The Little Red Dress – The Duffy Family’s 1891 Christmas Journey to Kalispell

“Twas the night before Christmas,
when all through the house,
not a creature was stirring,
not even a mouse.

Except for the Duffys
Mother, Father, and five,
So harsh was their journey
Nearly frozen they’d arrive.”


Christmas Eve 1891 – The Duffy’s Journey


It was Christmas Eve of 1891 when the Duffy family of Missoula moved north to Kalispell, Montana.  Their extraordinary journey was fraught with motion sickness, freezing waters, and a raging blizzard.  I’ve heard it said that it takes a certain breed to withstand a harsh Montana winter and the Duffy family certainly exemplify that. History speaks for itself as we learn of the Duffy’s arduous trip as they traveled by train, stagecoach, and steamboat one cold winter’s night over 100 years ago.


A letter by Gregory Duffy

“On December 24th, 1891, my father, mother, and five children came by the Northern Pacific train from Missoula, Montana to Ravalli.  From Ravalli we took the stage to Polson. The stagecoach was lined with red damask, and the color of the lining and jolting of the stagecoach made the whole family sick.

From Polson we took the steamboat Montana across Flathead lake and up the river to Demersville. The weather was very cold and the lake was freezing over, so it was necessary for the men to break the ice so the boat could get through.

We were very late getting to Demersville, where a blizzard was raging, and from there, we took another stage to Kalispell. One of the horses drawing the stagecoach balked, which delayed us even more. We arrived at the Hillside House (an early day Kalispell hotel run by Mrs. Parsons), at nearly midnight where a Christmas Eve party was in progress.

Our hands and feet were nearly frozen, so Mrs. Parsons and some of her party guests helped thaw us out with the aid of a tub of water. We stayed at the Hillside House for about a week until our household goods arrived from Missoula”. ~Gregory Duffy

(information from Central School Museum)

The Little Red Dress

It was a frigid Christmas Eve when Margaret Duffy traveled with her family 120 miles from Missoula, Montana north to Kalispell, and upon reaching their destination, the family discovered that a party was in progress in the hotel where they would be staying. You might think that after such a long and difficult journey, the family would retire to their rooms, but no! In the true spirit of the holiday, Mrs. Duffy took out the “Little Red Dress” and graciously let three-year-old Margaret don it for the party. Now on display in the Central School Museum, it remains a delight to behold for museum patrons and also serves to demonstrate that adversity can be overcome with the right attitude and a willingness to live in the present.


Margaret Duffy's Little Red Dress on display at Central School Museum

The Little Red Dress on display at Central School Museum


In Closing

The story of The Little Red Dress and the Duffy family’s incredible Christmas journey has enchanted me ever since I read about it 3 years ago. To fully appreciate it, you must imagine what traveling conditions were like in 1891. There was nothing convenient or comfortable about their trip. An inspirational holiday story, The Little Red Dress serves as a reminder of the strength and endurance of the human spirit.

Season’s Greetings!

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