Friday, October 23, 2015



The Conrad Brothers

Let’s do some Conrad begats.

In the beginning were three brothers: William, Charles and John. In 1868, William (16) and (14) were sent to Montana by their father, Colonel James Conrad, an officer in Mosby’s Raiders and once a plantation owner. He kept John two more years until he turned 14. The first two soon found work with Isaac G. Baker, merchant, river master and whiskey trader. They supervised ox teams, built trading stockades, and John, as soon as he came, handled the gold dust and acted as a courier and road escort. He was six foot three. By 1873 he brothers had a controlling interest in the Baker Company and were operating eight trading posts spread out clear to the Arctic Circle.

Charles Conrad found his first wife at one of the Canadian forts in the 1870’s. “Singing in the Middle,” a Blood Indian, and formally married her. In 1876 she gave birth to a son, also named Charles. She drifted off and remarried to an Indian but died in childbirth in 1881. Charles Jr., at his mother’s request, was sent to a Catholic boarding school in Montreal and raised there. By then Charles Sr. was a 37-year-old prosperous trader and banker. Letitia Stanford arrived from Nova Scotia with her mother and and sister to start the Select School for Ladies and Children. Charles Sr. married her and built her a red brick house on the corner of Washington and Sixteenth Street in Fort Benton.

In 1882 Lettie had a son and they named him Charles. So now Charles had two sons, Charles Edward, the half-breed (metis), and Charles Davenport, the all-white. Charles Senior, known by the Indians as “Spotted Cap,” had a reputation as a special friend of the Indian and gave advice in the sale of the Ceded Strip (Glacier National Park) to the government. It had to do with how the payout was made; whether it was good advice depends on opinion.

William became deeply involved in cattle ranching, though all the Conrads were ranchers for a while. The village of Valier was once part of the Conrad Circle Cattle Company, specifically the Block Hanging Seven. Founder of Conrad, William helped develop irrigation along the southern edge of the reservation. Lake Frances, next to Valier, is the man-made impoundment lake for that system which starts at Swift Dam in the mountains. He cooperated with Jesuits to bring in Belgian grain farmers and occasionally worked behind the scenes (unsuccessfully) to move the reservation boundary farther north so that the work done there at Blackft expense would be part of his system.

There was a Fort Conrad at one point, but it was eaten by the flooding of nearby Marias River. Charles Sr. ran it, as one among a string along the Whoop-Up Trail, now commemorated by markers. The whole complex was based on running what passed for whiskey. James Willard Schultz (sometimes accused of using “grass”) was a friend of the Conrads, especially Charles. Mounties were specifically sent to close the whiskey trade and in 1874 they had about succeeded. Joe Kipp, Schultz, Hiram Upham, and Charles ran the fort for a few years, then sold it to a rancher in 1885. The buffalo had been used up in 1883-84, so there was nothing for Indians to trade.

But the prairie was emptied for the great open-range cattle operations. In 1878 the three Conrads put half a million dollars into cattle. William ran these operations and was not sentimental about feeding Indians. For a good price the Conrads supplied over five million pounds of beef for Mounties and reservation Indians in 1880. By then they were thinking about railroads and coal.

In 1890 James J. Hill was building tracks and Charles Conrad agreed to found a town that would provide a meeting point -- the result was Kalispell. In 1892 Charles Conrad opened a bank and built the fabulous house that appears in “Heavensgate.” He enjoyed inviting Indian leaders to formal dinners, complete with crystal, silver, china and linen. Then all repaired to the Great Entry Hall where there they settled before the huge fireplace to share cigars and stories. Charles’ daughter Alicia said that she would crouch on the stairs to listen, watching the firelight play across their faces and make their eyes glitter. She also remembers the first appearance of her half-Indian brother, Charles Edward, who picked her up and swung her over his head. She loved him.

Neither of the junior Charleses was a success. Charles Edward, handsome and proud, married Marie Blanche Lionais, a French girl from a fine family, in Montreal’s cathedral with the archbishop presiding. Charles Sr. gave the newlyweds a fine house and created a trading company for his son. Edward ran it into the ground. More money was sent, but it was never enough and then Charles Sr., knowing he was dying of diabetes, turned his attention to designing his own mausoleum. He died on Thanksgiving, 1902, aged 52. Edward took as much more money as he could get from the estate and from his stepmother until business and wife were gone. In September, 1905, not quite thirty, he committed suicide.

Charles Davenport, the all-white son, was no better. He was a party-hearty guy even after he married Kokoa Baldwin, daughter of a prominent lawyer. Insulted beyond bearing, she rode her horse to the bank, carried her riding crop into his office and lashed his face. She filed for divorce in 1915 and left to be in silent Western movies. After not-enough-success she returned to Kalispell and is rumored to have died of suicide.

Charley D. remarried. In 1930 his 21-year-old son went into the woods and died of a shotgun blast to the chest, maybe another suicide. Lettie died in 1924, leaving a fortune to Charley D. and his sisters, Alicia and Katherine. He managed to get control of all the money. His last scheme was to turn that elegant big house into a casino and bordello, but Alicia found out in time and saved the house with a secret down payment from the last of her money. In 1940 a group of Kalispell businessmen bought the Conrad bank and two years later he died of lung cancer.

Alicia was married long enough to lose the last bits of money and to produce a daughter, Alicia Ann. Alicia and a stepfather lived in the big Conrad house while it fell apart around them. There was no money for rehabilitation. When it became impossible, the couple lived in a mobile home in the driveway. In 1973, the stepfather died, and in the late 1970’s Alicia Ann’s son Chris made arrangements to transform the building into a museum.

Rewind to 1880. Now we turn to John Conrad. His cattle were in the Hurlbut-Conrad Cattle Company, based in the notorious Johnson County, Wyoming. It’s unclear whether he was part of the cattle mogul vigilante groups, but certainly his cowboys were also gunslingers. By 1891 he had sold out his cows.

