The Flathead Story
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Chapter XVIII
WILLIAM H. "SLIPPERY BILL" MORRISON, 1848-1932

Not even his close associates knew anything about William H. "Slippery Bill" Morrison's background: where he was from or where he was born. A bachelor, he lived at Summit, Montana, before the arrival of the Great Northern Railroad. Well educated, Morrison used excellent grammar and demonstrated a bright, unusual vocabulary. Some said he was a graduate of Oxford University. But his speech was Western in character.

He worked as a conductor for the Great Northern Railroad. One day his train rammed a work train. No one was hurt. But Morrison did not wait for demerits. He walked off the job and left the railroad for others to run.

He worked for a time as a Forest Ranger in the Flathead National Forest. But most of his life he was a trapper and prospector, living by his wits.

Morrison was an elderly man when I knew him. At that time, he would rather make $10 playing cards than make $100 any other way. At the time (1890-92) McCarthyville, five miles west of Marias Pass, was booming, Morrison spent most of his time playing poker there. The fact that he came out of this rough frontier town with all his hide was quite an achievement. Morrison told me that the melting spring snows in McCarthyville 1 year later revealed nine bodies as evidence of the cruel and exacting moral code of the town.

John F. Stevens, credited by the Great Northern Railroad with the discovery of Marias Pass, spoke at the dedication of the Stevens statue at Summit. In the course of his speech, Stevens told of hardships in searching out the pass over the Continental Divide. He explained that it was December, and he had nearly perished in a blizzard at the pass. At this point, Morrison spoke up from the crowd: "Why didn't you come over to my house? I was living right over there," he said, pointing to his cabin.

Morrison had "squatter's rights" on 160 acres at Summit. It was never surveyed. The boundaries were not defined, but he claimed all the suitable land in the area. When someone proposed to stake a claim anywhere, Morrison would protest and say that his claim took in that area. His claim reverted to the government upon his death.

His cabin was near the railroad tracks at the Summit, and he was a friend of all the trainmen. Often he rode in the engine cab to Essex and back for his mail and supplies. He maintained a bar in his cabin and was set up for a poker game any time someone was foolish enough to play him. He had many friends and no enemies that I ever knew. Although he never worked at any legitimate job during the last 30 years of his life, he was never at odds with the law during the time I knew him.

Morrison was a reader of heavy literature. At times, his vocabulary ranged beyond the comprehension of his listeners. As a frontier philosopher, he often expounded theories in areas of his experience. He maintained that whiskey was a virtue and that gambling was a privilege and was an essential part of modern man's activities.

He died in Kalispell in 1932 after a short illness. Morrison was 84. He was buried in the Conrad Memorial Cemetery March 6, 1932. Charles Hash, then Assistant Supervisor, Flathead National Forest, was one of the pallbearers; the other pallbearers were railroad employees.

The people around Summit secured permission from the Forest Service to tear down Morrison's cabin, which has become badly deteriorated. His land reverted to the Federal Government. I took his bar top from the cabin and later made it into a clothes chest. It was a redwood (Sequoia Sempervireus—not rosewood, as some believed). It was 14 feet long, 30 inches wide, and 5/4 inches thick. It was clear, select timber; but I found one .45 bullet and some shot imbedded in it. The bar top was brought to Summit by ox team before the railroad.



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Last Updated: 12-Sep-2011
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