The Slack House, built in 1864, is not only the oldest homestead on the Teller Wildlife Refuge, but it also intertwines the Slack and Chaffin family history. The story of the Slack House is rooted long before its beginnings with John “Jack” Slack, born in 1835 in Baltimore.
In 1851, at the young age of 16, Jack left his home in Philadelphia in search of gold fields out west. He made his way by ship to Panama, crossed the Isthmus of Panama on horseback, and sailed up the coast to California. He eventually journeyed through Oregon, British Colombia, and Idaho before finally settling in Montana. He first arrived in the Bitterroot Valley in 1862, and is believed to have traveled back and forth between Bannack and the Bitterroot in search of gold.
The Chaffin family emerges into the story with Elijah and Margaret Chaffin, and his two brothers and their wives. They traversed the wild west from their native Tennessee through Kansas, crossing the plains by ox-drawn wagons. In the summer of 1864, the two homesteader families crossed paths in Bannack, Montana, when Jack Slack met Elijah and Margaret and the rest of the Chaffin family.
Although the Chaffin clan was bound for Oregon, Jack convinced them all to winter in the Bitterroot. In the fall of 1864 John Slack and the Chaffins settled in two rough log cabins on neighboring farm land a few miles north of present-day Corvallis, near where a free flowing Willow Creek once flowed into the Bitterroot River. A few months later, in the community known as Chaffinville, the first Caucasian boy in the Bitterroot Valley was born to Margaret and Elijah Chaffin. Soon after, Jack Slack and Elijah’s younger sister, Polly, were married in the first legally recorded marriage ceremony in the valley.
The Slack House was originally a 12’x 20′ two-bedroom log cabin that is now the kitchen, laundry and pantry rooms. The cabin rested on 160 acres beside one of the channels of Willow Creek. As the Slack family grew, so too did the house. A lean-to was built around 1869 that is now the kitchen porch. After rearing six children, Jack and Polly raised the cabin onto a foundation around 1879. They built a 26’x 32′ addition, which included a parlor, dining room, front porch, two bedrooms downstairs, and four bedrooms upstairs. Jack died not long after in 1883 at 45 years old.
Polly lived in the home until she died in 1909 at age 75. Their daughter, Margaret, and son, William, (whose ghost is believed to still haunt the house) lived in the Slack home for some time before moving into the town of Corvallis. Various relatives and friends lived here until Carol Chaffin sold the house to the Hershberger family in 1985. Otto Teller bought the house from the Hershbergers in 1988. He updated the home, by adding the second level deck, widening the staircase, and tearing down a wall to open up the living room.
The Slack family history is embedded in Teller Wildlife Refuge and its mission to conserve both the land and the home. Teller is proud to preserve and share this 150-year old historical treasure with lodging guests from far and wide who come to enjoy Teller in all its seasons–and to learn about Teller’s conservation and education mission.
For more information, or to book a stay, please go to Reservation Information.