He met Mabel Barnaby during the 1884 Democratic National Convention. She was nineteen, accompanying her father, who was a Rhode Island merchant and politician. John was 29, identified by the newspapers as a “Western millionaire.” In 1887 he installed his wife in a log cabin home in Billings and opened a fancy store. He also established an attachment to Samuel Hauser (banking, railroad, mining, and cattle) who was one of the Big Four. the others were Charles Broadwater (railroads and a fabulous health spa in Helena), Marcus Daly and Willliam A. Clark (both copper kings). John’s goal was becoming governor. He bought a house as 702 Madison Avenue in Helena.

In the spring of 1891, Mabel’s mother was poisoned to death in Denver. John went berzerk in pursuit of the poisoner, who might well have been a doctor who had ingratiated himself with the woman. The doctor had a mentally unstable wife who eventually collected $25,000 from her will, but the doctor poisoned himself before he could be convicted. Under the pressure the John Conrad marriage came totally unglued -- the master and mistress accusing each other of repeated adultery and the household so disorderly that at one point there was an in-house riot featuring the coachman wielding a stick and the Chinese cook swinging a frying pan. John was the loser.

The divorce was complete in 1895 and Mabel took her children (Florence, Maud and the first Barnaby) back to civilization in Europe. Since she had her own fortune, it was not difficult to marry an American named George Choate Kendall and move into a chateau in France.

John Conrad disappeared for a while, popped up again in the Yukon and made a mighty effort to repeat the past on this new frontier. At sixty, his Venus Mine was a success until 1912. He died in 1928, drunk and indigent, in an SRO hotel in Seattle.

The three Barnaby Conrads all grew up educated, sophisticated world-citizens. Absinthe and martinis are a far cry from the product sold on the Whoop Up trail, flavored with tobacco and hot peppers. Barnaby Conrad II has written 37 books, and Barnaby Conrad III is in close pursuit of that record. Any of the three could be portrayed on the screen by Kris Christopherson. Maybe Barnaby Conrad III is a little young -- let’s say Brad Pitt as in “Legends of the Fall” -- not such a different story.


A.B. Guthrie Jr's beloved Ear Mountain from the air.
Five of his genre novels were in sight of this formation.

There has always been a discussion of “regionalism” among writers: is it a limitation, a sort of provincialism, a failure to compete or be universal in global terms?  In the other direction, there are efforts to connect “specialness” and privilege to certain places: the Left Bank in Paris, SF in the Beat years, and Montana either as a 19th century cowboy place or as a contemporary environmental paradise.  For a while Montana books were guaranteed to be popular, but now it is Portland books.

It struck me as an issue because several times now when I’ve told people that my “prairiemary” blog has readers all over the planet, maybe as many from China or Australia as in Montana, their reaction is “well, everyone romanticizes cowboys and is interested in the West.”  They give a "we're so special" smug grin.  But constant readers will know that though I privilege the high prairie -- the old Blackfeet territory -- I allot most space to stuff like sex or neurological research or something I have a hard time naming -- sorta like "the design of peak experience" (liturgical theory).  I spend time on small town dynamics and infrastructure, which seem to be universal in a way that transcends one continent or another.

In a way, thinking of something as “regional” like cowboys and scenery is to be confined by it and put down, but in another way it is a kind of pride, a confidence that the place is special, enviable.   (Last Best Place, God’s Country.) It invites visitors, but it’s an exclusion of anyone from “outside,” a xenophobia.  The newspaper makes a great fuss about local places to eat, local bumper stickers, weather jokes, creating an “in” space, a kind of club.

There is resentment of the more sophisticated and moneyed people who come in here and establish grand empires without having any ancestors who broke their backs and risked their lives to develop the prairie and establish the towns.  But then there’s pride that these big shots would WANT to come here and put up massive log entrance gates in the middle of 3-strand barbed wire fences.

There’s a certain kind of conservationist who brags about how deep into the wilderness they’ve gone, how many mountains they can name and how many trails they know from backpacking.  There are a lot fewer who are trying to understand aquifers and how to manage a sewage lagoon when the temps are thirty below zero.  Some are trying to get their cows up into the deep mountain grass for 19th century government fees, and others are plotting to get as many wolves and bears as possible down as low as people will tolerate.  Some want the profit and some want the romance.

The great commonality is that everyone wants the money.  Money is ironically the great leveler and equilibrium among all the types who try to occupy this long section of horizon.  Somehow we fail to notice that an island off the East Coast called “Manhattan” has a grip on the money valves of Montana and has had since the earliest days of extractive mineral industry.  This is also true of literary efforts, though most of the people in Manhattan have a weak grasp on what Montana is like.  

When I was circuit-riding for the Montana UU Fellowships, occasional big shots would come from Boston for ceremonies.  Invariably, when they first stepped out of the airplane, they gasped.  Sheer size finally dawned on them.  Even more so after being driven around my circuit.  Each location (Missoula, Bozeman, Helena, and Great Falls) was unique and didn’t much understand the style and circumstances of the other three, nor did they feel any need to find out. So the provincialism (if you want to call it that) of the state was echoed in each town.  That was more true in the Eighties when I was traveling.

Television made some difference, but the Internet has transcended the state and the nation for those who know to reach out.  The farther the reach, the more shared the basis for sympathy and understanding.  In some ways, the UU denomination I served has been exceeded by the world-wide population of people who are in cahoots with each other, which means that local physical groups are only a small part of the movement, not necessarily aware of anything but their own friends.  They are content with what they know.  Scientific mysticism hasn't been institutionalized, so it isn't yet considered religion.

Be very careful about praising the scenery to me.  I become contemptuous of people who rave about how beautiful Glacier Park is.  It's not that I don't think the mountains are beautiful -- it's that they are so much more than that. They are NOT the dwellings of the Gods, although when I was circuit-riding, I called the statewide newsletter, “How Beautiful Upon the Mountain Are the Feet of the Messenger.”  

The line is from Isaiah 52.7 and in context goes like this:  "Therefore My people shall know My name; therefore in that day I am the one who is speaking, 'Here I am.'" How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, Who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, Who announces salvation, And says to Zion, "Your God reigns!"  Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, They shout joyfully together; For they will see with their own eyes When the LORD restores Zion.…”  

A ranch family actually named Zion lived nearby.

