James Fergus: The Grand Old Man of
Courtesy of the Lewistown News Argus**
Sunday, December 18, 1994
Christmas Edition by John R. Foster
We pass a large oil painting of James Fergus on the stairway of the Fergus County Courthouse as we pass between the first and second floors.
Another oil portrait of Fergus adorns the board room of the Central Montana Museum.
Fergus County was named in his honor, and several Central Montana businesses, both past and present, have the name "Fergus" in their business titles.
Millions of legal documents have been filed "in and for the County of Fergus," and thousands of young people have gone into the world listing graduation from Fergus High School on their resumes.
Thus, in Central Montana, the name Fergus, as derived from James Fergus, is common.
But who was James Fergus, the man from whence the name "Fergus County" is derived? What did he believe? What did he do? What did he think? What were the rudiments of his character? And what did he say a century ago that might speak to us today?
The most common portrait of Fergus pictures an old man with a bald head, fluffy white sideburns, and a long white beard. He is sitting on a chair, clutching a book, with more books stacked on a table beside him.
While this profile represents well the intellectual side of Fergus he was an avid reader, a deep thinker, and a prolific writer, there was another side. And that was Fergus at hard labor- riding the cattle range, shoveling in the gold mine, or balancing the books in his business.
He believed in the development of both "mind and body," and did so by working at labor eight hours a day and studying eight hours a day, whenever possible, seven days per week. And in this aged "senior citizen" profile he was known statewide as "the Grand Old Man of Montana," and as the "Father of Fergus County."
Fergus died June 25, 1902, surrounded by family at the home ranch of the Fergus Livestock & Land Co., of which he had been the "founder and moving spirit" since he came to Central Montana in 1880.
In death, Fergus commanded one of the largest (if not the largest) front page obituaries ever published by the Fergus County Argus, with his life, accomplishments, and beliefs summarized on two full pages of newsprint.
Yet, one article, published originally by the Helena Hearld and republished by the Kendall Chronicle July 8, 1902, perhaps more typifies the integrity and character of Fergus than any other article ever written about him.
The Kendall headlines read:
WOULD NOT TELL A LIE
A Large Fortune Could Not Buy James Fergus
Needed the Money But Would Not Accept It Upon The Terms Offered
By the articles account, some 15 years earlier Fergus had received a letter from a wealthy kinsman in Scotland, who was dying. This relative offered James Fergus his entire estate. valued at $150,000, upon one condition.
While Fergus was an avowed infidel, freethinker, and agnostic, his relative was "a believer in the Christian religion, and he rebelled at leaving his money to one who believed in nothing." wrote to Mr. Fergus stating that IF the latter would but acknowledge that there existed a doubt in his mind, that he was open to conviction, that he would say that he might yet possibly be convinced there was a God, although he did not actually believe in one then, he would leave him his estate."
Fergus, then heavily in debt on borrowed money repayable at 1 percent interest due to the development of the Fergus Livestock & Land Co., could have certainly used the money.
After considering the offer a short time. however. Fergus sent this reply back to Scotland. "I have come to the conclusion that there is not enough money in Scotland to make me tell a lie."
Thus Fergus did not get the $150,000 estate (by today's standards about 4-1/2 million dollars), and continued to battle the weather, cattle rustlers, horse thieves, and Indians in order to make his ranch survive and be profitable. And it was!
As the article concluded: "There are few men, indeed, who would not at least have been 'open to conviction' for the sum of $150,000, but Fergus was one of those men."
Fergus was also one of those men, who, by today's standards, accomplished a great deal as a senior citizen. Fergus was 67 years old in 1880 when he drove his herd of cattle from the Helena area to Central Montana and started his ranch north of the Judith Mountains which was then an uncharted wilderness.
The last two decades of his life were spent, by today's standards as an "active senior citizen" in Central Montana, where he not only succeeded in the development of the Fergus Livestock and Land Co., but he was an active spokesman of the Republican Party, a member of the Constitutional Convention, the Territorial Legislature, and a prolific writer on almost all subjects, including agriculture.
Credit for the development of Yellowstone National Park, the nation's first, is also given to Fergus. In the process of all of this, he was an avid promoter of freethought and a critic of the Christian religion.
He was known in Central Montana from the onset of his arrival in 1880 as "The Honorable James Fergus," and addressed frequently by the press in that fashion. For in those days, the term "Honorable" was used to address anyone who had served in the territorial legislature, while today it is commonly reserved for judges within the court system.
While Fergus had served in the Montana Territorial Legislature prior to his move to Central Montana, and was therefore called "Hon. James Fergus," it could well be argued that he was also the first Judge of Montana Territory, and as such he was doubly entitled to the title.
In his lifetime, Fergus literally wrote volumes, and much was written and published about him. The old newspapers of the Mineral Argus at Maiden (1883-1886) and the Fergus County Argus in Lewistown (1886-1902) contain abundant and frequent mention of Fergus and his actions, ideas, and activities, as well as numerous editorial letters from him.
His personal papers, absent from the public for years, were carefully preserved by Hazel Fergus Bubar, and donated to the University of Montana Archives in the late 1960's.
In 1971, Robert E. Horne published his doctoral thesis which was entitled "James Fergus: Pioneer, Businessman, Miner, Rancher, and Free Thinker," using primarily the volumes of "Fergus papers" in the UM archives as a source.
Horne's excellent thesis, in book form, is available to the public via the Lewistown Public Library. And from three sources - the frontier Central Montana newspapers, the "Fergus Papers," and the James Fergus material in the State Historical Society in Helena, from which this article is written.
Fergus was born Oct. 8, 1813, on Shawton farm, Glassford Parish, Lanarkshire, Scotland, the son of Andrew and Agnes (Bullock) Fergus. He was one of several sons of a rigid yet prosperous Presbyterian farmer.
Fergus was educated in the parish's common schools, and with additional training in single and double entry bookkeeping had completed his formal education by age 20.
According to the life sketch by Mrs. Granville (Allis) Stuart on file in the State Historical Society, James Fergus as a child, relentlessly questioned tradition.
He did not and would not accept answers that for him were superficial and as he grew he would not accept or adopt anything on faith alone. He wanted logical and reasonable explanations.
His school teachers and his father were unable to answer his often penetrating questions on a variety of subjects, and when his questions persisted, he often received a beating from his father. When he began to question the established Presbyterian creed, he was branded heretic. For Fergus "would not believe what he did not understand and he would not pretend to."
His relentless and yet unanswered questions developed a split between his rigid father and older brothers, and in 1833, at age 20, he left home forever, never to return to Scotland again.
Fergus arrived penniless in Quebec, Canada, in the spring of 1833. For three years he then lived in a Quaker settlement north of Toronto, and while there learned the trade of a carpenter and millright.
From there he went to Buffalo, N.Y., and after a few days he went on to Green Bay, Wis. Territory, and a public works job. In the fall of 1826 he traveled to Milwaukee and then on to Chicago, then a small town of 2,500 people.
He spent the winter of 1836-37 at Buffalo Grove, Ill. During the next few years he built saw mills and powder mills.
Fergus declared his intent to become a United States Citizen Sept. 12, 1839, and by October of 1842 he had completed a year's residency in Jackson County, Iowa Territory, and thus received his U.S. Citizenship.
In the spring of 1844, Fergus moved to Moline, Ill., where he worked for a year as a millright, and then became a partner in an iron foundry. In the decade that Fergus spent in Moline, there things happened that influenced the rest of his life.
First, on March, 16, 1845 after a three month courtship, he married Pamelia Dillin, an American born woman of Scotch decent. In his continuing role as a "thrifty Scot," Fergus was back to work the day following the wedding.
The first three of their four children were born in Moline: Mary Agnes on April 11, 1846; Francis Luella on Nov. 23, 1848, and Andrew on July 3, 1850.
Secondly, Fergus crystalized the childhood doubt concerning his strict religions upbringing. Following years of Bible study, reading philosophy, and interacting with persons of other faiths, that were so visible in America, Fergus came to believe that he could not accept the tenants of any religion as practiced, and concluded he needed no belief except "trying to do good to others."
He thus became a "confirmed infidel," turning from revealed religion to the scientific method and rational thinking. The announcement of his conversion to infidelity by letter to his father and brothers back in Scotland produced an abundant and continuing flow of return letters begging his "reconsideration" on the subject.
Thirdly, because of the intensity in which Fergus immersed himself in the work of the iron foundry, he became more and more bald with each passing year, and in the end, he ruined his health. He was told by doctors to "keep away from the business if you do not want to die or go insane." Thus, James Fergus sold his interest in the foundry for $9,000 and looked forward to new frontiers.
While Fergus was indeed a skilled carpenter and millright, he could have easily worked for wages at either of these trades. Instead, he chose to speculate in business, and considered and rejected numerous business ventures, until, in the fall of 1854, he moved with his wife and three children to Minnesota Territory and became a partner in the Little Falls Manufacturing Company, and as such, the resident manager.
The Little Falls partnership developed a townsite named Little Falls, where they sold town lots and adjacent farmlands. They planned to build a mill, operate a store, complete a bridge across the Mississippi, etc. It was in Little Falls on Dec. 28th that Lillie B., the fourth child, was born to James and Pamelia.
While in Little Falls, Fergus, as a newly naturalized citizen of the United States, became active in politics.
Fergus was a strong opponent of slavery, and as such became involved in the "new Republican Party" that was forming across the nation. In the fall of 1856 he was elected "Judge of Probate" in the newly formed Morrison County, Minn. And he served as county treasured of Morrison
County from 1858 through 1860.
While Fergus completed the bridge across the river in 1858, and some of the other projects projected by the company, internal dissent developed
among the owners.
