29 April 2010

Fort Shaw Military Post

Group of Time-Worn Buildings Still Standing in the Sun River Valley at Point About Thirty Miles West of Great Falls, Mark Site of One of Most Important Military Posts in Northwest. Was Center of State’s Social Activities. General Gibbon in Charge.

By Mrs. M. E. Plassmann

. . . On the thirtieth of June, 1867, about thirty miles west of the present city of Great Falls, a fort was built to aid in the control of this northern country and for the protection of travel between Helena and the head of navigation on the Missouri, at Fort Benton, as it was situated nearly midway between these two points. At first it was known as Camp Reynolds, the name being changed in August of the same year to Fort Shaw, in honor of Col. Robert G. Shaw of the 5th Massachusetts Volunteers, who was killed at Fort Wagner four years previously. [Editor’s Note: Robert Gould Shaw (October 10, 1837 – July 18, 1863) was the colonel in command of the all-black 54th Regiment, which entered the American Civil War in 1863. He is the principal subject of the 1989 film Glory. He was killed in a failed attempt to capture Fort Wagner, near Charleston, South Carolina.—Wikepedia]

No lovelier site could have been chosen than that of the Sun or Medicine River valley, as it was named by Lewis and Clark. There was from it a fine mountain view of the Bird Tail divide to the south; of the Highwoods to the east; while the upper part of the valley was crossed by the main chain of the Rockies. This valley had been the favorite winter camp of the Piegans until the arrival of the soldiers.

Before Camp Reynolds became Fort Shaw, Major [William] Clinton [13th Infantry Regiment] was in command; but with its change of names came a new commandant in the person of Col. [I. V. D.] Reeves [13th Infantry Regt], who remained but a year when he was succeeded by Col. [George L.] Andrews [13th Infantry Regt.]. In 1869 Gen. P. R. de Trobriand, colonel of the 13th Infantry was in charge of the post. Like preceding commandants he stayed at Fort Shaw about a year, when Gen. John Gibbon, of the 7th Infantry, took his place [in August 1870].

General Gibbon had hardly become acquainted with his new surrounding before he undertook the improvement of the post. Water was brought to the fort through a ditch seven miles long; trees were planted, and a garden embracing forty acres was cultivated to the manifest advantage of all residing at the fort.

The First Garden. It was almost impossible, at that time, to purchase fresh vegetables at any price. The fort garden must have furnished a welcome addition to the regular fare of officer and private alike. The cultivation of this garden also demonstrated the fact that no richer land can be found in Montana than that of the Sun River valley.

[Editor’s Note: From March to October 1876 General Gibbon and his 7th Infantry Regiment formed the Montana Column to join General Terry in pursuit of the Sioux Indians and their allies. For this campaign see my blog: http://fortbenton.blogspot.com/2008/02/gallant-lieutenant-james-h-bradley-if.html]

General Gibbon, it will be remembered, was in command at the Battle of the Big Hole, where he attacked Chief Joseph’s following but was unable to prevent their escape. In this battle three officers were killed, one of them being Lieutenant Bradley, to whose journal we are indebted for the preservation of valuable information regarding the history of the Northwest. Gen. Gibbon and three other officers were wounded in this encounter. They returned to Helena where the other officers were entertained at Helena’s principal hotel, while General Gibbon, his wife and daughters, remained for a time at Hot Springs.

Military Popularity. The citizens of Helena vied with one another in showering attentions on these wounded men to such an extent that they must have been glad again to reach Fort Shaw where they could rest. General Gibbon cherished no such illusions regarding the superiority of white soldiers as that voiced in Collier’s by that none to veracious historian, George Creel. General Gibbon is quoted as having said Chief Joseph “Licked me like hell.” He also stated in effect that Joseph was one of the best soldiers and the most perfect gentleman he ever met. General Howard expressed the same opinion of Joseph, in slightly different language, and of the relative merits of red and white warriors we have testimony of General Eli Huggins, in November American Mercury, where he asserts: “The truth is that we have never seriously worsted the Indians in any conflict with equal numbers where they were all supplied with arms and ammunition. This is so, whether our forces were regular troops or hastily levied frontiersmen; we have always found them foemen worthy of our steel.” This is not the testimony of an eastern sentimentalist, but of a soldier who had campaigned in the West and knew the Indians. A brave man is always ready to give due credit to his opponent. Why not admit, and teach our children that the Indians outgeneraled the whites in the Battle of the Big Hole, and that of the Little Big Horn? Will it injure them now to learn the truth?

Back to Fort Shaw went the 7th Infantry to remain until it was relieved in the spring [of 1878] by that of the 3rd [Infantry Regiment], under the command of Col. John R Brooks. Ten years later a colored regiment, the 25th Infantry, Col. J. J. Van Horn commanding, was stationed at the Sun River post for two years, when the fort was abandoned, as a fort, to become an industrial school for the Indians, which was opened in 1892. I have heard it stated by one who is familiar with work among the Indians that it was a mistake on the part of the Interior department not to have continued this school, which is badly needed.