I doubt many people looked it up.  It was meant to get them to think about what the purpose of this circuit-riding gig was: a chance to grow, to learn, to form new connections.  I think they mostly thought in terms of “hiring,” a status upgrade, and making it easier to run meetings.  At the time I just sort of skipped over that.  I was still idealistic and believed in the “spirituality” of the denomination.

Now I feel much differently about mountains, esp. the Rockies.  My chapter of John Vollertson’s book, “Landscape and Legacy: The Splendor of Nature, History and Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front,” emphasized the deep canyon refuges on the east slope where literary types and fiddler-playing Metis built quiet cabins.  Others identified the mountains with freedom and adventure.  Many fond memories. 

View south from the summit of Ear Mountain, photo by Ralph Thornton

Today I see that long sinuous cordillera as a living creature, pulsing over time with the forces of deep underground tectonic clash, breathing with hurricane-force storm and erosion, carrying snowpack, rains chuting down couloirs, the force of relentless sun heat opening cracks, the weight of glaciers shearing off cirques.  Metamorphized stone, sedimentation in a parfait of colors, avalanche to a skirt of scree, roots penetrating into every crevice and followed by the wedging ice, grizzlies levering boulders to get at the sweet-fleshed rodents hiding underneath.  Game trails of deer and elk weave in and out, making double and triple helixes that carry code for predators to read. Mountain goats climb ever higher on their sponge-bottomed hooves and ignore the peaks above them on the assumption that no predators will get that high.  Except humans.  Maybe eagles hoping for meat if they can knock a kid off a ledge.

The rosy alpenglow feels its way across the face of the ramparts in the early morning; all day the sun fingers along and around the knobs and chutes, the standing obelisks and fallen rubble; then at the end of the day sinks down into indigo cutouts of horizon.  A storm can bring shouts of thunder, speaking emphatically, then muting into rainbow whispers when the clouds move on through.  When a storm shelf of cloud stands behind the peaks, it’s an echo, a stanza of repeated chorus.  Often late in the day wind pulls back a wind arch to show the sun as a hymn to the day just past.

This way of talking is a little too twee, too fancy, too sentimental, too purple.  But that doesn’t make it untrue.  Such thick metaphor can mean nothing to people who only look at it as a kuppelhorizont panorama of scenery in a theatre best only visited with camera in hand, not lived in.  Check it off the tick list of things to see.  You could say it is a cathedral, so people will believe you are spiritual.

But it has nothing to do with formal religion or emotional spirituality or any historical legacy.  Nothing human.  It is the foundation of life, the substrate of the holy, before and after any human systems or uses.  It sustains us and destroys us without any meaning we can know.  Thus we are humbled and that is a valid use of the Rocky Mountains, but not one many people seek.


John “Johnny” Francis Grant. (1831-1907)
The Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, Montana.
Compiled by Lawrence Barkwell
Coordinator of Métis Heritage and History Research Louis Riel Institute
John Francis Grant was a Métis rancher and entrepreneur born January 7, 1831, at Fort Edmonton, the son of Richard Grant, a Hudson’s Bay Company trader from Montrealm, and Marie Ann Breland, the Métis daughter of a onetime Company employee and Freeman. Johnny was thus related to two famous Métis families, those of Pascal Breland and Cuthbert Grant Jr. 
Shortly after his birth, Johnny’s mother died and he was sent along with his siblings to Quebec to be brought up by their grandmother and aunt. He remained there until at age fourteen (1847), then he and brother Richard returned to the North West to join his father at Fort Hall, Idaho. He learned to trap and hunt, and in 1849 his father sent him to Fort Vancouver to be trained in the fur trade. 
On returning to Fort Hall his father set him up with a trading outfit. He initially lived with a Shoshone woman, partly to cement trading relations with that group. This became a pattern with him and he is known to have had relations with four different Native women who bore him at least twelve children. In 1861, he built a permanent ranch site at Cottonwood (Deer Lodge Valley) and recruited a number of Métis trading families to join him (Louis Descheneau, Leon Quesnelle, Louis Demers, David Contois, and Michael LeClair).
John Francis Grant

Grant was quite successful in the Deer Lodge Valley of Montana. In winter he traded with the neighbouring Blackfoot, Shoshone, Bannock, and Flathead Indians, and during spring and summer he went up the Oregon Trail to trade cattle with the immigrants. By the late 1850s he had over 1,000 head of cattle and by 1863 had over 4,000 head and some 3,000 horses. He supplied beef and horses for the Montana gold rush of 1861, and by 1863 his holdings were valued in the neighbourhood of $150,000. He expanded his businesses by opening a store, saloon, dance hall, gristmill and blacksmith shop as well as a freighting business. Along with the Gold Rush came a criminal element and the advent of taxes in Montana, therefore Grant decided to pull up stakes and move to Manitoba. It is also noteworthy that the year he decided to leave the United States revenue officers seized his 700-gallon stock of alcohol. 
Grant sold his ranch and herd to Conrad Kohrs for $19,000 in 1867. The ranch is currently a park: the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site.  [The Montana writer Patricia Nell Warren grew up on this ranch as part of the Kohrs family.]
Upon arrival at Red River, Grant bought real estate in Winnipeg and bought land for a ranch in the Parish of St. Charles at Riviére aux Ilets des Bois (Carman, Manitoba). He brought a herd of 500 horses, 62 wagons, 12 carts and 106 men with him to Manitoba. He subsequently bought a large herd of cattle from the American Territories to start his ranching operation. He surrounded himself with Métis employees and his closest friends and relatives the Brelands, McKays, Leveilles and Rowands as he had done in Montana. It was here that he entered into his first formal marriage to Clotilde Bruneau, the Métis daughter of a former Judge in the Red River Settlement. 
As with the Breland and the other Grant families, Johnny did not join the Riel Resistance movement. After 1870, he entered into land speculation with Donald Smith (of the HBC) by buying Métis scrip and by 1882 he owned 13,000 acres. Unfortunately this was bought on credit and when the land boom collapsed in the mid-1800s he was ruined financially and had to sell off most of his holdings.
Grant sold his remaining cattle in 1891 and moved to Bittern Lake, Alberta in 1892. He homesteaded and lived there for eight years then went to Grande Prairie where he re-entered the fur trade. This did not go well, so he moved to Athabasca Landing and then to Deep Creek. In 1899, when Treaty Eight was signed in northern Alberta he was living in the ceded territory. He then became a spokesman for the children of the Manitoba Métis who had been disqualified from taking scrip because their parents had taken scrip earlier. His petition was not successful however.
By 1907 Grant was quite ill and he and his wife moved to Edmonton to live with their daughter and son-in-law. He died there on May first of that year. Before his death he dictated his autobiography to his wife Clotilde. The manuscript, “Very Close to Trouble,” was completed in 1909 and is held at the Montana historic site that used to be his ranch. Part of the manuscript has recently been published by Lyndel Meikle (editor) Very Close to Trouble: The Johnny Grant Memoir (Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1996). The title of this book “Very Close to Trouble” is a reference to Johnny Grant’s attraction and marriages to numerous women. He was devoted to his children and also adopted many abandoned or orphaned children. He ensured that all of his children eventually obtained their Métis scrip.
Pouch. Northern Shoshone. 1854-1867. This small pouch, with its delicate beaded embroidery, belonged to Métis trader, rancher, and merchant John Francis ("Johnny") Grant. It may have been made by his Shoshone wife, Quarra. 

