Swan Valley, Montana
The Swan Valley is a forested mountain valley situated between the Bob Marshall Wilderness to the east and the Mission Mountain Wilderness to the west. This ecosystem sustains lynx, wolverine, grizzly bear, bull trout, elk, moose, goshawks and eagles. The Swan is also home to a wide variety of people ranging from homestead era residents to more recent migrants in search of a higher quality of life.
The satellite photo image (left) of the Swan Valley shows the Mission Mountains Wilderness on the left (west) and the western edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness on the right (east). The checkerboard pattern of ownership across the valley bottom is typical of this area with alternating square miles of federal and corporate timber lands.
In the image right, the Swan Valley is located in the center of the map. The lavender patches represent grizzly bear linkage zones that link the two wilderness areas. These linkage zones were developed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and are the only grizzly bear linkage zones (and actually the first wildlife linkage zones) in the United States.
Northwest Connections is located in the center of the Swan Valley approximately 90 miles north of Missoula and 70 miles south of Kalispell. Our facility is a historic turn of the century homestead. Pictured below: Northwest Connections' main building (Barn); classroom; dorm room lounge; dorm room.
Northwest Connections welcomes visitors, please call ahead, (406) 754-3185. Our facility is located just off of Highway 83. At Mile Marker 47 turn west onto Cold Creek Road and drive 3/4 mile. Turn right (north) onto Ed Road and drive a 1/2 mile. Proceed through a gate and merge right. This road dead-ends at the Barn and Cookhouse.
The Beck Homestead
In November of 1916, Edward Axel Beck filed on a 160-acre homestead claim in Swan Valley. Located primarily west of Swan River and north of Cold Creek in the southwest quarter of township 21 north, range 17 west, section 10, the land consisted of gently rolling lodgepole forest and river bottomland. The rolling land had a dense stand of lodgepole pine one to twelve inches in diameter, while the bottomland had a scattering of spruce, larch, Douglas fir, and ponderosa pine with dense undergrowth of shrubs. Swan River flowed through the eastern half of the homestead.
Before receiving a patent for the land filed under the Forest Homestead Act of 1906, the claimant had to 'prove up' the land. This consisted of clearing and planting 20 acres for agricultural purposes within the initial five-year period. This endeavor involved a tremendous amount of work using mostly hand tools such as axes and crosscut saws. Long winters and deep snow further complicated this effort. The need for enough income to purchase basic supplies led to a number of ventures to make a success of living in Swan Valley. Three times, during the winter months of the initial five-year prove-up period, Edward Axel moved out of the valley to work at the lumber mill at Milltown, Montana. His wife and children went with him the first winter, but stayed at the homestead the remaining winters. Not until the mid-1920s was Edward Axel able to stay in Swan Valley year round.
By 1921, Edward Axel Beck submitted his claim for acceptance. On May 23, 1922 President Warren Harding signed the U. S. government's General Land Office document that officially granted Edward Axel Beck the deed for the 160-acre homestead. By this time, the homestead included a well-crafted 20' x 28' two-room log house that was built with 'dovetail' timber joinery. Also on the homestead at that time were a 16' x 18' barn, sauna, smoke house, and small garden. Water was obtained from the Swan River.
Both Edward Axel and his wife Hilda were originally from Finland. Their son George Edward (Ed) and Earl were born in Bonner, Montana in 1907 and 1909 respectively.
The Beck family remained connected with the land and utilized the various components of the land to make a living. Trapping, working seasonally for the U.S. Forest Service, raising cattle, and selling cream were income ventures through the years. Hunting, fishing, gardening, berry picking, and firewood cutting provided needed food and fuel. Ed resorted to cutting and selling a large ponderosa pine tree to pay for his son George's medical bill when he was born in 1949.
Trapping in the late 1920s and early 1930s was a profitable endeavor. An 80-inch beaver pelt went for one dollar an inch and could bring as much money as wages earned for two and half months working as a sawyer for a timber company outside the valley. Ed Beck bought another 160 acres along Condon Creek in 1929. He paid $6 an acre and paid for the land by trapping mostly beaver. He also had a trapline that went up into the Mission Mountains. There are still the remnants of one of his trapper cabins in Jim Lakes Basin.
Later in 1934, Edward Axel and his son Ed built the large well-crafted 40' x 40' dairy barn. It served as a shelter for livestock and hay storage for over 50 years.
In the early 1980s the north half of the property was sold to Tom Emblad. This north parcel was later resold in the early 1990s to the present owners Geoff and Janine Graham.
In 1990, Tom Parker bought the south half of the Beck homestead that included the homestead buildings. In 1997, he and his wife Melanie established Northwest Connections, a non-profit business that was housed on the homestead. The barn was renovated and converted to the present day Northwest Connections office/dormitory facility.
George Beck, grandson of Edward Axel, continues the tie to the homestead. He has served on Northwest Connections' Board of Directors and often meets with Landscape and Livelihood students to share his stories of growing up on the homestead.
After initially meeting the government requirements to clear the land, the Beck family let nature reclaim some of the rolling uplands that today harbors a stand of lodgepole pine, larch, Douglas fir, and spruce trees. Wildlife continue to use this piece of land both as a home range, and as seasonal and linkage habitat. The high conservation values of this land will be protected in perpetuity by conservation easements held by the U.S. Forest Service on the north half and Montana Land Reliance on the south half.
The land upon where the Northwest Connections facility sits has seen a variety of changes and activities throughout the past hundred years. Native Americans traveled through this place before and during the homestead period. From a forest that was shaped by earlier forest fires to land that was cleared and planted by the Beck family, to a place through time that continues to connect with the surrounding land, wildlife, and people, the Beck homestead has had a rich cultural and natural history. This homestead has provided an ideal location to base the Northwest Connections research and education.