A sever financial depression hit the frontier as early as 1855, and turned into a national depression by 1857. Nationally, businesses failed and property values plunged. And such was the case with the Little Falls Manufacturing Company-after a flood nearly ruined the mill and grasshoppers ate most of the crops, the business failed.
Fergus resigned as resident director Feb. 9, 1859. He continued to own a house, several lots, and other properties in and around Little Falls, however, and would not be completely sold out of his Little Falls interests for the next 36 years.
While in Little Falls, Fergus had invested in another townsite company in Minnesota Territory with a man named Jas Whitford, who named the town Fergus Falls in James' honor. While Fergus considered moving to Fergus Falls following the Little Falls failure, and did visit the site, he never became a resident of that community.
As the 1850s moved to a close and 1860 and Civil War loomed ahead, Fergus found himself expressedly on the side of the preservation of the Union.
When the Minnesota 5th Regiment was authorized by Congress, Fergus planned to raise a company of men from Little Falls and serve as its commander. The War Department did not accept Fergus into active service, however, as at age 47 he was considered "too old" to fight. Plus, he was in poor health.
In a letter to his brother Andrew back in Scotland dated Sept. 29, 1859, Fergus said in part: "Tell father that although badly bent, I am not completely broke, but bound to make something yet before I die."
And with the enlistment in the Union Army no longer an alternative, Fergus got "gold fever" and decided to seek his fortune in the new gold strike at Pike's Peak (Colorado), to "make something yet before he died."
Fergus thus became one of four business partners (one being James Dillin, Pamelia's brother) forming the "Pikes Peak Company of Little Falls." Well stocked and will equipped, this foursome left Little Falls in the early spring of 1860 - destination, the Pikes Peak Gold Rush in the Colorado mountains.
James left Pamelia in charge of the family business and property, the children, and the family home, complete with as many written suggestions and instructions as possible.
Upon reaching the crowded Pikes Peak area, Fergus and his partners built a cabin, staked claims, and proceeded to shovel and pan in the streams for up to 18 hours a day. Yet, they found little, if any, gold.
Later, the partners bought and operated a quartz mill. It too, was a financial failure. While the three partners left the gold fields broke before Fergus did, he too, emerged broke after one last try!
Fergus found employment as a millright, making enough for the return trip to Minnesota Territory, and by early winter of 1861 was back in Little Falls. After a joyous reunion with his family, he found the economy of the community no better than it was when he left 18 months earlier. Although the Civil War was on, the national economy had not yet recovered completely from depression.
While the Pikes Peak adventure had been a financial failure for Fergus, the intense labor in the high mountain air had restored his health and vigor. Thus, the trip was by no means a complete failure.
Through the winter of 1861-62 Fergus again speculated about entering a wide variety of businesses. But when news of a fabulous new gold strike in the Salmon River of Idaho Territory hit the Minnesota frontier early in 1862, Fergus found himself moving more and more in that direction.
The Congress of the United States then appropriated some $50,000 to "open a new northern road" to Oregon, Washington and the new Idaho gold fields, and as such James L. Fisk was commissioned with the rank of Captain to lead the expedition. Fisk then began organizing the expedition in nearby St. Paul.
Fergus again said good bye to his wife and four children, leaving Pamelia with an ample set of written suggestions and instructions, and joined the now famous Fisk Expedition bound for the gold fields of Idaho.
Fergus was thus one of the 117 men and 13 women who assembled at Fort Abercrombie for the wagon trek west. The expedition left July 7, 1862, and arrived at Fort Benton on Sept. 5, 1862. The 61 day trip under military escort occurred without incident, blazing the trail as it went.
As Fergus and the Fisk Expedition rolled into Fort Benton on Sept. 5, 1862, he was probably completely unaware that he would spend the next 40 years as a resident of what was to become the State of Montana. Yet he did!
For news hit the Fisk Expedition at Fort Benton that the Salmon River strike was already completely over run with prospectors, and that discouraged miners were leaving in droves.
A new strike, however, had just been reported in the Rocky Mountains further south and east - at a place that would become known as Bannack, Mont. Fergus and a party of gold seekers left the main party of the Fisk Expedition and headed south to Bannack, then a part of Idaho Territory.
At Bannack, Fergus and his party built a 17x19 foot cabin which was large enough for eight men to "winter in." It was finished by early November.
By late October news of the Sioux uprising in Minnesota hit the Bannack Gold strike area, leaving Fergus worried about the fate of Pamelia and the children at Little Falls. While mail service between the gold fields and Minnesota Territory was very sporadic and took a long time, Fergus was eventually relieved to hear, by mail, that his family had remained unharmed by the Sioux uprising.
While Fergus had prospected as much as possible in the fall and early winter of 1862, early spring found him at backbreaking labor from 16 to 18 hours per day with a shovel and gold pan, just as he had done at Pikes Peak. This time however, he got what he came for - Gold!
In May of 1863 a new strike in Alder Gulch gave rise to Virginia City, some 75 miles distant, and Fergus immediately left Bannack to prospect the Alder Gulch diggings. Here too, he hit paydirt. In the two years at Bannack and Virginia City, he made about $8,000. That was enough to support himself, save some, and send some to Pamelia back in Little Falls.
Apart from prospecting, Fergus became involved in the social and political affairs of the gold rush. In May of 1863 Fergus was appointed deputy recorder in Virginia City by Henry Edgar, recorder. Although a part-time job, a great number of the mining claims filed in the Virginia City gold rush were recorded by Fergus.
Although not attested to via the Fergus papers at U of M or the Horne account, the Fergus County Argus on numerous occasion mentioned that Fergus "was one of the constituent members of the first miner's court, was chosen its first judge, and won honor by his rulings and decisions."
In February of 1864, Fergus was appointed county commissioner of Madison County by the Governor of Idaho Territory.
President Abraham S. Lincoln signed a bill on May 26, 1864, creating Montana Territory in its present geographical size.
In September of 1864, Sidney B. Edgarton, as the newly appointed Governor of Montana Territory, from the new Territorial Capitol at Bannack, reappointed Fergus to continue as Madison County Commissioner.
Although Fergus was not a member of the Vigilantes, he editorially supported their efforts in articles printed in Virginia City's new newspaper, the Montana Post. He was eyewitness to some of the "crimes" of the road agents, and also some of the "vindication's" inflicted by the vigilantes.
As Fergus struck it rich, so to speak, in the Montana gold rush, or at least made a good living, he had no intent to return to the east, except to gather his family and bring them to Montana Territory. To do that, however, he would have to give up six months work in "the diggins." So, Fergus decided on an alternate plan.
In the spring of 1864 one of his partners, O. J. Rockwell, planned to go back to New York for a visit. Fergus hired O. J. to pick up Pamelia and children at Little Falls and escort their wagon to Virginia City on his return trip.
While the Fergus children apparently thought the wagon trek across the plains was a great adventure, Pamelia was scared to death. At one point, Pamelia wrote ahead to James saying: "This is the afulus fix I was ever in."
On Aug. 15, 1864, the Fergus covered wagon rolled down the street of Virginia City, Montana Territory, and the Fergus family had a happy reunion with their father.
Prior to leaving Little Falls, Mary Agnes had married Robert S. Hamilton, who made the trip with the Fergus family. After Fergus met his new son-in-law, Mr. Hamilton established a mercantile business in bustling Virginia City.
In April of 1865 the gold fields at Virginia City started to peter out, and a new gold strike in Last Chance Gulch began to draw a throng of excited gold prospectors. Fergus moved his family to the Last Chance Gulch diggings immediately, staked a claim and filed a 160 acre homestead in what is today downtown Helena.
For whatever reason, Fergus did not envision that the Last Chance Gulch strike would be as profitable for him as the Bannack and Virginia City strikes had been, and shortly thereafter he vacated his mining claim and homestead in Last Chance Gulch. He then bought a ranch in the Prickly Pear Valley near Helena, and turned to ranching and agriculture in Lewis and Clark County.
Daughter Luella, married S. Collins Gilpatrick about 1865 and was no longer in the family home.
Son, Andrew, turned 20 in 1870, remained single, and proved to be a great help in the Fergus agriculture operation, later becoming a partner.
In 1873 youngest daughter, Lillie, married Frank Maury and was no longer in the Fergus household.
Fergus planted a huge irrigated garden and many and various fruit trees. He also raised hay and some grain, also stocking the ranch with poultry, dairy cattle, and later a large purebred beef herd.
While the first few years were quite lean for Fergus and son, the operation profited by selling produce, fruit, butter, eggs, and beef to nearby Helena buyers and to military posts throughout Montana Territory.
In 1871 Fergus added a "stage station," consisting of a hotel and restaurant, to the ranch. The Fergus Ranch was on the main stage road between Fort Benton and Helena, commonly known as the Benton Road.
In the spring of 1869, Fergus was appointed to fill a vacant seat as county commissioner of Lewis and Clark County. In 1873 he was reelected to the same commissioner post on the Republican Ticket. In 1873 and in 1875 he served as a precinct chairman for the Republican Party.
By 1878 Fergus had been a long standing contributor to the Montana Post and the Helena Herald in the subject area of politics, science, philosophy, and the promotion of freethought.
In politics Fergus had gained a strong reputation as an uncompromising advocate of fiscal accountability in government and as a champion of reduced public spending.
In 1878 Fergus ran on the Republican ticket for a seat in the Territorial House of Representatives representing Lewis and Clark County, and won. As a freshman member of the House, Fergus found to his great delight that he was serving with three old friends from Virginia City gold rush days: Granville Stuart, Wilbur F. Sanders, and Ellision Bach.