Children of Johnny Grant:
Children with Aloysia Larpantis, also called Louise (b. 1833), a Shoshone woman.
  1.   Marie Agnes b. 1851 Marie married William Dease 
  2.   Jane b. August 1854 
  3.   Aloysius or Louise b. c. 1855 
  4.   Mary b. 11/28/1855, d. 1/25/1933 
  5.   Richard b. c. 1858: Richard married Rosalie Hogue in 1881 at St. Charles 
    Children with Quarra (b.c. 1840, d. 2/24/1867). Quarra was a Shoshone, the sister of the noted chief Tenday. She died of tuberculosis at age 27. 
    1.   William b. 10/1/ 1856 
    2.   David b. 10/17/1858 
    3.   Julienne b. 1/7/1860 
    4.   John b.c. 1862 
    5.   Ellen b. c. 1863, d. 1/19/1868 
    6.   Charles Henri b.c. 1866 
      Child with an unknown woman who worked at the settlement of Cottonwood, located in the Deer Lodge valley in Montana. Quarra objected to Johnny bringing this baby home and he asked John and Mary Dempsey to adopt her. 
 Mary Dempsey b. November 28, 1854. Robert Dempsey and his wife Margaret adopted Mary as a baby. Margaret was John Grant’s sister-in-law, being the sister of his wife Quarra.
Children with Isabel Lucier (also Ruis) (described as a Blackfoot Half-Breed). She later married Captain D.W. Buck.
  1.   Emma b. 1862, married Isaac Cooper. 
  2.   James or Joseph b. 3/6/1869 James married Marie Sarah “Jane” Delorme at Red River. 
  3.   Isabella married Philip Carr. 

  1. Children with Clothild Bruneau (b. 1850 at St. Boniface) married May 7, 1868. 
  2.   Charles Alexander b. 5/30/1869. He married Annie Sparks in 1907 at Edmonton. 
  3.   Marguerite Marie Anne b. 12/15/1870, died as an infant 
  4.   James b. c. 1871, died as an infant. 
  5.   Sarah b.c. 1874, married Colin Fraser Lennie. 
  6.   Maria, b. 1874, married Frank Nutt, in 1894 at Edmonton. 
  1.   Alice b. c. 1878, d. Feb. 1951 
  2.   Marie Corinne d. 3/23/1883 
  3.   Francis baptized and interred 5/9/1881 
    Child with Cecile Boyer. 
 Cecile Welsh b. c. 1867
Children with Lily Bruneau, sister of Clothilde.
  1.   Sara b. c. 1870 
  2.   Clara b. c. 1872 
    Adopted children: While in Montana Johnny adopted an orphaned Bannock Indian boy and brought him to Manitoba, he ensured that the boy got Métis scrip. Johnny also adopted three Afro-American Métis children, a boy and two girls, the orphans of Phil Barnes and his Shoshone wife. He left the oldest girl in Montana when he moved to Manitoba. It was John/Jack and Annie Barnes who came with him. In Montana the La Vatta family (Thomas and Angélique) had worked with Johnny Grant. They were one of the many families who accompanied him on his move to Manitoba. Thomas LaVatta was known as the “Red Headed Spaniard,” he was a freighter and trader. His wife Angélique was called Poor-Oh-Ge in Shoshone. Ultimately, they did not like Manitoba and returned first to Idaho and later moved to the Fort Hall Reservation. Their children Laura Delores LaVatta and Edward LaVatta remained in Canada with Johnny Grant and were educated at St. Boniface. Laura married Johnny’s nephew, Joseph Richard Grant, however she died in 1885. She applied for Métis scrip (attested to by her adoptive father Johnny Grant) and the application was approved. Edwards' scrip application was not approved, he likely returned to join his family in Idaho before this could happen.
Philip Vasquez-Grant was another adopted child who accompanied Johnny to Manitoba. Philip was the son of Emilie Langie Grant; Johnny's widowed sister-in-law, who had married Pike Vasquez in California. The marriage did not last long. Philip used the Grant surname almost exclusively. John F. Grant successfully applied for scrip on Philip’s behalf. Philip left Manitoba for Philadelphia in 1910.

Edited and Compiled by Lawrence Barkwell 
Coordinator of Métis Heritage and History Research Louis Riel Institute
James Cuthbert Grant

GRANTJames Cuthbert  (Son of Richard Grant & Sarah aka Indian Woman At Oxford House)              
Following the death of his first wife, Richard Grant was assigned from 1837-1840 as Chief Trader to Island Lake, York Factory and Oxford House, respectively. During that period Richard and a woman known until recently only as Indian Woman At Oxford House were married 'according to the custom of the country'. By the time their son, James Cuthbert Grant, was born, c1836, the tradition of marrying according to the custom of the country had fallen out of favour with the Hudson's Bay Company and considerable pressure was put on Grant to end his relationship with the Indian Woman from Oxford House. In 1842 Grant was promoted to Chief Trader of Fort Hall, necessitating his move to what is now Idaho.  He left behind his second spouse and the very young James.  So far, no records have been found indicating Richard and his spouse had other children.