The Fort Shaw military reservation comprised 27,000 acres of land which, like that of the Assiniboine military reservation, was thrown open to settlement. This final event in the history of the fort took place in 1909. [Editorial Note; actually 1910]

Life at Fort Shaw. Only a person gifted with a vivid imagination together with some familiarity with pioneer military stations, can today picture Fort Shaw as it once was; but there are a number of pioneers living in the northeastern part of the state who knew it well. I am not of these, and my knowledge of the post is gathered from books and from hearsay.

In 1873, I was made painfully aware of its vicinity while making the stage journey from Helena to Fort Benton with Mrs. Sanders and her family when on our way east, via the Missouri. Somewhere near Sun River, in the early morning, my attention was attracted by a long file of men marching in single file, under charge of a mounted man. The gait of the men on foot struck me as being peculiar, and I could not account for it until their nearer approach revealed that they were connected by a chain, and I was told this was the chain gang from the fort being taken to work under the escort of a noncommissioned officer.

The sight affected us unpleasantly. Involuntarily I rebelled at the though of men being punished in this manner, although we were assured by an officer’s wife that none but those soldiers guilty of the worst crimes were punished like this. If such was the case, criminals must have been plentiful at Fort Shaw that summer. Discipline is necessary in the army, undoubtedly; but it is possible the private views it in a different manner from the way it appears to the officer’s lady.

Many Buildings Still Stand. That the buildings of the fort are still in fairly good condition indicates their having been constructed of more lasting material than went to the making of some of our earlier forts. Like Fort Laramie, Fort Shaw was built of adobe, and the officers’ quarters and the barracks were more comfortable than those of the ordinary frontier post, and the ground ha been rendered attractive by the planting of trees, which were kept well watered by an irrigating ditch General Gibbon had brought to the fort, and which made possible the cultivation of a garden there. Cottonwoods are of rapid growth if plentifully supplied with water, and General Gibbon remained long enough in command of the post to see them casting a friendly shade over Officers’ Walk, where they constitute a living memorial to the foresight of him who had ordered their placing.

During the twenty-three years Fort Shaw was a military post, from 1867 to 1890, it saw some lively times both in a military and social way. From it were sent our expeditions like that which culminated in the Baker massacre; the one to remove the half breeds from Sioux lands to Fort Belknap, at Sitting Bull’s request; and the attempt of General Gibbon to prevent Chief Joseph’s march northward. While the companies were away there were dull times at the post, as I an testify from having seen Fort Douglas under similar conditions, following the Custer battle, when most of the soldiers were in pursuit of the Sioux, leaving hardly enough men for post duties.

Quiet different was it in the fall, says Mrs. Roe. “After the return of the companies from their hard and often dangerous summer campaign, and settle down for the winter . . . we feel that we can feast and dance, and it is then, too, that garrison life at a frontier post becomes so delightful.

At this season gaiety was at its height along Officers’ Row. Luncheons, dinners, dances and theatrical entertainments rapidly succeeded one another in these favored quarters, while we are assured that the soldiers were not forgotten. They could attend the theatricals, take part in the religious services; and besides this, were there not drills, and special target practice? “and of course there were inspections.” Mrs. Roe says these were thoughtfully provided, and what more could a reasonable private ask in the way of jolly recreation! And yet Fort Shaw had its deserters.

Thanks to Mrs. Roe, the luncheons, dinners, etc., are not left solely to our unfettered imaginations, for she has given us a full description of them. In the fall of 1879, after the return of the commanding officer and his wife from Missoula, where they had spent the winter, “those of us who were at Helena and Camp Baker, feel that we must entertain them in some way. Consequently, now that everyone is settled the dining and wining has begun.” I would add that this matter of getting settled was by no means a matter of little account, resulting, as it often did, in hard feelings, due to the rule that the officers’ quarters were assigned according to rank. The “wining” as a matter of course, in those pre-prohibition days, was a part of the “dining.” Mrs. Roe continues: “Almost every day there is a dinner or card party given in their honor, and several very delightful luncheons have been given. And then the members of the old garrison, according to army etiquette, have to entertain those who have just come, so altogether we are very gay. The dinners are usually quite elegant, formal affairs, beautifully served with dainty china and handsome silver. The officers appear at these in full-dress uniform, and that adds much to the brilliancy of things, but not much to the comfort of the officers, I imagine.”

A Ghost Fort. With the above in mind, one can readily, when visiting Fort Shaw, picture it, not as a ghost fort, but with all its former life resurrected. The Stars and Stripes again float above the parade ground, and the companies go through their customary evolutions, or are entertained (?) by inspections. The day’s duties ended, along the walk in front of the quarters are seen the officers and their ladies, the former in full-dress uniform, and the latter in dinner costume, on their way to the house where their host and hostess await them. Or, if it is a Sunday, officers and soldiers betake themselves to church, where the Rev. Mr. Clarke, of Helena, holds services twice a month.

If we also are church attendants, we shall be surprised to hear the fine singing accompanied by an orchestra composed of two violins, clarinet, cello, oboe, and bassoon, and a choir of three sergeants, a corporal, and the drum major, with a doctor as organist, who had played in Washington, D. C.

Life, it may be inferred, was by no means monotonous at Fort Shaw in those early days, and it is not strange that Mrs. Roe should write: “It is nice to be once more here at this dear old post, particularly under such very pleasant circumstances. The winter East was enjoyable and refreshing from first to last, but citizens and my people have so little in common, and this one feels after being with them a while, no mater how near the relationship may be. Why, one-half of them do not know the uniform, and could not distinguish and officer of the Army from a policeman.

