Thoughts on the Downeses

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I hope every North Forker and North Fork over has been able to read either the Jan.28 or 29th Daily Inter Lake. Inter Lake reporter Duncan Adams wrote an excellent article about North Fork icon Lee Downes. He interviewed Lee at my kitchen table with Lee’s youngest daughter, Marilee, and I in attendance. Duncan then wrote what I consider to be an excellent profile of the Downes family on the North Fork. I particularly liked his next to last paragraph.

“But what remains as clear as a hawk’s cry on a quiet snowy day in the North Fork or Lee Downes piercing blue eyes is his love for the wild territory he embraced as home.”

The article was originally printed on Jan. 28 as the Monday Profile, but due to an editing error, a portion of it was omitted. As a result, the entire article was run on Tuesday, Jan. 29th and it’s a gem.

I first met Lee and Marietta Downes in the 1960s while teaching social studies at Columbia Falls Junior High and had the pleasure of having several of their six kids in class.

At that time, they loved on the South Fork, but in the 1970s moved to the North Fork and built a beautiful log home, which was their dream home.

Even when construction was going on, Marietta did all of the cooking outside in the area that later became their big garden. Never one to sit around, Marietta used her outdoor kitchen to can vegetables and I stopped one day to watch her stuff sausages with her blend of meat and spices.

Marietta not only canned vegetables and meat, she even canned cakes in wide-mouthed Mason jars. If she did not have cookies when company stopped in, she could quickly open a canned spice cake, top it with homemade jam and put a big slice in front of you. There was no stopping by without eating something, so, of course, I stopped by often.

Once I stopped when it was raining cats and dogs and my little Brittany Spaniel was in the back of my pickup, wet and forlorn. He was used to riding in front with me, but had a run-in with a skunk up Hay Creek and had been sentenced to ride in the rain. Of course, Marietta had a cure.

Her cure was strawberry scented shampoo and, after a complete shampoo and rinse, little Ike was cured of skunk sting and allowed to ride home in the cab. Forget those stories about tomato juice! That just spreads the smell and is tough to rinse out.

Lee Downes was a top-notch logger, cat skinner, trapper and hunter. He was not just a crack shot, he was the best rifleman I have ever seen. I watched him shoot a coyote one time that was probably a thousand yards away. Anyway, it was just a black spot on a snow-covered hillside. Seemed like it took seconds for the bullet to reach the target, but it collapsed and rolled down the hill.

Lee and Marietta lived their lives as many of us wish we could, always surrounded by the wild country they loved. It wasn’t hard because they loved it from cooking and canning to cutting wood and working outside in all kinds of weather.

Lee still travels to his North Fork cabin frequently. That is where we had Marietta’s memorial, Lee’s 90th birthday and I hope his 100th birthday.

Larry Wilson’s North Fork Views appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.

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