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.