Fergus remained relatively quiet during the 1879 Montana Territorial Legislative session with one exception. Fergus proved to be an outspoken foe to HB 20, the net proceeds tax on the territory's mining industry. HB 20 stated that mining property would be taxed on the net proceeds of the mining operation, rather than on appraised value like all other property.
Fergus felt mines should be taxed on appraised value rather than net proceeds, and in opposition even introduced his own bill stating that ranchers would pay a tax on the net proceeds of their livestock sales, rather than on the assessed value of the stock.
Fergus' bill never made it out of committee, while HB 20 became law. While Fergus may not have thought of it at the time, the financially rich and politically powerful mining lobby from Butte City probably had a lot to do with the outcome. Regardless, no lobbyist could have bought Fergus' vote!
When Fergus walked out of the state house, following the last day of the Territorial Legislative session in the spring of 1879, he walked briskly, yet slightly bent, and with the help of the cane. His head was bald, and his fluffy mustache, and beard were solid white with age. He was 65 years old.
His old friend, Wilbur Fisk Sanders, looked forward to many future visits with Fergus, with the two sitting on rocking chairs in retirement in Helena, discussing their frontier pasts and all of the current developments in science, agriculture, politics, and free thought.
Fergus' younger friend, Granville Stuart, was entertaining a move to a "new frontier," probably Central Montana. As to his future, Fergus then continued to speculate through his 66th year. In the end Fergus chose to "Pull up stakes" and move, like Stuart, to the "last frontier in Central Montana." Retirement was not for Fergus, much to the dismay of Sanders.
With the spring branding at Prickley Pear completed in April of 1880, Fergus and son, Andrew, with one hired man, made a 24-day 500 mile round trip through the "Judith Country" of Central Montana and back, selecting a new range north of the Judith Mountains on Armels and Box Elder Creeks - a range that Fergus would thereafter refer to as "Armels."
Back in Prickley Pear, James Fergus & Son sold their ranch and stage station to Martin Mitchell for $2,750 plus some other "ranch items" for $438.75.
With 1,000 head of livestock, 900 head of cattle and 100 horses, and their belongings loaded in wagons, James Fergus & Son pushed east, arriving at Armels in July of 1880.
In August, Fergus wrote that the stock grazed "on grass that stood two feet high....as it waved in the wind like fields of grain."
While Pamelia remained in Helena, with her two married daughters, Fergus and his son spent the summer of 1880 building a cabin for Andrew and a log bunkhouse for the hired cowboys at Armels. Several corrals and a fence around a hay meadow were also completed.
In the Fall Fergus returned to Helena, leaving Andrew to manage the stock on the unfenced range. Despite severe winter weather, cowboys who quit work, and several bouts with bands of starving Indians who would steal cattle for food, Andrew ended up with 600 cattle in the spring, for a loss of "only 300."
Fergus returned to Armels in the spring of 1881, where he constructed a cabin home and ranch area for himself and Pamelia. In September of 1881 Pamelia joined Fergus at Armels. And for Fergus, Pamelia, and son Andrew, Armels would remain home for each for the rest of their lives.
The Central Montana to which Fergus and son came to in 1880 was unfenced range and wide open wilderness. The Carroll Trail had gone through the region in 1874-75, but it had been abandoned for half a decade.
Previously, the only trading post in the area had been Reed & Bowles, established on Spring Creek near present day Lewistown in 1874. This partnership terminated about 1879, and "Major Reed" in 1880 established Reeds Fort Post Office in the same area.
In 1879 a group of French-Canadian Metis established a colony at the present site of Lewistown, which was listed on one early map as a "half-breed camp."
Yet at the very same time that James Fergus & Son established a ranch in the Armels Creek area north of the Judith Mountains, Stuart established a huge cattle ranch east of the Judith Range called the DHS.
Almost instantly, Stuart was influential in getting Congress to build a military fort in the area. Named Fort Maginnis, the sight had been selected in the summer of 1880 on the east side of the Judith's near Stuart's DHS ranch.
While some soldiers moved in that fall and building commenced, the post was not completed until December 1881. Although some 20 miles from James Fergus & Sons ranch, Fort Maginnis served as the post office for the Fergus family, and Fergus traded almost exclusively with Broadwater and McNamara, the post traders, for the next decade.
By 1880 the land north of the Missouri River and north to the Canadian Border had been set aside by the government as an "Indian reserve." The function of the Army at Fort Maginnis as to insure that the various tribes stayed on the reserve north of the river, and left new ranchers in the Judith Basin of Central Montana alone.
In 1889 cow outfits were established all over the Judith Basin, and in the same year that Fergus came to Central Montana at age 67, a young "rich kid" from St. Louis named Charles Marion Russell, age 16, came also.
Charlie Russell would become one of the nation's foremost artists, painting the action of the cowboy and Indian and gold miners that emerged in Central Montana from 1880 on. It was to be an era that Fergus was to participate in, politically as well as socially.
One month before James Fergus & Son had selected their ranch site at Armels in 1880, prospectors had discovered gold in the Alpine Canyon area and surrounding gulches of the Judith Mountains.
The hamlets of Andersonville, Alpine, and Rustle boomed into existence, along with Maiden, which became the largest gold town in the Judith Mountains.
For whatever reason, Fergus at age 67, did not get "gold fever" and abandon his ranching pursuits to "dig in the diggins" at the 1880 Judith Mountain strike. Instead he seemed quite content at developing the James Fergus & Son ranch on the prairies north of the mountains.
In the early 1880s the cattle range was free government range meaning anyone could use it. By agreement between stockmen, each rancher claimed a certain area of land, which was honored by the honesty of the other ranchers.
While many took of homesteads for their home ranch operations, they used the free range around them for grazing of their livestock. On this premise, the cowboy era began in 1880. And James Fergus & Son became an integral part of this dramatic change and wild scenario.
The Judith Country of Central Montana was, in 1880 a part of Meagher County, with the county seat in White Sulpher Springs, more that 225 miles away.
In the fall of 1883, James Fergus & Son paid $503. 48 in taxes to Meagher County on the assessed valuation of $31,030. Included in the assessment was 320 acres valued at $1,500, plus 100 horses, 1,900 sheep, and 950 cattle.
Since 1879, in the Prickley Pear Valley, James and Andrew had been in a partnership called James Fergus & Son. This partnership continued at Armels, although James and Pamelia had a separate ranch apart from Andrew.
In the fall of 1884 James and Andrew dissolved partnership but still operated jointly. They continued to buy more and more land, as the free government range disappeared through the years.
In 1895, both entities were joined in a family corporation entitled "Fergus Livestock & Land Co." In 1897 the Fergus Livestock & Land Co. was valued at $161,500, which included 4,000 acres of deeded land worth $60,000. In 1897 they had 1,000 horses, 2,500 head of cattle and 9,000 sheep.
The 21 years that Fergus spent as a resident of Central Montana was the longest he had ever stayed in his life.
From age 67 to 88, Fergus plugged away at his ranch. In 1882 Fergus ordered 1,300 fruit trees and experimented with an orchard along with his huge irrigated garden. While Andrew tended to to most of the stock on the range, Fergus tended to the farming, and kept the books for the enterprise.
Fergus rode with the cowboys on both the fall and spring roundups, was an active member of the Moccasin and Cone Butte Roundup Association, and served as secretary, treasurer, and president of same, all at different times.
He also joined the Wool Growers Association and served as its president. There was no warfare between sheepmen and cattlemen on the ranges of Central Montana, yet James Fergus & Son was one of a few ranches that had both.
In the decade of the 1880s, two men in Central Montana would emerge as being the most prominant leaders of the frontier community. Stuart and Fergus would be those two. Neither sought fame or glory, but each had extensive previous political experience and each seemed to possess the natural ability to lead and direct in times of peril.
Fergus had a younger half-brother in Scotland named William Fergus who was only one year old when Fergus left for America in 1833. The two half-brothers communicated by mail throught the years in 1883 Fergus provided the money for Will Fergus and his family of 10 to come to the states and to build a neighboring ranch in the Armels area.
Brother Will had remained staunchley within the Presbyterian fold, and constantly continued to convert brother James back into the church. Upon arrival at Armels the two got along quite well after mutually agreeing to "leave each to his own" and not discuss religious issues.
To consider Fergus apart from his freethinking religious views would be to leave one of the most important elements of his character out. For Fergus was not only an infidel, he was one of those persons who served as an evangelist for the secular or liberal point of view.
He was by no means a "lone village atheist," for these views were very popular in his time. Fergus was actually one of the most predominant spokesmen on the state and community level for a very large and popular movement that swept the United States in the last 30 years of the 19th century.
At the time it was commonly called "Freethinking Agnosticism," while today the same ideology is commonly referred to as humanistic, secular humanism or democratic secular humanism.
Early in January of 1883 Fergus penned a letter to a friend stating: "I am better known for my unbelief than any man in the territory, except Granville Stuart." Fergus then said of his friend Stuart, he "a fine writer and most radical outspoken infidel, and has pictures of Ingersoll, Bennett and Payne hanging in their Parlor."
In the same letter, Fergus also considered his old friend Wilbur Fisk Sanders (whose stands in the State Capitol in Helena and after whom Sanders County was named), "very liberal, who would be an outspoken infidel but for his wife who is a Presbyterian."
The James Fergus Library also includes pictures of Ingersoll, Bennett, and Thomas O. Payne, along with pictures of other famous leaders of the infidel movement. James Fergus idolized the nationally known Robert G. Ingersoll, and the philosophy of secularism as popularized by Ingersoll, was almost per issue restated by Fergus in a more coarse frontier style.
Few Issues of the Mineral Argus at Maiden from 1833 through 1886 and a few issues of the Fergus County Argus from 1886 through 1899, were printed without some mention of Ingersoll. Nationally, he was probably the most consistantly quoted and featured person by the press from the 1870s through to his death in 1899.
