Ambitious Muleskinners and Postmasters

Some Very Early Kalispell History


While Demersville may be the best-known predecessor to Kalispell, it wasn’t the first. According to Flathead Facts, Descriptive of the Resources of Missoula County, back when Flathead County was still considered an extension of Missoula County an 1880 community named Selish existed, five miles east of present day Somers. Most people are familiar with Demersville, the head of navigation on the Flathead River. The head of navigation is the farthest point above the mouth of a river than can be navigated by ships (though one steamboat did make a one-time trip to Columbia Falls.)

    The town was named after Telephose J. Demers, a young man who first saw the Flathead during time spent as a muleskinner. Muleskinners kept the mules that pulled wagon trains in line and moving forward—at speeds that rarely topped 2.5 miles per hour. Telephose Demers set up a mercantile and the town of Demersville. Sadly, Demers died in Butte City in 1889.

    By 1890, Demersville had boomed to 3,000 people—a population that included early pioneers and an assortment of bums, bunko artists, gamblers, card sharps and outlaws who came to check on the growing Montana town. However the railroad bypassed the river town of Demersville. And by 1891 a new town was already being plotted to follow railroad progress. The plots to this new town sold faster than the deeds could be recorded. This town would become Kalispell. 

    The presence of contrary information over the town’s name should be noted. Some accounts say the town was originally named Ashley. While others maintain Calispell was the first name. Other accounts say the original spelling was Kalispel, but on April 25, 1891 the town’s postmaster acted on other plans and named the town Harrington after himself. On May 19, 1891 the name of Harrington was rescinded. On January 2, 1892 the town’s name was changed to Kalispell, complete with two “l”s.

     That same year, railroad tracks reached the center of Main Street in the new town. In celebration, an ox was barbecued and the bands played as the silver spike was pounded into the ground. That year two Chinese restaurants, two Chinese laundries, a half-dozen honkytonks and six stores made up the merchants of Kalispell.