Saturday, June 22, 2024

Recalling Matt Brills

by Larry Wilson
| April 5, 2023 2:00 AM

I was fortunate to meet and know many of the North Fork Homesteaders. It all started when I was ten and my dad purchased a half interest in Matt Brills Kintla Guest Ranch. Of course, I was just a kid, but Matt and his wife Mata had spent their lives entertaining folks so they were always gracious to me. In fact, Matt was a well known storyteller and would take every opportunity to spin a tale. He would often sit at the fireplace and regale a room full of guests, but the ones I enjoyed most were around a campfire with a smaller audience.

The neat thing about Matt’s stories is that they were always interesting and often funny. Now in my 80s I wonder how he did that. Homesteaders had a really hard life. Their first homes were small, cold and by today’s standards very uncomfortable. Water was mostly carried from the creek. Ceilings had no insulation. Roads were never graded or plowed. Gardens were a battle and only wild meat and fish were plentiful and predators were always a concern.

There was no electricity and vehicles were primitive and unstable in the spring and winter. Social events involved long walks or horseback rides and if you had a milk cow or chickens you could only be away from home for a limited time. Since it might take two days to get to town – more in the winter – you always needed neighbors to take care of your animals when you went to town or if someone was sick.

Once when Matt was very ill it took three days to get him to town by dogsled. One day to Polebridge, one day to Lake McDonald and one day to Belton to catch the train to Kalispell.

Sounds like high drama but Matt’s story about the trip was hilarious. He did not talk about how uncomfortable the sled was or how sick he was. Instead he told about how funny his neighbors were that were getting him out.

Three men on snowshoes broke trail in the soft snow, swapping off the lead, each with ropes tied to their snowshoes to help pick them up. Matt told how funny they were as he lay, warm in a sled and the dogs barked to spur them on.

Tough folks in a tough time. They persevered and together built bigger, warmer homes, barns and made a living in the wilderness.

Today, the average landowner has closer to 20 acres instead of the 160 acres owned by homesteaders. We have electricity, indoor bathrooms and many of us go to town every week or, like me, move to town for the winter.

No wonder we want the road graded and plowed.

An orange was a special Christmas treat in 1930. We can have fresh fruit every day and mail twice a week.

Now we will pave the road.