every day checking for barn cats, and they manage to get one every so often. I went to the barn a while back, and as I opened the door; I heard a lot of noise upstairs. I hurried up the stairs, and as I got to the top, I saw two stray dogs after the cats. My favorite cat, Patches made a run for the stack of hay bales, but they caught her just as she got there. I was running and hollering, but she was dead before I could stop them. I was trying to kick them, but I’m too old and slow. They got back downstairs and jumped through the window where they came in. They also killed my big brave black tom who had stood up to a coyote a couple weeks before. Through out the years the stray dog packs have killed way more pets and livestock than the bears and wild predators.
We have had two bad wind storms hit the ranch this past year, and it’s kept me busy cleaning up the downed trees. It took some big 200-year-old pine trees, and many smaller trees mostly spruce. I salvaged all that I could and sent them to Stoltze mill near Columbia Falls Montana.
I lose my mustache
In the early 1960’s I was working as an ironworker at the Frenchtown Pulp Mill. My partner and friend was an ironworker named Dick Garrin. We were preparing to do some structural upgrade work inside of the #1 recovery building where it joins the lime kiln building. The recovery building is a high 200 ft. tall while the lime building is lower, about 100 ft. We were going to take some metal siding off the building, so using the crane we could insert some steel beams into the building. There was a lower roof attached to the main building about 40 Ft. above the ground. I got on to this roof with a long extension cord and an electric impact to remove the screws holding the metal siding. It was January and a very cold day. I was bundled up in winter clothes and lined Carhart coveralls over the top with warm gloves. I also had on a hard hat with a cold weather liner, so the only thing exposed to the cold was my face, and my frosted mustache. In the mill’s early years, it was a stinky place especially in the winter months when the air was heavy. I had worked on it when it was built in 1956; George Troxell, and I were the first two Ironworkers hired on the construction. One morning after the mill was up and running my Mom rode with me to Missoula to spend the day with her folks. As we were approaching the crossroads at the Frenchtown turn off before the interstate was there, the mill was really putting out the smell. Mom had never smelled it before, and thought I was letting stinkers. She finally said “Buddy for goodness sake what’s wrong with you”. We had a good laugh over this for many years.
On this cold winter day on that roof the smell was really bad on that roof, and it camouflaged the natural gas smell from me. There was a gas leak, and I was right in the center of it. When I pressed the trigger on the impact the electric spark ignited the gas cloud. I was engulfed in a huge ball of fire. I ran to the edge of the roof and jumped. My guardian angel was with me as I lit in a deep pile of snow, which broke my fall. My cloths had protected my body from the flames, only my face was burned. Dick took me to the nurse and first aid where she tended to my burned face. It had burned my eyelashes, eyebrows, what hair that was not covered by my hat liner, and my mustache off. While the nurse was working on me, I noticed Dick standing by the door with a smile on his face. As I started to leave, I asked Dick “What’s so so dang funny, I don’t see anything funny about it!” He burst out laughing, and said,
“I’m sorry my man, I can’t help it, you look just like one of those cartoons where the guys cigar explodes, his face is all black and his mustachio is all burned off. It had burned it all off, just leaving stubble here and there. I could never grow a mustache after that. The nurse heard what Dick said and she got a smile on her face too. I forgave him for laughing after the hurting was over, by then I could see the humor in it.
A Christmas Story
CHRISTMAS WITH OLD BOB
As a boy in Martin City in the late ‘40’s I came to know an old hermit that lived back in the trees near our house, which was the last house on our road. We called the hermit “Old Bob.” He was a husky, barrel-chested man, and a loner. He had no house, just a board lean-to, open on the front. A big log he had hewn flat on top served as a bench and bed. He slept on that hard log with just an old army blanket under him, and one to cover up with.
Bob had a flat-topped stove that he used for cooking and heat. He would cut dead trees about 12 inches in diameter into lengths about 12 feet long. Bob would carry these logs on his shoulders, up the river bank to his camp, then saw them into blocks with his crosscut saw. Most men couldn’t have picked these logs up!
