My Feet Planted Deep Bill Brandewie BIGFORK HIGH SCHOOL


 


"My family has been here for over a hundred years, and I expect, if all goes well, there'll be some of our descendants here telling stories about my generation a hundred years from now. "

A place that means a lot to me is my grandpa's place, where the Rosts have been living since the late 1800's. My great-granddad Happy Rost was born the same year Montana became a state, 1889. He was the first white baby born in the Swan River Valley. Happy was the only boy in a family of ten children. His parents homesteaded along the Swan River in 1902. Before that, they owned a good portion of Echo Lake, but sold it for $500 because "it wasn't good farmland."

Happy Rost
Granddad Happy grew up in a logging and farming community. He made his living as a "river pig," meaning he rode rafts of logs down the Swan River and made sure they kept moving and didn't jam up on the bends and shallows. Later, after he married Clarice, he inherited the family homestead. He left the clearing of land and farming to his wife and seven children while he carried on with the logging he preferred to do.

My great-grandma learned how to drive the Model-T on the homestead, and stories circulate that she took out several fences before learning how to make the thing "Whoa." Grandma GG had grown up with horses as her best friends, and just couldn't figure out why the vehicle wouldn't listen as well as a horse.

Whenever Grandma GG would have a child, Granddad Happy would carve that child's name and birth date on the front door of the house. The first child was born at neighbors, the last in Kalispell at the midwife's, and the other five were born on the homestead. Later an addition was built, and the carved door was installed on the chicken coop. My grandpa and mom were cleaning up the place one spring, and they both reminded each other to be sure to get that door before burning the coop. They both still feel bad about forgetting the door until the flames were too severe to safely remove it. It was a piece of family history that can never be replaced. Every year when we have our family reunion, we burn the year on a large slab of wood we logged when we built the gazebo for our family get-togethers. The slab has "Rost Rendezvous" and every year since 1975 we had a reunion burned into it. The gazebo is a family project that took four years and four generations to complete. We have our family reunions there every summer. Last summer my great grandma celebrated her ninety-fifth birthday there. She lives in the Whitefish nursing home, but for that week every summer she still moves into a wall tent near our campfire. She tells us every year that week is the best week of the year. She eats and sleeps better out there among her family and the mosquitoes.

There is another part of history on my grandparent's place, too. The favorite swimming hole of the early 1900's was where Mud Creek runs into Swan River. Now my friends and I swim there every spring before it is warm enough to swim anywhere else. The Indians used to camp there on the river every summer to catch their winter's supply of trout, before heading back across the mountains to winter in the Browning/ Cutbank area. One summer I found a hand-made stone hammerhead on the place.

When my great-uncle thought it was time for my grandpa to learn to swim, he took him out in the middle of Swan River and turned him loose. Grandpa didn't think it was time to swim, and did not want to learn how. He sank to the bottom and walked the forty or fifty feet to shore. He still can't swim very well.

When we was three, Grandpa was hiding behind a bull thistle waiting to surprise Great Granddad while he was mowing hay. Great Granddad was very surprised to see his son jump right in front of the mowing sickle. He hauled back on the reins of the team of horses, but one of them was not fully broke and he couldn't stop them in time. The sickle cut off two of Grandpa's fingers. After dousing his hand in turpentine to stop the bleeding and disinfect it, Great Grandma hauled him into town and got the stubs sewn up. Grandpa's siblings had a funeral for his fingers while he spent the night in the hospital.

River Pigs on the Swan River

I have heard so many stories about the homestead that there is no way I can remember them all. Some are funny, like the time my mom and grandma were feeding stock on an early spring day. The truck sank in the soft freshly thawed field up to its axles. They had to walk the three miles home. It was weeks before the ground dried out enough for grandpa to pull the truck out. Some stories make me realize my roots there are very deep. My mom and uncle both chose to hold their wedding ceremonies at the homestead. My grandpa was born there; his dad was born there. My sisters and I are the fifth generation to attend Swam River School. My family has been here for over a hundred years, and I expect, if all goes well, there'll be some of our descendants here telling stories about my generation a hundred years from now.

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