An Amusing Incident. This regrettable ignorance concerning the uniform on the part of civilians was displayed when my brother came home from Akron, on his furlough from West Point. He was in all the glory of his cadet summer uniform, and, like the boy he was, felt duly conscious of his appearance.

One day he went to town—for Akron was then merely a town, with its center a mile from our residence. There was some kind of a celebration under way, and my brother stationed himself at a street corner to witness the parade. He must have been a very conspicuous figure in his neat gray coat and white trousers, and undoubtedly attracted considerable attention.

The town band had recently purchased new uniforms. They were to be in the parade, as were bands from neighboring towns. The procession was fairly started, when a small boy sidled up to the West Pointer, and in his shrill falsetto that carried for a long distance, solicitously inquired: “Say, Mister, when is your band going to play? Fortunately, my brother was endowed with a keen sense of humor that enabled him to carry off the situation successfully.

[Montana Newspaper Association Cut Bank Pioneer Press 7 Mar 1927]

28 April 2010

When Old Fort Shaw Was Montana’s Social and Entertainment Center

By Mrs. Martha Edgerton Rolfe Plassmann

With dinners, dances, luncheons, teas and card playing for the officers, and target practice, drills an inspection for the privates, and occasional church-going for both, the list of amusements at Fort Shaw, in the days when it was a frontier post, is by no means exhausted.

There were private theatricals given by the officers and their wives, assisted by some of the non-commissioned officers and the post orchestra, which at one time numbered twenty pieces, and was probably the best musical entertainment in the Territory.

These entertainments were decidedly popular among the settlers in the vicinity, who came for miles around, as to a country dance, to attend them. Of one of these amateur affairs Mrs. Roe Writes, “It was surprising that so many of the Sun River and ranch people came, for the night was terrible, even for Montana, and the roads must have been impassable in places.” This was in 1879, an unusually severe winter. Mrs. Roe continues, “Even here in the post there were great drifts of snow, and the path to the theater was cut through banks of snow higher than our heads. It had been mild and pleasant for weeks, and only two nights before the entertainment we had gone to the hall for rehearsal with fewer wraps than usual. We had been there an hour, I think, when the corporal of the guard came in to report to the officer of the day that a fierce blizzard was making it impossible for sentries to walk post. His own appearance told better than words what the storm was. He had on a long buffalo coat, muskrat cap and gauntlets, and the fur from his head down, also heavy overshoes, were filled with snow, and at each end of his mustache were icicles hanging. He made a fine, soldierly picture as he brought his rifle to his side and saluted. The officer of the day hurried out, and after a time returned, he also smothered in furs and snow. He said the storm was terrible and he did not see how many of us could possibly get to our homes.

Nevertheless, those who were rehearsing were willing to essay it and all managed to reach their homes in safety. Those living in the garrison found their way, notwithstanding the fierce wind that was blowing, as they had the now banks along the walk to guide their way; but their progress was seriously impeded by the blown snow which filled the path.

Others, however, were not so fortunate. “Major Peirce undertook to see Mrs. Elsmere safely to her home at the subtler’s store, and in order to get there they were obliged to cross a wide space in between the officers’ line and the store. Nothing could be seen ten feet from them when they left the last fence, but they tried to get their bearings by the line of the fence, and closing their eyes, dashed ahead into the cloud of blinding, stinging snow. Major Pierce had expected to go straight to a side door of the store, but the awful strength of the wind and snow pushed them over, and they struck a corner of the fence farthest away—in fact they would have missed the fence also if Mrs. Elsmere’s fur cape had not caught on one of the pickets, and gone out on the plains to certain death. Bright lights had been placed in the store windows, but not one had they seen.”

The fact that the lights were invisible is not remarkable, if the two wanderers continued to keep their eyes closed, as when they set out. Such a storm as is here described cannot be said to be a common occurrence in Montana, and a winter of great severity is frequently followed by one milder than any known in the East. The winter of 1926 was an instance of this.

It is not strange that the settlers in the neighborhood of the fort should have availed themselves of every opportunity offered there that would serve to relieve the monotony of their existence. They were no weaklings, and never hesitated to go forty miles to a dance no matter what the weather. And this was long before the day of the automobile, when old Dobbin constituted the motive power.

Towards the last, there were bona fide plays given there by trained actors. In 1880, Katie Putnam and her company came up the Missouri [by steamboat] to Fort Benton, where they played for one night—not in a theater, for there was none there—but in a warehouse. The next day the company started for Helena, where they had an engagement; but learning that the Helena opera house would not be ready for use within ten days, they stopped over at Fort Shaw, where they played for a week. Their acting there was done on the credit system, the sergeant of each company listing the men who attended and deducting what they owed for tickets from their next pay. It worked all right, and the actors were not losers; on the contrary, they realized a goodly sum from their stay at the fort.

The story is told that Mrs. Gibbon, wife of General [John] Gibbon, then in command at Fort Shaw, was the first to being professional actors to the fort. It is said that she and her daughter, while passing through Prickly Pear canyon, noticed a new cabin there. Going to the door, they knocked, and were surprised when a woman confronted them. She was, as they later discovered, an actress who, together with her husband, an actor, had come from Europe to visit relatives living in that region.

