The Whitehall Ledger - Serving Southern Jefferson County in the Great State of Montana

By Arlene Weber
Contributing Writer 

Vegetable Gardens of the Jefferson Valley


October 11, 2017

Courtesy Photo

Ke-man Lee with three of her daughters, Rose, Lucille and Loabie.

Early settlers in the Jefferson Valley soon discovered that the combination of good soil and a warm summer climate made this an excellent place to grow fruits and vegetables, if you could obtain enough water. Remnants of old apple orchards can still be found here and up the South Boulder; but, most of the early farms are long forgotten except for bits and pieces on file at the Jefferson Valley Museum.

Once the railroad arrived in the valley in 1890, the ability to ship large quantities of produce spurred the growth of farming. Potatoes, cabbage, carrots and other produce was shipped to Butte on a regular basis. During one week in the fall of 1892, 40 freight cars left Whitehall loaded with hay, oats, ore, potatoes, cattle and horses. Successful farming and ranching also brought thieves to the valley. In June 1893, the local newspaper contained the headline "Butter Went With Them." Two men from Butte rented a horse and buggy and rode to the Charles W. Winslow farm near Fish Creek (a very long bumpy trip in those days). They attempted to sell Mr. Winslow a part that would make a sewing machine run easier. But, it was just a cover for their robbery plans. After the men left, Mr. Winslow discovered that he was missing 16 pounds of butter and another 20+ pounds he had not finished processing. Mr. Winslow immediately made the long ride to Butte and eventually found the livery stable where the buggy had been rented. Evidence of the crime was still fresh with unworked butter smeared across the bottom of the buggy. The Butte police found and arrested the men.

Watermelon would later be grown on the Winslow farm and Mr. Black from the South Boulder was having success with strawberries. The Pipestone ditch was supplying water to the Pipestone Bench and homesteaders there were also raising strawberries.

Perhaps the least known and remembered were the large truck farms of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. Korean immigrants and U.S. born were finding opportunities in the Jefferson Valley. Leasing farm land gave these families the chance to provide a good income; but, the work was hard, dangerous and sometimes deadly.

The Lee Yoon-Kyong and Ke-Man Lee family spent about 30 years in Montana and like other Korean families, theirs was large with 10 children. The children who attended school in Whitehall would change to work clothes when they returned home and spend the rest of the day in the fields. Younger children would pull weeds and the older ones would help harvest and prepare the produce for market. One of the Lee's young sons was tragically killed on the farm when he was run over by a piece of horse drawn machinery. His grave in the Whitehall cemetery, and photos of some of his siblings in old Whitehall High School annuals, are the only visible reminders that the Lee family once lived here.

Another hard-working family was that of In Soo Chun. For a while, he lived east of Whitehall on what would be owned by Herschel Davis later in the 20th century. For most of the 1940s, he and his family lived on what was once the Ike Pace ranch (the barn is now the Jefferson Valley Museum). Born in Taiko, Korea in 1882, he moved to Hawaii at age 20 and later came to Montana where he lived for 25 years. Sixteen of those were in the Whitehall area.

His truck farm supplied produce to Safeway stores. He and his wife adopted their daughter Lucy from the B. K. Kim family when she was a small child. Like many other farm children, she learned to tend the crops in addition to getting an education. Lucy and her mother had a major shift in their lives when Mr. Chun died in a tragic accident on April 25, 1949. He was in the Pace (Museum) barn when a horse or horses trampled him. Although the other Korean families had already the Whitehall valley, Lucy Chun and her mother remained and continued to grow produce for local markets. Lucy graduated from Whitehall High School in 1950.

The Jefferson Valley Museum is hoping to acquire photos of some of the Korean families from the days when they worked their farms in the Whitehall valley.

This will help the museum provide a more complete history of our area. The museum is currently closed and will reopen in late May of next year; but, volunteers are at the barn on most Monday afternoons if people have questions or want to inquire about donating artifacts.


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