Friday, October 24, 2014

The Blake Brothers

The early 1860 population of the area now known as Montana was very small. "Montana Historical Society Contributions Volume I" (p.293-304) lists 590 white men and women living in the area in the winter of 1862-63. On this list is L. L. Blake at Fort Owen, Missoula County, Washington Territory.
LL Blake, courtesy of Pat Close
Levi Lowell Blake (1830-1904) the second of 7 children born to Abijah and Maria Blake in Northfield, Vermont, left home at an early age. He served in the Mexican American War and was only 18 years of age when this war was over in 1848. He then joined the gold prospectors in California and according to family history earned a small fortune. Next, Levi served with Isaac Stevens during the Railroad Survey (1853-54). He is not listed in Captain John Mullan's "Report on the Construction of a Military Road from Fort Walla Walla to Fort Benton" but the family history states he was a good friend of the Captain. At the first election for Washington Territory (July 1862), Levi was elected as a Representative but according to family history became "sidetracked" on his way to Olympia and never served in this office. Instead he spent time mining in the Boise gold fields before returning to Fort Owen. Numerous notations are in Major John Owen Journals about Levi such as September 4, 1861 "Blakes train from Fort Benton" (p. 223).  The Major called him first just Blake and then later Major Blake when he became acting Agent for the Flathead Indians at Jocko in 1867. Levi refused the appointment to this position in 1869 and shortly after returned to the east.
His next venture was investing in the Marshall Hall Steamship Company in Washington D.C. in 1870. He was serving as Vice-President of the Company when Tom Adams was Secretary-Treasurer in 1892. At the age of 56 Levi married Marie Robinson. To this marriage was born a daughter Marion and son Lowell. Levi died in 1904 at the age of 74 in D.C. and his body was returned to Northfield, Vermont for burial in the family plot.
AS Blake courtesy of Pat Close
Abraham Stearns Blake (1837-1907), known as "Stearnie" left the family home in Vermont at the age of 17 and "sailed via Nicaragua to the California Gold Fields", according to family history. He left Yuba, California in 1860 and met Major John Owen's in Portland, Oregon. Traveling back to Fort Owen with the Major's supply train, Stearnie arrived in Montana  November 20, 1861 (p.220 "Major Owen Journal Vol. I"). By January of 1862 Stearnie had become involved with the other prospectors in the Gold Creek area. "Major Graham and Bud McAdow returned from Deer Lodge. McAdow and young Blake found good prospects for gold." (p.239 Owen Journal Vol. I). As noted in this entry, Major Owen referred to Stearnie " as "young Blake."  Discussing the gold findings The Granville Stuart Diaries state: "A group began digging for gold on Pioneer Creek in April 1862. The group consisted of  G.S., J.S., P.W. McAdow, Stearnie Blake, John Powell and Fred Burr" (page 205). At this time they were using sluice boxes to capture the gold. The Granville Diary states on May 14, 1862: "Burr and I went up to the diggings now called Dixie. Rather like the appearance and took up three claims just below Blake and McAdow on Pioneer Gulch."

Stearnie was one of the group of sixteen who made the 1863 Stuart Expedition to Yellowstone Country. Between mining and expeditions he spent considerable time at Fort Owen. Thus when he became tired of the prospector life in 1867, Stearnie settled at the Fort assisting the Major with the flour mill and established a relationship with Mary Lark Use. Mary (1849-1919), called "Princess" by the Major was the daughter of Shoshone Chief Sirogan who served as Horse-Herder for the Fort. Mary's mother died when she was an infant and she was raised by Nancy and John Owen. After Nancy Owen died, Mary moved from the Fort to town and the Major's journal has almost daily entries stating "Young Blake went to town again tonight."

Mary and Stearnie married in 1869 and by the "Homestead Act of 1869" acquired and settled on a homestead of 320 acres at Victor. Of their first six children all but one died at an early age. Joseph died of measles at age 17. Their next five children lived at Victor into their 70's and 80's.  Stearnie served two terms as a State Representative in 1889 and 1891. He became a Master Mason in 1858 and was a Republican from the beginning formation of the party. Stearnie was one of the original discovers of the Curlew Quartz mine on Big Creek. According to family history three million dollars of Galena (lead and Silver) ore was taken from this mine during the 1880's and 90's.

A rough draft of "Place Names" written by a Forest Service Employee in July 1979 describes how Archer Mountain was named and discusses Sternie Blake as follows:
Archer Mountain: Named for George Archer. He and Marten Moe were trapping partners in the Selway River country. Archer used skiis when following his trapline. In January 1909 Archer's dog came, late at night and during a blizzard to Moe's camp. The dog whined all night. The next morning Moe set out to search for Archer but failed to find him. Moe then secured the help of Phil Shearer and Henry Pettibone to search for Archer. The search continued until new snow made further search useless. Moe came to the Bitterroot valley after the search and his appearance without his partner excited suspicion. Moe was held in jail until spring when his story was checked. During the following summer, Squawman Blake's squaw was picking huckleberries along Running Creek and her son was wandering along the creek banks when he found some bones. Investigation proved the bones to be those of George Archer. It was found he run over a bluff on his skis and hung up. He had fired all of the shells from his gun before dying.
It is interesting to note  that Blake supposedly had a gold mine on Indian Creek and many persons have searched for it. Blake was a brother of Clyde Blake (?) and related to the Gollogly Springs Blake. He was a State Senator at one time and lived in Victor. His first name was Sterns and he was called Sternie.
See the following web site for this quote: (, p.1 of 24.)

Stearnie died February 27, 1907 and Mary died February 21, 1919. They are both buried along with their children at the Victor Cemetery.

