Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Betty Vanderwielen

Old timers recall roads and trails of Upper Swan Valley

Upper Swan Valley Historical Society – Roads and Trails


August 12, 2021

Betty Vanderwielen, Pathfinder

Upper Swan Valley Historical Society President Steve Lamar provides the context and history for the Roads and Trails stories and open mic.

CONDON – Old timers dredged up old memories Saturday, Aug. 7 as the Upper Swan Valley Historical Society (USVHS) held its combined summer fundraiser and history program at its museum location. The topic this year was Roads and Trails of the Upper Swan Valley.

USVHS President Steve Lamar introduced the topic by noting that although Native Americans had been coming through the area for eons, the Upper Swan Valley was one of the later places settled and developed by homesteaders. The main homesteading thrust took place in 1916-1917. One of the reasons it took so long was the lack of wagon-worthy roads.

Lamar further explained in an email, "Prior to the 1890s, roads into the upper Swan Valley were nonexistent. Early travelers came into the area by pack train and saddlehorse, on foot, on snowshoes, or on skis.  Travel by wagon became possible in 1892 when Ovando trapper and surveyor, Charley Young and a crew of five men chopped out the original Swan River Road north as far as Lion Creek. Wagons could navigate the route to the Swan Valley if their axles and wheels could clear the stumps in the trail."

Although the drive from Missoula to Condon takes only an hour and a half today, early accounts from settlers hauling their goods and family into the valley described the trip as a rugged five-day journey. In the early 1900s, the only passable route from Missoula went all the way out to Ovando, then through Woodworth to Seeley Lake and over the Summit into Swan Valley.

Eventually the route was shortened by creating a road around Salmon Lake and later still it was turned into a highway. The highway was constructed in stages. The section from Seeley Lake to Swan Lake was built from 1953 to 1961.

Lamar noted that a number of people in the audience had lived in the area long enough to remember traveling in those early days on roads that were little more than trails. Others had memories of working on construction of the "new" highway.

The first speaker Lamar introduced was Salish Kootenai College professor and Specialist in Culture and Language Tim Ryan who spoke of the trails Native American's used to access the valley. He was followed by 89-year-old Leita Anderson (nee Clothier) who came to Swan Valley as a six-year-old. Other speakers included Anderson's younger sister Dixie Meyer (82) and Dixie's husband Neil Meyer (88). Longtime residents Dennis Jette, Nathan Kauffman and Gene Miller added their tales.

The Pathfinder will present their anecdotes and trail tales in an ongoing series continuing next week.


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