Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

Pinchot Journal: To Ovando and Kalispell by Stage and Steamship

Part 7 of 7


Submitted by the Upper Swan Valley Historical Society. Reprinted from the Library of Congress Manuscript Division

Gifford Pinchot, who later became chief of the U.S. Forest Service, was working for the National Forest Commission in 1896 when he traveled south through the Swan Valley with Jack Monroe, a trapper and guide. In the previous installment of the 7-part series, they had arrived at Skunk Prairie where they had hoped to find horses. Finding none they had continued to Morrell’s.

By this time both Monroe and I were so stiff that travel had become a rather painful business. Very unwisely we yielded to the temptation to rest awhile instead of pushing on at once over another five miles to a third ranch, where we could not fail to find not only horses this time, but wagons as well. So we did not leave Morrell’s until half-past four in the afternoon, after lying about long enough to stiffen up pretty thoroughly, but too short a time to get much rest. From Morrell’s to Dilse’s [Dilt’s Ranch at Fish Lake] was the hardest bit of the whole tramp. The first three miles were straight up hill, and I should not like to say how many times we stopped to rest, nor how few miles an hour we made. The yellow pine covered the country nearly as far as we could see, growing more and more rugged and picturesque as we rose, and on top there were traces of extensive lumbering. Yet I seem to remember that the distance to Dilse’s shared my attention with silvicultural matters relating to the reproduction of the forest, which were of special interest soon after we began to go down. The difference that a pack makes in such circumstances is tremendous, and scarcely to be believed when a man starts out with it fresh and strong.

Dilse, as was to be expected, had no horses; nor was he at home himself. He had locked his house and gone leaving no one in possession but a innumerable swarm of ravenous mosquitoes. We were forced to light a smudge before we could even sit down to consider the situation. The next ranch might be a mile ahead, or it might be twenty, and our war-sacks held nothing to eat. But the mountain we had just passed over was not to be climbed again, and we decided to keep on. From Dilse’s the country began to look more settled. An occasional abandoned cabin or barn, or a bit of fence, kept us on the watch, and at last, just as the night was closing in, a house, with a distinct air of habitation, loomed white in the distance. The strain of attention which we both gave to the search for signs of life around it was fairly comic, till our hearts were rejoiced by the sight of a man looking after his irrigation ditches.

Then came the necessary discouragement of a dog-fight between the indignant home guard and our stiff legged followers; and after that, conversation. The rancher said he would take us in for the night, and on to meet the stage at Ovando in the morning; and we turned in at ten, satisfied with the prospect of getting up again at three, because there was no more tramping ahead of us. Yet we both maintained our ability and even complete willingness to make the rest of the trip on foot, and it must have been a process of unconscious cerebration which made us satisfied to take the stage. That night, at the end of a sixty-mile drive, we reached the railroad, tired and well pleased. My trip had given me not only a good cross section of the forest on Swan River and a part of the Big Blackfoot, but the recollection, as well, of one of the most interesting and satisfactory short excursions I have ever made.

When we finally got to Kalispell, after a delightful trip across Flathead Lake in a steamboat loaded chiefly with strawberries, in the course of which we consumed an unmentionable number of quarts, it appeared that the lost dogs had returned to Wood, but that, while he feared we had been drowned, he had preferred to wait several days, delaying his own business, to give us help in case we should turn up in need of his assistance. Then he went in to Kalispell and reported; but the men I was to meet were late, and my people had heard no bad news. Monroe’s friends have too firm a confidence in his ability to take care of himself to accept anything less than absolute proof that harm has come to him.


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