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Stahl’s Early Days

Edward Stahl shared a bit about his early days – the early days of Trego and Stryker – in his writings about his time at Ant Flat . . . a time when the Ranger was expected to build his own cabin, among other things.  The whole story is at npshistory.com and the following excerpts cover his time spent at Ant Flat.

I was among the group at Kalispell, Montana, that took the first Civil Service examination there for Forest Ranger, in 1905. My rating placed me at the top of the eligible list, and early the following spring I received appointment as Forest Ranger, assigned to work under the direction of Fred Harrig at Ant Flat. . .

With Byron Henning, we cut trail the spring of 1906 up the Stillwater Valley. It rained continuously. Fred told me that the year before, he sent in his monthly diary with a lot of daily records reading, “Rain, stayed in camp.” His next check was quite a bit short and it never rained so hard again!

We camped at Fish Lake. I packed my horse in and walked while Fred and Byron Henning rode. We planned to go to Ant Flat for the weekend, but I was handicapped with a mean horse and no riding saddle. I rigged up a bridle with small rope, but got bucked off at the first attempt. Fred said, “Eddie, you might as well stay in camp. You’re crazy as hell to try to ride that horse bareback.” A school ma’am boarded at Fred’s place and I had a date to take her to a dance at Gateway, so I felt honorbound to get to Ant Flat in time. I cinched a lash rope around the horse for a handhold and blindfolded him. When Fred pulled the blind, I whacked the horse over the ears with my hat and arrived at the station far ahead of the other two.

The old stage road led through a narrow pass at the summit near Stryker. The canyon was so narrow that at turnout places there were signs reading, “Stop and holler,” as warning for freighters to wait to pass. Fred used to go to sleep while riding his horse and would wake up saying, “Dot vas a great improvement.” One dark night he woke up sitting on the solid rock road in the canyon, which was not much of an improvement, and he had to walk home. He rode a big snorty black and the horse may have been spooked by a bear.

The big dance of the year was the Mulligan Ball held at Gateway by the Order of the Sons of Rest. Mulligan was made in a washboiler, and it was rumored that Old Crow whiskey was one of the ingredients. The ball was held in an abandoned honky-tonk building, a relic of the boom days of 1900 when, at the end of each dance, the call was “Promenade to the bar,” where the bartender served drinks and passed a 15-cent check to the lady to put in her stocking as commission. Today there is not enough left of Gateway to call it a ghost town. Although it is on the U.S.-Canadian boundary, there is no custom office there. The railroad that was built in 1900 is torn up and the line is blocked off with page-wire fence.”

Well, I’m not sure what a page-wire fence is, and Gateway is a pretty wet place anymore – but I’m glad to find Stahl’s notes on the net.  Taking a school marm from Trego to Gateway for a dance in 1906?  Maybe he rode down Friday for a Saturday night dance?  Edward Stahl was definitely a man of character.

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More Stories About Herrig

Edward Stahl joined Fred Herrig at Ant Flat in 1904.  He shared his stories with folks on the Kaniksu and Kootenai National Forests in the 1950’s.  They are available at npshistory.com

In the early days, until about 1904, before Ant Flat was designated as a Ranger Station it was a regular camping ground for freighters and cattle drivers. The owner of adjoining land fenced it, although it was still public domain. About 1901, I was helping an Irishman named Riley with his wife and grown daughters, drive his cattle north from the Flathead Valley to Rexford. We were caught in a late spring snowstorm and put the cattle in the pasture at Ant Flat, and got in an old cabin for shelter.

Louis Ladue, the neighbor, rode up and started to drive the cattle out. Riley tried to get his rifle, but it was under some household effects in the wagon. Considerable confusion followed as the girls and I tried to drive the cattle the opposite way, with one of the girls crying and Mrs. Riley calling, “Mr. Ladue, will you listen to me a moment?” He paused long enough for Riley to slip up and get the horse by the bridle and belabor Ladue and the horse with his cane. As Ladue galloped away, he shouted, “You no man, big man, use club, call man name like dat.”

Riley dug out his rifle, went down to the south gate and lay in wait behind a big, pine tree for Ladue’s return. Mrs. Riley asked me to go and coax him back. I was reluctant, but she said, “You can do more with him than anyone else.” I soon had him laughing and we returned to the cabin.

Ladue went home and had taken his rifle down off the rack when his wife and some freighters prevailed on him to listen to reason. The result might have been tragic if he and Riley had met while still under the urge of the heat of anger.

Ant Flat was withdrawn from entry about 1903, and Fred Herrig built a Ranger cabin there.

After returning to Fish Lake, an incident occurred of which Fred and I were not very proud. We considered ourselves woodsmen, but ate herbs that were poisonous. Byron Henning said it was wild rhubarb and good to eat. Fred and I ate some, and by the time we reached camp were pretty sick. I rode four miles to Stryker to get help for Fred. The woman railway agent thought I was drunk and directed me to the section house. A railway agent called “Doc” was there on his fishing vacation. I passed out, and he told me later that he gave me strychnine to keep up my heart action, and was mighty worried. Henning helped Fred down on a gentle horse, and the agent flagged the fast train that took us to Eureka. A pill peddler gave us some dope and we returned to work the next day. I threw my medicine away but Fred used his and for a week could not speak above a whisper. We had all the symptoms of poisoning, with spasms, constricted chest and throat. A sample of the plant was sent to the U.S. botanist, and he reported that it sometimes killed cattle and sheep, but we were the first men who were fools enough to eat it.”