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'A Gut Wrenching story' - 4 Missoula orphans and a hero - Fred Stickney

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Mr. and Mrs. M. S. Kupilik Go Under When Car Slips Over Bank


Farmer Plunges in Freezing Water and Rescues Youngest

M. S. Kupilik, 1203 Cooper street, his wife and Frank, their six-year-old son, were drowned in the Missoula river at 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon when the automobile in which they and four other children of the family were taking a Sunday outing, slipped down the muddy embankment of the Orchard Homes road, just west of the county bridge.

Two of the Kupilik boys got out of the machine before it plunged into the swollen river; a third was pulled out before the current had swept him away, and a three-year-old baby of the family was rescued almost half a mile down the river by F. J. Stickney, a young farmer, who waded half way across the swift, icy stream, in water to his neck, to reach the child.

Stickney Risks Life Twice.

Though chilled to the bone and soaking wet, Stickney ran downstream after the rescue and plunged in again to save the father, whose body he could see out in midstream. By risking drowning he was able to bring the man to shore, but all efforts to revive Kupilik were futile.

The current swept Mrs. Kupilik’s body beyond Stickney’s reach, and the missing child was not seen after the accident. Neither body had been recovered last night, but a search will be made today.

Kupilik was a master mechanic in the big refinery of the Great Western Sugar company here.

Tried to Turn Machine.

Kupilik, according to Charles, his 16-year-old and eldest son, had started west down the river-bank road from the south end of the county bridge, just at the western outskirts of Missoula. The machine had not gone a quarter of a mile when the mud, which is uncommonly deep as a result of the recent warm rains, discouraged the driver. Kupilik decided to turn around.

Brakes Did Not Work in Mud.

Charles got out of the machine, while his father backed toward the river.

“I don’t know what happened,” he said afterward. “The motor seemed to stick, then the car jumped back and before father could stop it it had gone too far. The bank was muddy, and the brakes wouldn’t hold. The machine slid over into the river.”

Driver Had Only One Arm.

Kupilik had only one arm, and it may be that he could not handle the car fast enough. At any rate, it slid down the slippery bank and into the river before any of the family, save Fred, 10 years old, could jump out.

One Boy Saved Quickly.

The water there is deep and swift, especially so since the rains of this month, which have brought the river up nearly two feet. The machine sank completely out of sight.

Charles and Fred, standing on the bank, shouted frantically for help, and H. A. Balfour, who lives nearby, and a Japanese who was driving down the road came up in time to save eight-year-old Henry by holding a pole out to him. The others, though, were snatched away by the rushing water and carried swiftly down stream.

Stickney Hears Shouts

F. J. Stickney, whose farm is nearly half a mile below the point where the machine left the road, heard the boy’s shouts.

“I was out in the shed, working,” he said after the accident, as he stood shivering in his wet clothes beside a stove. “I looked up the river and saw people threshing around in the water. I thought that perhaps some boys had been trying to ride down the river on a log and had been thrown off. So I ran down to the shore.”

Almost Beyond Depth.

Near Stickney’s place is a “riffle,” a shallow, widening of the river. Stickney plunged into the ice water and waded out into the stream in time to intercept the body of the little boy, though he had almost to go beyond his depth to make the rescue. He struggled to shore as fast as he could against the powerful current with the unconscious child in his arms.

Peter C. Cullen, a teacher who lives near Stickney, met the rescuer on the shore. He knew first aid well enough to force the water out of the child’s lungs and restore breathing. Then he carried the baby to the Stickney house, where it was revived.

Stickney meanwhile had rushed down the river to another “riffle.”

“These mackinaw pants of mine were so heavy, or I could have gone faster,” he said apologetically, as he told his story.

He waded out again and this time caught the father’s body and carried it to shore. Kupilik was quite dead, however. Volunteers worked over him until Chief Peter Loffnes and Claire Kern, of the fire department, who had been called by telephone, arrived with the city’s new lungmotor, but without avail. The firemen, who were on the scene within a few minutes after the accident, worked for a long time, but failed to revive the man.

Stickney tried to save the mother’s body but the current carried it so swiftly that he could not keep up.

Children Cared for by Green.

Little Oscar, the three-year-old, was taken to the hospital by Dr. F. D. Pease, who with Dr. J. J. Flynn, came quickly out to the place of the accident. There he was gaining strength last night and was said to be out of danger.

The three other children were brought to the city by Sheriff James Green and put in Mrs. Green’s charge at the county jail. Charles alone seemed old enough to understand the tragedy of their situation. The others for the moment forgot their fear when Mrs. Green gave them hot food and mothered them.

“Frank Isn’t Here.”

“Frank isn’t here,” they said, not knowing apparently that their brother was dead.

Not even Charles knew until long after the accident that his father was drowned. He helped work over the baby after hearing that Kupilik had been taken out of the stream.

“How’s father doing? All Right?” he asked Chief of Police Tom Kemp and Constable Sam Pulliam as they came back from the point of Stickney’s second plunge.

