A few weeks after that big windstorm struck our area, someone stopped by our office and mentioned in passing that the storm had damaged the “Beck barn” beyond any hope of repair.
I thought a wind-ripped old barn might make an interesting photo.
I reached out to Phil and Carla Pfeifle, the current owners of the Beck barn, seeking permission to go onto their land to snap a few pictures. Carla replied that I was welcome to come out for some photos but warned me that the barn could come down at any time.
Late one afternoon, as the Sun was getting low and that “Golden Hour” for taking photos approached, I gathered the camera gear for the drive out to the barn.
The barn is where the Beck community was located. It’s a long, dusty, bumpy ride along winter-ravaged gravel roads. The dust and washboard road distracted me from taking in the views.
The barn is near Immanuel Cemetery; it used to be known as Beck Cemetery.
The barn is set back from the road. It has seen better days.
I drive up to the barn, get out of the truck and take a few minutes to take in the view. This is one of those spots that is easy to underestimate. A “quick glance” doesn’t work here.
As I lean on the side of my old “project” truck, I notice that since I left the blacktop I have not encountered another vehicle. It’s quiet, the wind is still, and off in the distance, low on the horizon, are the Rockies. I can see why someone would pick this spot.
Anton Beck would pick this spot when he came to Montana from Minnesota.
But before Anton could settle on “T. 24 N., R. 2 W., Section 35,” the land had to be surveyed.
These notes were recorded in the survey for Section 35:
Survey Commenced Aug. 16th – 1873
By Demas McFarland
North between Sections 35 and 36
“Land rolling. Soil 2d rate. Good grass. No timber.”
“A dry Creek runs S.E.”
At one point, the land was withdrawn from entry under the Reclamation Act of June 17, 1902. Section 35, along with over 2,000,000 acres had been set aside for the “Teton River Project, Montana.”
On the document releasing the land from withdrawal, it was noted “These lands contain no power possibilities.”
The land was ready for Anton Beck, who was granted a patent on May 29, 1914, for 160 acres located in the “west half of the northwest quarter and the west half of the southwest quarter of Section thirty-five in Township twenty-four north of Range two west…”
On June 11, 1914, a patent was issued to Jacob Herman Beck in Section 35 for 160 acres consisting of the “east half of the southwest quarter and the west half of the southeast quarter.” Jacob was Anton Beck’s brother.
On June 27, 1919, Jacob Beck received a patent for another 160 acres located at the “east half of the northeast quarter and the east half of the southeast quarter” of Section 35.
On that same day, another patent was issued to Anton Beck for 160 acres located at the “west half of the northeast quarter and the east half of the northwest quarter” in Section 35.
In 2006 Abigail Konen asked her great-great-uncle, Arwin Beck, about the barn. Carla Pfeifle provided the Sun Times with a copy of the letter:
I was very surprised to get your letter and I’ll do everything I know to help you out. To begin with when my dad and mom homesteaded in 1911 they built their first house about half way between where the barn now stands and where the old Beck school was on the southwest corner of the field.
The barn was built in 1916 where it now stands because the times were tough for all the homesteaders and the men decided to go to work in the wintertime cutting logs in the forest up north around Kalispell, Montana. There were about 10 of the men and they knew that they would have someone who could take care of their horses in the wintertime. Feed and water them and give them a place to be when the snow and cold made it too cold for them to stay outside. So they made as many straws as there were men and the man who drew the longest straw would stay home and my father drew the longest straw so he was to stay home and take care of the stock.
Since there wasn’t a big enough building in the community, they all got together and helped build the barn. One of the men (Al Nelson) had some carpenter experience so he was the head carpenter. A coupe of the men and my dad would each load a wagon full of wheat and haul it to Dutton and sell it to the elevator and then go to the lumber yard and get enough lumber for the next day.
The reason the barn was built so far away from the original homestead house is because mother and dad had decided to move their house cause in the spring and summer when it rained the ground where they lived got so sticky it was hard to keep the house clean and also the garden they planted would not grow good because when the ground dried up it got very hard. The barn was built where it is so that it was close to the pasture and also the water reservoir that my dad had dug on the north end of the pasture and that was the only water they had in the wintertime for the horses and cows.
