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As uncomfortable as it must have been, the stagecoach ride from Deer Lodge to Missoula in 1878 as described by Carrie Strahorn caught Arthur Stone’s fancy 35 years later.

Stone, editor of the Missoulian, quoted extensively from Strahorn’s portrayal in his weekly “Following Old Trails” column that appeared on Jan. 27, 1912.

Strahorn, wife of a Union Pacific Railroad reporter, had just published a book of their travels through the West titled “Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage.”

She wrote about bowers of wild roses that arched over the stage road in the Hellgate Canyon, forming a “veritable Lover’s Lane.”

“Grand old pine trees, tall and stately, were gathered in forests on either side, with the ground beneath free of underbrush except for the rose and berry bushes in the more sunny openings near the streams,” Strahorn rhapsodized.

“A pleasant picture, is it not?” Stone suggested in 1912. “Riding down the canyon now, in one of the 60-mile-an-hour trains that traverse the route of the old stagecoach, it is not difficult to picture the canyon as it looked in those days.”

Stone, who in a few years would found the journalism school at the University of Montana and become better known as “Dean Stone,” was all for progress and change. But he seemed torn when he discussed the alterations that had already come to the Hellgate Canyon, which he delineated in the opening paragraph as a 75-mile stretch of river between Garrison and Missoula.

He wrote of the Indian trails that first wound through the groves of pine, fir and tamarack on the river bottom and then took to the steep and rocky hillsides when the canyon became too narrow. Then came the wagon roads — foremost among them John Mullan’s military road built in 1860 and 1862 — that the Strahorns’ stagecoach followed. Their course down from Deer Lodge crossed the river nine times, Carrie Strahorn reported, but only twice on bridges.

Now, Stone said, the river itself had been channeled and shoved from one side of the canyon to the other “until there has been room enough made for two great trails of steel and the beaten highway over which speeds the automobile and along which drags the slower-moving wagon of the wood-hauler or the farmer.”

On the one hand he asserted, “Even now, after the canyon has been remodeled by man and much of the picturesqueness has been destroyed by the diversion of the stream into a channel like a canal, there remains much beauty in Hell Gate canyon.”

Two sentences later, Stone wrote: “Picturesquely beautiful, it has yet played a wonderful part in the utilitarian movements of the civilization of the West.”

Sometimes those utilitarian movements were frightening.

Willie Bateman of Turah remembers the story his mother, Flora, told him of the terrors of Three-Mile Grade.

It was a section of road cut high up the steep mountainside north of Interstate 90, engineered in April 1862 as one of the finishing touches of Mullan’s wagon road. In those pre-railroad days, a channel of the river we call the Clark Fork lapped up close to the mountain and the road crew dug and blasted Three-Mile Grade to avoid two river crossings.

Three-Mile Grade was still part of the main road up the valley in 1906, when 14-year-old Flora Esther Cummings moved to Missoula from Indiana with her family, settling in the upper reaches of the Rattlesnake Valley.

“They’d go on fishing trips with old Harry Morgan and Rose Morgan and they’d go up to Rock Creek with a team and wagon,” Bateman, 83, recounted last week.

But Three-Mile Grade was too much for the flatlander transplants, in particular for Flora and her mother, Celeste.

“They were still scared of the mountains, so they’d get off the wagon and walk all the way through into Kendall Creek,” said Bateman. “They were scared of either the mountain falling over on them or them falling off the mountain.”

Stone wrote many of his “Following Old Trails” columns after personally tracing a road through western Montana the previous week. That obviously wasn’t the case for his January column on the Hellgate Canyon.

Instead he preferred a history-based account of what he dubbed “The Canyon of First Things,” citing in no apparent order:

n The first significant discovery of gold in Montana at Gold Creek by Granville Stuart and companions, spurring a “tide of immigration … fully two decades earlier than it would have ordinarily set in.”

n The driving of both the golden spike that completed construction of the Northern Pacific in 1883 and the last spike of the Milwaukee Road in 1909 between Gold Creek and Garrison.

n The first commercial lumbering in Montana, which denuded the valley floor of its pine forests to build the NP line.

n The route of the first white settlers in Montana, a Bitterroot-bound party led by Father Pierre DeSmet in 1841.

n The planting of Montana’s first apple trees, the circa-1890s orchards of Daniel Bandmann, a German-born Shakespearean actor turned farmer/rancher, on the flats between Bonner and Missoula.

