About the Trail

It would be nice to say that I awoke one day with an epiphany. It being, that unless someone made an effort to talk to the people who began settling the far northwest corner of Montana little more than 100 years ago, their memories would soon be lost forever. But to say as much would be to disguise - if not  hide – the fact that I was actually trying to create a job for myself, having already run through a number of  career opportunities that failed to engage me. It is fair to say, however, that as a result of this work, many  memories, missives, diaries, poems, photographs and observations that otherwise would have ended up in  the venerable dustbin of history, have been preserved. 

It began in 1992 while I was the proprietor of a small printing and photo processing business in  Eureka, Montana. I began to meet a handful of the surviving oldtimers and more often their children who  had shared the hard work and privations that go along with homesteading or just living in a rural  environment. They brought in pictures and papers to be copied and I got to know them personally. I also came to know some Kutenai Indians whose reservation lies eight miles away across the border in Canada and realized that the history of the Tobacco Plains country did not begin with the arrival of white people.

Eureka, which occupies the heart of the Tobacco Valley, had a bright future from its inception when  the Great Northern Railroad routed its transcontinental tracks through in 1904. Prior to that, there had been  a brief period of cattle ranching, but it was James J. Hill, president of the Great Northern Railroad, who put  Eureka and all the little nearby towns on the map. The Tobacco Plains Journal went into production  immediately and its editor, G. E. Shawler, began to extol the  area’s commercial potential. He foresaw mines honeycombing  the surrounding mountains and trainloads of ore heading for  smelters. Productive fruit and vegetable farms would dot the  valley, their produce filling boxcars on their way to cities  across the land. But it was the vast stands of timber that  ultimately fueled the economy with farming and mining  amounting to little or nothing.

Originally appropriating the first newspaper’s moniker,  Tobacco Plains Journal, this small quarterly historical journal  became simply, The Trail in 1996. Contents of The Trail commonly include an interview with oldtimers, odd, interesting  or bizarre stories reprinted from the old newspapers, vintage  photographs, personal memoirs and diaries and some period  fiction. Although we solicit advertising, the ads themselves are  often derived from an historical source and are interesting in  their own right. 

A common refrain that we hear is, “I sat down immediately and read it from cover to cover.” Although  our material centers on a small part of northwest Montana and southeast British Columbia, many of our  readers who have never set foot in this part of the country still find The Trail an interesting read.

Thank you for your interest,

Gary Montgomery, editor/publisher

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