Ingersoll was an attorney or orator of remarkable ability who gained political fame with his "Plumed Knight" nominating James G. Blaine for president at the Republican National Convention in 1876.
He stumped for a number of Republican Candidates after that, and was the confident of Republican President Hays, as well as some of the m
ost noted scientists, artists, and leaders of the day.
He was a champion for women's rights, black rights, and the equality of men and women. He is best known, however, for the popularizing of Agnostic or Freethinking world views.
The son of a Congregationalist Minister, Ingersoll criss-crossed the United States giving lectures to huge audiences in opposition to the Christian religion.
He was highly quoted in the press, he debated with some of the most noted clerics of the time, and he wrote several lectures, some of which were entitled: " the Gods, Some Mistakes of Moses, 61 Reasons For Doubting the Inspiration on the Bible, Superstition, Death Blows at the Orthodoxy, What Great Infidels Have Done to Advance The Cause of Civilization, and WHY I AM AN AGNOSTIC."
These lectures circulated widely around the United States, in Pamphlet form, and composed, along with other Freethought material, a good part of the James Fergus Freethought collection.
On Fergus' wall was displayed a copy of Ingersoll's Humanistic creed: "Happiness is the only good. The place to be happy is here. The time to be happy is now. The way to be happy is to make others so."
Ingersoll came to Montana twice, in 1884 on a lecture tour, and again in 1891 to try the famous Davis Will case in the Butte and Helena Courts. On July 31, 1884, the Mineral Argus stated: Bob Ingersoll was expected to visit Granville Stuart, but being accompanied by his family no doubt considered the trip from the railroad to much of a task."
The term liberal in the 1880s had a much different meaning than it does today. Liberal in Fergus' time usually inferred a natural or secular world view, as opposed to a supernatural one. As then applied to political preference, a "Liberal Republican," as was Fergus, meant a Republican who was also a religious skeptic or unbeliever, while a liberal Democrat, as was Stuart, meant a Democrat who was a religious Skeptic or unbeliever.
The term liberal in those days was often used in connection with Freethinking organizations - as the Mineral Argus said in part Oct. 22, 1885: "The Liberal League, composed of Infidels from all parts of the state and the Canadas, met in Cleveland, Oct. 11, changed its named to the Secular Union, and elected Robert G. Ingersoll, president; Samuel P. Putnam of New York, secretary; and C. Palmer of New York treasurer. One thousand dollars was raised toward the spreading of Infidel literature and hiring missionaries."
While Ingersoll would never come to Central Montana to speak, Putnam would. Unquestionably, the public presentation of these lectures by the Freethinkers created open discussion on religious issues in the United States, and according to some historians, had a profound influence on contemporary religion in the country. And Fergus was one of those people, who, in Montana, served as a "missionary" for the Infidel point of view.
In the summer of 1883 Fergus was nominated by the Republican Party to be a candidate for the Constitutional Convention. He won the election in Meagher County, and Jan. 14, 1884, joined the other 44 memers of the delegation in Helena. Many citizens wanted Montana Territory to become a state in the union, and a constitution would thus be necessary for such purposes.
One of the most controversial issues of the convention was the mining tax, and Fergus spoke eloquently and forcefully, as he did in the 1879 Legislature, against a new proceeds tax on mines, again arguing for a tax on the appraised value of the mines.
When Fergus had served as County Commissioner of two terms in Lewis and Clark County, he had publicly stated preference for a tax on church property, arguing that a church exemption placed an unequal tax burden on non-church members like himself. And in this convention he also brought up the same argument, although no "motion" as such, was made to tax church property.
In considering a preamble for the proposed Montana Constitution, a committee issued the following via a prepared report:
"We, therefore, the people of Montana, acknowledging with greatful hearts the goodness of the Great Legislator of the Universe, in affording us, in the course of his Providence, an opportunity, deliberately and peaceably, without fraud, violence or intimidation, of meeting into an original, explicit compact with each other, and of forming a Constitution of civil government for ourselves and our posterity; and devoutly imploring His direction in so grand and interesting a design, do agree upon..."
The preamble's reference to "the Great Legislator on the Universe" sparked dissent from Fergus, and the next day he came to the convention with a motion to delete, followed by a carefully prepared opposition address.
The speech definitely reveals a part of his Freethinking philosophy, and while published at least in part in many Montana Territory newspapers, it most significantly marked him as one of the most well-read delegates at the convention. Fergus read the following:
"Mr. President; I move to strike out all in the preamble between the words 'People of Montana,' and 'do agree upon.' A member on this floor has remarked that this Constitution is to endure through all time, Time, sir, is but the measure of eternity. Time always was and always will be.
"Man came on the earth, as it were, but yesterday, yet in that short time, nations, languages and religions have had their infancy, their maturity and their decay. It is an inexorable law. Our Government, our language and our religion will in turn be swept away by the scythe of time, and the place that knows them now will know them no more forever.
"Space, too, is everything, it is without limit. Our sun is but one of the millions of stars, and our earth but one of the smoothest satelites (and a poor one at that), rolling from side to side, burning us in the summer and freezing us with its winter blasts. If there is a God - an impartial God - He must divide his time among this great universe, and Montana's share cannot be worth asking for.
"Therefore, in regard to the passage I move to strike out as only an incumbrance to our fundamental law.
"If he guides and protects us, I have looked for this protecting power in vain. The cars rush together and there is not God to warn. The Engineer asks not God to stay their mad career, but applies the air brakes - the invention of a fellow man. The steamship sinks in mid-ocean and no helping hand is there; the shrieks of the helpless are borne on the winds until they are buried in the insatiate sea.
"The earthquake, the cyclone and the volcano, following inexorable laws, destroy the just and the unjust, and nature neither pities nor rejoices, neither loves nor hates. If man is saved, he must save himself; if he is cold, he must warm himself. Our prayers are unheeded; no Diety puts forth his helping hand. Then why bemean our manhood by inserting a lie in this, our fundamental law?
"Jefferson, in a more superstitious age, and the framers of our National Constitution, pandered not to popular prejudice. Yet the nation lives, our own people have ever ruled themselves; if Montanans cannot do the same thing they are unfit to be a free people.
"I have heard it said on this floor that we don't want moss-backs or old fogies. In this case, sir, some of the old fogies are in accord with the spirit of the age. Henry Ward Beecher said in Denver not long ago that Adam never fell, that he began at the bottom , and if he fell at all he fell up.
" Dr. McCosh, President of Princeton college, has published a pamphlet upon the same subject; and Bishop Hever, I think it is, of England, has also placed himself on record in favor of evolution. Had these men uttered such sentiments 200 years ago, they would have been burned at the stake.
"But the world moves, except the Constitutional Convention of the Territory of Montana which goes back to the Constitution of good old Massachusetts, just after she had burnt her witches, for stale worn out adulation to an imaginary being, who is supposed to be floating around in out uncongenial atmosphere, while we are enjoying ourselves in warm apartments.
I venture the assertion that neither the people of the United States nor the people of Montana are in accord with the spirit of this passage which I ask to have stricken out. It is simply clinging to old traditions. A very intelligent gentleman on the floor has well said that man is only half developed, and to prove his assertion, he sits enveloped in the smoke of a poisonous weed, clinging to the superstitions of an ignorant age and race.
"Mr. President, about this matter I have no pride of opinion; but I think the declaration I have excepted to is unnecessary, uncalled for and only an incumbrance. Old, with one foot in the grave, I still love and honor the man who stands up to his convictions without fear, favor or affection, at all times and in all places. One whose hell is to do wrong and whose heaven is found in well doing. Whether for or against this measure, I hope to be able to love and honor all here."
The Fergus notion to delete failed. So did his stand on the mining tax. The proposed constitution was completed by the convention Feb. 9, and later went before the people of the territory whre it was approved by a 4 to 1 margin, or 15,506 for and 4,226 against.
During the constitutional convention, Central Montana had no newspaper, as the Mineral Argus was not to start in Maiden until Aug. 9, 1883. The Helena Herald said of Fergus: "He is a man of strong character, who has read and thought much, who has the moral courage under any circumstances to say and do just what he thinks is right, and whose integrity no man can question.
"The opinions of such a man, even when he is believed to be wrong, are entitled to respect, and no man in the Convention stood higher in the estimation of his associates. It is well that James Fergus sat in the body to frame a Constitution for the State of Montana."
As history would unfold, the approved constitution via the 1884 convention would never be adopted, as statehood for Montana Territory was not to come about until 1889. In the spring of 1889 a new Constitutional Convention would convene and draft a new constitution.
Following the convention, James and Pamelia took an extended vacation to the west coast. Visiting daughter Lillie, in Orgon, they later went to California. Fergus was extremely impressed with the Chinese people in San Francisco Chinatown, and later wrote articles for some Montana newspapers on the goodness and frugality of these oriental peoples.
On June 5, 1884, the Mineral Argus reported that "Honorable James Fergus will deliver the oration at the 4th of July celebration at Maiden." Weekly advertisements continued with a series of events including the oration of Hon. James Fergus. It was a well advertised event.
As the 4th of July of 1884 rolled nearer, the community of Central Montana became involved in a crisis. Apart from Indian raids on cattle and horses, which the Army at Fort Maginnis appeared unable to curtail, the most predominant loss of livestock on the cattle ranges appeared related to organized bands of rustlers and horse thieves operating out of the Missouri River breaks.
As the Army at Fort Maginnis refused to deal with this issue, as it did not involve Indians and was out of their jurisdiction, the stockmen proceeded to take the matter into their own hands.
Earlier that spring in Miles City, the Stockmens Association agreed to organize to rid the plains of horse thieves, and the governor assisted by appointing a deputy stock inspector to ride with each band of cowboys who would eliminate the desperados in their respective territories.