Stone stretched the boundaries of his own definition of Hellgate Canyon when he added to his list of “first things” the signing of the first treaty with Montana Indians in 1855 (several miles downstream from Missoula at Council Grove) and the birth of the first white child in Montana (Jefferson Pelkey, Grass Valley, 1862).

He referred to the canyon’s bloody past of Indian attacks that promulgated its name, to the Great Bearmouth Train Robberies of 1902 and 1904, and to the Cramer Gulch War of 1886, a bloodless battle waged between rival timber companies that Stone had detailed in an earlier column.

Though Stone said Lewis and Clark “missed the Hell Gate pass,” he overlooked Meriwether Lewis’ courageous and uneventful venture with nine men and a dog into the teeth of the canyon from the Missoula Valley in 1806. They reached and passed safely up the Blackfoot River’s road to the buffalo, despite the fearful warnings of Nez Perce guides who abandoned them at the entrance.

For some reason too, Stone made no reference to Sen. William Clark’s new hydroelectric dam built just a few years before at the mouth of the Blackfoot — the same plant that powered Missoula’s young streetcar system, not to mention the lights that Stone must have typed his column under and probably the press that printed it.

Still he came back to a recurring theme, “the years-long battle of engineers with the river — battle for the right of way through the canyon.”

“This long struggle cost millions of dollars and not a few human lives,” Stone wrote. “The river did not surrender easily to the endeavor to direct its course anew.”

After a full 10 years of trying, railroad builders had finally seemed to conquer the river in 1908 when the valley’s biggest flood struck. Stone said it wiped out 75 miles of the Northern Pacific’s new double track and as many miles of the Milwaukee’s just-completed line.

“Devastation was complete and the struggle had to be waged again,” he said. “The engineers think they have triumphed now. But they thought so once before.”

Even as he wrote, the Hellgate was on the cusp of witnessing its first flying machine. In 1913, Walter Beck would assemble a plane at Riverside Park near Clark’s Dam and fly it through the jaws of the canyon into Missoula as automobiles raced him on the road below.

In September 1927, Charles Lindbergh, flying his Spirit of St. Louis down the valley from Butte on a 48-state air tour to promote aviation, would take time to circle Bonner and drop a greeting to the school below.

By 1912, the Good Roads movement had already spurred Missoula County into bypassing the treacherous Three-Mile Grade with the help of one of the first convict labor forces from the state penitentiary. Soon the Yellowstone Trail and Highway 10 would facilitate ever-increasing streams of automobiles through the canyon.

The U.S. Geological Survey was launching a campaign — unfortunate in Stone’s mind — to include all the various sections of the river that ran through the canyon under one name, the Clark Fork of the Columbia. Decades passed before it was successful.

Stone, who died in 1945, could not have envisioned all those years earlier the strings of utility lines or the two natural gas pipelines that stripe the valley today. Nor could he have imagined the massive federal interstate highway projects of the 1960s and ’70s that further reworked the river and hillsides in his “Canyon of First Things.”

He did, however, foresee writing more about the Hell Gate and its history.

“There is no ride in Montana more interesting than the journey down Hell Gate canyon,” he wrote. “It is interesting if you travel by rail, but it is specially interesting if you make the trip over the wagon road, taking time to look carefully as you journey over this historic ground. There is scarcely a mile of the trail through Hellgate which is not associated with some important event in Montana history.”

A “big book” could be written about that history, Stone added that January day, though he

didn’t propose to do it.

“But I think that the old trail jaunts for a considerable period this summer would better be taken over the much-traveled, little understood Hell Gate trail. There will be no rose trees arching over the road, but the whole trip will be haloed in pleasant memories.”

