When Dinner Was Big Game

First fur, then logs, drew pioneering people over the centuries to support emerging trading and business opportunities on The Edge of the Wilderness.

Fur Fit the Bill

Imagine the trading - American Indians exchanging beaver furs for the tools and weapons of French voyageurs. Bigfork was an important fur trade route at the confluence of the Rice and Big Fork Rivers.

The first white settler of Bigfork, Damase "Uncle Tom" Neveaux understood the workings of the wilderness. Neveaux hiked here as a squatter in about 1887. Squatters lived on land illegally, without title or payment for it. Once the government opened the land for settlement, most squatters put in claims for the property on which they had been living.

When Damase Neveaux arrived, he quickly set about creating business opportunities for the loggers to come. He was affectionately



named "uncle" because of his hospitality. Tom is the English translation of the French name Damase. Uncle Tom called all his meat dishes "chicken." Actually, the meals were made of muskrat or other local game he captured, minus the fur or feathers.

Pioneers Preceded Legal Land Opening

Timber became an eagerly-sought prize from the area. Illegally-cut pine was floated down the river by both Canadian and American lumberman. Land was not officially opened for settlement until 1900, the year after the federal land surveys were completed.

Before the railroad reached Bigfork in 1906, Neveaux and other early settlers got their supplies from Grand Rapids by canoe, a trip that usually took at least a week. There certainly wasn't any spur of the moment shopping back then. Log harvesting remains important today as do jobs supporting outdoor recreation and tourism.

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