Rich History Abounds In The Elk Lake Area
including stories from the old west, ancient geological mysteries, and modern adventures with travelers from around the world.
Geologists believe Elk Lake, Hidden Lake, Goose Lake, Otter Lake, Cliff Lake, and Wade Lake were all part of a chain flowing to the north (providing a natural outlet for the Red Rock Lakes) into the Madison River. However, at some point in history, an upheaval changed parts of this chain. Elk Lake, on whose banks our Montana Fishing Lodge sits, now drains to the south and enters the Red Rock River via the Red Rock Lakes. The others continue to drain north.
The Centennial Valley is a vast 385,000 acre valley which runs east and west for some 65 miles along the Continental Divide in southwestern Montana. It was named in 1876 by Mrs. William (Rachel) Orr, when the P & O (Poindexter and Orr) Cattle Company first brought cattle here to summer.
Fertile and picturesque, the Centennial Valley has been home to many over the years. Native Americans including the Shoshone-Bannock, the Nez Perce, and other nomadic tribes first inhabited the land for its rich hunting grounds. Over time, fur trappers, hunters, miners, homesteaders, dry farmers, squatters, cowmen, sheep men, rustlers, moonshiners, and revenuers came to call the area home. More recently, the Centennial Valley has seen ranches, hunting lodges, stage stops, mines, taxidermists, fish hatcheries, fishing lodges and the creation of a wildlife refuge.
Marcus Daly, the famous American copper magnate, was the first to “possess” the Centennial Valley. He owned notable sections of ground in the late 1800's. He believed the high altitude would increase the lung capacity of his horses and aspired to own the whole valley and fence its perimeter. However, he didn't think the place fit for man nor beast in the winter. Thus he built horse barns in the valley, at least one which is still in use today.
The Levi Shambow family is titled the Centennial Valley's first permanent settlers. The Shambow family arrived in the mid 1880's. After an easy winter, the Shambows believed they had found paradise. The next winter, however, was more typical, and tested their determination and will.
Most early setters to the Centennial Valley arrived in the 1890's, spurred on by a new land law, which was passed in 1889. This law allowed a homesteader to take 640 acres. Many early settlers, once they had completed the three-year proving time, sold their land to ambitious ranchers who sought to expand their land holdings. In fact, many families seemed only too happy to leave the area once they'd experienced its turbulent winters, but others stayed and put down deep roots.
The M-Y line was the first stage line in the area, which carried visitors through the valley from Monida, Montana to West Yellowstone from 1898 - 1907. The line sold three excursion trips from Monida through Yellowstone National Park. Their outfit consisted of twelve 11-passenger and four 3-passenger Concord coaches, eighty horses, two buggies, and forty employees.
Tourists flocked to the town, stayed in its hotel and visited the local saloons before embarking on a six to eight day round trip to Yellowstone National Park. Thirty miles outside of Monida, the stage passed through the then-booming town of Lakeview. Today Lakeview consists of the Refuge headquarters and a few private landholdings; back then it had a hotel, a general store, a post office, two bars, and a good blacksmith. Four miles past Lakeview, George Shambow leased buildings and a stable to the stage line for a lunch and horse switching station. Then it was on up the valley for the overnight stop at the Dwelle residence.
Like every other era in history, this one soon met its demise. Outdated by the faster and more efficient motorized transportation and the addition of a Union Pacific branch line from St. Anthony, Idaho to West Yellowstone, Montana, the stage line ceased operation in 1909, although the M-Y continued tours of the Park until 1916. It was probably this change, as much as anything else, which guaranteed the delayed expansion of the Centennial.
Change really began in earnest in the Centennial in the early 1930's - the depression era. It was during this uniquely vulnerable time the government stepped into the picture. Claiming the drought, which had held the valley for the last several years, would last forever, they talked the ranchers into selling out to create the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
James Blair was the first to officially settle at Elk Lake in 1891. It wasn’t until 1933 when Fay and Edna Selby obtained a permit from the U.S. Forest Service to establish a fishing and hunting resort to be located at the narrows on Elk Lake. Fay built a road to the current resort location alongside the lake and by the late 1930’s the Selby’s had built a ranch house, barn and several rustic cabins and opened Selby’s Resort, a Western Montana Fishing and Hunting Lodge.
The present lodge was built in the 1950’s and at the time it was used for summer owner’s quarters, a dance hall and bar.
Today’s current Ranch House served as the owner's quarters as well as the Club House where visitors would eat meals prepared on an old wood-burning cook stove.
World Class Fishing thrived in Elk and Hidden Lakes and Fay Selby is credited for stocking the lakes with trout.
In 1965, the resort was purchased by a young couple, Hank and Erlene Mercer and they began to renovate the resort, adding bathrooms to existing cabins. In 1967, the Forest Service put in a road to Hidden Lake. The resort up to this time was primarily a summer and fall destination, drawing fisherman and hunters to the area. By 1970, they began developing winter activities and that winter they were visited by almost 100 snowmobilers.
In 1970, the resort was sold to Bill Green and his wife and in 1976, Bill’s daughter Liz and her husband Mike Bryers took over the resort. Mike and Liz added guided hunting and fishing trips to the resort's offering.
The fourth owner, Eldon Bybee purchased Elk Lake in 1980. He owned and operated Elk Lake Resort by himself for 5 years. In 1985, Bybee sold the Resort to Bill and Georgia Miller. The Millers went all out to improve the business aspects of the Resort. They brought in a phone system (via a transmitter on the hillside). They put in a well. They updated the generator setup a bit. They built an addition to the dining room, added the front porch, and completely renovated and rejuvenated the restaurant. In addition to the changes in the restaurant and dining room, the Millers added a lot of character to the lodge. They added the rock fire-place, oak floors, the archway at the resort entrance, fencing around the perimeter and did a lot of the internal decorating - adding character and personality to the interior of the lodge.
In 1992, Mr. Gary Coppin purchased the Resort and maintained it for a short 4 year span. Brothers John and Wayne Schofield, and Wayne's wife, Nancy, purchased the Resort from Gary Coppin in 1996. According to the Schofields, Coppin had allowed the property to decline and had run up large debts related to the Resort. The Schofields built upon the previously existing summer business and greatly expanded the winter side as well. In fact, during Yellowstone's heyday, Elk Lake Resort became an almost famous stop over for snowmobilers in and out of the area.
Craig and Lerrina Collins took over the operation of Elk Lake Resort in 2004. Originally from Oregon, they were drawn to the area by the unsurpassed beauty and 'retreat-like' seclusion of the Centennial Valley. Drawing on their experience as former motel owners in another unique and beautiful valley, Craig's experience and background in construction and maintenance and Lerrina's skills and training in business management and bookkeeping, and their common love of the great outdoors made owning the resort a no brainer for them.
In 2014, Jake and Laurel DeLong purchased Elk Lake Resort from the Collins’ after spending time working at the resort during the summers. Laurel delights in cooking up great food, Jake does a great job keeping the place running, and they thoroughly enjoy interacting with the guests. The DeLongs wanted a life of adventure and new experiences and Elk Lake certainly provides! Each guest is a new experience, every day a new adventure. They wouldn’t trade it for anything.