This chance meeting with Mrs. Barr—for that was the name of the actress—led to her husband and herself leaving the canyon to make their home for the next two years at Fort Shaw. Their household goods were removed there in ambulances by the soldiers. The first play given by the Barrs, after their arrival at the post, was “Ingomar” with Mr. Barr as Ingomar, and his wife, Parthenia.

The playhouse was about 125 feet long, with the stage 35 feet wide and 24 feet deep. Dressing rooms and property room were in ell addition. The floor was of earth, and the scenic effects were not of the best, although they excelled those of Shakespeare’s time. When the footlights needed to be lowered, the orchestra turned down the kerosene lamps in front of the stage. It is perfectly safe to say that this rude hall always held an uncritical audience. It was ready to applaud enthusiastically any acting, however poor it might have been. But real artists visited it. Among these were Parepa Rosa and her husband Karl Rosa, the violinist.

In these days, when royalty deigns to visit this country at frequent intervals, few can understand the excitement caused by the arrival in America, for the first time in the Republic’s history, of an heir to the British throne. Albert Edward, however did not go West, and its inhabitants were thus unable to visualize the fact that princes, even those of Wales, do not differ in appearance from ordinary men, although their attitude towards the world is said to be of another character. They are the product of their environment, rather than of their inheritance.

Following the example of their liege lord the scions of aristocratic families confined their American investigations largely to the Atlantic coast. The great beyond, reaching to the Pacific, until recently saw but little of them.

Imagine then, in what a state of mind the garrison at Fort Shaw was thrown, when it became known in September, 1881, that the Marquis of Lorne, son of the Duke of Argyle and the son-in-law of Queen Victoria, the Governor-General of Canada, who was on his way east, would spend the night at Fort Shaw.

The whole post was in a fever of preparation the officers making arrangements for his reception and their wives devising menus and setting their quarters in order for the entertainment of nobility. The Marquis had as escort a company of the Canadian “Mounties,” arrayed in their brilliant uniforms, and with their queer little caps precariously set on one side of the head.

They were mounted on scrubby Indian ponies, which somewhat detracted from the effect they produced, as preceding the Marquis, they rode onto the parade ground and there separated into two lines, facing one another to permit the Governor and his staff to pass through. There was the usual ceremonious reception. In the midst of which the regimental band struck up that melody, said to have been composed in Germany, but now a national anthem of both England and America. With the first bar of “God Save the Queen,”—our own “America,” every Englishman and Canadian removed his head covering, whatever that happened to be, in silent testimony of their loyalty to their country. We are told that it was an impressive sight.

What I have given in this and foregoing sketches are but casual glimpses of Fort Shaw in its palmy days, in the hope that they will enable those who visit its site today to vision it as it once was in all the picturesqueness and its activities of its military existence. [Montana Newspaper Association Whitefish Pilot 4 April 1927]

26 April 2010

Visiting the Ruins of North Montana’s Oldest Mission St. Peter’s

Visiting the Ruins of North Montana’s Oldest Mission St. Peter’s. Erected Before Great Falls Had Been Thought Of. Log to St. Peter’s [40 miles]

The log may not be exactly right as to mileage, as the gear pin was out for a time during the logging from Cascade to St. Peter’s, but the figures are not more than half a mile or so off, there is but one road and there is but one St. Peter’s, which lies at the foot of Sullivan hill.

A trip to St. Peter’s Mission from Great Falls is something worth while and St. Peter’s is by far the oldest thing in shape of a mission in northern Montana--and its little old frame church is the oldest church in all of northern Montana.

The church alone is worth the trip, as it is quaint to the nth degree, as quaint things go in Montana. It was in this church that Henry Plummer, first Montana sheriff and chief of the road agents of the territory, hung in Virginia City by the Vigilantes some 60 years ago, was married to the first young school teacher who ever taught in the Sun River section. It was quite an event and one can think the old old church was a doomed cathedral to the young school teacher and the young road agent as they walked up the isle in the long, long ago.

The church was elaborate in its day, with a sort of a windmill-effect steeple, apart from the church, in which hangs the bell, the same being pulled by a rope to summon to prayers. The altar and the benches stand as they stood more than half a century ago, and the same floor answers. The place is old, almost tottering, the bell is cracked, the bell steeple shaky, and the church looks like an old abandoned homesteader’s shack of the better class. But inside, the floor, the walls, the seats, and all the surroundings, shine from repeated scrubbing, and everything is painfully neat. It is in use evidently, and its door swings open to the world, although there is no priest or padre to welcome, the services being at times and not as in the old days of the first church of northern Montana.

St. Peter’s was the first mission established by the Jesuits east of the Rockies in what is now Montana, was started on four sites, abandoned for eight years, and at one time was the leading academy for young girls in all Montana; at one time it housed 400 little Indian pupils being taught education and the Catholic faith, and it came into existence at direct request of the Indians, who invited Catholicism to come to them.

Once St. Peter’s mission had its site on the Missouri river near to where Great Falls now stands, in the Big Bend, and near to the sign board of Swift on the Great Northern; another site the gate of the Mountains above Cascade was chosen, until the final location was made at where the ruins of the old mission now rest.