Old Bob lived here the year around, even when the temperature dropped to 40 below. His camp was not cluttered, but could have been fixed up a lot better. He didn’t seem to want to make it more comfortable for himself. Bob’s main diet was pine squirrel, sometimes grouse or venison. He had a medium sized dog, black and long haired, that was well behaved. He was probably a spaniel and shepherd cross. The dog never barked except when he had a grouse or squirrel treed for Bob to shoot, or when a bear would come into camp, which was quite often. Bob’s only gun was a single shot .22 rifle.
He was well educated, but would not talk of his past. The kids liked him, and he seemed to enjoy them more than the grown-ups. I sometimes went by his camp on my way hunting or fishing, and we talked quite often. He liked to talk about politics, and knew what was going on in the world.
Bob sometimes dug ditches for water and sewer lines by hand, for Mr. Joe Weedning, a developer, who had bought a lot of land from my Aunt Vina Martin. Joe had a limp and walked with a cane, and Old Bob called him “Limping Jesus.” The ditches had to be below the frost line, 4 or 5 feet deep. Bob’s ditches were perfectly straight, and the sides vertical and all the same width. He was a perfectionist in his work, but not at his camp.
My Uncle Herman and Aunt Bernida Byrd were always trying to give him things from their store, but Old Bob would not take handouts. On real cold nights, Dad would sometimes check on him. On some cold mornings Mom would have Kenny and me go check on him. Mom always had us kids take a big plate of our dinner to him on holidays, as he would not come and eat with us. On Christmas, we would take him a little gift of something, sometimes gloves or wool socks. He did not like taking the gift, but he would, mostly, I think, so he wouldn’t hurt our feelings. I remember my sister Ola, Kenny and I going over to his camp one Christmas day. We had some gifts and a wreath we had made for him. It was a beautiful day; the snow was over two feet deep and his camp looked so cozy and cheery in the snow. Ola said, “It’s just like going to the stable in Bethlehem to see Jesus.” I think God was smiling on Old Bob and us kids that Christmas Day.
THE SENTINEL OF THE MISSION VALLEY
It was over three hundred years ago that this great Ponderosa, or yellow pine emerged from the fertile soil at the base of the Mission Mountains. Its parent, a large yellow pine, had dropped the seed a couple years earlier on ground that had been blackened by a lightning-started forest fire. The tree was about thirty five years old in 1728 when it looked down on the first horses in the Valley. From then on, it would see many horses. The Upper Pend’d’Oreille Indian’s life style was experiencing a big change as they learned how to utilize the strength and intelligence of this wonderful new animal.
Throughout the years the tree watched Blackfeet war parties sneak into the Valley to steal the Pend’d’Oreille’s horses and women. It watched the horses carrying the women and children up the mountain to the huckleberry patches, and the hunting and gathering parties returning with roots and meat. It looked on as the women and children gathered in the meadow below, blue with camas blooms, to dig the plump bulbs. It watched the tipi village being taken down as the Indians prepared to move across the mountains to the plains for their annual spring buffalo hunt.
In about 1790, it saw the first white man, and by 1810 it was seeing these strange white men more often. It was standing tall in 1845 as the Hudson Bay Company men built Fort Connah, five miles to the south of the tree. Then, in 1854 Father Hoecken and other Black Robes started the construction of the St. Ignatius Misson. In 1855 it watched the Indians trailing by to join the Bitterroot Salish, and meet Governor Stevens at Hellgate, for the famous Hellgate Treaty signing.
The tree was surprised in1860 when two Indians, Charley and Louie Mollman and their families moved in around it. They brought their horses and their small herd of cattle. The tree had never had cattle grazing around it before. In 1874 it witnessed the start of the great Allard and Pablo herd. It started to see more dust as the old trails turned into wagon roads. By 1885 it was a common sight to see the smoke and hear the whistle of the steam engines from the new railroad across the valley.
From it’s lofty height, in 1910 it could see the dust in the west from the buffalo roundup, making room for the swarms of settlers coming into the area. It listened with pleasure to the singing and the beat of the drums at the Mollmans’ annual Winter Jump Dance.
