The First Sawmill

From The Green Valley, a book of reminiscences by Donald Green (1911-2003)

…When we moved to Coram in 1914, there were no mills and no signs that there had been any.

While Dad was building the log house on the homestead, he had to have some lumber for the floors and roof. There was a mill at Lake Five where they later put up ice for the Western Fruit Company in Whitefish. Dad hitched up a team to one of the wagons and put me on it. We headed for Lake Five, I was a very small boy then but I can still remember standing in that mill watching them sawing the logs into lumber. It was the first time I had seen a mill. I am sure that was when Dad got the idea of starting up a mill of his own. We had just moved in on the homestead with all the virgin timber on it.

After he got all the log buildings built on the homestead, he started to look around for a small mill. He finally found someone south of Columbia Falls that had one. They powered it with a Minneapolis steam tractor. The men said they would come up to Coram and set it up for him and he could hire them to run it. The steam tractor was driven from down in the valley to where they set the mill up. The men that drove it through the canyon sure had to know what they were doing because at that time the road through the canyon wasn’t much of a road. It was narrow and crooked with steep hills. This was about 1916. Dad had it running during World War One. This was the first saw mill set up near Coram.

Montana Memories, Volume IV

By Charles Green

May your trails always be open
The hills never steep
Your pack mules never balk
Or your tents never leak


…during World War I, groups of Turkish men were imported to keep the tracks in condition. A dozen of them were stationed in Coram and us kids never tired of watching them. All dressed baggy knee-length trousers made of heavy cloth of dark red or purple color. With these, they wore long socks, high boots, bright colored bandannas and turbans, Every man had a curved knife in a scabbard hung froim his belt and I believe they slept with the things.

A boy of about my age lived in a house up near the east end of the passing track and one evening we rigged up a sling shot. We drove two iron bolts into the top of a stump about eight inches apart and then cut a bicycle inner tube in two and tied each end to the bolts. It was a honey and with both of us pulling back on the thing we could throw a rock as big as a hen’s egg a thousand feet. Some empty box cars were sitting on the passing track and we used them for target practice. The nearest one had both doors open and one evening just as we shot a rock, a hand car with a load of Turks went by the open door on a collision course with the rock. One of the men was hit, went out like a light and fell to the ground. We thought we had killed the man and with visions of those Turks after us with their wicked knives, we took for the woods… The next morning we counted the crew from a distance and found they were all eating their oatmeal, and after that we made sure we had a clear range before we did any more target practice.


I arrived home from China in the spring of 1930 and found a lot of changes… The forest fire I had read about in the Shanghai paper the previous fall had swept over our valley and not a green tree was left on our homestead or the country to the north into Glacier Park. A carpet of green grass was struggling up in the forest of black snags… Before leaving on my trip four years before, I buried 50 bottles of home-brewed beer in a sawdust pile back in the woods, and the second evening I was home, I drove over to have a drink of the aged beer. The fire had burned the sawdust pile and all that was left was a pile of melted glass.