The original inhabitants of northwestern Montana were, Native Americans.
In the 1800′s the Salish and Kootenai tribes traversed the Flathead area on their semi-annual expeditions to hunt for bison.
These Native Americans traveled both on horseback and on foot, in the winter they traveled on snowshoes.
The Blackfeet, plains natives, crossed from east to west to raid the Salish and Kootenai for horses. All of these tribes of Native Americans also made trips into the mountains for hunting, fishing, and gathering of food.
Prior to 1850 the Kootenai hunted seasonally on Flathead Lake, competing with the Pend d ‘Oreilles.
After 1850 the Kootenai lived and hunted on Flathead Lake permanently mixing with the Native Americans already living here. The fur trade brought the Native Americans an influx of trade goods and replaced the Native American economy with new materials, hunting and trapping of game for material gain.
The only way to earn a living in Bigfork in the early 1850’s was by hunting, trapping, and trading, or working for someone else who hunted, trapped, or traded.
The Hellgate Treaty of 1855 established the Flathead Indian Reservation in the lower Flathead Valley for the Flathead (or Salish), Pend d ‘Oreille (or Kalispell), and Kootenai Tribes. Most of the bands of these tribes slowly moved onto this Reservation.
By the late 1800’s people of varies ethnic background began flooding into Bigfork for logging and to do business on the Swan River and Flathead Lake.
Everit L. Sliter arrived here in Bigfork, Montana while on a fishing and hunting trip in 1889.
Everit was one of the successful young men of early Montana, born in Vicksburg, Michigan, on November 29, 1866, the son of Andrew J. and Lucy (Moffett) Sliter.
After graduation from high school in Vicksburg, at the aged of nineteen, Everit L. Sliter went to Blue Hills, Nebraska alone.
From there Everit journeyed to Ouray, Arapahoe county, Colorado, where he bought horses and a 160 acre farm for $300, part of this $300 was to be paid in labor. In six months he lost his horses through overwork, left the farm and went to Fremont, Nebraska, and was a clerk in a hotel for eighteen months. With $300 saved working as a hotel clerk, Everit took the old buffalo trail to Helena, Montana, for forty-four days traveled on that trail, Everit was lost five days in a snow storm in the Bad Lands. He was fortunate enough to kill a range steer for food otherwise he would have died for lack of food.
Helena, Montana Everit worked for four months as a carpenter at forty cents an hour, putting in fourteen hours a day.
Everit’s next job was to helped build all of the railroad depots between Helena and Butte on the Montana Central Railroad line.
Quitting this job, during the fall and winter of I888 he kept a peanut and popcorn stand on the corner of Broadway and Main streets of Helena, Montana.
In the Spring of 1899 he opened the Palace cigar store in Helena, taking on a partner, George D. Crie.
Desiring recreation, on March 8, 1889, Everit arrived in the Flathead valley on a hunting and fishing trip, and was so pleased with the valley and its possibilities that he purchased a Bigfork ranch, consisting of 139.6 acres, from William Ramsdell, for $1,380. The only improvements on the ranch was six acres under cultivation, a dirt-roofed house and a little log stable.
Returning to Helena, he closed out his business there and permenately settled on his Flathead Lake land.
During the first winter of his life in Bigfork he killed twenty-six deer to survive. Everit kept ‘bachelor’s hall’ for four years and clerked for three years of that time for Mr. Ramsdell at his store in Egan, Montana.
In the spring of 1892 Everit L. Sliter opened the first store at Holt (Bigfork), but soon sold the store and made a trip to his origininal Michigan home. On December 14, 1892, Everit married, Lizzie G. Osborn, daughter of Henry D. and Maria (Turber) Osborn.
In 1892 Everit L. Sliter also made the first start in what promised to be one of the largest and productive orchards of the valley by setting out 500 apple, cherry, plum and pear trees. The next year 300 more trees were added and in 1894, 700 more trees. He had 4,000 fruit trees, of which 1,500 were actively bearing fruit.
From that time on the Sliter’s labored zealously to build up and develop a handsome estate at Bigfork, Montana. The estate numbered 555 acres of fertile land located at the head of Flathead Lake. Their fine home, was a hotel, with fifteen sleeping rooms, built in the spring of 1900. At this hotel a traveler could find entertainment surpassing many big city hotels.
In 1901 he platted the town of Bigfork (100 lots) and secured the establishment of the Bigfork post office. Everit was commissioned as Bigfork’s first postmaster, he soon resigned the office in favor of O. A. Colby.
At that time, Bigfork was nothing more that “cut over land” so at Everit’s own expense he procured a stump-pulling machine and removed all the stumps from the streets and main building lots, leaving the ground clear and free from obstructions. He used almost all of this money from the sale of his Bigfork lots to make improvements within the platted area of Bigfork, Montana.
It was at this time (1901) that the hydroelectric plant was built at the mouth of the Swan River to supply energy to Kalispell, Montana.
Near Bigfork was a ferry on the Flathead River, the Holt Ferry was the first ferry on the Flathead River, and was not replaced with a bridge until 1942.