Early Days in the Forest Service
Volume 2

October 1955

By Jack Clack
(Retired 1933)

When the Lewis & Clark Forest Reserve was created, the township south of Belton, or West Glacier, was unsurveyed; therefore, when it was later surveyed, sec. 36 which bordered Belton on the south did not become a school section. This, however, did not stop the State of Montana in the spring of 1909 from selling 40 acres of said sec. 36 to the Great Northern Railway Company for the purpose of building chalets thereon. When Supervisor (Page S.) Bunker of the Flathead National Forest, of which the area was a part, heard of the sale, he at once wrote the District Office in Missoula, told them of the deal and asked for an allotment to fence the area as evidence of the Government's claim to ownership. This was granted, and I took a crew to Belton and fenced the tract. About this time a suit was started in the Federal Court to determine the ownership. We stationed a fire guard at the spring on the tract during the summer of 1909. Everything ran smoothly until fall.

During August I was at Coram locating a trail which a crew was building from Coram to Hungry Horse. Bunker left Kalispell by train to go to Essex. During the wait between trains at Columbia Falls he bought a copy of The Spokesman Review, and in it saw an article which said that the Governor of Montana was sending a company of militia to Belton to take possession of sec. 36 and hold it in the name of the State of Montana. Jack Kruse, Ranger at Coram, happened to be in the depot at this time, so Bunker wrote a note to me and gave it to Kruse to deliver. The note read: "Col. Falls - 9/27/9. Clack: Take Kruse to Belton tonight and the trail crew on No. 4 tomorrow. Rustle all the pick handles, firearms and ammunition available and use every man to see that no unauthorized person enters the enclosure at Belton. Use force if necessary but do not shoot unless you have to. Move all night if necessary. Am going to Essex after Bradley and McNary. Make this stick.— Bunker."

I knew that the only train which would bring passengers from Helena would be the Burlington, which reached Belton about 11:00 p.m., so Kruse and I had supper before we left. When we reached the fire guard's tent at Belton we found him lying on the cot dead drunk, so far gone that we could not waken him. Kruse and I therefore had to meet the train alone. Shortly before train time we parked ourselves back of a pile of logs just inside the gate which gave entry to the tract and from which we had a good view of the depot and platform about 100 yards distant. When the train stopped the first two men who got off were in soldier uniforms. "Well," I thought, "here they come," but no more men in uniform followed. In fact, the only other passengers to get off were Bradley and McNary. When the train pulled out the two soldiers went across the track to the Dow Hotel. When Bradley came over I asked him if there were any more soldiers on the train and he said no. I then went over to the hotel to find out who the two were. I learned they were a Lieutenant of the regular Army and his dog robber, who were going through the newly created Glacier Park. As there would be no more trains until the next day, we went to the tent and turned in. We met the first train the next day, but the only passenger to get off was Bunker, and he told me that he had wired the Governor from Essex, asking if he intended to try and take possession of the tract by force or await action of the court. The Governor wired back that he would wait action by the court. The court decided in favor of the Government.

Thus ended the Battle of Belton.

Jack Clark, center, then deputy supervisor, on the trail up the South Fork on the Flathead River. Flathead National Forest, 1915.

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Last Updated: 15-Oct-2010