Who says you can’t go home again?
Submitted By Pamela Zortman-Rogers
It was the winter of 2005 and I was sitting at a file cluttered desk in my law office when the phone rang.
At that time, I had been practicing law for about 5 years in a large city 30 miles north of Boston. I expected the call to be from a client or from someone related to a client’s case but instead I heard a woman‘s voice with an accent that I wasn’t yet familiar with.
“Is this Pam Zortman?” she said with a soft almost Midwestern twang but with a Southern twist. Definitely not the Boston accent I was used to, especially since she had pronounced the “r” in Zortman. Even more unusual than the accent, the woman was using my maiden name which I myself hadn’t used since my marriage some 7 years prior.
I hesitantly replied in the affirmative.
“Well this is Candy Kalal. I’m from Zortman, Montana. I got your name from a relative of yours and she told me to call you.”
At this point in time, she had my full attention, not an easy feat.
“Zortman Montana!” I said with a shock, considering that Montana is clear across the country from where I sat in Massachusetts AND that the town shared the same name I was born with. My mind immediately went back to something my Grandpop had told me years earlier when I was a young girl.
He said there was a town out West, in somewhere like Iowa or Wyoming, maybe Montana, and it was named after a relative. He said it was a big gold mining town and went on to tell me about a fortune that his distant cousin had found in gold. I can remember listening in awe to a tale that seemed to me, to be as magical as Cinderella.
When I got a little older, I researched this seemingly tall tale and found out my Grandpop was right. There was a gold mining town in Montana named Zortman, after Oliver “Pete” Zortman, a distant relative of mine.
Candy continued on despite my lack of conversation due to the peculiarity of the call and the wandering of my mind to times long gone by.
“We want to dig up Pete Zortman and have him buried back here in Zortman and we need your help.”
Now I was laughing to myself, the call had gone from surprising to crazy.
How could I possibly help? Did she need to borrow a shovel to dig up a dead body? And who was the relative that gave Candy my name and number, I’d have to call them later and share a snarky “Thanks”!
“Wow!” I said, unsure as to what else to say. With trepidation, I continued, “How can I help you?”
“Well, old Pete is buried in Big Timber and we need a blood relative to fill out some forms with the town clerk to have his remains dug up. ince you’re a lawyer and a blood relative, your cousin Lois told us to call you.”
I paused for a moment, while all this sounded logical, it also sounded insane.
“So you want me to call the clerk and then fill out the forms?” I was kidding myself if I thought this was the only involvement I would have in bringing Pete home.
And that’s how this crazy and fun journey began for Candy and I.
Along the way, we filled in some historical blanks, solved a mystery, made new friends and found a member of the family that we didn’t even know existed.
Oliver “Pete” Zortman
“Pete” was born Oliver Zortman in 1865 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
He descended from Alexander Zartmann, the Zortman family’s patriarch in America. Alexander had two sons, Alexander II and Jacob. Pete and I both hail from the Alexander II branch of the family.
Our family history book states that Pete went west looking for gold. And after many attempts, Pete did find gold and he struck it rich, running a successful mining company in the town that would soon be named after him.
He married Rose Finn, a Wisconsin born school teacher and they had two daughters, Lucille and Helen. It is noted in a history book that Pete is one of only a few men who left Montana with a “good sized fortune.”
Not much is known about Pete after that. We do know he was a Mason from the Chinook lodge and when he was buried in Big Timber in a pauper’s grave, he received Masonic last rights.
It appears that Pete died alone in 1933 from prostate cancer.
So as crazy as it all seemed, I was on board with the disinterment of Pete’s body in Big Timber. I can remember placing the call to the town hall, it went something like this, “Uh, Hi…My name is Pam Zortman. I want to have the body of Pete Zortman dug up from his grave and I was told to call you.”
It was awkward to say the least.
Since my dad was still alive and technically one generation closer to Pete than myself, I had him fill out the clerk’s forms and I returned them to Big Timber.
