Dateline July 9, 2013 Montana – Big Sky Country

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DSC_0879After leaving Yellowstone we traveled out the southern gate of Yellowstone National Park directly into the Teton National Forest on our way to Jackson, commonly known as Jackson Hole.  At approximately 310,000 acres, the park includes the major peaks of the 40-mile-long Teton Range as well as most of the northern sections of the valley known as Jackson Hole.   Teton Peaks 2We drove the beautiful John D Rockefeller Jr. Parkway along continuous beautiful lakes with the Teton Range to our west.  After about 80 miles we entered the city of Jackson.

We parked the Roadtrek on a side street and walked a few blocks to the center of town.  Being Saturday, the Farmers Market was in full swing.  We enjoyed our walk around the village, with all the various shops.  One of the wonderful parts of being older, is that we have all the trinkets and trash we need, so shopping was not at the top of our list.  It is charming and very alive with people from all walks of life.  Too busy, what we really needed was a “Ghost Town!”

There just happens to be one in Montana called Virginia City, so it was off on the road north.  We drove through part of eastern Idaho with lots of potato farms and other crops.  We called ahead and found an RV park in Virginia City.  Arriving at the RV Park it was clean and very nice.

About Virginia City:
In May 1863, a group of prospectors were headed towards the Yellowstone River and instead came upon a party of the Crow Indians and were forced to return to Bannack.  Gold was discovered on the retreat trip when Bill Fairweather stuck a pick near Alder Creek joking he may find gold to buy tobacco.

John's Great, Great Uncle Bill Fairweather
John’s Great, Great Uncle Bill Fairweather

Now for the real reason we picked Virginia City,  Bill Fairweather was John’s mother’s great uncle.  In 1958 when John was 11, the family took a trip from Settle and toured Virginia City.  It was a fun idea to see how much a “ghost town” can change over so many years!  Not much!!  Back to the story:

The prospectors could not keep the site a secret and  were followed.  A town was set up  in order to formulate rules about individual gold claims. On June 16, 1863 under the name of “Verina” the township was formed a mile south of the gold fields. The name was meant to honor Varina Howell Davis (Jefferson Davis’s wife) the first and only First Lady of the Confederacy.  Verina, although in Union territory, was founded by men whose loyalties were thoroughly Confederate. Upon registration of the name, a Connecticut judge, G. G. Bissell, objected to their choice and recorded it as Virginia City. (In full irony, since Virginia itself had seceded, only to have West Virginia secede from the state and stay in the Union, it seemed an appropriate name for a Dixie city in Yankee territory.)

Within weeks Virginia City was a boom-town of thousands in the midst of a gold rush with no law enforcement whatsoever, except for vigilantism. Most of Montana became under the rule of a Vigilance committee, the infamous Montana Vigilantes, which operated on both sides of the law.

Bill Fairweather was one of the wealthier man in town.  It was told that he slept with rattlesnakes on his chest and under his jacket.  The earlier story about the Crow Indians was documented in “Golden Gulch” The Story of Montana’s Fabulous Alder Gulch by Dick Pace.  When the Crow’s had the prospectors surrounded in camp and were touting them, Fairweather took two snakes out of his shirt and started prancing with them and thrusting them towards the Indians.  They thought he was crazy and felt that killing them would bring a bad luck, karma  or whatever to the Indians.  They were let go by the elders of the tribe the next day, however were chased later by the younger braves.  This all happened near Bozeman, Montana.  They then went farther west to where they found the gold.  Looking around at the alder trees they called the find, Alder Gulch.  Whiskey was his drink and a little of the craziness came from that.

The local hotel was named after him.  DSC_0890He threw coins to the Chinese workers in the street because he loved to watch them dive into the mud for them.  He went on to die penniless at the age of 39.  When John visited the grave in 1958 it had a fence around it like the current grave with only a stake to mark  it on Boot Hill.  tomb and signSome years ago in the 1980’s most of the graves were moved to a new cemetery up the hill from Boot Hill and a gravestone was placed in it by the historical society to mark Bill Fairweather’s burial plot.  There is also a sign that announces he discovered the gold at Alder Creek.

