THE FIRST GUNSMITH IN MONTANA
“Montana leads nation in gun companies per capita” was a recent headline in the Montana newspapers.
The person who made the first gun in Montana has a name very familiar to Seeley Lakers – Charles T. Morrell.
CT was the youngest of a large family. His father, Richard, was killed in the battle of Antietam in the Civil War.
Charles was one of the youngest of 5 children, grew up in New York State. His sister, Nan (Ketchum), moved from New York to Helena married to a builder. She wrote to her brother telling him it would be a fine place for him to start a business. He then traveled to Montana in 1889, just before it became a state. He had loved guns all his life, was a gunsmith and had learned all about safes, locks and furniture making. In Helena he had a shop that sold guns, outdoor equipment, etc. There, he manufactured the first gun made in Montana.
In 1894 he moved out into the unsettled area northwest of Helena now known as Seely Lake where he bought land from James Culbertson near the mouth of the creek that bears Morrell's name. A mountain peak, lake and falls are also named for him. Charles and Laura later each filed homesteads about a mile east of todays Seeley Lake airport (1907). Charles also filed a homestead near Woodworth (1909). Earlier, Charles had filed a homestead just east of today's Bonner (1900).
Charles homesteaded the area until 1910 when his wife Laura (Cunningham) died and he decided to return to Helena. He remarried in 1912. Morrell sold his land holdings to the Corlett family and this property eventually became part of the Double Arrow Ranch.
GLO maps of the time show today's Seeley Lake as Clearwater Lake. The Jocko Indian Trail coming from Placid Creek is about on the route of today's Tupper Lake Road. The Summit Indian trail heads northward along Two Fork Creek (now Morrell Creek.) The old location of the Missoula/Deer Lodge (now Powell) County line extended south from the current Seeley Swan High School, crossed the Old Wagon Road (now Hwy 83) about at the museum, a mile up Owl Creek proceeding south west of Salmon Lake.
FIRST PRESBYTERIAN SERVICES IN WESTERN MONTANA
On September 20, 1835 Montana's first Christian services were held on the West Fork of the Bitterroot. Rev. Samuel Parker, a Presbyterian missionary, was ill but asked a Nez Perce Indian he called Charlie to conduct the Sunday service for a group of fellow Indians.
Parker and Dr. Marcus Whitman started their journey on April 7th from St. Louis with a caravan of the American Fur Company. They went as far as the Green River where Parker preached at the rendezvous. Whitman then turned back and Parker continued west with a party of friendly Indians that were willing to listen to his sacred message. Parker was en route to Fort Vancouver on the lower Columbia River when he stopped in Montana.
Parker’s visit to the Bitterroot may be attributed to the 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark Expedition as they met native tribes along the way. Clark had invited a few to go east to meet the “Great White Father.” In 1831, three Nez Perce Indians and one Flathead Indian, traveled to St. Louis, to meet with Clark (then Superintendant of Indian affairs), looking for the "Book to Heaven." That visit inspired Whitman and Parker to answer the call for missionaries to move to the American West.
Parker was the first Presbyterian in this region. He went on scouting locations for potential missions. During the winter of 1835 to 1836, Parker was a guest at the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fur trade outpost at Fort Vancouver. He was then the first Presbyterian missionary in what would become the state of Oregon. He traveled through Western Oregon to select sites that were later used by the missionaries of the American Board for Foreign Missions, including what became the famed Waiilatpu Mission at Walla Walla where the Whitman massacre occurred in 1847.
Samuel Parker then left the region by ship, sailing first to the Sandwich Islands and then around Cape Horn to the Eastern Seaboard.
Parker returned to New York and informed the board of the best sites for missions. He was then rejected for missionary work for the board due to his advanced age. He published a book in 1838 describing his journey to Oregon in “Journal of an Exploring Tour Beyond the Rocky Mountains.”
Parker was born on April 23, 1779, educated on the east coast graduating in 1810, and ordained in 1812. He taught and preached in New York until 1833 before heading west in 1834. Samuel Parker died on March 21, 1866, and is buried in Ithaca, New York.
Seeley Lake historical society