The early morning train from Havre pulled into the Great Northern depot in Great Falls. Among the many passengers who detrained that rainy morning were two gentlemen about to take the first step of a new adventure. Each was about six feet tall, with erect carriage and slender build. The older, Dr. Gaylord Worstell, physician, was nearly 47 years old; his brother, Everett, a dentist, was 36. Their clothes bespoke those of professional men: hats, suits, white shirts with stiff collars, ties, and polished shoes. They had arisen early to catch this first train of the day and strode with purpose to the Montana Land Office in the 400 block on Second Street. There they joined the crowd of men and women who had arrived in Great Falls, many before the office opened, hoping to file their homestead claim before nightfall. Looking expectantly to see a familiar face in the crowd, the Worstell brothers got in the line that was forming. Not a minute later they spotted their brother, Dias, who had been in town since the day before. Nattily dressed, he had already made some acquaintances. A.J.C., historical fiction.
Cut by rivers, ancient and recent, accented by buttes and mountain islands, the prairie is “dress circle” seating for Big Sky Country, Montana. Montana, a state where eyes get used to distance, the ear to sounds of loneliness, and mind and body to change. It is a state whose history includes the romance of the cowboy, the plight of the Indian, and the heartache of the homesteader. It is a land of contrasts and extremes. Large in size, it is the third largest of the contiguous states, encompassing the Rocky Mountains from their western slope, east across the northern plains, and south to Yellowstone National Park. Already small in population, Montana continues to lose people. Though sparsely populated in 1910, Montana had many thriving communities and was a major cattle and sheep producer.
The weather extremes in the state have helped determine the population of men and beasts. Its temperatures can vary from 70° below zero in winter to 117° above zero in summer. West Yellowstone or Havre is often listed as the coldest spot in the nation. The year of 1886 is an example of just such extremes. The most cattle ever fed on the open ranges of Montana was during that year. It was a year that turned out to be very dry and very hot, with only two inches of rainfall. Although the area of north central Montana is the driest in the state, the two inches that fell in 1886 is well below its average of 11.5 to 12 inches. Not only was the range in poor condition from the drought, but from overgrazing as well. Winter arrived early that year and with a vengeance. By November, blizzards were already causing the death of large bands of sheep. By the end of December, the Missouri River at Ft. Benton, the head of navigation, was frozen solid. Temperatures were reported at 50 and 60 degrees below zero. Coal for fuel was in short supply. Then the worst storm of the season started the end of January, with the temperature at -15° and wind at 60 miles per hour. It lasted a week with temperatures dropping to -47, -48, and -55 degrees as recorded at Ft. Assiniboine, just south of Havre. “Cattle drifted down on the Missouri and Milk Rivers and thousands went through holes in the ice. Horses feet were cut and bleeding from the heavy crust and cattle had the hair and hide worn off their legs to the knees and hocks.” Ft. Benton was nearly out of food and fuel. Charles Russell, western painter, became famous when he included his drawing titled “Waiting for the Chinook” in a message to eastern investors. His two-by-four inch masterpiece depicted a starving cow ready to keel over while hungry coyotes waited patiently for their meal. When the Chinook, a dry and usually warm wind, did arrive it caused a disastrous flood on the Missouri River. Cattle and sheep carcasses were to be seen everywhere. Sixty percent of all the cattle in the state had died. No longer did ranchers leave large numbers of cattle out in the elements to fend for themselves without food or water. More than 80 years later, in 1969, the people around Havre experienced forty successive days in which the temperature never rose above zero. The severity of Montana winters places a limiting cap on the cattle and sheep, but in the early years of the twentieth century, large numbers of the human population had yet to face the trials of climate and geography.
The first permanent settlement in Montana was made by the American Fur Company at Fort Benton. It was as far up the Missouri River as the boats could go, and only then as long as the spring runoff kept the water level high enough. It was Pierre Chouteau Jr., and his associates who, in 1859, developed a steamboat for the shallow upstream river. The Mullen Road, sometimes no more than a pack trail, connected Ft. Benton to the Montana and Idaho gold fields, and to the Columbia River near Walla Walla, Washington. Gold was discovered in the southwest corner of Montana in 1862 and near Helena in 1863. Butte and Helena became established cities, and Ft. Benton became a busy river port, America’s most remote. By 1864 Montana was a territory. In 1867 the army established Fort Shaw where the Mullen Road crossed the Sun River near its confluence with the Missouri, and another, Fort Ellis, in the southern part of the state. River traffic in Ft. Benton peaked in 1867, then fell off due to decline in placer mining and the completion of the transcontinental railroad through northern Utah in 1869. Ft. Benton again gained prominence in 1875 when it became a base of supply to Canadian prairie settlements.