We were told that Pete had been buried in a “pauper’s grave” in a local cemetery. There was no sign of a grave for his wife, Rose, or of his two daughters, Lucille and Helen.
Where they were was a complete mystery to us, one that would not get looked into until a later date. But first, we had a body to dig up and bring home.
Since I live about 2300 miles from Zortman, I was only able to help by making calls and sending emails.
I would wait patiently for Candy’s calls or emails and revel in all the details of the big Homecoming scheduled for August.
I contacted lots of Zortmans, from Fowler, Kansas to Hollywood, California, about the big event. I would tell them what was planned, see if they could make it and get them in touch with Candy if they could.
We wanted to make sure that lots of Zortmans were at the event. And since Zortman is so remote, we knew that only a few relatives would actually make the trip.
In late August, Candy let me know when Pete was dug up. A few days before the big Homecoming, some local veterinarians went to Big Timber and had a back hoe dig into the just located area where Pete was buried.
After awhile, they hit some wood splinters and some bone.
Apparently the casket had broken into pieces under the weight of water and dirt over some 72 years. But the body was found and brought back in a new casket. Pete was kept in the town fire hall for the big day.
On Aug. 27, Pete Zortman Days began in the tiny town.
I was told by a few relatives who were there that the event was moving. The ability to return a person’s remains to his rightful spot on earth was powerful.
A horse drawn carriage took Pete to the Zortman cemetery. A gravestone paid for by local Masons marked Pete’s final resting place.
I couldn’t make it to the Homecoming due to work but I read about it online and received calls and pictures from candy and relatives that were there. I was a bit surprised when the reburial made news around the world.
The Final Resting Place
I was finally able to make it to Zortman in July of 2013. On a beautiful July day, my husband, John, and I drove from Lewistown to Zortman and just stared in amazement at the beauty that surrounded us as we drove.
Living in the Northeast we are not accustomed to long flat drives on empty highways. Nor are we accustomed to the sheer beauty of big sky country. It was possibly the most amazing drive of my life. I was in awe.
After about an hour and a half we came across a sign on Highway 191 that said “Zortman” and my heart skipped a beat.
The place that my Grandpop had told me stories about, that I had researched myself as a young adult and then that had come to life through my talks with Candy Kalal was now becoming a reality. We drove down seven mile road, which looked to us like an abandoned dirt road leading to nowhere.
We went directly to the Zortman Motel and we were greeted by Candy Kalal and her husband John.
Even though we had never met before, I felt like I had known Candy my whole life due to the homecoming planning and all the calls we shared during the past 6 years. Candy and John showed us Zortman memorabilia, dinosaur bones, and gold nuggets.
We ate lunch at the Miner’s café where their daughter was our very pleasant waitress.
John shared stories of Zortman with us, fully explaining how gold mining worked. He then drove us in his Ford F350 all around the original claim that Pete owned. There were times when I had to take a deep breath and just go with the flow.
I think it was apparent to John that I wasn’t exactly a backwoods type of girl and Zortman is most certainly in the backwoods.
At the end of the tour, John took us to Pete’s grave in the Zortman cemetery. It was situated in the most beautiful spot you could find in town. As I approached the grave, the trees swayed close by, the fields were as green as green could be, and the mountain views were breathtaking. I declared it was a fit place for a great man. And I was thankful he could rest in this beautiful spot. I then took a moment alone to kneel down by the grave and talk to Pete.
I wanted him to know I was there with him. Pete is family to me even though we’ve never met, but we share the same blood and that means something to me.
I was proud to have helped him to get home. And I was even prouder to share his last name.
As one can imagine, records kept in a mining town during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s are hard to locate. That left Candy and I with a lot of questions about Pete and his daughters and what happened to them after they left Zortman.
That’s where Mary Hackett came into play. Mary is a Zortman by way of her mother. Born in Ohio, like many Zortmans, her dad moved them to Montana when she was a little girl and she now lives in Stephensville with her husband, Harvey, a true cowboy. Mary has the same nosey streak in her that I have. We just have to know and in turn, we will stop at nothing to figure it out.
