This is the second of a four-part series of Sunday stories on place names of western Montana from a similar series written by longtime Missoula resident Will Cave for the Missoulian in 1922. An extracted version appears in the Aug. 2 Sunday Missoulian.

Cave’s first story dealt with his sources for Missoula history and Salish Indian names, as well as the namings of Missoula, Grass Valley and Council Grove, and the Frenchtown Valley.

This one focuses on O’Keefe and Finley creeks and Little Camas Prairie (Evaro), as well as Rattlesnake Creek, Hell Gate Canyon, the Big Blackfoot and Bitter Root rivers.

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Part Two: May 21, 1922

Will Cave Gives More Facts About Western Montana Names: Interesting Article Deals With Localities in Vicinity of Missoula.

By WILL CAVE

From Missoula to Arlee the county road winds its way throughout a course along which might be found theme for more than one story of historical interest concerning events which have happened even since the advent of the white man into the land. Handed down to us through the medium of Indian history or tradition, we find that in our country around about there once ranged a powerful tribe called “Toon-ach-ghaes,” monarchs of the wondrous realm before the Salish came into existence.

At one time a great epidemic swept the land, disastrous in the extreme to the Toonachghaes especially, the tribe being practically annihilated, the survivors merging with the Blackfeet, Crows, Kootenais, Nez Perces and Salish, the greater number with the last-named tribe. As a nation the Toonachghaes became extinct, and their language is forgotten entirely by most Indians of today. Duncan McDonald’s lexicon contains just a few of the words among which is “Sin-tli-ole,” the name applied to “Little Camas Prairie,” in designation of the present field and meadow alongside the Northern Pacific railway at and near Evaro station.

The traveler over the Evaro hill today may gain but scant conception of the delightful scenic beauties presented to the fortunate eye by that little park and its superb setting ere the destructive hand of civilization robbed it forever of its primitive attractiveness. Surely the greed of the axe and the hoe build but inversely upon the architecture of Mother Nature. To the southern approach to the park which we call O’Keeffe canyon, the Indians gave no name, but the creek flowing down it was called “Sin-ileth-poop-tlem,” signifying “Creek coming out of a mountain.” Some time in the 40’s three Kanakas (Hawaiian Islanders) who had been employed by Francois Ermantinger at Fort Hall, journeyed toward the Flathead Lake country. They came via the Big Hole basin across the divide and down the Bitter Root valley. At the “Sooughttipkine” crossing of the Hell Gate river, a little west of our present city, on the main trail north to the Flathead country, the Kanakas found camped a considerable number of Salish, who warned them that the Blackfeet might be lurking in the vicinity of the pass, advising the Kanakas to wait for the Salish, who were going that way soon in considerable force. The advice was not heeded. The Kanakas were ambushed just at the entrance of the canyon and murdered. When the Salish came up and found the bodies, the Blackfeet had disappeared. The bodies were buried where found, under the county road as it now runs. One of the Kanakas was named Koriacka and from that time the canyon was for many years known as the Koriackan (or Coriackan) Defile, after the leader of the victims. When Cornelius O’Keeffe, familiarly known as “The Baron” and his brother David (the latter still is living in Missoula) located in the valley a little down from the canyon proper. Cornelius, who by the way was possessed of a very considerable fund of Gaelic humor, was sent to represent Missoula county at a session of the Territorial legislature. It is said that his signature of the register of a Capital city hotel appeared as follows: “Baron O’Keeffe of Castle O’Keeffe, Koriackan Defile, Missoula County, Montana,” this story riveting him imperishably his title, “The Baron.” Eventually the defile has gradually assumed the name of “O’Keeffe canyon” and the creek that of “O’Keeffe creek.”

Judge Woody was responsible for a somewhat different version of the killing of Koriacka, his being a less sanguinary version. He had a Koriacka killed alone, while at the head of Neil McArthur’s pack train. However, Duncan McDonald knew of the three graves, which substantiates his story.

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Finley Creek

The creek, one branch of which drains the Evaro meadow to the north, flowing into the Jocko at the bridge west of Arlee, bears the Salish name of ‘Sin-tta-atzenah,” which describes a creek as “reaching up a valley to a timbered country with hills.” An early trapper was Patrick Finley, who married into the Salish tribe and located near the creek. It therefore bears his name. The eastern branch drains a canyon rough and rugged. And yet it shields along its bed two lovely lakes, the upper especially worth a one-day visit. That is, if you may be the stuff of which mountain climbers are made. If not, keep to your motor car. Time was when to take a hundred trout in an hour from the lower lake was a piscatorial feat not in the least exceptional. But not today.

