Old Missoula

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Cold Weather by Frank Woody

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Judge F. H. Woody Says Recent Cold Weather Does Not Class With 60’s

In speaking of the cold weather Judge F. H. Woody has the following to say:

“The Missoulian in its recent issues, has been claiming that now the tenderfoot of six months’ residence knew as much about the climate, the winters and the floods, as the old timers, and that the old timers would have to take a back seat. Now that is all bosh.

“Our recent snowstorm and cold snap has been reported as being a terrible blizzard, one of the worst ever known in the country. The fact of the matter is, we had no blizzard. We had two days on the 5th and 6th, when the wind blew quite hard, a little cold weather, but at that time there was not enough snow blowing to make drifts. It is true we have had a heavy fall of snow, and as much snow as I ever saw fall at one time, but when they say this is a hard winter, and one of the worst we have ever had, it is not correct. We have had many winters that were far more severe than the present one.

“Commencing with the winter of 1861 and 1862, I will tell you something about the snows and cold weather. During that winter we had as much or more snow than we have had up to the present time this winter, although it did not all fall at one time. And talk about your cold weather! We certainly had it that winter. We were at that time living at Hell Gate, about four miles below Missoula, and, while we had a small thermometer, the mercury went out of sight and we never knew just how cold it really was.

“The severe weather commenced about Christmas and lasted until spring. On the flat between Missoula and Hell Gate the snow lay on the ground, six or eight inches deep, until about April 10, in the year 1862. At that time Captain Grant was living on Grant creek and had about 100 head of cattle. He and his family, in the fall of ’61, went to Walla Walla for the winter, where he and one of his daughters died. He left his cattle in charge of two Snake Indians he had brought with him from Fort Hall. They prepared no feed for the winter, as the country had a good supply of grass, and they supposed the cattle would winter all right. But snow fell very deep and then crusted, and the cattle could not get to the grass, and were driven down into the river-bottom, in back of where Sidney Mitchell and Lowney are now living. All they had to eat was willows and brush and they finally all died before spring. That was a winter to talk about and make the Pilgrims shudder.

“Captain Mullan was at that time building the Mullan wagon road, and had his winter quarters on the other side of the Blackfoot, where Finntown is now located. He built the grades up the canyon and put in some bridges. Sometime during the winter, Charlie Schaft, who died some years ago in Missoula, and is well remembered by some of the early settlers, attempted to go from Mullan’s winter quarters up the canyon, where some of Mullan’s men were in camp, and while doing so froze both of his feet. He was taken back to Mullan’s camp, where Dr. Hammond, a government surgeon, amputated both legs below the knees.

“The next severe winter we had was the winter of ’65 and ’66, the cold weather commencing just before Christmas. Snow fell very deep and the weather was extremely cold, so cold that the river at Missoula must have been frozen nearly to the bottom, for in the beginning of April, 1866, I, J. P. Reinhard and others went skating at a point on Hell Gate river, just below the point of the island, and the ice remained there for some time longer. On the 16th of March, 1866, the thermometer stood 32 below zero, a record kept for many years by Mr. Reinhard.

“The next real severe winter that we had was the winter of ’86 and ’87. About the last of January snow commenced to fall and it snowed for several days. It was extremely cold and a severe blizzard raged for three or four days. The railroad between Missoula, Deer Lodge and Helena was blocked for a number of days. I do not remember of any record being kept of the intensity of the cold, but it was very much colder than any weather we have had so far this winter.

“During that winter something happened that I would be loath to tell if I did not have witnesses, who know the story to be true. Matt Coleman, who lived on the other side of the fair grounds, came to town one day and reported an unusual fall of snow down there, nearly opposite the place where the Missoula cemetery is now located, and said that snowflakes as large as a man’s hat had fallen. The story seemed incredible, but two or three of us went down and examined the snow that was on the ground. It was very soft, and we found a strip, or belt, where these flakes had fallen. Some of them appeared to be at least 12 inches in diameter and circular, and had imbedded themselves two or three inches in the snow already on the ground. There seemed to be a belt of these large flakes that came from the southwest, extending towards the northeast. I can corroborate this by the statements made by John Richard, Dennis Hamel and John Jinn and published in The Missoulian.

“Now, if any of the readers of The Missoulian think they have had a hard winter, let them compare it with winters here referred to, when, besides having extremely cold weather, we had absolutely no modern conveniences.”

The above article appeared in the January 17, 1909, Sunday Daily Missoulian.

*An article by John King on the KGVO webpage on Dec. 6th, 2013, states that the all-time low temperature for Missoula, as reported by the National Weather Service, was -33 degrees in January, 1957.


Last Updated on Saturday, 29 November 2014 18:33