He would walk about a mile every day to feed and water the horses. The upstairs of the barn was built big enough that all the hay that the livestock needed could be stored there. It was all grass hay and the way it was put up there was there was an iron railing fastened to the top inside of the barn and a hay fork and carriage was attached to it. When the farmers brought a wagon load of hay they fork was run out the big door on the top of the barn on the south side and it was made so it could take a large amount of hay up at one time. The rail ran down about 2/3 of the length of the barn and when the hay was in the right place to dump it a rope attached to the fork was pulled and that would release the hay and so the whole top of the barn could be filled with very little work.
Ropes that were about 1 and 1/2 inches thick were used to pull up the hay and when the barn was not loaded with hay we made swings out of the rope and the kids used to swing on them. Ask your grandmother if she remembers swinging on the rope in the barn when she was little.
The barn was used for the horses in the wintertime for about 8 years before all the men quit logging. For staying home and taking care of the horses my dad got paid from the rest of the men as much as they made logging in the woods.
All of this information I have given you is what I remember my father telling me so there could be some mistakes, but I don’t think there is too many.
Love Uncle Arwin
The Beck family donated land for the Beck School. In 1987, The Fairfield Times reported on a reunion of the Beck School held in Power:
August 15, 1987 Fairfield Times
Attend Beck Reunion
One of the organizers of the Beck School reunion, held June 30, at the Power Legion Hall in Power, said it’s not too often a school holds a reunion 45 years after it has ceased to exist. But 46 alumni and spouses signed in at the reunion, coming from all over Montana and the United States.
The reunion began with a buffet dinner and was followed by a program conducted by organizer Mary Timmerman Fitch. Also organizing the event was Lucille Primus Nelson.
The program began with the Pledge of Allegiance, as had each day at the school.
A brief history of the school had been researched by Teton County superintendent of schools Wilma Jansen and was read by Fitch. The school, which was located 12 miles northwest of Power, was named for the Beck family, who had donated the land. Many Beck children also attended the school.
According to Jensen’s history, the school was first known as Dederich School District No. 44 and the name was changed later. The school was formed on September 8, 1913, when then-county superintendent Nellie R. Brown appointed the first school board members, P.H. Dederich, Joe Homberg and Jacob Beck and board clerk, Mrs. P.J. Dederich. The first teacher was Inez M. McKenney, who served from October 1, 1913 to January 31, 1914.
The original district consisted of 29 sections, but as time went on, new districts were formed, whittling away pieces of District No. 44.
When World War II caused severe teacher shortages, the Beck School was closed – it’s last day of classes were in May 1942. The buildings were later sold and moved and the site was returned to farmland owned by Tony Beck.
Enrollment for the first years of the school included all eight grades and from 17 to 33 students. At its peak, in the late 1920s and early 30s, the school’s enrollment went as high as 48 in 1930, and two teachers were employed to teach grades one through four and five through eight.
By 1932, however, the enrollment was back to 22 students and numbers continued to decrease until only five students attended in the last year, 1941-42. The youngest and therefore last student was Frank Timmerman. Other students in the final days were Irene Primus, Louis Asmus, Arwin Beck and Clifford Schaefer.
Of the 26 full-time and substitute teachers, three joined the reunion: Elfrieda Reibhoff Maurer, who taught from 1938-1940; Elvera Ulenkott Johnson, who taught from 1934-38 and Margaret Geldrich O’Day, who taught from 1930-32.
During the program, a number of gifts were presented to former students who were the oldest, came the farthest and other distinctions. Also recognized were two couple who had married their school-day sweethearts – Joe and Mabel Quade Bricks, who have been married 55 years and Melvin and Rosella Gamradt Beck, who have been married 52 years.
Sadly, the deterioration of the Beck barn seems to be accelerating. When I was at the barn the front side looked like it would come down at any moment. Only because the wind was still did I feel like it was safe to get in close for the photos. About a week ago Cindy (Beck) Dauwalder sent an email letting me know that the front wall had come off.
This story originated at fairfieldsuntimes.com