Saturday, January 13, 2018

William C. Whipps Was “Czar” of Kalispell, Montana


After an adventurous youth spent on the Western frontier, William Carvoso Whipps settled into Kalispell, a town in northwest Montana.  As a prominent businessman and owner of the Kalispell Liquor & Tobacco Co., Whipps, shown here, served four terms as mayor and became known as the “Czar” for his forceful advocacy of public improvements and for the creation of Glacier National Park.

Of English ancestry, Whipps’ great-grandfather, Benjamin Whipps was a Maryland slaveholder and and early settler in Ohio.  William’s father, Lloyd, a farmer, had served with an Ohio regiment in the Civil War.  His mother, Louise Grant Whipps, was from a Virginia family and distantly related to General Grant.  In rapid succession the couple would have nine children, of whom William, born in 1856, was the fourth.  Several months after the birth of her last child in 1865, Louise Whipps died.

William was educated in the one room school house common to rural Ohio and then sent for secondary education to Oberlin, Ohio, where he received a general commercial education and trained in telegraphy.   That skill would propel the restless young man westward.  In 1972 at the age of sixteen, Whipps found a job on the Nebraska frontier at McPherson as an telegraph operator for the Union Pacific Railway.  That town was the home of W. F. “Buffalo Bill” and other noted Westerners, whom the boy got to know well.  According to Whipps’ biographer:  “…Many of its white characters were gamblers, horse thieves and murderers…He shared in the excitement and romance of the time.”

That excitement led Whipps to give up his telegraphy employment and join a small party that on June 26, 1875, embarked on a hazardous expedition to “off-limits” Indian country to prospect illegally in the Black Hills, part of a gold rush to the area.  Because of the dangers from hostile Pawnee, Sioux and Cheyenne, the group traveled principally by night, taking twenty days to reach their destination.

Arriving in the Black Hills on July 16th,  Whipps and his companions soon were at work prospecting and developing their claims.  President Grant, however, had sent General George Crook, called by the Apache “Chief Wolf,” to the Black Hills to clear them of gold miners.  Thirteen days after Whipps’ arrival, Crook, shown right, ordered all prospectors to leave the Indian territory by August 10 or be arrested and taken as prisoners to Fort Laramie.  With no choice but to obey, Whipps returned to Nebraska, almost starving on the return, and went back to working for the railroad.  

A series of jobs ensued that ultimately took him further west to Montana where he ran a freight forwarding business.  That led to his becoming the manager of a bank in Helena, the state capitol.  While in Helena he met  Annie E. Osterhout, a Pennsylvania-born woman who had come west as a girl with her parents.  They married there in October 1886; he was 30, she was 29.  They would have two children, William O., born in 1888, and Carole Louise, 1896.


Whipps then moved to Demersville, Montana,  organizing a bank there, and finally, circa 1892, relocated to Kalispell, shown above, founding The First National Bank and erecting the first brick building in the town to house it.  He was manager and cashier of that bank until 1898 when he received a five-year federal appointment to run the United States Land Office.   Ending his term in 1903, Whipps immediately established a mercantile firm and brought in his now mature son, William, as a partner.  They called it W. C. Whipps & Son and erected the Whipps Block, then the largest and most modern building in Kalispell.  


It was there Whipps located his liquor house, naming it the “Kalispell Liquor and Tobacco Company.”  The photo below shows his establishment.  He sold his liquor both at wholesale and retail in ceramic jugs, now highly prized by collectors.  The jug below, a half gallon, recently sold at auction for $2,402.00.  


Throughout this period, Whipps also was pursuing a political career.  He became Kalispell’s first elected mayor in 1893 and served three consecutive two-year terms.  During this tenure, he was instrumental in installing a complete sewer system, paving the principal streets, and lining city thoroughfares with trees. In 1910, public clamor was for Whipps to run again.  He did and, without opposition, won a fourth two-year term. 

During that second administration he pushed for and achieved the reclamation of some 43 acres of marsh lands and transformed it into public green space known as Woodland Park.  Whipps also oversaw the installation of cement sidewalks, a system of lighting for the business district, and new municipal finance auditing systems.  He also able to obtain lower consumer water and electricity rates.  “Most of what was accomplished by him had to be fought through against strong opposition,” according to a biographer.  To both his adversaries and friends, Whipps became known as the “Czar” of Kalispell.

Whipps also was active socially.  He is credited with being one of the prime movers in building the Masonic Temple.  He was a Knight’s Templar and 32nd Degree Mason, a Mystic Shriner, and a member of several fraternal organization, including Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, and the Elks.  He and his wife were members of the Episcopalian Church.

Under the management of Whipps and his son, the Kalispell Liquor & Tobacco Co. prospered.  Like other local merchants, he gave out tokens good in exchange for goods.  One shown here could be exchanged for a drink at the bar in his establishment or for a cigar.  The ample profits from his liquor business Whipps invested in land, owning ranches near Kalispell and acres of fruit orchards near Flathead Lake, shown below.


He also had a summer home at what was then the Glacier National Forest Reserve in Montana.  When the Forestry Department was considering the sale of timber from the reserve from a site near Lake McDonald, shown here, Whipps “showed himself an aggressive friend of conservation and took up the matter directly with President Roosevelt, describing its wondrous beauty….”  His was among a number of voices calling for the Glacier region to be made a national park, a process begun by Roosevelt and completed by his successor, President Taft.


Even as the liquor house prospered, prohibition forces in Colorado were on the move.  By 1916, four years before National Prohibition, the state voted itself “dry,” forcing Whipps to shut the doors on the Kalispell Liquor & Tobacco Company.  He spared little time shifting into other occupations.  In addition to managing his own land, Whipps became a real estate agent and also sold insurance.   The 1920 census found him, age 63, living with his wife and daughter.  Son William D. at the time was serving in the U.S. Army.

Whipps lived long enough to see National Prohibition on the brink of Repeal, dying at the age of 77 in November, 1933.  He was buried in Conrad Memorial Cemetery in Kalispell.  His monument, shown here, was unique in having a base of boulders and stones, topped by a granite slab that holds a mental plaque bearing his name.  In death as in life he was honored as an outstanding citizen of Montana and his home town.  Said one tribute:  “It is the deliberate judgment of a large part of the citizenship of Kalispell that no one man has longer exemplified the strongest influence of his public spirit in behalf of all matters affecting the welfare of the community as William C. Whipps….”

Note:  Several biographical sketches have been written about William C. Whipps, during his lifetime and subsequently.  The basic information of each is from the book, “Montana:  Its Story and Biography,” edited by Thomas Stout and published in 1921, from which the quotes here have been taken.

































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