For it is a place of ruins, having been given up several years since as a place of education because of fire having swept some of the large buildings. And then St. Peter’s, while once quite the thing, found competition in the cities growing up about the state for girl pupils--and the Blackfeet Indian reservation, which once reached down to near Cascade, was moved far north, and the red pupils were taken with it.

The founding of the mission, as it comes from the musty records, is of interest. The first Montana mission was that of St. Mary’s on the Bitter Root river, near Missoula, founded in 1841, or thereabouts.

The Blackfeet asked that a mission be established in their country so that the rites of the church might be given them, and in 1858 Major Vaughn, agent of the Blackfeet, forwarded a petition asking that a ‘blackrobe’ be sent them. Father A. Hoecken and Brother Magri were assigned in April, 1859, and located a mission on the Teton river near where Choteau now is located, immediately north of Priest’s butte. And this, by the way, is the reason for the name of the butte in question. March 13, 1860, the mission was moved to Sun river, where Fort Shaw now stands, and a couple of cabins erected.

In the spring of 1862, Father Imoda, Father Gieorda and Brother Francis DeKock and Lucian D’Agnostina located St. Peter’s mission six miles above the mouth of Sun river, above where is now Great Falls.

Log cabins were erected, and in 1864 Father Anthony Ravalli, the famous missionary father after whom Ravalli county is named, was located at St. Peter’s, as well as Father F. X. Kuppens, also a famous figure in Montana’s history in the building. In 1865 occurred the famous Sun river stampede, in which many men were frozen, some died and many more would have passed on but for the ministrations of Father Ravalli and his associates at St. Peter’s mission, within sight of the present city of Great Falls. In the winter of 1865 the present site of St. Peter’s mission was selected. In the winter of 1865-66 Father Imoda established camp at the new place and with the assistance of another priest and a number of Indians prepared logs, stone and all the necessary materials. According to a record left by Father Kuppens, they had plans that included all the different departments for chapel and community life; for school and industrial training. Lumber was hauled from Helena. During the winter, the work was never interrupted and the houses were virtually ready in the spring. On April 27, 1866, they abandoned St. Peter’s mission on the Missouri; on the same day they opened the new St. Peter’s mission. the next day they closed that mission temporarily.

It is probable that the mission was closed because of war being carried on by the Blackfeet, who were trying to exterminate the white brethern at that time quite industriously. The mission was attached to the mission of Helena, and from 1866 to 1874 the mission and all its belongings were in care of Thomas Moran, well known in Great Falls. Services were held in the little church right along, however, by traveling priests, and the bell, then not cracked, was rung regularly to call the faithful to worship.

In 1874, the mission was re-opened, and prospered for many years. There were the usual agricultural and stockraising activities to supplement the industrial school for Indian boys. By 1880, the Ursuline nuns were induced to come there and establish a school for Indian and half-breed girls. Within 10 years, St. Peters had accommodations for 400 children. the buildings were substantial, being of stone, and the school facilities were numbered among the best in the west.

However, the mission had one great handicap. The rapid settling of the region by the whites had caused the government to restrict the territory of the Blackfeet and, as a consequence, the Indians were now placed on a reservation some 100 miles to the north of the mission. So finally, a new mission nearer the Indians had to be established. At first this new dependency was located at Birch creek on the outskirts of the reservation. In 1885, it was moved to a more central location on Two Medicine creek.

White girls were taken to school and for a time St. Peters flourished. But fire followed fire, the Indian pupils were gone, the white pupils became fewer and fewer, and at last only was left the ruins of the once great St. Peter’s mission, crumbling beside the highway from Great Falls to Helena.

The land on which the mission ruins stand, and some 4,000 acres besides, is property of the Ursuline nuns of Great Falls, the same which established the Ursuline academy here a number of years ago, and is leased, the Ursulines receiving one-half of the product in vegetables, hay or stock.

It is an interesting place to visit, in the shadow of the great mountains, with little St. Peter’s creek tumbling through the ruins, chuckling of the days agone and of the history made since the gentle Father Imoda laid the first stone for foundation of a place wherein to teach the gospel of the man of Galilee.

It is a pleasant place to visit, well worth the visit, but don’t leave without seeing the little cemetery perched on the little knoll above the ruins, or your visit will miss much of its worth. In the cemetery lies the mortal remains of men and women who wrote history in Montana in the days when the writing was often done at the expense of life and all that one holds dear. There lie the remains of ‘Whiskey’ Brown, Jim O’Farrell and scores of mighty men and women of the old times who builded better than they knew, checked in at last, and passed on to make way for a newer and greater order of things--made possible through their having lived.

In the peaceful little churchyard of St. Peter’s with the mountains and the skies looking down, they sleep well, those men who dared, life’s fitful fever o’er!” [GFLD 10 Sep 1927, p. 7]

23 April 2010

Saint Peter's Mission, An Historic Scenic Gem

St. Peter's Mission April 2010

Saint Peters Mission One of State’s Most Inspiring Spots. Picnic Place, Yes, but More Than That; Resting Place for Forefathers. Ruins of Old Church Call to Mind Marriage of Henry Plummer, Road Agent, There; Pioneers Sleep on Little Hillside.