Following the separation, James' mother married a John Slater. For the company to avoid the increasing costs of supporting 'abandoned' country wives and their children, yet insure the spouse and  any children were cared for, the HBC, in some instances, 'married off' the wife and paid a maintenance type fee to the new husband, another company servant.  In other instances, the leaving husband would arrange his spouse's remarriage, thereby attempting to secure her well being and that of any children involved. In this instance, it's unknown which, if either, of these practices was used. What is known is Grant spent ten years attempting to have the company bring his Oxford House son to Fort Hall.  

James was about ten years old when he rejoined his father.  The intervening years are a mystery. A search for a Baptismal record which might have provided an accurate date and place of birth and the name of his mother was unsuccessful. A search for his step father is incomplete. There were a number of James and John Slaters who were employed by HBC but none with records recording a marriage. One John B. Slater, however, was employed as a HBC Slooper and Labourer from 1846- 1851 in the York District.  In 1851 he was a labourer in the Columbia District. In 1852 his contract was cancelled and he was discharged. In 1853, however, he was rehired under "Sundries", and re-employed in the Columbia District.  The connection with this John B. Slater is completely unproven, but it does suggest the possibility that James may have been brought west by family or someone other than the HBC.  Some credence is given to this possibility by the book, 'Blackfoot Heritage' which contains the genealogies of those original families of the Blackfoot Reserve at Browning, Montana. In it, some of James' children identified his mother as "Sarah" and as "a full blooded Chippewa."  Also, census records identify Sarah's birth place as Montana and Jimmy's place of origin as Canada; one even has him originating from British Columbia.  Continuing research may or may not add clarification to James' early history.

Jimmy Grant married Marie Cadotte, c1864, probably at or near Deer Lodge, Montana.  Jimmy would have been about twenty-six years old and Marie would have been about sixteen years old. Marie's father, Pierre or Peter Cadotte, (variously: Cadot, Cadat, etc.) is identified in the same Blackfeet Heritage as a "Half blood" from Canada, but the names of his parents or other family members are unknown. By the time land allotments were received by persons of the Blackfeet Reservation in 1907 and 1908, Marie's father was already deceased. Her mother has been identified as "Many Kill" or "Last Kill" aka "Kills Last", and by the same time, also deceased. One story states Marie was abandoned in infancy (reason unknown) and adopted by Martha Cadotte Robart or Robare aka "Old Mrs. Robare", possibly a paternal relation. 

The couple had the following children:
1.  Julia Grant:  
b.c.1865:   m(1) Alec Red Head (Howling). Children: Joseph Magee, Mary Magee
m(2) Tom Magee.  Children: Thomas B. Magee, George F. Magee, Walter G. Magee, Henry L. Magee, Dewey H. Magee.
2.  Mary Grant: b. c1869;  m. Rides At The Door
3.  James Grant Jr.: b. c1871; m. 1887; Josephine Chocquette; no children.
4.  Richard Grant: b. 1876; m. Rose Teasdale, Jan. 1, 1899, at Holy Trinity Mission. Certificate fr. Blackfeet Indian Agency.
5. John Grant: b. c1878; d. 11 years old.
6. Emma Grant
7. Maggie: d. 8 years old [duplication?]

During the 1850s and '60s, Jimmy's half brother, Johnny Grant, was heavily involved in the cattle business. At least part of that time, Jimmy worked with or for Johnny Grant in the ranching business. Jimmy was shot and killed in August, 1883.  The story of Jimmy Grant's death and information about his life and burial place are related in the following two newspaper articles.

Following Jimmy Grant's death, Marie Cadotte married:
1) Black Face Man; no children
2) Little Skunk. Children: Maggie Cold Body, Cecile Cold Body
3) Cold Body; No children  [were these Little Skunk's children adopted by Cold Body???]

Photos of Jimmy Grant and some of his children may be viewed under Photos-Surname Grant, and under Photos-Unidentified.

1) Newspaper: New Northwest - August 17, 1883 (Deer Lodge)
    James C. Grant Killed
    Shot Through the Heart by His Wife's Paramour
    Special to Independent, Depuyer, Choteau Co., Montana, August 8, 1883
     James C. Grant, the pioneer of this valley was killed last night by the Indian paramour of his wife.  The latter, a half-breed, and the Indian were coming from Birch, and at a point three miles from Dupuyer had gone a short distance from the road to rest.  Grant, having come home from the bay field heard the situation by one who saw them.  He armed himself with a Winchester and sixshooter, and mounting a felle horse, repaired to the scene.  When within eight feet of the Indian he opened fire, the bullet taking effect in the fleshy part of the man's breast, and striking a rib, glanced off.  The Indian returned the fire, hitting Grant in the wrist and shoulder.  Each fired twice and the Indian's second shot penetrated Grant's heart.
      A party of six citizens of Depuyer started this morning at daybreak, separating into three squads, and scouted the adjacent country.  They returned at about nine o'clock and did not renew the search.
      By a squaw just from Birch Creek, the report comes that the Indian Residents in that valley have all left for the agency for protection; also that the murderer was found completely riddled with bullets.
     "Jimmy Grant" was a half breed about forty five years old, a son of Capt. Grant, an old Hudson Bay trader, and a resident of Montana before its settlement by whites.  James Grant's brother, "Johnny" was for a long time a resident of Cottonwood, now Deer Lodge City, and was quite wealthy, but left with a number of Indians for the Red River of the North in '67, when white settlers began to locate in Deer Lodge.  Jimmy Grant lived for a long time in Deer Lodge where he was highly regarded as an honest, industrious and sober citizen.  At the time of his death, he had charge of W.J. McCormick and Capt. C. P. Higgins cattle.  His many friends will be sorry to learn of his tragic death.

