The "Sleeping Giant" of the Big Belt Range, north of Helena.



Prickly Pear or Wolf Creek Canyon


Prickly Pear Canyon View by S. J. Morrow, 1870



Through beautiful Prickly Pear Canyon passed the toll road from Fort Benton to Helena. Built on the route of an ancient Indian trail, the road was constructed in 1865 by the Little Prickly Pear Wagon Road Company. In 1866, the road was purchased and improved by James C. King and Warren C. Gillete. The road remained the primary northern freight route into Helena until the coming of the railroads in the 1880s. In 1887, the Montana Central Railway laid tracks through the canyon.

The canyon itself is comprised of ancient seabed shale, in pale hues of rose and green, laid down more than one billion years ago during the Precambrian Era.



Circa 1915 View



COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD • CLICK ON IMAGE FOR A BIG VERSION IN A NEW WINDOW

 

Circa 1930 View


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Hand-Laid 1887 Montana Central Railway Stonework Still in Place


COURTESY OF JON AXLINE



Various Postcard Views
of the Canyon



 


The Synness Homestead

ALL PHOTOS FROM THE WES AND CAROL SYNNESS COLLECTION

The oldest child of Andreas and Gurina Synness, Ole Synness was eleven years old when the family came to this country from Norway. He attended Mitchell School, located 28 miles north of Helena at the mouth of Wolf Creek canyon. He moved to a relinquishment homestead in the meadows below the Sleeping Giant Mountain (often called the Beartooth in those days) in 1885. Eventually he purchased the 160 acres and built a two-story house.

THE SYNNESS HOMESTEAD, ABOUT 1910

On Sept. 8, 1897, Ole brought his bride, Magnhild Raaen, to share his home. Maggie (as Magnhild was called) was also from Norway. The couple were warm, hospitable, people and their place soon became a stopping place along the country road which led to the ferry across the Missouri River. The crossing allowed travelers a short cut to Willow Creek, Craig, and Wolf Creek.


Ole's many talents led him to gatherings around the county. He and his three brothers were all musicians in great demand to entertain at social functions and dances in the Helena Valley and surrounding towns. In the winter, when snow was too deep for horses, they often walked. At times the temperatures were below zero and on several occasions they returned home with frost bitten cheeks. Their travels took them from Craig to Unionville, Silver City, Marysville and Wolf Creek, a pretty great distance for winter travel.

Along with his musical talent, Ole was an ardent outdoorsman and hunter. He was also a road supervisor for Lewis & Clark County. In February of 1909, while encamped with a road crew near Wolf Creek, Ole - accompanied by his ten-year-old son - took a wagon and team to Wolf Creek for provisions. The wagon began slipping on the treacherous road; Ole took his son in is arms and attempted to jump clear of the overturning wagon, but they were both caught and were dragged a considerable distance. The boy was knocked unconscious, and Ole suffered severe injuries. He died at St. John's Hospital in Helena on February 24, 1909.

Maggie was left with a family of five children Her oldest was ten and her youngest, Andrew Oscar, only nine months old. She was also responsible for her two nephews, Martin and Harold Wolstein. Her sister had passed away in August of 1908, just six months before Ole's death. Can you imagine living in that remote area and trying to feed and care for seven lively children under the age of 10?

Her only income was what she could earn milking cows and selling butter and eggs. The boys all learned to hunt at an early age and supplied the meat, which she canned for the winter.

Summers were happy and carefree for the kids, but during winter blizzards the wind howled relentlessly and the snow drifted and piled up deeper and deeper. Maggie kept the fire going when temperatures hovered in the minus forties. She did not sleep (she sat up reading her bible) for fear the fire would get too hot or go out.

 

The Synness homestead in winter

She later proved up on another 640 acres and had to walk to and from, with her baby and toddlers, to care for her pigs. She built a small cabin on the new piece of land several miles away and stuck with it until the land was hers. She died in 1938. She had many children and grandchildren, but chose to leave her Beartooth Homestead to her Grandson Wesley Robert Ole Synness, who had a cleft in his chin reminding her of her beloved Ole. Wes was only 7 years old when he inherited the homestead.

 

Ole Synness at the homestead, 1885.


Detail showing young Ole's prowess as a hunter - nine deer!

 



Ole Synness on horseback at the original homestead, early 1900s.

 

 

The Ole Synness family, 1903. From left: Maggie holding baby Marie, Ole holding Lloyd and Otis, Ole's sister Christine Synness, Maggie's sister Anna Wolstein with Harold and Martin.

 

 

 

Maggie Synness with children: Left to right - Marie age 4, Maggie Synness, Otis age 7, Lloyd age 5, abd baby Alice age 1. Maggie raised angora goats, using the wool for socks and sweaters.

 

 

On the nose of the Sleeping Giant, 1899. Seated from back to front, L to R: Joe & Margaret Hilger, Ellen O'Brian (who later married Will Hilger), Ester Hilger, Ed Bowman, small boy Gus Dougherty. Standing L to R: Ole Synness, N. D. Hilger, Ralph DeCamp (the artist). Will Hilger was the photographer.

 

 

 

A 1920s view. From left to right: Harold Wolstein (Maggie's nephew), Otis and Lloyd Synness.

 

 

Autos at the Synness homestead, 1920s.

 

 

The Synness homstead in the 1930s...

 

 

...and in the year 2000.

 

 

1997 gathering of the descendants of Ole and Maggie Synness.

