Letter seeking repayment among family’s keepsakesWith wildfires advancing toward the town of Falcon, Henry Kottkey sent an urgent dispatch to his supervisors. “The fire’s blowing up. I’m worried about my crews and about my family,” the ranger reportedly told Forest Service officials. Kottkey was in charge of fire crews near Loop Creek, a remote tributary of the St. Joe River. His wife, Bertha, was at Providence Hospital in Wallace, awaiting the birth of the couple’s third child. The baby, Hank, was born on Aug. 19, 1910 – the day before the Big Blowup. Bertha Kottkey and her day-old son were evacuated from Wallace by train to Missoula. “All of the patients were crowded into the caboose,” said Bob Kottkey, the couple’s grandson. It was a treacherous trip. A burning trestle collapsed after the train sped over it, but the patients and hospital staff arrived safely in St. Regis, where they caught another train to Missoula. Henry Kottkey and his crew survived the fire by taking shelter in a large railroad culvert. The circulation of cool air kept them alive, but Falcon was completely destroyed. The couple lost their house and all their possessions. After the fire, Henry Kottkey and his family left North Idaho to grow tomatoes in Florida. He later returned to the area, where he and his wife raised eight children. His son, Hank – Bob Kottkey’s father – became a Forest Service employee. Among the family’s keepsakes are letters that Henry Kottkey wrote to the U.S. government, seeking payment for a horse and two saddles destroyed during the 1910 fire. A government packer had been using them to supply the fire camps. “It took him over a year to get reimbursed,” Bob Kottkey said. His cousin, Karen Kottkey Chamberlain, remembers her grandfather as a handsome but stern man, with steely blue eyes. Her grandmother was more playful. “We’re lamenting the fact that our grandparents didn’t talk much about the fire,” Chamberlain said. “I’m wondering if everyone was too busy surviving to tell stories. They were very closemouthed. It was a different time.”
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