Sunday, May 31, 2015

Earliest source referencing Betters' Station now 1961

Today, on a rare visit to the Renne Library at Montana State University, I picked up a book on the "free" rack, titled "Montana's Benton Road." While Benton Road does not pass through Clinton, it was part of the Mullan Road, and I thought it might contain clues to what was going on along the Mullan Road in the Hellgate Valley about the same time. So far, I haven't found anything directly relevant in the book, but it renewed my interest in researching Better's Station, which led to tonight's breakthrough discovery...

Thanks to the University of Montana digitizing all of their theses, dissertations and professional papers, tonight I found the earliest reference to Better's Station that I have found. Here is what Don Bert Omundson's 1961 thesis "Study of place names in Missoula County, Montana" says about Clinton:
T12N R17V. Small community 15 miles e. of Missoula on the N.P.R.R. and C.M. & St.P. Named in November, 1889, after Henry Clinton. It is undecided whether Clinton was a railroad man or a lumberman. (Mrs. Nettle, Albert Partoll)
Previous Names: Better's [sic] Station, Pine Grove, Blossberg.
(1) Originally Better's [sic] Station on the Mullan Road, a stage station which received its name from Austin Betters, who homesteaded the townsite. Betters, the father of the informant, came to this country in 1881. The stage station was established in 1883. (Mrs. Nettle)
(2) The N.P.R.R. originally called this settlement Wallace in the 1880's, but the name was not accepted by the p.o. (Lukens)
(3) The descriptive name, Pine Grove, superceded [sic] the locally accepted Better's [sic] Station for a short time, probably two or three years. (Mrs. Nettle)
(4) Blossberg was adopted in 1888 or 1889, but was soon abandoned when it was discovered that the p.o. was being confused with another town of the same name in the vicinity of Butte. (Mrs. Nettle)
Based on Omundson's claim that his thesis is one of the first comprehensive collections of origins of place names in Montana, and the fact that information that has appeared in later sources references much of the same information contained here, it's probable that this was the source material for those later sources. Also telling is the fact that Omundson, himself, had to rely on personal interviews, rather than published source material for his entry on Clinton.

I find it somewhat disconcerting that my great-grand-aunt, Fannie Nettle (Austin's daughter) was the primary source of the information about Betters' Station. I think I would have felt better if the information had come from a personal interview with someone else. Fannie would have been over 90 years old when Omundson interviewed her, and while I've heard that she was still pretty sharp in her nineties, it's plausible that she mis-remembered this fact, or got Baker's Station confused with Betters' Station. Other scenarios I can imagine: Fannie was trying to improve the Betters name by rewriting history ever-so-slightly; or Betters' Station was what the family called it, and no one else used that name.

The real gem in this source was found on the last few pages (after the bibliography, although it appears that they may have initially been at the beginning of the thesis). These pages were titled "Miscellaneous information from Missoula Courthouse records about some of the places and men mentioned in the following thesis." Here's what it said about Clinton:
Austin Betters and Charles Harris jointly bought "Pine Grove House, a restaurant and bar in Pineland Grove" on April 14, 1883. It was located "2 miles south of Wallace District on road from Missoula to Bears Mouth". 
LW Frank sold the land to Betters and Harris; he was postmaster at Pineland from Oct 30, 1882 to April 2, 1883, while Edward Frank preceded him as postmaster from July 28, 1882 to Oct 30, 1882.
The date and geographic location match up, but I'm not sure whether or not this provides support for the notion that a stage station was established here in 1883 and the town took the name Betters' Station for a time. However, this does give me additional things to search for ("Pine Grove House" and apparent business partner, Charles Harris).

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Mullan Road Conference comes to Missoula in May

The 2014 Mullan Road Conference will be held in Missoula May 2-4.

Here's what the organizers have to say about the conference:
The 2014 Mullan Road Conference is coming to Missoula May 2-4, just in time to help Montana celebrate its 150th year of territoryhood. 
Take a step back to the 1860s to hear stories from some of the nation's foremost experts about what happened and what's happening on the road that built Montana.
The conference evolved out of the annual Mullan Day celebration that was initiated 25 years ago by the Mineral County Historical Society in Superior, Montana. Since 2006 it has been held each spring along the 624-mile military wagon road that Lieutenant John Mullan and his crews engineered and built in 1859-62 through the Northern Rockies from Walla Walla to Fort Benton. 
A Friday night reception hosted by Fort Missoula museums will be followed on Saturday by a day of presentations and an evening banquet at Ruby’s Reserve Street Inn. On Sunday we'll take a tour of the road east of Missoula and, weather permitting, get a chance to walk in a rare existing footprint of the road.
Although I'm more interested in what happened along the Mullan Road in the Hellgate Valley from about 1880 on, I think this will be a great opportunity to connect with people who know a whole heck of a lot more than me about the history of the area. I hope I am able to attend.