Previously the Mineral Argus had listed numerous ranchers who had lost livestock to the thieves, including James' brother, Will Fergus, "who lost five horses, all he had." In conclusion, the Argus championed a vigilantee committee, citing similar action and wonderful results in other states.
On June 29, 1884, cowboys caught and hung a couple of horse thieves at Judith Landing on the Missouri River. On July 3, 1884 a group of DHS cowboys hung Sam McKenzie between Fort Maginnis and Stuart's ranch.
Anxiety was high in Maiden township July 4, 1884, as the 1,500 mining area residents mingled with cowboys from the range and soldiers from the post who had gathered to celebrate the independence of the United States.
As Fergus mounted to the speakers stand, cane in hand and with white beard a bobbing, to give his oration, in distant Lewistown the citizens "pumped full of holes" two desperados, Rattlesnake Jake and Charles "Long Hair" Owen, when they started to "shoot up the town."
News of the Lewistown shooting did not reach Maiden, however until after Fergus' oration, and the audience stood transfixed through the speech.
Fragments and portions of the July 4, 1884 Fergus oration have been preserved by George Mueller, and a portion of the talk, at the request of the citizens of Maiden, was published in the Mineral Argus July 4, 1884. A summary and selected quotes thus follow:
James Fergus began with the same topic addressed in his Constitutional Convention address back in 1883 - the fate of nations - in questions form: Do nations have a period of infancy, growth, prosperity, followed by final decay and destruction? Yes he said, as all in the past had. Would America, however, at 108 years of age on July 4, 1884, be different?
Freethinker, Fergus had several comments on the Christian religion brought about a long period of ignorance as it related to the "fate of nations.."
"I said religion often had something to do with the fate of nations... the Christian religion brought about a long period of ignorance still known to us as the dark ages. during which thought was curbed, common education banished, and conscience given over to a rude, vulgar and ignoranat priesthood.
"And whatever good Christianity may have done since, much of the degeneracy of mankind during this period must be laid at its door... Christianity alone was left to darken and degrade the masses of Europe with only an occasional flash of independent thought, until the 14th century when we gradually see the flicking lights of a coming dawn. Gallieo, Bacon, Luther.
"Europe became restless, Columbus crossed the Atlantic and to the old civilization, a new world was born, learning no longer confirming itself to scholastic disputes, but guided by the teaching of a Bacon in science, and a Luther in religion, gradually changed the current of thought. The door of free thought once opened, the right of conscience acknowledge, the rights of the Church of Rome disputed, a new reign of religious wars, persecution and burning was inaugurated.
"New sects spring up as ready to persecute as they had been persecuted. This led to flight, emigration to the then wild and desolate shores of America.
"Coming back to our own country, every new settlement had its religion, its secretarian schools, and its Sunday laws, in short, there was less freedom of conscience than amongst the people they fled from. There was probably more religious liberty among the Catholics of Maryland at that time than elsewhere in America.
"An analyzation of the wrongs inposed on the colonies by Britain, and the mixing with foreigners and others during the revolutionary war, had much to do with relaxing those rigid puritanic notions first established in our colonies, and during the past hundred years the changes in religious matters have been vast and increasing.
"Lyman Beecher taught more rigid doctrines than his sons, and your Presbyterian teachings of today would have been heresy in my boyhood. Religion has learned something of astronomy, and 6,000 years is no longer hearlded as the age of the universe.
"But I am preaching - and why not? If I am not schooled in theology, I am in experience. I am not ordained by the church, but I am ordained by humanity. In place of the hand of the clergy I have felt the heavier hand of adversity, which has schooled me in its necessities. Your ministers preach salvation to man through the religion of Christ, allow me to preach salvation to man through the religion of humanity..
"Go with me into the dark rookery in yonder city and look at that poor, crouching, worn-out mother. Seeped in sin and despised of men, with her ragged, filthy starving children, And I wil say here are your heathen - where are your missionaries. They are needed not with Bible and tract, but with basket and store, with clothing and kind words, and pure air. Talk to her not of Christianity, not of her soul but of her body. What has Christianity to do here? She wants the bible of humanity: of food, of justice, of love, of right...."
Fergus spent a great deal of time lamblasting liquor and saloons, prostitution and pimps and gambling, elements all very prominent in the mining camp of Maiden, on the 4th of July in 1884. As a Freethinker, Fergus did not conclude that these so called vices were wicked from a religious or sacred standpoint, but from 'scientific observation" and "reason" they could be definitely proven unhealthy and one cause of the "fate of nations."
Fergus pleaded for a healthy morality, one based on reason, and begged the school system to balance moral teachings with information. As the conclusion of the speech is not available, it is unknown for certain whether Fergus left the audience believing that America could escape the fate of nations or not. Possibly he did, via his anecdotes of avoiding supernatural religion and instituting the religion of humanity.
While the Mineral Argus made no mention of any great loss in business at the Maiden Saloons, gambling parlors, and whorehouses following his speech, the issue of gambling, liquor and whores is probably the main reason that Lewistown is today the county seat of Fergus rather than Maiden itself.
But that leads to the next episode of Fergus' career as a senior citizen politician in Central Montana.
Meantime, through July of 1884 the so called "vigilante raids" against the horse thieves and cattle rustlers continued all over the cattle ranges of Montana Territory.
It fell upon Stuart to lead the local Central Montana group, and although Fergus considered himself too old to ride with them, he supported the effort, and Andrew rode with Stuart's group. By the end of July the raids were completed, and peace descended upon the cattle range. The rustlers and horse thieves were no more!
In the fall of 1884 the Republicans asked Fergus to run for the Territorial Council (what is today the State Senate). The Democrats asked Stuart to run for the same office. Fergus agreed, but when he learned that his long time friend Granville, was running Fergus declined.
Louis Rotwitt of White Sulpher then wrote to Fergus and said that he thought the election results "would be nip and tuck. You are both old timers, both old friends, both old infidels, and neither cares a damn what he says. all I can do is put you name on the ticket and run you must as if nothing happened, and no matter who is elected, Granville or yourself, we can all feel satisfied that Meagher County is in good hands." Thus, both Fergus and Stuart agreed to run.
Neither Stuart nor Fergus wanted to oppose the other, and they did not, making a political race that is probably unique in American political history. Each campaigned for the other, when asked. And each believed that Central Montana could no longer function effectively as a part of Meagher County. A new county must be cut off of Meagher County to serve growing Central Montana.
In the November elections Fergus won over Granville by 127 votes. The final tally: Fergus -1,132; Stuart - 1,010.
On Dec. 18, 1884, the Mineral Argus stated that "In the last election quite a few in the county refused to vote for Stuart because he was instrumental in sendin a few horse thieves 'over the river'
In the same issue the Argus printed an article from Fergus supporting fully the actions of the "cowboy's court" Independent of the Argus conclusion, many felt that Fergus won because the people were more familiar with his stand on current issues via the recent Constitutional Convention.
Regardless, James and Pamelia spent Christmas with their married daughters in Helena, and remained there through the 1885 Legislative session. Stuart had been elected President of the Stockmens interests. In the end, both Fergus and Stuart were involved in the 1885 Legislature.
Fergus entered the 1885 Territorial Council planning to introduce only two bills. The first was to create Judith County in Central Montana, and the other was to reduce public salaries. In the end, he would introduce three. Fergus believed that he best served his constituents by "the oftener he voted 'no' and the fewer bills he introduced."
Several billis were introduced in the 1885 session in both the House and Council (now Senate) to divide counties and create new ones. Fergus originally introduced a bill to create a commission to study the entire Territory of Montana, and thus divide it according to population and matural boundries into new counties.
By January end Fergus withdrew his commision bill, as he did not want to interfere with those proposing other counties. He then introduced his own bill dividing Meagher County and creating Judith County in Central Montana. The geographical area roughly covered what is now Fergus, Petroleum, and Judith Basin counties. The Judith County bill was numbered Council bill no 27.
At the time, there were three towns in the Central Montana area that would, if the bill passed, be within Judith County. There was Cottonwood, with about 200 people, There was Lewistown, with about 200 people. And there was Maiden, with about 1,500 people. And each of these towns wanted to be the county seat of the new Judith County.
Apart from the new Judith County issue, Fergus, as usual predictably opposed a tax break for the mines. His bill to lower the salaries of public officials failed by a slim margin in favor of the Governors's bill to increase public salaries. He opposed vigorously a proposed law that would prohibit labor on Sunday, or a Sunday Blue Law. Last but not least, he opposed a tax supported chaplain saying prayers in opening of Council meetings, offering to read the prayers himself at no expense to the taxpayers.
One of his most strongly voiced issues was his opposition to the proposed legalization of gambling in the Territory of Montana.
In a carefully prepared speech, Fergus said the gambler "was a parasite fastened and feeding on the body politic, he neither delves in our mines, extracts food or other products from mother earth, or changes these into things useful to the human family. Still he lives, wears fine clothes, his white hands covered with jewels, and all of this is wrought from the hard earned toil of half developed humans whose habit or desire for sudden wealth has led into these seduction dens."
He further chastised the churches for operating gambling games within their domains for the purposes of raising money. Despite, the gambling bill passed.
In mid-February council Bill No. 27 was brought to the floor. On motion of Councilman Buck, in honor of the "grand old man of Montana," it was moved that the entire bill be accepted "as is," with only one amendment: That the name Judith be stricken from the bill and replaced with the name Fergus.
The motion was seconded by Councilman DeWolfe in an eloquent speech praising the pioneer contributions and strong character of James Fergus. The amendment passed unanimiosly short of one vote, that of Fergus. Following a short acceptance speech by Fergus, the amended bill passed unanimously.
