By Jill Evans, Administrator of the Stumptown Historical Society
Whitefish has entered its second century and it’s important to be study the history of its first century. Although Whitefish was incorporated in 1905, important events of the nineteenth century created the foundation on which our town grew.
“In the 1880’s the northwest end of the Flathead Valley was uninhabited, though bands of Indians roamed it frequently. They came to hunt and fish and some of then camped regularly at the outlet of Whitefish Lake into the Whitefish River.”
The water flow out of Whitefish Lake was a fast flowing creek that the Indians built brush weirs across to catch the native “whitefish” so named because of the color of its flesh. That is where the name of the lake and subsequently the town came from. Whitefish was never called “Stumptown”. It’s a nickname you’ll find out about in later columns.
In 1883 John Morton built a cabin at the rivers’ mouth where an ancient Indian campground had been.
1890 The Hutchinson brothers, loggers from Michigan arrive and build near the lake; they also start a saw mill located about ¼ miles east of our current train Depot.
1891 the Butte and Montana commercial Company built a Dam at the outlet of the whitefish river to create a boom for floating logs to the saw mills at the new town of Kalispell the south.
In 1892 C.E. Ramsey builds a hotel just west of the river outlet for sportsmen and women who came in by horseback or on foot over the Columbia Falls and Kalispell trails. He featured fishing, dancing, boating and croquet.
In 1887 a trapper named Rudolph Werner (Joe Bush) homesteads at the head of Whitefish Lake. There are many stories about him to come. Here’s a taste from a letter found after his death, written in 1923. “Came to the Flathead in 1887, and have lived here ever since at the head of Whitefish Lake for 36 years….I is getting $10.00 a month Old Age Pension…august 22, 1934, Joe committed suicide. Want to know how and why?
1889 The first of the five Baker brothers arrive. They are also loggers from Michigan and are an important part of the early days in Whitefish. Baker Street is named after them.
Both the Hutchinson and Baker brothers became permanent Whitefish citizens and started families. They not only cleared the virgin forest for the town site, they built much of the city with their hands and their hearts.
See more of their story in the Whitefish museum, located in the Train Depot.
Note: The quoted material is taken from Stump Town to Ski Town, by Betty Schafer and Mable Engelter, written in 1972 and reprinted by the Stumptown Historical Society in 2003. It is available for sale in the Whitefish Museum located in the Train Depot.