Through countless hours of research Mary was able to find out that Rose had left Pete at some point in time after the turn of the century. There are census records that show Rose and the girls in Washington state, Iowa, and even Hollywood, California.
Mary even uncovered a newspaper article from Big Timber that said that Pete and Rose had renewed their wedding vows. No mention of the girls.
So why did the Zortman girls move so much? We still don’t know. Where did they end up? That we did find out.
It appears that Rose passed away in Santa Rosa, California around 1965. Her obituary mentions both daughters and a grandson, Richard Fugett. Daughter Lucille passed in 2001 in Seminole, Florida. She had no children and never married. Daughter Helen passed in 1962 and was divorced, with one son.
Mary was then able to find a death certificate for Pete’s grandson, Richard Fugett. t stated that he passed away in 1995, from prostate cancer, the same cancer that killed Pete in 1933. It didn’t mention any next of kin so Mary and I just sighed, fearing a dead end.
Mary decided to send me Richard’s death certificate in order to see if there was something she missed. And lucky for us, there was. As I scanned the certificate, I noticed a woman’s name listed as executor. The name didn’t mean anything to me, it was Mary Hermans. So I googled the name with Santa Rosa attached to it. I let out a loud sigh as I found another death notice. This one was from 2007.
It appears Mary had passed but left a husband and a few children. I went back to google and put in Dr. Colin Hermans. I quickly found many links and more importantly, an email address. Not knowing if it would lead to anything, I sent out another “awkward” email, basically asking if he knew a Richard Fugett from Santa Rosa, California.
I was shocked when I received a quick reply. It turned out that Dr. Hermans was Richard’s college roommate. And boy, did he have some stories to tell! It turns out that Richard, a former member of the United States Army’s 101st Airborne Division, was quite a colorful character.
He told me “Dick” had passed in 1995, a fact I already knew.
Dr. Hermans offered his telephone number and I phoned, thankful that he was willing to share his time and memories with me.
Thirty minutes later, I had an overabundance of stories about Dick Fugett. It was obvious that Dick shared Pete’s genes. Pte had led such an adventurous and colorful life, so had Dick Fugett. With a heavy heart I thought of the two men, both relatives whom I wish I had gotten a chance to know but now, never would. But all hope wasn’t lost.
I found out from Dr. Hermans that Dick had a daughter, Kerry.
Named after the county in Ireland where Dick’s maternal grandparents were from. He thought she might be in her early twenties, probably living in California. Another Google search led me to my new relative.
Kerry and I have been communicating via emails since she lives in Ecuador, working with bears at a city zoo.
I smiled a weary smile when I initially communicated with her. It had been a long journey to find her, about 6 years.
Conflicted, I was overjoyed to have found Pete’s great-granddaughter and filled with sadness that she was all that was left of Pete. But the best part of talking with Kerry is that she knew nothing about Pete or the Zortman family and I’ve been able to enlighten her about her famous ancestor. I’m hoping to visit Zortman with her next summer.
Looking back on that first call from Candy Kalel, I never expected all the gifts that have come my way because of it.
I never expected to get to know Pete as well as I have. I most certainly never expected to solve the mystery of Pete’s lineage. I never expected to welcome a new Zortman to our family. Nor did I expect to make new friends or visit new places. I most certainly didn’t think I would visit a remote town in Montana and find it to be one of the most special places on earth with the most special people.
All I can say now is that I’m happy that Pete is home where he belongs.
Who says you can’t go home again?
Me and the Ol’ Man
Written and submitted by Zach Pallister, Helena:
What I remember most was the blissful quiet of the forest. The snow had fallen heavily and some feathery flakes still drifted lazily to Mother Earth. My 11-year-old legs plowed through the snow up to my knees. I followed the Ol’ Man’s footsteps as best I could. Outside his track was the fresh, never-trodden snow, so beautifully blanketing the rocks, roots and slick limbs hidden beneath.
