He was a Brit and founded Saleesh House in 1809 near Flathead Lake, though the area remained pretty sleepy until the railroad came through seventy-two years later.
Gold fever came to Coeur d’Alene two years after that and many of the miners stayed in Thompson Falls, using the Murray Trail to get over the mountains.
About fifteen years after that, in 1910, the town of Thompson Falls was officially established with 325 people living there.
About 107 years later, I decided to take a drive up there.
There were only about 1,300 people living in Thompson Falls when we did the last census in 2010.
They live in the 680 housing units available, are about 46-years-old on average, and make about $28,000 a year on average.
We know that 14% of families, 16% of individuals, 19% of seniors, and 20% of minors live in poverty.
I saw signs of that while driving, mostly in the ramshackle homes that cropped up on the side of the road.
As I drove up from Missoula I passed all kinds of towns:
Plains has about 1,000 people, Arlee has around 600, Dixon has about 200, Paradise has about 180, Ravalli has about 120 and Weeksville around 80.
I can’t find anything on the other places.
So this is rural America plain and simple.
There’s no economy to speak of in those towns, besides a bar or two, some run-down stores, and perhaps a gas station.
Poverty with a view.
I thought about politics and Democrats and how that Party can win again in those kinds of places.
In Thompson Falls I stopped in to see Carl Haywood, as he has some insight into these things.
I first met Carl a few years ago when I helped him with his fur trapping book.
He spent the 80s in D.C. working for Idaho Senator Jim McClure, a Republican.
He probably would have spent the 90s in D.C. as well, but he turned down a top-level Forest Service position as he was just sick of it.
A decade in the District of Criminals will do that to decent people.
Prior to that he did a lot of oilfield work. So he has some interesting perspectives.
He’s sent me emails from time to time, and I thought I’d pick his brain about politics.
He lives on 20 acres outside Thompson Falls and it was nice to see him and his wife Linda and discuss a few things.
For instance, I mentioned that I wish we’d just end that damn war in Afghanistan, or the one in Iraq.
Carl says we won’t do that, as we need the oil. He said we simply can’t be energy independent without more refining capacity as well.
We discussed Colstrip a bit, something I mentioned doesn’t affect me much.
He says it does.
I also mentioned how if those Colstrip workers lose their jobs, they’ll pretty much just be like I am now – making about $1,000 a month working several part-time jobs.
It’s hard to empathize with those workers when you know they’re so much better off than you are now, and if they lose their jobs, they’ll just be in the same boat as you.
Hey, everyone’s got problems. Why are yours more important than mine?
Just something for the political types to think on, and develop ideas for.
I have to be honest, though – we mostly talked about personal stuff and life and fur trapping and old times.
So where to from here?
We see in a Holly Michels piece in Lee Newspapers that Schweitzer is hanging-up the hat, Quist is thinking of pressing on, and Dems don’t much know what to do…besides finding more candidates, and at more local levels.
Kelly McCarthy of Billings (whose family issues suggest a limited political role going forward) suggests that Dems don’t need to be rural, they just need to understand rural.
Maybe he has a point.
So what do you say to those rural voters that might show up by the dozen or two to whatever campaign ‘rally’ you plan in places like Plains and Paradise and Noxon and Thompson Falls?
I dunno, but this is what I’d do.
Here’s my rural voter stump speech:
My name’s Greg Strandberg and I’m up here today to ask for your vote.
I’m from Helena originally and now live in Missoula.
Yeah…what could I possibly know about your concerns?
I know – it’s a problem.
It’s a problem with Democrats and we need to get over it. I feel we can do that by listening. Many think we should just ignore you.
The people that say that are the reasons why Republicans control this area. They’re also a big part of the reason your life never gets better.
That’s big city thinking about you here in the rural areas.
‘Course all those big city folk think that they’ve got you down pat.
They think they know what you want…they think they know what you care about.
Well I’m not like those folks, and I’ll tell ya why:
I don’t know a damn thing about you or your lives.
But I can think of two things that you folks probably care about, and I got ‘em right here:
- The money in your pocket (take out some bills and hold ‘em up)
- And the home that you own (take out your keys and rattle ‘em about)
And you know…I can think of one more thing, and I bet they might be standing close by you – it’s your family.
Those are three things that you’ll guard with your life and maybe give it up for:
- Your family
- Your home
- And your livelihood
These are the things I think you care about, and that’s why I came here today, to listen to your concerns about ‘em.
Please, talk to yourself.
If you’re interested in running for office, talk to yourself when your home alone.
Vent your frustrations, voice your passions, and really develop that speaking voice.
Please, don’t use notes – it has to come from the heart.
That’s why talking to yourself – saying these speeches out loud – is so important.
People have to know that you care, that you ‘get it.’
They’re not going to think that if you’re mumbling and fumbling your words and generally sounding like a horse’s ass.
That doesn’t inspire, and without inspiration, we’ll continue to see low turnouts.
People just don’t care about you.
Rethinking Our Candidates
Getting back to the Holly Michels piece.
- We can’t just cast Jesse Laslovich loose.
- I hear Melissa Romano is thinking about a legislative run.
- Monica Lindeen is biding her time with consulting work.
My goodness, these people are leaders of the Democratic Party…if for no other reason than they’ve shown the willingness to lead while ahead – and more importantly – they’ve shown it while behind.
We forget about these people, both because they lost their races (and are now hindsights) and because they’re out of the news.
And this costs us.
Holly Michels did a damn good job in her article talking about how so many of our current GOP officeholders had lost, not one, but many races before.
But by God, they dusted themselves off and got back in there and that’s why they’re elected officials.
Lindeen is one that’d be folly to cut loose.
The Utah native ran for the U.S. House in 2006, won state auditor in 2008, and she kept on coming back after that as we saw in November.
Monica Lindeen understands rural Montana because she’s from there.
Do you know anyone else that knows about Lewistown? I sure don’t.
But Back to the Outdoors
Oh, how the political talk grows tiring.
It’s summer – people are sick of it.
I think those low-turnout marches over the weekend show that.
Didn’t hear about ‘em? I’m sure you’re not alone.
Anyways, we started this post talking about Thompson Falls, so let’s end it that way to, huh?
Thompson Falls State Park is worth a look if you’re in the area, being just up the road a mile from town.
There are 17 campsites in the 36-acre park and you can do boating, fishing, swimming, and many more things.
It’s between the Kaniksu and Lolo National Forests and you’ll get lots of mixed pine, meaning these are loblolly and/or shortleaf pine and mixed hardwood trees…ideal candidates for timber harvests, wildlife habitat, and of course pleasant viewing while hiking about.
If you’re going a mile up the road to the park, why not head an additional 23 miles up the road to Graves Creek Falls?
From the state park, keep heading up Blue Shield Road until it turns into Graves Creek Road, and the turn-off will come up on your left.
It’s just a hundred feet or so to the falls from there, with a nice walk through some bracken ferns and Douglas-fir.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, this is a good starting place to tackle the hike up Mt. Headley to its fire lookout tower…just one of 639 that were built following the disastrous fires of 1910.
The lookout cabin was built in 1928 and it might be something for your to-do list. If so, you’ll get good images here.
Cougar Peak Lookout is also one worth checking, and perhaps Graves Peak or Vermilion Peak nearby.
And with that…get outside.