 


Gates of the Mountains



"Gateway of the Rockies" postcard, about 1900. More popularly know as "The Gates of the Mountains", this remarkable area is located about 20 miles north of Helena on the Missouri River. On July 19, 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition entered this awe-inspiring limestone canyon. The 1,200 foot high walls inspired Lewis to write: "[These] are the most remarkable clifts that we have yet seen."

The expedition was forced to row past nightfall until they could find a place wide enough to make camp. That night in his journal, Lewis wrote, "from the singular appearance of this place I called it the gates of the rocky mountains."

The construction of Holter Dam in 1918 raised the level of the Missouri through the Gates some 100 feet; so what we see today is different than what the Lewis and Clark party saw, although it is still magnificent.

Northern entrance to the Gates of the Mountains, taken before the construction of Holter Dam in 1918. This is how Lewis and Clark saw it in 1806.

 




THE WES AND CAROL SYNNESS COLLECTION

Gates of the Mountains, probably before 1886. The man with the oars is Ole Synness.

 

 

A ca. 1910 postcard view of the same area.

 

 


THE WES AND CAROL SYNNESS COLLECTION

The first trip of Judge Nicholas Hilger's steam launch "The Rose of Helena", 1886. From left to right: Joe Hilger, Ole Synness, Judge Nicholas Hilger, May (or Esther) Hilger, Will Hilger.

 


THE WES AND CAROL SYNNESS COLLECTION


Gates of the Mountains, ca. 1900. From Left to right: Andrew Fergus, David Hilger, Ole Synness, Nicholas Hilger.

 

 

A dreamy vista of "The Gates", date unknown.

 

 

A fanciful colorized view of the Gates of the Montains, ca. 1940.

 

 

Gates of the Mountains tour boat, 1960s. Today, three boats - the "Pirogue", the "Sacajawea" and the "Hilger Rose "- take visitors through the remarkable passage from June through September.
VISIT THE GATES OF THE MOUNTAINS WEBSITE




COURTESY OF KITTY ANN QUIGLEY TAALER

A short clip from the 1973 promotional film "Helena-City of Gold", produced by the Helena Chamber of Commerce.

 

 


The Samuel T. Hauser Cabin and Camp• Oxbow Bend • Missouri River

ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE WES AND CAROL SYNNESS COLLECTION



 




Joe Hilger at the cabin.



L to R: Vic Hagman, Mrs. Thomas Hauser, Kate Blacker and Joe Hilger.

 

 


Wolf Creek, Montana


Main Street, Wolf Creek, 1930s


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"The Dugout", Main Street, 1930s

 




Frenchy's Cafe and Cabins, Highway 91, Wolf Creek




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Frenchy's Cafe and Cabins, Wolf Creek, probably late 1940s. Operated by Fred and Maurita Meunier, Frenchy's was a familiar stop on U. S. Highway 91 between Helena and Great Falls.

 

Three Early Promotional Photos of Frenchy's


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Tournament-bound Women Bowlers Stopped at Frenchy's, 1940s


COLLECTION OF MAXINE GILMOUR, COURTESY OF RICHARD SMITH • CLICK ON IMAGE FOR A BIG VERSION IN A NEW WINDOW

 

Frenchy's, Late 1940s


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Frenchy's, 1950s

 

Celebrities at Frenchy's...

Mr. Pat Ryan of Arizona, whose grandparents Fred and Maurita Meunier owned Frenchy's, shares a few stories about the celebrities who sought out Frenchy's as a pleasant western retreat:

Here are some memories as related to me by me Grandmother, Maurita.

My Grandmother mentioned several celebrities that came to Wolf Creek in the 40's and 50's. Dinah Shore, George Montgomery, Bing Crosby, Errol Flynn were among some of the film stars of that era that frequented Frenchy's in the heyday. All except Flynn were avid outdoors people.

Montgomery was from the area and what she related to me was that he never forgot his roots.

Dinah Shore was married to Montgomery, and when they stayed out at Frenchy's she would always sing in the Bar for the patrons. My grandmother had a picture of Dinah Shore and me (probably at age 2) on rollerskates going thu the restaurant as surprised patrons look on. I
believe that photo was destroyed in the fire of 1958 [the fire destroyed the restaurant].

The story my Grandmother tells of Bing Crosby is that on one of his many summer trips, he stayed for an extended period after the death of his first wife [Dixie]. For weeks all he did was sit at the bar and order his favorite drink, seven and seven. He pulled his trademark hat low over his eyes so no one would recognize him and bother him. My grandmother said that she had not seen anybody that stricken with grief. She felt bad, and when anybody tried to approach him or recognized him they were promptly told to hit the road.

One other story she told me time and again was about their least favorite celebrity, Errol Flynn. Flynn flew to the Helena area to promote a movie and all the town was out to greet him. My Mother, Rieta, at the time was a teenager and was on the greeting committee.

Flynn come off the plane in a highly intoxicated state and proceeded to say several off-color things directed at some of the local young ladies....including my mother. Frenchy, who was an ex-boxer and pretty gruff guy, pulled Flynn aside and basically told him that if he didn't clean up his act and language would be not getting back on the plane in one piece. No one knows exactly what he said to Flynn but evidently made a strong impression on him the rest of the stay.

Just a few of the stories I remember. Frenchy died of cancer in 1963. My Grandmother died in 1997 at the age of 85. They really typified Montana in the 40's and 50's, fair, hard working and hard playing people.



1958 Fire


Missouri River Bridge Between Wolf Creek and Craig, 1940s


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