As uncomfortable as it must have been, the stagecoach ride from Deer Lodge to Missoula in 1878 as described by Carrie Strahorn caught Arthur Stone’s fancy 35 years later.

Stone, editor of the Missoulian, quoted extensively from Strahorn’s portrayal in his weekly “Following Old Trails” column that appeared on Jan. 27, 1912.

Strahorn, wife of a Union Pacific Railroad reporter, had just published a book of their travels through the West titled “Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage.”

She wrote about bowers of wild roses that arched over the stage road in the Hellgate Canyon, forming a “veritable Lover’s Lane.”

“Grand old pine trees, tall and stately, were gathered in forests on either side, with the ground beneath free of underbrush except for the rose and berry bushes in the more sunny openings near the streams,” Strahorn rhapsodized.

“A pleasant picture, is it not?” Stone suggested in 1912. “Riding down the canyon now, in one of the 60-mile-an-hour trains that traverse the route of the old stagecoach, it is not difficult to picture the canyon as it looked in those days.”

Stone, who in a few years would found the journalism school at the University of Montana and become better known as “Dean Stone,” was all for progress and change. But he seemed torn when he discussed the alterations that had already come to the Hellgate Canyon, which he delineated in the opening paragraph as a 75-mile stretch of river between Garrison and Missoula.

He wrote of the Indian trails that first wound through the groves of pine, fir and tamarack on the river bottom and then took to the steep and rocky hillsides when the canyon became too narrow. Then came the wagon roads — foremost among them John Mullan’s military road built in 1860 and 1862 — that the Strahorns’ stagecoach followed. Their course down from Deer Lodge crossed the river nine times, Carrie Strahorn reported, but only twice on bridges.

Now, Stone said, the river itself had been channeled and shoved from one side of the canyon to the other “until there has been room enough made for two great trails of steel and the beaten highway over which speeds the automobile and along which drags the slower-moving wagon of the wood-hauler or the farmer.”

On the one hand he asserted, “Even now, after the canyon has been remodeled by man and much of the picturesqueness has been destroyed by the diversion of the stream into a channel like a canal, there remains much beauty in Hell Gate canyon.”

Two sentences later, Stone wrote: “Picturesquely beautiful, it has yet played a wonderful part in the utilitarian movements of the civilization of the West.”

Sometimes those utilitarian movements were frightening.

Willie Bateman of Turah remembers the story his mother, Flora, told him of the terrors of Three-Mile Grade.

It was a section of road cut high up the steep mountainside north of Interstate 90, engineered in April 1862 as one of the finishing touches of Mullan’s wagon road. In those pre-railroad days, a channel of the river we call the Clark Fork lapped up close to the mountain and the road crew dug and blasted Three-Mile Grade to avoid two river crossings.

Three-Mile Grade was still part of the main road up the valley in 1906, when 14-year-old Flora Esther Cummings moved to Missoula from Indiana with her family, settling in the upper reaches of the Rattlesnake Valley.

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“They’d go on fishing trips with old Harry Morgan and Rose Morgan and they’d go up to Rock Creek with a team and wagon,” Bateman, 83, recounted last week.

But Three-Mile Grade was too much for the flatlander transplants, in particular for Flora and her mother, Celeste.

“They were still scared of the mountains, so they’d get off the wagon and walk all the way through into Kendall Creek,” said Bateman. “They were scared of either the mountain falling over on them or them falling off the mountain.”

Stone wrote many of his “Following Old Trails” columns after personally tracing a road through western Montana the previous week. That obviously wasn’t the case for his January column on the Hellgate Canyon.

Instead he preferred a history-based account of what he dubbed “The Canyon of First Things,” citing in no apparent order:

n The first significant discovery of gold in Montana at Gold Creek by Granville Stuart and companions, spurring a “tide of immigration … fully two decades earlier than it would have ordinarily set in.”

n The driving of both the golden spike that completed construction of the Northern Pacific in 1883 and the last spike of the Milwaukee Road in 1909 between Gold Creek and Garrison.

n The first commercial lumbering in Montana, which denuded the valley floor of its pine forests to build the NP line.

n The route of the first white settlers in Montana, a Bitterroot-bound party led by Father Pierre DeSmet in 1841.

n The planting of Montana’s first apple trees, the circa-1890s orchards of Daniel Bandmann, a German-born Shakespearean actor turned farmer/rancher, on the flats between Bonner and Missoula.