The Indian wars came to an end with General Custer’s disaster in the Little Big Horn and Chief Joseph’s surrender near Havre in 1877. Smallpox had reduced the numbers of Blackfeet in north central Montana. The last of the buffalo were sighted around 1885, decimated more by cattle-borne diseases than white and Indian hunters, and most of the Indians were forced onto reservations. Only the Sioux, Chief Sitting Bull, and the Metis Indians of Indian and French or English ancestry in Canada had not yet surrendered.
The first transcontinental railroad, the Union Pacific-Central Pacific line from Omaha to Sacramento near the old Oregon-California Trail, was completed in 1869. It had received generous federal aid in the forms of large government loans and huge land grants, which could be sold to defray the costs of construction. When the Northern Pacific received its charter in 1864, it did not receive the federal loans that the Union Pacific had. However, it received the largest land grant in the history of American railroads, forty sections per mile, forty-four million acres total, seventeen million in Montana. In attempting to raise money for the Northern Pacific, the banking house of Jay Cooke and Company overextended itself, and by the time the railroad had gotten to Bismarck, Dakota Territory, the company failed and touched off the Panic of 1875. While the Northern Pacific was under construction, other companies were building spurs north from the Union Pacific to fill in the needed transportation routes to Montana, Utah, etc. Railroads were entering Montana territory by 1880.
The city of Great Falls was founded by Paris Gibson, who came to Ft. Benton in 1879 to raise sheep. An enterprising man, and an explorer at heart, Mr. Gibson knew about the Falls of the Missouri forty miles up the river from Ft. Benton, from his readings of the Lewis and Clark expedition. In the fall of 1880, he and his son made the first of their several expeditions to the falls. The scenic beauty of these great falls made an unforgettable impression upon his mind. Their explorations the following year took them to the head of the Missouri River rapids and to the high bluffs overlooking the plain of the Missouri and Sun Rivers. The only settlement nearby, besides isolated ranches and farms, was Fort Shaw, some miles away. Mr. Gibson determined to found a city in the area of the Black Eagle Falls. He was satisfied that the power from these falls could be utilized for operating mills and factories. To reach these goals, he recognized he needed to purchase the land required for the city plus land along the river adjacent to water-power sites. To acquire the needed financing, he wrote to his old friend, James J. Hill, railroad builder. In noting the advantages of the site, he also mentioned the availability of coal and other minerals. By November 1882, Gibson and Hill had reached an agreement — James Hill would build a railroad to Great Falls. Surveying started immediately and the town of Great Falls was platted in 1883. Considerable home and business activity took place, and by the end of the year the population was 200. In June, 1884, James Hill came out over the Northern Pacific Railway that had just been completed. Standing near their tent, Mr. Hill outlined to Mr. Gibson his plan for extending the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway to Great Falls.
Before Mr. Hill met with Mr. Gibson, he had already become interested in investing in Montana and had promised copper king, Marcus Daly, rail service to Butte for copper from the mines at Anaconda. James Hill teamed up with Helena entrepreneur Charles A. Broadwater and invested in Helena gold mines. Broadwater headed James Hill’s new industrial railroad, the Montana Central, that would link the Manitoba road to Butte. However, before the Manitoba could leave the rail head at Minot, Mr. Hill had to acquire a right-of-way across the Montana Indian Reservations. Hill’s lobbying efforts in Congress were successful by early 1887. James J. Hill received no federal loans or land grants, but the corridor the railroad received through the Indian reservations made the Great Northern the most heavily Indian-subsidized road in America.
