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Flathead Reservation marks century of white settlement

Flathead Reservation marks century of white settlement

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History is but a confused heap of facts.

- Lord Chesterfield

FLATHEAD INDIAN RESERVATION - David and Jim Steindorf live on the same land south of Charlo their grandfather homesteaded a century ago.

Not too far to the east of the Steindorfs, Joe McDonald still owns the allotment his father got before the Flathead Indian Reservation was opened to non-Indians in 1910.

Outside of the Hellgate Treaty of 1855 that established a reservation - solely and exclusively for themselves, Indians were led to believe - no other event has likely had so much impact on all who call the reservation home today.

It's not that the centennial has gone unnoticed. But big plans for a commemoration of the homesteading this year fell through last spring when the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes pulled out.

It remains, CSKT spokesman Rob McDonald explained at the time, "a very sensitive issue" for Indian people. Many of their ancestors had, after all, been removed from their original homelands in the Bitterroot Valley by the federal government and forced north onto the Flathead Reservation, in 1891.

Now, less than 20 years later, they were being forced to share their new home - given to them for ceding 20 million acres to the United States - with white settlers.

Many of the homesteaders, meantime, arrived with little or no knowledge of the history behind the land lottery, only with advertised assurances of "one of the most desirable sections of the whole United States in which to live" - something many residents here would agree with to this day - and soil that would "yield an income each year which will make the owner independent."

"A home for you and a fortune too" promised one ad from the "Flathead Reservation Information Agency" of Missoula.


Albert Otto Steindorf, a grocer in Minnesota, first saw the advertisement at a World's Fair in Chicago, according to his grandson David.

"This area was heavily advertised as another Yakima Valley," says David Steindorf, whose grandparents had relatives who had left Minnesota for Washington and found success starting and running orchards.

David Steindorf is fascinated by the events that brought his family to the Mission Valley, and to the property Steindorf has called home for most of his life.

His research has led him to believe that a couple of facts were misconstrued nearly half a century ago in a book called "The Fabulous Flathead," and have been repeated ad nauseum since, including in this newspaper.

It is largely from the Missoulian archives of a century ago that Steindorf reconstructed the homesteading era on the Flathead Reservation.

The biggest misconceptions, he says, are that there were two separate drawings of winners for the land lottery (there was one), and that a later "land-grab" event was held at midnight on an Oct. 31 (it was, Steindorf says, at 12:01 a.m., making it a Nov. 1).

The rest of the facts make for a most interesting tale.


The 1904 Flathead Allotment Act, long fought by Chief Charlo but pushed through Congress by U.S. Sen. Joseph Dixon of Montana, opened the reservation to homesteading.

After first reserving thousands of acres on the reservation for such things as town sites, schools and the National Bison Range, Indians were given first choice of tracts of land of either 80 or 160 acres.

The remainder was declared surplus and opened to non-Indian homesteaders.

"The amazing thing is they ended up with 81,363 applications" for approximately 1,600 available plots of land after Indians had selected theirs, Steindorf says.

"It boggled my mind that many showed up," he goes on. "But I learned that every train that passed through made a special stop and gave passengers time to go to the land office and sign up. Plus, government, the railroads and local businesses had had six years to promote this."

Lands in eastern Montana were being opened to homesteading at the same time, Steindorf says.

"What made this reservation desirable was the irrigation that was going to be here" on many of the parcels, he adds.


The 81,363 applications were placed in 81,363 plain brown envelopes and piled on a pallet in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, on Aug. 12, 1909.

The cost to apply: 25 cents for a notary, plus a stamp to mail in the application.

"There was such interest that they thought drawing 3,000 names would probably be enough" to fill the 1,600 available parcels, Steindorf says. "But just in case, they decided to draw 6,000."

Three girls, who appear from the old newspaper photograph to be about 10 or 12 years old, randomly pulled the winning 6,000 envelopes from the pile of 81,000-plus over the course of two days. Young Harriet Post, Christina Donian and Helen Hamilton decided who would get the chance to homestead on the reservation.

The first envelope yanked from the pile belonged to Joseph Furay of Warsaw, Ind.

No. 2 was Joseph Hodge of Deer Lodge.

Interestingly, neither man would ever claim land on the Flathead Reservation.

In fact, just over 600 of the 6,000 people whose names were drawn would. But the nearly 1,000 parcels of land that remained, ranging from 40 to 160 acres, weren't returned to the Confederated Salish, Kootenai and Pend d'Oreille Tribes.

They went in the later "land grab."