Outside the cover of the forest on North Wilson ridge, we felt the stinging bite of the cleansing wind as we traced the edge of the old growth Douglas fir forest heading east for a mile or so.
I thought of the mountain men of old – Kit Carson, Jim Bridger and the like – how their yearning for freedom got them here and how I itched to be like them. My mind fantasized glorious days of trapping and hunting with old Hugh Glass as my mentor. Anyone who could live through such a scrape with a grizzly had to be a tough old bird.
I spent my youth reading of all the mountain men and the Indian chiefs, never tiring of American history during the infancy of our country and of those who blazed the way. I immersed myself in their lore. What a world it must have been! Survival was all that mattered. All the “things” we have now days seemed so unnecessary – and only serving to complicate the meaning of raw existence. Give me the Wind and the Rain, the Mountain and the River, the Sun and the Moon; by God, that’s all I need!
Suddenly the Ol’ Man stopped walking and I bumped into his back. Daydream over! He chuckled and pointed to the fresh elk sign in the snow, by now the perfect texture for picking out clean tracks. In a whispering voice, he took the time to teach me how to read the sign. Hoof direction, what was a cow, a calf and maybe one was a bull because the prints were more rounded at the front. The cow’s urine splattered from the rear and a bull made a hole from his center. The larger pellets were from mature animals, the calves had pellets the size of grown deer. Pellets piled when standing and scattered when moving. Looked like a dozen head or so.
The adrenalin kicked in immediately as the predator instinct tuned the senses. I knew we would follow these elk tracks to where their makers were bedded and we would see elk up close. It just couldn’t happen any other way. Any bull could be taken in those days with an over-the-counter license at a cost of about five bucks.
The Ol’ Man hadn’t taken his bull yet which was unusual. It had to have been mid-November by then and lots of trails had been traveled. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that eight of my brothers were eligible to hunt at the time.
My four younger brothers, like me, weren’t old enough to hunt yet. My one lonely (and lovely) sister gave hunting a try for a year or two and decided to leave it to the boys. When you got to be 11, it was OK to ride around with the bunch and learn the ropes. The hunting excursions we made in my youth were what cultivated my desire to tramp the Great Outdoors.
Mom and Dad would load up a pickup and a suburban with kids, food, gear and guns and off we’d go to Ekalaka for antelope, Libby for goats and bear (or berries in the summer), California Creek near Sheridan for mule deer and anywhere close to home before and after school and every weekend throughout hunting season.
Our summers were filled with gardening, building the cabin on Bull Mountain, camping at Elder Creek, arrowhead hunting, picnics, swimming and fishing. We always had hard work followed by the reward of an outdoor experience.
With 12 brothers and a sister, the occasion to spend any one-on-one time with Dad or Mom was precious, for certain. Maybe that’s why this experience has prickled my feathers for so many years.
The wind was slight inside the timber and blew from out of the north. The elk couldn’t scent us and the snow made silent our approach. A squirrel sounded his warning and the Ol’ Man gave him a knowing look of respect. We stopped until the squirrel decided we weren’t quite the threat he had surmised.
Gray jays or “camp robbers” as we called them flitted from snow-laden, grandparent fir trees along our trail, curious as to our approach. The jays loosened the snow on the tree branches and it filtered lazily to the forest floor in a beautiful ghost-like veil. The tree moss was heavy, it’s chartreuse color contrasting flawlessly with the snow.
The elk trail followed the contour northwesterly where Bull Mountain wapiti had coursed this forest thousands of times.
The only trail alterations happened when danger scattered a herd in fright or a natural barricade, like a fallen tree, caused a slight deviation. The scent of the elk reminded me of black licorice and it lay heavy in the closeness of the dense forest. That smell excites me today and always readies me for another spiritual encounter with my favorite critters.
We closed the gap in a hurry I realize now, but back then it seemed a subliminal eternity. Dad put his gloved forefinger to his lips and we crept as silently as my Bass waffle stompers would go.