The St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway was completed from Minot to Great Falls during one summer in a race that laid three-and-a-quarter miles of track a day. A month after the Manitoba connected Great Falls to Minot and points east, the Montana Central reached Great Falls, connecting it to Butte. Then in November 1887, Great Falls learned it was not to be on the main line of Hill’s railroad, the Great Northern, to Seattle. When Steven Pass was discovered in the Cascades, the most direct route to the coast was through Havre, Montana, 110 miles north-east of Great Falls, and over Marias Pass, the southern boundary of what would become Glacier Park. James Hill was in a race to the coast and the most direct route could be built the fastest. Still, he kept his promise of a railroad to Great Falls when he built the Montana Central division from Havre to Great Falls.
The rail cities of Havre and Great Falls became established virtually overnight. In 1884, only two years after Paris Gibson determined to found the city of Great Falls, 200 people were already living there. Following on the heels of the arrival of the railroad, the city was incorporated. By then it had a sawmill, blacksmith shop, three mercantile businesses; and two stores, Kaufman’s specialty men’s store and the Bon department store, which were still operating at the end of the 20th century. In addition there was a schoolhouse, bank, newspapers, churches, laundry, volunteer fire department, community hall, and a bottling works producing a wide assortment of soft drinks. There was a restaurant offering beer and entertainment and a hotel. It goes without saying there were saloons.
By 1890 the population of Great Falls had grown to 3,979 and Black Eagle Dam and the Boston and Montana Copper Smelter were completed. The city acquired nurseries, more specialty stores and competing department stores, a tailor, a commercial college, police and fire department, opera house, and a community band. By 1910, electricity and gas made life brighter and easier for the population. There were paved streets along tree-lined boulevards, street lights, and automobiles. Power lines delivered electricity to the homes along alleys. Electric trolleys were in service for a time. There was a yacht club and a gun club, a new Great Northern Railway depot, pharmacies, doctors, optometrists, dentists, hospitals, ambulance service, and an orphanage. Most important, the former Indian lands and open ranges north of Great Falls were opened to settlement by homesteaders, and more than one train a day was scheduled to make the trip between Havre and Great Falls.
It was into this vast area of the northern Montana plains that the homesteaders came in droves to be tested by the elements. This land would hold many surprises and many disappointments. They would come in answer to the widespread promotions made by the railroads, chambers of commerce, real estate agents, and government agricultural agents. The homesteaders would be composed of farmers and would-be farmers, laborers, professional men, and single women, all seeking to acquire a new start in life with the acquisition of land under the recently liberalized rules of homesteading. The decade from 1910 to 1920 would see nearly two dozen Worstells come into the “golden triangle” of northwest-central Montana. With this information came the impetus for writing this book.
The first to come were three brothers, Gaylord, Everett, and Dias. Dias arrived in Montana first and acted as their “locator.” May and June are the months of greatest rainfall in Montana, and on May 18, 1910, the day of their filing, we might imagine the scene described at the beginning of the chapter.
It was Gaylord’s observation that it was to one’s advantage to wear one’s poorest clothing when needing the doctor’s advice, and one’s best attire when seeking a loan from a banker. The Land Office may have fallen somewhere between these two, but the importance of the city and the occasion prompts one to think they wore their best.
The community of Verona, near their chosen homestead sites, was still just a dream in the founder’s mind. Therefore, the home to which they returned at the end of the day was in Big Sandy. By 1910, the town of Big Sandy, eighty miles northeast of Great Falls, had all the necessary amenities: a hotel, three saloons, a boxcar depot, blacksmith shop, livery, and ample stockyards. The first store in Big Sandy was purchased by McNamara and Marlow from its original owners. McNamara and Marlow was a local enterprise, and one of the oldest and largest cattle-raising firms in the northwest. This company built up a mercantile business selling “virtually everything from a needle to a haystack.”
The Worstell brothers shared temporary quarters in a restaurant building. Everett was unmarried, but with a dental practice in Chicago, to which he would return from time to time. Gaylord sent for his wife and children. Dias, recently married, sent for his wife. All were stepping out to accept the challenges put before them by the vagaries of weather and government forces.
Although Happiness Was Born A Twin will follow these men in their sojourn in Montana, it is primarily a biography of Gaylord Worstell. As might be expected, it also includes biographic material about his son, Richard, who made his home in Montana. The book will serve as an excuse to gather and bind all the “leaf drifts and petty facts” about Gaylord and the Worstell family that have been acquired by the writer in an effort to learn who Gaylord was. To learn from whence he came, the story will start with his ancestors, and include much genealogical material.