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By Betty Vanderwielen

Pioneer Descendants Share Memories During Homestead Tour


August 10, 2017

Betty Vanderwielen, Pathfinder

Barb Hill Raible stands in front of the sauna that was the first structure built by her grandparents when they prepared to "prove up" the Hill Homestead.

SWAN VALLEY – The more than 100 people who enjoyed the Upper Swan Valley Historical Society's (USVHS) Homestead Tour Saturday, Aug. 5 had a variety of reasons for participating.

Some people wanted to know more about the valley's pioneer days because they live in the Condon or surrounding area. Some came because they grew up or once lived in the valley. At least one person came because he was interested in the building techniques used by the pioneers. No matter what the reason, people couldn't help but marvel at the fortitude and tenacity of those early homesteaders.

At each of the eight homes on the self-guided tour either a direct descendant of the original pioneer or someone knowledgeable about the home and its history was available. Memories flourished and favorite stories were trotted out.

The Homestead Act, signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, granted 160 acres of free land to prospective landowners. All the Swan Valley settler had to do was build a structure and live in it year-round for five years while clearing at least 20 acres and converting them to agricultural use. Of course, in Swan Valley that basically meant clearing 20 acres of forest and surviving harsh winters and a short growing season.

Nonetheless, approximately 200 families flocked to the valley. Only half of them succeeded in meeting the required conditions, called "proving up." Many of the pioneers were of Scandinavian descent, especially Finnish.

USVHS President Steve Lamar said, "A lot of Finlanders loved the valley because it reminded them of the old country."

Lamar, who was stationed at the Beck Homestead, said the first structure built on the Beck property was a sauna. According to Lamar, that was typical for Finnish settlers.

The sauna served as a bathing, cooking and sleeping facility, though the Becks used tents part of the year. The next structure was a wood shed, because it was important to have dry wood available. The third structure built was the house.

Lamar said, "The neat thing about this log cabin that's very unique – there are only two in the whole valley like this – was the dovetail joinery. This was considered the best of the best. It locks in and nothing's going to shift or move on you with this kind of a notch."

At the Hill Homestead, Barb Hill Raible showed visitors the 100-year-old and still functioning sauna that was the first structure built by her pioneer grandparents. She said at one point when foundation work had to be done on the original house, she and her family lived in the sauna for almost six months.

At the Clinkingbeard Homestead, current owner Pam Forder said the first structure built was the barn.

Forder said, "They did it that way because they had to protect their animals. That's what they worked the land with and hauled their logs with. So they made sure the animals were protected and then they started the house. One of the daughters claims to have been born in the barn."

The Clinkingbeards, nicknamed Jingle Whiskers by the neighboring settler, also built a cold storage shelter in the creek that ran between the barn and the house. Meat, cheese, milk and other foodstuffs were kept cold by the mountain-fed water. They also made a wide jog in their pasture fencing that allowed the farm animals to drink directly from the creek.

On the Johnson homestead site only the original barn and outhouse are present. Cousins Florence Strom Tucker and Frances Kesterson Swigert pointed out to visitors exactly where the home had been. Tucker also brought photo albums chronicling the lives of their parents and their pioneer grandparents. Swigert related that their grandmother Fina was sent to live with foster parents after her Norwegian mother died and her father was unable to take care of her.

Swigert said, "[Fina's father] sent her over to Ellis Island. She came from Ellis Island [with her foster parents] to Somers [Mont.] in a covered wagon when she was three."

Raised in Somers, Fina met and eventually married Einar Johnson and they moved to the Swan Valley, determined to prove up and become landowners.

At the Sorensen Homestead, Gene Miller had lots of stories to tell. Though the original log cabin built by Jorgen "Chris" Sorensen has not survived, Miller lived in the small frame house Sorensen later built, one of the first lumber frame houses in the upper Swan Valley.

Miller talked about how his father created Kauffman Road and the surrounding roads, putting down logs in a corduroy pattern in sections where it was boggy and muddy. Miller also told the story of how his mother killed a bear and Jennie Kauffman, who was also present, showed a picture of Mrs. Miller looking triumphant with a rifle in her hand and one foot on the dead bear.

Visitors also had stories to share. Three Kauffman sisters, Nola Kauffman Estep from Virginia, Edie Kauffman Landis from Creston, and Barb Kauffman from Slovakia, came on the tour together. They lived off Salmon Prairie Road when they were young and Kauffman Lane was named after their uncle. Nola Kauffman perhaps spoke for all of them when she said she wanted to go on the tour because the area "is still in my heart."

Betty Vanderwielen, Pathfinder

Gene Miller talks with Homestead Tour visitors as he stands in front of the lumber frame house which he lived in as a boy. Miller had a wealth of stories, enough left over after talking with visitors to tell new ones at the final tour gathering.

Phil Frey told of occasionally staying overnight with homesteaders who lived near the Johnsons. "I remember they had a long wire that went from the house down to the river. When they wanted water they'd hook a pail on there and let it go. It had a rope on it so it would dip in the river and fill up and they'd haul it back up with the rope."

More stories were shared as homestead descendants, tour visitors and newcomers gathered at the USVHS Museum for the conclusion of the tour event. Interspersed between musical numbers by local area singers, Gene Miller and Rich Nelson told amusing stories of their boyhood days in the upper Swan Valley.

The 86-year-old Nelson, who came from Seattle for the occasion, told of youthful mishaps such as trying to tame a badger and getting a tin whistle rammed up the roof of his mouth -- which his mother treated with a water and Lysol rinse.

Nelson's final story had everyone laughing. It involved a female cousin who held him hostage in the outhouse, his release contingent on a promise to kiss her.

Nelson said when he gave her the required kiss, "She put her tongue in my mouth! I thought, my god, she's going to be pregnant!"


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