29 July 2009

Curley Ereaux & Medicine Pipe

Young Curley Ereaux [from In the Land of Chinook]

By Ken Robison

This continues the series of historical sketches by historians at the Joel F. Overholser Historical Research Center in Fort Benton.

Many of our stories begin with a query seeking information on an ancestor who came to the Upper Missouri, and this was the case when Rita Carpenter of Kent, Washington asked what we have on Lazeure Ereaux. The first thing I found is that this Canadian-born Frenchman had a name with many variants: first name Lazeure or Lazare or Legre or Leger, but commonly known as Curley; last name Ereaux or Eveaux or Heroux or Hiron. The rest of what I found is an interesting life of a very early pioneer who cut a wide swath across territorial Montana.

Lazare Ereaux was born 8 July 1841, son of Michael and Mary (La Verne) Ereaux. When he was eleven years old, Lazare came across the Medicine Line with his parents and located near Little Falls, MN. Later, upon the death of wife, father Micheal returned to Canada, re-married, and lived to be over ninety years old.

Young Lazare farmed for several years when in 1863 he joined an expedition taking emigrants to Fort Benton, Montana, then Idaho Territory. The Captain James L. Fisk Train Roster for the 1863 Expedition lists Leger Hiron among the 60 men on the expedition, and this is Lazare Ereaux under yet another variant name. During the spring of 1863, “Ho! For Idaho!” became the rallying cry for gold seekers bound from Minnesota to the new gold fields on Grasshopper Creek at East Bannock [now Bannack].

Fisk Expedition in 1866 forming at St. Cloud before departing for the Northern Overland Road

The Fisk Expedition left Fort Ripley on June 25 on the northern overland wagon road. Over the next ten weeks the Fisk Expedition slowly made its way westward. Along the way on the evening of August 25 thirteen Gros Ventres came into camp and spent the night with the expedition. Dressed in “gaily embroidered robes, scarlet leggings and plumes” this was Lazare’s first impression of the Gros Ventres, the Indian tribe he would later marry into.

Dr. W. D. Dibb kept a diary along the way, recording: “September 7. Rode over to Ft Benton & were well received by Mr. Steele [early Fort Benton merchant George Steell] who forwarded what goods &c. we wanted as fast as possible. We met here many freighters from Virginia [City] & Bannack—they had to go down to [the steamboat] Shreveport [stranded downriver at nearly inaccessible Snake Point] for their goods as the boats could not get up to Benton on account of the low water. In the afternoon the Capt. [Fisk] sold by auction the heavy wagons, tents, & stores. Capt. Bid farewell to the Emigrants & received a letter, signed by all, of thanks for his care & approval of his conduct along the route.”

Lazare proceeded on with nineteen other men of the emigrant group over the new Mullan Military Wagon Road and reached Bannock September 28. There the party dissolved, and Lazare tried gold mining, with little success. These “pilgrims” had come to Idaho believing that gold was lying around only waiting for them to pick it up. Bitter was their disappointment that they actually had to both work and be lucky to strike it rich. The winter was unusually severe and few jobs were available.

It was in Bannock Lazare was given the name "Curley" by the woman with whom he secured board, and it stuck with him the rest of his life. When he arrived at Bannock, Lazare had but $5, and that did not last long as a friend of his, who thought he was adept at faro induced Lazare to loan the money for another “try” at the game, with the result that both were “broke” in about thirty minutes. This did not set back a young man who had been self-supporting from age eleven, and Lazare immediately found employment with a logger and was sent into the timber. The intense cold nearly froze Lazare and his companions to death, and they received no money for a month’s work. Board was then $3 a day, and yet young Lazare was able to secure accommodations and get his employer to stand behind him for the debt he was forced to incur.

By spring, work was abundant and Curley Ereaux had plenty of it at $6 a day. In 1864, Curley located on a hay ranch in the valley of the Big Hole River. The next year as soon as he had accumulated a little money he and two others went to work building a bridge over the Big Hole River on the main road between Deer Lodge and Virginia City. Facing many obstacles, disagreements arose among the partners, and Curley sold his interest in the project for $1,000.