If you're interested in learning more about the conference, go to the website at or the Facebook page at

A neighbor of the McQuarries recalls time spent with the family

I was in Missoula for the Montana Masters State Championship Swim Meet this weekend, and was able to snag 55 minutes at the Missoula Public Library before they closed. It was hard to know what to do with such little time. Thankfully, I had previously started a list of things I knew I wanted to search for the next time I was in Missoula, and I was able to access that list on my iPad.

I came up empty-handed on the few specific things I was looking for, but then I found one of the books Roberta Carkeek Cheney had listed in the bibliography of Names on the Face of Montana that I thought might possibly reference Betters' Station: Missoula Valley History by Jo Rainbolt and Dorothy Brumback. The book is 500+ pages, and the index and table of contents weren't much help, so I just started flipping and skimming from the beginning. I didn't make it all the way through the book, but I did find a reference to my ancestors' family members (see below).

The Mrs. Dan McQuarrie mentioned by Kate Rasmussen in the excerpt above was Grace (Betters) McQuarrie, my great grand aunt. Dan and Grace McQuarrie raised my great-grandfather, Phillip Betters, and two of his sisters for a few years after their mom, Jane (Stanley) Betters died in 1899 (More about that in future posts). The excerpt doesn't make it clear when Rasmussen's first automobile ride was, but it was likely after Phillip and his sisters had moved out. If it happened after 1914, the McQuarries would have had six children living at home, which is a pretty big family by today's standards, but doesn't seem that big for the time. Based on the approximate timing, I suspect that Fannie was the sister they visited in Clinton.

It appears that the McQuarries were pretty well off. They apparently owned one of the first automobiles in Missoula, they were able to hire out a housekeeper, and they enjoyed homemade ice cream and cake, which Rasmussen considered to be a luxury. Other than that, there's not a whole lot of new information here, but it was nice to come across a nugget of information by simply browsing. Now if only I could come across something about the name Betters' Station by accident...

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What was the Hellgate Valley like when the Betters settled there in the early 1880s?

One of the many things I was curious about was what the Hellgate Valley was like when the Betters moved there around 1880. I got my first glimpse by reading Miners and Travelers' Guide to Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado, by John Mullan (and digitized by Google). John Mullan, in case you don't know, is the man who built the military road from Fort Benton to Fort Walla Walla that became known as the Mullan Road. The road, which was never used by the military, was the first wagon road to cross the Rocky Mountains to the Inland of the Pacific Northwest. Mullan's book was published in 1865, and based on his experiences as he built the road from 1859 to 1860. I figured that 20 years difference wasn't too bad...

...until I found Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage by Carrie Adell Strahorn (and digitized by Google). One of the chapters in Strahorn's book tells of a stagecoach trip from Helena to Missoula that took place in the late 1870s. I have excerpted the part that talks about the Deer Lodge to Missoula leg (through the Hellgate Valley):
    From Deer Lodge to Missoula we forded the Deer Lodge River seven times and crossed it twice on bridges. It was a veritable Lovers' Lane leading through bowers of wild roses; oftentimes the rose bushes arched over the stage road and joined their blooms in a wealth of beauty and untrammelled luxuriance, filling the air with their fragrance and our hearts with admiration and joy. It was an expanse of earth set apart for wild growth, not only of flowers but of wild berries and wild animals.
    From the seat with the driver there were views of long avenues ahead and most too often the glinting water in the distance betokened another fording of the river. Though clear as crystal it was deep and swift and when the leaders of our four-horse team reluctantly made the leap down the bank it always sent creepers up my spine. The water grew deeper at every crossing from the many lateral feeders of canyon springs, and my breath stopped and choked just a little higher in the throat as I leaned forward with contracted muscles as if it helped the horses drag the burden over the rocky river bed.
    Grand old pine trees, tall and stately, were gathered in forests on either side, with the ground beneath free of underbrush except for the rose and berry bushes in the more sunny openings near the streams. It was like one grand, continuous park, with the half dead pines covered with an inch of green moss, hiding all marks of death's decay.
    A dark moving object ahead of us in the open roadway suddenly appeared in full view and the jehu pulled in the reins to get a steady look ahead. Then he exclaimed with a strong oath "that that damn thing ahead of us is a bear." He called to the passengers to get their shooting irons ready for there might be trouble ahead. Those inside thought of the dreaded Indian, and were greatly relieved to know it was only a bear that caused the call to arms. The horses reared and plunged from instinctive fear and we gained only a little on the king of the American wilds.
    The driver lashed the poor brutes into a chase until there was grave fear that they would wheel suddenly backward and cause a serious accident. But the bear reached the river first, and by the time the stage reached the ford old Bruin was lifting his head out of the water away down on the opposite bank, where he emerged and shook his shaggy coat and scrambled into the brush.
    It was the only spirited event of the trip, and early in the afternoon we were in the great Montana garden of the Hell Gate River. It seemed a curious name to give to such a beautiful stream, but it comes from the black and intricate passage through the rocky pass of the same name near Missoula.
    Missoula was not of enough importance to have a place on the map, but it was a productive section that has since made itself known to the world. Peaches, pears, and melons--my how good they were after a long famine of such luxuries!
It paints a pretty picture, doesn't it? I think you'll agree that finding this description of the Hellgate Valley in the late 1870s is the next best thing to finding a description from my ancestors themselves.

