Flathead County, Montana 1921

West of the main range of the Rocky Mountains in almost the extreme northwestern corner of Montana, and directly south of British Columbia, lies Flathead County. To its northeast is the wild, beautiful and picturesque Glacier National Park, with the Continental Divide forming its southeastern border line, and in its southern central part are found the Flathead and Mission ranges of mountains. Lincoln County forms the greater part of its western border, its extreme southwestern corner being flanked by Sanders County. Magnificent, timbered mountain ranges, fine, fertile valleys, over 300 lakes, several national forests and a part of the former Flathead Indian reservation combine to make it one of the most interesting of Montana's counties. Owing to its location and its general topography, its early history is one of absorbing interest, having been characterized by the labors of the Catholic Missionaries among the mild and friendly Flathead Indians; but that period of the history is covered in other chapters of this work, and the present sketch will be confined to more modern events.

Flathead is another one of the counties of Montana decidedly irregular in shape. At its widest point, east and west, it is sixty-five miles across, while its greatest length, north and south, is approximately 101 miles, and its land area is 6,109 square miles, making it one of the larger counties of the state. The date of its creation was March 1, 1893, and its name is derived from the Flathead tribe of Indians. Owing to the fact that a large part of the county is mountainous, agriculture was somewhat slow in development and the cultivable land is mostly rolling, the soil being a deep sandy loam. There are about 150,000 acres of logged-off lands in the county, which now raise all kinds of crops. It is estimated that it costs $75 an acre to clear the lands, a large portion of which is sub-irrigated. What is known as the Flathead project is located in the counties of Flathead, Sanders and Missoula, and is on the Pacific slope in the drainage area of the Flathead and Jocko rivers on the former Flathead Indian reservation. The irrigable area of the project is 134,500 acres, and of this amount the Government Reclamation Service has works completed for 98,000 acres.

The county is in the Flathead Basin, drained by the Flathead River system, and domestic water is obtained mostly from springs and wells, the latter being at an average of forty feet. The principal crops are small grain, wheat, oats, barley and rye. Alfalfa, clover and timothy do exceptionally well and the acreage in these grasses is being enlarged. Vegetables also thrive, and during the past year potato growing has been launched on a large scale, there being more than 2,000,000 acres devoted to the tuber. The hardier kind of fruits and berries are successfully raised, although up to the present apples have been the only fruit raised on a commercial scale.

The mountains in Flathead County are known to contain various kinds of minerals, but exploration and development have not been carried far enough to determine their possibilities. Aside from agriculture, horticulture and stock raising, lumbering is the chief industry of the county, for Flathead is one of the best timbered counties in the state. There are 2,232,418 acres included in national forests, 200,000 acres in state timber land and more than 100,000 acres of timber belonging to the Indians, in addition to which there are large private holdings.

A number of flourishing and progressive towns have been developed in the Flathead Basin. Big Fork, on the shore of Flathead Lake, the largest fresh water lake in the United States exclusive of the Great Lakes, is twenty-three miles southeast of the county seat of Kalispell, and is the location of the power plant of the Northern Idaho and Montana Power Company. Another growing community, recently established, is Chautauqua, four miles south of Somers, on the west bank of the same lake. An important shipping point is Poison, at the south end of Flathead Lake on the bank of the Pend d'Oreille River. Under a project of the United States Government Reclamation Service, this river is becoming a decidedly important factor in the development of a great agricultural region. Its falls are being developed by dam and tunnel and water is being pumped from Flathead Lake over the ridge south of the city where it is distributed over several thousand acres. Naturally, Poison is able to secure adequate power for its industries, which at present include flour and sawmills, three grain elevators and a modern electric light and water works. Steamboat service daily is maintained between that point and Dayton, Somers and Big Fork. Poison also has three banks, five hotels, a public library, a commercial club and four churches. Somers, at the north end of Flathead Lake, is known chiefly as a lumber shipping point. Whitefish, which was incorporated in 1905, has a population of about 3,000, and is chiefly noticeable as a division point and a lumber market. Dayton and Rollins are also towns on Flathead Lake, with good locations and fair prospects.

The Montana Soldiers' Home

Columbia Falls, at the junction of the main line and the Flathead branch of the Great Northern Railway, at the mouth of Bad Rock Canyon, and at the junction of the north, south and middle forks of the Flathead River, fifteen miles northeast of Kalispell, is a town of about 975 population. It has considerable interests in lime, coal, lumber, farming and grazing, and has two hotels, a commercial club, a weekly newspaper and two churches.