You need not have been present to win when names were drawn in Coeur d'Alene.

In fact, Steindorf says, it appears possible none of the 6,000 were. Steindorf says the Missoulian account of the 1909 drawing indicated there was only one shout of joy from the large audience during the event, from a Coeur d'Alene woman whose father's named was announced.

He was at work, and didn't hear it.

Albert Otto Steindorf was the 5,310th name called. His brother-in-law, August Wetzel, was No. 5,567 of the 6,000.

"The chance of those two being drawn that close together, out of more than 81,000, the odds must be phenomenal," David Steindorf says.

All the winners were notified, and had several months to visit the reservation and select the parcel they wanted to claim.

Their winning application was their pass onto the CSKT lands to inspect the sites. Many of them probably selected more than one piece of property, in case their first choices were claimed by people higher on the list.

They did have to be there, either in Kalispell or Missoula, the next year when the names were called again, 50 in one town, then 50 in the next, and gradually increasing.

Lake County did not exist at the time, and so land offices in Flathead and Missoula counties were the place to be if you were one of the 6,000, and wanted to claim land on the reservation. If your choices were on the northern half of the reservation you went to Kalispell; on the southern half, you went to Missoula.

It took about a month to get through the first 3,000 names in the spring of 1910.

Of those, only 403 people claimed land.


The land available to the homesteaders was divided into 40-, 80-, 120- and 160-acre tracts, and into three classifications, according to Steindorf.

The best were often the smallest 40-acre tracts, all or most of which could be irrigated. The 160-acre tracts were primarily dry pastureland; the 80- and 120-acre parcels, a mix.

The price, according to Steindorf: $7 an acre for Class I; $3 an acre for Class II; and $1.25 an acre for Class III.

It took one-third down to buy a piece of property. Albert Otto Steindorf, who took $7-an-acre land, made an initial payment of $99.85 for the property. It included $5 in fees and $1.50 for a commission.

He then had an annual payment of $37.33 for the next five years.

Patrick Quiqler of Rosemont, Minn., the third name drawn in Coeur d'Alene but the first to actually claim land, took 160 acres of dry land outside Big Arm.

To David and Jim Steindorf, that indicated one of the many homesteaders who had no experience in making a living farming, but came to Montana to try.

The next person, Edward Webber, all but admitted it.

A machinist from St. Paul, Minn., who took 80 acres west of Ronan, Webber told the Missoulian he "knows nothing of farming," but said he "ought to be able to more than make a living on such land."

"I have to get a woman now who can shoot ducks and milk cows," Webber told the Missoulian.

"Here's a fine chance," the Missoulian's reporter added, "for eligible young ladies, for Mr. Webber is of the right sort."


In 1921, a young man showed up on the 40 acres Albert Otto Steindorf's had claimed, looking for work.

He couldn't afford to hire help, Steindorf told the man.

The young man turned out

to be Eric Steindorf, a son Albert had not seen in six years and did not recognize on that day. Albert had left his family in St. Cloud to run the grocery store, and had ventured to Montana to claim the Steindorf land and improve it.

This Sunday, friends and neighbors of Eric's sons and Albert's grandsons, David and Jim, will gather on those same 40 acres to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the day Albert's name was called in the land lottery.

After the first 3,000 names were announced in the spring of 1910 and only 403 claimed land, the other 3,000 names were called toward the end of summer.

"It may have been a case where people thought the good pieces had already been taken," David Steindorf says. "The farther down your number was, the less interest there may have been."

The two callings of the names in the year after they were drawn, the first 3,000 in the spring and second 3,000 in the fall - and the interchange of the words "drawing" and "calling" in "The Fabulous Flathead" - led to the confusion over the number of drawings held, David Steindorf says.

Albert Otto Steindorf's name was called during the second wave, on Sept. 26, 1910. He picked these 40 acres south of Charlo, a beautiful piece of property with million-dollar views of the Mission Mountains, two ponds and irrigation.

He was one of 210 people out of the second 3,000 who claimed land on the reservation.

Over the years, Albert Steindorf added 40- and 80-acre tracts, and over the years he and his heirs sold some. The properties have been used to raise everything from cattle to squash.

Eighty acres remain in the family, including the original 40, where the original barn and the homestead house the Steindorf children grew up in still stand.

Not too many miles away is the land where the Indians named McDonald (see related story) were raised.

The decisions of white men a continent away in Washington, D.C., made them neighbors.

And neighbors are what they remain, on an Indian reservation called the Flathead.

Reach reporter Vince Devlin at 1-800-366-7186 or at


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