According to many historical accounts, including both the Sparlin and Horne versions, Council Bill No. 27 creating Fergus County passed both houses of the Territorial Legislature unanimously.
According to the Mineral Argus accounts of the time, however, Council Bill No. 27, as amended, did pass the House of Representatives but not by unanimous vote. The first vote was 12-12 and after a recess and some heavy politicking, it passed via a 14-10 vote.
The new law creating Fergus County was the only county-splitting bills to the Council, and the Council rejected them all. Thus, the probable reason for the difficulty in getting Council Bill No. 27 through the House.
More than anything, the passage of Council Bill No. 27 was a tribute to the "Grand Old Man of Montana," Fergus, and a little more.
And while Fergus returned to Armels as the "Father of Fergus County," the popularity that he might have enjoyed as the new patriarch of Central Montana was not shared by all of the new county's citizens. Very specifically, Council Bill No. 27 stated "that the town of Lewistown within the boundries mentioned shall be the County Seat of said county."
Traditionally, a bill creating a new county left the selection of the County Seat to popular vote of the citizens. With Maiden at 1,500 people, and Cottonwood and Lewistown each at 200 people, it is obvious that Maiden would have been the county seat of the new Fergus County if left to popular vote. In specifying Lewistown, Fergus settled the question without popular suffrage. And it made the majority of citizens in Maiden and Cottonwood angry.
To further insure that Lewistown would be the county seat, Fergus introduced and got passed into law via the 1885 session a "Jail Bill" calling for the County Commissioners of Meagher County to build a jail in Lewistown in 1885, "said jail to be the Fergus County Jail when the new Fergus County became 'official' in December of 1886.
Unquestionably, the undisputed and unalterable fact that Lewistown is
and would always be the county seat of Fergus County was "written in stone' by Fergus, the "Grand Old Man of Montana" and the "Father of Fergus County."
Were it not for Fergus, Lewistown today would probably be a ghost town like Maiden and Cottonwood. But why, people ask, did Fergus specifically pick Lewistown.
Probably because he wanted a "nice quiet farming town" to be the county seat. Maiden had, for Fergus, far too many gambling dens, houses of prostitution, and saloons, to adequately represent good government in county business.
When James and Pamelia Fergus returned to Armels following the close of the 1885 Legislative Session in the spring of 1885, the property values in Lewistown had already doubled, and the business leaders of the fledgling community were radiating unbridled optimism toward the future.
On March 12, of 1885, the Mineral Argus addressed the future of Maiden this way: " If half the mining schemes that are now in a chaotic, nebulous state should evolve into something tangible, Maiden would have a boom that would surprise all of Montana. But bear in mind, this is a great country for wind."
Previous fanfare printed in the Argus about Lewistown only being the "temporary county seat" had given way to the grim fact that the future of Maiden would rest solely upon mining, as "Maiden as the county seat" was not in the cards.
In September of 1885, Fergus attended the second annual meeting of the Society of Montana Pioneers in Helena. The society had been formed the previous year with membership open to anyone who had lived in the territory or who was on their way to the territory on May 26, 1864.
At the first meeting in 1884, Fergus had been elected the first president. Said Fergus upon acceptance of the presidency: "I would rather occupy this position than be the president of the United States."
In his farewell address to the society in 1885, it was expected that Fergus would deliver an oration to his fellow pioneers on the trials and tribulations that they all experienced in the early days of the territory.
Instead he delivered a blistering attack on Christianity, to which he concluded: "Religion is declining, with no better proof than I am here today. Two hundred years ago, I would have been burned at the stake. What was considered heresay by our fathers is tolerated now. The hell that frightened us in childhood has vanished into space. Heaven is not in our geographies. Therefore, we see the old faiths loosing their hold on the human mind."
The Helena Independent, in response to Fergus's farewill address to the Society of Montana Pioneers, did not quarrel with his interpretation of history about Christianity's often intolerant and persecuting past.
The Independent did disagree with Fergus's conclusion that "religion is declining," and declared that Christianity was stronger than ever before "because tolerance has taken the place of persecution, and loving Christians tolerate Mr. Fergus' hostility to what they hold most sacred, and honor him for his integrity and the good he has done. That is why," concluded the Independent, "that Christianity has more power today than ever before."
The Independence Day celebration in the new Fergus County in 1886 ended up being a three day affair, as on Dec. 1 of the year, the new Fergus County would become official and independent of Meagher County.
Independence Day planners in the newly created Fergus County were besieged with three primary requests: We want the celebration in Maiden. We want the celebration in Lewistown. We want some time to ourselves to celebrate with our families, independent of a planned and scheduled celebration.
Being "of the people, by the people and for the people," the planners complied with all three requests.
On Saturday, July 3, 1886, Maiden would host the celebrants. On Sunday, July 4, 1886, families would picnic or do whatever on their own. And on Monday, July 5, 1886, Lewistown, the new county seat, would host a celebration featuring the honorable James Fergus as the guest speaker.
Both the Maiden and the Lewistown events were well-publicized, and according to the Mineral Argus on July 8, 1886, "hugh crowds" attended both, "Lewistown," said the Argus, "attracted even a larger crowd than Maiden, with all of Maiden, Fort Maginnis, and Cottonwood, and the ranch populations from the ranges being in Lewistown on the 5th."
At 11 in the morning on July 5, 1886, David Hilger walked to the platform prepared especially for the event and read the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. Following this, a brief but eloquent introduction for Fergus as the Grand Old Man of Montana and the Founding Father of Fergus County set the pace for the event of the day.
Fergus during the applause from the crowd, with cane in hand, hobbled up to the podium carrying his handwritten 24 page speech. As he settled his pages before him, a hush enveloped the crowd, and only the distant sound of an occasional horse whinny could be heard in the distance.
Said James Fergus:
"It were fitting that some young and abler man, some one with more time and a better memory, should address you on this occasion, but like the aged soldier, when he hears the sound of battle, grabs his musket, forgets his infirmities, and feels like falling into line, So, in contemplating this occasion, my patriotism got the better of my strength. I forgot I was weak and unequal to the task.
"I come before you, therefore, withonly a few statistics to show what strides we have made, and are making under a free government, in all that conduces to human happiness.
"It is fitting, however, that this, its seat of government, and in advance of its organization, that old Fergus welcome the new, that the invalid old man, ready to step into his grave, should welcome the new county containing 200 townships, 7,524 square miles and more than 4, 815, 000 acres, with its large and increasing possibilities.
"Then, Fergus County, all hail!"
At this point, the crowd broke into an extensive and extended clapping ovation, and Fergus stood motionless at the podium, tears streaming down his face and disappearing in his fluffy white beard.
The standing ovation completed, Fergus continued with the remaining 23 pages of his speech, the majority of his remarks being an unusual statistical presentation showing the unprecedented growth of this nation as a whole, compared to previous nations in history.
Of the great cities in the United States that Fergus had witnessed the growth of, he mentioned Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, Minneapolis - and Lewistown. Fergus shared that as a young man, he remembered these larger cities when they were but fledgling hamlets, and he expressed his desire that Lewistown, "ere many years," would be able to stand a favorable comparison.
Following the Fergus oration, a baseball game for the "first championship of Fergus County" saw Maiden defeat Lewistown by a score of 22 to 3 in five innings.
Throughout the day, music was provided by the Maiden Brass Band and the Fort Maginnis Silver Cornet Band. A fight broke out over who should have been the official winner of one of the horse races, and left " a good many black eyes, bruises, and scars."
That evening, the troopers from Fort Maginnis put on a minstrel show. And later that evening, a "grand ball" at Lewistown's Day House saw 75 happy couples dance until daylight on July 6.
And this ended the celebration honoring Lewistown as the new county seat of the new Fergus County.
On July 29, 1886, the Mineral Argus published its last issue in Maiden, and moved to Lewistown, the new county seat. On Aug. 5 1886, the weekly appeared as the Fergus County Argus, the "official paper" of Fergus County.
Late summer on 1886 witnessed the organization of both the Democratic and Republican parties of the new Fergus County. Fergus was elected to the Fergus County Republican Central Committee representing the Fort Maginnis area.
On Aug. 26, 1886, the Fergus County Argus listed a full slate of candidates for the new Fergus County offices from both the Democratic and Republican parties. And in a race that would determine who the new officers of Fergus County would be, taking office officially on Dec. 1, 1886, the campaigning started early.
All through the fall, candidates sought votes, by handshaking, baby kissing, passing out cigars and advertising. Public speaking was common whenever a crowd gathered that would listen.
Wilbur Fisk Sanders had been nominated by the territorial Republicans as their candidate for Congress, and on the last day of September, spoke at a huge Republican rally in Lewistown. He was introduced by his old friend, Fergus, the Founding Father of Fergus County.
The candidates for the Territorinal Legislature in Helena for the coming 1887 session would be elected from Meagher County as a whole because the elections would be held on Nov. 2, 1886, and Fergus County would not become official until Dec. 1, of 1886 - 28 days later.
The new Fergus County area independent of Meagher County, would not have its own separate candidates for the Territorial Legislature, although each section would run their own candidates.
On Oct 21, 1886, the Fergus County Argus noted that the Fergus County Democrats would run Granville Stuart for the House of Representatives and that the Fergus County Republicans would run James Fergus.
The Billings Gazette said, "Both are men of more than ordinary ability and legislative experience, and the baby county will have a good champion in either of them."
The White Sulphur Springs area of Meagher County ran Democrat J. E. Kanouse and Republican Jacob Titman for the House of Representatives. They also ran a candidate for the Territorial Council, as did the Fergus County Area.
Thus, four candidates were running for the House in Meagher County, and two would be selected. There were Kanouse, Titman, Stuart and Fergus. Stuart and Fergus did very little, if any campaigning, while Kanouse and Titman campainged very heavily in both the new Fergus County area and their native White Sulphur Springs.
When the election returns were counted in November on 1886, Fergus finished last. Stuart finished second to last. Kanouse and Titman carried Meagher County. The seat of the council (Senate) also went to the candidate from the White Sulphur area.
The Fergus County Argus moaned: "Fergus County will be without representation at all in the 1887 Legislature." And so it was with the "baby county" in the Territory of Montana!
A study of the election returns, precinct by precinct, as published by the Fergus County Argus, shows one thing for certain. Lewistown voters overwhelmingly supported Fergus, while the voters from Maiden and Cottonwood gave him the smallest percentage of their votes.
In November 1886, the majority of the population of the new Fergus County area was still in the mining camp of Maiden, grumbling over their loss of the county seat. As such, only 12 voters in heavily popluated Maiden voted for Fergus.
And the Fergus County Argus, through the early winter of 1886-87, continued to grumble about not having a representative in either the House of the Council of Legislature. On several occasions, the Argus unmercifully lamblasted the voters for not supporting their own Fergus County candidates, Granville Stuart and James Fergus.
But that quickly diminished as the worst winter in the history of the territory, the winter of 1886-87, blew down from the frozen north, and survival became the major issue of the day.
While the winter of 1886-87 would bring total disaster to the open range livestock industry and end the cowboy way of life, it would make the local cowboy artist, Charlie Russell, famous, and elevate Fergus as an unheeded prophet in his own time.
In mid-November of 1886 came a severe storm that ranged from the Rocky Mountains to the eastern states. Said the Fergus County Argus on Nov.26, 1886: "It was the severest storm that has occured in November for 25 years."
And in Montana, the storm did not let up. Savage below zero weather and blizzards continued through December, and on into Jamuary, through February, and into late March of 1887. As early as January of 1887, the Fergus County Argus predicted disaster for the stock industry. And disaster it proved to be.
In 1881, Fergus had predicted via several newspaper editorials that "there would not be a vacant range in Montana within 5 years," and that overstocking the range would be a problem." While Fergus was laughed at at the time, and on one occasion his prophecy labeled as "the muddled meanderings of a senile old man," the prediction of Fergus came to pass exactly on schedule.
By 1886, there were an estimated 600,000 cattle and 500,000 sheep on the Montana ranges. In the summer of 1886, the Fergus County Argus voiced great concern about the "overstocking" of the local Judith Basin range, as the grass that had been "two feet high" when Fergus came to Armels in 1880, had been, by 1886, "eaten down to nubbins."
The summer of 1886 had been unusually dry, and there would be little grass left to winter the stock. "with even the mildest winter," the Fergus County Argus predicted, " the stockmen might have difficulty surviving."
And survive they didn't. In the spring, dead carcasses of cattle and sheep lay piled up in the coulees. The stock loss estimates ranged from 60 to 99 percent.
The James Fergus and Son operation at Armels was one of the few ranch operations that survived, with a 66 percent stock loss. Granville Stuart of the DHS was completely wiped out. While Fergus was one of the few ranchers who had stockpiled hay to feed the starving stock, the wind had blown most of it away.
And it was in the spring of 1887 that the young horse wrangler named Charlie Russell painted the now famous "Waiting for a Chinook," or Last of the 5,000," watercolor to symbolize the fate that had befallen the cattle range. It was a graphic illustration of a steer ready to collapse, while wolves sat ready to consume the carcass.
Fergus did more than predict the disaster, he had offered a remedy to save the stock industry. Via an article published in the Rocky Mountain Husbandman of White Sulphur Springs on April 20, 1885, Fergus stated that the only way to save the range and prevent overstocking:
"...is to use all the water we can on our meadows and farm lands, raise large quantities of hay, either wild or cultivated or both. Enclose large fields for winter feedings; turn out stock on the range in the summer; take them up and turn them into these enclosures in the fall and feed hay to poor animals and in bad weather.
"To make this plan profitable we must still further change our plan of handling stock. Take the bulls out of the herd from December first to July first; take the calves away from the cows in the fall and spay all inferior heifers, keeping only the best. By adopting this plan the writer thinks stock raising will continue to be profitable.
"The calves we now lose on the range during the winter, the great check in the growth of young stock during the same season under the present system, and the large precentages lost in mud holes in the spring will go far towards paying for the extra expense in feeding and handling."
Fergus knew that things would go unchanged until disaster struck: "Of course stockmen will pursue the present plan just as long as they can, but from the rapid increase of all kinds of stock on our ranges, they cannot hold out long," he concluded.
And they didn't. by the spring of 1887, Fergus's 1881 prediction had become a known reality, and his unheeded 1885 remedy would set the stage for successful ranching operations in Montana's future.
In the fall of 1887, Fergus attended a meeting of the state stockgrowers. After the completion of routine business, a long period of silence followed. One grim faced rancher who had been completely wiped out stood up and walked over to Fergus.
Holding a copy of the Rocky Mountain Husbandman of April 20, 1885, he pointed to the Fergus article and said to Fergus; "Sir if I had listened to you, I would still be in business today."
The audience of unsmiling ranchers stood in a standing ovation, and one by one, quietly put on their hats, and with heads bowed, left the meeting room. Fergus was left sitting silently alone, the acknowledged foreteller of a disaster who had offered an unheeded prescription.
Once again, in the 1890s Fergus would predict disaster in Montana agriculture, and similarly offer a remedy. But by the time the predicted disaster struck and his remedy implemented, he would have been long since dead.
In the fall of 1886, Pamelia Fergus had become ill. Fergus, after studying all of the medical books in his library, diagnosed the illness as cancer. Andrew immediately took Pamelia to Helena for medical treatment. With Fergus's diagnosis confirmed by the medical community, Pamelia stayed in Helena with Luella through the savage winter of 1886-87, returning to be with her husband through the summer of 1887.
In late September of 1887, Pamelia retruned to Helena to get whatever medical comfort she could. On Oct. 6, 1887, Pamelia died.
The funeral was held in Helena. Wilbur Fisk Sanders gave the funeral oration. In his closing remarks, he said, "Friends, the dead wife, mother and friend who lies here belonged to no religious sect, believed in no religious dogma and desired no religious services over her remains.
"The wishes of the living will be kept as a sacred contract with the dead. While she could not understand how she could live after death, or locate a heaven or hell, she comprehended the duties appretaining to her station in life and in their performance, was an obedient child, a faithful wife, a loving mother, a true friend, and an honest woman, performing her duty in all stations in life, leaving not an enemy behind. When our end comes, may as much be said of us."
In the fall of 1887, Fergus returned to Armels to live the last 15 years of his life alone. He had been pleased with Sanders' oration at Pamelia's grave, and through a period of recovery from Pamelia's death, reconfirmed with Granville Stuart and Sanders both that one of then would provide the service when he died.
For Fergus himself was known for making "appropriate remarks" at the graves of the unbelieving deceased, and was often called upon to do so. The Mineral Argus at Maiden and the Fergus County Argus in Lewistown had often noted that Fergus had presided at a funeral, and on numerous occasions, Fergus had written a short edirtorial commending the life of a freethinker who had died.
In all such incidences, however, the script or eulogy as given by Fergus was not printed, with one exception, and that being the funeral of Katie Stuart, Granville Stuarts oldest daughter, who died of the fever in May of 1899 at age 25.
Katie was buried at the Fort Maginnis cemetery, with Fergus presiding. The Fergus County Argus noted that Fergus's remarks provided, "ample room for thought," and printed the following quotation from the service:
"We do not mourn because of any supposed danger that awaits her. We entertain no gloomy forebodings that she has entered into a state of misery. In the eden of our hope there crawls no serpent of eternal pain. We only mourn because she is not. To nature, the source of all, we now surrender her. May we be made better by her example, and may all sweet influences surround her memory. Friend, farewell!!"
Throughout his adult life Fergus had spent most of his time on the western frontier. As such, he had been in constant contact with many tribes of Native Americans. And Fergus constantly portrayed an atypical, yet very humane view of the Indian.
While he acknowledged atrocities toward the white man by the Indian, he was blunt in stating that the white man commited far more atrocities toward the Indian, and that the white man's newspapers only printed one side of the story-that of the white man.
In a letter to his Minnesota Congressman friend Ignatius Donnelly, written from Virginia City in 1864, Fergus had said: I have lived so long on the frontier that I am well posted in the swindling operations of the Indian agents and traders. If the treaties made with the Indians were honorable and faithfully carried out, we would hear of fewer massacres, and our government would be of less expense on Indian accounts."
Throughout his life in Montana, he continually editorialized against crooked Indian agents and for honorably carrying out the treaties made with the Indians, often going unheeded.
In 1887, the United States Government dissolved the "Indian Reserve" that ran between the Missouri River and the Canadian border and thus opened the vast territory to white settlement. The Indians were moved to smaller reservations established across the highline.
In 1888, Fergus read with interest that the new Fort Belknap Indian Agent planned to Christianize his charges as a process of civilizing them. Said Fergus in a firey editorial to the Fort Benton Record:
"Now Major, I am a friend of the Indian, have been on the frontiers nearly 50 years, have seen them cajoled and brow-beaten out of the lands, have seen more than half the pittance allowed them stolen by their agents and traders, and feel sorry for them, but whether right or wrong, the white man is bound to occupy the land and the Indian-that soon-must either work or die, and the more of this you beat into their heads and less religion, the better.
"Bob Ingersoll says that the plow will do more to keep off starvation than a million prayers. Get them cattle, sheep, hogs and poultry, Hire a good farmer that understands irrigation, have plenty of land plowed, encourage them to work, whatever any family raises let it be their own, and see that they keep it.
"A starving Indian cares little for Christianity or education, besides if he should learn to read he would find out that the Christian Guiteau killed President Garfield, and that the prayers of a nation could not save him, the murderers generally go from the gallows to Abraham's bosom, that large bank and corporation robbers are generally church officials, that Christian nations pay more for stimulant than for bread, and that nearly every week we read of one or more Christian shepherds making free with the ewe lambs of their flocks."
In June of 1890, Fort Maginnis closed and Broadwater and McNamera, the post traders, had a close out sale. From that point, James Fergus and Son traded mostly in Lewistown, the town that Fergus had unpopularly chosen as the county seat.
By 1890, Maiden was on her way toward desertion, and Lewistown was a growing, healthy community with two newspapers. Sheep in the 1890s became the predominant agricultural product of Central Montana.
Following the winter of 1886-87, Fergus's long-time friend Granville Stuart went to work as the foreman of the Maginnis Mine in Maiden.
In 1893 Democrat Grover Cleveland became president, and appointed Stuart as the U.S. Ambassador to Uraguay and Paraguay in South America. Stuart was never to return to Central Montana, and Fergus deeply missed his friendship.
In 1893, the Father of the Fergus County turned 80.
In 1893, Fergus went to the Chicago's World's Fair. Enroute, his train went through Fergus Falls, Minn., the community named for James Fergus when Minnesota was a frontier territory.
Through the 1890s, Fergus served as a field reporter to the United States Department of Agricluture. His many articles on agriculture in Montana and particularly Central Montana, were published by the department in bulletin form.
And in the 1890s, Fergus strenously opposed the promotions of Paris Gibson of Great Falls and the efforts of James Hill of the Great Northern Railroad to bring a vast number of settlers or "homesteaders" to Montana without first "making provisions for more water, either by artesian wells, reservoirs, dams and ditches from large streams, or by all three."
Despite that, the railroaders and other land promoters, without making provisions for adequate water, encouraged thousands of farmers to come to Montana, literally promoting Montana, especially eastern Montana, as a veritable garden.
The fiasco that would ensue in the drought stricken early 1900s when thousands of homesteaders would starve out stands as a momento to Fergus's unheeded warning concerning the fateful "Honyocker" period in Montana's history.
And, in the end, long after his death, his 1890s prescribed remedy for water was carried out exactly as he had envisioned in order to save Montana's farms and ranches. In 1894, a great battle took place concernig the permanent location of the State Capitol. Previously, in 1889, Montana had become a State of the Union, and promoters in the Butte/Anaconda wanted the capitol permanently moved to Anaconda, and Helena citizens wanted the State Capitol left there.
Fergus wrote extended and forceful letters to almost every newspaper in the state promoting the virtues of the Helena site, By a final vote of the people, Helena won by a slim 27,028 to 25,188 tally. Fergus was happy!
Early in 1895, rumor floated through Fergus County that Fergus was dying and had sent for a priest. Fergus's daughter Luella heard the news in Helena and quickly wrote to her father to verify the rumor. On Jan. 10, 1895 the Fergus County Argus published the following letter form the county's Freethinking Founding Father, headlined, "Did Not Send For a Priest."
"Editor Argus: A report has just reached here that I was dying and had telephoned to Great Falls for a priest. There is some foundation for the report of my sickness, but none whatever of the report that I had sent for a priest. There is a James Fergus living near Highwood in this state who is a Catholic and whose ancestors are believed to be descended from the same family as ours. They left Scotland on account of religious persecution and settled near Belfast, Ireland, during what is called the reformation. It was probably him the priest was sent for. If not, then somebody is trying to perpetrate a very silly joke.
Now about my dying. I was taken with a severe attack of chronic inflammation of the liver and bowels on Christmas Eve; for some days I could neither lie down, sit or walk but a few minutes at a time. Am some better, but still in misery, with little hopes of recovery. Have not been bed-fast or missed being at the table to eat a baked apple, drink a cup of coffee, or something, and I am not fretting.
"I came into the world without my own consent and expect to leave it the same way. I am only obeying a low of nature that all must comply with. But in going, I am not in need of a priest, preacher or other "middle men," preferring to do my business, should I have any, with the powers that are supposed to be - with first parties. Your friend, James Fergus."
Despite Fergus's brush with death in 1895, he recovered and continued as before, reading, writing, doing ranch work and promoting Freethought.
In late 1895 or early 1896, the Fergus papers attest to much correspondence between Fergus and other Central Montana Freethinkers, and Samuel P. Putnam, the editor of the nationally circulated Freethought magazine.
The local freethought group wanted to bring Putnam to Central Montana to do a series of lectures on the cause of secularism. According to Robert E. Horne's account, Putnam never came. By the Fergus County Argus accounts, however, he did.
On June 11, 1896, the Argus said: "Samuel P. Putnam, president of the Secular Union and Freethought Federation, is expected in Lewistown about June 30 to deliver a series of lectures. He has made a wide reputation as a platform orator and will no doubt be greeted with large houses. The topic on which he will speak will be announced later."
Further issues of the Argus specified that Putnam would lecture at the Culver Opera House in Lewistown on the last two days of June and the first day of July, 1896. There was to be no admission fee. The listed topics were on a variety of Freethought issues.
According to follow-up Argus accounts, Putnam lectured to a packed house each night, and was introduced by Fergus. On July 4, 1896, Putnam gave the Fourth of July oration at Gilt Edge, a new and growing cyanide mining camp east of the Judith Mountains.
Putnam was enthusiastically introduced by Fergus. The Argus later reported that "Lewistown was left nearly deserted on the 4th," with the largest celebration in the county occuring at Gilt Edge.
In the late 1890s, a post office was established in the Armels area. On today's highway map, the site in on Highway 191 between Hilger and Roy, and named "Fergus" in honor of James Fergus.
In 1899, Fergus, at his own expense, had 50 miles of telephone line installed to Armels so he could communicate with the rest of the world.
By 1901, Fergus's eyesight had deterioriated to the point that he could barely read. Late in 1901, his health and strength began to decline steadily. Surrounded by all the surviving members of his family, Fergus died peacefully at Armel's at 9:30 in the morning on June 25, 1902.
Almost every newspaper in the State of Montana carried the news of the death of James Fergus. He was taken to Helena to be buried next to his beloved Pamelia.
The Helena Record said: "Pioneers of Montana, relatives, friends and acquaintences in large numbers were at the station upon the arrival of the train bearing the body and with bowed heads saw the casket carried from the train to the hearse, which conveyed it to the home of his daughter, Mrs. S. C. Gilpatrick, Hemlock Street and Dearborne Avenue,"
At the funeral service from the Gilpatrick home the following day, standing room only prevailed from inside the house, and many were forced to hear the funeral oration through open windows while standing outside the house. The Record concluded: "At no recent funeral in the state has there been so many pioneers assembled."
On the casket and about it were many floral tributes. At 2 o'clock, Mr. E. D. Weed arose and made the funeral oration. Standing by the flower draped casket, Mr. Weed paid "eloquent tribute" to the dead pioneer.
Mr. Weed preceded his oration by saying: " For many years there had been a loving pledge between James Fergus and Wilbur F. Sanders that when the former came to die, his old time friend should pronounce for him the words of eulogy...Unfortunate and sad it is that illness in a distant city prevents the eloquent voice of Senator Sanders from testifying here today to the virtues and worth of his dear friend. At the request of the family, I ask your kind indulgence, while I emdeavor to speak a few words of tribute to his memory."
Mr. Weed noted the many contributions of Fergus throughout his life, and concluded with some quotations from Fergus's favorite orator, Robert G. Ingersoll, on death, a portion of which follows:
"We do not know whether the grave is the end of this life or the door to another, or whether the night here is not somewhere else a dawn. Every cradle asks, 'Whence' and every coffin 'Whither?' The poor barbarian weeping about his dead can answer the question as intelligently and satisfactorily as the robbed priest of the most authentic creed.
"No man standing where the horizon of life has touched a grave has any right to prophesy a future filled with pain and tears. The largest and nobler faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest.
Pallbearers for Fergus, his friends, former Governor Samuel T. Hauser, John T. Murphy, Colonel Samuel Word, former senator Thomas C. Power, General Charles D. Curtis, and W. C. Gillette, then carried the remains of James Fergus to the hearse, where the body was taken to the Forestvale Cemetery.
The Record then concluded: "Without a hymn or a spoken prayer, the body of James Fergus, the pioneer, was laid away at Forestvale. An infidel all his life, Mr. Fergus died believing that death ended all, and at his request, there was no religious service of any kind over his body."
At last, the Founding Father of Fergus County and his wife, Pamelia, were together in the mystery of death in the arms of their beloved Republic.
Epilogue Some 30 years later, friends and relatives erected a monument to James Fergus at Armels. It is still there today, on the old gravel road beside Highway 191. It reads:
THE FATHER OF FERGUS
With wife Pamelia and
son Andrew, located
this ranch, 1880. Came to
Captain Fisk Expedition, 1862
Saved for last, three quotations found in the James Fergus papers that reflect the enduring quality of the old man:
First, considering the fact that James Fergus moved with the frontier in the days of the wild west when the gun was law, in the twilight of his life, he responded to a querry posed by a friend concerning his use of firearms. "I have never owned," said Fergus, "nor have I ever fired a gun."
Secondly in response to what his life goal was, Fergus responded: "To live a life of usefulness and honor according to my abilities."
The third needs no introduction. James Fergus said, "I would rather have the approval of my own conscience that that of all the world."
Copyright 1998-2006 - Ann Kramlich and Betty Distad - All Rights Reserved
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