No Relatives Anywhere.

When he learned that his father, too, had been lost he broke down and sobbed bitterly. He alone of the four understood that father, mother and brother had really been drowned. And he alone appreciated the fact that the four orphans have not a relative upon whom to depend. Both Kupilik and his wife came from Austria 15 or 20 years ago. They have no relatives in this country and perhaps none in the old country, which is in any case cut off by the war. F. A. Wilson, manager of the Great Western plant, said last night that Mrs. Kupilik’s father was the only relative of which anyone knew and that the daughter had not heard from him in a year.

Long in Refiner’s Employ.

M. S. Kupilik had been in the employ of the Great Western Sugar company for 10 or 12 years. He came to Missoula last March to assist in the construction of the plant here, and since then had been master mechanic of the big refinery. For a year before that he had served in a similar capacity in Lovell, Wyo., and before then had been assistant master mechanic in the company’s plant in Billings.

“He was one of our best employes,” said Mr. Wilson last night. “He was a skilled and trusted man.”

No arrangements have been made for the funeral, and none will be until an effort has been made to recover the missing bodies. Manager Wilson said last night that searching parties would be sent down along the river today.

Road Runs Near River.

The road where the accident happened skirts the river running along a graded bank which is only three or four feet above the water when the river is as high as it is now. It is a wide road, and there is no railing along the shore. A few rods west of where the accident happened is a long stretch of rock-filled cribbing over which an automobile could not go, unless propelled at a terrific speed.

The above article appeared in The Daily Missoulian, December 31, 1917

[Fifty-year old Fred J. Stickney and his wife Faye Stickney lived on River Road in Missoula in 1940. They were parents of 4 children, Warren, Arwood, Hazel and Richard.]

The story of 99 year-old Oscar Kupilik - the three-year- old rescued by Fred Stickney in 1917 - appeared in an obituary for him in 2013.

In Memory of

Oscar W. "Bill" Kupilik

June 8, 1914 - April 1, 2013


Oscar William "Bill" Kupilik 8 June 1914 – 1 April 2013

Oscar William "Bill" Kupilik was born on June 8th, 1914 in Billings, Montana to Matthew and Anna Kupilik, immigrants from Austria. Bill's parents and brother Frank were killed in 1917 when their car slid into the Clark Fork River in Missoula, Montana. Bill, who was two years old, was taken in by the Quinn Family in Missoula. Unfortunately, Mrs. Quinn died in the flu epidemic in 1923 and Bill was sent to the Loyola Catholic Orphanage in Missoula where he joined his brothers Henry and Frederick. 

He stayed at the orphanage until the late 1920's when the oldest brother Charles and his wife Anna, took Bill out of the orphanage to live with them in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. He attended and graduated from Scottsbluff High School in 1932. 

Bill had planned and saved to go to college and major in chemistry; however, the crash of 1929 and the ensuing depression make that impossible. So after high school, Bill joined the U.S Navy. He served aboard a destroyer off the coast of Alaska and was discharged in San Diego about 1937. 

Although, San Diego was to become Bill's home for the rest of his life, he still had, and kept, deep roots in Nebraska and in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. While in the Navy he took his leaves in this area. It was there and at this time that he met the true love of his life, Nell Coffin. They were to become life mates. The bond between the two was incredibly deep and lasting. They were married in the late 1930's and made San Diego their home.

Bill took a job with Ryan Aeronautical where with his innate intelligence, his continuing study at college night classes and on the job experience he quickly rose to become a top manager. One of his most notable assignments was as Project Manager for the Ryan Firebee. This was one of the first and arguably the most successful production drone in the aircraft industry at the time. Bill retired from Ryan in 1978.

In 1960, while Bill was working at Ryan, a fellow manager Howard Craig, introduced Bill to Chuck Buck, who was interested in incorporating a business, Buck Knives. Bill was interested and helped to form the corporation as a founding stockholder and as one of the first members of the Board of Directors. Bill was active on the Board into the 21st century.

Bill maintained his connection to the Rocky Mountain West with summer vacations taken with his brothers in Yellowstone Park and other parts of Wyoming, Colorado and Montana. Bill wanted a cabin in the mountains where he and Nell could spend summers during their retirement. After much searching they found a perfect piece of property on Union Pass near Dubois, Wyoming and started building their dream cabin in 1974.

Sadly, just about the time they were finishing up the cabin, Nell was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Bill was to care for Nell every day for the rest of her life. She died on January 1st 1998.

Bill is survived by his nieces and nephews: Margret Kupilik; Frederick Kupilik and his wife Georgie; Arloa Kupilik, wife of nephew Charles; Carol Halsey and her husband Jerry; Michael Kupilik and his wife Alice; many great nephews and nieces and an increasing number of great great nephews and nieces. He also leaves behind many, many friends.

He was a wonderful man who was always happy, always positive. He was very devout and a long time, active member of St. Agnes Parish. He loved his church.

He will be missed.


Last Updated on Saturday, 11 November 2017 00:38