In the late 1880s, Demersville was a bustling boomtown. Today, it is hardly a memory. Demersville was supposed to be Kalispell, but when the Great Northern Railway chose to put a division point at Kalispell, Demersville became obsolete literally overnight.
Greggs Street and the rest of Demersville had its share of saloons, gambling halls and pleasures aplenty, but it had only one of many other things. For example, Demserville was named after one man: Telephose J. Demers. There was one – and only one – mayor: J. E. Clifford (who also served time in the Montana State Penitentiary). And it had but one cemetery, at the west end of town.
Today, much like the town itself, the Demersville Cemetery is all but forgotten for the most part. Yet the history of the cemetery, and the people interred there, mark a profound history – and the history of the Flathead Valley itself.
Those with an interest in local history and ancestry should know that The Museum at Central School in Kalispell has a long list of the people buried at the Demersville Cemetery. The list tells the names and ages of the deceased and other insightful information, such as their cause of death.
However, reading the list is not for the light hearted, for when you read the names of those who succumbed to some forgotten disease, or those who served in a long-forgotten war, or the names of those who barely lived beyond the age of 11, or 7, or 11 months, things may seem a bit more somber.
Perhaps even more perplexing are the graves that are missing. Not only are we missing their gravestones, their marks in the ground, we’re missing their marks on history as well.
For example, missing is the stone of James M. Dunn. Dunn was a prospector who left his home and family in Iowa and traveled to Post Falls, Idaho. Having little luck there, Dunn set out to prospect along Flathead Lake and was heading toward Demersville. After crossing Dayton Creek with his horse, Dunn was met by a Native American named Pascale. Pascale traveled along with Dunn until they reached the south slope of Angel Hill (which is now in Lakeside) sometime in the late summer of 1889.
Varied accounts tell of a disagreement, argument, or a horse trade gone bad. No matter the cause, the outcome was fatal: Pascale shot Dunn, left him for dead, and hid his body under brush on the hill.
The following spring, Dunn’s body was discovered and he was ultimately buried in the Demersville Cemetery in 1890, the same year the cemetery was established. But there is no longer any sign of his grave. Ironically, Pascale was buried at the St. Ignatius Mission Cemetery – and no signs of his grave exist either. Thus, there is little to remind us of this tragedy.
Likewise, it seems that some of the Demersville Cemetery graves have been “lost” as well, whether to flooding or forgetting.
Not only is the memory of these souls forgotten, but so is their history – the history of the Flathead Valley and beyond.
For who among us knows the story of Baby Horn, Julia Dalatte, John Cheley, William Lisle Berge, Martha Livingston, and so many others whose graves are a landmark of history all their own.
Jaix Chaix is a writer who appreciates history, art, and architecture. You can share ideas and historical facts with him at [email protected].
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