Then, there they were! The Ol’ Man cautiously dropped to his knee and we huddled together as we shared the moment. The elk were bedded, except for one old cow with her nose up and her eyes bugged out, alert for any drift of a dangerous scent or a predator’s approach. Her nose was wet and it quivered as it worked the air currents, her ears moved forward and back trying to detect the danger. I’ve relived this moment in reality countless times; watching a lead cow up close, tending the flock.
Dad slowly raised his trusty, well-worn .300 Weatherby rifle and looked through the scope at all the elk and elk parts.
“No bulls”, he whispered.
We rose carefully to upright and watched the bunch for a minute or two. Then they just kind of wandered away, not sure of what danger was present, but instinctively sensing it all the same. Dad looked at me and said, “How’d you like that?”
I answered with the expression in my eyes.
I don’t remember much about the long walk back to the cabin, just that I was fulfilled to the max and excited to share the story with mom and my brothers. That same sense of spirituality fills me up whenever I experience the wild of the outdoors.
“Filling my spiritual tank” as my oldest brother Jeff calls it.
That brief walk in the woods with my Dad, affectionately known as the “Ol’ Man” amongst all us brothers, happened nearly 45 years ago. The memory of that experience has sharpened and tuned my outdoor savvy and helped me gain independence of spirit; passed on to my sons and now to their children. What we gain from Nature is freedom of spirit, communion with life in all forms and that sense of completeness individually gained through release of self.
The Ol’ Man’s choice to end his hunting career at age 87 was out of respect for the animals he cares so deeply for, not wanting to wound them. The tunnel vision in his right eye, some tremoring in his hand and a troubled spine made clear his decision. Nearly 94 now, he lives on the family Jaybird Ranch on the edge of Boulder with the memories, having planted his spiritual passion in each of us.
I love you, Dad.
Why I love Montana
Written and submitted by Lindie Gibson, Livingston
I love Montana because my grandmother was born here in 1897 to parents who came from Norway to start a new life in the Land of Opportunity. Then, my mother came along in 1925 and me in 1953, and my son in 1975. My son started his family here in 1994, and Montana will always remain my home.
For a place to be called “home” it needs to be more than a place to tie your horse to a hitchin’ post and pitch your tent, or a railway stop at the end of the line.
Montana is an environment offering a variety of opportunities and experiences coinciding with the awe and wonder of nature; a place where people realize that earning a good living is not as important as the experience of true living – in harmony with God and man – the way it was meant to be.
Montana is a place where you can hold your head high and see limitless sky and feel purifying wind blowing through your hair – where you can study a ceiling of a starry night – unshrouded by big city lights.
It’s a place where your neighbor is your friend, where strangers still reach out with a helping hand, and where a man’s word and handshake are as good as any piece of paper.
Montana is a place where living in the slow lane of life is a much preferred lifestyle – where watching a colt or frisky young calf run and dance in a field is better than the best programming TV has to offer – where hiking and camping and fishing diminish the lure of holiday cruises and Disneyland – for making and sharing memories while our children grow.
Montana is a place where the roar of the hustle and bustle of life is drowned out by the solitude and silence of nature and the music heard in the sounds of birds and creatures that inhabit our wheat fields and countrysides and woodlands.
Montana is home to the deer and antelope that play, and a few buffalo that still roam; with golden sunsets and flaming orange sunrises and crystal clear lakes and stream.
Montana is also a place where nature dresses in the beauty of four distinct seasons; a never-ending reminder of the omniscience of God.
Our state is home to everyone in between – a place where all are considered equal in the eyes of the Montanan.
Why do I love Montana?
Because Montana is a land rich in resources and experiences that are treasured – and for generations, the love and appreciation for Montana remains in the hearts and homes of its people – as one of its greatest treasures.
Montana lost a good one
Sent by Shane Morger, Ventura, Calif.
