Monday, June 13, 2011

Wise River: The Rest of the Story...

As the sign suggests first came the fur trappers, then the miners and early settlers. Pioneers such as George Pettengill, the infamous "Wild Man" of Wise River. Colorful and mysterious Pettengill roamed the area for about 40 years. Said to be harmless, a hermit who shunned civilization for apparent personal reasons still he struck fear in the relative few he allowed to get close enough to get a look. No doubt many of his habits are more fiction than fact he reputedly ate his meat raw, loved the fruits of the forest, lived in a brush wikieup in summer, denned in a cave over winter and alleged to have staked a mine over the mountains near Twin Bridges. Once promised "all the raw meat and fruits you can eat" he was put on display in the window of a Butte drug store. But too shy to face the throngs of gawkers he soon fled back home to Wise River. Later, so the story goes, an enterprising visitor tried to lure him to Chicago to be put on display in "a cage eating raw meat" but supposedly he declined the offer. Tall, lean, barefoot, dressed in rags, long red dreadlocks down to his ass one thing hard to argue ol' George left a lasting impression--a local legend for sure. (click photos to enlarge)
Just downstream from here, Joe Maurice, another early pioneer, left a considerable mark on the local history.  Maurice was a Belgian immigrant who moved his wife and two young sons into the valley at the confluence of Gold Creek, about the same time Pettengill arrived. From the get-go things did not go well. A horse kicked out one eye; then his wife grew gravely ill and Joe rode 60 miles to fetch a doctor; she was dead before they got there. Not long after the two boys died of diptheria. Undaunted Maurice persevered, kept the ranch going into the 1960s until friends moved him to a rest home where he died in 1963 at age 97.
At the headwaters beginning around 1919 Montana's largest and final silver mine began operation, and the town of Coolidge grew up around it. An ambitious and expensive narrow gauge railroad, the last such built in the U.S. carried the ore 40-miles to Divide. Barely up to speed the national economy took a downturn and silver prices plummeted. In 1923, the mine operation was in receivership. W.R. Allen lost his personal fortune and control of the property. In 1927 a Montana Power Company dam (Pettengill Dam) failed and water washed out twelve miles and several bridges of the mine's railroad. Five years later the mine and the town were essentially history.

Obviously, there is much more to Wise River than its fly fishing. Best thing is should you find the fish in an uncooperative mood well hell, poke around a little, as I say, there really is no end of things to discover...

...such as this...common ol' dandelion...right? No not quite, for this I discovered just yesterday is none other than a "false dandelion." Imagine!
And...and if you are real lucky and observant as hell, you might even get to gaze on this beauty...the western tanager. Whose arrival in June all true blue fly chuckers know is the harbinger of the long awaited, much bally-hooed hatch of all hatches...the SALMON FLY...Hooray. Sorry, I sometimes just can't help it...

No comments:

Post a Comment