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Rattlesnake Creek

Before the waters of the Rattlesnake were diverted for city use, irrigation and other purposes; while yet the hand of man had not encroached otherwise perceptibly upon its domain, it was a most typical of mountain streams, gleeful, rollicking and beautiful. The colloquialisms “clear as crystal” and “cold as ice” apply as profoundly to its waters as to any which flow anywhere on the “Footstool.” Did I hear someone ask if ever there were trout in this stream? Well, now say! Mister! I cannot stop to tell you fishing stories of the Rattlesnake as it used to be. But: Well, yes! I may surely testify that it did contain trout, mountain trout, speckled trout, bull trout and more trout, sufficient even to make Chick White envious of his piscatorial record. Why even the Indians recognized this naturally happy habitat for the extent that they called the creek: “In-tlah-e-eitz-chis-tum” (“Little Bull Trout”).

There appears no record of who named the creek the “Rattlesnake” or why. The older Flatheads of today when speaking of Missoula hark back to when the chief point of designation of this vicinity was the Rattlesnake creek and they refer in abbreviated language to “In-tlah-e-e.”

The Divine Architect, purposing that mankind in this little niche should not undo in the entirety his handiwork, consecrated then a woman’s sentiment to the preservation of at least a measure of his bounty, providing her with means with which to carry out much purpose. That we now and posterity shall continue to enjoy a modicum of the pristine charms of the stream and its environment, a debt of gratitude may endure to Mrs. T.L. Greenough in whose mind was conceived and by whose hand was executed the plan of “Greenough park.” A stranger, after a parachute drop from an aeroplane landing about the bridge on the middle road through the “park” must needs do some peculiar twists to his imagination in order that he might admit to being within the corporate limits of a modern city.

Though the road for a motor car may not be all that might be desired yet a summer day’s trip to the falls or chutes of the Rattlesnake is one in which the beauty of the drive as well as the goal itself will be one worth while and not soon forgotten.

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Hell Gate Canyon

To the Indians the Hell Gate canyon was known simply as “Sin-poop-thlem,” a term conveying reference to “A trail or stream coming out of a canyon.” During the days when first the fur trappers and traders were sifting into the country, the Blackfeet Indians were particularly active in their depredations on the west side of the divide and one of the points peculiarly adapted to their mode of warfare is that just at the mouth of the canyon, between the present city limits and the Marshall grade. Some Canadian whose love for adventure led him early to the land, noted the frequent and fierce attacks by the Blackfeet upon the local Indians, consequently applying to the place the designation: “Porte de l’Enfer” (“Door of Hell”), later translated into the English “Hell’s Gate.”

Originally this name pertained to the mouth of the canyon only, but eventually the entire canyon and valley east to the Little Blackfoot (Garrison) has come under the designation. From a viewpoint of today the appellation may be considered only as singularly inappropriate. Follow its windings as you may, little will you discern which in any manner may be suggestive of its title. With living green predominating in the color scheme of the mountain sides and points, while ever and anon appears the glint of waters, clear and cold, fresh from perpetually flowing springs; surely these may scarce co-ordinate with the Dante conception of the Lower Regions. Only when “Old Boreas” in violent assertion of sovereignty over his dominions, in winter now and then issuing forth from his ice-bound lair, howls in glee along the summits of the main range of the “Shining Mountains” against the everlasting peaks splitting in twain his forces, driving them east and west, a part achieving a line of least resistance down the Blackfoot pass, concentrating at the Hell Gate as in a funnel’s mouth, does this mighty energy then produce somewhat akin to a realistic Inferno; even then but as an icy contrast thereto.

One might wander the world around and enjoy no more pleasing summer’s day travel than he might have experienced between Bearmouth and Missoula in the old days ere axe and pick did ghastly work amid the charms with which dame Nature had adorned the Hell Gate canyon. Come with me not too swiftly the way throughout, your eye attuned to catch its varied moods and may I point you much withal worthy of admiration; lingering still, attestative of primordial charm.

