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Lots of Fireworks

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"Clarks Fork" lore remembered

Sunday, August 11, the Senior Citizen's Center in Clarks Fork rang with laughter as "Old Timers Review" brought together past and present residents to remember the early days. The idea to share these stories came from John Derr, who was visiting from Florida. Bob Hays, the Bonner County Historical Society, and the Senior Citizens were glad to provide the forum for Clarks Fork's 'first families.'

Mayor Tommy Shields welcomed the guests by remarking upon the many dramatic changes that have occurred over the years and suggesting that more subtle changes were being ignored. These subtle changes include forgetting the early history of Clarks Fork. "You are fading pictures in a history book," he told the audience, "and it is important that your memories be preserved." He urged those present to consider tape recording their memories with the Bonner County Historical Society.

Bob Hays introduced the panel --Bob Betz, archeologist for the Kalispell Indian Tribe, John Derr, Allan Derr, Bev Shields, Roland Derr and Dale "Nick" Daugharty. 

Betz gave a succinct overview of the region's prehistory. Cabinet Landing is the oldest (7,000 years ago) among the 400 early sites that have been discovered. Some sites indicate that people using ovens to cook camas occupied this region from 5,000 years ago until white contact changed this way of life. 

Written history began with David Thompson in 1809, followed in 1840 by the Jesuits, and the 1860 Boundary Commission (surveying the border between USA and Canada). 

In the 1880's, the railroad days began. Bob Hays stated that over 10,000 men, including 5,000 Chinese, were working to complete the railroad in the region. 

William Derr arrived on the train from Corona, Michigan to take a homestead in 1891. He and his wife Mae created a home, gardens, orchards and farm fields on their island. Their children remained in the area to raise families.

Allan Derr recalled returning from China, where he had served in the Marine Corps at the end of WWII. He had one more year of high school to complete. "I bought an old car that needed a lot of work, and Charlie DeLyle let me work on that car in his garage. He let me use his tools too. All for free." 

Many recalled other examples of Charlie DeLyle's kindness. "He used to drive us to dances over in Heron." This prompted memories of the music and dancing of the period. The Dingley musicians and Leta's Rhythm Boys played for dances up and down the valley. Leta White reminisced about a time her band had to play until 4 am.

Dale Daugharty told of the Whitetail mine accident in 1942 when one miner was killed. Several guests remembered the log drives on the river and thought the last drives occurred in 1932 and '33.

The Lightening Creek floods of 1922 and 1932 were described, as well as some noteworthy winters. "Do you remember the winter of '49/'50?," Dave Daugharty asked. "The snow was so deep the only way to get out of town was the train. Our basketball team rode the train into Sandpoint to play a game."

Roland Derr told of pranks played 60 years ago. It was hinted that the town's Fourth of July celebrations included some heavy drinking. "And fighting," one woman cheerfully added.

As an example of the hard work people were willing to perform, Roland Derr told of two men who hand shoveled deep snow off 1 ½ miles of road so they could get their truck to some poles that they had earlier cut.

Dandelion wine that blew a hole in the woodshed roof, something occurred in someone's rumble seat, the goats named for flowers; the stories---each prefaced with 'do you remember?'--- flowed. Several people recalled the fire that started in a big barn full of hay that stood next to the fire station. The fire destroyed DeLyles garage, the city hall, and a large wood shed.

All agreed that the town changed with WWII when families left to do war work. Some returned. Most remembered the big celebration to welcome the veterans home in 1946.  

School picnics, the town teams and sewing classes were called to mind. "1934," someone said, "was the first time we had fireworks on the fourth." 

"No," Roland Derr, dryly replied, "there were lots of fireworks before then."

This program was recorded and video taped for the Bonner County Historical Society and will be in their archives to keep a permanent history of Clarks Fork.

By the way, get a bunch of natives together and the first thing you'll learn is the proper name of the town - Clarks Fork. It was changed to Clark Fork some time in the late '30s.

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Author info

Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

Tagged as:

Clark Fork, Roland Derr, Charlie DeLyle, Bob Hays, Bonner County Historical Society, Cabinet Landing, Whitetail Mine, floods

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