Stone stretched the boundaries of his own definition of Hellgate Canyon when he added to his list of “first things” the signing of the first treaty with Montana Indians in 1855 (several miles downstream from Missoula at Council Grove) and the birth of the first white child in Montana (Jefferson Pelkey, Grass Valley, 1862).

He referred to the canyon’s bloody past of Indian attacks that promulgated its name, to the Great Bearmouth Train Robberies of 1902 and 1904, and to the Cramer Gulch War of 1886, a bloodless battle waged between rival timber companies that Stone had detailed in an earlier column.

Though Stone said Lewis and Clark “missed the Hell Gate pass,” he overlooked Meriwether Lewis’ courageous and uneventful venture with nine men and a dog into the teeth of the canyon from the Missoula Valley in 1806. They reached and passed safely up the Blackfoot River’s road to the buffalo, despite the fearful warnings of Nez Perce guides who abandoned them at the entrance.

For some reason too, Stone made no reference to Sen. William Clark’s new hydroelectric dam built just a few years before at the mouth of the Blackfoot — the same plant that powered Missoula’s young streetcar system, not to mention the lights that Stone must have typed his column under and probably the press that printed it.

Still he came back to a recurring theme, “the years-long battle of engineers with the river — battle for the right of way through the canyon.”

“This long struggle cost millions of dollars and not a few human lives,” Stone wrote. “The river did not surrender easily to the endeavor to direct its course anew.”

After a full 10 years of trying, railroad builders had finally seemed to conquer the river in 1908 when the valley’s biggest flood struck. Stone said it wiped out 75 miles of the Northern Pacific’s new double track and as many miles of the Milwaukee’s just-completed line.

“Devastation was complete and the struggle had to be waged again,” he said. “The engineers think they have triumphed now. But they thought so once before.”

Even as he wrote, the Hellgate was on the cusp of witnessing its first flying machine. In 1913, Walter Beck would assemble a plane at Riverside Park near Clark’s Dam and fly it through the jaws of the canyon into Missoula as automobiles raced him on the road below.

In September 1927, Charles Lindbergh, flying his Spirit of St. Louis down the valley from Butte on a 48-state air tour to promote aviation, would take time to circle Bonner and drop a greeting to the school below.

By 1912, the Good Roads movement had already spurred Missoula County into bypassing the treacherous Three-Mile Grade with the help of one of the first convict labor forces from the state penitentiary. Soon the Yellowstone Trail and Highway 10 would facilitate ever-increasing streams of automobiles through the canyon.

The U.S. Geological Survey was launching a campaign — unfortunate in Stone’s mind — to include all the various sections of the river that ran through the canyon under one name, the Clark Fork of the Columbia. Decades passed before it was successful.

Stone, who died in 1945, could not have envisioned all those years earlier the strings of utility lines or the two natural gas pipelines that stripe the valley today. Nor could he have imagined the massive federal interstate highway projects of the 1960s and ’70s that further reworked the river and hillsides in his “Canyon of First Things.”

He did, however, foresee writing more about the Hell Gate and its history.

“There is no ride in Montana more interesting than the journey down Hell Gate canyon,” he wrote. “It is interesting if you travel by rail, but it is specially interesting if you make the trip over the wagon road, taking time to look carefully as you journey over this historic ground. There is scarcely a mile of the trail through Hellgate which is not associated with some important event in Montana history.”

A “big book” could be written about that history, Stone added that January day, though he

didn’t propose to do it.

“But I think that the old trail jaunts for a considerable period this summer would better be taken over the much-traveled, little understood Hell Gate trail. There will be no rose trees arching over the road, but the whole trip will be haloed in pleasant memories.”

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