When you look back a hundred years or so, what happened then seems like it had to have happened in a different world. The stories that we hear or read about life in the west, feel remote, and somehow don’t seem to be real. They are like shadows in the past that sometimes intrigue us enough to look at them and try to figure out what they are. We may peer at them for a while trying to discern their features so that we can understand more about what it was like in their time. But mostly they are just shadows that will never reveal their true secrets.
There are, however, some abandoned structures that still stand to remind us that something happened there. One such standing reminder is a homestead cabin that was built near highway 141 in Montana. A marker toshow that someone had been there and staked a claim to the land on which it sits. Green cow pastures surround it now, with cattle grazing right up to the doorstep. It looks out on a most beautiful set of rolling green foothills that lose themselves in the great high mountains of the Rockies.
29 years before the logs of the little cabin were ever chipped at with an axe or cut with a saw, a man named Sterling J. Ball was born. The year was 1889 and he grew up in the Deer Lodge and Helena, MT areas. Little did the cabin know that Sterling would be it’s bulder and yet only stay on the place for a couple of years.
In 1920, when the temperatures were moderate for Montana and rain was plentiful, Sterling established a homestead on a little 160 piece of land in the area that was then known as the Ophir District. There is no doubt that he and his young wife, Marie, had big plans for the place. They cut the logs and stacked them in place, one by one, making the structure sturdy and homey. There were two rooms and good solid wood roof. They took the time to build a little home there in the valley, probably dreaming about their future life in the west.
The climate in the area around the place is rather harsh, and the summers are very short for farming because of the altitude. Snow comes early in the fall and doesn’t leave till late in the spring. You have to be hardy people to live there and take the conditions.
For a few years the family lived on their little set up and hopefully they were able to enjoy the place while they worked and farmed the land.
All of it was short lived however, for by the time of the US Census in 1930, the family was living on the other side of the mountains in a place called Medicine Lake, Montana. The cabin was abandoned. Something happened to make that young family move less than ten years after setting up the little place.
After the homesteading years of plenty between about 1915 to 1925, the weather changed for the next ten years or so, leaving the land parched and dry in the summer and it stayed dry and cold in the winter. Life in the west became much harder under those extreme conditions. Maybe that is what caused this pretty little cabin to be left behind. Maybe they just wanted to find land that had a little longer summer for growing crops. I hope that the reason has not become totally lost in time, but one thing remains clear.
The little abandoned cabin still stands there today as a placeholder to a very short story that most have forgotten about. Until the ground eventually swallows up the timbers that make up its walls, it will remain a stalwart figure, proudly displaying its history for all to see. “Here I am ”, it says, “ and I remember!.”