Local History contributed by Jack Demmons

Stories About The Tamaracks

of Seeley Lake - Part I


The Tamaracks Lodge in the 1930's.




Left to right: Frank Anderson, Frank Demmons, and Ken Demmons. The picture was taken at The Tamaracks after the end of World War II. (Frank Demmons, Ken's brother, was a locomotive engineer on the Milwaukee Railroad and based out of Deer Lodge.)


July 27, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana


From Out Of The Past

 

This article - with more to follow - was prepared by Tom Demmons of Missoula, son of Ken and Vallee Turner Demmons, who were long time residents of The Tamaracks and helped manage its operation. The story has been edited by Tom's cousin, Jack Demmons.

 

Introduction by Tom Demmons

 

I've always had a special feeling for just the sound of the words - The Tamaracks. Perhaps because they were an important part of my very early childhood. I can remember very little about the lodge, but the stories told to me about the place and the people who inhabited it have created something like a childhood fantasy which, when I look back upon it, seems real, and yet a misty dream at the same time.

I lived there from 1944-1948, so it is no wonder the memories are incomplete. Yet, the stories that come from The Tamaracks seem larger than life, and in some ways, even better.

The story of The Tamaracks begins in 1929 when Henry Turner, my grandfather, obtained a 99-year lease for approximately 17 acres of Forest Service land, which were tucked within and under virgin stands of huge tamarack trees on the northeastern edge of Seeley Lake. Prior to leasing the land, my grandfather spent time in St. Louis and Philadelphia. After living in Missoula for some time, he remembered that "Easterners" had both the inclination and the money to see what the west was really like. Out of that conviction, The Tamaracks was created, a dude ranch which offered all the sights and experiences the west could offer for $50.00 per week.

When I first began working with the idea of recording the history of this ranch for dudes, it was immediately clear that something was missing. I could record the facts (describe the 22 summer cabins, the hand-hewn wooden lodge and the dining room, and even explain something about the people who lived and worked there), but clearly that was not enough. It was a shell without any "guts." In addition to history, I was trying to tell a story I had not experienced. I decided that a story about The Tamaracks needed a storyteller, someone to fill the skeleton with grit and muscle, and provide color to the old photographs and memories that had lain hidden away, like black and white ghosts in the corners of dusty family closets.

My storyteller is Frank Anderson, who was age 79 at the time I began writing this story. Two other narrators have supported him - Pelham "Pel" Turner, son of Henry and Maud Turner, and my brother Sandy. Both add feeling and meaning to the color, but almost all of the words are Frank's.

Frank bounced around within the Demmons and Turner families forever it seems. He knew my parents, grandparents, and even my great-grandparents. He knew more about life within Seeley Lake and The Tamaracks than any historical body of facts could provide. Except for arranging a kind of chronology, and performing some "delicate editing," I have retold the stories given me by Frank, Pel and Sandy as accurately as I could in their words - the story of The Tamaracks. It begins in 1929 and ends in 1948.

A Storyteller's Own Introduction

by Frank Anderson

My father, Hugh Anderson, was a construction man - we'll put it that way - who helped build the Milwaukee Railroad from Miles City on through to the west coast. He was a bridge foreman, and of course the family followed him around from place to place. I landed in Missoula in 1913, went to Lowell School, and graduated from the eighth grade with honors.

That summer I went to work for my father, but he wanted me to have an education, which he didn't have. So in September I traveled from Superior to Missoula and my parents found a place for me to live and board. I went to Missoula County High School, later known as Hellgate High School. There were about 15 bikes parked at the school, but no automobiles at the time. I walked into the school and did not like what I saw. I was there only 20 minutes, went back to where I was staying, packed my suitcase and caught the Milwaukee train to Superior. My father was very perturbed. However, that was nothing in those days. At that time about one-quarter of a graduating grade school class went on to high school and the rest went to work - as I did. Of course, I was stupid and I admit it. In later years I always wanted an education, but didn't have one.

I went to work on the bridge crew out of Superior and was what they called "a carpenter's helper." I worked ten hours a day, six days a week, for 27 1/2 cents an hour.

While I was with this bridge crew, the Milwaukee used oil-burning engines to pull their trains, and every so many miles there would be an oil tank and a water tank along the railroad line. At Bonner they had an oil tank to supply their engines with fuel for the Blackfoot logging run. That tank sprung a leak, so my father sent myself and, as I remember, a fella by the name of George Ross, and a carpenter to Bonner to dig some ditches to keep the oil from running down the bank into the houses of people who lived just across the track.

So we were diggin' away and it was a filthy, nasty job - old black oil. Three little kids used to come out of a big red house and sit on the railroad track and watch us. One of them was about ten years old. The second was eight and the third age seven. The seven year old boy in later years turned out to be Tom Demmons' father - Ken "Bud" Demmons. When the ten year old girl became 17 I married her. Her name was Allie Demmons. So this brings me to the point where I became involved with the Demmons tribe. [Editor's Note: Ken and Allie were Thomas "Jeff" Demmons' children. At the time, Jeff, from New Brunswick, Canada, was the river boss for the Anaconda Copper Mining Company's sawmill at Bonner and a former logging camp foreman in the Greenough area during the late 1800s. He was the older brother of Jack Demmons' father Herb, who later took over as river boss after Jeff passed away.]

So after Allie and I were married we moved to Bonner and I went to work in the sawmill. Now let me see, that was in 1924. I scaled logs and worked around the mill for six or seven years. Then I went to work in the Anaconda Copper Mining Company's store (a company store in a company town) at Bonner for 16 years. I then had the chance to take over the store and post office at Seeley Lake during World War II. At the time Ken and Valle Demmons were living there and ran The Tamaracks which was still owned by Henry and Maud Turner. Valle was their daughter.

[Pictures are courtesy of Tom Demmons. His story will be continued in future editions of the Pathfinder.]

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