I always knew part of my budget for Christmas gifts to my dad, Wally Morger, would include renewing his subscription to Montana Magazine.
I will have to “reassign” that subscription this year.
On March 24, dad passed away one month shy of his 91st birthday in the greatest of small towns, in which he was born, raised and died: Fort Benton.
But what a remarkable life he led.
Dad was a proud American – but even a prouder Montanan- father of nine children, grandfather of 20 and great-grandfather to six, a WWII Marine veteran who displayed his proud past on his license plate that read “IWO JIMA.”
He actually owned an autographed photo of the first flag raising on Mount Suribachi.
Of course those years included 90 winters when I’m sure there were times when he thought of warmer climates, but would always quote C.M. Russell’s famous picture, “Waiting for a Chinook.”
I guess the greatest tribute at his memorial was looking back at the funeral procession and seeing an endless trail of cars and trucks on their way to the Fort Benton Cemetery.
(The accompanying picture taken at the memorial) is of his three active duty grandsons, who presented our step-mom, Muncie, with the American flag. . . Look at the faces of the small children who were witness to such an emotional send off.
We lost a great one, Jenna, but one that will be remembered forever.
Reflections on Montana
Sent by Shirley Underwood, CDR, USN (Ret.), Ft. Belvoir, Virginia
Ever since my childhood in Havre, Montana, I have always viewed the outline of my state map as the personification of an old man with a craggy side and a soft side, reflected in the topography of the state, i.e., the Rockies in the west and the prairies in the east. To share this interpretation with other Montanans, I have written a poem.
I was born in Helena, raised in Havre, and graduated from the University of Missoula in 1957. I am a former English teacher and after having spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy, I retired as a Commander in 1978. I now reside in Ft. Belvoir, Va., where I continue to write. My article, “Reconciling, A mother-and-child reunion”, was published in the Montana Magazine in the May-June issue of 1988.
The photograph with the poem was made by Rachel J. Sarbaugh, while vacationing in Montana. The image was taken at sunrise at Lake McDonald in West Glacier National Park.
I will live there one day if at all possible!
From Shelley Burke, sent on Jan. 1, 2014
Hello and Happy New Year! My name is Shelley Burke. I’m originallyfrom upstate New York but have lived in Charlotte, N.C., for over 30 years.
I traveled out west for the 1st time when I was 15. I immediately fell in love with the West and to this day it feels like home when I’m there. I’ve made several trips to various places out West and into Canada but NOTHING will EVER compare to my trip this past September to Montana/Glacier National Park.
Montana is my new love and I will live there one day if at all possible! I have thought about my trip EVERY single day since September and just can’t get it out of my mind. My mother shared the experience with me and for Christmas, she got me subscription to your magazine. I just finished reading my first one! Love it
I attached some pictures from Glacier. I’m certainly no professional but I love taking pictures and find it so relaxing. There is so much beauty in our country, but nothing like what I saw there. Have a great day! Look forward to my next magazine!
Montana is Calling
Sent by Janet Imogene Hansen Fulkerson, on Nov. 21, 2013
Dear Montana Magazine,
Please find below a poem about Montana written in 2012 by my mother, the late Imogene Z. Hansen.
She died earlier this month at age 86 in my home in the state of Indiana.
I discovered the poem below on her computer AFTER she died when I was “cleaning out” files. Imogene resided in Montana 63 years, and lived in the same house in Helena for more than 50 of those.
Poor health caused her to move here so that I could care for her as her Parkinson’s disease progressed.
Attached is a 1954 photo of Imogene and her husband Bruce Hansen, holding my sister, Susan Marie, and a truck load of furniture made by Imogene’s father in Louisville, Kentucky. The young family was on its way back to Helena, where they were living in the basement of an unfinished house while Bruce was building the house next door that became their home from 1954 to 2010.
Bruce was the son of first-generation immigrants from Denmark. His parents started in a sod house in the middle of Grant (nowhere), Mont., then moved to Butte, where his father worked in a copper mine and died of silicosis.
