Friday, June 25, 2021

Uncle Jeff

| May 26, 2021 8:05 AM

I hope North Forkers enjoyed the NFLA spring newsletter as much as I did. My favorite article was Arne Boveng’s piece about the legendary Thomas Jefferson. Arne is much more of an historian than I am. I merely retell stories while Arne checks facts and ties them together. He makes a good case for Thomas Jefferson being the first non-Indian settler in the North Fork.

Of course, over the years I have heard stories about Uncle Jeff and I can’t think of any other contenders for “first non-Indian settler,” although there were plenty of other non-Indian visitors before 1883, possibly even including Hudson Bay Company trappers.

Because so little is known of his early life it is certainly possible he was a Pony Express rider. He certainly was an accomplished horseman even in 1900 when there were many good horsemen. Probably less certain, but at least as interesting was Matt Brill’s story. (Brill was a homesteader in 1910, a couple of decades after Jefferson arrived on the North Fork.)

Matt Brill claimed that Uncle Jeff’s real name was not Thomas Jefferson. He believed it was a made up name which he assumed after fleeing the Virginia City, Montana vigilantes who thought “Jeff” was a member of the Plummer Gang.

It could be true I guess, but maybe not. It does make a great story. Matt Brill was known as a great storyteller and equally known for mixing facts and fiction to make a better story.

Maybe a real historian like Arne Boveng or Lois Walker could do more research and find out who, if anyone, escaped the clutches of the vigilantes.

I also enjoyed the article “Bullets We Have Dodged” by Jim Rittenburg and Lois Walker. They told five stories about the past which could have really altered the North Fork.

Although coal and oil exploration were big news in the past, we dodged that bullet when the coal turned out to be of very low quality and the oil, despite small seeps, just wasn’t here.

The threat of Glacier View Dam was much more real. It was supported by Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D. Mont) and many other political figures. The threat continued into the late 1980s and twin brothers John and Frank Craighead and Glacier Park Superintendent Jack Emmert were key voices in protecting wild and scenic rivers. Their views and words were finally enacted into the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.

The other three “bullets” we dodged involve people and tourism and I fear that the gun that fired them is a repeater, not a single shot.

We have more and more expensive summer and year round homes, a better and better road, and more and more recreationists. We could still get hit by more than one bullet.

What do you think?

Larry Wilson's North Fork Views appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.