With the money from the bridge and the sale of his ranch, in 1866 Curley bought a freighting outfit and engaged in freighting on Montana’s Benton Road between Fort Benton, Helena, and Virginia City, hauling good and passengers at “fabulous” prices, the rate for the latter at times being $200 each. Later in 1866 in Fort Benton, Curley married Medicine Pipe, a Gros Ventre woman with the Christian name of Mary. The following year they settled in the Sun River area, in 1868 Curley built a bridge across the Sun River.

[From Thunderstorms and Tumbleweeds]

Curley continued freighting operation for three years, spending the winter of 1869 in Fort Benton. In 1870, he became the first white settler on the Salt Fork of the Sun River. Later, he took a homestead, pre-emption and timber claims in Lewis & Clark County. During these years Curley Ereaux had many adventures. Colonel Shirley C. Ashby recalled one of these in his memories. In the winter of1870 Ashby wanted to return to Fort Benton from People’s Creek. He joined Curley, Medicine Pipe, and their young son in their light wagon pulled by two small Indian ponies. Ashby recalled it was fearfully cold, forty degrees below zero. They left Beaver Creek at night and struck across Lonesome Prairie. The clouds came over the moon, and they were lost since they could not see the road. Medicine Pipe and the child were lightly clothed and suffering from the cold. “Curley hardly knew what to do. There we were, out on a bleak prairie, lost at midnight, with the thermometer showing a disposition to try and break itself.”

Ashby continued, “I told Curley that the only thing that could be done under the circumstances was to camp right where we were, and build a fire from the few dry willow twigs and wood which we had in the wagon. So, scraping the snow away, we soon had a little fire with which we made some hot tea and a meal of pemmican and hard tack. We stopped on that prairie from one o’clock until daybreak, and day doesn’t break very early in those northlands in the winter.

“As soon as the sun came up, we hunted and found a trail and pushed on to the Marias River, which we found in a few miles where there was plenty of dry wood and water. I was never happier in all my life.”

For fifteen years Curley engaged in farming, raising grain, irrigating, and selling his produce at the government military post at Fort Shaw. As his family grew he accumulated a growing herd of cattle and in 1885 took them and his family to eastern Choteau County [now Blaine County] to run cattle from the Bear Paw Mountains to Dodson.

A dishonest Indian agent on the Fort Belknap Reservation charged Curley $400 to graze his cattle on the reservation so he took up ranching on the Bear Paw, and eventually moved to People's Creek, where Pipe Woman had an allotment and her family was settled. This proved to be Curley’s final ranch home, adding more land, and he raised high grade cattle and horses on an extensive scale. He was the first white man to locate on that creek and was a pioneer in building an irrigation project in the area.

Curley Ereaux and his first wife, Mary Pipe Woman had seven children, three sons of whom died in infancy or childhood including Frank, age 18 in 1887, and Louis age 7 in 1886. The surviving children were: another Frank married Mary Adams and lived on the Peoples Creek Ranch; Rosalie married Ben Stevens and ranched on Peoples Creek; Julia married Al Schultz, and they lived near Cleveland, MT before moving to a ranch near Peoples Creek on Julia’s allotment; and Cecelia married Louden “Daddy” Minugh.

Mary Pipe Woman Ereaux died in 1915 and is buried in the Dodson Cemetery. On 1 Sep 1917, in North Dakota, Curley married Mrs. Mary (Johnson) Maxwell, born 11 Apr 1857, Cleveland, OH, daughter of Benjamin and Rachel (Shannon) Johnson. Mary was raised in Harrison County, OH. From her first marriage Mrs. Mary Johnson Maxwell Ereaux had the three children. From 1917-1919, the Curley and Mary Ereaux lived in Zelzah, CA, having gone there for the winter. They returned to Dodson, MT, in March 1920, and Curley Ereaux passed away April 29, 1922. The many achievements of Lazere Ereaux as a Montana pioneer are celebrated in Progressive Men of Montana and other state and regional histories.

Sources: Montana, Its Story and Biography by Tom Stout, Vol. 3, pp. 936-37; Progressive Men of Montana p. 1473; The Yesteryears by Phillips County Historical Society, p. 52-54; Ho! For The Gold Fields Edited by Helen McCann White; In the Land of Chinook or The Story of Blaine County by Al. J. Noyes; We Seized Our Rifles by Lee Silliman, p. 94; Manuscript “Story as Told by Col. S. C. Ashby” [MHS SC 283]; Thunderstorms and Tumbleweeds 1887-1987 East Blaine County, p. 338.

