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Local History From the Pages of

A Collection of Stories about the Seeley Lake Area

Dedicated to the people of the Blackfoot, Clearwater and Swan Valleys:
Past and Present

Written by the Seeley Lake Writers Club and published by
Vernon Printing and Publishing (Sheldon & Suzanne) for Montana's Centennial.
Copyright 1989. Excerpts used with permission.

Seeley Lake | Swan Valley | Ovando

Settlement in the Lake Country

copyright 1989 Suzanne Vernon. Used here with permission.

THE SEELY FAMILY. Pictured above are Jasper B. (Jesse) Seely and Mrs. Leonora Turrell Seely. Jasper B. Seely first came to the Clearwater Valley in 1881 and, with his brother, built a cabin on the shores of what was then known as Clearwater Lake. He and his family lived here for many years. The lake and the town were named in their honor. Jasper Seeley became the first Forest Service ranger at Seeley Lake and went on to become a Forest Supervisor with the agency. Members of his family still vacation in the area each summer. Jasper B. Seely died in Helena in 1931. Mrs. Seely and daughter Doris died in an automobile accident near Somers in 1953. At this writing a daughter, Ruth Seely Odom, lives in California. Another daughter, Frances Seeley Johnson, resides in Helena. Photos and stories about the Seeley family were contributed by Mrs. Frances Seely Johnson, Mrs. Ruth Seely Odom, two grandsons, Dick and Bill Samson, granddaughter Jane Seeley Solberg, and others of the family. Circa 1910 photo above of the Seely house courtesy of the Mansfield Library, University of Montana.

In the upper Blackfoot Valley, people began settling near Ovando in the late 1870s. Those who later settled around Seeley Lake came by way of a trail that led from Ovando to Woodworth then west and north above Salmon Lake to Morrell Flats. The Swan Valley was settled by people who came from the north across Swan Lake to Salmon Prairie, and also by those who traveled from the south, via Seeley Lake.

The first people who are known to have ranched along the Clearwater River and also near Placid Lake were Hiram and Libbie Blanchard. They took out water rights on the Big Blackfoot, Blanchard Creek, the Clearwater River and various springs in the late summer of 1884. Hiram was from New York, the story goes, and he named Placid Lake after "Lake Placid" in the East. The family, along with Acors Rathbun of Albany, New York, incorporated the Clearwater Land and Livestock Company in 1892. Courthouse records show that in 1896 a Mr. James B. Bryan of Clearwater sold to the Clearwater Land and Livestock Company for $508 a dozen horses, wagon, cow, calf, farm tools, plus half interest in water rights in the names of Bryan and Blanchard for property in no less than five sections of land near Clearwater. Land in the vicinity was later acquired by the Harper family: hence the name for "Harper Lake" just north of Clearwater Junction.

In the mid-1880s Jasper B. and Elmer Seely lived in a cabin on the western shore of the lake then known as Clearwater Lake (earlier it had been dubbed "Moose Lake"). Not long after that first cabin was built near what is now known as Camp Paxson, Jasper B. Seely married Leonora "Nora" Turrel of Ovando and settled at Seeley Lake. (See story about the Seeley family, this section.) An 1890 survey also mentions Culbertson and Tupper as living between Placid Lake and Seeley Lake. In 1893 Charles T. Morrell filed claim to land adjacent to Morrell Creek. At about the same time, in the upper Swan River country, Ben Holland settled near what is now known as Holland Lake and the Gordon Ranch.

Also during those years, Bill Boyd started ranching northwest of Ovando. The Boyd Ranch later became one of the largest ranches in the area. It is now known as the Blackfoot Clearwater Game Range.

These people lived in relative isolation for a few years. However, by the turn of the century, the homestead movement up the Clearwater River increased dramatically.

A 1901 survey includes names of five settlers west of Placid Lake: Hugh Archibald, James Welsh, Blanchards, Charles Curry and James A. Compo. By 1904, George Vaughn went to work for "logger" Bill Boyd, whose ranch had become well-known by then for supplying the Blackfoot Valley lumber camps with food. That same year homesteaders built a school at Placid Lake--reportedly the first one in the immediate area. By 1905 the Corlett family had settled on the Morrell Ranch. They traveled to Seeley Lake by open sled from Drummond during the winter. Their children were later moved out-of-state to attend school In 1906 and 1907, Frank Potter of Clearwater served as a school trustee for District 33.

The first official Forest Service timber sale at Seeley Lake brought lumberjacks and camps to the area from 1905 through 1911. From 1912 to 1917 the following names began to appear in courthouse records, election rolls, the military registration records of 1917, in school census records and in the Polk Gazette (a regional magazine and guide for businesses): Alfred D. Vessey, Jay Perro, Ernest Perro, W. E. Thieme, Art Henry, Oscar "Pop" Miller, Leo Ernst, Red and Blackie Davis, Hugh Archibald, Thomas Kinney, G. L. Miller, Bert Adams, Andrew Connelly, Minnie Coyne, James W. and Bertha Divers, E. C. Potter, Alvin F. and Dani Rovero, Hilda Rovero, John F. Johnson, William P. and Alvina Faire, Elmer Findell. Henry Haight, Chauncy and Mary Wllen Kibler, H. L. Kibler, Ernest and Effie Koch, Frank McCarthy, Williams Peters, Pearl and J. H. Saunders, A. and Jennie G. Shadbolt, Ezra Shaw, C. E. Smith, George and Jessie Smith, F. C. Thomas, T. C. and Maud E. Thomas, George B. and Margaret Townsend, George H. and Myrtle B. Waldbillig, Joseph J. and Ethel Waldbillig, Elmer Westling, Jacob B. and Amy Wood, D. E. Brown, Joseph L. Jamison and the Ostermeyers, who later lived at Placid Lake. A few other area settlers who apprently received mail at Corlett from 1915 to 1917 were Charles Anderson, Francis and Helen Anderson, George R. Diem, William Frye, James Frye, Harry S. Beck, Tom Hagery, Lydia Haight, Frank S. Hollopeter, Hans Monrad, Isaac Oja, C. Preston, Ole Semling and Henry M. Thomason. Most of these people lived in the Upper Swan Valley. By 1918, the Swan Valley was becoming settled much more rapidly than the Seeley Lake area. The school census for that year showed 48 children between the ages of 6 and 21 in the Swan and only 12 in the Placid and Seeley schools.

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