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.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Source of "Betters Station (historical)" information

I wasn't going to post for a third time in one day, but I decided to try to figure out why "Betters Station (historical)" was appearing on all of these online maps. I found out why pretty quickly. It's an entry in the USGS Geographic Names Information System. Here are some of the facts provided in that entry:
Description: Stage stop
Coordinates: 46.7665939 (lat.), -113.7092628 (long.) - approximate
Entry Date: 09-Feb-1998
Citation: Lutz, Dennis J. and William Ashton. Montana Place Names. (More information to be added when the book is published. - 9606).
Variant Name: Baker's Station
It looks like I have something new to search for (Baker's Station) and a couple of unpublished authors to find.

Sometimes you discover more by not looking at your target

If you are interested in the history of the Hellgate Valley, you will want to check out Two Rivers History. This website, and the physical Bonner Milltown History Center in the Bonner Post Office Building, are "devoted to exploring the rich history found at the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers and neighboring communities of Bonner, Milltown, Piltzville, Pine Grove, and West Riverside." Although Clinton is not included in that list, the fact that it is a mere 13 miles away, and sits on the same river and railways, means that they share similar histories, and I think a lot can be learned about what was going on in Clinton at any given time by examining what was going on in Bonner-Milltown. In particular, you will want to read about The Great Flood of 1908, the Northern Pacific Railroad and the Milwaukee Railroad.

Two Rivers History was instrumental in a breakthrough in my research of the Betters. I had seen a
September 23, 2012 article in the The Missoulian about traveling by stagecoach through the Hellgate Valley. That led me to conduct an online search for Willie Bateman, who appeared in the article. I found an interview with Willie on YouTube that Two Rivers History had recorded and posted. I left a comment about wanting to get in touch with Willie, and Two Rivers made it happen. 

Willie told me that stagecoach stations were 10-11 miles apart, and he thought that they were located in New Chicago, Bearmouth, Nimrod and Clinton in the Hellgate Valley. He said that there's still an old wood-frame structure in Clinton that might have been a stage stop. That was about the extent of his knowledge on stage stops in Clinton, but he did recommend that I talk to Guy Howlett in Clinton, and that has been a key link.

Guy has been a wealth of knowledge on the Betters family and the history of Clinton, and it's possible that I never would have found him without Two Rivers History.

What kind of station was Betters' Station?

Do you ever receive a response to an email you sent so long ago that you forgot that you sent it? Earlier this week I had that experience, when the Montana Historical Society Research Center responded to the email inquiry I sent to them back in March. 

In the book, Montana Place Names, published by the Montana Historical Society, it says "When it was established in 1883 as a stage stop and post office on the Mullan Road, Clinton was known as Betters' Station, after settler Austin Betters."

In all of my research, I have yet to come across any mention of Betters' Station, or find any existence of a stage station run by the Betters in old Montana maps, history books, and land records. So I emailed MHS to see if they could provide me with the original source of their information. Here is their response:
As far as I can determine, the info came from two sources---1) similar information is in "Names on the Face of Montana," by Roberta Cheney, 1984.  2) Another source reports information from a Missoula County U.S. Postal guide, 1918.
So I guess I have a couple more leads to follow up on, but neither source is from the 1880s, so I imagine this won't be the final word.

While you will find this tidbit about Clinton originally being a stage stop called Betters' Station repeated in a few places across the internet, I am suspicious about its accuracy, for a few reasons:
  • As I stated before, I have not  found "Betters' Station mentioned in any period sources (newspapers, maps, etc.).
  • The Northern Pacific Railroad was completed in 1883. Why would a stage stop be started in what is now Clinton in the same year that the "iron horse" came through town?
  • According an article about Fanny Betters when she was in her 90s, the family came to Montana from Vermont on the train. If the NPRR wasn't completed until 1883, how could the Betters have been in the Clinton area long enough to have the town named after them?
  • The plat maps I've found from the time period have stage stops listed, and there is not one in the Clinton area.
When I met with Guy Howlett, unofficial historian of Clinton, earlier this year, he proposed an alternate theory, which he said came from Rex Flansburg. Before steam trains switched to coal, they were wood-fired, so they needed to stop and take on wood and water regularly. The water towers were usually at the depots, but the wood stations were probably close by. Apparently there was a wood station in Clinton, and the wood supplies were hauled down from Starvation Gulch. Based on some other research that Guy has done for me, Starvation Gulch was either part of, or close by, the original Betters homestead. But that's a topic for another post...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I love digitization!

So, even though I moved to Montana in 2008 and the facts I have learned about the Betters line has grown exponentially since then, the irony is that most of that additional information has been learned through the internet, so it's research I could have done anywhere.

One thing I'd been meaning to do, the next time I had some spare time in Missoula, was to just flip through the microfilm of the old newspapers, to see if I could happen across something that I was not able to find through the available indexes. Well, last night, on a whim, I decided to see if the early Missoulian papers had been digitized yet. They had! Not only that, but they appear to be searchable as well.

I found the clipping to the left at Chronicling America. A number of early newspapers have been digitized, and are available for free on the Chronicling America website. Chronicling America "is a Website providing access to information about historic newspapers and select digitized newspaper pages, and is produced by the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP). NDNP, a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Library of Congress (LC), is a long-term effort to develop an Internet-based, searchable database of U.S. newspapers with descriptive information and select digitization of historic pages."

This clipping is from the April 10, 1912 edition of The Missoulian. I had already had information about Austin's admission to the soldiers' home from available military records. This article helps explain the context for how and why he ended up there. I found it interesting that he apparently went there voluntarily.

Something that may require further research is the mention of an Austin Betters, Jr. This is not the first time I have heard him mentioned, but he has yet to show up in any official documentation that I have come across. I suspect that one of Austin's three sons, Phillip (my g-grandfather), Stanley or Gilbert, was also known as Austin Jr. All three appear to have been living in Montana at the time.

One of the amusing things about these old newspapers is what passed for news in those days. In the June 1, 1913 edition of The Missoulian, I found this: "Phillip Betters of Clinton spent the day in Missoula."