In 1920 the tree saw it’s first sheep when the Cheff family joined the Mollmans, and built a house just a couple of hundred yards from it. And it smiled at the children playing at its base, knowing it was too big for them to climb up to it’s lofty branches. It worried when Polley Lumber Co. built railroad tracks and started logging with in a half mile of it. The tree was glad it stood out in the meadow by itself, too far and maybe too big to be of interest to the loggers.
It witnessed the dust from the first automobiles as they replaced the horse and wagon. It heard the roar and saw the shadow of the first airplane flying over its head. In 1936 it heard another new baby cry in the Cheff home when grandson, Bud Jr. was born. Then in 1938 it saw the Valley light up with electricity from the new Kerr Dam just built near Polson. It looked on as Gene Allard, standing proudly on the back of his tractor, drove into the meadow below. It was the first tractor in the area, and the beginning of the end for the teams of horses, the noble animals that helped conquered the frontier.
In the early 1960’s Mother Nature injured the tree with a lightning strike, but the tree lived on. Then in 1974 it was hit by lightning again. This hit was a hard one, but not fatal. The great tree struggled on until 1986 when lightning again struck it. This time it knocked the top fifty feet of the tree off. It could not withstand this hit, and was dead in two years.
At this writing, January of 2008, this great tree, this valley sentinel, is still standing. Much of its bark is gone and many of its massive limbs, some over twelve inches in diameter, have fallen. The trunk has dried and shriveled, but the tree still stands, watching the world change. I often look at this great tree, and let my mind drift back in time, seeing the changes in the land the tree has seen in it’s long life; knowing it was here to witness history unfold. “If it could only talk!” The tree is now six feet 4 inches. in diameter at the base, nineteen feet around, and ninety feet tall, no longer the towering one hundred forty feet it was before it’s top was knocked off. After every storm or strong wind, I look out with fear that it will be gone. When it does go down, it will take a part of me with it.
I LEARNED THE MEANING OF A REAL STORM
In the 1960’s I was working as an ironworker for American Bridge Co. building the Minute Man Missiles sites in northern Montana. American Bridge Co. is probably the biggest steel erection co in America. My first contact with them was in 1956 on the huge Mackinac Bridge that spans the Mackinac Straight between Michigan and Canada. I had a number of first’s in that year. I got my first American Bridge Co. Bridgman belt and tools; the very best made, and I still have them. I worked with my first Mohawk Iroquois ironworker, who turned out to be a relative. They were known for their excellent iron working skills. Which I found to be true as I continued working and moved back to Montana on the missile sites. There were a number of Flathead Indians including a dozen from this reservation. As I recall stories, Ted Jerry comes to mind on the Hungry Horse Dam. Ted was ½ Iroquois and ½ French. He worked with my dad and they became good friends chatting French to each. Ted was as wild as a Northern Montana storm, his escapades would fill a book. He was later shot and killed in a card game in Alaska so those escapades were left to word of mouth. But speaking of storms – here is one that reminds me of the old western movies and people freezing.
The missile sites were scattered all over the northern Montana plains, from Shelby to Lewistown and around the Great Falls area. I had worked in all these areas but this particular winter of 1962, I was working in the remote area around Lewistown. It had been a real cold winter with day after day of below zero temperatures and non-stop blowing wind. I realized the Northern Plains people had to be of hardy stock to survive winters here. The work we were doing was mostly fitting, welding, and dressing up the inside of the cans (the inside shell of the silo). We were inside of the can, out of the wind most of the time, but it was still freezing work, handling the cold steel. There were four of us ironworkers, and our foreman. One ironworker was from Ontario Canada, one from the east coast, and my friend Axel from Kalispell. We had worked together on the iron ore Taconite plant in Minnesota some years before. We all car pooled, and ate our lunch in our car to get warmed up every day. We were sitting in our car one day, eating our lunch and listening to the radio. This was a special day, and we were glued to the radio as astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, was reentering the earth in his entry capsule. We, along with the rest of the country, were praying the capsule chute would open and he would make it back to earth alive. The foreman knocked on our window and told us to get back to work. We told him we wanted to wait and see if the chute opened. But he told us to get back down in the hole or go to town and get our checks. You can bet he didn’t win any good will from us having to wait for the end of the shift to find out if John Glenn lived. A few weeks later, he made amends to us. I think he realized he had a real good crew of talented hard-working ironworkers, and had come close to losing them, as he tried hard to be friendly to us after that. We had moved to a silo in the Winifred area, a long way from anywhere. It was terribly cold this day, close to 40 below zero. The foreman got a call from the American Bridge office to abandon the missile sites as a deadly storm was about to hit. As we put the tools away and secured the job the wind picked up and the cold blowing snow was almost unbearable. The foreman left in his truck and we followed in our car. He was soon lost from sight in the blowing snow. We made it to the paved road from Winifred that connects to HW 236 at the Helger Junction. But it was so cold that before we got to the junction, the car just quit running. It was 56 below zero and with wind chill it registered -100 degrees. We were stalled in the middle of the road and were afraid someone would run into us with such poor visibility. We were on a little hill so I got out of the car to give it a push so we could get off the road. I pushed on the car and it started rolling backwards on its own. Even though I was dressed warmly the cold was awful. The wind was blowing so hard I couldn’t follow the car. My eyes and nose were freezing shut, and I couldn’t breathe. I had never been in this kind of cold before. I could not see the car, just its lights shining through the blowing snow, but I could not get to it. I was just about to panic when the wind eased enough so that I could make it to the car.