24 July 2009

New book shares many pictures from Fort Benton's history

From the 22 July 2009 Fort Benton River Press:

You can take a journey through the history of Fort Benton in the pages of the new book by local historian Ken Robison. The book, entitled Fort Benton, is part of a Postcard History Series, and is full of postcard images of Fort Benton and the surrounding area. The book takes you back to the early days of Fort Benton, as you see Indians and buffalo, the fort, the Upper Missouri River, steamboats, wagon trains, Fort Benton buildings, the town’s colorful characters, the old bridge, floods, farming and ranching, and Shep. It is an interesting and entertaining way to browse through local history. The book is available at the River Press.

Ken Robison explains that postcards were the “emails” of 100 years ago. In the early 1900s, postcards became popular, because they allowed the traveller or sender to send a few words and an image to friends and family - in place of the long letters previously used. Real photo postcards were inexpensive and easy to produce. The innovation of a short greeting on a postal image became wildly popular, and grew even more popular with the introduction of the automobile. The traveling public simply loved postcards. Robison’s book celebrates the era of the postcard.

Arcadia Publishing, the publisher of the Robison’s Fort Benton book, allows a format that blends words with images. Enough words can be included with one or two images on the page to tell short stories about Fort Benton’s legends, people, and events. Robison used this combination of words and images to tell the history of Fort Benton on the Upper Missouri. The book’s title could have been Fort Benton on the Upper Missouri, since Robison incorporated images and words that flow through the history of the area.

Robison is donating all profits from the Fort Benton book to the Overholser Historical Research Center to be used for acquiring new collections for the center.

Most of the 220 images in the book are from Robison’s personal collection, and are being donated to the Overholser Historical Research Center (OHRC) during 2009. About 30 images are from Montana’s premier postcard collector Tom Mulvaney, including scenes people at the OHRC have never seen before, like the interior lobby and dining room at the Choteau House. Some images are from the OHRC Imagery Archives. Karen Bryant kindly allowed Robison to use several of her excellent images on postcards she sold in her store, such as the restored Grand Union.

Robison included some images that are not yet out on postcards, such as the five wonderful grand murals by Bob Morgan that enrich the Agricultural Center’s community events hall, and a photo of the River and Plains Society’s treasured Chief Joseph Surrender Rifle.

The book concludes with a page about the River and Plains Society, Fort Benton’s broad-based nonprofit group that operates the museums complex, the community events center, and the Overholser Historical Research Center. This is the first book to provide the public with information about River and Plains Society.

The following is taken from Robison’s introduction to his Fort Benton postcards book:

Fort Benton is a small town with a big history! Fort Benton, the book, uniquely presents Fort Benton’s history and flows through each of the eras:

Fort Benton has been blessed from its beginning with talented historians, artists, and photographers. We owe a great debt to first historian Lieut. James G. Bradley, longest resident photographer Daniel Dutro, longest editor of the River Press newspaper Joel F. Overholser, teacher and historian John G. Lepley, artists Karl Bodmer, John Mix Stanley, Gustavus Sohon, Charles M. Russell, James Trott, Brian Morger, and David Parchen, for recording, photographing, and drawing the history of the Upper Missouri. I’ve also used art by Fort Benton friends Bob Morgan and Charles M. Russell.

Fort Benton’s story begins with the Missouri River and its spectacular natural features along the White Cliffs. The story extends to the American Indian and the buffalo that occupied the land long before the arrival of American explorers and fur traders. Blackfoot Indians long used the natural ford at Fort Benton to cross the Missouri River into Judith and Musselshell hunting grounds. Lewis and Clark made their fateful decision on the course of the Missouri at Decision Point and proceeded on past the Fort Benton river bottom on their journey to the Pacific.

The story spans the fur trade era 1830-1860s when Blackfoot, Gros Ventres, Assiniboin, and Cre traded with St. Louis-based adventurers who moved up the Missouri to establish trading posts. In 1846-47 Alexander Culbertson built Fort Benton as a post for the Upper Missouri Outfit of Pierre Chouteau, Jr. and Company. This story highlights both the Native Americans and the fur traders.

In 1859 steamboats arrived a few miles below Fort Benton delivering trade goods and Indian annuities and taking furs and buffalo robes downriver to eastern markets. As the head of navigation on the Missouri River, Fort Benton became the hub for the St. Louis to Fort Benton steamboat trade 1859-1889, bringing thousands of tons of freight to the frontier. Bringing large (200-260 feet length) steamboats up the long, muddy Missouri River was a daunting task.

