Friday, October 23, 2015


Time has moved on.

I think I will begin this project, which will take a long time, by going forward in plain sight as I have done with the Blackfeet materials.  As an ordering mechanism, I’ll include as many links as I come across.  Some materials will make people uncomfortable.  Others are simply explanatory or interesting, with a few surprises.  If there is misinterpretation I take responsibility and will make corrections as far as possible.

Reroofing the old Belgian church

“Williams” is a community that existed only as an enclave for the Belgian immigrants when they first arrived and now marks the location of their Belgian language church, just below "Belgian Hill" where an array of antennas and relays are lined up.  The history of Belgium comes into the story in several ways.  It is a plural composite nation unified by language, which made a Belgian language Catholic church very important.  But as the children grew up speaking English (or American, actually) the need for the church and the community lessened to the point of making Williams a ghost town.  But the popularity of genealogical research has brought memories of Williams to the surface.  And the graveyard is still a home ground.


The other more “colorful” nearby temporary community was Robaire on Birch Creek.  It was created when the supervision of the Blackfeet Reservation was allotted to the Methodist denomination as a corrective against corruption.   The Jesuits had been active for a long time and claimed most loyalties. The new Methodist agent, connected to the anti-Papist sentiments that clung until JFK was elected president, banned the Catholics.  Methodists are “dry” -- forbidding alcohol -- so that was also a new policy.  Robaire was the response of the ousted, just across Birch Creek from the rez jurisdiction, near the present route of Highway 89.  They say the bar was next to the new little Catholic chapel.  Anyway, Birch Creek claimed the remnants of Robaire in the 1964 flood.

Gene Curry

The flood also overwhelmed Swift Dam, killing dozens of Blackfeet when a wall of water swept down Birch Creek.  The Carey Act came back into the news recently when the Curry family sued over the proper entitlement to irrigation water.  The government’s role in creating and defending land and water entitlement-based sources of wealth is now a lively source of income for lawyers.  Again the stream itself plays its part: diminished snow pack (whatever the cause) means less water for the new negotiations over water rights.  This time the Blackfeet are active negotiators.

VALIER TIME LINE (Just beginning to develop)

1910 is the end of the Edwardian Era --King Edward VII (Queen Victoria’s son and heir) died that year.  (So did William James, and Florence Nightingale.)  Some people say that the 19th century didn’t end until the beginning of WWI.  Science and inventions were just becoming “industrial.”  Empires were weakening.  Natural resources were in major demand.  The end of the War Between the States had major consequences across America.

Charles Conrad's home in Kalispell

1886  W.G. Conrad and bro Charles of Kalispell took up eleven sections of land but didn’t develop them until 1889 when they left Fort Benton.  Their cowboy employees were guided to “homestead” and then sell their “proved up” land to the Conrads.  

Major Steele, then the Indian agent and married to a Blackfeet woman, sold their ranch to the Conrads.  It was a narrow place, the natural locus of Swift Dam.

1894  The Carey Irrigation Land Act, was a way to acquire land by irrigating.  Others did this as well.  The following is reblogged from an Idaho history blog called “Revue Guru” that traces out a situation that was repeated in Montana.  Link to the blog is at the end of the quoted post below.


Desert Land (Carey) Act Signed to Encourage Irrigation in the West

On August 18, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the Desert Land Act of 1894, better known as the Carey Act. Sponsored by Wyoming Senator Joseph M. Carey, the Act was meant to improve the success rate for the settlement of the public lands. The law specifically addressed the millions upon millions of acres in the western states that required irrigation for productive farming – the so-called “arid lands.”

Individuals and irrigation cooperatives had already exploited most of the land that could be watered with smaller systems of canals and impoundments. Many larger projects funded by farmer cooperatives or hopeful investment firms had failed, and discouraged further risk-taking on that scale.

The Act authorized the Federal Land Office to transfer up to a million acres of arid public lands to individual states that established approved reclamation programs. States would cover expenses by charging fees and selling the land at nominal prices, with the real incentive being the expected increase in tax revenue.

Acceptable state programs would be able to certify acreage as meeting the requirements of the Act, inspect and approve irrigation projects executed by private investment firms, and oversee the ultimate transfer of properly-irrigated 160-acre plots to individual settlers.

Development companies proposed, designed, and built suitable irrigation projects. They profited by selling water to the settlers, at rates determined in negotiations with the state reclamation office. The development company did not “own” the land itself – technically. However, these firms could place liens on the land and the associated water rights to protect their capital investments … so the effect was basically the same.

