Old Missoula

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Old County Books - Original Families - A Phantom Town

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Old County Books Show Growth Here

First County Commissioners Met in 1865; Survival of Family Names

Missoula county isn’t such a youthful county after all. Not if venerable books on the shelves of the county clerk and recorder’s office, containing records of the days of ’65 and even of a vanished city, may be said to account for anything. For all that now seems familiar between the dusty covers of those tomes is the names that are recognizable – Woody, McCormick, Higgins and others, who entered upon the work of settling a county that once included, outside of its present boundaries, Ravalli, Lake, Flathead, Mineral, Sanders and Lincoln counties.

Two of the books above any others are exceptionally interesting, of course because they offer the greatest contrast with the complicated machinery that makes a county function now. The first commissioners’ journal, for example, was 7 by 7 ½ inches in size, and only half an inch thick. Between October 16, 1865 and November 27, 1867 the commissioners managed to fill only 113 pages of this single book with an account of their doings, written in the elegant penmanship of the pre-typewriter days. (The commissioners now fill at least one volume of 300 pages a year, each costing $30.) And when the county dads “laid in” $12 worth of stationery – that is Missoula county’s first expense item – it was evident that they were entering upon a pretty permanent purchase, in their opinion. The purchase is recorded with a flourish by the county clerk, Charles Shaft [Shafft], who resigned in 1866, and to whom in settlement there was paid the sum of $62 to satisfy the demands of office rent, fuel and stationery for the period of his incumbency.

First Three Commissioners

Missoula’s first three commissioners were H. W. Miller, F. L. Loveland, and C. C. (Baron) O’Keefe. Frank Woody, later Judge Woody, was county attorney, and upon Shaft’s resignation became county clerk and recorder, a position which he occupied for several years. And Henry Larabee, sheriff, was permitted to sit at the meetings of the commissioners, although he was not allowed to vote. Robert Pelkey, the assessor, was the only other county officer.

Early in the county history is the record of a petition signed by 64 persons asking that the county seat be located at the mouth of the Rattlesnake creek “near the Missoula Mills”. The latter was a building which stood, until a few years ago, where the heating plant is now, and its title was painted boldly on its roof.

The business of the commissioners was desultory then, however, even in so large a county, because there were so few people in it. One suspects that there was some excitement over the issue of a first license to N. J. Miller and Thomas M. Pomeroy to build and operate a ferry or bridge across the Bitter Root river. (The commissioners had no money with which to build bridges themselves.) A schedule of prices for crossing the river was carefully fixed as follows: wagon and span of horses, $3.00; man and horse, $1.50; loaded pack animals, $1.00; “unloaded”, $0.50; loose animals, $0.25; hogs and sheep, $0.10; footman, $0.50.

First Assessment in 1870

In 1870, however, things began to pick up. The first detailed assessment was made and its results recorded in a book 8 inches by 12 ½ inches and 200 pages thick. The names of exactly 401 tax payers are inscribed. It is interesting that the direct descendants of the first tax payers are still paying taxes in the county, and that ten of the family names has never left the rolls. This is true notably in the case of the descendants of Judge Woody whose daughter, Miss Alice Woody, is the present county auditor. Other names in this class are those of the Higgins’, Bisson, England, Worden, Houle, McCormick, Marion and Bedard families. But where a single small book was used to contain these and other names, five volumes of the size of 18 by 32 inches are now required to record the 8,500 to 9,000 persons who pay taxes in this county today. In all that vast range of territory only $20,000 was taken in 1870, today $750,000 is the county’s revenue.

Phantom Town Platted.

But occasionally the books of the ‘sixties record high hopes that died with their makers. The phantom town of Jocko City was laid out (on paper) on the banks of the Flathead river a half mile north of the mouth of the Jocko river. “Water street” (100 feet wide) was to run parallel with the bank. And, since it was about the time when the union was being cemented at Appomattox, other “boulevards” were to be named after Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman. But all that came of the project were some sad, battered looking log houses that fell before the elements.

Fortunately for their followers, the pioneers of the county were conscientious about permanently recording their work. The proceedings of each meeting were entered in fine black India ink made, according to Chancey Woodworth, who has studied the records carefully in his odd hours, from the gall inffections (sic) of trees. The founders, locally speaking, were taking no chances with a frivolous posterity.

The article above is from The Daily Missoulian on July 30, 1926.

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