The year 1860 proved an exciting time at the Fort Benton trading post. Three military groups arrived during July-August that year. First came Major George Blake and a military regiment by steamboats Chippewa and Key West. Captain William F. Raynolds arrived July 14 after coming down the Missouri River from its origin at Three Forks and exploring the Yellowstone Basin. On August 1 Lieutenant John Mullan arrived at Fort Benton after blasting the Mullan Military Wagon Road from Fort Benton to Walla Walla. In 2010, the national Mullan Road Conference will be celebrated in Fort Benton to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Mullan Road.

With the strikes at Gold Creek and Bannack in 1862, Fort Benton became a major frontier transportation hub. Fort Benton merchant princes formed trading and freighting empires extending from Fort Benton in every direction, to the mines and camps throughout Montana and northward up the Whoop-Up and Fort Walsh trails to Canada. Fort Benton supplied military posts at Fort Shaw and Fort Assiniboine. These were wild and wooly days, and the streets of Fort Benton were roamed by the rich and famous, scoundrels and killers, merchants and gamblers, Indians and soldiers, Irish Fenians and exiled Metis, and eventually by women and children. This book samples these colorful characters and the historic trails radiating from the head of navigation on the Missouri.

During the height of the steamboat era, Fort Benton underwent a building boom with many brick buildings replacing original adobe, log, or wood frame buildings. The trading firms powered a vast business empire that in the words of historian Paul Sharp made Fort Benton the “Chicago of the Plains.” This was a time of made and lost fortunes and colorful characters.
Railroads brought immense change as Fort Benton shifted to ranching, with tens of thousands of cattle and sheep on the open range and large shipments to markets in Chicago. In the early 1900s, the fertile lands of north central Montana opened to dryland farming, with the homesteaders arriving by railroad from the East. Fort Benton became the trading center for ranchers and farmers in the heart of what is now “Montana’s Golden Triangle” agricultural region. This book celebrates both the open range ranching era and the following homesteading era.

This history highlights the legends, stories and people making their mark on each era of the area’s history. Sampled are the early Chinese and Black Americans who made their mark and then moved on; adventurers like whiskey trader Johnny Healy and fearless lawman X. Beidler; cowboy artist Charlie Russell and his Fort Benton friends; military leaders and soldiers; and legendary loyal dog Shep. Historic buildings are featured, like the original block house at Old Fort Benton (Montana’s oldest original structure); the Grand Union Hotel, built at the height of the steamboat era in 1882, now restored to its elegant grandeur; the grand Chouteau County Court House built in 1884 and still used today; and the Fort Benton iron bridge, that began with a steamboat swing span and continues today as a scenic walking bridge.

Fort Benton became a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and then an Historic District with eight individual buildings on the National Register of Historic places. Fort Benton is a Preserve America city, on the National Lewis and Clark Historic Trail, and the river entry post for the Upper Missouri , now part of the 149-mile National Wild and Scenic River System and the Upper Missouri Breaks National Historic Landmark. In 2004 Fort Benton became a contributing site on the National Historic Nez Perce Trail in recognition of Fort Benton military and civilian forces at the battles of Cow Island and Cow Creek Canyon.

Today, the City of Fort Benton retains much of its “steamboat days” character. The steamboat levee is now a park running the length of the community with many interpretive signs. As you follow the levee trail from the Interpretive Center downriver to Old Fort Benton you walk hallowed ground through the pages of history.

18 July 2009

Montana's Real Birthplace

The Real “Birthplace of Montana”
By Ken Robison

Ben Myer, a teacher from Ronan, recently asked the Overholser Historical Research Center an interesting question: "What is Montana's Birthplace?"

I responded as follows:

"Dear Ben, Sound like you have a good class, asking good questions.

First, let me say that we should celebrate all early settlements in this Upper Missouri River land--St. Mary's Mission, Fort Benton, and Fort Connah each have claim to some "fame" in our history.

Fort Benton's claim to "Birthplace of Montana" is formed on the fact that Fort Benton is the oldest continuous settlement in Montana, and it has the oldest permanent structure (Old Fort Benton’s Block House).