William Carr Trowbridge Blake (1839-1872) was the youngest Blake boy. He followed his brothers from Vermont to Montana in 1867 and found employment at Deer Lodge as a horticulturist. A New Northwest article in 1872 stated "Mr. Blake has no superior in the Territory as a horticulturist, and is also a fine botanist...." William became ill in April of 1872 with Typhoid Fever, then ten days later was at The Scott House improving rapidly. Sadly he had a relapse and died May 10 at the young age of 33.

The citizens of Deer Lodge paid proper respect to their distinguished member by passing a resolution stating their "sincere sympathy and condolences", to the relatives of William and published the resolution in the New Northwest and Weekly Independent newspapers of Deer Lodge. His body was returned to Northfield, Vermont for burial at Elmwood Cemetery.

The Blake brothers' were prominent as early pioneers in the establishment of Montana Territory. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Smallpox and other epidemics in the Northwest

With epidemiology in the news it might be timely to note that the first historical event affecting Granite County for which we have a solid date is the smallpox epidemic of 1782. This event is stated in Salish accounts to have wiped out a band of their tribe in the Bitterroot. The incident occurred at the tail end of a smallpox epidemic that raged during the Revolutionary War and gradually spread across the North American continent from 1775 to 1782. The British indeed used smallpox as a form of biological warfare against the Colonial army.

The effects in the Northwest US and northern plains areas are perhaps best known from David Thompson’s accounts, particularly in the stories related to him by members of the Blackfeet nation. They told David they had caught the disease because they plundered a Shoshoni camp where practically all the Shoshoni were dead or dying from smallpox. The result was so devastating that the Blackfeet for a time reconsidered their traditional aggressive war policies since they apparently suspected that the epidemic might be spiritual payback for their constant attacks on their neighbors… what in today’s parlance we might call “karma”.

The 1782 smallpox is only one of several cataclysmic epidemics that wiped out most of the native population of the Northwest and northern plains. The later waves of smallpox apparently affected every tribe with the exception of the Flathead (Salish), who acquired immunity via a vaccination program instituted by the Jesuit missionaries under the direction of the noted doctor Father Ravalli.

In addition to smallpox, the Northwest was ravaged by epidemics of measles and malaria. The measles outbreak led to the killing of missionaries in Washington State who lacked the tools to prevent or cure the disease and so were blamed for the numerous deaths by the local tribes.  Malaria broke out in Washington state in 1829 when trading ships from the tropics inadvertently transported malarial mosquitoes into swampland along the Columbia River.  Because of somewhat unusual weather conditions the area was temporarily suitable for breeding of these tropical insects. Fatalities among native tribes ranged up to 100 percent and a 95 percent death rate was typical.  It is likely that Montana, at least, was spared this particular epidemic thanks to the cooler climate.   

Friday, October 3, 2014

“Stamp Mill (Some assembly required)”

The east end of Broadway was abuzz with activity on Saturday September 27th.  About 9am, Butte mining engineer Larry Hoffman arrived with his Boom Truck, Bill Antonioli brought a forklift down from the Contact Mill, and a crew consisting of Dave Harris, Jim Waldbillig, Phil Richardson, Jim Hyatt, and Don Dee Kennedy began erecting a stamp mill at the historic James Stuart or Hope mill-site, where the first silver mill in Montana was constructed in 1867. It should be noted that the youngest member of this crew was 52 and the oldest 76 years of age, and several hundred years of mining, milling, and mechanical expertise were represented in this group.  Ted Antonioli and Loraine Bentz Domine of GCHS, and mill neighbor Julian Ricci were on hand to photograph and video the proceedings.  And naturally, numerous sidewalk supervisors offered commentary and encouragement!

The process began two years ago when the Granite County Historical Society decided to create a historic park at the mill-site in collaboration with the owners, the Antonioli family. Then last summer a group consisting of Larry Hoffman, Jim Waldbillig, Dave Harris, and Phil McDonald took apart a 10 Stamp Mill located at the Royal mine east of Princeton. The mill, belonging to Harris and Paul Antonioli, was transported in pieces to the Stuart Mill Site. One 5 stamp battery appeared to be in good enough condition for a working demonstration if the main supporting timbers were replaced and if it was placed on a concrete foundation. The stamps might then provide a functional educational display of 19th century milling technology.

Larry Hoffman has been involved in the creation of two previous stamp mill displays, and drew blueprints for foundations. Last fall forms were laid and concrete poured for this foundation.  Timbers from the Bimetallic headframe were salvaged for the uprights and precisely machined by Phil Richardson at his shop in Missoula. Since then Jim Waldbillig and Dave Harris have been assembling the framework on site. By Saturday their work was done and the mill framework was ready to be erected.  When Hoffman lifted the upright timbers and gently placed them on the foundation the fit was exact! After the uprights were bolted into place, support timbers were added. Suffice it to say that a lot of precision leveling and drilling were needed to make the bolts fit.

By afternoon a timber cross beam was placed with the assistance of ladders and scaffolding. Once done the tired but undaunted crew began the final endeavor of the day: placing the HUGE camshaft in place into the trunnion bearings. This proved to be trickiest part of the job. An additional winch was called for so Don Dee went home and got his Jeep. After Dave carefully lubricated the bearing surfaces, Larry hoisted up the camshaft, with Jim Hyatt handling the slings and the Jeep winch helping position the shaft from the north.   Except for a short period, when the wheel caught on a bolt and the angle of the drop-in had to be slightly shifted, the camshaft fell into place and then to everyone’s delight, spun freely!   

Many more hours of work will be needed to install the pistons and get a power plant up and running.  So continue to watch for activity on the east end of Broadway. If you are inspired to contribute toward the project costs, donations will be accepted by Granite County Historical Society Treasurer Steve Neal.