2)  "Article From Conrad, Montana; Local Paper 20-22 Nov. 1991"
Jimmy Grant buried along with two children
by Dorothy Floerchinger
      Just east of the Sheep Creek bridge north of Dupuyer are graves of Jimmy Grant and two little children that died of measles.
      For years these graves were unmarked until an old timer pointed them out to Paul Bruner and he placed a stone marker on them.
      Few people are aware of this Grant family's plot in early Montana history.
      In 1843, Jimmy's grandfather, Richard Grant, was a factor in charge of the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Hall in Idaho on the Oregon-California Trail.  Grant was married to a convent educated Red River metis; that is a part Indian woman.  Also his two sons James and John were married to Indian women.
      When the wagon trains on their way west stopped at Fort Hall with their worn-out oxen teams they would trade several for one fat one from Grant's herd.  Soon he and his two sons had large herds being taken north into the Beaverhead and Ruby Valleys.
      They established a ranch near Deer Lodge, one of the oldest in Montana in the 1850s.  The Grant sons' sister Julia was married to C. P. Higgins, one of the first men to be involved in a settlement to become Missoula.
     Higgins and McClain had large cattle herds that grazed west of Dupuyer and Higgins' nephew Jimmy Grant was placed in charge of them.  He lived in a cabin not far from where he is buried.
      It is reported that he was gone for a few days and on his return had reason to suspect that his squaw had been too intimate with another Indian buck.  Jimmy shot him in the arm.  The Indian went off and returned with his gun and shot poor Jimmy in the heart.
      His wife moved to the Blackfoot reservation with her other children.  Mrs. Rose Grant, age 84, wife of Jimmy's son Richard, died in the 1984 flood with eight members of her family.
      The home of James and John near Deer Lodge dating back to the 1850s was sold to Conrad Kohrs, a German immigrant in 1866.
      In 1872, it was acquired by the federal government for the purpose of interpreting the western livestock industry and designated as a National Historic Site.
      Many places carry the name Grant in memory of this family.


Ivan Doig, maybe in the Seventies

Ivan Doig died early this morning.  He was my age.  Actually I'm four months younger.  The cause was "multiple myeloma" a blood plasma cancer that usually has a trajectory of eight years or so.  There is no cure.  It's one of those systemic breakdowns of check-and-balance body functions that often have their roots in childhood poor nutrition or hardship.  Certainly, Doig's childhood was WWII and not the easiest even in Portland where I was.  Ivan was growing up in marginal sheep-camps and ranches.  To accurately state he was a "ranch hand" one would have to add "teenaged."  He tells about the day he and his father narrowly averted a nearby buffalo jump becoming a sheep jump in a thunderstorm near Heart Butte.  According to him, he walked off the job and cut hay the rest of the summer.

Ivan and Jimmy Welch were about the same age, but Welch attended high school in Minneapolis.   He died of cancer several years ago.   Mary Clearman Blew was also born in 1939, but as far as I know, she's still kicking.  Like Ivan she also grew up on a ranch and they were good friends.  But Ivan was leery of Indians and never wrote about them.  Nevertheless, he wrote an anti-racism novel: "Prairie Nocturne,"   which went nowhere.

Ivan and I attended Northwestern University just north of Chicago and were probably in classes together but didn't know each other.  He earned a BS in journalism, went on to an MA there, and then took a Ph.D. in history at the University of Washington.  My step-daughter, whose father was Bob Scriver, was a year older than Ivan but also graduated from Valier High School.   Then immediately married.   Ivan said she seemed MUCH older and he was a little scared by her. When I graduated from NU, I came to teach in Browning.  People around here like knowing these sorts of timelines so they can fit themselves into them.

Ivan was the kind of willing and smart nerd that teachers love and was in many plays -- all that sort of thing.  I think he was boarding in Dupuyer part of that time.

Just now I went over and took a couple of photos of the school -- just completed in Ivan's day and not his fav kind of architecture.

They tell me his English teacher, who was one of those amazing intellectual women of the Fifties, lived in this house.  She had a lot of bookcases, the locals report.

  • The Sea Runners (1982) - an adventure novel about four Swedes escaping from New Archangel, today's Sitka, Alaska
  • English Creek (1984)
  • Dancing at the Rascal Fair (1987)
  • Ride with Me, Mariah Montana (1990)
  • Bucking the Sun (1996)
  • Mountain Time (1999)
  • Prairie Nocturne (2003)
  • The Whistling Season (2006)
  • The Eleventh Man (2008)
  • Work Song (2010)
  • The Bartender's Tale (2012)
  • Sweet Thunder (2013)
  • Last Bus to Wisdom (2015)
  • News: A Consumer's Guide (1972) - a media textbook coauthored by Carol Doig
  • This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind (1979) - memoirs based on the author's life with his father and grandmother (nominated for National Book Award)
  • Heart Earth (1993) - memoirs based on his mother's letters to her brother Wally
  • Winter Brothers: A Season at the Edge of America (1980) - an essayistic dialog with James G. Swan
As editor
  • Streets We Have Come Down: Literature of the City (1975)
  • Utopian America: Dreams and Realities (1976)

This list doesn't include a research document available online at   One of his strengths was always research.  He tried to write about the PNW in "The Sea Runners" (1982) and "Winter Brothers" (1980) but they didn't sell as well as the very popular stories placed on the east slope of the Rockies.   "Prairie Nocturne" 2003 was about racism (a black man who sang opera -- not an Indian) and did not charm the locals.

"This House of Sky" is considered one of the ten best memoirs of the West.  It is the most passionate and maybe the most dark of his books.  Once he got started on a popular series, he followed his characters through several plots.  As a professional writer, he did an excellent job though a little too poetic for some people, and was able to make a living as a writer though his wife also taught journalism.  They were a tight team, gentle and thoughtful, but not particularly gregarious.  Funny and lovable, but not back-slappers and not part of the cliques.   Nevertheless, "This House of Sky" is the book that defines so-called Montana literature more than any other book.  They should all be so good and true.
Doig's parents, 1934


The mini-Bakken boom around here has changed the dynamics of Valier, adding itinerant oilfield labor to the demographics.  Once Swift Dam and the canal construction that is the heart of the town's economy had been completed in 1910, the previous boom dynamic of male gypsy labor moved on to other territory.  Cut Bank became the saloon town and petit professionals like school teachers did their relaxing in more upscale emporiums in Valier, places more like restaurants.  Froggies, which had been closed down, reopened as a pizza parlor with beer.  Since then, it has become more of a dive, though the parking lot fistfights have been kept to a minimum.

