Recalling Dorothy Johnson’s take on Stumptown

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While Kevin McCready’s recent article (Whitefish Pilot, March 28, 2018) was informative about Whitefish’s nickname of “Stumptown” there was an even earlier Whitefish Pilot reporter who reported from a first hand account regarding Whitefish’s “stumps.” I am referring to Dorothy Johnson’s classic, “When You and I Were Young, Whitefish.”

According to Dorothy, “One of the joys of my childhood in Whitefish was watching Uncle George blow up stumps.” Uncle George was half of the police force and he moonlighted as both an entertainer and explosive expert in the removal of said stumps.

As pointed out by Dorothy, “Any man who was able and willing to use explosives to get rid of stumps was a public benefactor.” But George Tayler was more than just a “public benefactor,” he was an entertainer as “small children came running from all directions, to watch with open-mouthed admiration.”

George did not let the children down as Dorothy notes, “He put on the best show in town.” As Dorothy pointed out, they “were observing a very dangerous project in which [the children] could get hurt if we didn’t mind what he said. We minded.”

The children would observe with awe as George went about the business of preparing the stump and putting dynamite in the drilled holes. When everything was just right, George would glare at the kids and yell, “Run!” To the best of my knowledge, no children were hurt or killed in George’s moonlighting.

But his moonlighting was apparently a wonderful form of entertainment for the children of Whitefish. After the stump was dislodged, Uncle George would give the “all-clear” when the children would venture forth and “squabble over the pieces, mementos of a great occasion.”

“When You and I Were Young, Whitefish,” was Dorothy Johnson’s 17th book and it is on good historical authority (Mike Muldown) that one of Dorothy’s most famous story and subsequent movie, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” was based on part from Dorothy’s job and experiences as a reporter for the Whitefish Pilot.

Dorothy’s small little book of 164 pages is a bittersweet remembrance that many of us “old folks” can identity with. It is a quick read that I have read numerous times and encourage all that love and call Whitefish their “hometown” to read, reread and, hopefully, heed.

Just as Whitefish once upon a time had to deal with a rough and tumble downtown with too many stumps, today’s Whitefish is now a tame and subdued town with perhaps too many people.

Many of us can identify with Dorothy’s observation that the town and us grew up together. Like Dorothy, many of us have gone our separate ways. “Sing a song of laughter, a pocketful of wry.”

Tom Muri, a Whitefish native, writes mostly from Arizona now.

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