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Horse News | Early Town Site History, From Boom To Bust

Posted By: JR

Several dozen pages of documents found by Karla Herman in thesafe at Cal Crouch’s jewelry store on Nucleus Avenue shed somelight on the creation of Columbia Falls at the turn of the 19thcentury.

Crouch was also the source of about 100 pages of minutes andother documents from the Commercial Club of Columbia Falls and itssuccessor, the Columbia Falls Chamber of Commerce, from 1920through 1948, which the Hungry Horse News wrote about nearly adecade ago.

The popular local history is that a group of Butte businessmenpurchased the land for the Columbia Falls town site from an Indianwoman. That, apparently, is only part of the story.

According to a patent document found in the safe, Emma and DavidLaframboise received the 160 acres of land above a bend in theFlathead River from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. An act ofCongress, amended May 19, 1858, provided “certificates or scrip” tohalf-breed or mixed-blood members of the “Dacotah or Sioux Nationof Indians” as part of a land settlement in Minnesota.

Catherine Walsh, a resident of the Columbia Falls area since1887, stated in a June 9, 1928, affidavit that she met EmmaLaframboise and her son David in fall 1890. David was not married,and the two lived in a tepee in the area for a short time – “onlylong enough to make government proof under script issued andpossessed by them,” Walsh said.

Emma Laframboise and her son signed a quit claim deed on Feb. 7,1891, giving the 160 acres to George Bumbaugh and George Cooper for$4,800. Emma evidently couldn’t sign her name and used her markinstead.

Less than a month later, on March 5, 1891, Bumbaugh, his wifeEmma and Cooper, who was unmarried, sold the land to the NorthernInternational Implement (sic) Company for $6,000. The notary publicsaid he took Emma Bumbaugh aside and confirmed that she approved ofthe sale, which profited $1,200 in a month’s time.

Two decades later, on Feb. 2, 1911, James Talbott, the presidentof the Northern International Improvement Company, clarified in anaffidavit that the clerk and recorder’s office in Missoula hadmisspelled the company’s name – it’s “Improvement,” not”Implement.” Unfortunately for Talbott, the “father” of ColumbiaFalls, his name continues to be misspelled on a popular citystreet.

Northern International’s articles of incorporation were filed onNov. 6, 1890. The company’s objectives were to conduct a widevariety of commercial and industrial activities as well as”purchasing, holding, developing, leasing, selling, conveying orotherwise using or disposing of agricultural, mining and timberlands, and all other kinds of real property.”

The articles of incorporation called for $5 million of capitalstock divided into 50,000 shares at $100 per share. Headquarteredin Butte, the company was to exist for 20 years. The seven namedtrustees were Talbott, Jared Gaylord, Andred Davis, Charles Nuss,Frank Langford, Lamartine Trent and William Chalmers.

The Columbia Falls town site was first platted and filed onMarch 5, 1891, the same day the Bumbaughs and Cooper sold the landto Northern International, indicating the company had done someadvance work. The plat showed 64 blocks with seven avenues andeight streets. There were 10 lots per block on Nucleus and fivelots per block on other avenues.

About 20 years later, the plat was redone by Harry Waggoner, acivil engineer hired by the Columbia Falls City Council, and filedFeb. 1, 1913. Waggoner claimed to have corrected “many errors inmeasurements” from the earlier plat. But by that time, NorthernInternational was dealing with faulty ownership deeds.

On April 27, 1910, heirs to a man in South Dakota sued NorthernInternational in Montana Ninth District Court, in Helena, claimingthey owned the 160-acre town site. Frances Judge presented deedsfrom April 1 and June 8, 1893, indicating relations of Emma andDavid Laframboise had sold the same land to John Judge for$1,000.

The case was dismissed, but Northern International’s troubleswere not over. On Oct. 24, 1914, after recognizing theirindebtedness in a resolution, the company’s trustees agreed to sellwhatever they still owned in the Columbia Falls town site area toFirst International Bank of Butte.

The company owed the bank $135,000 from a note bearing 10percent annual interest signed Dec. 6, 1893. They also owed thebank $28,501 for an overdraft.

In the transaction, which was valued at $176,213, the bankpicked up 619 unsold lots, the Columbia Falls bridge and waterworks, the Hotel Gaylord and its furniture, the Columbia Fallsroller mills, elevator, mill site and improvements, NorthernInternational’s office building at Nucleus and Seventh St., aresidence at Third Ave. and Eighth St., and a stable at First Ave.and Seventh St., complete with wagons, tools, fixtures, furnitureand horses.

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