In fact, Froggies, its growing clientele, and the general weakness of the town council as they struggle with the fraying of infrastructure built a century ago and a constant stream of imposed requirements from the state, has meant that the malcontents and the mutineers have solidified into a kind of alternative political hub, though they have no background or information that is current.  Froggies is their headquarters.

This came to a head last night in a council meeting during which the Froggies crowd expressed huge outrage at the lack of respect for their fireworks event on the Fourth.  On the one hand the owner actually wept over the grievous insult of a town council member, gentle and quiet Dave Widhalm, coming into the bar and asking whether they had remembered to get insurance for the fireworks in a year so dry that in many places fireworks were flatly forbidden.  The indignation focused on Dave asking these questions in front of his clientele.  Also, this man felt that the posting of the Valier regulations for fireworks was an assault on his dignity.  He had a handful of notes detailing these failures of respect.  After a half-hour of being harangued, Dave humbly apologized.  I didn’t see why, though it was a generous thing to do.

In addition, the Froggie owner spoke out about the constant fury from people who want to do things that are blocked by city rules.  This news must be conveyed by city employees who are personally blamed.  

Then there was a diatribe over the failure to properly respect and support the older man who has volunteered to run the campground, so full on the Fourth this year that four spaces were double-camped.  He and his friends prepared the camp before the fireworks and then cleaned up afterwards -- all for no pay.  Among the other indignities, he has to go around to the camps to collect the fees because the town has not provided registration boxes the way the national parks do it.  
Valier fish cleaning station

One wonders at the enormous popularity of the campground this year.  This is the first year there has been a full-time resident camp tender.   One of the more peculiar complaints about the campground was that the very bright lights by the fish-cleaning station and the wash house should be turned off at night.  They were installed to deter persistent vandalism.

The campground (and the lake) is owned by the Pondera Canal Company and the head of THEIR board gave permission for the fireworks.  Again, rather strangely, no one seems to have consulted the fire department, though it’s only volunteer.  The Pondera Canal Company is a sort of “third government” of the town, but very quiet in most circumstances.  It is the whole reason for the town’s economic existence -- NOT tourists, nor fishing nor even ranches.  Froggie claims that the fireworks display was not advertising for his bar but rather a benefit event for the library (the most vibrant and irreproachable institution in town) and the VADC which springs into being whenever the ladies of the town want to undertake some improvements of a cosmetic nature. 

In fact, two ladies were there to propose more grant applications to improve the looks of the town, because surely money would follow if only the weeds were gone.  Of course, they propose to write the grants, as they have done before.  (The town can barely get the old ones paid off since they are usually partial funding.)  Many of the complaints by the Froggie crowd are demands for repairs to streets and so on that simply can’t be afforded without going into even more serious town debt which must be repaid by property taxes.  Maybe a third of the town is “owned” by Pondera County (the county -- not the Canal Company) because of unpaid taxes.  The county does not pay itself taxes.

Valier grain elevator

This is a collapsing town.  The grain elevator is old-fashioned and there is talk of abandoning it, esp. since the railroad spur may be closed down.  One grocery store is left and a proposition to sell it to someone younger has broken down.  The cafe has been sold to people who don’t have the vision of the previous owners.  The engine rebuilder of great talent is seriously ill.  The bank provides less and less service.  The owner of the Medicine River Trading Post is too ill to open.  One large and prosperous family, reaching critical mass, has bought the only service station (the other one closed) and the motel.  The car dealer is gone.  The other major business in town, a construction company, has an adjunct office in Kalispell and the company wives would rather live over there where there are many amenities.

Valier is less than a hundred miles from the Canadian border, next to the Blackfeet reservation, and on dealing terms with a half-dozen Hutterite colonies.  Our population is divvied up into compartments.  The whole situation is ideal for people who like to evade the law without attracting attention.

Lethbridge, pop 83,000, was originally Fort Whoop-Up, based on the whiskey trade (the Whoop-Up trail went past here), and after that a coal mining town.  It has always been a sin city with a veneer of upper class culture: universities, art galleries, and so on.  It is 131 miles from Valier.   Apart from the many 18-wheel haulers,  traffic up I-15 is fast, sporty cars with Canadian plates.  Great Falls’ population is not quite 60,000 with the same bourgeois cultural features (museums, universities, orchestra) but also Malmstrom Air Force Base.  It is 86 miles away.

Lethbridge, Alberta

When the cultured ladies who want to propose grant applications think about small towns, they do not think of the larger context or the opportunities for evading the law.  They do not think about the world wheat economy or the international corporations who own it.  They do not dream that a new water agreement with the Blackfeet tribe might very well cause ranches to fail, if the lack of snow pack in winter doesn’t end irrigation first.  They haven’t penciled on the back of napkin how many major construction projects on the northern prairie remain on the federal agenda, which have been what sustained the company.  Nor are they aware of how federal funds are steadily dwindling.

Their thinking is all on nice domestic terms, which is how they don’t notice the drug scene.  They drive up government costs simply by bustling around imposing surveys on people who never fill them out.  It’s not a glass wall that seals them off from the handsome, wolfish, money-making men or makes them the tools of the steak-eating, red-faced, heart-attack bait who hold office and run businesses.  It is a mirror.  But this has always been America’s problem.

I think that I will honor my grandmother, a staunch Women's Christian Temperance Union member in her prairie homestead years, by putting a referendum on the ballot this fall to make Valier a "dry" town.  Let the soreheads drink in Cut Bank.


Highway 44 thru town.