For your reference, I am including a snippet of a Rand McNally map from 1879. I have highlighted the described route in yellow, and marked the approximate location of present-day Clinton with a red "X." Please note that the Northern Pacific RR had not made it to the Hellgate Valley by 1879. Many maps included proposed/expected routes of the various railroads before they were actually constructed. When it was constructed, the NPRR largely followed the Mullan Road.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

October 1959 photo of Aunt Fannie's family

This past week, my parents sent me a photo of Aunt Fannie's family from October 1959. Pictured in this photo are (from left to right): Ernest Terry (Fannie's son, one-time owner of the general store in Clinton and co-operator of the Hobo Mine), Margaret Pickering Whitney (Fannie's granddaughter and Martha Terry Pickering Swartz's daughter) Fannie Betters Terry (Austin and Jane Betters' daughter), Ben Whitney (Margaret's husband), Martha Terry Pickering Swartz (Fannie's daughter), Edna Pickering (Fannie's granddaughter and Martha's daughter), Mable Terry (Fannie's daughter, and longtime Clinton postmaster), and Earl Swartz (Martha's husband).

I'm not sure where this photo was taken. I'm assuming it was inside Fannie's house.

UPDATE (11/23/2013): Guy Howlett confirmed that this photo was taken in the living/dining area of Fannie's house.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Still on the hunt for any period documentation that Clinton was once known as Betters' Station

Yesterday I did some old-fashioned research at the Bozeman Public Library. I flipped through some books that are not available in digital form online. One of those books was Names on the Face of Montana by Roberta Carkeek Cheney, which the Montana Historical Society had pointed to as one of the sources for the fact that Clinton was once known as Betters' Station. Indeed, both the 1971 and 1984 versions of the book state essentially the same facts that appear in Montana Office of Tourism publications and the Montana Historical Society's Montana Place Names book:
CLINTON (Missoula) is an old mining and lumber town. Ore deposits were discovered in 1889 and the Charcoal Mine yielded thousands of dollars worth of lead and silver. The name Clinton was chosen that year in honor of Henry Clinton. Originally the place had been known as Betters' Station. It was started as a stage station on the Mullan Road in 1883 and named for Austin Betters, a homesteader. The Northern Pacific railroad men first called this place Wallace, but the name was unacceptable to the Post Office Department. At different times the settlement was also called Pine Grove (which was very descriptive) and Blossberg. The Clinton post office, with Samuel Scott in charge, opened in 1892.
The book does not have footnotes, so I don't know where Cheney found this information, and she passed away in 2005, so I cannot ask her. She did, however, include a bibliography, so there are six pages of published and unpublished sources that I can hunt down and look through to find her source.

One of the many cool things that you will find at the Bozeman Public Library is a bunch of historic maps of Montana hanging on the walls upstairs. Yesterday I made a point to look at each one, record the date, and write down what town names were listed in the Hellgate Valley between Missoula and Drummond. The 1887 map from the U.S. General Land Office and the 1888 map from George F. Cramer both identify the town where Clinton now stands as "Wallace." Every newer map (from 1895 on) calls the town "Clinton." The older maps did not identify any town in that area. This corroborates the dates and names given by Cheney in her book.

I only had time to thoroughly examine one other book before the library closed. That was Montana Post Offices and Postmasters by Dennis J. Lutz. While that book corroborated the facts about Clinton's post office contained in Cheney's book, it omitted the fact that the post office had existed prior to that. Its name changed from "Wallace" to "Clinton" in 1892. The Wallace post office was actually established on May 7, 1883, with Elias Bryan as postmaster. According to Lutz's book, Austin Betters' wife (and my great-great-grandmother), Jane Betters, served as postmaster from December 24, 1890 (Christmas Eve) until May 7, 1892, when the name changed to Clinton and Samuel Scott became postmaster.

Jane Better's granddaughter, Mable A. Terry, also served as postmaster at the Clinton post office. Her term was from April 17, 1945 to December 1, 1957. An Edith M. Terry also served as postmaster from March 5, 1921 to December 4, 1923, but I am unsure of her relation to the Betters family.

Incidentally, all of the facts contained in Lutz's book (and more) are actually available online at the U.S. Postal Service's website, as I just discovered (It doesn't allow direct links to search results, so you'll have to go to and enter "Clinton" and "Montana" in the search boxes to see this). I'm not sure how I didn't come across that before. I suppose it's all in the way you search for things online.

In summary, the earliest mention of Betters' Station that I have found so far is 1971 (Cheney), and if people were calling present-day Clinton "Betters' Station" in the 1880s, it doesn't appear that it was the postal service.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

One of the most comprehensive histories of the Clinton area that I have found online is actually from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. They have a historical narrative about the Clinton/Wallace mining district.