Above its confluence with the Big Blackfoot, Indians knew the Hell Gate river as “In-itz-quil-statkhu” (Flint river).

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Big Blackfoot River

The journals of Lewis and Clark recite that Captain Lewis mentions the river which we know as the Big Blackfoot, under the Indian appellation “Cokalarishkit,” interpreting it as “River on the road to buffalo.” In this there is an extremely near approach to and was probably his understanding and interpretation of the Nez Perces designation: “Co-kalch Ish-kit,” (Buffalo road). The Salish, however, called it “In-ah-e-itz-chistum,” (Bull Trout river), which designation was by that tribe applied to the stream down to its confluence with the Bitter Root. I have no information concerning when or by whom it was given the name it now bears. The Blackfeet (Piegan) Indians inhabiting the eastern slope of the Rockies were the hereditary enemies of the Indians who occupied the country now designated generally as western Montana.

The latter mentioned natives were rather peace loving in disposition. There is nothing to indicate their having been at all timid when it came to a question of defending their own, but as a rule they were not dominated by a consuming desire eternally to carry war into some other tribe’s country. On the other hand, it seems to have been a disposition developed into habitual performance of the Blackfeet to send parties across the range waging war of tribute against their less-aggressive neighbors. The latter unquestionably retaliated in kind upon convenient occasion, but less persistently.

The routes of most ready travel across the divide were through passes at the headwaters of the river. It is presumable then that early white explorers, recognizing it as flowing adjacent to the route almost invariably chosen by that nation, named the stream for the Blackfeet.

While axe and plow have made some inroads upon the original order of things along the Blackfoot, yet a person would need not wander from an automobile road leading to the top of the main range to gain a pretty nearly correct conception of the entire country as it was when first viewed through the eyes of Captain Meriwether Lewis. Exacting indeed must be the admirer of Nature and her ways, who demands a more lovely exponent thereof than may be encountered in a journey anywhere within the domain of the Big Blackfoot.

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Bitter Root

The Indian name for the Bitter Root river was “In-chi-toogh-tae-tkhu,” signifying “Willow river,” because of there growing many red willows proximate to the stream. Lewis and Clark called it Clark’s river, which name they applied to the stream to where, in confluence with the Kootenai it forms the Columbia. In 1841, when the Jesuit Fathers came to the valley, establishing a mission, they gave to river, valley, mountain peak and mission the name St. Mary’s. In reference to his trip through the valley in 1842, Alexander Ross mentions the river under the name “Spet-lum,” which is the Salish name for the bitter root plant. Evidently some adventurer, viewing the valley between 1806 and the Ross visit, had noted the vast abundance of the plants which in June of each year rich carpeted the prairie lands with their rose pink blossoms, aptly applied the name to the valley and river. This signification was so manifest that in its interpretation has survived all other appellations.

Peculiarly, this which is recognized today as being one of the most beautiful and productive valleys of the earth appealed to Lewis and Clark as but “rock and unproductive.” This is one portion of our mountain realm where the tireless energy of a far-sighted citizenry, co-jointly adapting that which it had stored here for use and enjoyment, has builded well, as contemplated in the eternal scheme of an All-wise Providence. Having known the valley before it was changed materially from its original appearance, I can personally appreciate the first explorer’s viewpoint. The brown of October days ere the waters of river and creek were diverted to enliven the vista to a greener tinge; the granite boulders, glacier ground and water washed, of which acres and acres of the soil were thickly strewn, since converted to service in the construction of buildings and fences; the unattractive sagebrush disguising land of most productive quality, tended greatly to mask the possibilities which long have been uncovered now. Renowned as it is today; what need that I should dwell upon the exceptional characteristics of this celebrated vale? No, I will tell you no fish stories about the Bitter Root river. If you desire such, go up there and build some of your own. Should you prefer stories to the sport itself, you might interview Jack Boehme or Harry Vanwart.

Perhaps the event most intensely dramatic, certainly the most pathetic which ever transpired in the valley of the Bitter Root, was enacted on the 16th day of October, 1891, when the Salish Chief Charlot, after thirty-six years of ineffectual peaceable contention, was forced to lead his followers away forever from the valley which for untold ages had been the abiding place of his people and their forebears.

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Mineral County, Veterans Issues Reporter

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian