17 November 2010
The Travelling River Press Correspondent in Territorial Montana
By Ken Robison
In this era of the internet and day round television news, it is hard to imagine the life and times of correspondents for newspapers 125 years ago. News in those days travelled by word of mouth and in the pages of the local newspaper such as the Fort Benton River Press. No better illustration of this contrast can be found than the activities of Ed C. Garrett, correspondent for The River Press, during an extended trip he made in 1889 to the western end of [then] Choteau County. Garrett’s mission was to sell subscriptions to the Daily and Weekly River Press and to report the latest news and developments in the western perimeter of Montana’s largest county stretching from the eastern front of the Rockies to the Little Rocky Mountains.
Leaving Fort Benton the 19th of October, 1889, in a carriage drawn by the River Press’ spirited horse Bucephalus, Ed Garrett embarked on his trip to the upper Teton and Piegan districts “in search of the golden fleece of subscriptions to the River Press and Stockman [newspaper, also published by The River Press]. Garrett relates his adventure:
“Following in the ancient route of Broadwater’s bull teams for about 8 miles, we (your correspondent and the cayuse), then switched to the right. We soon passed through several prairie dog towns, the inhabitants of which, being asked to subscribe, all disappeared into their holes. This struck us as rather an evil omen, and after ten miles more of nothing but bunch grass, we reached the state of mind of the young lady in the poem:
The melancholy days have come,
The saddest of the year,
When the young maiden’s fancy
Turns to thought of l—g—r b—r.
“At this juncture we overtook a magic lantern man on his way to Choteau and Dupuyer to give exhibitions to the people of those parts. After ascertaining that he had no slides in his box containing Montana election returns as they appeared on the Journal transparency in Helena the night after election we gladly made up with him. We soon learned that he was a genial soul (he will be down to have some posters printed in a few days) and knew the governors of both North and South Carolina. So we compared notes and discussed the government irrigation problem. We found that the cayuse made better time by following directly in the wake of the magic lantern wagon.
“Thus jogging along we soon reached Capt. Nelse’s place [pioneer Nelson Velleaux] on the lower Teton, but the captain with three or four of his neighbors had gone to Benton to make final proof on their lands. This was especially unfortunate as we had intended giving a brief sketch of the captain’s life to the readers of the River Press.
“The hay, potato and berry crops along the Teton are immense, but by reason of the dry season the oat crop is about 2/3 that of last year. Mr. McBriarty has put up 250 tons of hay near the crossing of the Teton, for the winter feeding of his 5,000 sheep. We saw Mrs. Grandchamps going home with a wagon box full of berries. The bushes were literally weighted down with them, and it would be a pleasant and profitable undertaking for those in Benton who like jelly to organize a berrying expedition, providing this Indian summer weather lasts.
“We stopped over night at Trannum’s. Mr. Trannum regaled us with reminiscences of the early days in California, he having gone there in ’50. He is now engaged in cattle raising and ranching and for current news reads the River Press.
“On the Teton between Tannum’s and Choteau, are located the sheep ranches of Wm. Zimmerman, Chas. Bannatyne, Gobbins & Hefferman, and A. B. McDonald, and the home ranches of the North Montana Cattle Co., and the Sands Land & Cattle Co. The stock along the Teton seemed to be in good condition, though we saw but few range cattle, as they are drifting further north.
“On the evening of the second day, in the soft mellow light of the setting sun, we arrived in sight of the town of Choteau and the beautiful valley of the Teton. The valley here expands to a width of three miles and is well settled with thrifty ranchmen and stockmen to the base of the mountains, a distance of twenty-five miles. Still there is room for more. The river is spanned by an iron bridge 110 feet long, built last summer. On reaching Choteau we found the principal topic of discussion to be whether a new steady clock like that on the Benton court house should be put on the belfry of the school house or whether it would be better to buy a real enterprising clock.
“Dr. J. E. Walmsley, acting coroner, with a jury composed of A. E. Paisley, James Brown, Chas. Depage, Wm. Hagan, Chas. Drift and James Hanay returned to Choteau Tuesday evening from Pen d’Oreille coulee where they held an inquest on the body of a dead man found by the round-up last week. The place is about 55 miles from Choteau and on the road leading from the main Fort Conrad and Benton road to John Zimmerman’s place. The jury’s verdict was “Death from unknown causes.” There were no marks of violence. The man’s name is supposed to be Fred Bergman, as a check on the First National Bank of Fort Benton for $157.60 dated August 13, payable to Fred Bergman or bearer, signed by A. B. McDonald, was found in his pocket. It is thought he got lost in the smoky weather several weeks ago and perished from exhaustion. A cloth overcoat fur lined, a pair of blankets and some tobacco were found a half a mile from the body. The man had on dark grey trousers, a sack coat and vest of dark blue cloth, considerably worn. The body was buried where found. The man is not known at Choteau. [Signed] Pilgrim.”
From Choteau, Ed Garrett moved on to Piegan and the Blackfoot Agency with stops enroute at Bynum, Dupuyer, and Robarre. As he has done throughout his trip, Garrett reports on the people, economy, range conditions, and events with an emphasis on what is new on the ranches and in the towns. Garrett’s narrative continues:
“The first stopping place on the road from Choteau to Piegan is Bynum, 14 miles out, on Muddy creek, a stream which sets a good example to some people we know by occasionally drying up. Geo. A. Fry keeps a general store here and carries a good stock. A. L. Collins is landlord of the hotel. Grant Graves is presiding genius of the “Shepherd’s Joy,” a resort for the children of Pan from twenty miles around. Here they meet to discuss social and philosophical problems. The herders generally believe in a future state of sheep ranching where herding, dipping and shearing will be unnecessary.
“The sheep ranches of O. G. Cooper & Martin, S. F. Ralston, Jr., Bynum Bros., C. W. Cooper, A. J. Cowell and Clark Bros. are located in this vicinity. The Clark ranch is doubtless the model sheep ranch of Montana. Beginning in July, 1884, with 2,600 ewes and 700 lambs and buying 1,000 ewes the next year, after selling 3,600 wethers and killing mutton for ranch use, the firm has now 20,000 sheep, of which 10,000 are breeding ewes. Their wool clip this year was 97,000 pounds and the increase 6,751 lambs. In five different bunches the percentage of increase—marked—and all strong, healthy lambs was as follows: 95, 97, 101, 103, 106. The 05 per cent was in the band of yearling ewes. This is considered unprecedented in western sheep farming, and the result was only obtained by the closest care and attention. During the lambing season canvas tents are distributed over the range for the protection of the lambs, and at night a herder is always on duty. The latter has been found a most profitable expense. The firm has just had shipped 100 thoroughbred Shropshire, Leicester and Oxford Down bucks which will be bred with the finest Merino ewes to increase length of staple and size of sheep. All ewe bunches have been graded and bucks are put in accordingly to produce a uniform clip. The sheep are divided into eight bands and are all carefully and systematically attended to; are treated to salt once a week in winter and in summer to salt and sulphur. All improvements are of the most substantial character and all the ranch work is done with the utmost system. Eight sheds 60x170 feet, well ventilated with a capacity of 4,000 sheep each—although not over 3,000 are usually driven in—are located on the different streams. At the home ranch, besides dwelling house and sheds, are carpenter and blacksmith shops, machinery hall, bunk houses, store houses, granary and stables. The firm raise their own grain and have 1,500 tons of hay in stack on the ranch. There is nine miles of ditching and fifteen miles of fencing. A pile driver contrivance—the invention of Mr. B. Percy Clark—is used to drive fence posts. It is fixed to the hind end of a wagon and, besides the team to pull the wagon, requires three men and a horse to work it. It will set 200 post firmly in ordinary ground in a day.
“A telephone line twenty-one miles long, with seven stations connects the home ranch with outlying ranches. This will prove a great convenience, and during winter storm and blizzards the owners will be saved many anxious moments and hard rides.
“C. W. Cooper has built a new shed on his ranch and will run two bands of sheep this winter.
“Twenty miles north of Bynum is the town of Dupuyer, the center of a large extent of pastoral country. In this neighborhood on Dry Fork, Dupuyer, Sheep and Birch creeks over 50,000 sheep grazed during the summer.
“J. F. Burd has a cash store here and is building up a good trade.
“B. R. Fowler is the village blacksmith, A. Grillenberger furnishes three meals a day, nice and hot, and Geo. McGill dispenses Kentucky elixir to a thirsty public. Dr. H. A. Gillette heals the sick.
“In the vicinity are the sheep ranches of S. C. Burd, Wm. Smiley, E. E. Leech, C. R. Scoffin, L. T. Hagere, Davis & Jones, McCuaig & Gearing, Gensman & Jones and John Zimmerman. All these parties have good sheds and other improvements and plenty of hay.
“The best improvement, however, that was noticed was the large number of young sheep men who have changed their lonely state of two or three years ago by taking a wife. Does not the cabin look brighter, boys, and the grub taste better? We don’t see how those old fogies up the creek can get along any more. If they can’t catch on why don’t they try the River Press commission agency?
“ The magic lantern man gave an exhibition at Dupuyer. The boys had filled his coal oil lamp half full of water, but the practical joke was not a howling success. Several northern whiskey smugglers were among the audience and when “Washington praying at Valley Forge” appeared one of them asked: ‘Is that a British subject?’ the next subject happened to be the execution of Andre and some one called out ‘there’s your British subject.’ As there were a number of pole haulers present the manager did not think it safe to show ‘Kiel killing Capt. Scott at Fort Gray.’
“We met Mr. S. L. Potter, deputy sheep inspector, here. Sam knows an acarus scabiei when he sees it.
“The mines of Dupuyer and Birch creek coal companies, eighteen miles from here, produce a very good quality of coal, a considerable quantity of which is sold at Fort Benton and Choteau.
“Robarre is the jumping off place at the crossing of Birch creek, eight miles north of Dupuyer. Kipp & Co. have a store and hotel conducted by Geo. Edwards. Thomas & Magee are the proprietors of the saloon. Birch creek is the dividing line between civilization and the Indian reservation and he who crosses here leaves Hostetter’s bitters behind. On the reservation side near here are the ranches of John Wren and James Fisher, formerly of Choteau. They have an excellent location for either sheep or cattle.
“Charley Chouquette, an old timer well known in Fort Benton, also resides on the reservation. At the time the Dearborn county scheme the new county should be named ‘Choquette’ or ‘Dearborn,’ but as the bill didn’t pass Mr. Choquette doesn’t worry.
“On this side of the creek Frank D. Cooper has lately purchased several ranches and is making extensive improvements in the way of sheds, corrals and fencing. In connection with Robert C. Cramer he will run a large band of sheep here this winter. By the way it is also rumored that Bob also has aspirations for a better life and will soon lead to the altar an accomplished young lady of Bynum.
“T. E. Williamson, of Choteau, and Walter Adams, also have sheep ranches on Birch creek.
“We met here Baron Max Grutthus, of Russia, on his way to St. Mary’s lake with Guide Schultz, for a five weeks hunt. The baron is an exile for five years on account of a few hasty words spoken at a students’ meeting. Who wouldn’t be an exile to Montana. Under the lamb-like climatic influences he would soon forget like the lotus eaters, that there is any other county in existence.
“Near the mountains between Teton and Birch creeks on the numerous streams are located many settlers with small herds of cattle and horses; and it is a pleasant surprise after a lone ride of 25 or 30 miles over the prairie to come to one of the cabin homes, rough looking, perhaps, on the exterior, but within full of grace, comfort and hospitality. The refining influence of woman has come up the coulees and is going over into the utter mountains. Spruce up, boys, and look pleasant.
“On upper Sheep creek we found Chas D. Labreche and family, who had just arrived from the Dearborn. They are living in tents for the present, but as Mr. Labreche has ten children he will soon, with their assistance, have a good big log house knocked up. He has a herd of 300 head of cattle grazing here and has good feed and shelter. He has also started a store.
“The settlers along the mountains are very desirous of getting a weekly mail service from Choteau by Clark’s ranch as they have to go from ten to twenty miles for their mail at present. A school is also needed.
“We met here Daniel Boone, a descendant of the original Daniel Boone, and like him, a thorough hunter, trapper and frontiersman. Mr. Boone has lived in the mountains of Montana for twenty years. He is expert in making buckskin gloves, tanning the skins himself.
“On the upper Dry Fork of the Marias we were hospitably entertained by Mr. and Mrs. Buskirk.
“During our twelve years sojourn in Montana we have eaten no bread as good as that baked from Montana flour by Mrs. J. L. Collins of the upper Muddy.