Columbia Falls, however, is principally of interest as the location of the Montana Soldiers' Home. This home, which is a notable monument to the gratitude and patriotism of the people of Montana, had its inception in 1895, and so rapidly were plans pushed through that on Memorial Day, May 30, 1896, the cornerstone was laid by Governor J. E. Rickards with appropriate ceremonies. A large crowd gathered from the surrounding country, and the occasion was patriotic and impressive. On August 4, 1896, Capt. J. R. Hillman was the unanimous choice for commandant of the home, a post which he retained until the fall of 1902 when he tendered his resignation. Capt. H. S. Howell, who was elected in his stead, died at the home September 11, 1911, and Capt. J. E. Sprague was chosen to succeed him. He died May 14, 1920, and was succeeded by Col. G. I. Reiche and John S. Axtell. The present officers are: Simon Hauswirth, commandant; A. D. Thomas, adjutant; W. C. Allison, M. D., surgeon; R. W. Nelson, chaplain. The board of managers include: John O. Morton, president; Dr. A. T. Munro, Judge James R. Goss and James M. Page, Grand Army of the Republic members. The late secretary, Hon. Charles S. Warren, of Butte, died April 13, 1921. At the time of the last report, December 1, 1920, the home had 102 members, with thirty inmates. The first application for membership in the Montana Soldiers' Home was approved June 17, 1897, and since then over 500 members have been enrolled, of whom forty served in the Spanish-American War and three were Indian fighters during the years 1876-77 in the Territory of Montana. Not only are old soldiers and sailors admitted to membership, but their wives and widows as well. The buildings now in use are the Main Building, already referred to; the Administration Building, originally constructed for a hospital; the Women's Building; the Hospital, and the Service and Headquarters Building, which has been constructed recently at a cost of nearly $20,000. These buildings are substantially constructed of brick, stone and concrete, and are two stories in height, with basement.

Flathead County is well supplied with educational institutions and facilities, reflecting in this direction the progressiveness of its people. All schools in the county are graded, and there are county high schools at Kalispell, Columbia Falls, Whitefish and Poison.

In the matter of population, the 1920 census figures show 21,705, against 18,785 for 19 10. Kalispell, the county seat and largest town, dropped from 5,549 in 1910, to 5,147 in 1920.

First-class farm land in the county, well improved, sells at $100 to $125 per acre, although considerable farm land can be bought at $75 to $80 an acre, and 100,000 acres of cut over or stump land at $5 to $25 per acre. Irrigated land, according to its location, is worth $200 to $300 an acre.

The main line of the Great Northern traverses the county east and west and furnishes the only transportation out of the county except over Flathead Lake to the south, connecting with the Northern Pacific at Poison. Steamboats operate between Somers, at the north end of Flathead Lake, and Poison, at the southern end, which is the terminus of a branch from the south of the Northern Pacific. The county has more than 3,000 miles of highway. It is crossed by the National Parks Highway, the Yellowstone-Glacier Park Bee Line Highway, and has an automobile boulevard out of Kalispell around Flathead Lake, 115 miles long, one of the most scenic roads in the Northwest. There are automobile roads to the Glacier National Park, Swan Lake, Whitefish Lake, Mc-Gregor Lake, Bitter Root Lake, Stillwater Lake, Lake Ronan, Camas Hot Springs and Thompson Lake, and hard-surfaced roads to Whitefish, Somers and Big Fork. Magnificent scenery, excellent hunting and fishing and boating are some of the attractions for tourists. More summer homes have been erected on the shores of the various lakes in Flathead County than in all other Montana counties combined. Many wealthy people from the East have been so charmed by the scenery that they have built permanent summer homes. The winters of the county are milder than those of Iowa or Kansas, while the annual rainfall is approximately eighteen inches, and the annual wind velocity is only 4.8 miles per hour, the lowest of any place in the United States except one.


Kalispell, the county seat of Flathead County, is a city of three wards, and was incorporated in April, 1902. It is a thriving community, with three banking institutions, the oldest of which is the First National Bank, which was founded in 1891. It maintains four newspapers and eleven churches, and its industries are of sufficient importance to warrant the presence of four labor unions. Its Chamber of Commerce, of which P. N. Bernard is secretary, is a live organization which has done much to promote the city's welfare. Among other public buildings is a well-equipped Carnegie library. In its connection with the outside world, Kalispell has the facilities of the Great Northern Railway, as well as four stage lines, including the Kalispell, Kila & Pleasant Valley, the Kalispell & Somers, the Kalispell, Holt & Big Fork and the Kalispell & Whitefish. Motor bus service is maintained to Big Fork and Swan Lake, and there are several automobile and boat lines. Its special delivery service to all points in the country was established in October, 1886. That its people are sociable by inclination is shown in the fact that there are twenty-two secret and benevolent lodges having membership at the county seat. In the way of educational advantages, the youth of the city are granted excellent advantages, there being a free county high school with an enrollment of 700 pupils, as well as the Central, North Side and West Side graded schools.

The oldest residents of Kalispell include: D. R. Peeler, president of the Bank of Commerce; H. C. Keith, president of the First National Bank; C. D. Conrad, president of the Conrad National Bank; James Ford, Andrew Swaney, John Foy, Mrs. J. A. Kimerley, C. O. Ingals, George F. Stannard, August Lagoni and Richard Greig, all of Kalispell; and J. E. Lewis, now of Columbia Falls.

Montana Counties 1921

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Source: Montana its Story and Biography, by Tom Strout, Volume 1, The American Historical Society, 1921

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