The State of Montana bought the historical buildings of both Virginia City and nearby Nevada City and leases them out to those that have business which are being run in the historical districts of both cities.

We left Virginia City to meet up with a dear family friend in Big Sky.  John Bohlinger is a fascinating gentleman who was a dear friend of John’s parents, Jack and Jean, as well as the rest of the family for many years.  He and his lovely wife Bette had purchased a condo at the base of the mountain when it was first developed by old NBC anchorman Chet Huntley in 1973.  John has had an open invitation to the family to use their home for many years.  We were to spend time with he and his wife Karen, Bette died of cancer a number of years ago, on our trip back from Alaska two years ago.  John was serving as the Lt. Governor of Montana (2004-2012) and was attending a course at the JFK School at Harvard, so it was one of the main points of our trip to see them this year.

We arrive at Big Sky and checked in at the Huntley Lodge for the newer condo that John had purchased in 2001.  It is a beautiful two-story unit that looks out on Lone Peak and has great views of the Summit community and all the ski slopes.  John joined us about an hour after we arrived.  Karen was in Seattle with one of her sons, so we were going to catch up with her in Helena on Tuesday for lunch after her return.  We had a bit of Champagne at the condo and then drove out to have dinner.  Dinner was fun with each of us having bison for the meal.  A few hours of sharing family stories, catching up on all of John’s children and telling him about our children and grandchildren.  It was fun talking some politics with John.  He had been in the legislature and Senate representing the Republican Party.  In the summer of 2004 Brian Schweitzer, the potential Democratic governor nominee discussed with John running as Lt. Governor, having a bipartisan ticket that might be able to accomplish good things for the state. They ran, won and got re-elected in 2008.  John said it was a wonderful and rewarding experience. pic Johns and janice

John drove back to Helena in the morning and Janice and I took a hike on a beautiful trail to the Ousel Falls ousel river beauty2which was a wonderful walk, canyon ouselup and down for about 1 mile into a beautiful set of falls.  ousel river beautyThe trail follows the river all the way to the falls. The falls were spectacular.  It took about an hour and was just enjoyable.

We took the rest of the day to catch up on reading, laundry and planning for the rest of the trip.

ousel falls riverWe haousel river beauty2d an electrical problem with the Roadtrek and found a dealer in Kalispell, Montana that could take us in at 10:00 on Wednesday morning.

ousel fallsTuesday morning we packed up the Roadtrek and headed up to Helena to join John and Karen for lunch.  It was an easy drive and arrived at their home around 11:30.

They live in an unbelievable beautiful residential section of Helena that also includes many of the mansions built by the miners in the Helena gold rush. Helena is a vibrant beautiful city, with a magnificent history of its own.  We had a lovely lunch with John and Karen at The Montana Club, which was an old club started by the copper and gold mining kings.  It was a beautiful building and the dinning room had a bar that belonged in an old western movie with brass and mirrors.  John showed us ways we could drive up to Kalispell where we would get our RV problem resolved.  John told us to head to Flathead Lake and there would be many places to stay.

Many thanks to the Bohlinger’s or their wonderful hospitality at both Big Sky and Helena, it was such a pleasure to be with them both.

We had a beautiful drive north, Kalispell is a few miles outside Glacier National Park. We found Spruce River.Camp Ground and had a magnificent place right on the river, another great evening.  spruce riverWe got the RV problem diagnosed the next day but no part available so we ordered the part in Seattle to pick up on the way to Will and Kathy’s (John’s brother).

On to Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho!


  1. Bill Bieler

    One of my kids is studying the Vigilantes of the Virginia City days. We are related to Bill Fairweather, so I googled him to read some stuff about him to my kids. Your blog came up. My sister has done a lot of genealogical research over the last few years, so maybe she has run across you. You say Fairweather is John’s mother’s great uncle? Send me an email if you get this. Fairweather is my great,great uncle. His sister, Richie Fairweather Davis, I believe, was my great grandmother. I’d be interested to track down other relatives out there.

    1. Will Wilson

      I’m John’s brother and the family historian. I have lots of family history and have traced the Fairweather’s back to England in the 1500’s. I would be happy to share any and all information with you and your family. Will Wilson, Freeland, WA

      1. John and Janice

        Will has done a great job doing the family history.

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