Bruce, one of the “greatest generation”, came back from the U.S. Navy after WWII and worked hard to build a better life for his family. Imogene had a career a teacher in the Helena school system. Together, they raised three children who share their parent’s love for the state of Montana.
Montana Is Calling
By Imogene Hansen
September 17, 2012
My heart’s in Montana; my heart is not here.
It’s in Big Sky Country so high, wide, and clear.
From the mountains and prairies that I loved to roam
Montana is calling, and I want to go home.
I miss Montana which is far, far from here
where the earth is too flat and the sky seldom clear.
I miss the Chinook winds and the miles of fresh snow
where the sun will be shining at twenty below.
I want to be back in my Helena home,
walk down Last Chance Gulch, see the Capitol dome
while the giant who sleeps guards the valley below
where I’ll lie at peace when it’s my time to go.
I’d like to watch deer eat my flowers and grass,
see antelope run through the fields as I pass,
spot a lone elk or bear that might drift into town,
gaze at glorious skies when the sun’s going down.
I long to see places where tamaracks tall
turn from beautiful green to bright gold in the fall,
where summer brings wild flowers to each mountain side
and the bitterroots bloom when spring greets the divide.
I need to smell mountain air pristine and pure,
watch mountain goats scamper on feet swift and sure,
hear bugling elk call in the crisp autumn air,
feel the soft touch of snowflakes on my face and hair.
In Montana great glories of nature are found
and in Glacier and Yellowstone Parks they abound
where the Going-to-the-Sun and the Beartooth climb high
to the top of the world where the earth meets the sky.
Montana has prairies that roll like the sea
with Canada geese flying high in a v.
It has Northern Lights dancing across the night sky
and snow geese at Freezeout Lake waiting to fly.
It has riches in minerals deep underground,
and gold on the Highline in wheat fields is found.
I long to return each time I feel it call
for truly it is the “last, best place” of all.
Exodus Into Montana
From Angelo Pecora, Seeley Lake, Montana, sent Dec. 5, 2013
It took me 61 years to finally get “West” into Montana.
I used to come every year via vintage Harley Davidson but to get here to Live, and I do mean, live, was truly a gift from God.
I’m a Native American of Italian descent but I was born in Ohio. For Christmas (one year) I got a plastic set of cowboys and Indians, more correctly a set that depicted the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
In any event in that round tube containing the figures was a very intense and informative booklet about the battle complete with historical photos. That started my love affair with the state and it never left.
I would daydream even in high school of being a mountain man since I did long line trapping and on weekends would build a winter camp and spend Friday night, all day Saturday, and walk out on Sunday and get back home.
I remember thinking I was up on the Continental Divide as I sat deep in the woods boiling my coffee, when in reality I was in northern Ohio.
Then life got in the way, although I never forgot Montana.
Starting in 1990 I started making forays here on my old scooter every summer for two to three weeks, mostly to the Yaak area.
Fast forward to 2010. My wife retired from the state of Michigan, and we decided on a move.
I was on the dock of the feed mill where I worked in Dexter, Michigan, and Kat (my wife) called.
Her exact words were, “Hey gotta be in Seeley Lake in four days, can you get off and take me?”
Why in the world do you have to be in Seeley Lake?
“I have a job interview,” Kat said.
I think I got home before she hung up the phone. She got the job.
Now I, for 60 yrs have a preconceived idea of what Montana is and you or anyone else cannot change it.
So when she said she found a place to rent we came up.
The first home we looked at was kind of a subdivision south of town. The house was too nice for me
I was disappointed
“What do ya think?” she asked and like my father on his trip to Italy I said, “it’s ok.”
Then she said, “well, there is one other place is you wanna go look.”
We drove north out of town about 6 miles, turned down a quiet road and there, on the Clearwater was our home.
Back in the timber, the river backs our place and borders it on the west.
Now every morning, coffee in hand, I walk onto the back porch, stare off into the deep timber and think, “the eagle has landed.”