Some historic homes may not be dashing on the outside, but have a profound history on the inside. The “Baldwin House” is indeed one of those homes.
You may notice this house, perhaps for its gabled roofs at the front and sides (and perhaps for not much else). But the home has quite a remarkable story to tell about the family that lived there for generations.
For 82 years, the home remained in the Baldwin family. It is one of Kalispell’s first homes – started in 1891, the same year that the town of Kalispell was established and platted.
The home was originally built for Major Marcus Dana Baldwin and his family. Marcus was appointed agent to the Peigan, Káínaa (“Bloods”), and the Siksikáwa (“Blackfoot”) bands of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation by President Grover Cleveland.
While Marcus and his wife Sarah had two boys, they had a daughter while on the reservation. When the tribal elders first saw her, they exclaimed “Kokoa!”(which means “little girl” in the Blackfeet language).
Kokoa is known as the first “white person” to be born on the reservation – and named by the prominent tribal members Two Guns White Calf, Little Dog, Big Nose, and Little Plume, who are all historical figures. Perhaps the most well-known of the Native Americans who named Kokoa is Chief Two Guns White Calf, whose face is on the back of every “Indian Head” nickel.
After serving on the reservation, Marcus Baldwin moved to Demersville in 1889. A year later, with the “Demersville Demise,” the entire Baldwin family moved to Kalispell and settled at the house. Marcus established himself as one of Kalispell’s first prominent attorneys.
In 1892, his two sons, Mark and Phil, left boarding school in Grand Rapids, Mich., and rejoined the family under the same roof. Mark served the First Montana Infantry, Company II, during the Spanish War. And Phil moved to the Philippine Islands and worked as a customs agent. Their younger brother, Charles, also served in WWI.
Clearly, the Baldwin family shared some admirable traits. Generations of the family have served their country in one capacity or another. Marcus was regarded as an excellent swimmer and marksman – as was Kokoa. And they all seemed to share an appreciation for the outdoors (perhaps this had something to do with Marcus’ role in establishing Marias Pass).
And for Kokoa, love of the outdoors was not only one of her passions, but also her fate. Kokoa died in 1932, a few days after succumbing to injuries sustained while skiing on New Year’s Day (incidentally, Kokoa is interned next to her father Marcus at the Conrad Cemetery). Kokoa’s son, Charles, died several years before on New Year’s Day. She also had a daughter, Kokoa, who carried on the legacy of the name, and the care for the home.
Originally, the home was only a humble one-story brick structure with a gabled roof.
Around 1914, the home was remodeled and a second story with wood framing and another gabled roof were added. The area at the back was added much, much later.
Construction of the carriage house at the alley began in 1899 and was completed in 1903. The outline of carriage house reveals its intention of serving a horse and carriage (as daily use of an automobile was hardly an idea at the time).
So if you’re walking along Third Avenue in Kalispell, stop for a moment to appreciate this home. Perhaps not so much for its architecture on the outside – but more for the rich family history on the inside.
Jaix Chaix is a columnist and author of Flathead Valley Landmarks and other local history books that are available for sale at the Flathead Beacon at 17 Main St.
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