Michael Phillipps' House: 0052.0372

MICHAEL PHILLIPPS’ HOUSE – Shades of the Colorful Past Cast Their Shadow

            There’s an old farmhouse, right smack against the U.S – Canadian frontier at Roosville that has seen a lot of life.  Today it needs a coat of paint, but don’t be mistaken, it’s not to cover up it’s past, for it has seen many wonderful things, but it is now seeing and hearing things that boggle the imagination.

            It is the “home” of the D. & T. Ranch and on the deeded lands, as well as the leased acreage that make up this cattle spread, there is a deeply rutted, dusty road which the locals call “Highway 93A” – the smugglers road.

            In comparison with the old days, Highway 93A ain’t got no class.

            It’s a point of illegal entry into Canada, possibly one of thousands across the long undefended border, which since 1846 has marked the frontier between Canada and the Untied States.  Motorcycle cowboys, worshippers at American Shrines of Bacchus who have spent too long at their devotions, petty smugglers, or maybe worse, use it with impunity.

            The two-storey frame house has seen “sophisticated” smuggling, it has seen history in the making, and the man who built it was the “pioneer of pioneers,” Michael Phillipps, the grandfather of just about every industry in the East Kootenay.

            Today, the so-called Highway 93A as they call it in the Grasmere country, is a dirt track two miles west of the Highway 93 that is shown on the maps.  You won’t find 93A on the maps, but it is known far and wide and the people that use it are not gentlemen.  They tear up rangeland, knock down fences and leave a pathway of broken bottles and junk to mark their path.

            The home of Michael Phillipps and the ranch he carved out of the beautiful north Tobacco Plains country has seen far more romantic and exciting things than the two-bit antics that are going on today.

            For one thing it remembers the days when smuggling was, from the Canadian point of view, an honorable profession, although the authorities south of the line had another word for it.  Today it is a mere will o’ whisp; a gypo operation, as compared to the ingenuity and gusto of the rum-runners of the 1920s and early 1930s who created “holes in the fences” but never disturbed the land such as the modern buckeroos do.

            For instance:

            There was the gentle lady from Elko who, every Sunday morning went to the church of her choice in Eureka, Montana, and returned home in the afternoon.  Sometimes she returned in the evening and then there were times that she would take the winding, narrow and steep Phillipps Canyon road back again mid-week for prayer meetings.  Each time ,the customs people on both sides of the line would wave and smile as this L.O.L. went to her devotions.  But in 1933, President Franklyn Delano Roosevelt’s administration repealed the prohibition laws and it was noticed, almost immediately, that this L.O.L. no longer went to church in Eureka, but on thinking it over, it was not as strange as it seems.

            Many people, including prominent Cranbrook businessmen and L.O.L.’s in the highly profitable trade of supplying Americans with a snort of potables which their government would not permit.

            There were people who drifted down the Kootenay River from Waldo on rafts laden with the beverage the American temperance evangelist Billy Sunday called “the vomit out of hell,” )”and that’s where it belongs,” he added).  Many a package of high denomination bills changed hands at the South Country frontier – bills for bottles, bottles for bills – and no questions were asked.

            Today questions are being asked by the ranchers of the South Country, and with good reason.  Why should their fences be torn up by beer parlor cowboys who don’t care a Columbia River Treaty dam for the rights of the individual?

            But in the beginning, this farm house and the lands around represented law and order in the South Country – Tobacco Plains area, through the integrity and down-to-earthness of one man, Michael Phillipps, who sleeps in the little graveyard above the Roosville customs house along with his wife, Rowena, the daughter of Chief David of the Tobacco Plains band, and Colin Sinclair, son of the great pathfinder of the fur trade, James Sinclair.

            Phillipps was the type of character whom novels and TV westerns should be modeled after.  The son of a Herefordshire parson, he first saw the vale of the East Kootenay in 1866 and until his death in June, 1916, he was a legend, and he still is, in the East Kootenay.

            Legend associates him with chasing the Fenians out of the Wild Horse camp in 1867; legend associates him in a small way with the Lost Lemon Mine; he is also hailed as the discoverer of the Crows Nest Pass coal mines; he was also a trader at Fort Kootenay when that post was located on the Meade property at Fort Steele, and he was also the first Indian agent in this part of the country.  He also operated the first sawmill in the South Country, and he opened the first post office at Roosville, probably in this farm house, which he called Phillipps.

            In her book The Story of Tobacco Plains, Olga Johnson quotes pioneer Charley Edwards about Phillipps:

            “Phillipps told me he often had to leave his ranch at high water as the Piegans were often raiding the country for horses and frequent fights took place with the Kootenays.  As to the Indian resentment against the agent, Phillipps had nothing whatsoever to do with settling out the reserve – in fact he knew nothing about it until the surveyor was on the ground.  He really was an injured party as the government took a slice of his farm and included it in the reserve.”

            Mrs. Johnson goes on to say that “Phillipps was the natural target of Indian resentment against the whites as a race, and on occasion they used to butcher his heifers; once young troublemakers set fire to his ranch and even plotted against his life; but Michael Phillipps thwarted all these plans with forthright courage and a resolute will to law and peace.  He worked hard to improve the lot of the Indians, promoting schools, homes and farming, and always set them a high example of temperance and straight dealing.”

            As his obituary writer wrote in 1916: “he never ceased to be a courteous English gentleman.”

            The frame house he had built in the late 1890’s by Ed Murray still stands beside the stream called Phillipps’ Creek, but in these days of beer parlor cowboys and vandals who ride the ranges at all hours of the day and night, it would be hard to imagine what an English gentleman would have done.

0052.0372: Michael Phillipps' House

Remembers an old farmhouse on the U.S.-Canadian border which has seen smugglers and Indian uprisings.

Medium:  Newspaper - Text
Date:  September 6, 1973
Pages:  6
Publisher:  Daily Townsman
Collection:  Columbia Basin Institute (0052)


farmhouse frontier ranch smugglers road illegal entry graveyard reserve post office indian


People arrow Phillipps, Michaelarrow
People arrow Phillipps, Rowenaarrow
People arrow Johnsonarrow
People arrow Edwardsarrow
People arrow Murrayarrow
Cities arrow Roosville arrow Services arrow Postalarrow
Cities arrow Tobacco Plainsarrow
Agriculture arrow Ranching arrow D and T Rancharrow
Physical Features arrow Caves and Canyons arrow Phillipps Canyonarrow
Physical Features arrow Rivers arrow Kootenay Riverarrow
Physical Features arrow Creeks arrow Phillipps Creekarrow
Social arrow Prostitutionarrow
Transportation arrow Roads arrow Highway 93arrow
Industry arrow Mining arrow Mines arrow Lost Lemon Minearrow
Government arrow Officials arrow Indian Agentsarrow
Industry arrow Mining arrow Gold Mining arrow Wild Horse Creekarrow
First Nations arrow Ktunaxaarrow
First Nations arrow Peiganarrow


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