Belgians are a key nucleus of the population of Valier, brought in by church and railroad authorities as a whole village. The nation itself was outlined and organized in 1830 after a period as "the low countries" during which it was the battleground for forming countries of Europe. It was left with three languages defining the origins: "two main linguistic groups: the Dutch-speaking, mostly Flemish community, which constitutes about 59 percent of the population, and the French-speaking, mostly Walloon population, which comprises about 40 percent of all Belgians. Additionally, there is a small group of German speakers."
Because the village came in 1913 just before WWI, it's clear that they were looking for a quiet place to survive, not expanding an empire.
The Pondera Historical Society and the Ancestry messenger board listed below have gathered up the names and origins of many of the people who were moved to Valier by Monsignor Victor Day and the railroad. The idea was that they would guard the irrigation system and use it to begin the wheat crops that are a world force now. The railroad needed to have crops to ship and they still do that.
"On Feb. 6, 1913, thirteen families and a few single men (69 people in all) embarked at Antwerp on the S. S. Vanderland; arrived at New York on Feb.25 and arrived at Williams (MT) on March 1." Letter at the Pondera Historical Society" https://www.ancestry.com/boards/thread.aspxmv=flat&m=179&p=localities.northam.usa.states.montana.counties.pondera
Williams was a small first town that is a ghost town now. One of its vestiges is an electrical transmission node that burned in the 2010's, paralyzing Valier which had eventually become the larger center of population. Another remnant is the "Belgian Church" and its adjacent graveyard, both of which are maintained by locals but do not sustain a parish.
Linda reports "The Pondera History Association wrote the book "PONDERA" about the history of Pondera County MT. The only thing - it is nor DATED."
Harold John Jay Funk wrote this: "My Great-Great-Grandfather H.L. Barber was the founder of Williams Montana. I have a copy of a book titled "Williams - The Gem Of The Project" written by Freda Nelson. This book contains much on the families of Williams."
Christi says: "I know of 3 families that came over from Belgium on the SS Vaderland in February 1913 and ended up in Valier/Williams, MT. The Christiaens and Sabbe families from Wareghem and the Ghekiere family from ? (I could not read the Vaderland passenger manifest). My grandmother was the youngest of the Sabbe family to come over. I'd be interested in finding out more about the letter and I will be happy to share any info I have with you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org."
MKay says: "My Grandfather Goemare Christiaens, through the help of Father Day, immigrated from Belgium to Valier, Montana in 1912, returned in 1913, and brought back another group - including his future wife Pharila Sabbe -- my other Grandfather Peter Habets and his family also made that trip.'
tjkeolker added much information, part of which is included here. Koelker seems to live in Belgium: "Remi Nollet was my great uncle. He was the author of the letter below. His sister Felicie VanDaele (my grandmother) came to this country in 1914.
ENLARGING OF THE BELGIAN COLONY IN M0NTANA
UNITED STATES OF NORTH AMERICA
Printers Bouquillon, Merckem
Exceptionally productive land, at 527 francs per hectare, divided in fifteen yearly payments.
Read this letter, addressed to Belgian farmers, and see how you, with a few thousand francs, can in a few years be the owner of a nice large farm. Read this today, for you will need all your time to make the necessary arrangements if you want to come along around 20 February 1911.
Honorable Mr. Farmer
I have the honor of informing you that last winter on 15 February (1913) a colony of Belgians of 80 persons left for the Valier area in Montana, United States of North America.
I took part in this colony and have now returned to Belgium with the aim of getting more settlers together, in order to enlarge the existing colony. This colony went to Montana under the guidance of Monsignor Victor de Brabandere of Desselghem, now living in Helena, capitol of Montana. The colony consists of the following families:
The three families Christiaens originated in Waereghem
The family Jules Sabbe “ “ Waereghem
The family Henri Deketele “ “ Nazareth
The family Cyrille Ghekiere “ “ Beveren (Leie)
The family P. Leclerq “ “ Bachte (0. Vl.)
The family H. Vandoorne “ “ Denterghem
The family C. Vandebulcke-Nollet “ “ Noordschote
The family Th. Beelaert “ “ Meulebeke
Emile Verstraete “ “ Meulebeke
Cyrille Decramer “ “ Langemarck
Maurice Tack “ “ Caeneghem
Ch. Vanderjeught “ “ Dendemonde (O.Vl.)
Rene Vandepopuliere “ “ Moen
Remi Nollet “ “ Noordechote
The families Habets, Jochems, Houbens, Raemaeker, originating in Holland.
Some bought irrigated land and some are renting. All are satisfied with it and harvested a crop better than they expected.
The Valier area is situated between the towns of Valier and Conrad in western Montana, and about 15 hours from the Rocky Mountains which extend through north and south America.
From my own experience I can give you the following information.
Climate in Montana
The climate is somewhat harsher in winter than in Belgium, in summer the temperature is about the same as in Belgium. There are approximately 300 days of sunshine in a year, therefore much nice weather. The air is extremely healthy, because there is much more open sky than in Belgium, therefore much healthier.
Appearance of the land
The land in the Valier area is very picturesque. It is overgrown with grass, on which large herds of sheep are being grazed. There are neither trees or brush, one finds some rocks which have been brought there by nature, in some fields there are more rocks than others, none are completely free of rocks, one finds this all over America. After removing these rocks, the land is ready for the plow.
Altogether, there is only one bad drawback in America, the grass gets frozen and dried up, due to scarcity of rain in Montana. Some of us were thinking of buying hay, but everything changed after irrigation. The ground has a gradual slope, which makes irrigating easy. There are a few hills, which would be out of reach of a sprinkling system and these were much reduced in price.
Irrigating the land
In Montana there is not enough rain to meet the requirements of the crops. For this reason there is a big difference between irrigated and non-irrigated land. The farmers who own irrigated land do not have to worry much about rain, indeed, they much prefer nice weather as it is nicer for traveling on the roads, and they are assured of a harvest by irrigation. By irrigated land is meant land that can be irrigated if necessary. In irrigated land there are the necessary canals and ditches to bring water, and by means of sluices, the water is brought to the land. The water comes from the snow in the Rocky Mountains which are about 15 hours away. There are places where the snow stays the year around. Much of this snow melts in summer and is carried to a lake near Valier by means of a river. The canals bring the water from this lake to the land. Irrigating is very simple, after seeding the grain, one makes the necessary ditches in the field to bring water from the canal, then let these ditches fill with water and make small dams here and there to make them run over, and the water spreads over the fields. It is unbelievable how much water this land can absorb. After irrigating the crops grow surprisingly fast, one has to witness this to grasp it fully.
For the summer wheat we irrigated once and that was sufficient. The winter wheat must be irrigated twice, once during harvest season and again in the spring season.
In Belgium one often wishes he could have rain in one field and not in the other, in irrigated land this wish can become a reality. One cannot control the rain, but one can irrigate one field and not the other, if one chooses. Irrigation of the land has been made available by the state.