Both Fort Connah and Fort Benton date to 1846, although the log buildings at Fort Benton were completed in 1847. The Block House had its original logs encased first in adobe, framed around 1900 by wood wainscot framing, and a few years later covered by concrete. Its logs have continuity back to 1846-47, perhaps even older since the logs from Fort Lewis were floated down the Missouri to construct Fort Benton. My understanding of the one building at Connah is that almost all logs, perhaps all, are replacement logs so it hardly constitutes an "original structure." In addition, Fort Connah has long been vacated and has been moved from the original site.

Stevensville is more complicated, but here is my understanding. St. Mary's mission was founded in 1841, but vacated in 1846 when the Catholic Fathers withdrew in the face of the Blackfoot threat. That ended continuous settlement. John Owen arrived in 1850, bought the church facilities, and formed Fort Owen. When the Jesuits didn't return, at their request Owen burned the chapel. When Father Giorda reestablished St. Mary's in 1866, he built a new mission about a mile south of Fort Owen, building a new chapel. I understand a portion of that chapel is in the current structure. In 1864 the name was changed to Stevensville.

Thus, St. Mary's mission was not continuously occupied, and none of the structures date earlier than 1866. So, how, as Wikipedia claims, can Stevensville claim to be "the first permanent settlement" in the state of Montana? Even the combination of Stevensville, Fort Owen, and St. Mary's Mission cannot be recognized as a "permanent settlement" except perhaps from 1850 to the present day. By 1850, Fort Benton was four years old!

I know its complicated, but I believe Fort Benton "wins the horns" (to use an old steamboating term) as the oldest continuous settlement with the oldest structure, and therefore is the real "birthplace of Montana." Meanwhile, let’s enjoy them all since all were important in the development of Montana.

Sources: I'll let you and your students add to this, but the picture becomes clear from:
Joel F. Overholser's Fort Benton World's Innermost Port
Jeanne O'Neill & Riga Winthrop's Fort Connah
Jeanne O'Neil's Men of the Mission

In addition, see the following websites:

06 July 2009

Vinegar Jones Cabin Christmas Ornament

The Official Christmas Ornament for 2009 for the city of Great Falls has been selected. In honor of the 125th anniversary of the founding of Great Falls, the ornament will feature The Vinegar Jones Cabin. This little 14 x 20 foot cabin was built at 501 5th Avenue South in the Spring of 1884, the first year of the Great Falls townsite. The builder was Fort Benton carpenter Josiah Peeper. In 1890 Whitman Gibson "Vinegar" Jones bought the Cabin and moved it across the avenue to 516 5th Avenue South. Until his death in 1931, Vinegar Jones carefully maintained the Cabin, taking pride in the fact that this was the first permanent structure built on the Great Falls townsite.

In 2002 the Great Falls/Cascade County Historic Preservation Advisory Commission took over care of the Cabin for the people of Great Falls. This first permanent home in Great Falls, and the only building remaining from 1884, the first year of the townsite, now stands in a place of honor in the city's premier park, Gibson Park.

The 2009 Christmas Ornament will be available for sale at $15 at the City Planning Office on the lower level of the Great Falls Civic Center. The ornaments, designed by Great Falls artist Sheree Nelson, are numbered, for example, #1 of 750. Just 750 are available and are expected to sell quickly. All money raised from sales will be used for historic preservation in Great Falls and Cascade County, Montana.

01 July 2009

Fort Benton honors Irish hero at festival

From The Irish Emigrant Online: http://www.irishemigrant.com/ie/go.asp?p=story&storyID=4612

FORT BENTON, Mont. – Fort Benton’s Summer Celebration will take on a new Irish theme this year in honor of the dedication of the city’s latest statue; a $40,000 bronze bust of Thomas Francis Meagher, Montana’s Irish former governor and Civil War hero.

The festival begins Friday night with a performance by the Montana Agricultural Center of "The Coroner's Inquest Into the Death of Thomas Francis Meagher," a play based on a book by Paul Wylie that attempts to solve the mystery surrounding Meagher’s death.

Saturday will be a day full of Irish dancing, foodstuffs and bars serving exclusively Guinness. The festivities will conclude with the statue dedication ceremony at 1 pm on Sunday.

Local band the Shamrockers will perform all weekend long, and even wrote a new song specifically for the beloved Meagher.

The green theme is expected to draw the biggest crowd the Fort Benton Celebration has seen yet.