Homesteading in the Mission Valley

Interview: Robert Castro
Topic: Homesteading in the Mission Valley
Date: May 27, 2000
Interviewer: Jason Cavett

What background information do you know about homesteading in the Mission Valley?

Let me give you some background information. Before the treaty of Hellgate was signed in 1855, Western Montana was basically the home of the Salish Indians.

The Oregon Territory was broken up into Washington and Idaho; west of the continental divide in Montana was made into Washington territory. Isaac Stevens, who was the first territorial governor, who was called “The Young Man in a Hurry,” went from the West Coast all the way to Montana to have various tribes sign treaties. When the tribes signed the treaty of Hellgate they surrendered a lot of their land. So in the Treaty of Hellgate the Salish and a band of Kootenais surrendered Western Montana. So what we know now as the Flathead Indian Reservation, was made home to the Salish Kootenais and a few other tribes.

So you have all these people living in the reservation with hardly any white people. To be white and to live on the Reservation meant that you had to have a special government permit. What happened was that around the 1880’s, the government decides that the Indians have too much land, and aren’t using it in an appropriate manner. So what they did is that they did a survey of the land, and gave members a certain amount of land. The surplus land, which wasn’t claimed by the Indians, is what they were going to use to open up homesteading. This occurred in 1910. So what we have is our government giving tribal members land, and moving them to different parts of the reservation.

People think that when the reservation was opened, that all you had to do if you were a non-Indian was roam over here, find some land and claim it. It was similar to a lottery. You had to enter your name for it, and if you were picked, then you were able to get the land. When it was opened up, you had to claim it.

So you have most of your people coming from two different directions. The railroad known as the Northern Pacific came through the reservation around 1874. So you have people taking trains coming up to Ravalli Ravalli was a destination point. In the North, there was the Great Northern Railway, which ran through the highline up to Whitefish, and branched off into Kalispell. Many people took the train to Kalispell, and from Kalispell, they took a boat across Flathead Lake, to Polson

So where people were now, before the land was opened up, you still have some small communities, like Polson. Polson was known as the Foot of the Lake. The Salish Indians used to do a lot of camping there. I read a description in the paper where it said that the grass next to the Flathead River used to be waist high. There also used to be a lot of mule deer. But you don=t see deer in Polson anymore.

Somebody by the name of Baptist Mathias had a ferry that people could use to cross the lake. The dam wasn’t built then, so the lake was a lot lower. It was lots more convenient for people to se the ferry. There was a trading post built in Polson. It was called Lamberts Landing. It was a log cabin.

Ronan was known as Ronan Springs. I believe it was given that name because of the springs. It was also named after the Indian Agent, Peter Ronan.

St. Ignatious, probably is the oldest community on the reservation. It was established around the 1840’s. The Catholic Priest’s built a church there. As the church got bigger, they built small schools. There, the Ursuline nuns were responsible for the education of the Indian children. The Indians that lived there were Salish.

In Arlee, what happened was that the Flathead Salish lived in the Bitterroot. Chief Charlo refused to sign the treaty of Hellgate. The government was able to get another chief, Chief Arlee to bring his people up to the reservation. So that’s how we get the community of Arlee. You have one group of Salish living there. It’s not until 1889, that Charlo and his people are forced to leave the Bitterroot and come to the reservation.

Now one of the purposes of opening the reservation was that the government had a rationale, that if the Indians saw the white man farming and ranching , that it would rub off on them and they would become more successful agriculturists. But the fact is that before the white men got here the Indians were already farming and ranching very successfully. Ironically after the reservation was opened up for homesteading within a matter of time, these farmers and ranchers declined. A lot of the land was sold to the white man.

All Credit for this article belongs to:
Montana Heritage Project
Ronan Montana