“The settlers of three townships along the mountains are very anxious to have their lands surveyed and the plats placed on record in the land office so they can make their filings. Some of them have lived on their squatter pre-emption claims over five years, and by reason of the land not being surveyed they could not prove up and take homestead claims which they had in view. Two of these townships were surveyed in 1886, but through some error the survey was not approved. It would be a great relief to the settlers and of great benefit to the government if the surveyor general could survey these lands immediately, as many entries would be perfected at once. If, however, they are left unsurveyed for a year or two longer contests and litigation are sure to arise among the settlers.
“There is only one thing your correspondent regrets so far on his journey. We took on a travelling companion at Dupuyer who wagered that he would get a cash subscription for the River Press if we would represent ourselves at the next house as the new chaplain en route to the Blackfoot agency. This was an opportunity not to be lost, so we made the bet. On arriving we were duly introduced to the lady of the house, who certainly demonstrated that she had had some religious training, for after a few moments conversation she went into the yard and wrung the necks of several chickens. We heard her say in the kitchen, ‘Mary hurry up dinner ther’s a preacher here!’ At dinner came the ordeal of saying grace. We especially prayed for the sheepmen, and managed fairly well. After dinner the conversation ran to Indian and foreign missions, hardshell and softshell Baptists foreordination, etc. It was torture, and as soon as we decently could we folded our tents and stole away. The hear-earned subscription is enclosed. [Signed] Pilgrim.”
Arriving at the Blackfoot Agency, Garrett continued his travelogue, emphasizing: “The Indians Becoming Civilized—School Facilities—The Indian Police—A Mild Winter Predicted—Rich quartz Discoveries, Etc. [Editor’s Note: Remember the terms in this report, written in the 19th century, may not be politically correct in 2010]
“Piegan, or Blackfoot agency, lies in the northwestern part of Choteau county, 125 miles from Benton on the right bank of Badger creek. The present agent is Major J. B. Catlin of Missoula, under whose management affairs are in a flourishing condition. W. J. Livingston is chief clerk, and J. P. Wagner is issue clerk.
“The reservation contains 1,760,000 acres. It is one of the best portions of Montana. The Indians, Blackfeet, Bloods and Piegans, belonging to the agency number about 2,000. Many of them live in comfortable log houses while others prefer the aboriginal tepee. A few farm on a small scale, but no general agricultural fever will ever break out among them. They have put up about 200 tons of hay for the winter use of their stock. P. Catlin, Henry Kennerly and Chas. Aubrey instruct the Indians in farming.
“For a period of ten years from 1888 the annual appropriation for the benefit of these Indians is $150,000. This money is to be used in the purchase of supplies, wagons, farming implements, horses and cattle and in building and maintaining schools and other institutions for their education and civilization.
“Two hundred brood mares and ten stallions were brought here last summer, also a large number of wagons and farming implements. Thirty Indians with as many wagons are now engaged in freighting supplies from Benton, for which they receive $1.25 per cwt. in cash. For other labor done for the government they receive $1 to $1.50 per day in tickets exchangeable for supplies from the government stores. Chief White Calf and other big and little Indians bask in contentment on a weekly ration of four pounds of beef and five pounds of flour, which is paid every Saturday. The sick and infirm receive an extra issue every Wednesday. About twenty good Montana beef steers are killed weekly to provide the sinews of peace. One thing, however, White Calf does not like; that is the presence at the agency of the colored troops, where a few occasionally come as escort to some officer or other military duty. The old chief thus draws the color line; “I don’t want them here. Let them go back to the place where they grew and turned black. My people are dark enough for me and I want to see them turn whiter.” He is afraid the color is catching.
“The agency boarding school is in charge of A. B. Coe principal, with the following assistants: Miss Cora M. Ross, teacher; Miss Isabella Clark, matron; Mrs. Belle Coe cook; Miss Kitty Kennedy, laundress; Miss Mary E. Pelky, seamstress. The attendance now is 21 boys and 12 girls, besides 15 day scholars. The children are bright and learn readily. Besides their studies the boys milk 15 cows and cultivate a garden the proceeds of which, beyond the consumption of the school, are devoted to buying extras from the government supplies. The girls are taught to work and sew. The accommodations for the pupils are rather limited, but the government will soon let a contract for the building of a large two story brick school house.