By Ed Cooney, Managing Editor, Great Falls Leader

. . . It is a beautiful place, is St. Peters, pretty to picnic, with a clear, ice cold stream running through, and big trees for shade. Not to mention ruins of what once was the greatest mission of Montana, and a place where hundreds of Indian, and many white, children learned the elements of education, not to mention religion. There are left now but the crumbling ruins of what was once a mighty educational plant; the cottonwood trees planted more than half a century ago; the old log church with its tottering bell tower, its unchinked logs; and the graveyard on the hill just west with its headstones of marble, its headboards of rotting wood, and its unmarked graves that have lost all shape of mound and mingle with the even grass and sod of the side hill once more.

It was in the old church that Plummer--chief of the road agents of a time long ago. Plummer, who was sheriff of all Montana, then Idaho. Plummer who was hanged with near two score of his road agents by the Vigilantes in Virginia City in the long ago--came to wed. A gentle school teacher of Sun River was the bride of the mighty road agent, but she knew nothing of that side of his life as she stood by his side at the old altar in the old log church, while the copper bell in the old tower rang proudly, far beyond half a century ago.

But that is only one of them. The old log church is still in use, with its old and worn stations of the cross, its rail, its simple cross and cheap Child in the Manger wrought in composition of a time long ago, and covered with sparkles of snow and winter.

It is worth the visit, if only to see the tottering steeple with its big brass bell, and the unchinked logs with the white wash coating. It gives one a weird feeling, and brings a catch to the breath.

And on the peaceful little hill, meant for a graveyard of a bygone people, Bill wandered and mused. There was the grave of John D. ‘Whiskey’ Brown, and his wife Catherine, sleeping side by side for more than 30 years--and above them is a marble tombstone, erected a dozen years or more ago by an old time friend who had prospered . . .

There is the tombstone of J. J. Parrel, Eagle Rock station, and a score more of men whose names spelled civilization, in a day when there was no civilization. . . .

St. Peters, by the way, is the third mission in Montana, St. Marys of the Bitter Root being the first, St. Ignatius of the Flathead the second and St. Peter’s the third. It was located first in 1859 at Priest’s Butte, just this side of the town of Choteau in Teton county, moved the same year or the next to Fort Shaw on Sun River, that on March 3, 1860.

On Feb. 14, 1862 St. Peter’s Mission was located ‘six miles above the mouth of Sun River on the Missouri river,’ and the place was named ‘Flood,’ the same name it bears today, only the name now is only that of a railroad flag station. The exact location of the Mission would probably be the Longeway ranch of today. In 1866 the Mission was moved to its present location. At one time 500 children were being taught there, but that was long ago.

Several fires devastated the buildings, stone though they were, the 1,100 acres property was leased and the Ursuline Sisters, owners of the property, came to Great Falls and the Ursuline academy here is the result a long jump from the St. Peter’s Mission of 1859 at Priest’s Butte, or 1862 at Flood, six miles above where Great Falls now stands. Ed Cooney. [Source: Great Falls Leader Daily 28 Jul 1928, p. 7]

18 April 2010

Celebrating 150 Years of the Mullan Military Wagon Road

By Ken Robison

During May 20-22, 2010, the River & Plains Society in Fort Benton will host the national 150th Anniversary Mullan Road Conference. This conference celebrates the completion of the Mullan Military Wagon Road in 1860, the first wagon road from Fort Benton to cross the Rocky Mountains to Fort Walla Walla, Washington Territory, into the Inland of the Pacific Northwest. The 624-mile long Mullan Road joined the Missouri River with the Columbia River, blazing the path through the plains and valleys westward from Fort Benton into the rugged mountains of western Montana and Idaho. The road was built by US Army 1st Lieutenant John Mullan between the spring of 1859 and August 1860 with an expedition of some 230 combined military and civilian men. Parts of the original Mullan Road can still be traveled today, and, weather permitting, the Conference will included a field trip from Fort Benton into the Sun River valley past Birdtail Rock to the Dearborn River.

The Conference also will celebrate the arrival of the first steamboats at the Fort Benton levee July 2nd, 1860. When the Chippewa, commanded by Captain Joseph LaBarge, and the Key West, under Joseph’s brother Captain John LaBarge, moored at Fort Bento’s levee, it heralded the beginning of the steamboat era at the head of navigation on the Missouri River. Aboard the two steamers, belonging to Pierre Chouteau & Company (known as the American Fur Company), were owners Pierre and Charles Chouteau, their agents Fort Benton “Factors” Andrew Dawson and Alexander Culbertson, Indian agents, company employees, military supplies, and Indian trade goods. Also onboard the crowded steamboats were Major George A. H. Blake and his First Dragoons, some 300 soldiers who were poised to become the first, and last, direct military users of the Mullan Road on their way to Washington Territory.

