The Spirit of the West: Unchanged

It was once mused that the character of a city is formed by the character of its founders; this rings true especially when we discuss the towns of the Flathead Valley.

Late in the 19th century, the city of Kalispell was brought to life by settlers hailing from all across the country. They all shared one thing in common: an audaciously pioneering spirit. These were people who were not afraid of inclement weather or vicious human foes. They were not daunted by travel over hundreds of miles by stagecoach or mud wagon; nor was their spirit crushed by the prospect of never going “home” again.

Thanks to these apparent lunatics, the Flathead Valley is tamed just enough so that thousands more people can visit and settle here today. The faint of heart remain for the summer or maybe just visit for a weekend. Only those of us who share our founding fathers’ vitality come here to stay; and in this fashion, the spirit of the West remains unchanged.

An interesting example of this are the similar stories of the Duffy and Crusta family. Their tales are separated by 121 years in time yet intertwined by location and spirit.

It is Christmas Eve of 1891 and the seven Duffies are moving to Kalispell.

Their trip wasn’t too bad at first. They took the train from Missoula up to Ravalli. At that point the Duffies boarded a stagecoach. To their dismay, the coach’s interior was lined with an obnoxiously bright blood red fabric. The color paired with the jouncing of the coach on the imperfect road made for a rather nauseating trip up to Polson.

By this point feeling ill and exhausted, the family boarded a steamboat to cross Flathead Lake. The winter of 1891 was a frigid one. In fact, the massive Flathead Lake was iced over in some places. The steamboat actually had to break up ice throughout its journey across all 28 miles of the lake.

Upon arrival at the other side of the lake, the family boarded another stagecoach.

The snowfall had turned into a raging blizzard. The horse balked at the sight of such heinous weather, delaying the trip even further. At last, the horse began to trudge through the blowing snow. The coach slowly made its way through the darkness for the final part of the trip up to Kalispell.

By the time that the family reached a hotel in Kalispell, it was midnight. The Duffies were not only exhausted but very cold as well. The kind staff of the hotel offered them warm baths to help them thaw out and cordially invited the family to the late-night Christmas Eve party. Even after their arduous trek, the hardy Duffies did not hesitate to accept this offer. They changed into their formal wear and joined the other guests for a joyous Christmas party.

Fast forward over one hundred and twenty years.

October 5th of 2012 was moving day. We awakened at 5:30 in the morning, picked up the UHaul at 8 AM, and began placing all of our boxes in the van. It was not long before all of the boxes had been loaded and it was time to haul up the heavy stuff. For almost ten hours, we lugged desks, bookcases, chairs, and tables up the steep Victorian era-stairs and into the truck.

Just the tip of the “heavy stuff” iceberg


Having barely a bite to eat all day, after pulling each item up the stairs, I was greeted by a surge of intense dizziness and a wave of nausea. There was nothing to be done about this, however, because we were short on time. At 6:00, the entire family was expected at the Conrad Mansion’s annual Halloween ghost tour event.

It was not until around 5 PM that we, at last, shoved the final item (the Presto forklift with wheels that no longer turn) into the back of the truck.

Awaiting our mayonnaisey sandwiches


Dinner consisted of not-fast-enough fast food chicken sandwiches before we changed into our period-style gowns and formal attire. Despite utter exhaustion, we cheerfully guided the tour groups for over four hours.

Ready to tell some ghost stories


By the time that we’d all completed our duties at the museum, it was nearly 11 at night. There was still some work to be done: the new challenge was to keep the drivers awake during their trip across the countryside to our new home.

It was a bit before midnight when we arrived at our new home. I was far too tired to walk any longer and instead crawled up the stairs to lie on the floor. The work of the day quelled the excitement of being in a new place to such an extent that I nearly fell asleep before remembering that there was a sofa bed in which I could rest more comfortably. At 12:15, the day’s work was truly done. The entire family fell into a less-than-deep slumber before awakening the next morning for unloading day.

Moral of the story: No matter if the year is 1891 or 2012, moving is always a tough experience.

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