“The Catholics have also in course of construction a large frame building on Two Medicine creek, four miles from the agency, for which Miss Drexel, of Philadelphia, donated the funds--$17,000. This school will be known as the Piegan Indian Mission. It will be for full blood Indian children only, and the intention is to make it an industrial school like that at Carlisle, Pa. N. Monshausen is the architect, Joe Kipp contractor, I. A. Skinner, of Helena, has charge of the carpenter work and James Manix, of Sun River has charge of masonry and plastering. The main building is two stories high, 30x120 feet; wall of 6 inch studding and double boarded, filled in with concrete and lath and plastered. A main wall through the center divides the boys department from that of the girls. In each department on first floor are two school rooms, two play rooms and a parlor. The upstairs consists of dormitories, a chapel and nuns’ work room. A one story wing 30x115 feet is for kitchen, dining room and boys and girls infirmaries. Provision is also made for a bakery, laundry and wash rooms. The building will probably be completed by January first next. The workshops and priest’s residence will be built next year. A chapel 26x50 feet has already been built. With these two school houses completed the educational facilities will certainly be ample.
“The uniformed Indian police are quite a feature of the agency. They are twenty-four in number and are selected from the best men in the tribe. They are very prompt in enforcing the reservation laws and arresting their offending brethren. Chiefs White Calf, Big Nose and Tearing Lodge constitute a police tribunal to try misdemeanors committed on the reservation. Thirty days on the wood pile is generally the fate of the Indian caught drunk or with liquor in his possession. The guard house was empty on the day of our arrival, but we were informed that seven or eight bucks were sometimes in confinement. Despite all precautions some of the Indians manage to get hold of the fiery fluid occasionally. The liquor when taken from them is spilt by one of the policemen ceremoniously breaking the bottle on the agency flag staff al a crusader. It is said that a poor old squaw going by the flag staff shortly after one of these ceremonies picked up one of the glass fragments and sorrowfully licked it, thinking no doubt the while of Ingersoll’s rhapsody on sending a barrel of 18-year old to his friend.
“The Indians expect a mild winter. In this view they are sustained by several white men whom your correspondent met. Hugh Monroe, an old timer 105 years of age—of whom I may have occasion to write again—says that before a hard winter his rheumatism troubles him greatly; he has no twinges to speak of this year. Old man Ellis has observed that a hard winter follows a heavy equinoctial storm and vice versa. B. D. Labreche, of upper Sheep creek has noticed that the hair of cattle and horses, by a kindly provision of nature, is generally very long and wavy before a hard winter. It was so in 1880. This year the hair is short. Chad. Cartwright says that the bark of his dog is not any thicker than usual on the north side this fall. This is an infallible sign.
“Piegan is the home of Joe Kipp, the noted scout and guide. He has a general merchandise store here and has a good trade. R. L. McGonigal is in charge of the store.
“John Eldridge conducts the hotel. He has a good run of custom and provides the best beef steak in all Montana.
“The agency has no physician at present. The Indians look wise and say since the last doctor left nobody has died; but then they are prejudiced against white medicine men. Lately some rich quartz has been found in the main range of the Rockies directly west of here and in the opinion of old timers there will be several good mining camps before long. Of course prospecting and mining are forbidden on the reservation but the prospector and miner “get there just the same.”
“Coal is used at the agency from a vein on Two Medicine creek. [Signed] Pilgrim “
Garrett wrapped up his trip, returning to Fort Benton on November 13th. The trip home was an adventure in itself. Coming down the Teton on the afternoon of the 12th, Garrett was caught in a driving snowstorm. He was looking for the Hefferman Sheep Ranch, but missed the road that led to it. Luckily he met Mr. Hefferman on the road from Benton. Hefferman took the lead to drive to his ranch but in the blinding snowstorm got off the track himself. They finally ran across Hefferman’s herder and found their way to the ranch. After spending the night at the ranch, Garrett drove the 36 miles to Fort Benton the next morning. After resting a few days, Ed Garrett, the roving correspondent for The River Press, departed for another extended trip through the eastern side of Choteau County—but that is another story.
[Sources: FBRPW 30 Oct, 6 Nov, 20 Nov 1889]