A final exploration group arrived at Fort Benton in that amazing summer of 1860 before Lieut. Mullan, to await steamboat passage down the Missouri. The Military Reconnaissance Expedition of Captain William F. Raynolds had spent the past year exploring the Yellowston basin and had come down the Missouri River from the Three Forks, past the Great Falls of the Missouri, to arrive at Fort Benton July 14th. With the Raynolds Expedition was topographer Lieutenant James Dempsey Hutton, who took the first known photograph of the Fort Benton trading post from across the Missouri River. During that summer of 1860, there was no town of Fort Benton, only the trading post, and an opposition post, Fort Campbell, which by the spring of 1860 had been bought by Pierre Chouteau & Company. Yet, in the words of John Strachan, one of Mullan’s men, “Fort Benton has everything . . . a bakery, blacksmith, carpenter and cooper shops, trade offices for buying, others for selling and retail shops. Goods are sold at enormous prices . . . sugar is sold at $1 and up a pound and everything else in proportion. Business amounts to about $160,000 a year, with buffalo robes the staple of the trade.”

The 150th Anniversary Conference will begin May 20th late Thursday afternoon with a tour of Old Fort Benton, the reconstructed American Fur Company fur and robe trading post built in 1846-47 at the head of navigation on the Missouri River. Resident Mountain Man “Burnt Spoon” will lead the tour group into the 1850’s past to see the original Block House (Montana’s oldest permanent structure), the newly reconstructed log Stockade and Bourgeois House (the Factor’s Quarters), and into the Trade Store and Warehouse where the River & Plains Society will host an evening reception in the fur trade museum. The River & Plains Society is the non-profit that operates the museums complex in Fort Benton and the Joel F. Overholser Historical Research Center. A Fort Restoration Committee leads the effort to reconstruct Old Fort Benton.

Friday will be held at the Montana Agricultrual Center-Lippard Auditorium beginning with regional Mullan Road activity reports from Washington state, Idaho, and Montana. Morning presentations will include: “Going to the Mountains: Major Blake’s Army Dragoons on the Upper Missouri” by Washington State University doctoral student Marc Entze; “Artists Gustavus Sohon and John Mix Stanley Images Along the Mullan Road” by Dr. Paul McDermott of Maryland; “Early Travelers Along the Mullan Road” by Lee Hanchett, author of Montana's Benton Road; and “Natural Resources along the Road” by Dr. John E. Taylor of Helena. The luncheon speaker will be Cultural Historian Bob Doerk discussing “Inni - The Buffalo of the Plains.”

Friday afternoon talks and demonstrations will include: “Mullan Road On-Line Resources Including a Google Earth Mullan Road Fly-Thru” by Dr. Bill Youngs of Eastern Washington University, and Ron Hall; “Sampling the Minckler Mullan Road Collection” which includes unique photographs, diaries, and material from Mullan's wagonmaster John A. Creighton, by Art Historian Thomas Minckler and Ken Robison; “Through Indian Country: Native American Perspectives on Mullan and Regional Development” by Dr. Richard Scheuerman of Seattle Pacific University; and “Actions to Designate the Mullan Road a National Historic Trail” led by Courtney Kramer, Gallatin County Historic Preservation Officer. Friday evening will feature a reception and dinner with Bruce Druliner aka “Burnt Spoon” bringing to life “Old Fort Benton in the 1850s through stories and songs.”

Saturday morning begins with “Surveying along the Mullan Road” by Montana surveyor re-enactor Bill Weikel, followed by a field trip into the Sun River valley with bus guide commentary about the route of the Mullan Road and key historic, cultural, and geological features. Stops will be made at Sun River Leaving (Vaughn), Sun River Crossing, St. Peter’s Mission, and a box lunch at Birdtail Rock Stage Stop. Weather permitting the tour will continue on over Birdtail Divide to Dearborn Crossing and on to Fort Shaw. At this historic fort, the Sun River Valley Historical Society will show General Gibbon’s original Military Quarters and will talk about valley history including the military at Fort Shaw and the later famed Indian School.

11 April 2010

Old Yogo and Millies' Hunting Cat

P. W. Korell, Stanford Pioneer, Tells Yogo Gulch History in Address Before Women’s Club.
Special to the Tribune. Stanford, No. 6.—Judge J. H. Huntoon, Lewistown, and P. W. Korell, Stanford, spoke at a meeting of the Stanford woman’s club on local history.

Mr. Korell, who landed at Fort Benton in 1876, came into the Judith basin with the Yogo stampeders in 1880 and to Stanford in 1923. Referring to early days in the basin he says:

"Jack Wirth and I left Fort Benton Aug. 2, 1880, with two four-horse teams and wagons loaded with tobacco, four barrels of whisky, a crate of picks and shovels, flour, sugar and bacon. We were headed for Fort Maginnis and Yogo.

"Arriving at the Judith river Aug. 7, 1880, we camped on the flat now owned by C. M. Belden, formerly the Murphy ranch, half way between Utica and the Belden residence. We made camp in brush along the old channel of the Judith as a precaution against Indians, who were traveling across the country frequently.

"Whisky is Stolen. When I went to my wagon in the morning the wagon sheet was untied. Investigating, I found the load was short two 55-gallon barrels of whisky. Jack Murphy, Wirth and myself noticed grass had been tramped and w could see where the barrels had been rolled away.

"We followed the trail back and forth across the bottom until it was lost. The following January, in 1881, a man known as Cherokee Jim, coming from Yogo, stopped to kill a deer and found one of the barrels containing 20 gallons of whisky.