Now the stories of ranchers freezing to death between the barn and their house made sense. The car kept us out of the wind, but it didn’t take long for it to turn into a freezer. We sat there for about an hour wondering what we could or should do when we saw car lights coming towards us. It was our foreman in his truck. He had been waiting at the Hilger Junction restaurant and bar. When we didn’t come by, he came back looking for us. All four of us got into the cab of his truck with him. We decided he was a pretty good guy after all. We spent the night at the bar and restaurant, waiting out the storm. This storm taught me a lot of respect for those tough northern eastern Montana Plains ranchers.
The beginning – Bud’s story
Vern E. ‘Bud’ Cheff, Sr. (1915 – 2011) and friend and mentor Eneas Conko (1874-1954).
Bud Cheff Jr.’s ancestors first came to what is now Montana in the early-1800’s from Ontario, Canada. His French and Iroquois grandparents settled on the Flathead Reservation in 1907, and became good friends with the tribal families that were their neighbors. Bud’s dad went on hunting and gathering trips in the Montana wilderness with these family bands from the time he was a small child. He learned the old ways, and spoke Pend’ Oreille fluently. Bud Jr. was born in his grandparent’s log house at the foot of the Missions Mountains in 1936. Growing up on the family ranch and traveling on those same old Indian hunting trails was an ideal childhood for Bud. As he put it, “I grew up with a foot in both cultures.” He spent many happy hours listening to the elders telling stories, and worked hard to memorize them as a child. In later years he recorded some of them.
When he was 9 years old, Bud and his sister Ola found a war club in a cave near Glacier National Park and he became interested in collecting artifacts as well as stories. Later, a fire burned his childhood home, destroying the war club, and other treasures. These experiences led him to realize the importance of preserving the history and personal stories of Flathead Reservation.
When most people are beginning to contemplate retirement, Bud instead fulfilled his lifelong dream and built Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana with the help of his wife Laurel. His father, Bud Sr., and many other friends and family contributed time, effort, donations and snippets of history.
Join Bud as he shares stories and historical accounts of the Mission Valley, and keeps us up-to-date on what is happening with the wildlife on the ranch!
THE MAKINGS OF A HISTORY PACK RAT
In the summer of 1946 I was almost ten years old. Our family was traveling from Ronan, Montana to the new town of Martin City. The town was named for my great, great aunt Vina, and uncle Joseph G. Martin, as the town was built on part of their homestead land. As we were traveling through the Bad Rock Canyon we had a flat tire on the folk’s 1936 Chevrolet car. To change the tire Dad had to jack the car up, take the wheel off, then take the tire off the wheel, and take the tube out, and patch it. Then put it all back together, and pump it up with a hand pump. Then put the wheel back on the car, let the car down, and take the jack out. This was a lengthy process, and while he was doing this my sister Ola and I climbed up on the mountain cliffs above the road. Ola was three years older than me, but we were best pals. We found a cave-like rock crevice and we climbed into it. Ola spotted an object sticking out of a big pack rat nest in the back of the cave. Through the years I have found many amazing things in pack rat nests. We got on our hands and knees as the ceiling was low in the back. We dug the object out, and were surprised and excited when we realized it was an Indian war club. It was bone dry in the back of the cave, which was probably why our find was still in good shape after all the years. Finding the war club sent our imaginations racing as we had heard the Elders telling of the battles that took place in this canyon in the old days between the Blackfoot and the Flathead Indians. We could almost hear the fight, war cries echoing from the canyon in our minds. We were really excited as we hurried back to the car. Dad was waiting on us, but forgot that he was unhappy with us when he saw what we had. Finding the war club in that old pack rat nest triggered my life long quest for old artifacts, and the stories they tell. I guess I’ve got a bit of pack rat in me.