Settlers usually paid a flat entry fee ($1 in Idaho) and an almost trivial cost per acre. Owners had to then dig a feeder ditch to connect with the nearest main canal. Once water became available, they followed a schedule for bringing a set minimum of their holdings into cultivation. In three years, if they met all criteria – including construction of a “habitable dwelling” on the property – they received title to the land.

Of course, developers seldom waited out the years it might take before cumulative water sales covered their large initial investments. Once settlers held much of the land, an operating canal company or joint water district bought the system and the collective water rights from the developer. 

Milner Dam, 1905. 
One of the first Carey Act projects in Idaho.

The Idaho legislature quickly established the position of State Engineer and tried to assemble the administrative infrastructure to support Carey Act projects. A few years passed before the state refined the process, but then interest picked up substantially. Thus, in the first ten years after passage of the Act, Idaho developers started just 10 or 11 projects. Then, in 1905-1907, they added 14 new ones.

The emergence of so many new projects led Congress to add another million acres to Idaho’s allotment in May 1908. Two days after that authorization, they added yet another millions acres, while also increasing Wyoming’s allotment by a million.

With that much land available, development exploded: In 1908 through 1910, developers initiated forty new Carey Act project in Idaho. No other state approaches Idaho in the exploitation of the Carey Act and later related legislation. By one reckoning, 60% of all U.S. acreage irrigated by Carey Act projects is in Idaho.

References: [French], [Hawley]
“Canals & Irrigation,” Digital Atlas of Idaho, Idaho State University.
The Cary Act in Idaho, Idaho State Historical Society (2004).
 “Carey Act of of August 18, 1894 (28 Stat. 422),” Code of Federal Regulations, U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (2012).

190?  M.S. Darling, engineer, constructed a ditch system of 50 miles that diverted both Birch and Dupuyer Creeks. Conrad brothers also organized the Pondera Canal Company 

1907  2 feet of snow with crust that would support a horse.  When broken through, this crust became a knife that cut their legs.  This probably prompted the end of cattle ranching on open range.  Even cutting hay had not prevented major losses.

1908  Cargill bought the land, livestock and water rights of Conrads.  Carey Land Act Irrigation project.  They laid out plans for town of 3,000 next to Lake Francis.

1909  Substantial 3 story stone and brick hotel built
1909  Harry P. Harrington’s jewelry store opened.
1909   Dr. G.D. Powell came as the second doc and stayed until his death in Nov.1943.   No resident doc after that.
1910-11 First water system
1912   First electricity -- a steam generator plant.
           Montana power replaced them.
1912   Dr. G.F. Tidyman was the third doctor and retired in the late twenties.

2-6-1913  Monsignor Victor Day, a native Belgian priest, brought over 80 in 13 families from Belgium and Holland.  Left Antwerp on the S.S. Vanderland.
Later in 1913 Goemare Christiaens, with the help of Father Day, went back to Belgium and brought a second group including Pharila Sabbe whom he married and Peter Habets family, Pharila’s birth family.

Goemare Christiaens says,  “I took part in this colony and have now returned to Belgium with the aim of getting more settlers together, in order to enlarge the existing colony. This colony went to Montana under the guidance of Monsignor Victor de Brabandere of Desselghem, now living in Helena, capitol of Montana. The colony consists of the following families: 
The three families Christiaens originated in Waereghem 
The family Jules Sabbe from Waereghem
The family Henri Deketele from Nazareth
The family Cyrille Ghekiere from Beveren (Leie)
The family P. Leclerq , Bachte (0. Vl.)
The family H. Vandoorne, from Denterghem
The family C. Vandebulcke-Nollet from Noordschote
The family Th. Beelaert from Meulebeke
Emile Verstraete from Meulebeke
Cyrille Decramer from Langemarck
Maurice Tack from Caeneghem
Ch. Vanderjeught from Dendemonde (O.Vl.)
Rene Vandepopuliere from Moen
Remi Nollet from Noordechote 

The families Habets, Jochems, Houbens, Raemaeker, originating in Holland.


Newspaper article.

QUOTE:"When Sister M. Lillian Quadrella, RSM, donated a small book that originated in the Catholic Diocese of Helena, Montana to the Archives of the Diocese of Savannah, there was – as often happens – some mystery connected with it. Dubbed “First Communion Catechism”, the book was adapted for the Helena Diocese by Victor Day, modestly identified as “A Priest of the Diocese of Helena”. Written for the benefit of Sisters who’d teach from it, the book complied with a paper pre- sented at the 8th Annual Institute of the Catholic Educational Association in 1913. Comprised of 35 questions and answers culled from the Baltimore Catechism, the book bore the imprimatur of Bishop John Patrick Carroll and a 1917 copyright. "

Monsignor Victor Day in action

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