Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Tom Browder
President, Double Arrow Ranch Land Owners Association 

Double Arrow Ranch - Before the beginning: Our homesteaders

 


In comparison to many subdivisions in Western Montana, Double Arrow Ranch is a senior citizen. Opened in phases between 1973 and 1978, it coincided with Montana’s first attempt to regulate such developments, with the Subdivision and Platting Act of July 1, 1973. The earliest parts of the ranch turn 48 years old this year, and soon will reach the age of 50, where people, places and events are considered historic!

The residential Ranch of today is a legacy of Seeley Lake’s first dude ranch dating from 1929, the original Double Arrow Ranch. Established by visionaries Jan Boissevain and George Weisel, they transformed the Corlett Ranch of about 4,000 acres into a vacation destination for wealthy Easterners and Europeans. The land today comprises the Double Arrow Ranch, Double Arrow Lodge and the AOA Condominiums. Much of Montana land ownership started as homesteads. Homesteads were limited to 160 acres per individual. How did a 4,000-acre ranch grow from the early homesteads in our area? Also, after 100+ years, can we identify where some of these early homesteads were?

During the course of its history, the Homestead Act of 1862 processed over 1.6 million applications and deeded 270 million acres of land. In Montana, many of these 160-acre homesteads granted to individuals were sold by the original owners. Some people couldn’t make a go of their land and sold it to neighbors, often working for their new landlord. Others moved on for better opportunities. The results were larger spreads such as the Corlett ranch (not to mention the many large ranches we have in central and eastern Montana.) However, these pioneer homesteaders are not forgotten. If we go back and look at the original patents, as the deeds were called, we find that some of our early Seeley Lake area notables owned parts of what is today Double Arrow Ranch.

Jasper Seely, who along with his brother were early settlers in the valley, and the namesake (with the added e) of our lake, owned land in what is now Phase 4 of Double Arrow Ranch. While his long-term residence was along the lake, he homesteaded several tracts in the area of Grandview Drive, which over the years passed to the Corletts. Totaling 153 acres, this land was not contiguous with the land along the lake, so we can only wonder what his plans may have been. In any case, we know that our “founder” had an early interest in what became our development.

Also in this area of the Ranch, we find land homesteaded by Charles Morrell, who gave his name to the creek, the falls and the mountain. Morrell came from New York state, but in 1889 was in Helena where he opened a gun shop. He is said to have manufactured the first gun made in Montana. There are several homestead patents in his name. The one of interest to us was filed in 1907 and signed by President Theodore Roosevelt. Laura Morrell received a patent for 160 acres the following year, since it was common for husbands and wives to file for homesteads on adjacent parcels,

The Morrell land was in the same area of the Ranch as the Seely land. If you drive Stagecoach or Evergreen, as well as Grandview, you are in the area where these early settlers found the land worth homesteading! Morrell appears to have left the area around 1910, with his land becoming part of the Corlett ranch but at least he left us his name.

Of course, not all of our homesteaders are well known, other than by name. We find a homestead granted to a Will Cave in Double Arrow Ranch Phase 7, which we travel through going up Double Arrow Road and Drew Creek Loop. He may have tried his hand at ranching or may have headed to the growing city of Missoula, but in any case, his land passed into the Corlett Ranch as well. Some other early names are William Stewart, Herman Spieker and A.B. Ferguson and one day we may learn more of their time as homesteaders.

The many years of growth and development in the Seeley Lake Valley has layered over much of the history of our early days. New digital tools, such as the BLM General Land Office database, let us go back and search out the individuals who made this history. While Double Arrow Ranch, DARLOA to many of us, continues to see new houses and welcome new residents, we still remember those who came here in the early 1900’s to make a better life. Knowing that Seely and Morrell and others like them walked this land long before we did, is part of what makes it a special place.

 

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