For those that are not familiar with pack rats, they are grey in color with soft fur, and a furred tail. They are a little bigger than a pine squirrel with a cute face, large ears, and big eyes. They are a night animal, and are vicious little devils. They make a nest out of sticks, grass, leaves, moss, or most any thing they can find. Some times their nest will be as big or bigger than an old-fashioned wash tub. They will carry anything that catches their eye and hide it in their nest. They are especially fond of bright or shiny objects. As a boy I used to find a lot of lost things in their nests.
A Big Cave by Bud, Jr
As a boy my folks gave me a special birthday gift each year, starting at age six, and each year after. My birthday was Sept 8, and that was when Dad began his fall hunting trips. I got to help him trail the horses over the Mission Range, to our corrals at Holland Lake, and then go with him on the first hunting party into the Bob Marshall Wilderness. I thought I was in heaven on those ten-day hunting trips. Looking back now, it probably wasn’t the best thing for my schooling, missing the first and second week of school each year.
In 1943, I was 7 years old and a happy little boy. I thought I was pretty big as Dad had me lead a couple of the pack horses the 28 miles to our camp on Bartlett Creek. In those days our camp was not as fancy as it is nowadays. Dad did the cooking as well as the guiding and packing. Most of the hunters would pitch in and help with gathering wood and other chores. I was probably some help to Dad, but was more likely a pain in the rear. I usually went with Dad as he guided the hunters, but some days he had me stay in camp by myself. I enjoyed the days by myself. I would go down to the river and try to catch the big whitefish, and bull trout laying in the deep holes. I would practice on my water reed elk bugle, play my mouth harp, and slice myself a piece of cheese off the big round cheese block Dad always brought in for lunches. The block would last all fall, and cheese was a real treat to me.
One day I was with Dad and a hunter who had not gotten his elk yet. Dad had bugled in a big old grey-back six-point bull. It was really close to us but the hunter could not see it. Dad was trying to help the hunter spot it. I could see it plainly and whispered to Dad, “I can see it! Can I shoot it?” I think this encouraged the hunter to get himself pulled together, as he finally shot. Hunting with a mussel loader, he crippled it, and it went on up the mountain. The hunter took his horse and went back to camp while I went with Dad, following the elk. The elk went to the timberline, following a game trail and then turned up the canyon but angled downhill a little, which meant he was tiring, and it was hard for him to climb. His trail went by an opening in a cliff. We stopped and looked in. The opening was big, not a little hole like most cave openings. We went in a little way and I was in awe. Just a few weeks earlier Mom & Dad had taken my sister Ola, little brother Kenny an me to Missoula to see the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey circus. There were lions, tigers, and fifty elephants in the show. I loved the high wire trapeze acts, but was most impressed with the elephants. There was a parade from the railroad down main street with all those elephants, with men and women riding some of them. Standing in the cave that day, those elephants must have still been on my mind. I told Dad, “This room is so big you could put all fifty of the circus elephants in here!” We did not have time to explore the cave as Dad had to keep after the elk, which we finally got after a long chase. I always planned to go back and find that cave but never had the chance. I asked Dad in later years if he had ever gone back in it, and he said he had not. I think of it and wish I had gone back and found it. I would like to see if it looks now like it did to a seven-year-old boy in 1943.
There are many caves in the valley and throughout the Bob Marshall like the one pictured, Turtle Cave. I often wonder what role this and other caves played in the early days.