The reason I like reading about brain function and its evolution is that it’s so explanatory.  One thing it explains is that the brain sets up categories and interpretations of the forces it encounters and then refuses to give them up, even when facing facts.

Grain bins in town.

So people insist that Valier is a pretty little town in spite of the fact that some blocks consist of nothing but big metal grain bins, there is a feed lot next to the town limits (very well maintained, I must say), gray chemical fallow fields come right up to the town edge, and the worst “weed” in the mown yards is Roundup Ready alfalfa which comes back as soon as you cut it.  The older folks insist that other weeds be sprayed with Roundup and will not believe it is carcinogenic. (The same as they will not believe that a high sugar/flour diet will trigger diabetes.)  But then one of the complaints at the town council meeting was that the edge of someone's yard had been sprayed against their wishes, rendering it a brown dead strip.  As the complainant said, growing grass is a better deterrent to weeds than Roundup.  What no one said was that you can’t grow grass without water and our water is currently so expensive that only the prosperous can afford green lawns.

Chemical fallow, poisoned land.  The road is the town edge.

Logic has nothing to do with it.  Much of the agitation is driven by the high school fear that the other towns will look down on us, that they’re doing better and that somehow we aren’t trying.  Some of it is people blaming the town for their own aging and for the velocity of time-related change.  Our citizens don’t believe in global warming but if they did, they would be convinced it was the fault of the town council.  When you read what the VADC writes, they sound like advertising copy for a new dress shop.  “Unique, pretty.”  Many women here are in the habit of driving their husbands to try harder without much experience of the real world.

A big part of the problem is “outsiders”.  I’ve been here sixteen years and have spent half a century in the area, but I’m an outsider and will be until the day I die.  They say the only way to become an insider is to raise kids here all the way through to high school graduation, esp. if their year has good athletic teams.  Outsiders speak in terms of safety, raising kids, and Mayberry USA, which was about the past even in 1960 when it started being on television.  Most of our residents weren’t born yet in 1960.

Valier could be a “pretty town” if you only look at the parts where the more prosperous and employed people live.  Its streets are often empty most of the day.   It’s not as industrial as Shelby or Cut Bank where the tracks and transmission lines go off over the prairie in all directions and the smell of sour gas lingers.  Browning is considered ramshackle no matter how much one points out sculptures, shops and -- of course -- the hospital, museum, casino and rodeo grounds. But Valier will never be as historic as Fort Benton, never have as many interesting little shops as Choteau, and can never be a resort town like East or West Glacier, St. Marys or Babb.  No matter the fishing and boating, Lake Francis is always an irrigation impoundment -- not an alpine lake.

This was Ivan Doig's teacher's house, Currently for sale.

In the fifteen years (plus) that I’ve been here this time, maybe half the businesses have closed, but the real change has been in the morale of the town.  It has turned cross and intolerant.  Consider that Valier is the access town for Heart Butte and could double its customer base if it would kick the racism always simmering.   There are 698 people living there.  The estimated median household income in 2013 was $28,259, which is roughly twice mine.  The median resident age is 24.7 (one-third mine) while the Montana median age is 39.6 years.  Do people say life begins at forty nowadays?

One of the complaints has been the volatility of student numbers, but that doesn’t account for the fact that rez kids have the choice of Valier, Heart Butte or Browning and often move back and forth according to the gossip opinion of which is more effective, more fun, or more likely to have winning teams.  When kids realize how much power they have through simple attendance, they use it.

Heart Butte

It’s a strange thing to think that Swift Dam, the source of water for the Pondera Canal Company is on the rez above Heart Butte (which meant HB was devastated in 1964 when the dam broke) but the 1910 boom caused by building it was in Valier, just OFF the rez.  Of course, that’s where the irrigation water went, too.

But let’s leave all this for now and think about how Valier might reshape itself for preservation in the future.  I’m not talking about the kind of Sim City  ("simulated") little “improvements” always suggested after busy note takers come around to claim they represent everyone when they don’t even represent the double-dozen people who show up as Seniors for lunch in the town hall or who appreciate Meals on Wheels.

It’s obvious that racism just has to go, though it’s a national problem, like the constant polarizing that can turn into riots between blue and red interests or black and white populations.  We’re small enough to go against the tide.  If we were more activist on the state level we might even be able to head off the forces always trying to force us to do our shopping in Great Falls.  I’m talking about the distributors who refuse to deliver bread and fresh vegetables, who make rules supposed to be about health but really about monopolies (no home-based bakeries) and tending to close down small town grocery stores.

It’s beyond me why missionaries from Georgia are necessary to keep kids busy in summer and teach them their own heritage.  The same in Browning, though it’s more obvious there that the missionaries are enjoying a subsidized adventure in an exotic place.

This is the grizz family just captured on Lake Francis and moved.

Too much underground stuff goes on.  I did not know until I tapped into gossip that there has been a problem with teens swiping coolers from the campground in hopes they hold beer.  I made a swing past the campground last night and saw that it was empty.  Maybe it was just the capture of grizzlies at the edge of the lake.  I did not know that one reason for the bright campground lights is that there are night fishermen who are NOT grizzlies and the diligent use of the cleaning station is to keep fish guts from becoming bear beacons.

Already this town has a number of excellent craftsmen.  The library is booming.  Valier is part of the mystique of “This House of Sky” and Ivan Doig’s nationally beloved books about this area.  It is so strange and self-defeating to say the resentful things that one can overhear people express:  “Doig never did anything for us.”  “Libraries aren’t meant for kids.”  What is going on in their heads that they need these defenses?

If you ask, what you get is a long list of complaints.  If you interrupt the list, they will immediately go back to the beginning as though it were written down or recorded -- often repeating word-for-word.  They cannot take in new information or consider alternatives.  This is a brain adaptation to homestead life where there was no alternative to breaking ground and harvesting -- grueling, painful work that might not end in profit, driven by sheer determination and focus.  The only path to success was repetition, unvarying.

Library art project done by kids.

But in today’s world, the way to succeed is variable, inventiveness, asking the big deep questions.  How can we become stable without becoming paralyzed?  I think it is by trusting each other enough to tell the truth and work together.