"Jim came down to the Murphy cabin, where the postoffice had been established after being moved from Yogo. It consisted of one empty beer case and a rubber stamp. Jim was feeling pretty good but refused to tell where he got his ‘jag,’ so he was followed when he returned to the cache and the barrel was found. Two years later the other barrel, empty, was found in a patch of brush on the Korrel ranch.

"At the time the liquor was taken, two white men were camped where the Utica schoolhouse now stands. One was known as Mike Henderson and the other, Aleck Jesup. The latter, years afterward served a term at Deer Lodge for burglary at Butte, dying shortly after he was released. Whereabouts of Henderson is unknown.

"Yogo did not produce the gold that was expected, the bedrock being too deep. Small bars paid only small returns. However, quite a number of miners remained, expecting to strike it some day.

"Among those who stayed was a colored woman by the name of Millie Ringold. Her faith was so strong in her mine, the Garfield, that she worked it for more than 30 years, doing anything she could to earn a few dollars, washing nursing white women and doing manual labor generally performed by men, returning at intervals to the hills to work her mine.

"Old Millie, as she was called, came to Fort Benton in 1878 as a maid for Colonel Switzer’s wife, and when rumors of the Yogo gold stampede came to Fort Benton, Millie was one of the first to hit the trail. She opened a hotel and restaurant and everyone could eat whether they had money or not, all promising to pay when the cleaned up bedrock.

"Millie had a coal oil can for a musical instrument, with which she entertained her guests. She would drum on it and sing southern songs as long as she had an audience.

"In after years, when dollars were scarce, many of her meals were provided for her by the cat, George Washington. It would catch a rabbit and bring it to the cabin, where it was enjoyed by himself and his mistress. Sometimes Bedrock Jim, another Yogo character, would share in the feast by providing potatoes and an onion or a carrot to make a mulligan. Millie died at her old cabin in Yogo and was buried in the cemetery at Utica by a few old timers.

"Bercham a Character. Jim Bercham, better known as ‘Bedrock’ Jim was another of the old guard who would not leave Yogo. He had his boxes going all the time, shoveling every day, and making regular trips to Utica for me to send his dust to Helena to the assay office. His cleanup averaged an ounce and a half of gold dust, which, at $16 an ounce, kept him in provisions.

"A few years later Mr. Weatherwax built a machine at the mouth of Skunk gulch to work some of his ore. The machine was all homemade and power was furnished by water from Yogo creek.

"One windy day he climbed on the wheel to lubricate it and, losing his balance, fell and was killed.

"Placer mining and prospecting since 1879 has been entirely abandoned on Yogo Creek. My predictions are that some day a corporation with money for development work will show the world that there is gold in Yogo and lots of it."
Source: Great Falls Tribune Daily 7 Nov 1931, p. 13]

Poker Jim, Montana's Oldest Chinese Resident

“Poke Jim,” Aged Chinese Passes Away. Gambler of Early Day Mining Camps Known by Pioneers; Was 105 Years Old.

Special to The Tribune. Helena, Dec 28—News of the death of “Poker Joe,” an aged Chinese who died at the county farm in Powell county recalled to R. J. Quigley of this city that the man was a resident of Last Chance gulch when Mr. Quigley was a boy. Even then, the Chinaman appeared old. He spoke the English language fairly well and said he had come to Montana territory when Bannack and Virginia City were capitals. From Virginia City he had come to Helena when gold was discovered in Last Chance gulch. Later he drifted to Blackfoot City and to Ophir.

Mr. Quigley had nearly forgotten “Poker Jim” until a year ago last summer, when he was driving with his family in the vicinity of Blackfoot City. He learned that the Chinese was the only inhabitant of the ghost city. Mr. Quigley entered the cabin and in a bunk in the corner he saw what appeared to be a mummy, its clawlike fingers clutching the stem of an opium pipe. The man was awake and his beady eyes, peering from their setting of wrinkled parchment, fastened themselves on the sheepman’s face.

Taught Count in Chinese. If he remembered the days when he taught Quigley, as a boy in Helena, to count in Chinese, he gave no sign either by look or work that he recognized his caller. Seeking to rouse memory, Quigley counted to 10 in Chinese and paused. There was barely a flicker of the eyelids and a twitching of the lips. No sound came from the mouth but the eyes remained fixed upon Quigley.

Memory was gone, seemingly, yet it was evident that the Chinese managed some way to keep house and do what little cooking was necessary to supply his needs.

The cabin was clean, the floor swept and the cooking utensils behind the stove were scoured brightly. Mr. Quigley finally gave up an attempt to start a conversation. The eyes of Poker Jim followed him to the door as Quigley withdrew.

Speaks for Last Time. While a resident of Helena, Poker Him lived in the Chinese quarter. He worked as a placer miner on his own hook and spent his nights gambling. He was an inveterate poker player and because of that gained the sobriquet by which he was known throughout the early day mining camps and which he carried to his death.

So far as known, the last time he spoke was when Sheriff Lou Boedecker was taking him to Deer Lodge Nov. 30. In answer to a question, he told the sheriff he was more than 100 years old and that the trip to Deer Lodge would be his first visit there since he went to Blackfoot City 60 years ago. He was though to be 105.
[Source: Great Falls Tribune Daily 29 Dec 1931, p. 5]