Indigenous Place Names

by Skip Via

If an enterprise or place name here in the valley doesn’t begin with “Glacier,” there’s a good chance that it begins with “Flathead.” We live in Flathead County, in the Flathead Valley drained by the Flathead River. There’s Flathead Valley Community College, Flathead High School, Flathead National Forest, Flathead Lake, the Flathead Beacon…

But where exactly does that name come from, and what does it mean? There’s a clue in the Flathead County Seal, but there is much more to the story.

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Aurora Borealis in the Flathead

by Denise Silva (text and images)

The Aurora Borealis is often referred to as the Northern Lights because we see it to our north. But this is a bit of a misnomer, as the “lights” are also seen in the Southern Hemisphere, where they are referred to as the Aurora Australis. In fact, not only does Earth have auroral displays, but auroras can be seen on images of other celestial bodies, such as Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.

Aurora over Kalispell
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West Valley Geology Tour

by Skip Via

Welcome to a virtual tour of some of the Flathead Valley’s prominent (and some not so prominent) geological features, courtesy of Google Earth.

This tour is a companion piece to several articles that have appeared elsewhere on our website:

This inspiration for this project came largely from the work of Dr. Lex Blood, professor emeritus, Flathead Valley Community College, for his extensive (and clearly heartfelt) efforts to make the geological history of the valley accessible to everyone. Thank you, Lex.

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Water Water Everywhere?

by Skip Via

To take a virtual tour of the West Valley area, click here.

It’s easy to take water for granted here in the valley. We’re surrounded by water, with numerous streams and rivers, lakes and ponds of various sizes, and seasonal runoff from snow and rain that typically replenish the surface water that we see.

The water we drink and irrigate with here in the West Valley comes from underground aquifers–layers of permeable rocks or sediments that are saturated with water. Our shallower surface aquifers are fed by groundwater that enters the aquifers mostly through seasonal precipitation or snowmelt.

The Flathead Valley also sits directly atop a large, deep aquifer referred to in studies, appropriately enough, as The Deep Aquifer. It’s from this aquifer that our municipal water is drawn. Farms and homes also tap into the Deep Aquifer via wells for irrigation or daily use. (The city of Whitefish does not draw water from the Deep Aquifer. They draw their municipal water from Whitefish Lake and surrounding streams.)

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NMFA Firefighting Images

by Skip Via and Barbara Boorman

Editor’s note: Images provided by Barbara Boorman as an accompaniment to her article about fighting wildfires. Captions are transcribed from the reverse side of the photo. To read Barbara and Pat’s history of firefighting in the Flathead Valley, click here.

Lillian Neas Boorman and Bertha Boorman on tower of Blacktail Lookout, Sec. 18 T 26N. R 21 W. 7/30/1935
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Fighting Wildfires in Northern Montana 1911-1960s

by Pat Jaquith and Barbara Boorman

Editor’s note: Captions on these images are transcribed from the reverse side of the photo. For more images from Barbara’s collection, click here.

In 1910, there were disastrous fires in northern Idaho and northwestern Montana when
hundreds of thousands of acres of timberlands were destroyed; many lives were lost, and much
property outside of the forests was destroyed.

In May, 1911, many timberland owners and other owners of other property in northwestern
Montana met and organized the Northern Montana Fire Association (NMFA), a non-profit organization for protecting life and property in the region. A.E. (Albert) Boorman became the Chief Fire Warden and secretary/treasurer of the organization.

The boundaries of the area covered by the NMFA were from Whitefish south to Nirada (north of Hot Springs) and from Kalispell west to Lost Prairie, McGregor Lake, and Flathead Mine. In 1921, the NMFA charged $0.015 per acre to anyone – forest owner, rancher, homesteader – who appreciated the availability of a firefighting crew in the area should the need arise. As A.E. Boorman said in a Daily Interlake interview in 1921, the organization charged just enough to cover costs “and no more.”

A. E. Boorman, Blacktail Lookout. Probably July 10, 1934.
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Schools of West Valley

By Jeanine Buettner

West Valley School was opened in 1961. But what was schooling in the valley like before that?

Stillwater School

Stillwater School first opened on January 21, 1899. The first building was a small log cabin on the Henry Bird place on the corner of Clark Drive and Stillwater Road. All eight grades were taught here with just one teacher.

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One Summer in a Lady’s Slipper’s Life

by Pat Jaquith

Cypripedium montanum (Mountain Lady’s Slipper)

The Mountain Lady’s Slipper, aka White Lady’s Slipper, is a striking sight, whether as a single stalk like this one or a in big clump. Although their very existence requires an amazing amount of chance and even the support of a fungal partner, they find a niche that works for them in our area. I visited this solitary plant at least once every month from June to October, 2022. Read on to watch its progress.

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Yellow-Rumped Warblers

by Pat Jaquith

Members of the Wood-Warblers’ family, Yellow-rumped Warblers are one of the earliest Warbler species to arrive in the West Valley. There are two main populations: “Audubon’s” breeds mainly in the mountains of the western U.S. and into British Colombia; “Myrtle” breeds from the eastern U.S. across Canada to Alaska.

(Audubon’s) Yellow-rumped Warbler (male) preening
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Upland Game Birds in West Valley Part II

by Pat Jaquith

Ring-necked Pheasant 4.29.20

Ring-necked Pheasants (Phasianus colchicus), native to China, were introduced to Montana prior to 1895. The male pheasants, flamboyantly-feathered birds with crazy-quilt plumage, are easily recognized and quite commonly seen near water, around feed lots, in hedgerows, and even in our backyards. The ground-nesting females have mottled brown colors that camouflage them as they incubate a dozen eggs at a time and tend one or two clutches of chicks per summer. Read on for more pictures of Pheasant activity and other non-native game birds we may see.

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Upland Game Birds in West Valley, Part I

by Pat Jaquith

Merriam’s Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo merriami) 4/23/20

We have seven species of Upland Game Birds in our area: Wild turkeys; Ring-necked Pheasants; Hungarian (Gray) Partridge; Ruffed Grouse; Blue Grouse; and Chukar Partridge. As noted in, prior to the 1950’s, upland bird hunting was not well-managed in Montana. Popular game birds were heavily hunted to the point that populations began to suffer. Starting in the ’50’s, it was recognized that limiting hunting would allow these species and their habitats to be self-sustaining and healthy. Today, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks controls and monitors hunting and harvesting upland bird species.

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The Ashley Creek Ditch

by Jeanine and Kevin Buettner
and Skip Via

The Ashley Creek Ditch was an irrigation system developed in the early 1900s to supply water from Ashley Creek to farms in the west valley area of the Flathead. The Ditch was not a county or state project; rather, it was paid for and maintained by the families that used the water. It’s no longer there, having been dismantled in the late 1970s due to changing agricultural practices and the increasing availability of tapping directly into the aquifers for irrigation. But its story is a prime example of the ingenuity and work ethic that early settlers in the area shared.

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